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Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday by land, air and sea in the largest military attack of one state against another on the European continent since the Second World War.
The wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday hit cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling, as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee. Ukraine’s government said Russian tanks and troops rolled across the border in a “full-scale war” that could rewrite the geopolitical order.
Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the country severed diplomatic relations with Russia and called “on all our partners to do the same. By this concrete step you will demonstrate that you stand by Ukraine and categorically reject the most blatant act of aggression in Europe since WWII.”
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While the attack on Ukraine was largely condemned by the West, it’s unclear whether forces will intervene, something Russian President Vladimir Putin warned would show grave consequences. NATO is sending additional forces to bolster defenses in eastern Europe.
Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Thursday about 40 people have been killed so far in the Russian attack on the country, The Associated Press reported. Several dozen people have been wounded. He didn’t specify whether casualties included civilians.
Zelenskyy said he would be providing weapons to citizens who want to help defend the country, instructing them on Twitter to “be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities.”
“The future of the Ukrainian people depends on every Ukrainian,” he said Thursday, urging all those who can defend the country to come to the Interior Ministry’s assembly facilities.
Russia “has embarked on a path of evil,” the president said, but Ukraine “is defending itself & won’t give up its freedom no matter what Moscow thinks.” Zelenskyy sanctions would be lifted “on all citizens of Ukraine who are ready to defend our country as part of territorial defense with weapons in hands.”
“Russia treacherously attacked our state in the morning, as Nazi Germany did in #2WW years,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history.”
The attacks came first from the air. Later Ukrainian authorities described ground invasions in multiple regions, and border guards released security camera footage Thursday showing a line of Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukraine’s government-held territory from Russian-annexed Crimea in the south.
In the north, video showed tanks rolling over the border from the Russian ally of Belarus through Senkivka. Russian forces also landed in the port cities of Odessa and Mariupol.
The Russian military claimed to have wiped out Ukraine’s entire air defenses in a matter of hours, and European authorities declared the country’s airspace an active conflict zone. Russia’s claims could not immediately be verified, nor could Ukrainian ones that they had shot down several Russian aircraft, according to The Associated Press. The Ukrainian air defense system and air force date back to the Soviet era and are dwarfed by Russia’s massive air power and precision weapons.
Western counties were anticipating hundreds of thousands of people to flee from the attack on Ukraine, Reuters reported. Highways outside of Kyiv swelled with traffic Thursday leading to Poland, and lines of people waited for gasoline, to withdraw money or to purchase other supplies, such as food and water.
Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko advised residents to stay home unless they are involved in critical work and urged them to prepare go-bags with necessities and documents if they need to evacuate.
Ukraine said columns of Russian troops were passing over the border into the Ukrainian regions of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Luhansk, Reuters reported. Russian missiles also targeted several Ukrainian cities and explosions could be heard before dawn in the capital of Kyiv, home to 3 million people.
After weeks of denying plans to invade, Putin justified his actions in an overnight televised address, asserting that the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine — a false claim the U.S. had predicted he would make as a pretext for an invasion. He accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and for security guarantees
In a reminder of Russia’s nuclear power, Putin said “no one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor.”
Among Putin’s pledges was to “denazify” Ukraine. World War II looms large in Russia, after the Soviet Union suffered more deaths than any country while fighting Adolf Hitler’s forces. Kremlin propaganda sometimes paints Ukrainian nationalists as neo-Nazis seeking revenge — a charge historians call disinformation. Ukraine is now led by a Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust.
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The Head of the National Police of Ukraine on Thursday raised all units to combat alarm and warned civilians not to go outside in uniform or tactile clothing and to report all suspicious objects or people, especially those with red items on their clothing, to a special police line.
Zelenskyy has declared martial law in the country.
“Regarding the aggression of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, police have intensified measures to ensure law and order on the streets,” Ukrainian national police said in a statement. “The Head of the National Police of Ukraine also ordered the issuance of weapons to the veterans of Internal Affairs who have expressed willing to protect Ukraine from the Russian Federation’s armed aggression.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.