KYIV, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Russian forces have attacked oil and gas facilities in Ukraine, sparking huge explosions, officials said on Sunday, as Western allies prepared new sanctions, including banishing key Russia banks from the main global payments system.
Ukrainian forces were holding off Russian troops advancing on the capital, Kyiv, said President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two entered its fourth day.
Russian missiles found their mark, including a strike that set an oil terminal ablaze in Vasylkiv, southwest of Kyiv, the town’s mayor said. Blasts sent huge flames and billowing black smoke into the night sky, online posts showed.
Russian missiles have hit the Ukrainian town of Vasylkiv southwest of the capital, Kyiv, setting an oil terminal ablaze, the town’s mayor said on Sunday. “The enemy wants to destroy everything around,” Natalia Balasinovich said in a video posted online. Photographs and video posted online showed large flames rising under the night sky. The authorities warned residents to be on alert for toxic fumes.
Also on Sunday morning, Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Luhansk province said an oil terminal was blown up by a Ukrainian missile in the town of Rovenky.
There were also reports of heavy fighting near Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, in the northeast, where Russian troops blew up a natural gas pipeline, a Ukrainian state agency said. The gas blast there sent a mushroom cloud up into the darkness.
“The enemy wants to destroy everything,” said the mayor of Vasylkiv, Natalia Balasinovich.
Russian-backed separatists in the eastern province of Luhansk said a Ukrainian missile had blown an oil terminal in the town of Rovenky.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a special military operation on Thursday, ignoring weeks of Western warnings and saying the “neo-Nazis” ruling Ukraine threatened Russia’s security – a charge Kyiv and Western governments say is baseless propaganda.
Reuters witnesses in Kyiv reported occasional blasts and gunfire in the city on Saturday night but it was not clear where this was coming from.
“We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks. The fighting goes on,” Zelenskiy said in a video message from the streets of Kyiv posted on his social media.
A U.S. defence official said Ukraine’s forces were putting up “very determined resistance” to Russia’s air, land and sea advance, which has sent hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing westwards, clogging major highways and railway lines.
The United States and its European partners said they also would impose restrictions on Russia’s central bank to limit its ability to support the rouble and finance Putin’s war effort.
“We are resolved to continue imposing costs on Russia that will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and our economies,” said a statement from the United States, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Britain and the European Commission.
BAD FOR BUSINESS
After initially shying away from such a move largely because of concern about the impact on their economies, the allies said they committed to “ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system.”
They did not name the banks that would be expelled, but an EU diplomat said some 70% of the Russian banking market would be affected.
The decision – which the French finance minister had called a “financial nuclear weapon” because of the damage it would inflict on the Russian economy – deals a blow to Russia’s trade and makes it harder for its companies to do business.
SWIFT, a secure messaging network that facilitates rapid cross-border payments, said it was preparing to implement the measures.
Sanctions on Russia’s central bank could limit Putin’s use of his more than $630 billion in international reserves, widely seen as insulating Russia from some economic harm.
Google barred Russia’s state-owned media outlet RT and other channels from receiving money for ads on their websites, apps and YouTube videos, similar to move Facebook made.
The Kremlin said its troops were advancing again “in all directions” after Putin ordered a pause on Friday. Ukraine’s government said there had been no pause.
Particularly in northern Ukraine, Russia’s forces “have been frustrated by what they have seen is a very determined resistance,” the U.S. official said, without providing evidence.
A Ukrainian presidential adviser said about 3,500 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded. Western officials have said intelligence showed Russia suffering higher casualties than expected.
Russia has not released casualty figures and it was impossible to verify tolls or the precise picture on the ground.
At least 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed and 1,115 people wounded, Interfax quoted Ukraine’s health ministry as saying.
Interfax later cited the regional administration in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, saying 17 civilians had been killed and 73 wounded by Russian shelling. Moscow says it is taking care to avoid civilian sites.
Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, won independence from Moscow in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union and wants to join NATO and the EU, goals Russia opposes.
Putin has said he must eliminate what he calls a serious threat to his country from its smaller neighbour, accusing it of genocide against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine – something Kyiv and its Western allies reject as a lie.
U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi said more than 150,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed into Poland, Hungary, Moldova and Romania.
U.S. President Joe Biden approved the release of up to $350 million worth of weapons from U.S. stocks, while Germany, in a shift from its long-standing policy of not exporting weapons to war zones, said it would send anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air missiles.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Aleksandar Vasovic and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; Alan Charlish in Medyka, Poland; Fedja Grulovic in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania; and Reuters bureaus; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by William Mallard)