Updated: Russian forces have launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine from multiple directions in what the Ukrainian President is describing as a “new Iron Curtain”
At least 137 soldiers and civilians have died in the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as local forces battled Russian invaders on three sides after Moscow unleashed the biggest attack on a European state since World War II.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war in a pre-dawn televised address, explosions and gunfire were heard throughout the day in the Ukraine capital, Kyiv, a city of three million people.
By nightfall, a picture was emerging of fierce fighting across multiple fronts. An adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office said Russian forces had captured the Chernobyl former nuclear power plant, just 90km north of the capital.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says 137 Ukrainian citizens – both soldiers and civilians – died on the first day of Russia’s massive military assault.
Zelensky called on Ukrainians to defend their country and said arms would be given to anyone prepared to fight.
“What we have heard today are not just missile blasts, fighting and the rumble of aircraft. This is the sound of a new Iron Curtain, which has come down and is closing Russia off from the civilised world,” Zelensky said.
The UN refugee agency said an estimated 100,000 Ukrainians had fled their homes. Thousands were crossing into neighbouring countries, including Romania, Moldova, Poland and Hungary.
The BBC reports it’s an incredibly fast-moving situation:
- Residents of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, say windows in apartment blocks were shaking from constant blasts as the Ukrainian military and Russian forces exchanged shellfire.
- Clashes have have also been taking place around the capital, Kyiv, in the north and the Black Sea port cities of Odesa and Mariupol in the south.
- The Ukrainian military claims to have shot down at least six Russian aircraft, while Russia claims to have destroyed more than 70 military targets in Ukraine.
- The Chernobyl nuclear power plant has been captured by Russian forces, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Thursday
- Ukraine lost control of a key military airport less than 20 miles from the centre of Kyiv, according to its deputy interior minister, but around 8.15 NZT officials reported it had regained the Hostomel airport facility.
- Russian police have now detained more than 700 people at anti-war protests across Russia, an independent monitor says.
- Ukraine’s health minister says 57 people were killed and 160 wounded on Thursday.
- UK and US announce fresh new sanctions on Russia, including asset freezes on banks.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement at the UN: “It is wrong. It is against the Charter. It is unacceptable,” and called on Putin to stop the military operation in Ukraine. “Innocent people always pay the highest price.”
US President Joe Biden said Washington and its allies would impose “severe sanctions” over what he called Putin’s “premeditated war”.
“There is no doubt, no doubt that the United States and every Nato ally will meet our Article V commitments, which says an attack on one is an attack on all.”
But Biden also said: “Let me say it again: Our forces are not – and will not – be engaged in the conflict with Russia in Ukraine.”
In detailing the sanctions, the US President declared: “As a result of Putin’s war of choice, Russia will face immediate and intense pressure on its economy, and massive costs from its isolation from the global financial system, global trade, and cutting-edge technology.
“This includes cutting off Russia’s largest bank from the US financial system – a significant blow to its ability to function and process global trade. It also includes full blocking sanctions on Russia’s second largest bank – freezing any of its assets touching the US financial system. Russia’s ability to access global markets, attract investment, and utilise the US dollar will be devastated.”
The US imposed additional sanctions on members of Russia’s elite and their families, and against 24 individuals and organisations in Belarus, the Ukrainian neighbour used by Russia to stage its troops and equipment before the war.
New Zealand also announced a range of measures, including a travel ban on Russian officials involved with the invasion and limiting its diplomatic engagements.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a tough package of penalties including an asset freeze against all major Russian banks and a plan to ban Russian companies from raising finance on UK markets.
Richard Shirreff, Former Nato Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, told Bloomberg News: “This is as dangerous as it gets. This is the most dangerous moment in Europe since the end of the Second World War.”
The World Health Organisation has released a further US$3.5 million in emergency funds to purchase and deliver urgent medical supplies for Ukraine’s health system.
In a statement, the WHO said: “The health system must continue to function to deliver essential care to people for all health issues, from Covid-19 to cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis, to mental health issues, especially for vulnerable groups such as older persons and migrants.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced Russia is carrying out a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine.
Putin made the televised announcement today at the same time the UN Security Council was meeting to urge him to step back.
In his speech, the Russian leader said further Nato expansion and its use of Ukrainian territory was “unacceptable” and clashes between forces from the two countries were “inevitable” and “only a matter of time”.
Russian troops were to enter Donbrass in south-eastern Ukraine, international media reported, and there have already been reports of explosions in Kiev, Kharkiv and in the Belgorod province of Russia.
Putin promised any foreign interference would be met with an immediate Russian reaction.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Russia had launched a “full-scale invasion” of the country and was targeting cities with weapons strikes.
“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.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has declared martial law.
New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta condemned the advance of Russian military personnel and equipment into Ukraine, saying it represented “a clear violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
“We stand with the people of Ukraine impacted by this conflict. Our thoughts are with them,” Mahuta said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
“Russia’s actions are a flagrant breach of fundamental international rules; the use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited under international law.”
Mahuta said New Zealand joined the international community in calling on Russia to cease its military operations in Ukraine, and “immediately and permanently withdraw, to ensure all possible steps are taken to protect civilians in line with international humanitarian law, and return to diplomatic negotiations to de-escalate this conflict”.
She would be making a further announcement “in due course”.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres made a plea at an emergency meeting for the Russian president to stop his troops entering Ukraine at the same time Putin was giving his address.
The Security Council promised there will be consequences.
US President Joe Biden has issued a statement calling the operation “an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces”.
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.
“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.”