Explosions have been reported in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and several cities near the frontline and along the country’s coast, after Russia launched a “full-scale invasion of Ukraine”.
AdvertisementBlasts have also been heard in the Black Sea port city of Odessa, with police and ambulance sirens heard across the Ukrainian capital city.
Explosions also rang out in Kharkiv, a large city 35 kilometres south of the Russian border.
Closer to the eastern war zone, four loud blasts rang out in Kramatorsk, which serves as the Ukrainian government’s effective capital for the eastern war zone.
More blasts also rang out in Mariupol, a port on the Sea of Azov which provide a land bridge between Russia and the Kremlin-annexed Crimea peninsula.
“Russia’s offensive military operation is to destroy the Ukrainian state,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Our defenders are ready to repel the aggressor state and will do everything in their power to defend Ukrainian land,” it added, calling on Ukraine’s Western allies to “immediately” impose new sanctions on Russia.
Russia’s defence ministry denied attacking Ukrainian cities, but confirmed it did use “high-precision weapons” to target military infrastructure, air defence and air forces.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy convened an urgent meeting of the national security and defence council to formally declare martial law.
Ukraine has closed its airspace to civilian planes.
Ukraine foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Western nations to act quickly, listing five actions he would like to see happen to protect “future of Europe and the world”.
The measures include enacting financial sanctions immediately, further isolating Russia by any other means, and supplying assistance to Ukraine including weapons, finance and humanitarian help.
He condemned Russia’s declaration of the start of a military operation in Ukraine, saying it signals an invasion is underway.
“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes. 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.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin had announced the start of a “military operation” in Ukraine in a televised address shortly before 6am on Thursday in Moscow, urging Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms.
“I have made the decision of a military operation,” he said as he vowed retaliation against anyone who interfered.
His statement came after the Kremlin said rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine had asked Moscow for military help against Kyiv.
In response, Mr Zelenskyy made an emotional late-night appeal to Russians not to support a “major war in Europe”.
Speaking Russian, Mr Zelenskyy said that the people of Russia are being lied to about Ukraine and that the possibility of war also “depends on you”. As Ukrainian Australians watch the crisis with Russia unfold, ‘anxiety has become anguish’
“Who can stop (the war)? People. These people are among you, I am sure,” he said.
Mr Zelenskyy said he had tried to call Putin but there was “no answer, only silence”, adding that Moscow now had around 200,000 soldiers near Ukraine’s borders.
Earlier, the separatist leaders of Donetsk and Luhansk sent separate letters to Mr Putin, asking him to “help them repel Ukraine’s aggression”, Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The two letters were published by Russian state media and were both dated 22 February.
Their appeals came after Mr Putin recognised their independence and signed friendship treaties with them that include defence deals.
Tens of thousands of Russian troops are stationed near Ukraine’s borders, and the West had said for days that an attack was imminent.
‘Moment of peril’
Mr Putin has defied a barrage of international criticism over the crisis, with some Western leaders saying he was no longer rational.
His announcement of the military operation came ahead of a last-ditch summit involving European Union leaders in Brussels planned for Thursday.
The 27-nation bloc had also imposed sanctions on Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu and high-ranking figures including the commanders of Russia’s army, navy and air force, another part of the wave of Western punishment after Putin sought to rewrite Ukraine’s borders.
The United Nations Security Council met late Wednesday for its second emergency session in three days over the crisis, with a personal plea by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to Putin going unheeded.
“President Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine, give peace a chance, too many people have already died,” Mr Guterres said.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, warned that an all-out Russian invasion could displace five million people, triggering a new European refugee crisis.
Before Mr Putin’s announcement, Ukraine had urged its approximately three million citizens living in Russia to leave.
“We are united in believing that the future of European security is being decided right now, here in our home, in Ukraine,” President Zelenskyy said during a joint media appearance with the visiting leaders of Poland and Lithuania.
Western capitals said Russia had amassed 150,000 troops in combat formations on Ukraine’s borders with Russia, Belarus and Russian-occupied Crimea and on warships in the Black Sea.
Ukraine has around 200,000 military personnel and Wednesday’s call up could see up to 250,000 reservists aged between 18 and 60 receive their mobilisation papers.
Moscow’s total forces are much larger – around a million active-duty personnel – and have been modernised and re-armed in recent years.
High cost of war
But Ukraine has received advanced anti-tank weapons and some drones from NATO members. More have been promised as the allies try to deter a Russian attack or at least make it costly.
Shelling had intensified in recent days between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists – a Ukrainian soldier was killed on Wednesday, the sixth in four days – and civilians living near the front were fearful.
Dmitry Maksimenko, a 27-year-old coal miner from government-held Krasnogorivka, told AFP that he was shocked when his wife came to tell him that Putin had recognised the two Russian-backed separatist enclaves.
“She said: ‘Have you heard the news?’. How could I have known? There’s no electricity, never mind internet. I don’t know what is going to happen next, but to be honest, I’m afraid,” he said.
In a Russian village around 50 kilometres from the border, AFP reporters saw military equipment including rocket launchers, howitzers and fuel tanks mounted on trains stretching for hundreds of metres.
Russia has long demanded that Ukraine be forbidden from ever joining the NATO alliance and that US troops pull out from Eastern Europe.
Speaking to journalists, Mr Putin on Tuesday set out a number of stringent conditions if the West wanted to de-escalate the crisis, saying Ukraine should drop its NATO ambition and become neutral.
Washington on Wednesday announced sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which Germany had earlier effectively suspended by halting certification.
Australia, Britain, Japan and the European Union have all also announced sanctions.