Ukraine’s capital city braced for battle heading into the weekend as Russian troops advanced on Kyiv and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a desperate plea for help.

“The fate of Ukraine is being decided now,” Zelenskyy said in an address on social media. “Special attention is on Kyiv — we should not lose the capital. The enemy will use all the possible forces they have to break our resistance. They will be mean and hard. Tonight they will begin a full scale storm.”

Explosions, air raid sirens and the sound of gunfire filled the air over Kyiv on Friday. Russian troops bore down on the city as the global backlash mounted against the unprovoked attack on a European democracy.

The Ukrainian military said in a Facebook post that Russian troops attacked an army base in Kyiv around midnight on Saturday but were repelled. The military also said there were “heavy battles” in Vasylkiv, a city near the capital. NBC News was not able to independently verify the Ukrainian military’s accounts.

On Friday, the United States and European Union took the rare step of imposing sanctions on a head of state by targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Biden administration also slapped sanctions on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other members of Russia’s Security Council.

Zelenskyy spoke by phone with President Joe Biden for roughly 40 minutes on Friday, the White House said. Ukraine’s leader tweeted that the two discussed “strengthening sanctions, concrete defense assistance and an anti-war coalition.”

At the United Nations, a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s military aggression was vetoed — by Russia. The council voted 11-1 Friday in favor of the resolution, and Russia was the lone vote against it. Three countries abstained.

Putin suggested he might be willing to enter negotiations with Ukraine even as his forces continued their advance across the country. But hours later, the Russian leader urged Ukrainian soldiers to overthrow their government, which he described a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis” — repeating propaganda Russia uses to justify its actions.

Inside the embattled capital, Zelenskyy refused to leave and instead made a desperate plea for Western governments to take tougher measures against Moscow.

He has already called up any Ukrainians willing to fight and handed out thousands of guns to civilians. And on Friday, Zelenskyy urged anyone with military experience in Europe to travel to Ukraine and help defend its independence or take to their own streets in protest.

“We are defending our independence, our country,” he said in his latest video message. “It will continue like this. Glory to our defenders, glory to Ukraine.”

The fresh plea from the Ukrainian leader came as the invading Russian troops bore down on Kyiv amid a desperate defense in which hundreds of troops on either side were reportedly killed.

Feb. 25, 202200:52

Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., said at a news conference Friday that Russia committed what she characterized as war crimes, targeting civilians, taking nearly 100 people hostage at Chernobyl and striking an orphanage with 50 children inside.

“The Russian propaganda machine says that civilians were not targeted. I want to tell you this is not true,” Markarova told reporters.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko described Russia’s offensive in stark terms.

“The enemy wants to put the capital on its knees and destroy us,” said Klitschko, a former world heavyweight boxing champion. “The city has gone into a defensive phase. Shots and explosions are ringing out in some neighborhoods. Saboteurs have already entered Kyiv.”

Russia is nonetheless meeting “greater resistance” from the Ukrainians than it might have expected, a senior U.S. defense official said Friday.

“They are fighting for their country,” the official said, referring to Ukrainian troops and freedom fighters.

The official said Russian forces are undertaking an amphibious assault to the west of the city of Mariupol, and the United States has indications Russia is placing potentially thousands of naval forces ashore there. American officials assume Russian troops will then attempt to move toward the Donbas region, the official added.

Local officials warned residents in Obolon, a district north of the capital, not to go outside early Friday due to “the approach of active hostilities.” The military said Russian saboteurs — troops disguised in Ukrainian uniforms — were in the streets.

Meanwhile just outside the capital, Russia claimed it had taken control of the strategic Hostomel Airport, which handles heavy cargo flights and would allow Moscow to airlift troops directly to Kyiv. A day earlier, Ukraine’s military said that Russian troops sustained heavy casualties in the fighting there.

NBC News has not verified either side’s reports.

Local officials said that Russia had captured the southern city of Kherson despite its “significant forces” suffering “great loses.”

In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, NBC News correspondent Matt Bradley reported around noon local time Friday that car alarms went off across the city as loud, sustained bombardments drew closer.

“Up until now, we understood Russian troops had set up around the ring road of the city. Now we understand they are moving in,” he said from an underground parking garage filled with journalists and local residents, including children.


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