'We won't lay down our guns': Ukraine vows to defend Kyiv as street fighting breaks out

26 February 2022, 07:26 | Updated: 26 February 2022, 10:01

Ukraine's president defied calls to flee, he said
Ukraine's president defied calls to flee, he said. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Ukraine's president has said his country will not surrender even as fierce street fighting broke out in the capital Kyiv.

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Russia has advanced to the city on two axes with fears it is trying to decapitate the country by overthrowing its leadership. Explosions have been heard across the city.

But Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he has not fled the capital, adding that he has rejected a US suggestion that he leave, saying the "fight is here… I need ammunition, not a ride".

Observers worry Vladimir Putin wants to install a regime that will be more willing to do Moscow's bidding, as opposed to the democratically elected government which has pursued closer ties with the West since Russia seized Crimea and fomented civil war in the east in 2014.

As the Kremlin's forces face heavy resistance – and the prospect of civilians defending Kyiv with guns and Molotov cocktails – Putin urged the Ukrainian military to overthrow the government, having previously urged soldiers to abandon the fight.

Reuters said about 200 Ukrainians have been killed in the fighting, including three children.

Read more: Putin urges Ukraine military to overthrow 'neo-Nazi' leaders and negotiate with Russia

Read more: 'Our fate is being decided': Zelensky's chilling warning as Russian troops encircle Kyiv

'The city has moved from one type of lockdown to another under Putin.'

But Mr Zelenskyy remains defiant, insisting the military will not give up in a message on Saturday morning.

"Lately, there has been a lot of fake information online that I call on our army to lay down arms and to evacuate," he said from Kyiv, which he has refused to leave.

"Listen. I am here. We will not lay down the weapons. We will defend our state, because our weapon is our truth.

Read more: Ukraine's foreign minister says Russian troops attacked kindergarten and orphanage

“And the truth is that this is our land, our country, our children, and we will defend all of that. That's all that I wanted to tell you. Glory to Ukraine."

Reuters reports that gunfire was heard near the government quarter in the centre of Kyiv, where officials say street fighting has broken out.

Residents have been told to find shelter and stay away from windows.

'Our worst nightmare has come alive.'

Ukraine said 18,000 guns had been given to residents to defend against Russia, while the US has pledged to provide $600m in military assistance.

An update from the UK's Ministry of Defence late on Friday said while Russian forces made advances they have faced "strong resistance" from Ukraine’s military.

"Russian armoured forces are progressing towards Kyiv from multiple axes in an attempt to encircle the city," it said.

It is also "likely" Russia has launched an amphibious invasion between Malitopol and Mariupol, in the south east of the country.

However, it said Ukraine still holds key cities. Besides Kyiv, fighting has broken out in Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odessa.

Ukraine says it is ready to negotiate and end to hostilities while Vladimir Putin is reportedly saying he his willing to open talks in Minsk, Belarus.

Putin has now been sanctioned by the UK, US and EU, along with his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

A UN resolution condemning the invasion and calling for a withdrawal failed after Russia used its veto power at the Security Council, but notably China abstained, instead of throwing its full support behind the invasion.

It follows a raft of sanctions against oligarchs and banks.

In a video where he also spoke Russian and Ukrainian, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Russians their country faced "complete isolation" for Putin's "needless and bloody war".

On Saturday, Poland's Football Association said the national team will not play their scheduled World Cup qualifier against Russia.

It had already written to Fifa, the worldwide football governing body, about moving the game with the football associations of Sweden and the Czech Republic.

Cezary Kulesza, the head of the Polish Football Association, told The Athletic: "No more words, time to act.

"Due to the escalation of the aggression of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine, the Polish national team does not intend to play the play-off match with Russia.

"This is only the right decision. We are in talks with the federations of Sweden and the Czech Republic to bring forward a common position to Fifa."

Russia has already been stripped of May's Champions League final, which was due to be held in St Petersburg, and Formula 1 said the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi can no longer be held.