Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for citizens worldwide to take to the streets “in the name of peace” and hold global protests against Russia’s bloody war, one month after the invasion began.
Zelenskiy’s appeal come as world leaders prepare to hold a series of emergency summits in Europe that aim to ratchet up pressure on Russian president Vladimir Putin to end the war.
In a late-night television address from the emptied streets of his nation’s besieged capital Kyiv, a defiant but visibly tired Zelenskiy said on Thursday Ukraine was “waiting for meaningful steps” from the three gatherings – Nato, EU and European Council – and listed some so-far unheeded requests, such as a no-fly zone, aircraft, and tanks. “Our firm position will be represented at these three summits. At these three summits we will see: Who is a friend, who is a partner, and who betrayed us for money.”
“The world must stop the war,” he said in English. “Come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities, come in the name of peace, come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life.”
In Brussels on Thursday, US president Joe Biden will take part in back-to-back Nato, G7 and European Union summits that will bring pledges of more lethal weapons for Ukraine, more punishing sanctions on Russia’s already crisis-wracked economy and warnings about further escalation.
Each of the multilateral groups that Biden will join largely welcome a return of US leadership and engagement in Europe after the nadir of the Donald Trump administration.
Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told journalists on Air Force One on the way to Brussels: “What we would like to hear is that the resolve and unity that we’ve seen for the past month will endure for as long as it takes.”
Zelenskiy, who will speak to Nato members by video on Thursday, also said he is asking the alliance to provide “effective and unrestricted” support to Ukraine, including any weapons the country needs to fend off the Russian invasion. Nato earlier announced it will double its troops along the alliance’s eastern flank, beginning the deployment of four new battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
The month-long conflict has devastated Ukraine, killing thousands and forcing millions to flee their homes, though troops continue to challenge the Russian advance. In its latest update, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Ukraine had increased pressure on Russian forces north-east of Kyiv, whilecarrying out successful counter attacks against Russian positions in towns on the outskirts of the capital. The MoD noted there is a “realistic possibility” that Ukrainian forces will be able to encircle Russian units in Bucha and Irpin.
Earlier, Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said that “the small city of Makariv and almost all of Irpin is already under the control of Ukrainian soldiers”.
Nato estimates as many as 15,000 Russia soldiers may have been killed in the invasion, roughly the same number the country lost over 10 years of conflict in Afghanistan. Putin’s regime officially puts the number of Russian fallen at under 500, and has introduced draconian censorship laws to prevent independently verified news about what it calls a “special military operation.”
Ukraine has released little information about its own military losses, and the west has not given an estimate, though Zelenskiy said nearly two weeks ago that about 1,300 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed.
Despite some unexpected shows of strength by Ukraine, Russian forces continued relentless attacks on the nation’s towns and cities.
In the besieged northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces have been accused of taking hostages, as desperate local officials imposed drinking water rationing on trapped civilians.
About 150,000 people are stuck in the northern city with little hope of aid after Russia cut them off from Kyiv, 100 miles south, by bombing a road bridge across the Desna River.
Chernihiv, which has been the focus of intense fighting in which tens of people have been killed a day, has already been without power for days, with looting rife, as the city has collapsed into chaos.
In Kyiv, where near-constant shelling and gunfire shook the city on Wednesday as the two sides battled for control of multiple suburbs. Mayor Klitschko said at least 264 civilians have been killed in the capital since the war broke out. The shelling also claimed the life of another journalist Wednesday. The independent Russian news outlet The Insider said Russian journalist Oksana Baulina had been killed in a Kyiv neighborhood.
Western leaders remain concerned about any possible escalation in the conflict. Nato countries are expected to agree at Thursday’s summit to provide special kit to protect Ukraine against any chemical, biological or nuclear attacks launched by Russia.
Jens Stoltenberg, the organisation’s secretary general, also told Russia to stop engaging in “nuclear sabre-rattling” and repeated warnings that the Kremlin could be seeking “a pretext” for using chemical weapon as the war heads into a second month.
In other developments:
- US is expected to announce a new package of Russia sanctions on Thursday, targeting politicians and oligarchs. More Russian banks and state enterprises may also be added to a blacklist, cutting them off from using the Belgium-based Swift financial messaging system.
- Nato announced it will double its troops along the alliance’s eastern flank, beginning the deployment of four new battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
- On the eve of a meeting with Biden, European Union nations signed off on another €500m ($550m) in military aid for Ukraine.
- UK will double the number of missiles it sends to Ukraine and urge western allies to step up provisions of lethal aid to the country. Boris Johnson said the UK would provide 6,000 new defensive missiles, including high-explosive weapons, and £25m from Foreign Office funds to help Ukraine pay its military and police forces.
In his late-night address, flitting between Ukrainian and Russian, Zelenskiy said the past month had been “long” but hailed Ukrainian resistance that has been much more ferocious than Russia expected and would endure for as long as it takes.
“This is a war for independence and we must win,” he said. “We will rebuild every city, we will bring the invaders to justice for every crime,” he said. “All our people will live in a free Ukraine.”