On Thursday morning, local time in Ukraine, Russia began its invasion of the country from the North, South, and East, starting with cruise missile and Multiple Launch Rocket System strikes on many of Ukraine’s cities, including Kyiv, the nation’s capital.
Russia appears to be preparing the battlefield for a massive invasion of Ukraine. Video posted on Twitter showed tanks crossing from Belarus into Ukraine at the Senkivka checkpoint, which is only a few hours away from Kyiv.
Depending on how much resistance the Ukrainians are able to put up, Russian forces could reach Kyiv later on Thursday, reported Nolan Peterson of Coffee or Die Magazine, who is currently in Ukraine’s capital.
As the sun rose over Ukraine on Thursday, the extent of Russia’s attack began to come into focus. Video on Twitter appeared to show Russian airborne troops in Mi-8 helicopters assaulting Hostomel, which is about 21 miles from Kyiv.
“Presumably, they are trying to take the airport so they can begin rapidly bringing in mechanized VDV [Russian airborne] air assault forces with BMD [fighting vehicle] armored vehicles, which could quickly threaten Kyiv,” tweeted Rob Lee, a former Marine Corps captain who spent a year with a defense-focused think tank in Moscow.
The battlefield remains covered by the fog of war. The Ukrainian military said that initial reports of Russian forces launching an amphibious landing in Odessa were false, according to Reuters. Pictures also circulated on Twitter purportedly showing Russian troops who had been captured by the Ukrainians, but those images could not be independently confirmed.
The massive attack began shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a pre-recorded speech early morning Moscow time that was tantamount to a declaration of war against Ukraine. Metadata revealed the speech had been recorded on Monday.
“I have taken the decision to carry out a special military operation,” Putin said in the televised address before calling on Ukrainian military members to lay down their arms.
“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.”
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.
“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:
Update: This article has been substantially updated after publication.