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Russia's missiles pound Kyiv as Ukraine pleads for help


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Missiles pounded Kyiv on Friday and families cowered in bomb shelters as Russian forces pressed their advance and authorities said they were girding for an assault aimed at overthrowing the government.

Air raid sirens wailed over the capital of three million people, where some residents sheltered in underground metro stations, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion that has shocked the world.

Ukrainian officials said a Russian aircraft had been shot down and crashed into a building in Kyiv overnight, setting it ablaze and injuring eight people.

A senior Ukrainian official said Russian forces would enter areas just outside the capital later on Friday and that Ukrainian troops were defending positions on four fronts despite being outnumbered.

The Kyiv city council warned residents of the city's Obolon district, near Hostomel, to stay indoors because of "the approach of active hostilities."

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted that there had been heavy fighting with people killed at the entrance to the eastern cities of Chernihiv and Melitopol, and at Hostomel on the northwest outskirts of Kyiv, site of an airfield Russian paratroops attempted to seize on Thursday.

Windows were blasted out of a 10-story apartment block near Kyiv's main airport, where a two-meter crater filled with rubble showed where a shell had struck before dawn.

"How we can live through it in our time?… Putin should burn in hell along with his whole family," said Oxana Gulenko, sweeping broken glass from her room.

Hundreds of people were crowded into a cramped bomb shelter beneath a building after a televised warning of air strikes.

"We don't know how long we have to stay here. Good we have chairs at least," said Viktoria, 35, while her kids of 5 and 7 slept without taking off their winter coats. "We're shocked… How can you wage a war against peaceful people?"

Alla, 40 said: "The kids were scared, they were crying and asking 'Mom, will we all die?'"

Witnesses said loud explosions could be heard in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-biggest city, close to Russia's border, and air raid sirens sounded over Lviv in the west. Authorities reported heavy fighting in the eastern city of Sumy.

'NUMBER ONE TARGET'
US officials believe Russia's initial aim is to topple Zelenskiy and "decapitate" his government. Zelenskiy said he knew he was "the number one target" but he would stay in Kyiv.

An adviser to Zelenskiy said Ukraine was prepared for talks with Russia, including on staying neutral, one of Moscow's pre-war demands. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called that offer a lie and said no talks could be held until the Ukrainian military lays down its arms.

Putin says Ukraine is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as aimed at erasing their more than thousand-year history.

The Kremlin leader says he does not plan a military occupation, only to disarm Ukraine and remove its leaders. But it is not clear how a pro-Russian leader could be installed unless troops control much of the country. Russia has floated no name of such a figure and none has come forward.

After Moscow denied for months it was planning an invasion, news that Putin had ordered one has shocked Russians accustomed to viewing their ruler of 22 years as a cautious strategist. Many Russians have friends and family in Ukraine.

Russia has cracked down on dissent and state media have relentlessly characterized Ukraine as a threat, but thousands of Russians took to the streets on Thursday to protest against the war. Hundreds were swiftly arrested.

One pop star posted a video on Instagram opposing the war, and the head of a Moscow state-run theater quit, saying she would not take her salary from a murderer.

Britain said Moscow's aim was to conquer all of Ukraine, and its military had failed to meet its objectives on the first day after failing to anticipate Ukrainian resistance.

"Contrary to great Russian claims – and indeed President Putin's sort of vision that somehow the Ukrainians would be liberated and would be flocking to his cause – he's got that completely wrong, and the Russian army has failed to deliver, on day one, its main objective," defense minister Ben Wallace said.

Wallace said Russians had been pushed from the airport they had tried to take near Kyiv, making it harder to carry out their plan to attack the capital. They had also failed to break through Ukrainian lines near separatist enclaves in the east.

Ukrainians were circulating an unverified recording on Friday of a Russian warship ordering a Ukrainian Black Sea outpost to surrender. The Ukrainians reply: "Russian warship, go f**k yourself." Zelenskiy said the 13 guards were killed by a Russian strike and would receive posthumous honors.

Ukrainians were fleeing into neighboring Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, mostly women and children after Kyiv restricted passage for men between 18 and 60 years old.

Reuters journalists saw women crying as they bade goodbye to male loved ones and then crossed into northern Romania.

Fuel, cash and medical supplies are running low in parts of Ukraine and this could drive as many as five million people to flee abroad, UN agencies said on Friday.

A democratic nation of 44 million people, Ukraine voted for independence at the fall of the Soviet Union and has recently stepped up efforts to join NATO and the European Union, aspirations that infuriate Moscow.

Western countries announced sanctions on Moscow billed as far stronger than earlier measures, including blacklisting its banks and banning technology imports.

But they stopped short of forcing Russia out of the SWIFT system for international bank payments, drawing criticism from Kyiv which says the most serious steps should be taken now. Germany and others use SWIFT to pay for Russian gas.

Russia is one of the world's biggest energy producers, and both it and Ukraine are among the top exporters of grain. War and sanctions will disrupt economies

Oil and grain prices have soared. Share markets around the world, many of which plunged on Thursday at news of the outbreak of war, were mainly rebounding on Friday.

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