Defiant Ukrainians ‘giving their lives for freedom’ as Russians warn of strikes on Kyiv

1 March 2022, 14:21 | Updated: 1 March 2022, 15:51

Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed an emergency session of the European Parliament via video-link.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed an emergency session of the European Parliament via video-link. Picture: Getty/ European Parliament

By Sophie Barnett

Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Vladimir Putin of committing war crimes by "targeting children and civilians" in an emotional speech which moved his translator to tears.

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Mr Zelenskyy gave the impassioned speech on the crisis facing his country during an emergency session of the European Parliament on Tuesday - with his translator becoming emotional and the president receiving a standing ovation.

The Ukrainian leader began his speech by declining to say good afternoon, “because for some people this day is not good”.

“For some people this day is the last one,” he said.

Addressing MEPs over video-link, the wartime leader said every square in his country would be renamed “freedom square” in honour of Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion.

Speaking from his secret bunker in Kyiv, Mr Zelenskyy said: "Nobody is going to enter and intervene with our freedom.

“Believe you me, every square, as of today, no matter what it’s called, is going to be called freedom square in every city of our country.

Read more: 'World War III has already started': Ukrainian journalist blasts Boris for Nato inaction

Read more: Pictured: Putin's terrifying 40-mile 'war machine' convoy heading to Ukraine capital

“Nobody is going to break us, we’re strong, we’re Ukrainians.

“We have a desire to see our children alive. I think it’s a fair one. Yesterday, 16 children were killed.”

His speech comes as the Russian defence ministry warned Kyiv residents that it is preparing to hit targets in the Ukrainian capital.

It warned of attacks on Kyiv technology centres, urging nearby residents to leave their homes immediately.

Mr Zelenskyy called on the EU to "prove you are with us" during his speech, saying "we have proven our strength".

He called on EU leaders to "prove" they are European and said then "life will win over death".

“Prove you are with us, do prove that you will not let us go, do prove that you, indeed, are Europeans and then life will win over death and light will win over darkness,” he said.

Mr Zelenskyy has already made an official request to join the EU.

Read more: Blast rocks Kharkiv as Russia 'takes child hostages' amid claims Putin used vacuum bomb

He signed the official documents on Monday as the first round of Ukraine-Russia talks aimed at ending the fighting concluded with no immediate agreements.

Within hours of the first talks coming to a close, Putin launched fresh attacks on Ukraine, targeting the region's administrative buildings, which are being used by Ukrainian defenders.

Mr Zelenskyy told of how two cruise missiles hit Kharkiv in the east of Ukraine in the early hours of Tuesday.

The main square of Kharkiv was "blown up", injuring six people, including a child, according to local reports.

The strike missed its intended target by a matter of metres.

Mr Zelenskyy said there are more than 20 universities in the city on the border of the Russian federation, adding the "youth is bright and smart" there.

Putin has also been accused of using terrifying thermobaric weaponry, so-called vacuum bombs, which are capable of vaporising human bodies near the blast and suck all oxygen out of the air in a wider area.

Meanwhile, a huge convoy stretching 40 miles has been seen closing in on Ukraine's capital.

Satellite images showed the column of tanks and military support vehicles heading towards Kyiv as the conflict entered its sixth day.

Earlier, Boris Johnson was berated over the West's failure to protect Ukraine's citizens from Russia's attack when he took a press conference on a visit to Poland.

Tearful Ukraine journalist Daria Kaleniuk, who fled her homeland when it came under attack, accused Mr Johnson of being 'afraid' to defend innocent people.

She said women and children were falling victim to Russian attacks because NATO had failed to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

"You are not coming to Kiev PM… because you are afraid," she said. Ms Kaleniuk added that NATO wanted to avoid World War III but it had "already started".

She told Mr Johnson: “You’re talking about the stoicism of the Ukrainian people but Ukrainian woman and children are in deep fear because of the bombs and missiles which are falling from the sky.”

"The Ukrainian people are desperately asking for the West to protect our sky, we are asking for a no fly zone. You are saying in response it will trigger World War Three.

"But, what is the alternative Mr Prime Minister?"

At least 136 civilians have been killed, including 13 children, and 400 have been injured since Russia invaded Ukraine last week, a United Nations agency said on Tuesday.

"The real toll is likely to be much higher," Liz Throssell, a spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office said, adding that 253 of the casualties were in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine.