Ukraine-Russia conflict: Call to arms for 18,000 civilians as Kyiv defends itself against Russian invasion

Dressed in a long, dark coat, red shirt and thick framed glasses, the picture of 26-year-old Ukrainian MP Sviatoslav Yurash looks like that of any young European city dweller on his way to work.

Posted on Twitter alongside the caption “this will be a long night”, at first glance, the image appears unremarkable. Yet, slung over his shoulder, the politician is carrying an AK47 machine gun.

Ukraine’s youngest ever MP, alongside former president Petro Poroshenko, is among 18,000 Ukrainian civilians who have taken up arms handed out by the state to defend their country against invading Russian forces. The call to arms came as Ukraine's Ministry of Defence took to Facebook to ask residents living in Kyiv's northern outskirts to make Molotov cocktail fire bombs "to neutralise the enemy".

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Reports have described civilian soldiers manning checkpoints on roads outside Kiev, dressed in casual clothes.

Kyiv on Friday came under heavy fire from Russian military air strikes. Tanks moved in to the northern suburbs as Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba warned the "horrific rocket strikes" were unlike anything seen since 1941 when the country was attacked by Nazi Germany.

Ukrainian authorities said an orphanage housing 50 children had been hit by Russian debris in Vorzel, a small town about 25 miles from Kyiv, although there were no casualties.

Meanwhile Dmytro Zhyvytskyy, head of the regional military administration, said that a residential area, several bomb shelters and a kindergarten had been hit by an artillery barrage. Amnesty International said at least six civilians had been killed and at least 12 more were injured in what the NGO said could be considered war crimes.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was considering sanctioning Vladimir Putin's "inner circle" after Ukraine demanded tougher measures and support in fending off the Russian invasion. Mr Johnson is also using an emergency Nato summit on Friday to increase pressure on allies to freeze Russia out of the Swift international payment system amid opposition to the move in the European Union.

Ukrainian servicemen ride on tanks towards the front line with Russian forces in the Lugansk region of Ukraine. - Ukrainian forces fought off Russian troops in the capital Kyiv on the second day of a conflict that has claimed dozens of lives, as the EU approved sanctions targeting President Vladimir Putin.

Hopes of talks between Russia and Ukraine looked uncertain on Friday night as President Vladimir Putin offered to send a delegation for talks with Ukrainian officials in Minsk, Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko runs a pro-Russian government. Ukrainian authorities rejected the location for the talks, saying they would like to meet in Nato member Poland.

Russian authorities warned that if the Nordic countries of Finland or Sweden moved to join Nato, it would spark “serious military and political consequences”. A refusal by the West to rule out Ukraine ever joining the alliance was one of the triggers for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On Friday, residents in the Obolon district of Kyiv were told to stay home to avoid “active military operations”, with many residents sheltering in basement bomb shelters and underground train networks.

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Westminster defence secretary Ben Wallace said more than 450 Russian troops had been killed, as a fierce resistance meant Moscow "failed" on the main objective on the first day of fighting. However, British intelligence said late on Friday the vast bulk of tanks were still around 31 miles away from the capital.

He said: "So, I think contrary to great Russian claims and indeed President Putin's sort of vision that somehow the Ukrainians would be liberated and would be flocking to his cause, he's got that completely wrong. The Russian army has failed to deliver on day one its main objective."

Interior Ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko reported 18,000 machine guns had been handed out in Kyiv to volunteers, “all those who want to defend our capital with weapons in their arms".

"Ukrainian military equipment is entering Kyiv now to defend it,” he said. “I am asking all residents of Kyiv – please do not film it, do not film its movements. This is necessary to protect our city."

During a radio interview with the BBC, MP Mr Yurash admitted he had little knowledge as to how to use a machine gun, but said he was with people who could help him.

Asked by presenter Nick Robinson what Ukrainians would do if Russia "wins this battle", Mr Yurash replied: "That’s exactly why I’m looking at my AK47 in front of me."

He added: “These are skills you pick up very fast when you are fighting for your life.”

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Former president Mr Poroshenko, who served as leader from 2014 to 2019, also brandished a Kalashnikov in a live TV interview.

A teenager who fled his home in Kahrkiv for a rural village before the attacks began told how he does not know if his house is still standing – as he heard a friend had been killed in the conflict.

Nik Rykov, 19, said one of his friends was among the dozens of soldiers reported to have died in the attack on Kharkiv, while he fears for another who was in an affected area and has not responded since.

"He went to the army and protected our country until the end of his life," Mr Rykov, a software engineer, said. "I'm very scared. This invasion is a giant crime against all people, not only Ukrainians."

Mr Rykov said he was worried he may now be conscripted to join the army himself.

"I haven't even completed basic military training and I'm very afraid of being used as cannon fodder," he said.

Student Caleb Umeh added: "You don't know what to do. You're just here hoping that you just get that call or that message that the war is over. Looking out of my window, just once in a while I see one or two persons go out maybe to get stuff and they run back in, but the streets are totally deserted."

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Mr Umeh, a 29-year-old lawyer from Nigeria who is in Ukraine studying for a masters programme, has remained in his accommodation block, which has a basement to shelter in if and when the sirens sound.

But many others including some of his friends, he says, have abandoned their homes to camp out in subway stations. Another friend, he said, encountered an unexploded shell sticking up from the middle of the road.

"It has been a lot," he said. "Yesterday from around 2am I was awake. From my room I could hear a number of shelling, I was hearing some blasts, but I couldn't just conclude at that point it was actually from the Russian army until the morning [when] I got to know a military base not too far from my residence was actually brought down, totally destroyed."

In Russian-speaking communities in Russia and other former Soviet states, the hastag #notowar has been trending on social media.

Russian TV chat show host Ivan Urgant and Russian tennis player Andrey Rublev are among high-profile names to have publicly opposed the conflict.

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