Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday a military operation in Ukraine to defend separatists in the east of the country, the Donbas region.
“I have made the decision of a military operation,” he said in a surprise statement on television shortly before 6 am.
As Putin spoke, explosions were heard in Kyiv, Kharkiv and other areas of Ukraine. Later, air sirens went off in Kyiv, indicating that the city is under attack.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has declared martial law in the country.
Weeks of intense diplomacy to avert war and the imposition of Western sanctions on Russia failed to deter Mr Putin, who had massed between 150,000 and 200,000 troops along the borders of Ukraine.
Five Russian planes and a Russian helicopter were shot down in Luhansk region, reported Reuters.
The United States and other United Nations Security Council members slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for attacking Ukraine as the 15-member body met in New York to try and defuse weeks of mounting tensions.
“At the exact time as we are gathered in the council seeking peace, Putin delivered a message of war in total disdain for the responsibility of this Council. This is a grave emergency,” US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council.
The Ukraine President said Russia carried out missile strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure and the country’s border guards, and that explosions had been heard in many cities.
Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, “Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes. This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”
Russia also called on Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms, and justified the invasion by claiming a “genocide” in Ukraine’s east.
US President President Joe Biden condemned Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine as he vowed that the world will hold Russia and President Vladimir Putin accountable.
Biden immediately warned of “consequences” for Russia.
He said Russia’s move would cause “catastrophic loss of life and human suffering”, while NATO’s chief condemned Russia’s “reckless and unprovoked attack’ on Ukraine.
Putin said the responsibility for bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian regime. Putin warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to consequences they have never seen.
He accused the US and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demand to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and offer Moscow security guarantees. He said the Russian military operation aims to ensure a demilitarisation of Ukraine.
Putin said that all Ukrainian servicemen who lay down arms will be able to safely leave the zone of combat.
The Ukrainian government has closed airports in eastern Ukraine from midnight through 7 am because of the confrontation with Russia.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters after the council meeting it was “the saddest moment” in his more than five years in the job, appealing: “President Putin, in the name of humanity bring your troops back to Russia.”
(Agencies; Picture Courtesy: Reuters)