Russia invades Ukraine in Europe’s ‘darkest hour’ since World War II
- Putin launches ‘special military operation’
- Missiles are raining down on Ukraine
- Ukrainian president warns of ‘new iron curtain’
- Western leaders promise tough economic sanctions
- Biden condemns ‘unprovoked’ attack
KYIV/MARIUPOL, Ukraine, Feb 24 (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces battled Russian invaders from three sides on Thursday after Moscow launched a land, sea and air assault in the biggest attack on a European state since World War II world.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war in a pre-dawn televised address, explosions and gunfire were heard throughout the morning in Kiev, a city of 3 million.
Missiles rained down on Ukrainian targets and authorities reported columns of troops crossing Ukraine’s borders from Russia and Belarus to the north and east, and landing on the southern coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
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The assault brought a calamitous end to weeks of failed diplomatic efforts by Western leaders to avert war. US President Joe Biden met virtually with his Group of Seven counterparts on Thursday to discuss tough sanctions, and was due to speak on Ukraine at 2:30 p.m. (1730 GMT).
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on Ukrainians to defend their country and said weapons would be given to anyone willing to fight.
“What we heard today is not just missile explosions, fighting and the rumble of planes. It is the sound of a new iron curtain, which has fallen and is closing Russia from civilized world,” Zelenskiy said. “Our national task is to ensure that this curtain does not fall on our country.”
Heavy fighting was taking place in the regions of Sumy and Kharkiv in the northeast, Kherson and Odessa in the south, and at a military airport near the capital Kiev, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office said.
Zelenskiy said troops were trying to push back Russians trying to capture the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, just 90 km (60 miles) north of the capital. Regional officials said Ukrainian authorities had lost control of some territories in the Kherson region near Russian-occupied Crimea.
The highway heading west from Kyiv was jammed with five-lane traffic as residents fled.
Biden called the Russian action an “unprovoked and unwarranted attack.” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc would impose a tough new round of sanctions.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: “These are among Europe’s darkest hours since World War II.”
In his address, Putin said he had ordered ‘a special military operation’ to protect people, including Russian citizens, who were victims of ‘genocide’ in Ukraine – a charge the West calls baseless propaganda .
“And for that we will fight for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine,” Putin said.
A resident of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and close to the Russian border, said windows in buildings rattled from the constant blasts.
Explosions could be heard in the southeastern port of Mariupol, near a frontline held by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Civilians in Mariupol packed their bags; “We are going to hide,” said one woman.
Ukrainian military authorities said 20 Russian Mi-8 helicopters and planes landed paratroopers at Hostomel airport in the Kyiv region, where forces from both sides were fighting for control.
Unconfirmed reports of casualties included Ukrainian civilians killed by Russian shelling and border guards defending the border, while Russia said three civilians were injured by Ukrainian shelling near the border.
Authorities in the southwest Odessa region said 18 people were killed in a missile attack. At least six people were killed in Brovary, a town near Kiev, authorities said.
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The Ukrainian military said it destroyed four Russian tanks near Kharkiv, killed 50 soldiers near a town in the Luhansk region and shot down six Russian warplanes in the east.
Russia has denied that any of its planes or armored vehicles were destroyed. Russian-backed separatists said they shot down two Ukrainian planes.
“ONLY RUSSIA IS RESPONSIBLE”
Even with a full-scale invasion underway, Putin’s ultimate goal is obscure. He said he had no plans for a military occupation, only to disarm Ukraine and purge it of nationalists.
Outright annexation of such a vast and hostile country could even exceed Russia’s military capabilities.
A senior US defense official said Washington believed the invasion was aimed at “decapitating” Zelenskiy’s government. Read more
But it is difficult to see the Ukrainians accepting a new leadership installed by Moscow.
“I think we have to fight everyone who is invading our country so forcefully,” said a man stuck in traffic trying to leave Kyiv. “I would hang them all from bridges.”
Biden has ruled out sending US troops to defend Ukraine, but Washington has bolstered its NATO allies in the region with additional troops and aircraft.
Russia is one of the largest energy producers in the world, and both Russia and Ukraine are among the top grain exporters. War and sanctions will disrupt economies around the world already facing a supply crisis emerging from the coronavirus pandemic.
Stocks plunged and bond prices surged; the dollar and gold soared. Brent oil rose above $100 a barrel for the first time since 2014.
At least three major buyers of Russian oil have said they have been denied letters of credit from Western banks, needed for shipments to continue. Read more
A democratic nation of 44 million inhabitants, Ukraine is the largest country in Europe after Russia itself. He voted for independence when the Soviet Union fell and has ambitions to join NATO and the European Union, aspirations that exasperate Moscow.
Putin, who for months denied he was planning an invasion, called Ukraine an artificial construct carved out of Russia by its enemies – a characterization Ukrainians see as an attempt to erase their more than 1 year-old history. 000 years.
While many Ukrainians, especially in the East, speak Russian as their first language, virtually all identify as Ukrainians.
In Kiev, lines of people waited to withdraw cash and buy food and water. Cars stretched for tens of kilometers (miles) on the highway leading west towards Poland, where Western countries have prepared to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees.
“We are afraid of the bombings,” says Oxana, stuck in her car with her three-year-old daughter in the back seat. “It’s so scary.”
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Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Aleksandar Vasovic; Additional reports by Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graff and Alex Richardson; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Kevin Liffey
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