Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine on Thursday (Feb. 24). He claimed that Russia does not intend to occupy Ukraine but instead will move to “demilitarise” it. The Russian leader added that Russia was acting in self-defence and the use of Ukraine’s territory by NATO was unacceptable. Shortly after his announcement, large explosions were heard in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa and other cities across Ukraine, according to media reports.
In a statement issued after Russia’s decision to launch a military operation in Ukraine, US President Joe Biden blasted Moscow for making a move, which he called “unprovoked and unjustified.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has declared martial law throughout the country and Ukrainian police have said Russia has carried out more than 200 attacks since Thursday morning and fighting is going on in almost every part of the country.
. International reactions
Many world leaders are warning that the series of attacks could lead to the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II. NATO has put warplanes on alert but has made clear there are no plans to send combat troops to Ukraine. The Western organization also stated that it will send more defensive ground and air forces to the eastern part of the alliance, and at the same time is invoking Article 4 of the Washington Treaty. According to the NATO website, the consultation under Article 4 can lead to collective action among the 30 member states.
. Preparations for refugees
Meanwhile, thousands of Ukrainians have left their country and as many as 100,000 are internally displaced after fleeing their homes, the UN refugee agency has said. Many countries bordering both Ukraine including Romania said they are preparing for a big influx of refugees as Ukraine broke off diplomatic relations with Russia and asked all Ukrainians that are “ready and able to hold weapons” to join the armed forces.
According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s advisor Oleksiy Arestovych, more than 40 Ukrainian people have been killed since Russia launched an attack on the country. Earlier, Ukraine reported some 50 Russian soldiers were killed and 4 tanks destroyed.
. What Moscow says
Western powers accused Moscow of starting a war in Europe.
“It’s not a beginning of a war, it is the prevention of a situation that could lead to global military confrontation. It is also the end of the war that was being carried out [in Donbass],” Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova stated.
. What Washington says
Across the Atlantic, Biden announced at a press conference he has authorized a set of additional strong sanctions on Russia and accused his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of wanting to “re-establish the Soviet Union” with his intervention in Ukraine.
. In Putin’s own words
Earlier during the day, Putin described the military intervention his country launched in the region of Donbass as a “forced measure.” The Russian leader accused the West of not “leave[ing] any chance” for Moscow to do “otherwise” as Western countries have not changed their position on the matter of security in Europe.
Commenting on the sanctions the US, the UK, the EU and others imposed on Russia, Putin stressed that his country “remains a part of the global economy.”
The Kremlin said on Friday that Putin is ready to send a delegation of high-ranking officials to Minsk to hold talks with Kiev, after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky invited Putin for negotiations to end the conflict between the two countries.
Earlier, Zelensky’s adviser Mikhail Podolyak told RBC that Kiev is ready to discuss the country’s potential neutrality with Russia but will need security guarantees.
The developments come after Zelensky in a video message posted on his Telegram announced 137 Ukrainians, both soldiers and civilians, were killed over the past 24 hours, while another 316 were injured.
. Russian forces advanced toward Kiev
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied that Moscow is going to occupy Ukraine, as Russian forces advanced toward Kiev.
Russia’s armed forces captured Antonov Airport, also known as Hostomel or Gostomel. Russian Defense Ministry Spokesperson Igor Konashenkov stated that more than 200 members of Ukraine’s special units were killed in that combat.
Gunshots were also reported near the Kiev government region on Friday, according to the Associated Press. Ukraine’s capital was likely targeted with ballistic or cruise missiles, several media reports read, citing Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to Ukraine’s head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
A day earlier, Russian troops took over the Chernobyl nuclear power plant according to an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office, Mykhailo Podolyak. Chernobyl was the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, after a reactor exploded and spread radioactive waste across Europe in April 1986. The site lies 130 kilometres north of the capital of Kiev.
. New sanctions
The European Union is imposing a new batch of “massive” sanctions against Russia, targeting the country’s financial sector, 70% of its banking market, energy, transport and other areas, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Friday.
European Council President Charles Michel also said on Friday that a third sanctions package aimed at Russia is “under urgent preparation.” But EU officials stopped short of forcing Russia out of the SWIFT system for international bank payments,
Russia is putting together a package of retaliatory sanctions against the West, Russian’s Senate Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said on Friday.
. Combat in Kiev
Street fighting has broken out with Russian forces in the Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, which was rocked with intense gunfire and explosions overnight, Al Jazeera reported on Saturday (Feb. 26).
Thirty five people, including two children, were wounded during overnight Russia-Ukraine combat in Kiev, the city’s mayor Vitali Klitschko stated on Saturday, though it is not yet clear whether he meant only the civilian population.
. Control of Melitopol
The Russian army has taken control of Melitopol, a city in southeastern Ukraine, according to the Russian Defense Ministry and targeted the country’s military infrastructure with air and sea-based cruise missiles.
Russia has crippled the operations of more than 800 Ukrainian military infrastructure sites so far, the defence ministry in Moscow said.
-United States President Joe Biden has scheduled a meeting with his national security team on Saturday, at 10 am ET.
. Kiev under curfew
The mayor of Kyiv extended a curfew in the Ukrainian capital until Monday morning after fighting reaches the Kiev’s streets. He urged the citizens to “keep calm and stay in the shelters.”
. Germany and others to send weapons
Germany’s government has approved the delivery of a batch of weapons to Ukraine, Netherlands will send anti-tank weapons, the country’s defence ministry says. Biden approved $350 million worth of military aid.
More than 150,000 Ukrainians have fled the country since the beginning , the UN says. About 100,000 people have crossed into Poland from Ukraine since Thursday, Polish Deputy Interior Minister Pawel Szefernaker said.
. More sanctions
The US on Friday imposed sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other members of the Russian Security Council, the US Treasury said in a statement.
The EU is in talks over a third package of sanctions on Russia, an EU diplomat told Reuters.
Russia has closed its airspace to flights from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic in a series of tit-for-tat moves.
Twitter is being restricted for some users in Russia, the social media company said on Saturday.
. Ukraine agrees to talks with Russia
Kiev has agreed to hold talks with Moscow on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border near the Pripyat River, the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on Sunday. The negotiations will take place “without preconditions,” the office noted.
Earlier, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Russian delegation has arrived in Belarus for negotiations with Ukraine.
With reporting by Reuters, TASS, Sputnik News, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, SkyNews, DW