Fighting intensifies around Ukraine as Russian forces blow up gas pipeline in Kharkiv

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Russian forces ramped up their attack on Ukraine on Sunday, with Ukrainian authorities saying the Russians had blown up a gas pipeline in the northeastern city of Kharkiv and an oil depot in Vasylkiv, a town just southwest of Kyiv.

Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection warned the explosion at the gas pipeline in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, could cause an “environmental catastrophe” and advised residents to cover their windows with damp cloth or gauze. Residents of the Kyiv region were warned to keep their windows shut because of the fire at the oil depot in Vasylkiv.

But going into the fourth day of heavy fighting, Ukraine still held its capital.

“The situation in Kyiv is calm, the capital is completely controlled by the Ukrainian army and defense forces,” said Mykola Povoroznyk, the first deputy head of Kyiv City State Administration, in a statement released just before 7 a.m. Kyiv time.

Russia suffered significant losses going into the fourth day of its war against Ukraine, with the Ukrainian Air Force saying in a statement that over the course of Saturday it had downed “at least” 11 helicopters, three Sukhoi Su-30 and two Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighters, and a second giant Russian Il-76 transporter plane, which can carry large numbers of airborne troops.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian forces had killed 198 Ukrainians, including three children, with 1,115 wounded, 33 children among them. More than 150,000 Ukrainian refugees have now crossed into neighboring countries, half of them to Poland, and many to Hungary, Moldova, Romania and beyond, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Saturday.

Displacement in Ukraine is also growing but the military situation makes it difficult to estimate numbers and provide aid.

In a video posted Saturday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “offered to organize talks” between Russia and Ukraine, which he said “can only be commended.”

“You know, today was a very good, sunny day in Kyiv,” Zelenskiy said in his video. “The day the invaders tried to destroy for us, like everything else in the country. But today is also the first day of the life of a girl who was born in a Kyiv subway this Saturday night. Now, it’s a shelter … I want to say just one more thing. We will fight as long as it takes to liberate the country. If children are born in shelters, even when the shelling continues, then the enemy has no chance in this undoubtably people’s war.”

Meanwhile, Western leaders agreed Saturday evening to impose more financial sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, including removing “selected Russian banks” from the SWIFT international payments system and restrictions on Moscow deploying its central bank reserves.

On Saturday, the German government announced it would provide lethal weapons to Ukraine — a historic shift by a country that had long prohibited sending such arms into conflict zones, and POLITICO revealed the EU would soon unveil a program enabling all 27 EU countries to offer similar lethal assistance.

In a post on Facebook Sunday morning, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told Ukrainians “help is coming.”

“Many have finally conquered fear and dared to challenge the Kremlin,” Reznikov said. “Help which was impossible three days ago is coming.”

He said: “Where are all those who promised to capture Kyiv in 72 hours? Where are they? I can’t see them. I can only hear them justify themselves.”

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