Russia stepped up its military offensive against Ukraine Friday. It launched air strikes in western Ukraine for the first time, while its ground forces tried to surround the capital Kyiv and subdue other besieged areas like Mariupol.
According to Ukrainian authorities, four people were killed in the airstrikes against the cities of Lutsk, Ivano-Frankivsk, which brought the almost three-week-old conflict ominously close Poland, a NATO member, where nearly half of the 2.5 million refugees fleeing Ukraine sought refuge.
Anastasia Radina, a Ukrainian parliament member, stated on MSNBC that Russia had attacked western cities in Ukraine. "You've just shown how tonight Russia attacked these cities. Ivano-Frankivsk is now the city mayor asking residents living near city airport to evacuate." "And the question now is where should these people go?"
While the worst humanitarian crisis in Europe, since World War Two, continued to unfold, Russian troops that have struggled for days against fierce Ukrainian resistance seemed to be regrouping in the woods North of Kyiv.
Friday's call by President Joe Biden for an stop to normal trade relations between Moscow and the West, which would allow the West to increase tariffs on Russian products. This move would allow it to punish Moscow for its invasion of democracy.
After having already sanctioned Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his Kremlin allies with sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a new round of sanctions Friday against other Moscow elites and Oligarchs, including relatives of Putin’s main spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov.
Kamala Harris, the Vice President of NATO, reiterated in Warsaw the U.S.'s and NATO’s "commitment, if necessary to defend, every inch NATO territory."
Harris cited Article 5 of NATO's NATO treaty to state that "an attack against one is an attack on all".
Russia expands their attack
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zilenskyy sounded confident in Kyiv. He said he believed that his country had reached a "strategic turning point" in its defense war.
He said, "We are already moving towards our goal, toward victory," in a Telegram speech that was posted early Friday. However, he did not provide any details.
Zelenskyy said that Ukrainens are proud people who defend their land and won't give up a single piece to the occupier.
However, Russian forces seemed to be planning a new offensive against Kyiv. A senior U.S. defense official stated that they were at one point only 10 miles from the city's center.
Moscow will likely seek to "reset, re-posture his forces for renewed offensive activities" in the coming days. This would include operations against the capital Kyiv, Britain's defense ministry warned.
Analysts have been watching a huge Russian military convoy that threatened Kyiv for several days. It has been stuck outside of the capital since then. Maxar, a commercial satellite company, stated Friday that the column had been "largely dispersed, redeployed," raising concerns it could be regrouping.
Along with the Russian air attacks on Lutsk's airports, Ivano-Frankivsk's was also targeted by Russian aircraft. Ukrainian authorities claim that at least one person was killed in the attack on Dnipro, a central Ukrainian city.
NBC News has not confirmed the latest deaths, and Russia has repeatedly denied that it targeted civilians. According to the Ukrainian emergency service, missiles from Dnipro struck near a kindergarten, apartment building, and two-story shoe factory.
Residents of Odesa in the south were preparing for an amphibious Russian invasion that was due to take place in days. They filled sandbags from the Black Sea beaches with sand and braved the cold.
Reports also suggested that the Kremlin wanted to boost its invasion force by recruiting as many as 16,000 Syrian "volunteers."
Putin spoke at a meeting of the Russian security council and stated that he believes those who wish to fight alongside Russian forces should have permission to do so, Reuters reported.
Humanitarian crisis worsens
Russia escalated its aggressions even though it was facing growing international condemnation for invading Ukraine. According to the United Nations refugee Agency, more than 2,000,000 people fled Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities are increasing their efforts for evacuation of residents in the most affected areas Friday. Zelenskyy stated that as many as 100,000 civilians were brought to safety in the last two days.
Officials warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Mariupol, the southern port city, after Russia was accused of carrying out a fatal airstrike against a hospital. They cited what they claimed was Moscow's attempts to evacuate civilians.
Mariupol, a strategically important city of around 400,000 inhabitants, was without heat, electricity, or water for at most a week during the freezing temperatures.
Moscow claimed that Russian-backed separatists captured Volnovakha in Donetsk, a small town that was also surrounded and bombarded. This development has not been confirmed by NBC News and Ukrainian officials are not commenting.
U.S. U.S. increases pressure
The U.S. and Europe attempted to provide a new financial blow to Moscow, as Russia was not showing any signs of stopping its military offensive.
Biden announced Friday the U.S. will work with its Group of Seven allies to deny Russia the status of "most favored country", ending normal trade relations, and opening the door to higher tariffs. The European Union stated it would do the same.
Biden stated that the U.S. would also prohibit imports of Russian goods such as seafood, vodka, and diamonds. He said that the United States will join its allies to cut off Moscow's ability for financing from the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.
Biden stated that Putin's war against Ukraine would never result in victory. "We won't let autocrats or would-be emperors dictate how the world should be run."
This move comes just days after the U.S. had banned Russian oil and gas imports and as the West continues to add sanctions against Russia's most powerful and wealthiest.
This week, the U.S. warned Russia not to seize the assets of any foreign companies that had joined the exodus.
Putin insisted that Russia would overcome these difficulties.
He said that "Ofcourse, there are problems related to recent events." "There have been always been attempts to limit our development, and they are happening now, clearly on a bigger scale."
Russia had just restricted Instagram access, opened a criminal case against Meta Platforms and made moves to make it an "extremist organisation."
Russia responded to Meta's announcement of a policy change that allowed users to call for violence against Russian soldiers in the context war.
Meta did not respond immediately to a request to comment.
This was the latest crackdown against free speech in the country, since Putin's invasion. It left Russia economically and culturally isolated.