The conflict between Russia and Ukraine continued for the second day, with explosions reported in Kiev as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rued being "left alone" by the West and announced readiness to declare neutrality.
Russia's forces pressed deep into Ukraine as deadly battles reached the outskirts of Kiev.
They captured Zmiinyi Island in the Black Sea, where 82 Ukrainian soldiers surrendered to them, Russia's defense ministry said. Ukrainian authorities said intense fighting was underway in the city of Sumy in the country's northeast.
Ukraine's army said Friday it was fighting Russian forces northwest of the capital.
The Interfax-Ukraine news agency said two explosions were heard in Kiev. Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior ministry, said they emanated from the sounds of air defenses firing at an aircraft that was downed.
Kiev municipal authorities said at least eight people were injured when the aircraft crashed into an apartment block and set it on fire. Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kiev had come under “horrific Russian rocket strikes.”
Ukraine's nuclear agency said it was recording increased radiation levels from the site of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Experts at the agency did not provide exact radiation levels but said the change was due to the movement of heavy military equipment in the area lifting radioactive dust into the air.
A spokesman for Russia's defense ministry said Moscow will deploy paratroopers to help guard the nuclear power plant near Ukraine's capital.
Radiation levels at the plant are normal, the spokesman told a briefing. Russian troops have destroyed 118 Ukrainian military infrastructure sites, he said.
Meanwhile, the governor of Russia's southern Belgorod province said that seven residential buildings in the region had been damaged by shelling from Ukraine.
Russia’s military said it had “successfully” achieved its goals outlined for the first day of conflict with Ukrainian troops over the Donbas region.
"All of the tasks assigned to the groups of troops of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation for the day were successfully completed," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
Konashenkov added that the Russian military had eliminated Ukraine’s air defenses and was in control of the skies over the former Soviet republic.
Kremlin: Russia willing to negotiate Ukraine's surrender
In a statement, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia would come to the negotiating table on the condition that Ukraine promised to be neutral, not aspire to be a NATO member and also not keep any Western weaponry on its territory.
Peskov underlined that discussions over the terms of surrender would generally involve “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine.
President Zelensky said he is not afraid of talking about neutrality as his request for NATO accession went unanswered by European leaders.
On Friday, Reuters quoted Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak as saying that Ukraine wants peace and is ready for talks with Russia, including on neutral status regarding NATO.
"If talks are possible, they should be held. If in Moscow they say they want to hold talks, including on neutral status, we are not afraid of this," he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would be ready to hold talks with Kiev, but only once Ukraine's military had laid down its arms.
He also said that Moscow did not want "neo-Nazis" to govern Ukraine.
Ukraine currently is not part of NATO or the European Union, though it wants to join both. Ukraine gave up its nuclear arms, after gaining independence on the
breakup of the Soviet Union, in exchange for security guarantees from European countries.
Ukraine ‘left alone’
Zelensky said his country had been left on its own to fight Russia after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "special military operation" aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics in eastern Ukraine.
"We have been left alone to defend our state," Zelensky said in a post-midnight video address to the nation. "Who is ready to fight alongside us? I don't see anyone. Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of NATO membership? Everyone is afraid.”
Zelensky said that 137 Ukrainians, both military personnel and civilians, had been killed since the beginning of the attack, and 316 more had been wounded.
He said Russian "sabotage groups" had entered Kiev, and urged locals to remain vigilant and observe a curfew.
The Ukrainian president said he and his family remained in the country, despite Russia identifying him as "target number one.”
The UN refugee agency said around 100,000 people had been internally displaced while several thousand more had left Ukraine since the fighting erupted.
Kiev has declared martial law. It claims to have killed 50 Russian troops and shot down six Russian aircraft, an allegation that has not been independently verified.
EU slaps ‘harshest’ sanctions on Russia
Early Friday, the European Union announced what it called “the harshest package of sanctions” on Moscow, targeting 70 percent of the Russian banking sector and key state-owned companies.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen made the announcement in a press conference after an emergency meeting with leaders of the 27-member bloc.
She said the new round of sanctions "will impose massive and severe consequences on Russia for its action, in close coordination with our partners and allies.”
Von der Leyen said Russian assets in the EU would be frozen and Russian banks' access to Europe's financial markets would also be blocked.
The package of massive and targeted sanctions approved tonight shows how united the EU is.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) February 25, 2022
First, this package includes financial sanctions, targeting 70% of the Russian banking market and key state owned companies, including in defence. https://t.co/iKVGfnafKp
The EU, however, faced strong criticism from Kiev as European leaders decided against blocking Russia from an international payments system through which it receives foreign currency.
With casualties mounting, the Ukrainian foreign minister warned that the European and US politicians would have “blood on their hands” if they failed to impose the heaviest toll on Moscow by cutting Russia from the so-called Swift payments system.
“I will not be diplomatic on this,” Kuleba tweeted. “Everyone who now doubts whether Russia should be banned from Swift has to understand that the blood of innocent Ukrainian men, women, and children will be on their hands too. BAN RUSSIA FROM SWIFT.”
I will not be diplomatic on this. Everyone who now doubts whether Russia should be banned from SWIFT has to understand that the blood of innocent Ukrainian men, women and children will be on their hands too. BAN RUSSIA FROM SWIFT.— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) February 24, 2022
The United States announced a wave of new sanctions on Moscow on Thursday, targeting five major Russian banks.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced sanctions against some 60 individuals and entities. Australia and the UK have taken similar measures.
Kremlin spokesman Peskov said Friday Russia will impose retaliatory sanctions on Western nations on the basis of reciprocity.
He said sanctions would cause problems for Russia but they would be solvable, as it had reduced its dependence on foreign imports.
He declined to comment on how long Russia's operation in Ukraine would last.
European Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni admitted that the sanctions on Russia would not be without economic pain for the bloc, likely to come mainly from higher energy prices.
"Of course we will pay a price economically for this war," he said on entering talks of EU finance ministers in Paris.
"We will discuss this today, how this war will impact in our economic forecasts," he said, adding the upshots from the sanctions "are costs that we must afford."
Gentiloni said the Ukraine crisis made the 4.0% growth forecast for the 19 countries sharing the euro more uncertain.
Macron: Useful to 'leave the path open' for dialogue
French President Emmanuel Macron, however, said Friday that "while condemning, while sanctioning" it remained useful "to leave this path open so that the day when the conditions can be fulfilled, we can obtain a cessation of hostilities.”
Macron was the only Western leader on Thursday to speak to Putin. The Kremlin said Putin held a "frank" conversation with the French leader.
"After having spoken with the Ukrainian president, and in coordination with him, the president (Macron) called Vladimir Putin to demand the immediate halt of Russian military operations, noting that Russia risked massive sanctions," the Elysee said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, however, said the Russian leader needs to understand that NATO is a nuclear alliance even as he ruled out the alliance’s intervention to defend Ukraine.
Asked whether Putin's threat of "such consequences that you have never encountered in your history" was tantamount to threatening Russian use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict, Le Drian said it was indeed understood as such.
"Yes, I think that Vladimir Putin must also understand that the Atlantic alliance is a nuclear alliance. That is all I will say about this," he said on French television TF1.
Le Drian also said Ukraine had made a list for weapons they needed and "we are studying that list in order to meet their requests as soon as possible”, but emphasized that Europe and NATO were not looking for a military intervention.
"Strangling Russia economically and financially will in the long run be stronger than any intervention," he said.
On Friday, Macron said France was speeding up its deployment of troops to bolster NATO's eastern flank in Romania.
Talking after an emergency summit with European Union leaders, Macron said he was "accelerating" the dispatch of forces.
Meanwhile, the United States said Thursday it was sending another 7,000 troops to Germany.
NATO is looking to establish battle groups in the southeast of the alliance, including in Romania. France has offered to lead the new deployment in that country.
Pelosi: US to provide $600mn for new Ukraine weapons
US House speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers want to provide Ukraine with $600 million for "lethal defense weapons".
"What we're doing with Ukraine is making sure that we have humanitarian assistance to help the people; that we have lethal defense weapons going into Ukraine to the tune of $600 million for them to fight their own fight," she told reporters in San Francisco.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba earlier said he had spoken to the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who told him about "plans to deliver new defensive weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.”
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