he City of Kyiv was braced for Russian attacks as heavy armoury was positioned nearer the Ukrainian capital and diplomatic appeals for a ceasefire from Germany and France were rejected by Vladimir Putin.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky estimates 1,300 Ukrainian troops have been killed in the first 17 days of the Russian invasion as the body count piles up.
Western intelligence services suggest that 6,000 Russian troops have been killed although the Ukrainians estimate higher losses.
President Emmanuel Macron of France and German Chancellor Olaf Schulz both asked the Kremlin for a ceasefire in calls with Vladimir Putin but Macron’s office said there was no indication given that Russia would cease its onslaught.
Meanwhile defences in Kyiv were being strengthened with tanks traps placed near the city perimeter as the population vowed to fight on. Clashes have continued on the outskirts with British intelligence reporting that the bulk of Russian forces are within 25km of the centre.
Military experts suggest that the the re-deployment of some units, caught on satellite images, suggest that Russian forces may be plotting to encircle the city.
An intelligence report said: “This (move) is likely to support a Russian attempt to encircle the city. It could also be an attempt by Russia to reduce its vulnerability to Ukrainian counter attacks, which have taken a significant toll on Russian forces.”
Ukrainian officials also fear the Russians may be preparing to launch a large-scale assault but have vowed to fight on.
Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the the capital was “a city under siege but ready to fight.” He added: Kyiv will stand until the end.”
Humanitarian corridors had been set up from Mariupol, Sumy and towns and villages outside the capital Kyiv but shelling meant limited numbers were able to escape.
The situation in Mariupol is dire according to Ukrainian officials with food and water scarce and the power grid obliterated.
President Zelenky has claimed that some smaller towns had been totally destroyed by Russian forces.
Meanwhile hundreds of residents have taken to the streets of the south-eastern city of Melitopol to protest against the abduction of its mayor by Russian forces.
President Zelensky demanded his immediate release and accused the Russians of “moving to a new stage of terror”.
“They have transitioned into a new stage of terror, in which they try to physically liquidate representatives of Ukraine’s lawful local authorities,” he said in a video address.
As the tensions ratchet up the Kremlin and White House have upped the war of words over the West providing Ukraine with defensive weapons.
Despite US President Joe Biden ruling out direct military intervention in Ukraine the Kremlin has threatened to attack convoys transferring weapons to help Ukraine defend its territory.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said convoys with foreign weapons would be “legitimate targets.”
“We warned the United States that pumping Ukraine with weapons from a number of countries orchestrated by them is not just a dangerous move, but these are actions that turn the corresponding convoys into legitimate targets,” Ryabkov said Saturday on the Russian state-run Channel One, according to state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.
As the crisis escalates refugees continue to cross over into neighbouring countries.
The UNHCR says that 2.6m people have now left Ukraine with neighbouring Poland accepting over 1.5 million. The Polish government has confirmed that they will be permitted to live and work in the country.
With sanctions slapped on businesses and individuals over the war, Hyundai is the latest sponsor to suspend its contract with Chelsea whose owner Roman Abramovich has been targeted. The deal was worth a reported £50m to the club and follows the exit of shirt sponsor ‘3’ who operate a mobile phone network.