Russia invades Ukraine: Missiles launched at Kyiv in ‘darkest hours’ since second World War

Bombs fall on cities, columns of troops and tanks cross border as military action announced

By Bill Heaney

Russian forces invaded Ukraine this morning, assaulting by land, sea and air in the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since the second World War.

Missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities. Ukraine reported columns of troops pouring across its borders from Russia and Belarus, and landing on the coast from the Black and Azov seas.

Viewers of BBC News in UK saw newscaster Clive Myrie and chief international reporter Lyse Doucet having to don flak jackets after air raid sirens almost drowned out their live broadcast.

Explosions were heard before dawn and throughout the morning in the capital Kyiv, a city of three million people. Gunfire rattled, sirens blared, and the highway out of the city choked with traffic as residents fled.

MAIN POINTS

  • Putin launches military operation
  • Ukraine’s president declares martial law
  • Missiles fired at several Ukrainian cities
  • Russia says it has ‘incapacitated’ infrastructure of Ukraine’s military bases
  • Ukraine’s foreign minister says Russia has begun ‘full-scale attack’
  • Johnson says Putin has ‘chosen path of bloodshed’
  • Biden says severe sanctions will be imposed
  • Macron calls for end to military action
  • Irish Taoiseach condemns ‘outrageous’ attack
  • Sporadic reports of casualties
  • EU to hold emergency meeting

The assault brought a calamitous end to weeks of fruitless diplomatic efforts by Western leaders to avert war, their worst fears about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions realised.

On Thursday, the Russian embassy in Ireland said the operation has been conducted in response to a request by the leadership of Donetsk and Lugansk, and the action was “aimed at stopping the bloodshed, inflicted by the Ukrainian military upon the people of Donbass”.

It said there was “no objective” to occupy Ukraine, and that civilians and cities were not being targeted by air strikes. The embassy said the operation was intended to defend Russia “from those who have taken Ukraine hostage and been trying to use it against Russia and our people”.

However, as night fell on Thursday at 9pm, the picture of what was happening on the ground was sketchy.

Russia’s defence ministry said it had destroyed 83 land-based Ukrainian targets and had achieved all its goals, according to Interfax news agency.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant has been captured by Russian forces, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office, Mykhailo Podolyak, said.

The plant is located just 90km north of Kyiv. Russian troops had also captured Hostomel airport in the Kyiv region, where paratroopers had earlier been landed. Regional officials said Ukrainian authorities had lost control of some territory in the Kherson region near Russian-occupied Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Ukrainian forces have downed two Russian helicopters and seven other Russian aircraft and destroyed several Russian trucks, and a platoon from Russia’s 74th Motor Rifles Brigade has surrendered, Ukraine’s ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova said. Ms Markarova cited earlier figures that Russian attacks had killed 40 Ukrainian servicemen and dozens of civilians.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has warned that the military alliance would defend every inch of its territory should Russia attack a member country, as he condemned Moscow for launching a brutal act of war on Ukraine.

Speaking after chairing an emergency meeting of Nato envoys, Mr Stoltenberg said the 30-nation security alliance will continue to beef up its defences on its eastern flank near Ukraine and Russia. He said US president Joe Biden, right, and his Nato counterparts will hold an online summit on Friday.

“Russia has attacked Ukraine. This is a brutal act of war. Our thoughts are with the brave people of Ukraine,” Mr Stoltenberg told reporters.

“Peace in our continent has been shattered. We now have war in Europe, on a scale and of a type we thought belonged to history.”

“Russia treacherously attacked our state in the morning, as Nazi Germany did in the WW2 years,” tweeted Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself & won’t give up its freedom no matter what Moscow thinks.”

Calling on Ukrainians to defend their country, he said arms would be given to anyone prepared to fight. He also urged Russians to take to the streets to protest against their government’s actions.

Mr Biden said he was praying for Ukrainian victims of an “unprovoked and unjustified attack”. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: “These are among the darkest hours of Europe since the Second World War.”

Shaking

A resident of Kharkiv, the closest big city to the Russian border, said windows in apartment blocks were shaking from constant blasts.

Outside the southern port of Mariupol, near a frontline held by Russian-backed separatists, a Ukrainian armoured column headed along the road, with soldiers seated atop turrets smiling and flashing victory signs to cars which honked their horns in support.

Firefighters work on a fire on a building after bombings on the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv on February 24th, 2022. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images
Firefighters work on a building after bombings on the eastern Ukraine town of Chugui. 

In Mangush and Berdyansk towns, people queued for cash and gasoline. Civilians from Mariupol packed bags.  “We are going into hiding,” one woman said.

Ukrainian officials said Russian helicopters attacked Gostomel, a military airport near Kyiv, and Ukraine downed three of them. Ukrainian border officials said the Russians were trying to penetrate Kyiv region and the Zhytomyr region on the Belarusian border, and they were using Grad rockets.

Initial unconfirmed reports of casualties included Ukrainian civilians killed by Russian bombardment and border guards defending the frontier. Regional authorities of Ukraine’s southern Odessa region said 18 people were killed in a missile attack. At least six people were killed in Brovary, a town near Kyiv, authorities there said.

Ukraine’s military said it had destroyed four Russian tanks on a road near Kharkiv, killed 50 troops near a town in Luhansk region and downed six Russian warplanes in the east.

Russia denied reports its aircraft or armoured vehicles had been destroyed. Russian-backed separatists claimed to have downed two Ukrainian planes.

‘Genocide’

In an early-morning declaration of war, Mr Putin said he had ordered “a special military operation” to protect people, including Russian citizens, subjected to “genocide” in Ukraine – an accusation the West calls absurd propaganda.

“And for this we will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine,” Mr Putin said. “Russia cannot feel safe, develop, and exist with a constant threat emanating from the territory of modern Ukraine…All responsibility for bloodshed will be on the conscience of the ruling regime in Ukraine.”

Mr Biden has ruled out sending US troops to defend Ukraine but he and other Western leaders promised tough financial sanctions.

“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,” Mr Biden said.

Russia is one of the world’s biggest energy producers, and both it and Ukraine are among the top exporters of grain. The prospect of war and sanctions threatens economies around the world already facing supply disruption as they emerge from the pandemic.

Stocks and bond yields plunged; the dollar and gold soared. Brent oil surged past $100/barrel for the first time since 2014.

A Ukrainian soldier runs after explosions hit near his unit’s position on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022, in Zaitseve, in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
A Ukrainian soldier runs after explosions hit near his unit’s position  in Zaitseve, in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine.

A democratic country of 44 million people, Ukraine is Europe’s biggest country by area after Russia itself. It voted overwhelmingly for independence after the fall of the Soviet Union, and aims to join Nato and the European Union, aspirations that infuriate Moscow.

Mr Putin, who denied for months he was planning an invasion, has called Ukraine an artificial construct carved from Russia by its enemies, a characterisation Ukrainians see as an attempt to erase their more than 1,000-year-old history. While many Ukrainians, particularly in the east, speak Russian as a native language, virtually all identify as a separate nationality.

Three hours after Putin gave his order, Russia’s defence ministry said it had taken out military infrastructure at Ukrainian air bases and degraded its air defences.

Earlier, Ukrainian media reported that military command centres in Kyiv and Kharkiv had been struck by missiles, while Russian troops had landed at Odessa and Mariupol. A Reuters witness later heard three blasts in Mariupol.

Russia announced it was shutting all shipping in the Azov Sea. Russia controls the strait leading into the sea where Ukraine has ports including Mariupol. Ukraine appealed to Turkey to bar Russian ships from the straits connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

Traffic

Queues of people waited to withdraw money and buy supplies of food and water in Kyiv. Traffic going out of the city towards the Polish border was jammed. Western countries have prepared for the likelihood of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing an assault.

Cars stretched back for dozens of kilometres on the highway to the western city of Lviv, Reuters witnesses said.

“We’re afraid of bombardments,” said Oxana, stuck in her car with her three-year-old daughter on the backseat. “This is so scary.”

World leaders expressed near universal outrage at the invasion. Taoiseach Micheál Martin has condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine as indefensible. Mr Martin on Thursday said that Russia would pay a “high price for the act of aggression”.

French president Emmanuel Macron condemned Russia’s action, while Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU Commission said: “We will hold the Kremlin accountable.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking after the Security Council meeting, made a last-minute plea to Putin to stop the war “in the name of humanity”.

China, which signed a friendship treaty with Russia three weeks ago, reiterated a call for all parties to exercise restraint and rejected a description of Russia’s action as an invasion.

Ukraine closed its airspace to civilian flights citing a high risk to safety, while Europe’s aviation regulator warned against the hazards to flying in bordering areas of Russia and Belarus.

European Union leaders are due to discuss a further sanctions package on Russia at an emergency meeting on Thursday. – Agencies, Irish Times and The Democrat

Leave a Reply