Russia presses invasion to outskirts of Ukrainian capital

Russians near capital Kyiv

UPDATDE 9 p.m.

Reports of loud explosions continue in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv as the sun rises and Russia’s invasion enters day two.

Ukraine's Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter Friday morning about the "horrific Russian rocket strikes on Kyiv."

"Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany," he wrote. "Ukraine defeated that evil and will defeat this one. Stop Putin. Isolate Russia. (Sever) all ties. Kick Russia out of (everywhere.)”

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry is claiming it has inflicted 800 casualties on Russian forces since the invasion began, reports CNN. There is no way to verify that claim.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers on a phone call Thursday evening that Russian mechanized forces that entered from Belarus were about 20 miles from Kyiv, according to a person familiar with the call.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in television interviews that he was convinced that Russia was intent on overthrowing the Ukrainian government, telling CBS that Putin wants to “reconstitute the Soviet empire" and that Kyiv was already “under threat, and it could well be under siege.”

UPDATE 7:45 p.m.

Explosions were heard in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv early Friday as Russian forces pressed on with a full-scale invasion that resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Ukrainians in the first full day of fighting and could eventually rewrite the global post-Cold War security order.

After using airstrikes on cities and military bases, Russian military units moved swiftly to take on Ukraine's seat of government and its largest city in what U.S. officials suspect is a brazen attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to dismantle the government and replace it with his own regime.

Ukrainian leaders pleaded for help as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee, and hotels in Kyiv were being evacuated amid early indications of an assault.

Ukraine says it downed an enemy aircraft over Kyiv, which crashed into a nine-storey residential building and burst into flames.

It is not known if the aircraft was manned.

The Ukrainian government says the series of explosions heard in the capital was air defences firing at the aircraft.

Many Kyiv residents spent the night Thursday sheltering deep underground in metro stations. Residents are being told to stay indoors unless they work in critical sectors.

The sun will rise in a few hours on the second ay of Russia's attack on Ukraine.

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered a full mobilization — compulsory enlistment for men aged 18 to 60 — of the country on Thursday. Ukraine’s army consists of 250,000 service members with 140,000 reservists. It is believed Russia had nearly 200,000 troops on the border prior to the invasion.

UPDATE 6:10 p.m.

The U.K. Ministry of Defence says it is unlikely that Russia has achieved its day one military objectives in Ukraine.

“Ukrainian forces have presented fierce resistance across all axes of Russia’s advance,” the ministry said Thursday evening in a tweet.

It is believed Ukrainian forces have stalled Russia’s advance towards the northern city of Chernihiv, but fighting continues on the outskirts of the city.

Russian soldiers are, however, advancing in the direction of the capital Kyiv as troops and weapons flow over the border from both Russia and Belarus. Dawn of day two of the war is a few hours away.

The ministry said it is believed civilian staff at the Chernobyl power plant in northern Ukraine were detained by Russian forces when they captured the area.

The White House condemned the hostage taking.

"We are outraged by credible reports that Russian soldiers are currently holding staff of the Chernobyl facilities hostage," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, according to CNN.

"This unlawful and dangerous hostage taking, which could upend the routine civil service efforts required to maintain and protect the nuclear waste facilities, is obviously incredibly alarming and greatly concerning. We condemn it and we request their release."

An audio clip has been published of an exchange between Ukrainian soldiers and the Russian Navy prior to Russia’s capture of Snake Island in the Black Sea.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says all the soldiers have been killed and will be awarded “Hero of Ukraine” medals posthumously.

When a Russian warship approached the island Thursday, a navy officer warned that the soldiers will be bombed if they don’t lay down their weapons “and surrender to avoid bloodshed and needless casualties.”

A Ukrainian soldier responded: "Russian warship, go f*** yourself."

UPDATE 4:30 p.m.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy says 137 civilians and personnel have been killed in the Russian attack so far.

An additional 316 people have been wounded.

“They’re killing people and turning peaceful cities into military targets. It’s foul and will never be forgiven,” Zelenskyy said in a video address.

Russian sabotage groups have entered the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Zelenskyy added.

"According to our information, the enemy marked me as target No. 1, my family, as target No. 2. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state. We have information that enemy sabotage groups have entered Kyiv."

Residents of Kyiv are shocked at the extent of the attack.

“Until the very last moment, I didn’t believe it would happen,” Anna Dovnya, a Kyiv resident, told Al Jazeera. She said most residents thought that if fighting broke out, it would be contained to the east.

“Everyone is leaving, everything is shut,” said another resident, Hayan Babokoy.

Fearing a Russian attack on the capital city, thousands of people went deep underground as night fell, jamming Kyiv's subway stations.

“Nobody believed that this war would start, and that they would take Kyiv directly” said Anton Mironov, waiting out the night in one of the old Soviet metro stations. “I feel mostly fatigue. None of it feels real.”

The White House, meanwhile, says that Putin’s ambitions stretch far beyond Ukraine. CNN reports that the U.S. says it is ready to accept refugees from Ukraine.

UPDATE 2:45 p.m.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signed a decree ordering general mobilization of the population.

Everyone fit for military service, men aged 18 to 60, have been asked to arm themselves and fight. The move also bans military-aged men from leaving the country.

The decree says the mobilization order will be carried out within 90 days.

Zelenskyy tasked the military's general staff with determining the number of people eligible for service and the number of reservists as well as the order of the call-up. The president's cabinet has been tasked with allocating money for the mobilization.

U.S. Congress says it plans on providing Ukraine with $600 million worth of lethal defense weapons

A senior U.S. defense official has told reporters Russia’s invasion aims to “decapitate” the Ukrainian government with a push to the capital Kyiv.

“The indications we’ve seen thus far, in just these first, not even 12 hours, are in keeping with our assessment earlier, that would be his goal: to decapitate this government,” the official told reporters, according to Al Jazeera.

The same official said that this appears to be just the first phase of Russia’s attack. While Ukraine has won some battles, Russia has 150,000 troops on the border of the country.

UPDATE 1 p.m.

The United Nations Refugee Agency tells Reuters that an estimated 100,000 Ukrainians are believed to be displaced from their homes due to the war.

"It's a ballpark figure," said Shabia Mantoo, spokesperson of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister said on Twitter that the US plans on delivering defensive weapons to the country, but did not provide details.

A former advisor to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy is sounding the alarm about the vulnerability of nuclear plants in the country.

“I mean, Ukraine has 15 active nuclear reactors and nuclear waste in Chernobyl: one mortar miss, and everyone in Europe is facing a major nuclear catastrophe,” Igor Novikov told Al Jazeera.

“I’d ask everyone to speak with your political representatives, your friends and peers. Everyone should understand that it’s not only about Ukraine; the whole of Europe is in major danger.”

The United Nations nuclear watchdog, meanwhile, says there has been no damage so far to Ukraine’s nuclear plants.

Meanwhile, Russian forces have captured Ukraine’s Zmiinyi Island in the Black Sea. However, Ukrainian forces have recaptured Hostomel airfield.

UPDATE 12:20 p.m.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog says Ukraine’s power plants are running safety and there has been no destruction at Chernobyl.

Russian troops captured the site about 150 kilometers outside the capital of Kyiv.

“Ukraine has informed the IAEA that ‘unidentified armed forces’ have taken control of all facilities of the State Specialized Enterprise Chornobyl NPP, located within the Exclusion Zone,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

“The counterpart added that there had been no casualties nor destruction at the industrial site.”

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera is reporting that French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is warning Russian president Vladimir Putin that NATO is a nuclear alliance.

Le Drian said Putin’s threat of “such consequences that you have never encountered in your history” was understood as nuclear saber rattling.

“Yes, I think that Vladimir Putin must also understand that the Atlantic alliance is a nuclear alliance. That is all I will say about this,” Le Drian said on French television TF1.

Ukraine says 57 people have been killed on the first day of the Russian invasion and 169 wounded.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has now expanded the area in Eastern Europe and Russia where US airlines and pilots cannot operate.

Operations are now banned in the entire country of Ukraine, the entire country of Belarus and a western portion of Russia.

UPDATE 10:20 a.m.

A presidential adviser says Ukraine lost control of the Chernobyl nuclear site, where Ukranian forces had waged a fierce battle with Russian troops.

Adviser Myhailo Podolyak told The Associated Press that Ukrainian authorities did not know the current condition of the facilities at Chernobyl, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster.

“After the absolutely senseless attack of the Russians in this direction, it is impossible to say that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had announced several hours earlier Thursday that Russian forces were trying to seize the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

A nuclear reactor at the plant 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, exploded in April 1986, spewing radioactive waste across Europe.

The exploded reactor was covered by a protective shelter several years ago to prevent radiation leaks.

ORIGINAL 6:35 a.m.

Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, hitting cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling, as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee. Ukraine's government said Russian tanks and troops rolled across the border in a “full-scale war” that could rewrite the geopolitical order and whose fallout already reverberated around the world.

In unleashing Moscow's most aggressive action since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, President Vladimir Putin deflected global condemnation and cascading new sanctions — and chillingly referred to his country’s nuclear arsenal. He threatened any foreign country attempting to interfere with “consequences you have never seen.”

Sirens wailed in Ukraine’s capital, large explosions were heard there and in other cities, and people massed in train stations and took to roads, as the government said the former Soviet republic was seeing a long-anticipated invasion from the east, north and south. It reported more than 40 soldiers had been killed and dozens wounded so far.

The chief of the NATO alliance said the “brutal act of war" shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders who decried the attack, which could cause massive casualties, topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government and upend the post-Cold War security order. The conflict was already shaking global financial markets: Stocks plunged and oil prices soared amid concerns that heating bills and food prices would skyrocket.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law.

“As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history," Zelenskyy tweeted. "Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom.”

His adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said: “A full-scale war in Europe has begun. ... Russia is not only attacking Ukraine, but the rules of normal life in the modern world.”

The attack targeted a country the size of Texas that has increasingly tilted toward the democratic West and away from Moscow's sway. The autocratic Putin made clear earlier this week that he sees no reason for Ukraine to exist, raising fears of possible broader conflict in the vast space that the Soviet Union once ruled. Putin denied plans to occupy Ukraine, but his ultimate goals remain hazy.

Ukrainians who had long braced for the prospect of an assault were urged to stay home and not to panic despite the dire warnings.

With social media amplifying a torrent of military claims and counter-claims, it was difficult to determine exactly what was happening on the ground.

Associated Press reporters saw or confirmed explosions in the capital, in Mariupol on the Azov Sea, and Kharkiv in the east. AP confirmed video showing Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukrainian-held territory in the north from Belarus and from Russian-annexed Crimea in the south.

“We are facing a war and horror. What could be worse?” 64-year-old Liudmila Gireyeva said in Kyiv. She planned to flee the city and try to eventually get to Poland to join her daughter. Putin “will be damned by history, and Ukrainians are damning him.”

Governments from the U.S. to Asia and Europe readied new sanctions after weeks of failed efforts for a diplomatic solution. But global powers have said they will not intervene militarily to defend Ukraine, though NATO mobilized more troops to move toward eastern Europe.

Alliance member Lithuania, which borders Russian ally Belarus and a Russian exclave, declared a state of emergency, and the president of Moldova pushed to do the same.

“We woke up in a different world today,” Germany’s foreign minister said.

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.

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.

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 air space an active conflict zone. Russia's claims could not immediately be verified, nor could Ukrainian ones that they had shot down several Russian aircraft. 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.

U.S. President Joe Biden pledged new sanctions to punish Russia for the “unprovoked and unjustified attack.” The president said he planned to speak to Americans on Thursday after a meeting of the Group of Seven leaders. More sanctions against Russia were expected to be announced.

Zelenskyy urged global leaders to provide defense assistance to Ukraine and help protect its airspace, and urged his compatriots to defend the nation. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded: "The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”

In the capital, 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.

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

The Russian Defense Ministry said it was not targeting cities, but using precision weapons and claimed that “there is no threat to civilian population.”

The consequences of the conflict and resulting sanctions on Russia started reverberating throughout the world.

World stock markets plunged and oil prices surged by nearly $8 per barrel. Market benchmarks tumbled in Europe and Asia and U.S. stocks pointed toward a sharply lower open. Brent crude oil jumped to over $100 per barrel Thursday on unease about possible disruption of Russian supplies. The ruble sank.

Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Putin issued a stark warning to other countries not to meddle.

In a 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.”

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.

Putin’s announcement came just hours after the Ukrainian president rejected Moscow’s claims that his country poses a threat to Russia and made a passionate, last-minute plea for peace.

“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” Zelenskyy said in an emotional overnight address, speaking in Russian in a direct appeal to Russian citizens.

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

The attack began even as the U.N. Security Council was meeting to hold off an invasion. Members still unaware of Putin’s announcement of the operation appealed to him to stand down. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the emergency meeting, telling Putin: “Give peace a chance.”

But hours later, NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg indicated it was too late: “Peace on our continent has been shattered.”

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