Explosions rock Ukraine after Russian invasion begins

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Russian forces invaded Ukraine by land, air and sea on Thursday, with Russian missiles raining down on Ukrainian towns and reports of troops crossing the border.

Explosions could be heard before dawn in the capital of Kiev. Gunshots rang out, sirens sounded across town, and the freeway exit was choked with traffic as residents tried to flee.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s goal is to destroy his state.

“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are being hit,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

“This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and win. The world can and must stop Putin. It’s time to act.”

Ukraine reported columns of troops crossing its borders in the eastern regions of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Luhansk, and landing by sea in the southern port cities of Odessa and Mariupol.

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: “These are among Europe’s darkest hours since World War II.”

Check out some of the first images showing damage in Ukraine:
The body of a rocket is stuck in an apartment after a recent bombing in the northern suburbs of Kharkiv, Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, forcing many to flee. (Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images)

Police and security personnel inspect the remains of a shell on a street in Kiev. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighters work on a fire in a building after shelling in the city of Chugiv in eastern Ukraine. Russian ground forces entered Ukraine from several directions, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

A man and woman stand next to fragments of military equipment in the street following an apparent Russian strike in Kharkiv. (Andrew Marienko/Associated Press)

A resident of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, the closest major city to the Russian border, said the windows of apartment buildings near him rattled from the constant blasts.

Outside Mariupol, near the frontline held by Russian-backed separatists, smoke billowed from a fire in a forest targeted by Russian bombardment.

A Ukrainian armored column marched along the road, with soldiers seated atop turrets smiling and flashing victory signs at passing cars honking their horns in support.

“We will hide”

In the nearby towns of Mangush and Berdyansk, people lined up for money and gasoline. Mariupol civilians were seen bagging.

“We’re going to hide,” said a middle-aged woman wearing a gray sweater.

Initial reports of casualties were sporadic and unconfirmed. Ukraine reported at least eight people killed by Russian shelling and three border guards killed in the southern Kherson region.

However, an adviser to the Ukrainian president said around 40 people have been killed so far in Russian attacks on the country. Oleksii Arestovich said Thursday that several dozen people were injured. He did not say whether the victims included civilians.

The head of the UN refugee agency warns of the “devastating consequences” of Russian military action in Ukraine and calls on neighboring countries to keep their borders open to people fleeing the fighting.

In an early morning televised declaration of war, Putin said he had ordered “a special military operation” to protect people, including Russian citizens, victims of “genocide” in Ukraine – a charge that the West calls it absurd propaganda.

US President Joe Biden said his prayers are with the people of Ukraine “as they come under unprovoked and unwarranted attack”. He promised tough sanctions in response and said he would quickly consult with other world leaders.

Ukraine, a democratic country of 44 million people with over 1,000 years of history, is the largest country in Europe after Russia itself. He voted overwhelmingly for independence after the fall of the Soviet Union and aims to join NATO and the European Union, aspirations that infuriate Moscow.

Putin, who for months denied he was planning an invasion, called Ukraine an artificial creation carved out of Russia by its enemies – a characterization Ukrainians say is shocking and false.

Three hours after Putin gave his order, the Russian Defense Ministry said he had destroyed military infrastructure at Ukrainian airbases and degraded its air defenses.

Earlier, Ukrainian media reported that military command centers in Kyiv and Kharkiv were hit by missiles, while Russian troops landed in the port cities of Odessa and Mariupol. A Reuters witness then heard three loud explosions in Mariupol.

Russia has announced that it is closing all shipping in the Sea of ​​Azov. Russia controls the strait leading to the sea where Ukraine has ports, including Mariupol. Ukraine has called on Turkey to ban Russian ships from entering the strait connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

“We are afraid of the bombings”

Lines of people waited to withdraw cash and buy food and water in Kyiv. Traffic was blocked west of the city of three million people, towards the distant Polish border. Western countries have prepared for the likelihood of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing an onslaught.

By mid-morning, traffic was at a standstill on the main four-lane road leading to the western city of Lviv. The cars backed up for tens of kilometres, Reuters witnesses said.

Oxana, stuck in a traffic jam with her three-year-old daughter in the backseat, said she was fleeing “because a war has started. Putin attacked us”.

“We are afraid of the bombings,” she said. “Tell them, ‘You can’t do that.’ It’s so scary.”

Some people are rushing to leave Kyiv and other cities, while others are scrambling for essential supplies:
A woman hugs her son after crossing the Hungarian-Ukrainian border in Beregsurány, Hungary on Thursday. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

People line up outside an ATM in Lviv after the Russian invasion. (Pavlo Palmarchuk/Reuters)

People wait in a traffic jam as they leave the city of Kharkiv. (Antonio Bronic/Reuters)

Biden, who has ruled out putting US troops on the ground in Ukraine, said Putin chose a premeditated war that would result in catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.

“Russia bears sole responsibility for the death and destruction this attack will cause, and the United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive manner,” said Biden, who spoke by phone with Zelensky.

Trudeau condemns ‘flagrant attack’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also condemns Russia’s attack on Ukraine and calls on Putin to withdraw all military forces from the country.

“Canada condemns in the strongest terms Russia’s blatant attack on Ukraine,” Trudeau said in a statement late Wednesday.

“These unprovoked actions constitute yet another clear violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They also constitute a violation of Russia’s obligations under international law and the Charter of the United Nations.”

Trudeau said he would meet with G7 partners on Thursday and work quickly with NATO and Canada’s allies “to collectively respond to these reckless and dangerous acts, including imposing significant sanctions in addition to those already announced. “.

WATCH | “It’s a brutal act of war,” the NATO chief says of the Russian invasion:

‘This is a brutal act of war,’ NATO chief says of Russian invasion

Calling it a “grave moment for Europe’s security”, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine and called on the country to cease all military action. 5:17

“Russia has attacked Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a briefing on Thursday, noting that Putin’s invasion had “shattered” peace on the continent.

“This is a brutal act of war. Our hearts go out to the brave people of Ukraine.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said France and its European allies had done everything to try to ward off the attack on Ukraine. He said they would show “no weakness” in their response.

Macron said in a televised address to the nation on Thursday that Russia’s attack is a “turning point in European history” and, therefore, “there will be profound consequences for our continent and changes in our lives”. .

He said that “to this act of war we will respond without weakness, we will respond calmly and with determination and solidarity”.

“We have tried everything to avoid this war but it is here and we are ready,” Macron said.

He said the sanctions will be “proportionate” to Russia’s military operations, targeting its economy and energy sector.

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