- Ukrainians react with defiance as Vladimir Putin launches biggest attack by one European state against another since second world war
It began an hour before dawn, with Russia airstrikes and missiles raining down military bases, airfields, border posts and cities across Ukraine. Explosions erupted in the still dark sky from Odessa to Mariupol, Kharkiv to Dnepro, Lutsk to the capital Kyiv.
In the gray early light, Russian tanks and troops began to cross the border. Columns of troops began pouring into the eastern regions of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Luhansk. Others landed in the ports of Odessa and Mariupol.
In Moscow, shortly before 5 a.m., Vladimir Putin announced the launch of the largest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War II. “I have decided,” he said, “to conduct a special military operation.”
The attack, the Russian president said, was aimed at “demilitarization and condemnation of Ukraine”, and any foreign country trying to intervene has “results you’ve never seen”.
Barely an hour later, at 5.58 a.m. in Kyiv, as the city exploded and sirens sounded, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmitro Kuleba, tweeted: “Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful cities in Ukraine are under attack.”
It was a “war of aggression,” Kuleba said. “Ukraine will defend itself and win. The world can and should stop Putin. Now is the time to act.”
Minutes later, the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed his country in a tense video, saying explosions were now being heard “in many cities across the country”. He declared martial law.
On an overnight train from the southeastern port city of Mariupol to the capital – the last, perhaps, to travel for some time – passengers received news from the now besieged city they had left behind. There was an air of great calm; No yelling or crying, no outbursts of emotion.
People flicked through their phones, snapped videos showing the firepower; Long, suppressed conversations with people who are now stuck behind the frontline wondering what they should do next.
It was not only the areas south and east of Ukraine that were under attack; Reports of an armored incursion soon began to arrive, supported by Belarusian troops, through the Senkivka border crossing in the north, as well as through Russian armor heading from Crimea into Ukraine.
Russian attacks were reported on targets across Ukraine on Thursday
By 7 a.m., two hours after the attack, Russian-backed separatist rebels were launching several attacks on Ukrainian military bases in the southeast around the self-declared republics of Luhansk and Donetsk.
Video footage showed Russian rockets hitting populated areas in major cities, despite Moscow’s claims that it was targeting only military infrastructure; Photos from Kharkiv show the tail section of a non-exploded rocket sticking to the sidewalk near an Orthodox church.
Russia has gathered more than 150,000 combat troops along Ukraine’s borders, along with another 34,000 lightly armed separatist forces in the self-declared republics: an estimated two-thirds of the country’s total ground forces. Half of its air force is also stationed in the area.
As Europe woke up, leaders condemned the attack, warned of heavy casualties and a major economic impact. Financial markets opened – and fell immediately. Oil prices jumped. Governments called emergency meetings and prepared new sanctions.
In Kyiv, a city of three million people, the city’s mayor Vitaly Klitschko urged residents to stay at home unless they are involved in important work and prepare go-bags with essentials and documents if needed. Need to be free from them.
Some went underground to take shelter in the subway. Reports suggest that Russian tanks were moving from Belarus to Kyiv, barely 93 miles (150 km) and a half-hour drive away, with others hastily packed suitcases and taken in trains, cars and buses; The main roads leading out of the city had started jamming since morning.
“We are facing a war and terror. What could be worse than that?” One resident, 64-year-old Lyudmila Gireyeva, said. She said she was planning to travel to the western city of Lviv later in the day, and then try to fly to Poland to join her daughter. Putin “will be cursed by history”, Gireyeva said. “Ukrainians are harming him.”
As the train from Mariupol pulled into Kyiv, only an hour late, at 11 p.m., those on board collapsed in a city from the start of hostilities, some believed it to reach on such a terrifying scale. Gone. Must go The station was packed with people desperate to get off the train – in almost any direction but to the east.
Anna Boloshiva, 27, who boarded a train to live with relatives in a rural area north of Kyiv, said, “My parents called me around 5 a.m. to say that war was coming and I believed them.” Not done.” “I opened the news and there wasn’t much about it — but then I heard the explosions. I can’t imagine it, and I can’t figure it out. Yesterday I didn’t think it could happen.”
In the city of Lviv, an eight-hour drive and 340 miles (550 km) to the west, near the Polish border, queues for banks and pharmacies and supermarkets were already rolling around the block.
Lviv had long seemed one of Ukraine’s safe cities, with many Western embassies moving there from Kyiv worried about a possible Russian invasion, but the sirens of the morning air raids and Lutsk to the north and Ivano to the south. The news of Russian attacks in Frankivsk was punctuated. That illusion.
Ivan Taibov, 27, from Odessa, was glued to his phone. A video of smoke billowing from his home town was visible on his screen. “They are calling on people to come to its rescue,” he said. “I’m trying to see if it’s possible to come back. There will be a fight.”
Economist Tanya Harnyak, 43, waited in a queue at the bank, wondering whether to stay in Lviv for longer. “I have family in the country I could go to. If there is a clearance I will go. Until then, I’m not sure,” she said.
Asked what she thought of Putin’s reasons for attacking her country, Hrunik said in a scathing tone: “He’s a madman. He’s mentally ill. Our job is to stay calm and united.” Is.”
Ivan Borislavsky, a bartender who is expecting a baby with his partner in a month, said he was staying. “I need to fight for my wife and kids and my land,” he said.
Ukrainian officials confirmed video footage from multiple sources of a Russian helicopter attack at Hostomel, barely four miles from Kyiv. At least 20 Mi-8 and Ka-52 helicopters took off from Belarus to attack an airfield that is home to the Antonov aircraft maker and has a runway long enough to handle large cargo planes.
By the time of lunch, casualties had begun to mount: according to officials, a missile attack near Odessa killed 18 people; Six more in Brovary, half an hour’s drive northeast of Kyiv. In Vuhledar near Donetsk, a gunman hit a hospital, killing four people and injuring 10, including six doctors.
Russian military claims to have wiped out Ukraine’s air defenses; Ukraine shot down five Russian planes and killed 50 soldiers on the Eastern Front.
In Mariupol, in the far southeast, close to Russian-occupied territory, Yulia, a local journalist, said that she had heard several heavy explosions from the West Primorsky District on the opposite side of the city, where she was with her younger son. .
“We have collected our belongings and are ready to flee to the bomb shelter if necessary,” she said. But she said she was worried as she could not contact her mother, who lives in the eastern part of the city, over the phone. “I’m hoping it’s just because his phone’s battery is drained,” she said.
In Kherson, east of Odessa, Svitlana described a column of Russian tanks, APCs, military trucks and rocket launchers moving north in the direction of Novaya Kakhovka. “We are just sitting in our homes,” she said. “Shops are closed, nothing is working.” Earlier there used to be shelling, but now it has calmed down.
About 560 miles away in Moscow, banks and exchange bureaus opened for business, but quickly ran out of dollars as the Russian ruble fell to its lowest level ever. Despite state media hype, many residents expressed deep shock that Russia should have launched a full-scale attack on its neighbor.
“I didn’t think Putin would be willing to go all the way. How can we bomb Ukraine? We have disagreements, but this is not a way to resolve them,” said one Muscovite, Ksenia Fadeeva.
Another, Nikita Golubev, said: “I am ashamed of my country. To be honest with you, I am speechless. War is always scary. We don’t want that.”
Tatyana, who asked not to publish her surname, said she “can’t believe the news I read this morning. War with Ukraine? What are we doing? I feel powerless.”
Ordinary citizens were not alone. Russia’s most popular singer Valery Meladze posted an emotional video begging Russia to stop the war. “Today something happened that should never have happened. History will be the decider of these events. But today I beg you to please stop the war.”
By 2 pm, Ukraine’s former Defense Minister Andrey Zagorodnyuk was describing a situation that was still “extremely tense”. There is shuffling going on. They are quite close to Kherson; The situation there is delicate. They are trying to encircle Kharkiv. The Ukrainian armed forces are fighting quite seriously. There’s no panic.”
Shortly afterwards, Ukraine called on the European Union to immediately provide air defense and anti-missile systems, as well as use “all means” to jam Russian satellite signals, allowing “business as usual” with Russia. to abolish” and take “tough measures against Belarus”. , which directly supported a full-scale invasion of Russia”.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed the attack destroyed 74 Ukrainian military ground facilities in about 12 hours, including 11 airfields, three command posts and 18 radar stations for anti-aircraft missile systems.
Back in Kyiv, the capital’s central railway station, Kyiv-Pasazirsky, was crowded with hundreds of commuters seeking to leave. There were long queues for tickets and information. Several trains were cancelled, marked red on the departure board, but others were operating normally.
By 6 p.m., cars were queuing up to escape the capital and head west, with the main road jammed with vehicles. Drivers stood next to their vehicles, patiently waiting for the road to clear. Mayor Klitschko ordered a curfew from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., but said subway stations would remain open all night for shelter.
As analysts noted that the day had begun to darken at the end of what could prove Europe’s fiercest conflict for more than 75 years, Zelensky turned to an earlier Dark Ages, and the aftermath of that war. A famous phrase from the end.
“What we heard today is not just missile explosions, fighting and aircraft rumbles,” warned Ukraine’s president. “This is the sound of a new Iron Curtain, which has come down and is shutting down Russia from the civilized world. Our national task is to ensure that this curtain does not fall on our land.”