UKRAINE’S troops have retaken Kyiv airport from the Russians, just hours after losing it, in a major blow to Vladimir Putin.
The Ukrainian National Guard shared a photo of three soldiers holding a bullet-riddled Ukrainian flag, calling them the heroes of the battle.
It came just hours after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered compulsory enlistment and banned all men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country.
Antonov Airport near the town of Hostomel, 20 miles from Kyiv, is seen as crucial to Russia’s invasion strategy, just outside the capital.
But despite elite Russian airborne forces capturing the airport, by Friday, Ukraine’s government declared they had seized it back.
Deputy Minister Anton Herashchenko made the announcement, according to The Kyiv Independent.
Ukraine’s National Guard tweeted a photo of three young soldiers holding up a Ukrainian flag filled with bullet holes.
“Guardsmen with their flag, torn to pieces after today’s battle,” it wrote. “Congratulations to all of you and say that we will win!”
But despite the recapture of the airport, Russia has made gains elsewhere, reportedly encircling the city of Konotop in eastern Ukraine as they head towards Kyiv.
Reports claimed troops would storm Kyiv at 3am local time (1am GMT).
At around 4.20am local time (2.20am GMT), reports came through of blasts in the city.
“Big explosion now in Kyiv,” Foreign Correspondent for Fox News Trey Yingst tweeted.
Vladimir Putin’s tanks are less than 20 miles from Ukraine’s capital, as thousands try desperately to escape to the west and flee the onrushing army.
Ukrainian government sources have claimed 18 Russian Ilyushin Il-76 planes have left the western Russian city of Pskov heading for Kyiv.
The country’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia had captured an airfield near Kyiv.
Late on Thursday, 13 Ukrainian border guards were reportedly killed as Russian troops took over Snake Island in the Black Sea, close to the border with Romania and the European Union.
President Zelenskyy has declared a general mobilisation – assembling and readying military troops and supplies for war.
If Kyiv falls, Western leaders fear large-scale civilian casualties in the city of 2.9m people.
The invasion on Thursday began with a series of Russian missile strikes followed by ground troops crossing the border.
Western officials also reported forces crossing over from Belarus, where a number of large-scale military exercises have taken place in recent days, as well as from the annexed territory of Crimea.
The West is worried that Russia intends to storm across Ukraine in a lightning-fast war, installing a pro-Moscow puppet regime in Kyiv.
President Zelenskyy said 137 people died in the first day of the conflict, and claimed his country has been left “alone” to fight Russia.
He also announced the introduction of compulsory military enlistment rules, banning all men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country.
President Zelenskyy said: “What we have heard today are not just missile blasts, fighting, and the rumble of aircraft.
“This is the sound of a new iron curtain, which has come down and is closing Russia off from the civilised world.
“Our national task is to make sure this curtain does not fall across our land.”
President Zelenskyy says 137 people died in the first day of the conflict, adding that his country has been left “alone” to fight against Russia.
It comes as Russian troops captured the former nuclear power station of Chernobyl, taking cleanup workers at the site hostage.
An adviser to the Ukrainian President, Mykhailo Poldoliak, told reporters: “After a fierce battle, our control over the Chernobyl site was lost.
“The condition of the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, confinement, and nuclear waste storage facilities is unknown.”
Just after 1am Ukraine time on Friday, NEXTA, an eastern European media agency, claimed anomalous jumps in radiation levels had been recorded near the Chernobyl site.
Slamming the “senseless” attack by Russian forces, he added: “It is impossible to say that Chernobyl is safe.”
The President’s Office warned that the move is “one of the most serious threats to Europe today,” as Russian troops may be preparing to provoke the nuclear power plant or “use the damage received during the attack to blame Ukraine, or damage these by far the most dangerous objects”.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said the Russian attack “may cause another ecological disaster”.
This is the sound of a new iron curtain, which has come down and is closing Russia off from the civilised world
Chernobyl “can happen again in 2022” if the war continues, it said.
Following the news, US President Joe Biden made a TV address, accusing Putin of starting a war in Europe.
“Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war,” he said. “And now he and his country will bear the consequences.”
Chernobyl lies 80 miles north of Kyiv on a strategic route into the capital from Belarus, Putin’s puppet state where he has stationed 30,000 troops.
Soldiers were said to be fighting close to the giant sarcophagus sealing in the reactor that exploded in the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.
Zelenskyy added the Russian assault on Chernobyl was “a declaration of war on all Europe”.
The site also houses nuclear waste, and officials openly expressed fears Russian artillery shells could cause a catastrophic leak.
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Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Interior Minister, said the invading troops entered the exclusion zone from the Belarus side.
He added: “If the occupiers’ artillery strikes destroy the nuclear waste storage facility, radioactive dust could cover the territories of Ukraine, Belarus, and the EU.”
The April 1986 reactor explosion and fire killed at least 31 and spewed a huge cloud of radioactive particles into the air.
It blew across Europe and rained down over thousands of square miles.
The Chernobyl site is still protected by a large exclusion zone where people can only visit for short periods to avoid high doses of radiation.
Last month Ukraine sent reinforcements to the area over fears Chernobyl could be targeted by Putin.
It comes as:
The long-feared invasion came in the early hours today as missile blasts rocked Kyiv and 24 other cities.
A second wave followed hours later as dramatic video showed a swarm of Mi-8 and Ka-52 helicopters blitzing an airport close to the capital.
It was followed by a ground battle for control of the airfield.
And tonight it was claimed 18 Russian Il-76 transport planes had taken off from Russia bound for Kyiv.
It was feared they could be carrying paratroopers for a lightning assault to seize the capital.
US officials said Putin’s aim was to “decapitate” the democratic government and install a Kremlin stooge as president.
Tanks also rolled into the east from Russia and met fierce resistance from defence forces in Sumy near the strategic city of Kharkiv.
Video footage showed charred tanks and armoured cars painted with Z symbols littering the roads.
Meanwhile, troops surged into the south from annexed Crimea and planted a Russian flag on the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant.
Russia was reported to have gained control over much of the Kherson region in the south.
Both sides’ armies have suffered “heavy casualties”, a UK Ministry of Defence intelligence update said tonight.
It said: “Russian forces based in Belarus are advancing towards Kyiv.
“The Ukrainian armed forces have put up a staunch resistance and continue to hold key cities.
“Heavy casualties have been suffered on both sides, although exact numbers are currently unclear.”
Across the country, dozens of civilians were killed including 22 in a village near Odessa, a boy in a block of flats in Kyiv, and four when a hospital was shelled in Donetsk province.
Elsewhere, fighter jets were seen flying low over Kyiv, and a Ukrainian An-26 plane was shot down killing five.
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