Russia launched a military assault against Ukraine, President Biden said, with explosions occurring across a wide swath of the country, in what the president called an “unjustified attack” that signals “a premeditated war.”
The explosions could be heard in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and Kharkiv, in the country’s northeast. A senior Ukrainian official said there were also explosions at the country’s largest airport, in Kyiv. Air raid sirens were going off in the capital, though the official said that they were intended to wake up residents and that there were no indications of incoming warplanes.
The attacks, which began Thursday local time, came as Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the launch of a “special military operation” to carry out the “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine and end eight years of war in the country’s east, where Kyiv government forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law. Kyiv’s generals said the military was at full combat readiness and had repelled a Russian air attack, though few claims were immediately verifiable amid the uncertainty of armed conflict. Meanwhile, the Ukraine border guard service published a video of Russian military vehicles crossing its border from Crimea.
Biden said in a statement that Putin “has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering” and promised that he would face “further consequences.” He continued, “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable.”
Here’s what to know
- Biden on Thursday morning will meet virtually with leaders of the Group of Seven nations to discuss the unfolding crisis.
- Putin warned of grave consequences for anyone considering interfering with Russia’s plans, appearing to threaten the use of nuclear weapons.
- Several European NATO member states said they would request security consultations in Brussels on Thursday, citing a potential threat to their security, territory or independence.
- Zelensky imposed martial law after pleading with the Russian people late Wednesday to stop their leadership from sending troops across the border and into his country.
UNDERSTANDING THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE CRISIS
Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny condemns attack on Ukraine
MOSCOW — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny used a court hearing Thursday to condemn President Vladimir Putin and the country’s ruling class for their assault on Ukraine.
Navalny appeared via video link in court on charges of fraud, in one of several cases against him, after he was nearly fatally poisoned with a chemical weapon in 2020 and jailed in 2021 upon returning to Russia following medical treatment in Germany. His political organization was banned as extremist last year under a sweeping crackdown on political dissent launched by Putin. He calls all charges against him politically motivated.
“I have no method of communicating with the outside world,” Navalny said at the Lefortovo District Court hearing. “I ask that my appeal to the court and to the world be recorded.
“I am against this war,” he said. “I believe that this war between Russia and Ukraine is being waged to cover up the robbery of Russian citizens and to distract their attention from the problems that exist within the country, from the degradation of the economy.”
He said the war would lead to a huge number of casualties and ruin lives. Navalny added that “this group that has now seized power” is waging war to cling to the spoils of office.
On Tuesday, Navalny lambasted the Russian Security Council for its Monday meeting, which paved the way for the assault when members called on Putin to recognize two breakaway eastern regions of Ukraine as independent states. He called them a “gathering of dotards and thieves,” comparing them with the Soviet Union’s Politburo when it sent troops into Afghanistan. The Twitter thread in English, was posted by members of his team.
The Russian leader, he said, was like a drunk grandfather at a family celebration. “It would be funny if the drunk grandfather was not a man of 69 who holds power in a country with nuclear weapons.”
‘You need to get up, the war has started’ — voices from Kharkiv
KHARKIV, Ukraine — After the early-morning sounds of explosions on the city’s outskirts, Kharkiv residents, until now skeptical of Western claims that a Russian attack would come to their homes, turned to the tasks they had been putting off.
Lines at gas stations were more than 10 cars back. People walked through the city with suitcases and grocery bags, stocking up on essential goods. Though the local government urged people to stay home and closed schools and offices, many went straight for an ATM.
One young woman who was waiting in line for gas downtown said her apartment window was blown out by the blast.
“My boyfriend had called me right before that and said, ‘You need to get up, the war has started,’ ” said 18-year-old Kristina Nimenko. “Now we’ve come to get gas just to be ready for everything.”
“We just want peace,” she added.
For Agniia and Emile Nkoyok and their 5-month-old daughter, the booming outside their window prompted them to head into town and look to take cover in the subway system. But they saw no one else hiding there, so they walked their bulldog and tried to gauge how others were reacting.
“I’m upset that the government is saying nothing,” Emile said. Agniia and her daughter, Emily Grace, planned to fly on Friday morning but are unsure of what they’ll do now that airspace is closed.
Nimenko said she plans to meet family Thursday to discuss plans, but, “in any case, we will stay in Ukraine.”
“We will stay at home because we are from Ukraine,” she said.
E.U. blasts Putin for ‘bringing war back to Europe,’ promises fresh sanctions
BRUSSELS — The European Union will hit Russia with tough new sanctions for its “barbaric attack” on Ukraine, officials said Thursday.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that Russian President Vladimir Putin is responsible for “bringing war back to Europe” and that the bloc will convene Thursday to work on fresh measures to hold him accountable. “With this package, we will target strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking their access to key technologies and markets,” she said. “We will weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernise.”
“In addition, we will freeze Russian assets in the EU and stop the access of Russian banks to the European financial market.”
The potential new sanctions, which she termed “massive,” follow an initial round of penalties announced Tuesday that targeted Kremlin officials, lawmakers, banks and also restricted Russian access to E.U. financial and capital markets.
“We will not allow President Putin to replace the rule of law with the rule of force and ruthlessness,” said von der Leyen. “He should not underestimate the resolve and strength of our democracies.”
Russian military says airstrikes hit Ukrainian military targets only
MOSCOW — As Moscow launched massive airstrikes on Ukraine early Thursday, Russia’s military said its armed forces were targeting military infrastructure.
The military said the civilian population and members of the military who surrendered were not being targeted, claims for which it offered no evidence.
The military made its first statement after President Vladimir Putin’s early-morning address announcing the assault, claiming that Ukraine was a threat to Russia.
“High-precision weapons disable only military infrastructure, air defense facilities, military airfields, aviation of the armed forces of Ukraine,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Russia made similar claims during its 1994-96 military operation in Chechnya when it bombed cities and villages to quash a separatist uprising.
Also on Thursday, a Russian-backed militia leader in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic claimed to have taken control of two Ukrainian villages, Viktorivka and Bohdanivka, south of Donetsk.
‘President Putin, stop your troops’: Leaders urge Russia to pull back at U.N. meeting
The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday night that Russia has brought the world “to the brink of a conflict that will produce an untold amount of human suffering,” as leaders gathered for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said officials believe a “full-scale further invasion into Ukraine by Russia is imminent,” with Russia closing airspace and moving its forces into “combat ready positions.” She also described reports of malware “placed on hundreds of computers and executed on at least some.”
“This is a perilous moment,” she said. “And we are here for one reason, and one reason only. To ask Russia to stop. Return to your borders.” She joined other countries in condemning Russia’s actions and said its diplomats have “laughed in the face” of human suffering.
Earlier, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said he had never believed rumors of an imminent attack on Ukraine, “convinced that nothing serious would happen.”
“I was wrong,” he said.
He acknowledged that “an operation is being prepared” and addressed Russian President Vladimir Putin, looking into the camera.
“From the bottom of my heart, President Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine,” Guterres said. “Give peace a chance. Too many have already died.”
The Security Council has five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Ukraine closes country’s airspace, shutters airports
Civil aircraft flights across Ukraine’s airspace were suspended Thursday because of “potential hazard to civil aviation,” according to a notice to airmen released Wednesday night.
The move came as tensions escalated between Ukraine and Russia — with Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing that the Kremlin had decided to carry out a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. Explosions have been heard throughout Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and Kharkiv, in the country’s northeast.
Before shuttering its entire airspace, Ukraine closed airports in the cities of Dnipro, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia, according to the notices to airmen, or NOTAMs.
Fears about an impending attack grew as Russia closed the airspace surrounding its border with eastern Ukraine “in order to provide safety” to civil flight, according to notices. Ukrainian aviation authorities declared these areas as “danger zones,” citing Russian attempts to take control of their country’s airspace.
Safe Airspace — an air conflict zone and risk database — urged airlines to avoid flying into Ukraine’s airspace due to two areas of concern: the conflict in the far east of the country and the “double claim” by Russia and Ukraine over airspace in Crimea, Safe Airspace posted on its website Wednesday.
“The situation in Ukraine has now become a larger conflict that is currently developing,” Safe Airspace said. “Regardless of the actual movements of Russian forces into Ukraine, the level of tension and uncertainty in Ukraine is now extreme. This itself gives rise to significant risk to civil aviation.”
The conflict zone monitor elevated Ukraine’s risk of flying to Level 1 — deeming it a “Do Not Fly” location. According to Safe Space, aircraft flying into the country risk an “unintended targeting of civil aircraft by military, including misidentification … or confusion” and cyberattacks.
Russian troops attacking Ukraine with ‘support’ from Belarus, Ukraine’s border agency says
Russian troops have launched attacks on Ukrainian border units, patrols and checkpoints with “support from” Belarus, an official statement from Ukraine’s border services agency said. This move is likely to add to the pressure Kyiv faces from its north as explosions occur across a wide swath of the country.
Russian tanks have also crossed into Ukrainian territory through its border with Belarus, Ukraine’s interior ministry said in WhatsApp messages with journalists. Belarus, whose leader is closely aligned with Moscow, has hosted Russian troops in recent weeks and conducted a major joint military exercise with Russian forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in a speech early Thursday that Moscow would launch a “special military operation” to achieve the “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine and end eight years of war in the country’s east, where Kyiv government forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists.
Starting from 5 a.m. local time, Russian-led attacks with “artillery, heavy equipment and small arms” were carried out in five northern regions including Luhansk and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s state border guard service said. Russian troops were transporting military equipment through Crimea, a peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, according to video footage released by the border agency. So far, the agency reported that “a number of” Ukrainian security forces have been injured.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko denied that Belarusian troops were involved in the Russian military operations. His office said in a statement that Lukashenko spoke with Putin Thursday morning and received an update on the situation. Lukashenko claimed that Kremlin forces were temporarily in his country for protection against Ukraine’s military, although Kyiv has not threatened Minsk.
Ukraine reports Russian attacks across the country, including in the west
KYIV, Ukraine — By 9 a.m. Thursday, roughly four hours after launching their attack on Ukraine, Russian forces had targeted Ukrainian military sites across the Texas-size country, according to Ukraine’s defense forces.
Intensive shelling hit Ukrainian military units in the east, and rockets and bombs fell on several airfields, including Boryspil, the main international airport outside the capital, Kyiv. Other military facilities were also targeted in what appeared to be an effort to significantly weaken Ukraine’s military infrastructure.
“At the same time, the aggressor began shelling the territory and settlements of Ukraine along the state border,” a statement from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine read. “The country’s defense forces are in full combat readiness. They have occupied and are holding defensive positions.”
In a second statement, the military said its air force repelled a Russian attack, shooting down five Russian aircraft and a helicopter in the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine, one of the primary theaters of the spreading conflict.
The report could not be independently verified. The military also said that media reports of Russian troops landing in the southern city of Odessa were not true.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service reported several Russian attacks far from the disputed eastern regions, including the shelling of an airfield in the northwestern city of Lutsk, fire engulfing military warehouses in a central part of the country, and the shelling of a military unit in the village of Kamenka Buzhskaya, in the western Lviv region.
Global leaders react to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, criticize Putin
As President Biden promised that “the world will hold Russia accountable” for what he described as an “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine, other global leaders were quick to condemn Russia’s actions and call for a decisive response.
Before dawn in London, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter that “President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine” and promised to work with allies to “decisively” respond.
Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö strongly condemned the Russian military measures, describing them as an assault not just on Ukraine, but “on the entire European security order.”
Russia has ‘launched a full-scale invasion,’ Ukrainian official says
Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs says Russia has “launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”
“Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes,” Dmytro Kuleba tweeted early Thursday morning local time. “This is a war of aggression.”
He said that Ukraine “will defend itself and will win” and urged the world to “stop Putin.”
In a later tweet, he called for the world to immediately impose further sanctions on Russia, as well as dispatch weapons and equipment, humanitarian assistance and financial support to Ukraine. “Fully isolate Russia by all means, in all formats,” Kuleba wrote.
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
The world must act immediately. Future of Europe & the world is at stake. To do list:
1. Devastating sanctions on Russia NOW, including SWIFT
2. Fully isolate Russia by all means, in all formats
3. Weapons, equipment for Ukraine
4. Financial assistance
5. Humanitarian assistance
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) February 24, 2022
Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s ministry of internal affairs, said troops are in Odessa — one of Ukraine’s most populous cities — and are crossing into Kharkiv, a city in the country’s northeast, according to NBC.
Distant booms heard in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city
KHARKIV, Ukraine — Just after Russian President Vladimir Putin finished his speech announcing military action against Ukraine, distant booms could be heard in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which is 50 miles from the Russian border.
It’s unclear what caused the explosion or what targets were hit.
Russian troops, tanks and missile launchers had been massing in Belgorod, a Russian city 90 minutes from downtown Kharkiv. This is a majority Russian-speaking city that was long considered a target in a full-scale invasion by Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has declared martial law, according to a Ukrainian government official.
As the sun rose, some people in the city reacted with confusion. At one hotel, a staff member asked a guest what was happening. Told this was likely a Russian invasion, she cursed.
“I don’t watch the news,” she said.
Outside of the hotel, a mother and child packed their car to leave Kharkiv. There were commuters with suitcases on the subway and people were in line at a water-filing station near the city center.
Russia ‘alone’ responsible for death and destruction in Ukraine, Biden says
President Biden said Russia “alone is responsible for the death and destruction” its military action in Ukraine may bring, according to a statement released late Wednesday after Russian leader Vladimir Putin announced plans to launch a “special military operation” in the country.
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Biden’s statement read. “The world will hold Russia accountable.”
Calling Putin’s military actions “unprovoked and unjustified,” the president pledged that the United States and allies will coordinate their responses in a “united and decisive” fashion. Biden will meet with leaders from the Group of Seven nations Thursday morning and will address the American people on further sanctions to deter Russian aggression.
Shortly after Putin’s speech, explosions could be heard in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and Kharkiv, in the country’s northeast. A senior Ukrainian official said there were explosions at Kyiv’s Boryspil airport.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declares martial law, describes Russian attack as ‘unjustified and deceitful’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law after Russia on Thursday launched a multipronged attack on its neighbour, with explosions heard across a wide swath of the country.
In a statement posted on the president’s website, Zelensky described Russia’s military operation as “an unjustified, deceitful and cynical invasion.”
Russia is carrying out strikes on military targets and other important defense facilities, border units are under attack, and the situation in Donbas — in the country’s east, where Ukrainian government forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists for the past eight years — has degraded, the statement said.
The country’s armed forces and law enforcement agencies are on alert, while the National Security and Defense Council is working in emergency mode ahead of a meeting called by Zelensky.
“Ukrainians will never give up their freedom and independence to anyone,” the statement said. “But now the fate of not only our state is being decided, but also what life in Europe will be like. Whether at least something of the force of international law remains will depend on the world’s fair and just response to this aggression.”
President Biden has promised that “the world will hold Russia accountable” for what he described as an “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine, and other global leaders were also quick to condemn Russia’s actions and call for a decisive response.
In a video address posted on social media Thursday, his second of the day, Zelensky urged Ukrainians to remain calm, and stay at home if they can.
Hours earlier, before the assault began, the president made an emotional appeal to the Russian people to stop their leadership from sending troops across the border and into his country, warning of the despair that would come from a needless war.