New satellite images show homes on fire as Russian troops advance closer to Kyiv, with long lines of cars trying to flee the Ukrainian capital.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence has also warned that “staunch resistance” from Ukraine means Russian tactical aircraft are relying on unguided “dumb” munitions.
“Such weapons are relatively inaccurate and indiscriminate and their use significantly increases the likelihood of civilian casualties,” a defence intelligence update released on Friday night said.
The satellite images from Maxar appear to suggest that Russian military units are “actively firing artillery towards residential areas” – and in one photograph, a bright muzzle flash can be seen from an artillery gun.
Widespread damage and impact craters have been seen in Moschun, a town northwest of Kyiv, and fires are continuing to burn at Hostamel Airport, which is also known as Antonov Airport.
• Vladimir Putin’s forces continued to launch airstrikes in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol on Friday
• Russia also used high-precision, long-range weapons to put military airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk “out of action”
• Thousands of civilians and soldiers on both sides are believed to have been killed in the invasion so far
• Putin has claimed there have been “certain positive developments” in talks between Ukraine and Russia
• Meanwhile, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Ukrainian forces have reached a “strategic turning point” in the war
Analysts divided on what images mean
A 40-mile (64km) line of tanks and other vehicles had amassed outside Kyiv early last week – but progress by Russian troops appeared to have stalled amid reports of food and fuel shortages, muddy roads, and attacks by Ukrainian troops using anti-tank missiles.
On Thursday, satellite images appeared to show that this convoy had largely dispersed and redeployed – fanning out into surrounding towns and forests.
Mathieu Boulegue, a researcher at the Chatham House think tank, believes the redeployment means the battle for Kyiv could be hours or days away – and it could be a drawn-out siege.
“This is going to be a very long battle of attrition. This is going to be an atrociously casualty-heavy battle and a siege, the likes of which we have rarely seen in modern history,” he said.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence has said Russia is currently attempting to “reset and reposture” its troops – and Nick Reynolds, a warfare analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, said: “It’s ugly already, but it’s going to get worse.”
However, a senior US defence official believes that elements of this convoy have broken away to ensure vehicles are better hidden and protected.
They added that the convoy has not made any substantial progress towards Kyiv, and the moves seen over recent days were not thought to be part of a tactical effort to advance on the capital.
Despite this, other forces northeast of Kyiv have moved closer – and they are now 12 to 19 miles (20km to 30km) east of the city centre.
A growing humanitarian crisis
The number of people who have fled Ukraine has now passed 2.5 million.
Mr Zelenskyy has said authorities are trying to establish 12 humanitarian corridors in order to ensure food, medicine and other essentials can reach Ukrainians.
Temperatures have fallen below freezing across most of the country – and lows of -13C have been forecast in the city of Kharkiv, which has faced heavy bombardment. Hundreds of apartment buildings there have also lost heat.
Speaking from Kyiv, President Zelenskyy said: “It’s impossible to say how many days we will still need to free our land, but it is possible to say that we will do it.”
A Western official speaking anonymously to the AP news agency said the fact that negotiations are taking place so early in the fighting “might speak to Russian concerns” about the progress of the war.