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Ukrainians fend off Russian invasion in Kharkiv, Kyiv

A petroleum storage depot is on fire after a Russian missile attack in Vasylkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday. Photo by Alisa Yakubovych/EPA-EFE
A petroleum storage depot is on fire after a Russian missile attack in Vasylkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday. Photo by Alisa Yakubovych/EPA-EFE

Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Ukraine maintained control of its second-largest city -- Kharkiv -- on Sunday after hours of heavy fighting with Russian forces, local leaders announced.

Kharkiv oblast Gov. Oleg Synyehubov announced on social media that Russian troops and saboteurs who had attacked the northeastern city surrendered. The Russians drove armored vehicles into the heart of the city in what the British Ministry of Defense described as "heavy" fighting.

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The city is home to about 1.5 million mostly Russian-speaking residents. The Washington Post reported the residents of Kharkiv have little interest in separatism and Russian President Vladimir Putin has little sway over them.

Posting on his Telegram channel, Synyehubov warned Ukrainians in the city to stay indoors because lingering Russian fighters might open fire. He said the invading forces blew up a gas pipeline in the region.

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The Kyiv Independent news outlet reported fighting in the city took place over the course of at least 4 hours and that Ukrainian forces captured Russian troops and saboteurs.

The fighting in Ukraine's second city came four days after Russia invaded its neighbor to the west amid months of growing tension between the former Soviet republics. Putin has falsely said Ukraine was stolen from Russia after former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin mistakenly recognized a distinct Ukraine.

Putin has taken issue with Ukraine's desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which would expand the alliance's territory and bring it closer to Russia's border.

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Putin ordered Russia's deterrence forces to be put on alert Sunday, which includes the country's nuclear forces.

"Top officials in leading NATO countries have allowed themselves to make aggressive comments about our country, therefore I hereby order the minister of defense and the chief of the general staff to place the Russian Army Deterrence Force on combat alert," Putin said during televised comments.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States' ambassador to the United Nations, condemned the move.

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"It means that Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that's totally unacceptable," she said during an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation. "We have to continue to condemn these actions."

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday agreed to attend talks with Russia, but declined Moscow's meeting place of Belarus. He said Belarus, which supports Russia's invasion of Ukraine, is not neutral ground.

"Of course we want peace and want to meet. We want to end the war. Warsaw, [Poland], Bratislava, [Slovakia], Istanbul, [Turkey], and Baku, [Azerbaijan], were offered to Russia. Any other cities are fine with us as long as there are no missiles flying from this country," Zelensky said.

Battles raged on in Kyiv for a second day Sunday, though Russia has been unable to capture the capital after facing "stiffer than expected" resistance throughout the country, senior U.S. officials told CNN. Kyiv has about 2.9 million residents.

An explosion early Sunday appeared to target an oil depot just outside Kyiv in Vasilikov, creating a large fire. Ukrainian gas company KLO operated the depot, providing fuel to a chain of gas stations, The Washington Post reported.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko blamed the blast on shelling in the region.

"Within minutes of a strike by a Russian missile and explosion amid burning fuel tanks at the KLO oil depot, 15 wagons of diesel fuel and eight wagons of gas managed to be saved," the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said.

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Though the death toll has been difficult to determine amid the fighting, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said at least 64 Ukrainian civilians have been killed in a count through Saturday night.

On Sunday, Ukraine's Ministry of Interior says 352 civilians were killed, includinh at least 14 children. Also, another 1,684 people, including 116 children, have been injured.

Scenes from the Russian war on Ukraine

European Union leaders attend a summit at the Chateau de Versailles near Paris on March 11, 2022. Photo by the European Union/ UPI | License Photo

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