Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday night that he was unleashing his country’s military against Ukraine, according to the Associated Press.
Explosions were reported in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv early Thursday morning local time. The Russian attack followed a weeks-long military buildup of nearly 200,000 troops along the country’s border.
“I have taken the decision to carry out a special military operation,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address before calling on Ukrainian military members to lay down their airms.
“All service members of the Ukrainian army who follow these demands will be able to leave the battle zone,” he added, warning: “Anyone who tries to interfere with us, or even more so, to create threats for our country and our people, must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history. We are ready for any turn of events.”
“We have no need for another Cold War, or a bloody war, or a hybrid war,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address posted publicly on Facebook prior to the attack. “But if we are attacked militarily, if they try to take away our freedom, our lives, our children’s’ lives, we will defend ourselves. When you attack, you will see our faces and not our spines, our faces.”
Prior to Russia’s latest invasion, the U.S. government closed its embassy in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and ordered Americans to leave the country. Meanwhile, the Pentagon repositioned Apache helicopters, F-35 fighter jets, and hundreds of U.S. troops to Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania earlier this week in support of NATO allies. President Joe Biden stressed the deployment of troops to the region was a “defensive move on our part” and the U.S. had “no intention of fighting Russia.”
The attacks come after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday recognized two separatist regions in Ukraine as independent and then deployed Russian troops to the provinces as a so-called “peacekeeping” force. It was just the latest Russian incursion into Ukraine after Moscow annexed the country’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and began training and supporting an armed insurgency in the east that has cost the lives of nearly 13,000 people, according to the International Crisis Group.
“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 in a statement Wednesday evening. “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.”
A number of photos and videos have emerged on social media purportedly depicting Russian strikes: