Olena Dovzhenko told NBC News that she and her husband joined a convoy of cars driving to Kyiv on Sunday to escape an increasingly desperate situation in Irpin. Their convoy was shot and her husband sustained multiple injuries, she said. She added that she watched several people in their group die.
“He is so young,” Dovzhenko, 19, said of her husband, who is in grave condition. “It’s a scary situation.”
NBC News has not verified details of those killed or injured.
Ukraine’s defense outside Kyiv held off Russian troops‘ attempts to advance, Britain’s defense ministry said in its latest update. But forces encircling other major cities, including Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol, have subjected residents to heavy shelling.
Russian troops have made some progress in the south, advancing along the coast and threatening to establish a land bridge to Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukraine’s surprising ability to prevent Russia from controlling the air has helped dent the advance, though the last week has seen intensifying Russian attacks on major cities and residential areas.
In its intelligence update, Britain’s defense ministry said that Ukraine appears “to have enjoyed considerable success against Russia’s modern combat aircraft, probably preventing them achieving any degree of control of the air.”
U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Wednesday that his government would send anti-aircraft weapons and Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. The Russians are “changing their tactics, and so the Ukrainians need to, too” Wallace told British lawmakers.
Zelenskyy has called on the West to enact a no-fly zone over the country, something the United States and NATO have rejected, fearing it could escalate the conflict into a broader war on the continent.
He repeated that request Wednesday, warning the world would be responsible for the “humanitarian catastrophe” his country was facing if it failed to act.
Sanctions and Soviet-era jets
Washington and Europe have instead focused on punishing Putin for the invasion and backing the government in Kyiv that he was almost certainly hoping to remove and replace with a regime friendlier to the Kremlin.
But there was a rare sign of disunity in that effort Tuesday.
The Defense Department rejected what it said was an unexpected offer by Poland to have the U.S. take custody of Soviet-era fighter jets that would likely then be transferred to Ukraine.
U.S. officials said they were blindsided by Poland’s announcement and did not believe the proposal was “tenable.” It differed from a previous proposal to have Warsaw deliver the MiG-29 jets to Kyiv directly.
The U.S. has said it would support Poland’s or another NATO member’s sending jets to Ukraine but has given no indication it would act as an intermediary, with countries eager to avoid becoming too closely embroiled in the conflict.
Zelenskyy pushed for his two allies to quickly reach an agreement to supply his country with aircraft.
“It’s not a pingpong game — it’s human lives we are talking about,” he said in a speech posted to Telegram.
Vice President Kamala Harris was visiting Warsaw on Wednesday in a previously scheduled trip to the NATO ally that has taken in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.
Russia’s slower than expected military advance amid fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces has likely stung Putin, CIA Director William Burns said Tuesday in an appearance before the House Intelligence Committee.
“I think Putin is angry and frustrated right now,” Burns said. “He is likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties.”
U.S. officials estimated that 2,000 to 4,000 Russian soldiers had been killed thus far. On Wednesday, Russia’s defense ministry acknowledged that some conscripts were taking part in the conflict after multiple denials by Putin, who said only professional soldiers had been sent in.
The ministry said that some of them had been taken prisoner by the Ukrainian army, according to Reuters.
Moscow, meanwhile, accused the U.S. of waging an “economic war” after the Biden administration announced that it would ban imports of Russian oil. The United Kingdom also said that it would phase out imports by the end of the year, though the two countries are far less dependent on Russian energy than allies in Europe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was unclear how far turbulence on global energy markets would go but that his country would do what was necessary to defend its interests.
“You see the bacchanalia, the hostile bacchanalia, which the West has sown — and that of course makes the situation very difficult and forces us to think seriously,” Peskov told reporters, according to Reuters.
In addition to the official sanctions enacted by the U.S. and its allies, Western companies have come under increasing pressure to suspend business in Russia. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Starbucks were the latest to announce a halt to their operations in the country.
Nuclear power plant concerns
Ukrainian officials expressed alarm on Wednesday about a loss of power at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.
The site was disconnected from the power grid, according to officials, who blamed the situation on the Russian military and urged a cease-fire in the area to allow crews to restore power.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a tweet that it saw “no critical impact on safety,” though the development violated a “key safety pillar.”
It was unclear what exactly caused the damage. NBC News has reached out to the Russian government for comment.
Reserve diesel generators were able to power the plant for 48 hours, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.
“After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent,” he said. The IAEA said, however, that there was enough cooling water at the site to prevent the spent fuel from overheating without the need for power.
Officials also raised concerns about Europe’s largest nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia, where Russian forces took control last week. Operating staff have been held hostage for four days, according to Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko.
“There are about 500 Russian soldiers and 50 units of heavy equipment inside the station,” he said in a Facebook post, adding that the workers have been left “physically and psychologically exhausted.”
An attack on the plant last week sparked a brief fire and fears of a nuclear meltdown.