KIEV: 137 people have been killed and 316 wounded so far in t~~he wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine by land, sea and air, Ukraine’s president said late Thursday.
Volodymyr Zelensky said the current death toll included Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.
As night fell for the first time since Vladimir Putin initiated the all-out assault, heavy exchanges of fire were taking place the regions of Sumy and Kharkiv in the northeast, and Kherson and Odessa in the south, while Kiev said heavy Russian shelling was still underway in the eastern Donetsk region.
Moscow’s defence ministry said ground forces had moved in from annexed Crimea, and claimed to have “neutralised” Ukraine’s air defences and destroyed 11 airfields, with Russian troops also seizing an airbase just 25 miles from the capital’s centre. Ukraine’s airforce is thought to have comprised of roughly 200 aircraft.
Russian forces have also reportedly attempted to take control of Ukraine’s Serpent Island, which lies in the Black Sea less than 30 miles from Nato member Romania, while seizing control of the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant – a move the Ukrainian president claimed was “a declaration of war against the whole of Europe”.
Addressing the nation in military uniform, Mr Zelensky said his country’s “missile blasts, battles and rumblings of planes” were the “voice of a new iron curtain that has fallen and isolated Russia from the civilized world” .
“Our national task is to make sure that the veil does not fall on our soil,” the president said.
Zelensky declared martial law on Thursday, which means the military will temporarily take control of Ukraine and sever all diplomatic ties with Russia. Hours before Putin’s invasion, Kiev’s parliament approved a law allowing citizens to carry guns, while Zelensky called in reservists to join the country’s military.
Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said authorities were repurposing the country’s medical facilities to make room for those injured in the hostilities.
Despite Russia’s claim that there is “no threat to civilians,” Moscow’s bombing has reportedly fatally hit an apartment building near Kharkiv, with some residents of the capital heading to bomb shelters and the city’s subway system.
“No one believed that this war would start and that they would directly occupy Kiev,” a man who waited overnight at an old Soviet subway station told The Associated Press. “I was mostly tired. None of it felt real.”
Others crowded into trains and cars, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, lined up with steady backpacks and suitcases at border crossings – a conflict that aid agencies have warned could spark a major refugee crisis.
Washington predicts that the conflict could displace as many as 5 million people, while Poland alone is poised to take in as many as 1 million refugees.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – the monitoring team charged with observing previous plans for a ceasefire in Donbas, where Putin began to recognize the breakaway areas of Luhansk and Donetsk as separate entities this week – announced it would evacuate hundreds of its troops from Ukraine employees, who have been working there since the conflict erupted in 2014.
The attack on Ukraine began Thursday morning after the Russian president announced before dawn a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine to “protect victims of abuse and genocide by the Kiev regime.”
Putin insisted he did not want to occupy Ukraine but said he planned to “denazify” the country and warned that Kiev would be responsible for “potential bloodshed” if its military did not lay down its arms.
Mr Putin insisted he did not want to occupy Ukraine, but said he planned to “de-Nazify” the country and warned Kiev would be responsible for “possible bloodshed” if its military did not lay down its arms.
Shortly afterwards, explosions were heard in the cities of Kharkiv, Kramatorsk, Mariupol and Kiev, while Russian ground troops began to move into Ukrainian territory from Russia, Belarus and Crimea.
Warning the international community not to interfere, Mr Putin said: “If you do you will face consequences greater than any of you have faced in history” – a threat which prompted France’s foreign minister to remind him that Nato is also “a nuclear alliance”.
In announcing the UK measure in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson called Putin “a bloody aggressor who believes in imperial conquest” and warned that he “will never be able to wash Ukraine’s blood from his hands”.
“Diplomatically, politically, economically – and eventually, militarily – this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure,” the prime minister said in an address to the nation.
Meanwhile, a senior US defence official said it would be a “fool’s errand” to guess at how long the Russian onslaught could last, but suggested it appeared to be only the first phase a large-scale invasion in which Moscow has so far deployed only a limited number of the more than 150,000 troops arrayed around Ukraine.
Without providing evidence, the anonymous official told reporters that Russia’s wish appeared to be to “decapitate” the Ukrainian government, claiming the early Russian push toward Kiev supported Washington’s view that the Kremlin aims to install “their own method of governance”.
While Mr Putin had long insisted that he had no plans for the army he began amassing near Ukraine’s border in November to invade Ukraine, his public rhetoric changed this week with a chilling speech in which he branded Ukraine a “puppet regime” which “has never had traditions of its own statehood”, and claimed Russia was “robbed” by the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The head of MI6, Richard Moore said on Thursday evening that Mr Putin’s attack on Ukraine “was long-planned, unprovoked, cruel aggression”, adding: “No amount of Russian disinformation will now disguise that fact from the international community.”