By Lyse Doucet, BBC, and Ted Kemp, Charmaine Jacob, CNBC
HUNDREDS of thousands of people spent the last two days in the darkness underground. This morning (Feb. 28) the curfew was lifted and they could finally leave their shelter. But half an hour later the air raid sirens sound and they have to rush back.
These were the moments they hoped they could run to get food, water, to breathe fresh air and to see how the city has been changed in the fighting.
This continues to be a volatile, unpredictable and, as President Zelensky has said, an absolutely crucial time.
This morning we heard from military officials that Ukraine had repelled several attacks by Russian troops to storm the outside of the capital. There were air raid sirens just before first light, there were explosions around the city throughout the night.
So it does seem that even on a day when talks are set to begin between Russia and Ukraine that Russia has not abandoned its efforts to push ever closer to the heart of this capital.
The president of Belarus promised the president of Ukraine in a telephone call that he would ensure that there was safety for the delegations to travel close to the border for peace talks.
But right after that phone call, missiles were fired from Belarus territory into Ukraine so it made a mockery of that promise.
President Zelenski said he was sceptical but he wanted to show Ukrainians he was doing everything possible to end the war which is now in its fifth day.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence has tweeted an intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine.
It says: “The bulk of Putin’s ground forces remain more than 30km to the north of Kyiv, their advance having been slowed by Ukrainian forces defending Hostomel airfield, a key Russian objective for day one of the conflict.
“Heavy fighting continues around Chernihiv and Kharkiv; however both cities remain under Ukrainian control.
“Logistical failures and staunch Ukrainian resistance continue to frustrate the Russian advance.
“Despite continued attempts to suppress details of the conflict from the Russian population, the Russian Armed Forces has for the first time been forced to acknowledge suffering casualties.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to put his country’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert is a “very dangerous escalation” of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, said Oksana Antonenko, director of global risk analysis at Control Risks.
As Western sanctions against Russian officials and establishments continue to increase, and as the country’s economy will soon take a “massive hit,” Russia’s nuclear weapons are Putin’s only “major leverage” against the West and Ukraine, she told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” today.
“It is unlikely that President Putin is threatening to launch nuclear weapons against the West,” but it is still “very much a threat directed to Ukraine” as weapons are being deployed to the Western part of Russia, she said.
However, Putin isn’t showing “victories in the battlefield” and has “painted himself in a corner,” as Ukrainian forces remain highly motivated to defend their country against Russian aggression, Antonenko said.
She added that “Russia was not able to secure control of any of the major towns within Ukraine” and has yet to secure a military victory.
Planned talks between the delegates representing the Ukrainian and Russian governments are unlikely to cause a ceasefire soon as “the only agreement that is possible at the moment is for Russia to withdraw its forces from the territory of Ukraine,” but that will not be accepted by Putin at the moment, Antonenko said.
Western allies are still getting arms into Ukraine unhindered since Russia invaded the country, and those weapons are getting more sophisticated, according to a national security observer.
“It’s not just ammunition. It’s now Stinger missiles. It’s now fighter jets that have come in from the European Union,” Executive Editor Kevin Baron of security publication Defence One told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” today.
Stinger missiles are shoulder-fired weapons designed to shoot down helicopters and other aircraft.
“This is quite a significant increase of firepower being given to the Ukrainians,” he said.
It’s unclear by what means the allied countries are still getting weaponry into Ukrainian hands, Baron said.
No Nato troops are being deployed to Ukraine, he said, “at least not overtly.”
Top: Villagers in Hushchyntsi, south-west of Kyiv, raise a Ukrainian flag at a checkpoint on Feb 27, 2022. Photo: New York Times and published by The Straits Times
Below: Ukrainian service members at a checkpoint near Zhytomyr, west of Kyiv. Photo: BBC
Home Page: Donations for the city’s war effort – including petrol, water and toiletries – and the volunteers who are coordinating it all. Photo: BBC