Ukrainians awoke Sunday after a third night of Russia’s massive assault to street fighting in the country’s second largest city, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to hold peace talks in neighboring Belarus, which his troops are using as an invasion platform.
Here are the things to know about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the security crisis in Eastern Europe:
Attempting to lay siege to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, Russian forces focused on cutting off the country’s southern coast and isolating it from the sea, while also probing the inner defenses of Kharkiv.
Street fighting broke out on Sunday in the northeastern city of 1.4 million located about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south of the border with Russia. The head of the Kharkiv regional administration, Oleh Sinehubov, said that Ukrainian forces had engaged Russian troops inside the city and asked civilians not to leave their homes.
The immediate fate of the Russian advance was uncertain, but with Ukrainians volunteering en masse to fight back alongside regular army units, it seemed that the city’s defenses offered stiff resistance. Having already ordered men between 18-60 years old not to leave the country, Ukrainian officials said Sunday that they were releasing prisoners with military experience who want to take up arms for their country.
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The ground attack came after Russians blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, according to Ukrainian officials who ordered residents to cover their windows with a damp cloth given the “environmental catastrophe” it posed.
Britain’s defense ministry said that while overnight skirmishing in Kyiv had been less intense than on Friday night, Russian forces were attempting to encircle the city. The capital remains under lockdown after its mayor called a curfew from 5 p.m. Saturday until 8 a.m. Monday.
RUSSIA PUTS NUCLEAR FORCES ON ALERT
Putin ordered Russian nuclear deterrent forces on alert, ratcheting up tensions with the West over the crisis that is dangerously poised to expand.
Putin told the Russian defense minister and the chief of the military’s General Staff to put the nuclear deterrent forces in “special regime of combat duty.” He said that leading NATO powers had made “aggressive statements” toward Russia in addition to stiff economic sanctions and cutting leading Russian banks from the SWIFT banking system.
YES TO TALKS, BUT NOT IN BELARUS
Putin dispatched a diplomatic delegation to the Belarusian city of Homel for what the Kremlin said was their offer to talk peace with Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday morning that “the Russian delegation is ready for talks, and we are now waiting for the Ukrainians.”
Zelenskyy, however, rejected outright the choice of Belarus, arguing that Ukraine would only speak on neutral ground, not in a country that has supported Putin directly by allowing Russia to use its territory as a staging ground before surging southward over the frontier toward Kyiv.
Zelenskyy named Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku as alternative venues for talks.
The Kremlin added later that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had offered to help broker an end to fighting in a call with Putin. It didn’t say whether the Russian leader accepted.
MOST FLEE, SOME RETURN TO FIGHT
Those fleeing Europe’s largest armed conflict since World War II grew to 368,000 Ukrainians — mostly women and children — who have reached neighboring countries, the United Nations’ refugee agency said. That figure more than doubles the agency’s estimate from the day before.
The line of vehicles at the Poland-Ukraine border stretched 14 kilometers (8.7 miles), and those fleeing had to endure long waits in freezing temperatures overnight. Over 100,000 people have crossed into Poland alone, according to Polish officials.
Amid the rush to escape the bombs and tanks, there was also what looked like a trickle of brave men and women who want to head home to defend Ukraine or help others do so.
At a border crossing in southern Poland, Associated Press journalists spoke to people in a line heading against the tide. They included a group of some 20 Ukrainian truck drivers who worked in Europe and wanted to face combat.
GERMAN MILITARY SHIFT
A day after Germany announced it would send military aid to Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that his government will increase its own defense spending to rearm amid the uncertainty of the extent of Putin’s ambitions.
Scholz’s pledge to dedicate 100 billion euros to a special fund for its armed forces would raise Germany’s defense spending above 2% of GDP, finally satisfying a longstanding request by NATO allies for Europe’s largest economy to do more for the continent’s security.
Late on Saturday Germany announced that it would send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 “Stinger” surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine. Those weapons are in addition to the 400 German-made anti-tank weapons Germany also approved to be shipped from the Netherlands, as well as 9 D-30 howitzers and ammunition from Estonia.
MORE CLOSE AIRSPACE TO RUSSIA
Italy and Austria joined a growing list of European countries to have closed their airspace to all Russian aircraft. They follow Britain, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Luxembourg.
Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.