War in Ukraine: How the Russian army is surrounding Kyiv
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With each passing day since the Russian offensive on Ukraine began on February 24, the Russian army has been inching closer to Kyiv, encircling the capital. Now, the harshest battles are taking place northwest of the city, about 30 km away. Both amateur images and Russian propaganda efforts have shined a light on Russia’s strategy to surround the city.
One of the Russian army’s main objectives has been to encircle and capture Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Several hours after the conflict began on February 24, Russians targeted, unsuccessfully, the nearby airport of Hostomel in a helicopter air raid, with the aim of seizing the site to be used as a foothold only 27 km from the capital.
But near the same airport, northwest of Kyiv, fierce fighting is still taking place. On March 3, Ukrainian special forces filmed videos showing Russian soldiers killed and their tanks significantly damaged. The videos were geolocated, confirming that they were filmed at the border between Hostomel and the city of Iprin, 20 km from Kyiv.
In Irpin, Russian artillery fire killed at least four civilians who were trying to escape the military advance on Sunday, March 6. To delay the arrival of Russian troops, the Ukrainian army destroyed a bridge south of the city.
Still, the Russian military is advancing. On Sunday, videos showed Russian soldiers accompanied by tanks west of Irpin (geolocation here). The video appeared to have been filmed by a civilian who was hiding in an apartment building. In order to protect the civilian's identity, we are not sharing the video, only the location of Russian soldiers in the town.
Irpin isn’t the only town in the sights of Russian forces, who are advancing even farther west of the capital so as to surround Kyiv. Air strikes, artillery fire and fighting have caused significant damage in the area. Fires caused by the battles can be seen on the NASA FIRMS tool which tracks fires from satellites.
The fighting has also destroyed infrastructure in Bucha, a town neighbouring Irpin to the northwest of Kyiv. We received two videos from a resident of Bucha named Kateryna who has since fled the town. She told us that she received the videos from friends on March 3. We authenticated the videos by cross-checking their geolocation.
The videos show soldiers in the street and a large plume of smoke coming from the centre of Bucha.
Kateryna told the FRANCE 24 Observers team why she had to leave her town:
Many of my family members in Bucha are now without electricity, heat, gas and communications – they seem to be cut off from the whole world and they have nowhere to turn for help. That’s why my parents and I had to desperately leave Bucha. Our house depended on electricity, so without it we have no heat, no hot food and no water.
Farther north, the Russian army is waiting for Chechen fighters to come in as reinforcements. Two propaganda videos published on March 7 show Chechen auxiliaries smiling, equipped with equipment that is more advanced than normal Russian soldiers. Thanks to a sign in one of the videos, we were able to pinpoint its location in the small town of Babyntsi, 40 km northwest of Kyiv.
Troops, artillery and cruise missiles
As well as pushing troops forward west and northwest of Kyiv, the Russian army is carrying out strikes using artillery and cruise missiles.
Videos show Russian multiple rocket launchers firing toward Kyiv from around 50 km east of the city.
Russians attack Ukrainian military from behind the civilian population. On the footage you can see the shelling by MRLS "Hrad" recorded by our drone. The shelling was carried out directly from a village. pic.twitter.com/m2XSY4aNbs— Повернись живим (@BackAndAlive) March 6, 2022
Cruise missiles were launched toward the Vinnytsia airport, 180 km southwest of Kyiv, on March 6. The Ukrainian newspaper Kyiv Independent says these strikes destroyed the airport.
We were able to identify a Russian Kalibr 3M-54 missile in these videos.
While this attack took place farther away from the capital, it is part of an overall strategy by the Russian army to weaken Ukrainian forces and descend on the capital. However, on the 13th day of the Russian offensive, Kyiv is still free.