Explosions heard across Ukraine as Russia launches military attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday announced a military operation in Ukraine and warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to "consequences they have never seen."

Russian military claims to have wiped out Ukraine's entire air defences

The first steps of Russia's military operation in Ukraine

2 years ago
Duration 6:06
The CBC's Murray Brewster breaks down what Russia's strategy might be as it moves in on Ukraine.

The latest:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin launches military operation in Ukraine.
  • Explosions heard in Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa.
  • Ukrainian President Zelensky declares martial law, urges people to stay home and not panic.

Russian troops launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, as President Vladimir Putin cast aside international condemnation and sanctions and warned other countries that any attempt to interfere would lead to "consequences you have never seen."

Ukrainian border guards released footage of what they said were Russian military vehicles moving in and explosions were heard in the capital of Kyiv, Kharkiv in the east and Odesa in the southwest. As the Russian military claimed to have wiped out Ukraine's entire air defences in a matter of hours, Ukrainians fled some cities and European authorities declared Ukrainian air space an active conflict zone.

World leaders decried the start of a long-anticipated invasion with far-reaching consequences, as global financial markets plunged and oil prices soared. Russia's actions could cause massive casualties, topple Ukraine's democratically elected government and upend geopolitics and Europe's post-Cold War security balance.

Putin said the attack was needed to protect civilians in Eastern Ukraine — a claim the U.S. had predicted he would falsely make to justify an invasion.

In a televised address, Putin accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia's demand to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and offer Moscow security guarantees. He said Russia's goal was not to occupy Ukraine.

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The Ukrainska Pravda news website cited a Ukrainian Interior Ministry official as saying that Ukrainian military command centres in the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv were attacked by missile strikes.

Ukraine's border guard agency said that the Russian military attacked the country from neighbouring Belarus.

The agency said that the Russian troops unleashed an artillery barrage as part of an attack backed by Belarus. They said the Ukrainian border guards were firing back, adding that there was no immediate report of casualties.

Biden and Zelensky speak by phone

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky introduced martial law, saying Russia had targeted Ukraine's military infrastructure and explosions could be heard across the country. Zelensky said he had just spoken to U.S. President Joe Biden by phone and that the U.S. was rallying international support for Ukraine.

He urged Ukrainians to stay home and not to panic

In a statement following the call, Biden said he condemned the "unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces," and briefed Zelensky on the steps the U.S. is taking "to rally international condemnation."

He said Zelensky asked him to call on the leaders of the world "to speak out clearly against President Putin's flagrant aggression, and to stand with the people of Ukraine."

Police and security personnel inspect gather by the remains of a shell landed in a street in Kyiv on Thursday. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Biden said he would be meeting with the leaders of the G7 on Thursday, and that the United States and its allies and partners would be imposing severe sanctions on Russia.

"We will continue to provide support and assistance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people," he said.

Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, called the attack "a war of aggression," adding, "Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now."

The Russian military said it has struck Ukrainian air bases and other military assets and hasn't targeted populated areas. The Russian Defence Ministry statement said the military is using precision weapons to target Ukrainian air bases, air defence assets and other military infrastructure. It claimed that "there is no threat to civilian population."

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said on Facebook that the Russian military has launched missile strikes on Ukrainian military command facilities, airbases and military depots in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro.

After the initial explosions in Kyiv, people could be heard shouting in the streets. But then a sense of normality returned, with cars driving and people walking in the streets as a pre-dawn commute appeared to be starting in relative calm.

Putin warns other countries not to interfere

As he unleashed the military action, Putin issued a stark warning to other countries not to meddle.

"I have a few words for those who could feel tempted to interfere with ongoing developments: Whoever tries to impede us, let alone create threats for our country and its people must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to the consequences you have never seen in history," he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the attack and warned the action would be met with "severe consequences."

In a written statement, he said: "Canada calls on Russia to immediately cease all hostile and provocative actions against Ukraine and withdraw all military and proxy forces from the country. Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected and the Ukrainian people must be free to determine their own future."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also spoke by phone to Zelensky as the attack was underway, promising that "the West would not stand by as President Putin waged his campaign against the Ukrainian people."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the attack a breach of international law, saying: "NATO allies will meet to address the consequences of Russia's aggressive actions. We stand with the people of Ukraine at this terrible time. NATO will do all it takes to protect and defend all allies."

Putin said the Russian military operation aims to ensure a "demilitarization" of Ukraine, and urged Ukrainian servicemen to "immediately put down arms and go home."

In a stark reminder of Russia's nuclear power, Putin warned that "no one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor." He emphasized that Russia is "one of the most potent nuclear powers and also has a certain edge in a range of state-of-the-art weapons."

Though the U.S. on Tuesday announced the repositioning of forces around the Baltics, Biden has said he will not send in troops to fight Russia.

Ukrainians attend a rally Wednesday to protest after Moscow's decision to formally recognize two Russian-backed regions of Eastern Ukraine as independent. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

A pretext for war

Putin announced the military operation after the Kremlin said separatists in Eastern Ukraine asked Russia for military assistance to help fend off Ukrainian "aggression." The announcement immediately fuelled fears that Moscow was offering up a pretext for war, just as the West had warned.

The Ukrainian president rejected Moscow's claims that his country poses a threat to Russia, and said a Russian invasion would cost tens of thousands of lives.

"The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace," Zelensky said in an emotional overnight address to his nation in Russian, ahead of the operation. "But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs."

Zelensky said he asked to arrange a call with Putin late Wednesday, but the Kremlin did not respond.

WATCH | Ukraine welcomes sanctions: 

Ukraine welcomes Western sanctions against Russia

2 years ago
Duration 1:02
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Western nations, including Canada, for sanctions against Russia and warned that the future of European security is being decided 'now, here, in Ukraine.'

In an apparent reference to Putin's move to sanction the deployment of the Russian military to "maintain peace" in Eastern Ukraine, Zelensky warned that "this step could mark the start of a big war on the European continent."

"Any provocation, any spark could trigger a blaze that will destroy everything," he said.

He challenged the Russian claims, saying that "you are told that this blaze will bring freedom to the people of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian people are free."

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called by Ukraine because of the imminent threat of a Russian invasion, members still unaware of Putin's announcement appealed to him to stop an attack. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened the meeting, just before the announcement, telling Putin: "Stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died."

Anxiety about an imminent Russian offensive against its neighbour soared after Putin recognized the separatist regions' independence on Monday, sanctioned the deployment of troops to the rebel territories and received parliamentary approval to use military force outside the country. The West responded with sanctions.

State of emergency

Late Wednesday, Ukrainian lawmakers approved a decree that imposes a nationwide state of emergency for 30 days starting Thursday. The measure allows authorities to declare curfews and other restrictions on movement, block rallies and ban political parties and organizations "in the interests of national security and public order."

The action reflected increasing concern among Ukrainian authorities after weeks of trying to project calm. The Foreign Ministry advised against travel to Russia and recommended that any Ukrainians who are there leave immediately.

LISTEN | CBC's The Current looks at how sanctions work and whether they might deter Moscow: 
Canada is among some Western countries that have sanctioned Russia for moving its troops into parts of eastern Ukraine. But will these financial penalties actually work? Matt Galloway discusses that question with Tanya Kozyreva, an investigative journalist whose reporting on sanctions and illicit financial activity earned her a Pulitzer Prize nomination; and Tony Brenton, the former British Ambassador to Russia and former director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce.

Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, told a special meeting of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday that Moscow has been carrying out "hostile cyber operations on Ukraine and several other countries" and a campaign of propaganda and disinformation on "every conceivable social media platform in the world."

The Canadian government on Wednesday advised citizens to avoid all travel to Ukraine or to leave the country now, "while commercial means are still available," due to the risk of "full-scale armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine."

Canadian air operators and owners of aircraft registered in Canada are now prohibited from entering two regions of Ukraine's airspace, "in response to increased risk in Eastern Ukraine," Transport Canada announced in a tweet Wednesday night.

Early Thursday, airspace over all of Ukraine was shut down to civilian air traffic, according to a notice to airmen. A commercial flight tracking website showed that an Israeli El Al Boeing 787 flying from Tel Aviv to Toronto turned abruptly out of Ukrainian airspace before detouring over Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland.

The only other aircraft tracked over Ukraine was a U.S. RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned surveillance plane, which began flying westward early Thursday after Russia put in place flight restrictions over Ukrainian territory.

In other developments, Russia evacuated its embassy in Kyiv; Ukraine recalled its ambassador to Russia and considered breaking all diplomatic ties with Moscow and dozens of nations further squeezed Russian oligarchs and banks out of international markets.

Cyberattacks disrupt key sites

Another wave of distributed-denial-of-service attacks hit Ukraine's parliament and other government and banking websites on Wednesday, and cybersecurity researchers said unidentified attackers had also infected hundreds of computers with destructive malware.

Officials have long said they expect cyberattacks to precede and accompany any Russian military incursion, and analysts said the incidents hew to a nearly two-decade-old Russian playbook of wedding cyber operations with real-world aggression.

WATCH | Security expert warns of possible hardship to infrastructure from cyberattacks

While threat to West is 'moderate,' critical infrastructure should be prepared for cyberattack from Russia, says former U.S. secretary of Homeland Security

2 years ago
Duration 8:19
Former U.S. secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff says while the threat is 'moderate, there's a 'possibility of real hardship' to critical infrastructure, so it should be prepared to reduce any impact of a Russian cyberattack.

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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