KYIV, Ukraine — Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks from three sides in an attack that could rewrite the global post-Cold War security order. Ukraine’s government pleaded for help as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee.
Military forces battling Russians on multiple fronts suffered dozens of casualties.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ignored global condemnation and cascading new sanctions as he unleashed the largest ground war in Europe since World War II and chillingly referred to his country’s nuclear arsenal.
He threatened any country trying to interfere with “consequences you have never seen,” as a once-hoped for diplomatic resolution now appeared impossible.
In an address broadcast just prior to the invasion, Putin said: “Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so, to create threats for our country, for our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history.
“We are ready for any development of events. All necessary decisions in this regard have been made.”
President Joe Biden hit back Thursday against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, unleashing robust new sanctions, ordering the deployment of thousands of additional troops to NATO ally Germany and declaring that America would stand up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
He also acknowledged that the invasion — and efforts to thwart Putin — will have a cost for Americans. But he sought to reassure the public that the economic pain that may come with rising energy prices will be short-lived in the U.S.
As for the Russian president, Biden said: “He’s going to test the resolve of the West to see if we stay together. And we will.”
Targeting Russia’s financial system, Biden said, the United States will block assets of large Russian banks, impose export controls aimed at the nation’s high-tech needs and sanction its business oligarchs.
The president said the U.S. also will be deploying additional forces to Germany to bolster NATO after the invasion of Ukraine, which is not a member of the defense organization. Some 7,000 additional U.S. troops will be sent.
Biden spoke hours after holding a virtual meeting with the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Italy and Japan. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also joined the meeting.
The president also met with his national security team in the White House Situation Room as he looked to flesh out U.S. moves in the rapidly escalating crisis.
The U.N. Security Council will vote today on a resolution that would condemn Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine and demand an immediate halt to Russia’s invasion and the withdrawal of all Russian troops.
Australia’s prime minister on Thursday accused China of throwing Russia a lifeline by easing trade restrictions at a time the much of the world is trying to stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was reacting Friday to a report in The South China Morning Post that China had announced it was fully open to Russian wheat imports.
Morrison said China ‘s easing of trade restrictions “is simply unacceptable. … You don’t go and throw a lifeline to Russia in the middle of a period when they’re invading another country.”
Japan has announced additional sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that the new measures include freezing the assets of Russian groups, banks and individuals and suspending exports of semiconductors and other sensitive goods to military-linked organizations in Russia.
Ukrainian forces sought to fend off a Russian barrage of land- and sea-based missiles, an attack that one senior U.S. defense official described as the first salvo in a likely multi-phase invasion aimed at seizing key population centers, “decapitating” Ukraine’s government and installing a new one.
Ukraine officials said they had lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
“Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted.
His grasp on power increasingly tenuous, he pleaded Thursday for even more severe sanctions than the ones imposed by Western allies and ordered a full military mobilization that would last 90 days.
Zelenskyy said in a video address that 137 “heroes,” including 10 military officers, had been killed and 316 people wounded. The dead included all border guards on the Zmiinyi Island in the Odesa region, which was taken over by Russians.
Fearing a Russian attack on the capital city, thousands of people went deep underground as night fell, jamming Kyiv’s subway stations.
At times it felt almost cheerful. Families ate dinner. Children played. Adults chatted. People brought sleeping bags or dogs or crossword puzzles — anything to alleviate the waiting and the long night ahead.
But the exhaustion was clear on many faces. And the worries.
“Nobody believed that this war would start and that they would take Kyiv directly,” said Anton Mironov, waiting out the night in one of the old Soviet metro stations. “I feel mostly fatigue. None of it feels real.”
The invasion began early Thursday with a series of missile strikes, many on key government and military installations, quickly followed by a three-pronged ground assault. Ukrainian and U.S. officials said Russian forces were attacking from the east toward Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city from the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 and from Belarus to the north.
Zelenskyy, who had earlier cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law, appealed to global leaders, saying that “if you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer a powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door.”
Though Biden said he had no plans to speak with Putin, the Russian leader did have what the Kremlin described as a “serious and frank exchange” with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Both sides claimed to have destroyed some of the other’s aircraft and military hardware, though little of that could be confirmed.
Hours after the invasion began, Russian forces seized control of the now-unused Chernobyl plant and its surrounding exclusion zone after a fierce battle, presidential adviser Myhailo Podolyak told The Associated Press.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said it was told by Ukraine of the takeover, adding that there had been “no casualties or destruction at the industrial site.”
The 1986 disaster occurred when a nuclear reactor at the plant 80 miles north of Kyiv exploded, sending a radioactive cloud across Europe. The damaged reactor was later covered by a protective shell to prevent leaks.
Alyona Shevtsova, adviser to the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, wrote on Facebook that staff members at the Chernobyl plant had been “taken hostage.” The White House said it was “outraged” by reports of the hostage-taking.
The chief of the NATO alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, said the “brutal act of war” shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders decrying an attack that could cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government. The conflict shook global financial markets: Stocks plunged and oil prices soared amid concerns that heating bills and food prices would skyrocket.