Ukraine latest: Russian forces move on Kyiv, UK urged to take refugees, new sanctions explained

Published by Scott Challinor on February 25th 2022, 10:10am

On the second day of fierce fighting in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, there are multiple reports of combat taking place near to the nation’s capital of Kyiv as the aggressors close in on the city.

Russian forces moved over the border into Ukraine via the east, north and south on Thursday, with Kyiv hit by missile blasts which damaged military and civilian infrastructure.

Battles are taking place near an airfield on the outskirts of Kyiv, which Russia is looking to seize for its strategic significance. If captured, it could enable Russian air forces to land further troops in the vicinity to mount a further assault on Kyiv.

There is social media footage which has been verified by the BBC showing Russian tanks on the streets of the Obolon district in Kyiv’s north.

The Ukrainian defence ministry has called on residents to “inform us on troop movements, make Molotov cocktails and neutralise the enemy” via social media.

Russia has also launched air raids on Kyiv during the night, which has seen many of the cities residents take shelter in metro stations.

According to Ukrainian officials, one Russian aircraft has been shot down and multiple missile strikes had been made on the city.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has accused Russia of lying over the infrastructure it is targeting.

“They [Russia] say that civilian objects are not targets. It is a lie,” he said.

“The reality is that they don't see a difference in which areas they target.”

At the time of writing, Ukraine has declared 137 fatalities, taking both civilians and military personnel into account. The UN has estimated that over 100,000 people have fled their homes, with at least 1,000 Ukrainians fleeing overnight to Przemyl in Poland by train.

According to UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, 450 Russian soldiers have been killed since the start of the assault.

Russian president Vladimir Putin announced the beginning of the assault in a televised address to his nation, sending a chilling threat that Russia would seek to quell any resistance.

Russia had amassed over 100,000 troops on the border of Ukraine in the weeks leading up to the attack.

It has been confirmed since the military offensive began that Russian forces captured the former nuclear power plant at Chernobyl. Ukraine’s nuclear agency announced on Friday that heightened radiation levels were being recorded in the area, but Russia’s defence ministry maintains that the levels in the zone are normal.

In an effort to explain its presence in the area, Russia says that an agreement has been reached to “ensure security of the power plant and sarcophagus of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant”.

Zelensky has instructed that any conscripts and reservists in Ukraine are summoned to fight, and Ukraine has been arming any citizens requesting access to weapons to defend themselves.

Zelensky has referred to Russia’s assault as the beginning of a “new iron curtain” falling across Europe, and his mission was to do all in his power to keep Ukraine on the western side of it, rather than hauled back across the fence by Putin.

The scale of Ukrainian citizens fleeing Kyiv and other major cities has also sparked fears of a severe refugee crisis in Europe.

Writing to the Times, humanitarian charities have called on the UK government to welcome Ukrainians, warning that the crisis could reach the scale of the war in Yugoslavia over the 1990s. The Home Office has said that it must prioritise British nationals and their families but is working closely with its international partners over the developing situation in Ukraine, including on migration.

The US has indicated that as many as five million people could be displaced as a result of the assault and UN estimates of the levels of citizens fleeing Kyiv already are indicative of the real scale of the crisis Europe may face.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK must do all it can to support the Ukrainian government and stabilise its economy, warning that the humanitarian impact of the invasion could be “enormous”.

In their letter, the charities called on ministers to reconsider plans for the Nationality and Borders Bill, which they said would make it difficult for refugees to come to the UK and claim asylum.

The legislation makes it a criminal offence to intentionally arrive illegally in the UK, and makes the act of helping people into the country illegally an offence punishable with a life sentence in prison.

The BBC has been informed by a government source that the government is “scenario planning” for an increase in asylum seekers fleeing Ukraine. However, visa applications for Ukrainians who are not related to British nationals have been suspended, so there is no legal route for many to claim asylum in the UK.

Yet, the Home Office has said it will allow some Ukrainian nationals in the UK to extend their visas. Individuals eligible for points-based work visas can extend their stay or switch from visitor visas. Seasonal agricultural workers have had their visas extended systematically until the end of the year,

Meanwhile, the West has hit Russia with a new wave of severe economic sanctions following the attack.

Boris Johnson told MPs on Thursday that major Russian banks including VTB will be barred from the UK financial system and measures would go over oligarchs that had helped enable the Putin regime.

Announcing the “largest and most severe package of economic sanctions that Russia has ever seen”, Johnson said that Russian national airline Aeroflot would be banned from landing its aircraft in the UK, and that Belarus would also be penalised for its role in enabling Russian personnel to enter Ukraine via its territory.

The PM went as far as calling Putin a “bloodstained aggressor” who would “stand condemned in the eyes of the world and of history” for what he has done.

Johnson added that the West had “tried every avenue for diplomacy”, and maintained that Putin’s intention was always to launch a military assault no matter what action was taken.

The wide-ranging sanctions will also impose bans on Russian companies and the Russian state from raising finance or borrowing money on UK markets; asset freezes have been imposed on 100 new individuals and businesses; dual-use export licences to Russia covering components which can be used for military purposes have been suspended; exports of high-tech gear and oil refinery equipment to Russia have been stopped; and plans for the Economic Crime Bill have been brought forward to before Parliament’s Easter recess.

Russian nationals have also been limited in what deposits they can make in UK bank accounts, and although the West has stopped short thus far of excluding Russia from the Swift international payment system, the PM insisted that “nothing is off the table”.

Some of the major Russian businesses targeted by sanctions include those with military significance. They include Russia’s largest defence firm Rostec; Tactical Missile Corporation which supplies air and sea missiles; and Uralvagonzavod, one of the largest tank manufacturers globally.

UK foreign secretary Liz Truss has said that the UK “will not rest until Russia's economy has been degraded and Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity restored”.

While the sanctions have been welcomed and supported by the opposition, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that the UK must make major legislative changes, saying that the UK had for too long been a “safe haven for money Putin and his fellow bandits stole from the Russian people”.

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, called on the government to reverse its plans to cut military personnel numbers, while Tory MP Jeremy Hunt urged a review of the nation’s military capability to be carried out urgently.

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, told the chamber that the West must aim for the “complete economic isolation of Russia” and the suspension of Russia from Swift.

Among the sanctions imposed by the US, president Joe Biden said that major banks and individuals who “personally gained from the Kremlin’s policies” would be targeted.

Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
February 25th 2022, 10:10am

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