Russia fired missiles at more than half a dozen Ukrainian cities, including the capital, Kyiv, targeting air defense facilities and military infrastructure just before dawn Thursday and landed soldiers on the country’s south coast. The action unfolded shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on television what he described as a “special military operation,” but what Ukrainian leaders say is a full-scale invasion of their country, the second biggest in Europe.
In an angry address broadcast just before 6 a.m. Moscow time, Russia’s president said he could no longer tolerate what he called the threats from Ukraine. He ended his speech warning outside powers not to interfere. He said his goal was the “demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine.” He added: “We will bring to court those who have committed many crimes, responsible for the bloodshed of civilians, including Russian citizens,” he said.
Putin warned that if Ukrainian soldiers don’t lay down their weapons, they would be responsible for bloodshed.
Shortly after he spoke, intense rocket fire could be heard in the eastern city of Kharkiv and then sporadic rumbling explosions could be heard coming from the outskirts of Kyiv, from the direction of the capital’s main Boryspil international airport and its second airport at Zhuliany.
“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes,” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter. “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,” added Kuleba.
Within hours of the missile attacks, Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s borders, from Russia, Belarus and from Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014. Ukrainian officials said amphibious Russian forces landed near Odesa on the Black Sea coast.
Ukraine’s State Border Guards said Lukansk, Sumy, Kharkiv, Zhytomyr and Chernihiv oblasts have come under attack. And they said Russian forces were crossing into Ukraine from Crimea.
Broadcasting from his phone, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Ukrainians he would declare martial law and, urging Ukrainians to stay home, he said: “Don’t panic. We are strong. We are ready for everything. We will defeat everyone. Because we are Ukraine.”
But as the tanks rolled into Ukraine, they appeared to be facing little coordinated initial resistance and Russia broadened its air assault firing Cruise missiles at military airports in western Ukraine.
Ukrainian military officials said they shot down five Russian warplanes and a helicopter.
In Kyiv, the city administration issued an airstrike warning and sounded sirens several hours after the city’s airports were struck. The first explosions could be heard from downtown Kyiv just before 5 a.m., local time. The blasts sounded a long way off and then came in short flurries. Television footage later showed fires raging at Boryspil.
Other cities issued warnings and in Lviv on the Polish border, where many European embassies relocated to earlier this month, air-raid sirens sounded. The wide-ranging offensive took many by surprise here in Kyiv and as the attack unfolded, the city’s early morning commute got under way and only thinned out as startled workers began to understand that the long-feared invasion was getting under way.
Hotels in Kyiv quickly emptied with guests checking out in droves. “Everything is OK,” said a worker in a fitness spa in one five-star hotel in the city center. “Keep calm,” she added. By there were few pedestrians on the streets of the city — with only dog-walkers loitering. Couples could be seen pulling their luggage. One young woman struggling with a huge bag was asked where she was going: “Away,” she responded.
Blasts were more intense and concentrated in eastern Ukraine, on the borders of Moscow’s breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Local residents reported four loud blasts early Thursday in Kramatorsk, which serves as the Ukrainian government’s de facto capital in the Donbas region. Blasts were also reported in the southeastern port city of Mariupol.
Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, tweeted a “wholly unprovoked attack” on Ukraine was starting. She added: “A wholly unprovoked attack on a peaceful country, Ukraine, is unfolding. Horrified. Just because you’ve prepared and thought about this possibility for weeks and months doesn’t mean it isn’t shocking when it actually happens.”
In some Ukrainian towns there were reports civilians rushed to bomb shelters as dawn broke.
Russia’s defense ministry claimed it was using “high-precision weaponry to take out Ukrainian military infrastructure, air defense, aerodromes, and aviation.”
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said the initial assault had led to hundreds of casualties. Roads leading out of Kyiv were soon clogged with families packed into cars and determined to head for Lviv in the west.