KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, launching air strikes on cities and military bases and sending troops and tanks from three sides in an offensive that could remake the global security order after the Cold War. The Ukrainian government called for help as civilians piled into trains and cars to escape.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ignored global condemnation and successive new sanctions As he unleashed Europe’s largest ground war since World War II, he signaled eerily to his country’s nuclear arsenal. And he threatened any country trying to meddle with “consequences it hasn’t seen before.”
Ukrainian officials have said their forces are fighting the Russians on multiple fronts, have suffered dozens of deaths and lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant.The scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
“Russia has embarked on the path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and will not give up its freedom,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter.
US President Joe Biden announced new sanctions against Russia, saying that Putin “chosen this war” and that his country will bear the consequences of his actions. Other countries have also announced sanctions, or said they will soon.
Fearing a Russian attack on the capital, thousands of people went underground as night fell, blocking Kiev’s subway stations.
Sometimes I felt joy. The families had dinner. Children play. adults speaking. People brought sleeping bags, dogs or crossword puzzles – anything to relieve the wait and the long night that lay ahead.
But fatigue was evident on many faces. and worries.
“No one believed that this war would begin, that they would take Kiev directly,” said Anton Mironov, who was waiting for the night in one of the old Soviet metro stations. “I feel tired mostly. None of this seems real.”
The invasion began in the early hours of Thursday morning with a series of missile strikes, many targeting key government and military installations, quickly followed by a three-pronged ground offensive. Ukrainian and US officials said Russian forces were attacking from the east towards Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city; from the southern region of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014; From Belarus to the north.
Zelensky, who earlier cut diplomatic relations with Moscow and declared martial law, appealed to world leaders, saying: “If you do not help us now, if you fail to provide strong assistance to Ukraine, then tomorrow war will hit you at the door.”
Both sides claimed to have destroyed some of the other’s aircraft and military equipment, although little has been confirmed.
Hours after the invasion began, Russian forces took control of the currently unused Chernobyl station and the surrounding exclusion zone after a fierce battle, presidential adviser Mihailo Podolak told The Associated Press.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said it had been informed of the seizure by Ukraine, adding that “there were no casualties or damage at the industrial site”.
A disaster occurred in 1986 when a nuclear reactor at the plant exploded 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Kiev, sending a radioactive cloud across Europe. The damaged reactor was subsequently covered with a protective cap to prevent leaks.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the “brutal act of war” had shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders denouncing an attack that could cause heavy casualties and topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government. The conflict rocked global financial markets: inventories tumbled and oil prices rose amid fears of rising heating bills and food prices.
Condemnation has come not only from the US and Europe, but from South Korea, Australia and beyond – and many governments are preparing to impose new sanctions. Even friendly leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban have sought to distance themselves from Putin.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he aims to isolate Russia from UK financial markets as he announced sanctions and asset freezes on all major Russian banks and plans to prevent Russian companies and the Kremlin from raising money from British markets.
“Now we see him for what he is – a bloodstained aggressor who believes in imperial conquest,” Johnson said of Putin.
Biden said US sanctions will target Russian banks, oligarchs, state-controlled companies and high-tech sectors, but are aimed at not disrupting global energy markets. Russia’s oil and natural gas exports are vital energy sources for Europe.
Zelensky urged the United States and the West to go ahead and separate the Russians from the Swift system, a major financial network that connects thousands of banks around the world. The White House was reluctant to immediately cut Russia off from the Swift system, fearing that it would cause massive economic problems in Europe and elsewhere in the West.
While some anxious Europeans have speculated about a possible new world war, the United States and its NATO partners have shown no indication that they will send troops to Ukraine, fearing a larger conflict. Instead, they massed troops and equipment around the edges of the coalition as Ukraine demanded defensive assistance and help in protecting its airspace.
NATO has reinforced its members in Eastern Europe as a precaution, and Biden said the United States is deploying additional forces in Germany to support NATO.
European authorities declared the country’s airspace an active conflict zone.
After weeks of denying the invasion plans, Putin launched the operation on a country the size of Texas increasingly tilted toward the democratic West and away from Moscow’s influence. The autocratic leader made clear earlier this week that he sees no reason for Ukraine to exist, raising fears of a possible broader conflict in the vast space once ruled by the Soviet Union. Putin has denied plans to occupy Ukraine, but his ultimate goals remain vague.
Ukrainians were urged to take shelter and not panic.
“Until the last moment, I couldn’t believe it was going to happen,” said the terrified Anna Duvnya in Kiev, watching soldiers and police remove the shards of an exploding shell. “It pushed these thoughts away.” “We have lost all faith.”
With social media amplified by a torrent of military claims and counterclaims, it has been difficult to determine exactly what was happening on the ground.
Russia and Ukraine have made conflicting claims about the damage they caused. The Russian Defense Ministry said it destroyed dozens of Ukrainian air bases, military installations and drones. Confirming the loss of one of its Su-25 attack aircraft, it blamed “pilot error” and said an An-26 transport plane crashed due to a technical failure, killing the entire crew. She did not say how many people were on board.
Russia said it was not targeting cities, but journalists saw devastation in many civilian areas.
Ukraine’s health minister said 57 Ukrainians were killed in the invasion and 169 wounded. It was not clear how many civilians there were, though it said earlier in the day that 40 soldiers had been killed.
The Polish army raised its level of readiness, and Lithuania Moldova is moving towards doing the same.
Putin justified his actions in an overnight televised address, asserting that the attack was necessary to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine — a false claim the United States had predicted he would launch as a pretext for invasion. He accused the United States and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and obtain security guarantees, saying the military action was a “coercive measure”.
Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Putin issued a stark warning to other countries not to intervene.
And in a reminder of Russia’s nuclear power, he warned, “No one should doubt that any direct attack on our country will lead to destruction and dire consequences for any potential aggressor.”
Within Russia, authorities moved quickly to suppress any critical voices. OVD-Info, a group that tracks political arrests, reported that 1,620 people were arrested in 52 Russian cities for protesting the invasion, more than half of them in Moscow.
Isachnikov and Litvinova reported from Moscow. Francesca Ebel in Kiev; Angela Charlton in Paris; Geir Molson and Frank Jordan in Berlin; Raf Cassert and Lorne Cook in Brussels; Nick Domitrash in Mariupol, Ukraine, Inna Varenytsya in Eastern Ukraine; and Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Aamir Madani, Eric Tucker, Naaman Merchant, Ellen Nikmayer, Zeke Miller, Chris Mejerian and Darlene Superville in Washington.
Follow the Associated Press’ coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine