Russia invades Ukraine in largest European attack since WWII

Russia invaded Ukraine by land, sea and air in largest attack on European soil since the Second World War

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Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday by land, air and sea in the largest military attack of one state against another on the European continent since the Second World War. 

Russia’s all-out attack on Ukraine has killed at least 57 people and wounded 169 during the first day of President Vladimir Putin's full-scale invasion, Ukraine’s Health Minister Oleh Lyashko said Thursday.

President Biden said Thursday afternoon that he’s reached a full agreement with G7 leaders to limit Russia’s ability to be part of the global economy, stunt their ability to finance and grow Russia’s military and impair their ability to compete in a high-tech, 21st century economy.

RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE: LIVE UPDATES

In a public address from the White House, Biden said Putin has much larger ambitions than Ukraine and wants to "reestablish the Soviet Union." 

Secretary of Defense Gen. Lloyd Austin ordered the deployment of approximately 7,000 additional U.S. troops to Germany in a move aimed at bolstering NATO defense and deterring Russian aggression. 

The wide-ranging attack on Ukraine hit cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling, as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee the country. Ukraine's government said Russian tanks and troops rolled across the border in a "full-scale war" that could rewrite the geopolitical order. 

After several hours of fierce battle, Russian forces seized control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier Thursday raised concerns of repeated of the 1986 disaster.

A senior U.S. Defense Department official told reporters earlier Thursday that Putin’s goal appears to be seizing the capital of Kyiv, "decapitating the government" and "installing his own method of governance." 

He claimed Putin indicated this himself during his overnight speech. 

RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE: LIVE UPDATES

According to the U.S. Embassy Riga, U.S. troops from the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived in Latvia Thursday morning. They were the first U.S. forces being repositioned to the Baltics to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to Allies and bolster NATO’s eastern flank.

However, the defense official emphasized that, "U.S. troops are not going to be fighting the war in Ukraine." The U.S. military has no aircraft in Ukrainian airspace as of Wednesday morning, he said. 

Russia has launched more than 100 ballistic missiles into Ukraine since its initial onslaught overnight. Starting around 9:30 p.m. EST Wednesday, Russian forces began launching missiles from land and sea-based platforms from the Black Sea toward key cities in central and eastern Ukraine, the official said. 

The official said Russian forces were fighting all three major axes "designed to take key population centers." The heaviest fighting has been occurring near an axis from northeast of Ukraine to the south, starting from Belarus to an advance on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. 

A second axis extends from north central Ukraine to the south from Belarus toward Kyiv. A third axis in the south is spreading from Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, to the Ukrainian city of Kherson. 

Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, called for Russia to be removed from SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, and for allies to support them through devastating financial sanctions against Russia, through defensive anti-air supplies, and by cutting all diplomatic ties with Russia. 

Recognizing Ukraine is not a member of NATO, Markarova said she did not expect U.S. troops to defend Ukraine but expected other support give their "strategic friendship." 

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned Russia's attack on Ukraine before the House of Commons Thursday and moved to freeze assets of Russian banks. He announced the "largest ever" set of sanctions against Russia and vowed to eliminate Europe's reliance on Russian oil and gas. 

Anti-Russian demonstrations have popped up across Europe and in the U.S. in cities including New York, London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Paris and Berlin. Meanwhile, Russian authorities began cracking down on anti-war protests across the country, reportedly arresting more than a thousand demonstrators in several cities. 

Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the country severed diplomatic relations with Russia and called "on all our partners to do the same. By this concrete step you will demonstrate that you stand by Ukraine and categorically reject the most blatant act of aggression in Europe since WWII."

While the attack on Ukraine was largely condemned by the West, it’s unclear whether forces will intervene, something Russian President Vladimir Putin warned would show grave consequences. NATO is sending additional forces to bolster defenses in eastern Europe.

Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Zelenskyy, said Thursday about 40 people have been killed so far in the Russian attack on the country, The Associated Press reported. Several dozen people have been wounded. He didn’t specify whether casualties included civilians.

Zelenskyy said he would be providing weapons to citizens who want to help defend the country, instructing them on Twitter to "be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities."

RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE IN LARGEST EUROPEAN ATTACK SINCE WWII

"The future of the Ukrainian people depends on every Ukrainian," he said Thursday, urging all those who can defend the country to come to the Interior Ministry’s assembly facilities.

Russia "has embarked on a path of evil," the president said, but Ukraine "is defending itself & won't give up its freedom no matter what Moscow thinks." Zelenskyy said sanctions would be lifted "on all citizens of Ukraine who are ready to defend our country as part of territorial defense with weapons in hands." 

"Russia treacherously attacked our state in the morning, as Nazi Germany did in #2WW years," Zelenskyy tweeted. "As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history." 

The attacks came first from the air. Later, Ukrainian authorities described ground invasions in multiple regions, and border guards released security camera footage Thursday showing a line of Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukraine’s government-held territory from Russian-annexed Crimea in the south.

In the north, video showed tanks rolling over the border from the Russian ally of Belarus through Senkivka. Russian forces also landed in the port cities of Odessa and Mariupol. 

The Russian military claimed to have wiped out Ukraine’s entire air defenses in a matter of hours, and European authorities declared the country's airspace an active conflict zone. 

Russia's claims could not immediately be verified, nor could Ukrainian ones that it had shot down several Russian aircraft, according to The Associated Press. The Ukrainian air defense system and air force date back to the Soviet era and are dwarfed by Russia’s massive air power and precision weapons.

Western counties were anticipating hundreds of thousands of people to flee from the attack on Ukraine, Reuters reported. Highways outside of Kyiv swelled with traffic Thursday leading to Poland, and lines of people waited for gasoline, to withdraw money or to purchase other supplies, such as food and water. 

Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko advised residents to stay home unless they are involved in critical work and urged them to prepare go-bags with necessities and documents if they need to evacuate.

Ukraine said columns of Russian troops were passing over the border into the Ukrainian regions of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Luhansk, Reuters reported. Russian missiles also targeted several Ukrainian cities, and explosions could be heard before dawn in the capital of Kyiv, home to 3 million people. 

After weeks of denying plans to invade, Putin justified his actions in an overnight televised address, asserting that the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine — a false claim the U.S. had predicted he would make as a pretext for an invasion. He accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and for security guarantees. 

In a reminder of Russia’s nuclear power, Putin said "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."

Among Putin’s pledges was to "denazify" Ukraine. World War II looms large in Russia, after the Soviet Union suffered more deaths than any country while fighting Adolf Hitler’s forces. Kremlin propaganda sometimes paints Ukrainian nationalists as neo-Nazis seeking revenge — a charge historians call disinformation. Ukraine is now led by a Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust.

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The head of the National Police of Ukraine on Thursday raised all units to combat alarm and warned civilians not to go outside in uniform or tactile clothing and to report all suspicious objects or people, especially those with red items on their clothing, to a special police line. 

Zelenskyy has declared martial law in the country. 

"Regarding the aggression of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, police have intensified measures to ensure law and order on the streets," Ukrainian national police said in a statement. "The Head of the National Police of Ukraine also ordered the issuance of weapons to the veterans of Internal Affairs who have expressed willing to protect Ukraine from the Russian Federation's armed aggression."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.