'They Want Kyiv': Ukraine Opens Armories to Citizens Amid Russia Blitzkrieg

Russia's multi-pronged invasion of Ukraine that began early on Thursday is aimed at the capital Kyiv, a source close to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told Newsweek.

The president on Thursday announced martial law as Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian military, civilian and infrastructure targets across the country, strikes stretching from the border with Russia in the east to the border with Poland in the west.

Russian armored and support vehicles were seen advancing across Ukraine's eastern, southern, and northern frontiers under the cover of missile barrages and airstrikes. Those coming from positions in Belarus appeared to be heading towards the capital Kyiv, only 160 miles away.

A source close to Zelenskyy, who asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak publicly, told Newsweek: "They want Kyiv."

The source declined to give Newsweek any information on the president's whereabouts.

Recent reports have indicated that President Joe Biden's administration has made plans to relocate Zelenskyy from Ukraine to Poland in the event of a major Russian invasion.

Zelenskyy addressed the nation on Thursday morning as explosions and air raid sirens could be heard in Kyiv. "We will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country," the president said. "Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities."

Heavy fighting has been reported near the eastern city of Kharkiv and to the north of Kyiv. In the south, Russian troops have reportedly pushed 80 miles into Ukraine and have reached the Dnieper River.

Ukrainian forces say they have shot down at least seven aircraft. Russia has denied the claims. Other reports detail Russian helicopters being downed, including over Hostomel, just outside Kyiv, where videos and reports indicate a Russian airborne assault underway at the town's airport.

The ultimate Russian endgame is unclear, though as the day wears on the push towards the capital and other large cities in the south and east are becoming more obvious.

Svitlana Zalishchuk—a foreign policy adviser to Yuriy Vitrenko, the CEO of Ukraine's state-owned Naftogaz energy firm; and to Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine's deputy prime minister on European Euro Atlantic integration—told Newsweek from Kyiv she believes Putin wants to install a "puppet government" to replace Zelenskyy's.

Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine's former ambassador to the U.S., told Newsweek the situation is still developing. "It will be more clear tonight," Chaly said from Kyiv.

The U.S. and European Union, meanwhile, are considering a response. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the "barbaric" invasion would be met with a "massive and targeted" sanctions package.

This, she said, will include targeting "strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking their access to key technologies and markets. We will weaken Russia's economic base and its capacity to modernize. In addition, we will freeze Russian assets in the EU and stop the access of Russian banks to the European financial market."

Zelenskyy compared the Russian invaders to those of Nazi Germany, who swept over and devastated Ukraine—then part of the Soviet Union—in World War Two.

"Ukraine is defending itself and will not give up its freedom, no matter what Moscow thinks," Zelenskyy said. "Russia vilely and suicidally attacked our state in the morning. Just like fascist Germany did during the Second World War."

Putin announced the start of the "special military operation" early on Thursday, saying the goal was the "demilitarisation and denazification" of Ukraine.

Russian officials have long tried to frame the democratically elected government in Kyiv—the prime minister and president of which are both of Jewish heritage—as neo-Nazi.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday: "Ideally we need to liberate Ukraine, cleanse it of Nazis."

Ukraine armored vehicle in Kyiv amid invasion
A Ukrainian serviceman rides atop a military vehicle past Independence square in central Kyiv on February 24, 2022 DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images