Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine on Thursday, hitting cities and bases with air strikes or shelling as civilians crammed into trains and cars to flee. The Ukrainian government said Russian tanks and troops had crossed the border and accused Moscow of unleashing a "total war" that could rewrite the geopolitical order and whose repercussions are already being felt around the world.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday launched a military operation in Ukraine to defend separatists in the east of the country. "We will strive to achieve demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine," he said. The Kremlin said the operation, aimed at imposing a "neutral status" on Ukraine, would last as long as necessary, depending on its "results" and "relevance".
The Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kouleba, announced the start of a "large-scale invasion of Russia". This operation is aimed at "destroying the Ukrainian state, seizing its territory by force and establishing an occupation", his ministry added.
Ukrainian military sites
The Russian army, which said it was targeting Ukrainian military sites with "high-precision weapons", claimed to have destroyed anti-aircraft defence systems and put Ukraine's air bases "out of action". Russian ground forces entered the Kiev region from Belarus to attack military targets, Kiev said.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his country's troops were "not taking any part" in the Russian operation. According to the Russian Defence Ministry, the separatists have advanced three kilometres in the Donetsk region and one and a half kilometres in Lugansk.
Deaths in Ukraine
At least 40 soldiers and a dozen civilians were killed, according to Kiev. A Ukrainian military plane crashed near Kiev with 14 people on board, authorities said. The Ukrainian army also said it had shot down five Russian army planes and a helicopter and killed about 50 "Russian occupiers" in the east of the country.
Authorities in the Odessa region also said 18 people had been killed in a village by strikes, but it was not clear whether these casualties had been included in the overall toll. A series of explosions were heard in Kiev, where bombing sirens sounded.
Explosions were also heard in Kramatorsk, a city in the east that serves as the Ukrainian army's headquarters, in Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city near the Russian border, in Odessa on the Black Sea, and in Mariupol, Ukraine's largest city near the front line.
The United States, NATO, the European Union, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Finland, Sweden and Turkey, among others, have condemned the attack. The United States will table a draft resolution at the UN Security Council on Thursday condemning Russia for its "war" in Ukraine, while China says it "understands the concerns" of Russia.
The Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers will hold an "extraordinary meeting" on Thursday afternoon. The leaders of the 27 EU countries are due to hold a summit on Thursday evening. Nato has activated defence plans and is planning a video conference summit on Friday.
Promises of "massive" sanctions
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the West would impose "massive" sanctions against Russia. The EU is preparing a new package of sanctions that is the "toughest ever", its diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said.
The price of a barrel of oil rose above $100 on Thursday for the first time in more than seven years. European stock markets fell by as much as 5% by midday, while grain prices hit record highs on the European market, with wheat peaking at 344 euros a tonne on Euronext.
Additional sources : AP