Gunfire and explosions could be heard in Kiev and several other cities shortly after Vladimir Putin announced what he called the start of a “special military operation” against Ukraine on Thursday morning, local and international media reported.
The pre-dawn quiet of many major Ukrainian cities was shattered by loud booms and the sound of gunfire, with fighting witnessed outside the country’s capital Kiev as well as in Kramatorsk, Odessa, Kharkhiv, Berdyansk, and near the Boryspil International Airport.
Ukrainian officials said six airports were targeted and that Russia also conducted missile strikes on Ukrainian command centres in the cities of Kiev and Kharkiv.
Russia claimed to have taken out all of Ukraine’s key airbases and its air defence systems, while Ukraine said it downed seven Russian aircraft. Neither claim could be immediately independently verified.
“The armed forces of the Russian Federation started intensive shelling of our units in the east, and also launched rocket-bomb strikes at the airports in Boryspil, Ozernomu, Kulbakinomu, Chuguev, Kramatorsk, Chornobayivtsi, and so on through military objects of the armed forces of Ukraine,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a Facebook post.
“At the same time, the aggressor launched artillery shelling of the territory and settlements of Ukraine along the state border,” it added.
Tanks, armoured vehicles, and trucks were seen rolling through the border crossing between occupied Crimea and mainland Ukraine, in footage released by Ukraine’s Border Guard Service. It said that Russian troops and weaponry had launched an attack from the occupied Crimean peninsula earlier this morning, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports.
There were multiple reports of Russian tanks rolling across the border from Belarus into northern Ukraine, including video footage purporting to be from a border guard post. Ukraine said Russia had invaded its territory from the east, south and north.
Blasts also rattled the Belgorod province of Russia bordering Ukraine, a witness told Reuters. And more explosions were heard in Kharkiv, in the country’s northeast.
A series of distant loud noises, which were called similar to the firing of artillery, were heard by witnesses in Kiev, reported Reuters.
Russian president Vladimir Putin addressed the nation early morning on Thursday, announcing that the Kremlin had decided to carry out a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine said what was actually taking place was a “full-scale invasion”, however.
“The situation requires us to take decisive, swift action,” Mr Putin, adding that Moscow plans to carry out the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification” of Ukraine. He vowed to put an end to eight years of war in eastern Ukraine where Kiev government forces have been battling Russian-backed separatists.
Condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an “unprovoked and unjustified attack”, US president Joe Biden said: “I will meet with my G7 counterparts in the morning and then speak to the American people to announce the further consequences the United States and our allies and partners will impose on Russia for this needless act of aggression against Ukraine and global peace and security.
“We will also coordinate with our Nato allies to ensure a strong, united response that deters any aggression against the alliance. Tonight, Jill and I are praying for the brave and proud people of Ukraine.”
“I will be monitoring the situation from the White House this evening and will continue to get regular updates from my national security team,” he said.
Russia’s UN envoy says Moscow defended the attack, saying Moscow is not being aggressive against the Ukrainian people but it is against the junta in power in Kiev.
British foreign secretary Liz Truss said she condemns the “appalling, unprovoked attack” on Ukraine.