(NEW YORK) — Russia announced early Thursday that military operations have begun in Ukraine, kicking off a long-feared attack on its ex-Soviet neighbor.
After weeks of escalating tensions in the region, Ukraine took steps to brace for a possible Russian invasion, declaring a nationwide state of emergency and calling up 36,000 military reservists. Meanwhile, a number of nations around the world, including the United States, have announced economic sanctions against Russia.
Thursday’s attack followed a fiery, hour-long speech from Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the week, when the leader announced he was recognizing the independence of two Russia-backed separatist areas in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region: the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. In the days leading up to the invasion, U.S. officials estimated that some 190,000 Russian troops and pro-Russian separatist forces were massed near Ukraine’s borders.
Russia has blamed Ukraine for stoking the crisis and reiterated its demands to NATO that Ukraine pledges to never join the transatlantic defense alliance. While the full scope of the military operations was unclear, Putin said in a televised address early Thursday that his “plans do not not include the occupation of Ukrainian territories,” but he also warned outside countries not to interfere.
Here’s how the news is developing Thursday. All times Eastern:
Feb 24, 6:04 am
Russia tells Ukraine it’s ‘never been an enemy’
Russia’s parliament speaker claimed Thursday that the “sole purpose” of the country’s invasion of Ukraine “is to secure peace,” saying “Russia has never been an enemy.”
“I am calling on Ukrainian citizens: We have always deemed you to be a fraternal people. The sole purpose of what our country is doing is to secure peace,” State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said in a statement. “We are asking you to step aside and do not take part in any mobilization campaigns proposed by the Kyiv authorities. They are not independent, all orders come from Washington and Brussels.”
Volodin also urged Ukrainian Armed Forces to lay down their weapons, saying the orders given from Kyiv are criminal and serve the interests of NATO and the United States. He noted that Russia and Ukraine share history, culture and religion.
Feb 24, 5:41 am
Russia attacking Ukraine from north, east, south, Zelenskyy says
Russian forces are attacking Ukraine “from the north, east and south,” according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“Our soldiers are heavily fighting, the aggressor suffered heavy losses,” Zelenskyy said in an address to the Ukrainian public from Kyiv on Thursday morning. “We have wounded soldiers.”
He added that the Ukrainian military “is giving and will give weapons to everyone who is able to defend out country.”
The Ukrainian president also announced that his country has “cut diplomatic ties with Russia.”
“Ukraine is defending its freedom,” he said. “Citizens of Russia will choose today their own way. Time for you to come out and protest this war with Ukraine.”
Just hours before Russia launched the early morning invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbor, a senior Pentagon official told ABC News: “You are likely in the last few hours of peace on the European continent for a long time to come. Be careful.”
Feb 24, 4:49 am
Three Ukrainian border guards are first reported deaths from Russian attack
At least three Ukrainian border guards were killed near the southern port city of Skadovsk on Thursday morning after a commandant’s headquarters was shelled by a Russian helicopter, according to Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service.
They are the first reported deaths after Russia launched military operations in Ukraine early Thursday.
An unknown number of personnel were also wounded, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service said in a statement on its official Facebook page, noting that the border guards in the area were still fighting.
Feb 24, 3:26 am
EU urges Russia to ‘immediately cease’ attack on Ukraine
Leaders of the European Union are urging Russia to “immediately cease” its attack on Ukraine, saying “such use of force and coercion has no place in the 21st century.”
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms Russia’s unprecedented military aggression against Ukraine,” European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a joint statement Thursday. “By its unprovoked and unjustified military actions, Russia is grossly violating international law and undermining European and global security and stability. We call on Russia to immediately cease the hostilities, withdraw its military from Ukraine and fully respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.”
They noted that EU leaders will meet later Thursday “to discuss the crisis and further restrictive measures that will impose massive and severe consequences on Russia for its action.” They said von der Leyen “will outline a further sanctions package being finalized by the European Commission and which the Council will swiftly adopt.”
In on-camera statements Thursday, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, pledged to “adopt a stronger package, the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented.”
Von der Leyen added that the EU “will not let President Putin tear down the security architecture that has given Europe peace and stability over the past decades.”
“Ukraine will prevail,” she said.
Feb 24, 2:41 am
Pro-Russian separatists claim to be taking territories in eastern Ukraine
Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region claimed Thursday that their forces are taking over Ukrainian government-controlled territories amid a Russian invasion.
Ivan Filiponenko, a representative of the military department of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, said in a statement that militia units have begun “artillery preparation and an operation to liberate the temporarily occupied territories.”
Meanwhile, Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the militia of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told Russia’s Interfax news agency that “forces are delivering strikes on positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces along the entire line of contact, using all weapons that are available to them.”
Separatist leaders want to control all of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in Donbas. But they currently only have about a third, with the rest controlled by Ukraine.
Feb 24, 2:03 am
Russia claims to have neutralized some of Ukraine’s military infrastructure
Russia claimed Thursday to have neutralized some of Ukraine’s military infrastructure amid an attack on the country.
“The military infrastructure of air bases of Ukraine’s Armed Forces has been rendered inoperable,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement. “Air defense systems of the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been suppressed.”
The Russian defense ministry further alleged that Ukrainian forces on the border “are offering no resistance to Russian units.”
Meanwhile, a statement from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that five Russian planes and a helicopter had been shot down.
“Reports of foreign media on a Russian aircraft allegedly downed on the Ukrainian territory have nothing to do with the reality,” the Russian defense ministry said Thursday.
ABC News could not independently verify the claims on either side.
Feb 24, 1:28 am
State Department suspends consular operations in Lviv
In a new security alert, the State Department said it has suspended its consular operations in Lviv in western Ukraine amid “reports of Russian attacks on targets in a number of major Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Mariupol and others.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv previously suspended operations on Feb. 12.
“The U.S. government will not be able to evacuate U.S. citizens from Ukraine,” the warning stated.
The State Department advised U.S. citizens to shelter in place and issued instructions on actions to take if a loud explosion is heard or if sirens are activated.
“Further Russian military action can occur at any time without warning. U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine are strongly encouraged to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness,” the warning read. “Know the location of your closest shelter or protected space. In the event of mortar and/or rocket fire, follow the instructions from local authorities and seek shelter immediately. If you feel that your current location is no longer safe, you should carefully assess the potential risks involved in moving to a different location.”
Feb 24, 1:11 am
Russian, Belarusian troops attacking Ukraine from Belarus
Ukraine’s border service said Russian and Belarusian troops are now attacking from Belarus.
Ukraine’s border came under attack from artillery, tanks and small arms around 5 a.m. local time from Russian troops “with the support of Belarus,” the border service said in a statement.
The attack is happening along much of Ukraine’s northeast border, including the Chernigiv and Zhitomirsky regions that are directly north of Kyiv.
There are reports of casualties.
Feb 24, 1:00 am
Ukrainian president declares martial law
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law in the country Thursday, saying Russia has launched an “unjustified, false and cynical invasion.”
“There are strikes on military and other important defense facilities, attacked border units, the situation in the Donbas has degraded,” Zelenskyy said in a statement Thursday morning. “The Armed Forces, all special and law enforcement agencies of the state are on alert. The National Security and Defense Council is working in an emergency mode.”
“Civilian citizens of Ukraine should stay at home,” he added. “Warn your loved ones about what is happening. Take care of those who need help. All thoughts and prayers with our soldiers.”
Martial law allows military authorities to temporarily take over government functions, generally during a time of emergency.
The announcement came as reports of explosions and air raid sirens in cities across Ukraine rolled in and as Russian-controlled separatists, in a breakaway region of eastern Ukraine known as Donbas, say they have launched a full-scale offensive to retake what they claim is their territory there.
Feb 24, 12:44 am
Zelenskyy asks for global response, talks to Biden
In a new video statement denouncing the Russian attacks on his country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it’s not only the fate of Ukraine that’s being decided.
“Ukrainians will never give their freedom and independence to anyone. Only we, all citizens of Ukraine, have been determining our future since 1991,” Zelenskyy said. “But now the fate of not only our state is being decided, but also what life in Europe will be like.”
The Ukrainian president stressed the need for a global response, stating that what remains of international law “depends on the world’s honest and just response to this aggression.”
President Joe Biden and Zelenskyy spoke over the phone around midnight ET, when Zelenskyy asked Biden to “call on the leaders of the world to speak out clearly against President Putin’s flagrant aggression and to stand with the people of Ukraine,” Biden said in a statement.
Biden said he told Zelenskyy that the U.S. condemned the attack, and he also briefed him on the steps the U.S. is taking “to rally international condemnation.”
Biden also reiterated in the statement that he will meet with G-7 leaders Thursday and plans to impose “severe” sanctions on Russia.
“We will continue to provide support and assistance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” he said.
In the video, Zelenskyy implored citizens to stay home.
“Warn your loved ones about what is happening,” he said. “Take care of those who need help.”
Feb 24, 12:11 am
US senators call for harsher sanctions following Russian attack
Senators on both sides of the aisle are calling on the administration to turn up the pressure on Russia following its attack on Ukraine.
“President Biden has already imposed an initial tranche of sanctions, and it is now time for us to up the pain level for the Russian government,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a statement.
“I urge the Biden administration to respond swiftly and in concert with our allies to impose crushing economic sanctions on Kremlin officials, Russian entities and other actors involved int his attack on Ukraine,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said.
“America and our allies must answer the call to protect freedom by subjecting Putin and Russia to the harshest economic penalties, by expelling them from global institutions, and by committing ourselves to the expansion and modernization of our national defense,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said.
While a handful of Republicans knocked the administration for not imposing pre-invasion sanctions, those jabs are largely being overwhelmed by calls for unity among NATO allies.
“There is no justification for this assault and I call for the administration to lead the world in a unified response,” Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman said.
Feb 24, 12:00 am
Reports of Russian troops crossing border into Ukraine, ballistic missiles
There are reports that Russian troops have now crossed the border in eastern Ukraine, close to the city of Kharkiv, as explosions in the area continue.
Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, Anton Gerashchenko, told media the troops crossed near Kharkiv. A former senior adviser to Ukraine’s government also confirmed the reports, saying he was informed by the president’s office, while Ukraine’s main newswire agency, UNIAN, has also reported the news.
Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second largest city and is only about 20 miles from the border with Russia. However, it is not next to the separatist-controlled areas.
Ukrainian authorities also said that Kyiv and multiple cities east of it have been stuck by ballistic missiles. Gerashchenko said at least seven cruise missiles or ballistic missiles hit a military aerodrome near Kyiv that is home to fighter jets. It appears that the missiles have largely struck targets on the outskirts of the city so far.
Russia’s defense ministry said it is striking Ukrainian air bases, military infrastructure and air defenses across the country but said it will not target Ukrainian cities themselves.
The ministry said “high-precision” missiles are being used.
Reports of explosions also continue to come in from Odessa, Dnipro and Mariupol.
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