WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Russian troops launched a broad assault on Ukraine from three sides Thursday, an attack that brought explosions before dawn to the country’s capital, Kyiv, and other cities.
Ukraine’s leadership said at least 40 people had been killed so far in what it called a “full-scale war” targeting the country from the east, north and south. It said Russia’s intent was to destroy the state of Ukraine, a Western-looking democracy intent on moving out of Moscow’s orbit.
As civilians piled into trains and cars to flee, NATO and European leaders rushed to respond, if not directly in Ukraine, with strong financial sanctions against Russia and moves to strengthen their own borders.
Here are the things to know about the conflict over Ukraine and the security crisis in Eastern Europe:
PUTIN MAKES HIS MOVE
In a televised address as the attack began, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have been fighting for almost eight years.
The U.S. had predicted Putin would falsely claim that the rebel-held regions were under attack to justify an invasion.
The Russian leader warned other countries that any attempt to interfere in Ukraine would “lead to consequences you have never seen in history” — a dark threat implying Russia was prepared to use its nuclear weapons.
Putin accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to block Ukraine from ever joining NATO and offer Moscow security guarantees.
Putin said Russia does not intend to occupy Ukraine but plans to “demilitarize” it. Soon after his address, explosions were heard in the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa. Russia said it was attacking military targets.
He urged Ukrainian servicemen to “immediately put down arms and go home.”
Ukraine’s border guard agency said the Russian military attacked from neighboring Belarus, unleashing a barrage of artillery. The agency said Ukrainian border guards fired back. Russian troops had been in Belarus, a Moscow ally, for what Russian and Belarusian officials had described as joint military drills.
THE WEST REACTS QUICKLY
World leaders decried the start of an invasion that could cause massive casualties, topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government and threaten the post-Cold War balance.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called Russia’s attack “a brutal act of war” and said Moscow had shattered peace on the European continent.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Putin “has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.”
In Lithuania, a small Baltic nation and NATO member that borders Russia’s Kaliningrad region to the southwest, Belarus to the east, Latvia to the north and Poland to the south. President Gitanas Nauseda signed a decree declaring a state of emergency. The country’s parliament was expected to approve the measure later in the day.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Putin has “unleashed war in our European continent” and Britain “cannot and will not just look away.”
“Our mission is clear: diplomatically, politically, economically and eventually militarily, this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure,” Johnson said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz sharply condemned Russia’s attack, calling it “a terrible day for Ukraine and a dark day for Europe.”
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said: “This Russian invasion stands to put at risk the basic principle of international order that forbids one-sided action of force in an attempt to change the status quo.”
UKRAINE’S PRESIDENT URGES CALM
Residents of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, could be heard shouting in the streets when the first explosions sounded. Cars nonetheless circulated in the streets during the early morning commute.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a video statement declaring martial law. He told…