(CMR) Russian forces launched an attack on Ukraine Thursday, with reports of troops crossing the border to the north and south. CNN reported explosions in multiple cities, including the capital Kyiv and warnings from Russian President Vladimir Putin of bloodshed unless Ukrainian forces lay down their arms.
The first blasts were heard at around 5 a.m. Thursday, prompting immediate condemnation from the United States and its allies, which have threatened to enact full sanctions in response to Russian military aggression.
The attack came as world leaders attempted to avert catastrophe with a meeting of the United Nations Security Council amid warnings that a possible invasion could start the biggest war in Europe since 1945.
According to CNN, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky moved to enact martial law, and government ministers accused Moscow of launching a “full-scale invasion.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted on his official page that “peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strike” and called the situation “a war of aggression.”
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said five Russian aircraft and a helicopter were shot down early Thursday, claims Russia denied via state news agency TASS.
Hours before, Putin announced a military operation in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which contains the separatist-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which Moscow recognized as independent on Monday — in violation of international law.
In the address, broadcast live on Russian national television, Putin urged Ukrainian forces to lay down their arms and go home, saying all responsibility for possible bloodshed would be entirely on the conscience of the Ukrainian government.
“Our plans are not to occupy Ukraine; we do not plan to impose ourselves on anyone,” he said, but threatened “those who may be tempted to intervene” on Ukraine's behalf.
“Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so to create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia's response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never experienced in your history,” he said.
Before announcing military action, Zelensky appealed for peace but vowed the country would defend itself.
“If we are attacked militarily if they try to take away our freedom, our lives, our children's lives, we will defend ourselves,” the Ukrainian President said in a speech in Russian and directed at Russian citizens.”When you attack, you will see our faces and not our spines, our faces.
In a second video message posted to his official Facebook page Thursday, Zelensky said Russia “began an attack on Ukraine today” and that Ukrainian forces had “already taken on the first blow of the enemy and are resisting.”
“Putin began war against Ukraine, against the entire democratic world. He wants to destroy my country, our country, everything we've been building, everything we are living for,” he said.
US President Joe Biden issued a statement saying Russia had launched “an unprovoked and unjustified attack” on the Ukrainian people.
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” he said. “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable.”
“These are among the darkest hours for Europe since the end of World War II. A major nuclear power has attacked a neighbor country and is threatening reprisals of any other states that may come to rescue,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Brussels.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised to “weaken Russia's economic base and its capacity to modernize” following its “barbaric attack” against Ukraine.
“We will freeze Russian assets in the European Union and stop the access of Russian banks to European financial markets,” she said.
Russian stocks plunged Thursday after trading resumed on the Moscow Stock Exchange. The Russian ruble also crashed to an all-time low against the dollar and the euro.