Armed forces of the Russian Federation began large-scale operations across the Ukraine in what may become the worst European conflict since World War II.
In the early morning of Feb. 24 local time, explosions and gunfire were heard in various parts of the Eastern European country, as reported by various media outlets, with photos, video, and updates about the invasion coming in soon thereafter.
As of press time, aerial and rocket attacks, as well as intense artillery bombardments have occurred at multiple points along the border and at key military and government installations. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the Russian people in a last-ditch attempt to avoid war, saying that his country was not an enemy of Russia, but that Ukrainians would fight to protect their homes.
Attacks have been reported near the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, as well as the industrial city of Kharkov and the coastal cities of Mariupol and Oddessa. In addition to movements along the Russia-Ukraine border, Russian forces and allied troops from Belarus have attacked Ukraine from the north, while Russian troops in the pro-Russia territory of Transnistria in Moldova have reportedly also joined in the invasion.
Video taken by locals shows explosions from apparent missile and artillery strikes. Russian airborne troops were also seen parachuting into Ukrainian territory.
‘Special military operation’
Speaking in an emergency address broadcast on state television, Russian president Vladimir Putin said that his country had begun a “special military operation” to affect the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of Ukraine.
On Sunday, Putin had given an hour-long speech declaring recognition of two separatist governments in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, saying that the Kiev government was abusing ethnic Russians there. Russia then moved “peacekeeping” forces into the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics.”
Speaking at 5:50 a.m. on Thursday, Putin claimed that the Kremlin doesn’t intend to occupy other parts of Ukraine, and urged the Ukrainian forces to “immediately lay down arms,” according to state-run TASS.
He also warned other countries not to interfere with the operation, saying that there would be “consequences they have not seen before.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the country’s military was striking only military targets and would use caution to avoid harming civilians. Ukraine reported several hundred casualties in the first hours of fighting.
Zelensky to Russian people: We are not enemies
In the final moments before war, the Ukrainian president attempted to contact Putin, but the line was silent. Zelensky then addressed the people of Russia in remarks made in Russian.
“Listen to the voice of reason. The people of Ukraine want peace, the authorities in Ukraine want peace, they want it and are doing everything they can for it. … We don’t need war,” he said.
He stressed, however, that “if we are attacked, if someone attempts to take away our land … we will defend ourselves. … you will see our faces, not our backs.”
Late in the evening U.S. Eastern time, President Joe Biden called the invasion a “premeditated war chosen by Putin that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.” He had earlier spoken with Zelensky by telephone.
“The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces,” Biden 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.”
The military action in Ukraine was presaged by months of Russian and Belarussian military buildup and exercises along the Ukrainian border. The Kremlin has long demanded that Ukraine — which used to be part of the Soviet Union and before that, the Russian Empire — not be admitted to NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance in Europe, or the European Union.
Washington and other countries have previously sanctioned Russia over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean territory, and initiated fresh economic punishments in the last several days. Western countries have delivered many shipments of defensive weaponry, including anti-tank missiles, to Kiev.
An earlier version of this article mistakenly reported that the Ukrainian navy had been neutralized. Vision Times regrets the error.