Battle to flee Kyiv as 15,000 Russian troops descend on capital and US closes airspace

2 March 2022, 06:33 | Updated: 2 March 2022, 07:56

Thousands are trying to flee the capital before the siege.
Thousands are trying to flee the capital before the siege. Picture: Getty/Alamy/MoD

By Megan Hinton

Thousands have been fighting to flee Kyiv as a 40-mile long Russian convoy edges closer to the capital.

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Train stations were packed out with desperate residents trying to make their escape before Russia's siege escalates in coming days.

It comes as more blasts were reported to have rocked Kyiv on Tuesday evening, with the Kyiv Independent saying that Russian bombs had hit Vyshneve - a city just outside of the capital - at around 11.30pm local time.

Mounting concern from citizens also follows an estimation from analysts that around 15,000 soldiers are a part of Russia's 40-mile military convoy snaking its way through Ukraine towards Kyiv, with the country's second largest city also under attack.

Russian paratroopers attacked Kharkiv overnight, according to Ukraine's military.

Reports suggested fighting between the paratroopers and Ukrainian soldiers took place at a regional military hospital.

No Ukrainian troops were killed in the gun battle, Kharkiv Region Police Chief Volodymyr Tymoshko told reporters on Wednesday.

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Women and children are attempting to flee the capital.
Women and children are attempting to flee the capital. Picture: Getty

On Tuesday evening, US President Joe Biden used his first State of the Union address to announce US airspace was closed to Russian flights.

He added that his administration would be joining the UK and other allies in pursuing the Russian oligarchs and "corrupt leaders who built billions of dollars off [Putin's] violent regime".

Mr Biden said the US was assembling a task force to "find and seize their yachts and luxury apartments [and] their private jets".

He went on: "The free world is holding [Putin] accountable along with 27 members of the European Union... as well as countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and many others. Even Switzerland are inflicting pain on Russia [and] supporting the people of Ukraine.

"Putin is now isolated from the world more than he has ever been. Together with our allies, we are right now enforcing powerful economic sanctions: We're cutting off Russia's largest bank to the international financial system... [and] choking Russia's access to technology that will sap its economic threat and weaken its military for years to come."

The British Ministry of Defence gave an update on the movement of Russian troops.
The British Ministry of Defence gave an update on the movement of Russian troops. Picture: MoD

It came after the Ukrainian president pleaded for the help of Western allies to fight Russian troops, comparing the conflict to World War II.

The desperate call for help came after a Russian missile attack, which killed five people, was carried out near to the Holocaust memorial complex in the city of Kyiv.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy took to Twitter after the attack to ask the world not to "stay silent" amid the increased attacks on civilians in Ukriane.

He said: "To the world: what is the point of saying «never again» for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least 5 killed. History repeating…"

Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, branded the attack as "evil and barbaric" saying: "Kyiv TV tower, which has just been hit by a Russian missile, is situated on the territory of Babyn Yar. On September 29-30, 1941, Nazis killed over 33 thousand Jews here. 80 years later, Russian Nazis strike this same land to exterminate Ukrainians. Evil and barbaric."

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is set to update MPs on his talks with allies in eastern Europe in the Commons on Wednesday during Prime Minister's Questions.

He again ruled out a no-fly zone over Ukraine on Tuesday, after Russian planes dropped bombs on the city of Kharkiv.

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Train stations in Kyiv are packed as people try to flee.
Train stations in Kyiv are packed as people try to flee. Picture: Getty

The Prime Minister said: "It's very, very important to understand Nato is a defensive alliance. This is a time when miscalculation and misunderstanding is all too possible and it's therefore crucial that we get that message over.

"When it comes to a no-fly zone in the skies above Ukraine we have to accept the reality that that involves shooting down Russian planes ... that's a very, very big step, it's simply not on the agenda of any Nato country."

But Sir Keir Starmer has told Ukrainians living in Britain that he will speak to the Government about their pleas to support a no-fly zone over the nation.

The attacks on the sixth day of Russia's invasion came as Mr Zelenskyy delivered an impassioned speech to the European Parliament, where he accused Vladimir Putin of committing a war crime and targeting children.

He told the emergency committee meeting: "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.

"He also called on EU leaders to "prove" they are European, saying then "life will win over death and light will win over darkness".

Mr Zeklenskyy has made an official request to join the EU.

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Instead of helping to implement a no-fly zone fresh sanctions have been slapped on Moscow, designed to prevent Russia from using foreign reserves to lessen the economic impact that international measures are causing.

Additional economic measures introduced by the Foreign Secretary prohibit UK individuals and entities from providing financial services to the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, as well as the Ministry of Finance and National Wealth Fund.

Liz Truss said the decision was aimed at "degrading Russia's economy" as the West looks to pile financial misery on the country following its invasion of Ukraine.

The Foreign Office said the UK had worked in close partnership with the United States and European Union on the sanctions introduced on Tuesday which aim to prevent the Russian central bank from using its foreign reserves "in ways that allow it to lessen the financial impact".

As part of Tuesday's sanctions, Sberbank, Russia's largest bank - which accounts for 35% of the financial sector, has been prohibited from clearing sterling payments through the UK's financial system.

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The UK has already sanctioned Russia's second largest bank, VTB, as well as eight other financial institutions.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) - the country's sovereign wealth fund - and its chief executive, Kirill Dmitriev, have also been sanctioned, with their assets frozen and a travel ban in place for Mr Dmitriev.

The Foreign Secretary said: "We said Putin and those around him would pay the price for their unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine, and we are being true to our word.

"We stand with Ukraine, its people and its democracy, and will continue to support them diplomatically, economically, politically and defensively."

Companies such as Google, Apple, Nike, Jaguar and Land Rover have also announced plans to stop selling products in Russia, in light of the invasion.

The Government also announced a further £80 million in aid is being given to Ukraine bringing the total UK humanitarian aid package for the country to £120 million.