Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the US and the West had acted too late to protect his country from the might of the Russian army and described how ‘the end of the world has arrived’ during a news conference on Thursday.
He appealed for more help during a defiant appearance in his capital Kyiv as fighting entered its second week.
A Pentagon official said Russia has now sent almost all its assembled combat power across the border into Ukraine, while reports suggested they were gaining ground across the south.
Zelensky repeated his plea for a NATO no-fly zone to protect his cities and troops.
And eight days into the war he said he now had good lines of communication with President Joe Biden and other leaders, but lamented that they only stepped up their support once Russia launched its invasion.
‘It’s a pity it began after the beginning of this war, but we have it. And my appreciation to [Biden] and to his team. We can speak now often,’ he said
‘The whole world is late with Ukraine, making decisions.’
Zelensky and his allies had urged the West to step up financial sanctions on Moscow as Vladimir Putin massed his troops on the border with Ukraine to deter an invasion.
But the White House and allies stepped up their pressure only after Putin ordered troops into Ukraine.
More support arrived on Thursday in the form of sanctions on oligarchs and others in the Russian president’s inner circle.
Now his country was fighting for survival, said Zelensky.
‘The end of the world has arrived,’ he said.
After saying the world had been too slow to act, he called on Western leaders to step up their support now with a no-fly zone that would deny access to Russian warplanes.
He said the world was too slow to offer support for Ukraine and prodded Western leaders to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine to deny access to Russian warplanes that were bombing civilian areas.
‘We want a no-fly zone because our people are being killed. From Belarus, from Russia — these missiles, these Iskander missiles and bomber planes, are coming,’ Zelensky said.
‘I asked President Biden, and Scholz and Macron…and I said, if you can’t provide a no-fly zone right now, then tell us when?’
The White House and NATO allies have ruled out a move that would directly pit its warplanes against Russian forces.
Zelensky also challenged Putin to sit down for talks.
In a sarcastic reference to the size of a table Putin used for meetings with other foreign leaders, he said: ‘Sit down with me to negotiate, just not at 30 meters.
‘I don’t bite. What are you afraid of?’
Foreign leaders have hailed the spirit of the Ukrainian resistance, which is credited with slowing or stopping the Russian advance.
But that has only prompted Putin and his generals to double down.
Russia has accelerated the arrival of troops into Ukraine, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters, with 90 percent of the assembled troops now having crossed into Ukraine.
More than 150,000 troops, along with tanks, aircraft, armored vehicles carriers, and missile systems had gathered around the borders ahead of the invasion.
The result was a day of fierce fighting.
The deputy mayor of Mariupol said hours of shelling and besieging Russian troops had cut off power, food, and water to his city.
‘We are near to a humanitarian catastrophe,’ said Sergiy Orlov. ‘Russian forces are several kilometers away on all sides.
‘The Ukrainian army is brave and they will continue to defend the city, but Russia does not fight with their army, they just destroy districts… We are in a terrible situation.’
And officials in Kyiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv said they had come under fierce attack but remained under Ukrainian control.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration ordered new sanctions on Russian business oligarchs and Putin’s cronies.
They included Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, and Alisher Burhanovich Usmanov, one of Russia’s wealthiest individuals.
The US State Department also imposed visa bans on 19 Russian oligarchs and dozens of their family members and close associates.
‘The goal was to maximize impact on Putin and Russia and minimize the harm on us and our allies and friends around the world,’ said Biden as he opened a Cabinet meeting at the White House.