Russia has launched a “full-scale invasion” of Ukraine, with dozens reported dead after cities across the country were targeted with weapons strikes, prompting tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.
After air raids and missile strikes, Russian troops attacked Ukraine on multiple fronts from Belarus, Russia and Crimea – which Russia annexed in 2014 – early on Thursday.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin ignored global condemnation and cascading new sanctions as he unleashed the largest ground war in Europe in decades. In a pre-dawn televised address, he threatened any country trying to interfere with “consequences you have never seen”.
“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. “This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”
Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes. This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) February 24, 2022
‘New iron curtain’
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a brief national address to declare martial law throughout the country and called on all Ukrainian citizens who are ready to defend against Russian forces to come forward, saying Kyiv will issue weapons to everyone who wants them.
In a video address later in the day, he addressed the Ukrainian people wearing a military uniform. A “new iron curtain” is falling and closing Russia off from the “civilised world”, he said, and it is Ukraine’s task “for that curtain not to fall” on its territory.
The Russian defence ministry said it was targeting Ukrainian military infrastructure with precision weapons and claimed its air raids posed no threat to civilians. It later claimed to have destroyed 74 above-ground military infrastructure facilities, including 11 aerodromes.
Air raid sirens blared throughout the capital, Kyiv, following a bombing attack on the main international airport at the break of dawn. All airspace was closed in the country.
The sound of an explosion on the edge of the capital prompted panic, leading to crowds assembling at bus stations and long queues forming on the main traffic arteries as residents fled by car.
The mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boychenko, told a news conference that Russian forces had attacked the city’s airport and a village nearby.
Ukraine’s Health Minister Oleh Lyashko said at least 57 people had been killed and 169 wounded across the country.
After a fierce battle for control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Russian forces captured the now-defunct site, according to an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office.
“It is impossible to say the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe after a totally pointless attack by the Russians,” Mykhailo Podolyak said.
The UN refugee agency said around 100,000 people had fled their homes within Ukraine and several thousand more had left the country since the invasion began.
Peace in Europe shattered
Russia’s invasion was met with strong international condemnation. The head of the US-led NATO military alliance said the “brutal act of war” shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders who decried the attack
Josep Borrell, the European Union foreign policy chief, said the bloc would slap the harshest package of sanctions ever implemented on Russia.
United States President Joe Biden announced sanctions targeting Russia’s financial system and technology sector and authorised the deployment of additional US forces to Germany.
“This is a premeditated attack,” Biden told reporters at the White House as he unveiled harsh new sanctions coordinated with allies. “Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.”
United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Putin “a bloodstained aggressor, who believes in imperial conquest” and said Putin has “offered the absurd pretext that he sought the ‘demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine'”.
Johnson warned that Moscow will now face a “massive package of economic sanctions designed in time to hobble the Russian economy”.
Fabrice Pothier, chief strategy officer at consultancy firm Rasmussen Global and a former director of policy planning at NATO, told Al Jazeera that while the US and EU sanctions packages sound impressive, “this is not enough to stop Putin from following his twisted vision”.
“Putin … wants to rebuild Russia’s empire,” Pothier told Al Jazeera.
Ukraine has appealed for international support and assistance. Vasyl Bodnar, the Ukrainian ambassador to Turkey, told a news conference that Kyiv had asked Ankara to close the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to Russian warships.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced Russia’s assault as a “heavy blow” to regional peace and called for a resolution of the crisis through dialogue.
Oleksandr Balanutsa, the Ukrainian ambassador to Kuwait, told Al Jazeera that his country is “asking for help, we are crying for help”.
“We need more than words; we need support today,” he said.