THE BATTLE for Kyiv is raging as Ukrainian forces fight off Russian troops amid gunfire and shelling.
Harrowing images from the Ukrainian capital show burning vehicles, buildings blasted by shells and flames lighting up the night sky.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry also warned of “active fighting” in Kyiv “on the streets of our city” as the conflict intensified.
Ukraine’s Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said: “We are stopping the horde as best as we can, the situation in Kyiv is under the control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and our citizens.”
Separately, the Interfax Ukraine agency said Russian soldiers were trying to capture one of Kyiv’s electricity generating stations.
Loud artillery blasts were heard coming from close to the city centre, while a reporter for the Kyiv Independent claimed “extremely hard combat” was underway near Kyiv Zoo.
The Washington Post’s correspondent in the city reported “dozens and dozens” of explosions in the city.
Google Maps is showing a number of major roads in and out of the city have been closed, including around Maidan Square, and major thoroughfares leading to and from the city’s airports.
CNN’s Clarissa Ward reports that all of the fighting “is now happening within the city limits,” saying she can hear “a lot of explosions from many different directions”.
Journalist Michael Downey in Kyiv shared a video of the sound of gunfire in the city.
“Just woke up to the sound of heavy gunfire in central Kyiv, you can see some tracers in the sky as the battle has moved closer,” he said.
Residents have been urged to stay inside shelters, including underground stations and hotel basements.
Outside of Kyiv, air raid sirens have been heard in multiple Ukrainian cities, including Lviv, Lutsk, Rivne, Uman, and Vinnytsia.
Ukraine’s President had warned Friday would be the “hardest night” for his country so far since the start of the conflict, in a chilling address to his nation.
Speaking from his bunker in besieged Kyiv, said: “The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now,” as he said the “enemy” would “go all in” tonight.
He warned Russia would storm Kyiv on Friday night in a “vile, cruel and inhuman” fashion.
“This night will be the hardest. The enemy will go all in. We must withstand. The night will be very hard, but sunset will come,” he said in a somber TV address.
He added: “This night will be harder than the day. Many cities of our state are under attack: Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, our boys and girls in the Donbas, the cities of the south, special attention to Kyiv.”
President Zelenskyy said starkly: “We can’t lose the capital.”
A defiant Zelenskyy said he was top of tyrant Vladimir Putin’s hitlist as he warned that Ukraine’s outgunned warriors faced a long and hard night.
But he warned bully Putin that Friday night would prove to be “very difficult” as Russia looks to use all available forces to break Ukraine’s resistance.
He told his nation in a stirring battle address: “We have to persevere tonight.”
It follows a similar warning from Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko that Friday night would be “very difficult” for the city of almost 3 million people.
“The situation now – without exaggeration – is threatening for Kyiv,” he said. “The night, close to the morning, will be very difficult.”
Just before 12.30am Ukrainian time (10.30pm GMT), there were reports of gunfire in Kyiv.
More than 10,000 assault rifles have been handed out to ordinary citizens in the city as part of a last-ditch defence of the capital.
Ukrainians have pledged to fight to the death to defend their country, after President Zelenskyy urged his country’s military to “take power in your own hands”.
A number of Ukrainians have also reportedly made Molotov cocktails to fight off the onrushing Russian forces.
She tweeted: “I learn to use Kalashnikov and prepare to bear arms. It sounds surreal as just a few days ago it would never come to my mind. Our women will protect our soil the same way as our men!”
In a major blow for Putin’s Kyiv strike force on Friday night, Ukraine claimed to have shot down a Russian Ilyushin II-76 transport plane ferrying troops into the Kyiv frontline.
The huge plane – which can carry up to 150 troops – was reported to have crashed in a fireball near the battlefront at Vasylkiv airbase south of Kyiv, where fighting had been raging all day.
Ukraine armed forces general staff made the claim as Putin’s fighters struggled to find a foothold in Kyiv on the second day of the campaign.
Illia Ponomarenko, defence reporter with The Kyiv Independent newspaper, reported just before 4am Ukrainian time (2am GMT) that a second Russian Ilyushin Il-76 had been downed.
Quoting Ukraine’s State Agency for Special Communications, he said the fighter jet was shot down near Bila Tserkva, 48 miles southwest of Kyiv city centre.
Tasked with defending Snake Island in the Black Sea, the defiant border guards were ordered to surrender by a Russian warship.
But after receiving the ultimatum over the radio, the Ukrainian troops bravely responded: “Go f*** yourselves,” shortly before they were wiped out in an aerial bombardment.
We are stopping the horde as best as we can
A brave Ukrainian woman was also filmed confronting two Russian soldiers in the port city of Henichesk, less than 18 miles from the annexed territory of Crimea.
Russia has ramped up its efforts to seize control of Ukraine after making slower-than-expected progress on Wednesday and Thursday, allegedly killing civilians in the process.
Ukraine claims it has killed or captured 2,800 troops, destroyed 80 tanks, and shot down seven warplanes as their troops launched a bloody resistance against the Russians.
It follows a day of fighting which saw Russian forces reportedly fail to gain as much ground as expected.
Bodies of at least two adults were seen lying outside the “Sunshine” nursery in pools of blood as people crouched alongside them.
The front of the building – which has a sandpit, play area, and slide – appears blown out with its shutters scattered on the ground.
Kyiv’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of war crimes and said his government was putting together a report which it would send to the Hague.
It reversed off the vehicle before ordinary people were able to prise the driver out of the flattened car using axes and other tools.
Miraculously, the elderly man behind the wheel survived the shocking incident.
Elsewhere, a soldier blew himself up on a bridge to stop Russians storming in from Crimea.
Fierce exchanges erupted through the day five miles north of Kyiv city centre as fighters engaged Russians arriving in attack helicopters.
Putin’s elite Spetsnaz troops backed by undercover assassins and armoured vehicles were reported to be locked in gun battles in Kyiv’s suburbs while the main Russian force lay in wait 30 miles north.
The UK’s Chief of Defence Intelligence Lt Gen Sir Jim Hockenhull warned Russia would continue its bombardment and encirclement today.
A crazed Putin doubled-down on his verbal attacks on Friday, calling on the Ukrainians to turn on their “drug-addicted neo-Nazi” leaders or lay down their arms and go home.
Western intelligence sources confirmed that Russians were trying to encircle Kyiv but were being beaten back. A security source said: “The Ukrainians have done excellent work taking down bridges to slow them.
“Russia has largely not met its Day One objectives and its battleplan timings are slipping. The conflict is the choice of Putin, this is now not a war of choice, but one of necessity, so he has to win.
In Russia, there has been backlash to the invasion, both from ordinary Russians and public figures.
More than 1,500 have been detained in protests across the country, while the daughter of Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich was among those who appeared to criticise Putin’s actions.
Russian lawmaker Mikhail Matveyev, who voted to recognise the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine earlier this week, also called for an immediate end to hostilities.
With dawn breaking over the city, the extent of the damage inflicted on Kyiv became clear with images showing smouldering blocks of flats.
Fighting appeared to be raging close to Igor Sikorsky Kyiv International Airport (Zhuliany) in Kyiv with video residential tower blocks hit by missiles and residents pulled from the rubble.
“The fights is here,” he told US officials amid as Russian forces stormed the capital, encountering fierce Ukrainian resistance.
In video messages, he also quashed rumours he has called for a surrender.
“We will not put down weapons, we will defend our state. Glory to our defenders, both male and female. Glory to Ukraine!”
Russian troops also attacked an army base in the city but were successfully repelled, Ukraine’s military claimed in a Facebook post early on Saturday.