In Kyiv, defiant Ukrainians hold off Russian army: 'We know we will win'

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On Friday evening, the situation in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, looked positively dire. Russian forces were reportedly approaching the city from all sides. Throughout the afternoon, the second day of the attack ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the sky was filled with explosions from nearby attacks on airfields, factories and electrical stations. Tens of thousands of local residents pushed onto westward-bound trains in what sometimes appeared to onlookers as stampedes, while others loaded their families into cars that formed traffic jams that snaked as far as the eye could see. Many headed toward the border with Poland to wait for 20 hours in lines near the border with Ukraine that backed up 15 miles.

Oleksandr Khymych, editor of online magazine MusicinUA, and his wife headed to a metro station in Kyiv where “the entrance was barricaded from the inside, and the police were guarding it,” he told Yahoo News. “Everybody was nervous because there was the information that Kyiv was supposed to be captured in the night.”

Grocery store shelves were emptying, and by late afternoon many shops and pharmacies were already shuttered. Nearly 120,000 Ukrainians have already fled the country, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. Gas stations in Kyiv were rationing supplies, and some had run out of fuel altogether.

A man inspects a broken window, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Kyiv.
A man in Kyiv inspects a broken window after Russia launched a massive military operation. (Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko)

Putin again appeared on TV, appealing to the city’s residents and Ukraine’s outnumbered military forces to help overthrow a government he falsely claimed was led by “terrorists,” “drug addicts” and Nazis.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, continued to rally his countrymen, posting videos on social media urging them to stay and fight.

"We have to persevere tonight,” he told his people in a video posted to Facebook. “The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now. The night,” he predicted, “will be hard, very hard. But there will be a morning."

On the streets of Kyiv before darkness fell, the reality behind Zelensky’s words had already sunk in. The Ukrainian government advised citizens to make Molotov cocktails to toss at approaching Russian armored vehicles, and TV and radio stations provided them with the recipes for the homemade explosives.

The attack began in earnest at nightfall, explosions and small arms fire ringing in the darkness. Western pundits and the White House itself predicted that by Saturday morning Kyiv could well be in Russian hands.

News reports droned on about the increased fighting to north, south, east and west and that Russians were trying to take control of a nearby hydroelectric plant.

Around 4 a.m., the skies over Kyiv glowed pink and gold as rockets lit up the darkness in an intensified barrage. But as dawn broke, Kyivans were greeted by welcome news. The Ukrainian armed forces had shot down two transport planes, filled with paratroopers. Ukraine had secured the hydroelectric plant near Kyiv. The city had not fallen.

“Good morning, Ukrainians!” Zelensky said in a video posted on Twitter at 6:57 a.m. “I am here. We are not laying down our weapons. We will protect our land!”

A Ukrainian serviceman gives a thumbs-up riding atop a military vehicle before an attack in the Lugansk region.
A Ukrainian serviceman before an attack in the Lugansk region on Feb. 26. (Anatoli Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)

The Ukrainian government said that as of Saturday morning, 3,500 Russian troops had been killed, and 200 more had been taken prisoner. Whether the figures were true or designed to rattle Moscow, the Russian news service Tass reported them before quickly deleting mention of the totals from its website.

The official toll for Ukrainian losses since the Russian invasion began on Thursday was 198, including three children, according to Ukraine Health Minister Viktor Liashko.

It was not just Kyiv where Ukrainians, some of whom were part of territorial defense forces, had stood and fought Russian soldiers.

“The Ukrainian resistance to the Russian advance appears extraordinary,” James Heappey, British Parliamentary under-secretary of state for the armed forces, told BBC radio.All of Russia’s day-one objectives of Kharkiv, Kherson, Mariupol, Sumy and even Melitopol, which the Russians are claiming to [have] taken but we can’t see anything on that, are still all in Ukrainian hands.”

Inspired by Zelensky, the Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s bigger, better-equipped armed forces has surprised Moscow, Washington, NATO members and even some in the country itself.

“The hard fights on the streets only raised people’s spirits,” Yehor Soboliev, a former parliamentarian who now fights with the civilian force, told Yahoo News. Perils, however, remained, especially to the south, with Russian fleets blocking off part of the Black Sea and all of the Sea of Azov. More alarming: Russian forces were heading toward the city of Enerhodar, site of a six-reactor nuclear plant that is the biggest in Europe. What’s more, the Russians were aiming their missiles at the power plant and the town.

Ukrainian servicemen inspect a damaged vehicle, at the site of fighting with Russian troops in Kyiv, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine.
Ukrainian servicemen inspect a damaged vehicle, at the site of fighting with Russian troops in Kyiv. (Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko)

But the day was a game changer for editor Khymych. “When we left the shelter this morning, the sun was rising,” he said. “We had this weird feeling that the world will never be the same again. Also that our home would never feel as safe as it used to be — and probably there isn’t a safe place anywhere in the world at all.”

Indeed, Russia is said to be mobilizing more troops to try to help overrun Kyiv and other cities.

Nevertheless, Kyiv musician Iryna Kulshenko feels confident in the changing tide. “While the Russian army is firing rockets into peaceful neighborhoods out of desperation, killing children all over Ukraine, trying to convince us of a lie in a vile way, we believe in our army and the president,” she told Yahoo News. “We know we will win. We are already winning. The whole world is with us.”