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Russia launches ‘full-scale war’ in Ukraine

Nato’s chief said the ‘brutal act of war’ shattered peace on the European continent.

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Ukrainian soldiers ride in a military vehicle in Mariupol, Ukraine (Sergei Grits/AP)

Ukrainian soldiers ride in a military vehicle in Mariupol, Ukraine (Sergei Grits/AP)

Ukrainian soldiers ride in a military vehicle in Mariupol, Ukraine (Sergei Grits/AP)

Russia has launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine, hitting cities and bases with air strikes or shelling, as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee.

Ukraine’s government said Russian tanks and troops rolled across the border in what it called a “full-scale war” that could rewrite the geopolitical order and whose fallout has already reverberated around the globe.

In announcing a major military operation, Russian President Vladimir Putin deflected global condemnation and cascading new sanctions – and chillingly referred to his country’s nuclear arsenal as he threatened any foreign country attempting to interfere with “consequences you have never seen”.

Nato’s chief said the “brutal act of war” shattered peace on the European continent, as the US-led alliance mobilised more troops to move towards eastern Europe.

Sirens rang out in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and people massed in train stations and took to roads, as the government said the former Soviet republic was seeing a long-anticipated invasion from the east, north and south and reported more than 40 soldiers had been killed and dozens wounded.

“A full-scale war in Europe has begun,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.

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“Russia is not only attacking Ukraine, but the rules of normal life in the modern world.”

World leaders condemned the attack, which could cause massive casualties, topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government, upend the post-Cold War security order and result in severe economic impact around the world from soaring heating bills to spikes in food prices.

“We woke up in a different world today,” Germany’s foreign minister said, as Nato agreed to beef up air, land and sea forces on its eastern flank near Ukraine and Russia.

Global financial markets plunged and oil prices soared, and governments from the US to Asia and Europe readied new sanctions after weeks of failed efforts for a diplomatic solution.

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A Ukrainian soldier stands next to a military vehicle on a road in Kramatosrk, eastern Ukraine (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

A Ukrainian soldier stands next to a military vehicle on a road in Kramatosrk, eastern Ukraine (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

AP/PA Images

A Ukrainian soldier stands next to a military vehicle on a road in Kramatosrk, eastern Ukraine (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

But global powers have said they will not intervene militarily to defend Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law.

Ukrainians who had long braced for the prospect of an assault were urged to stay home and not to panic, even as officials said Russian troops were rolling into Ukraine, and big explosions were heard in the capital Kyiv, Kharkiv in the east and Odesa in the west.

“We are facing a war and horror. What could be worse?” 64-year-old Liudmila Gireyeva said in Kyiv.

She planned to head to the western city of Lviv and then to try to move to Poland to join her daughter.

Mr Putin “will be damned by history, and Ukrainians are damning him”, she said.

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Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at Nato headquarters in Brussels (Virginia Mayo/AP)

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at Nato headquarters in Brussels (Virginia Mayo/AP)

AP/PA Images

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at Nato headquarters in Brussels (Virginia Mayo/AP)

After weeks of denying plans to invade, Mr 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 US had predicted he would make as a pretext for an invasion.

He accused the US and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to prevent Ukraine from joining Nato and for security guarantees.

His spokesman said on Thursday that Russia does not intend to occupy Ukraine but will move to “demilitarise” it.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels: “This is a deliberate, cold-blooded and long-planned invasion. … Russia is using force to try to rewrite history.”

The attacks came first from the air.

Later Ukrainian authorities described ground invasions in multiple regions, and border guards released security camera footage on Thursday showing a line of Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukraine’s government-held territory from Russian-annexed Crimea.

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People stand next to fragments of military equipment on the street in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Kharkiv, Ukraine (Andrew Marienko/AP)

People stand next to fragments of military equipment on the street in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Kharkiv, Ukraine (Andrew Marienko/AP)

AP/PA Images

People stand next to fragments of military equipment on the street in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Kharkiv, Ukraine (Andrew Marienko/AP)

An Associated Press (AP) photographer in Mariupol heard explosions and saw dozens of people with suitcases heading for their cars to leave the city.

Another AP reporter saw the aftermath of an explosion in Kyiv.

AP reporting elsewhere in Ukraine found other damage.

The Russian military claimed to have wiped out Ukraine’s entire air defences in a matter of hours, and European authorities declared the country’s air space an active conflict zone.

Russia’s claims could not immediately be verified, nor could Ukrainian ones that they had shot down several Russian aircraft.

The Ukrainian air defence system and air force date back to the Soviet era and are dwarfed by Russia’s massive air power and precision weapons.

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Smoke rises from an air defence base in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Mariupol, Ukraine (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Smoke rises from an air defence base in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Mariupol, Ukraine (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

AP/PA Images

Smoke rises from an air defence base in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Mariupol, Ukraine (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

US President Joe Biden pledged new sanctions to punish Russia for the “unprovoked and unjustified attack”.

The president said he planned to speak to Americans on Thursday after a meeting of the Group of Seven leaders.

More sanctions against Russia were expected to be announced.

Mr Zelensky urged global leaders to provide defence assistance to Ukraine and help protect its airspace, and urged his compatriots to defend the nation.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded: “The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”

In the capital, 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.

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People walk in a subway to get a train as they leave Kyiv, Ukraine (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

People walk in a subway to get a train as they leave Kyiv, Ukraine (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

AP/PA Images

People walk in a subway to get a train as they leave Kyiv, Ukraine (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said on Facebook that the Russian military had launched missile strikes on Ukrainian military command facilities, air bases and military depots in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro.

The Russian Defence Ministry said it was not targeting cities, but using precision weapons and claimed that “there is no threat to the civilian population”.

The consequences of the conflict and resulting sanctions on Russia started reverberating throughout the world.

World stock markets plunged and oil prices surged by nearly six dollars per barrel.

Market benchmarks tumbled in Europe and Asia and US futures were sharply lower.

Brent crude oil jumped to more than 100 dollars per barrel on Thursday on unease about possible disruption of Russian supplies, while the rouble sank.

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The Dax curve on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange depicts falling prices, as the Russian attack on Ukraine sent stock markets around the world into a tailspin (Arne Dedert/dpa via AP)

The Dax curve on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange depicts falling prices, as the Russian attack on Ukraine sent stock markets around the world into a tailspin (Arne Dedert/dpa via AP)

AP/PA Images

The Dax curve on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange depicts falling prices, as the Russian attack on Ukraine sent stock markets around the world into a tailspin (Arne Dedert/dpa via AP)

Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Mr Putin issued a stark warning to other countries not to meddle.

In a reminder of Russia’s nuclear power, he warned that “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”.

Mr Putin’s announcement came just hours after the Ukrainian president rejected Moscow’s claims that his country poses a threat to Russia and made a passionate, last-minute plea for peace.

“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” Mr Zelensky said in an emotional overnight address, speaking in Russian in a direct appeal to Russian citizens.

“But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and lives of our children, we will defend ourselves.”

Mr Zelensky said he asked to arrange a call with Mr Putin late on Wednesday, but the Kremlin did not respond.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the nation in Kyiv (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the nation in Kyiv (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

AP/PA Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the nation in Kyiv (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

In an apparent reference to Mr Putin’s move to authorise the deployment of the Russian military to “maintain peace” in eastern Ukraine, Mr Zelensky warned that “this step could mark the start of a big war on the European continent”.

“Any provocation, any spark could trigger a blaze that will destroy everything,” he said.

The attack began even as the UN Security Council was holding an emergency meeting to hold off an invasion.

Members still unaware of Mr Putin’s announcement of the operation appealed to him to stand down.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres opened the meeting, just before the announcement, telling the Russian president: “Give peace a chance.”

European Council president Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen later promised to hold the Kremlin accountable.

“In these dark hours, our thoughts are with Ukraine and the innocent women, men and children as they face this unprovoked attack and fear for their lives,” they said on Twitter.


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