Russian forces fired missiles at several Ukrainian cities and Russian troops entered the country through multiple border crossings on Thursday, officials and media said, after President Vladimir Putin authorized what he called a special military operation in the east.
Shortly after Putin spoke in a televised address on Russian state TV, explosions could be heard in the pre-dawn quiet of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Gunfire rattled near the capital's main airport, the Interfax news agency said. Four ballistic missiles were fired from Belarus over its southwestern border into Ukraine on Thursday afternoon, the Ukrainian Armed Forces announced on their Twitter page.
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While Russia's defense ministry claimed that its air strikes were not targeting cities and posed no threat to civilians, Ukraine reported that at least eight people had been killed and nine others wounded by Russian shelling.
In Israel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid were scheduled to meet to discuss how Israel would respond to the Russian aggression. Jerusalem is expected to issue a calculated response due to the need to align itself with the United States and Ukraine but at the same time not to upset Russia, which is deployed along its northern border in Syria.
Israeli diplomats in Ukraine have called on all Israeli citizens to immediately leave the country and are located along the western border to assist in evacuating them. Read here
Ukraine calls on its allies to sever diplomatic ties with Russia
Ukraine's foreign minister called on its allies to sever diplomatic ties with Russia, the RIA news agency reported on Thursday, after Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a tweet on Thursday that he had talked to leaders around the world to "stop Putin, war against [Ukraine] & the world immediately!" The president added that he was working on building an "anti-Putin coalition" and called for "immediate sanctions [against Russia, and] defense & financial support to [Ukraine]."
The president added later in the day that Ukraine has broken off diplomatic relations with Russia, Zelensky said later in the day.
Meanwhile Thursday, Ukraine asked Turkey to close the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to Russian ships and wants sanctions imposed on Moscow, Ukraine's ambassador to Ankara said on Thursday.
NATO member Turkey, which shares a maritime Black Sea border with Ukraine and Russia, opposes sanctions but has called Russian steps against Ukraine unacceptable. Under a 1936 pact, Ankara has control over the straits and can limit warship passages if it is threatened or during wartime.
Intense shelling reported throughout Ukraine
The Ukrainian Armed Forces stated that Russian Armed Forces conducted over 30 strikes on a number of civilian and military locations around Ukraine, adding that Ukrainian forces are combating Russian forces as they break through the border. Air raid sirens were heard in the capital Kyiv, as well as in Lviv in western Ukraine.
Explosions were heard in multiple locations throughout the country. Gostomel, a military airport located near Kiev, was attacked by Russian helicopters on Thursday afternoon, with initial reports indicating that it was taken by Russian forces.
An adviser to the Ukrainian president's office stated that fighting was taking place practically along the entire Russia-Ukraine border.
"The state defense forces, exercising the right to self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter, provide a worthy rebuff to the enemy's attempts to break through the border. The situation is under control. Russian troops are suffering losses," said the Armed Forces on Facebook.
Рівняни, ми пишаємося вами!Ось таким чином патріоти нашого краю відреагували на погрози ворога!Ось вони - справжні, вірні сини своєї країни!Будь справжнім! Долучайся до ЗСУ та захищай свою країну!!!ОК "Захід"https://t.co/ZTFVYFbozV pic.twitter.com/B9Z4UFD6vI— ЗСУ (@ArmedForcesUkr) February 24, 2022
Ukraine's defense minister stated on Thursday that anyone who is ready and able to hold a weapon can join the territorial defense forces. Zelensky repeated this call later in the day, saying that the state would provide weapons to anyone who was willing to fight.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces added that 40 Russian soldiers had been killed, six Russian planes and two Russian helicopters were shot down and dozens of units of Russian armored equipment were destroyed. A number of Russian soldiers have also been captured by Ukrainian forces, according to the armed forces.
An adviser to the Ukrainian president's office announced that more than 40 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and dozens had been wounded.
The Russian defense ministry denied that any of its equipment had been destroyed.
Russia-backed separatists said in a statement on social media that they had downed two Ukrainian warplanes in the self-proclaimed Luhansk republic in the eastern part of the country.
Ukrainian officials said earlier in the morning that at least eight people had been killed and nine wounded in Russian shelling. One person was killed by shelling in Uman, where the grave of Rabbi Nachman, a pilgrimage site for many Hassidic Jews, is located. Additional casualties were reported in Russian strikes on Odessa and near Kyiv.
'This is Europe's darkest hour' since World War 2, Belgium's De Croo says
Russia's attack on Ukraine has thrown Europe back into a situation it thought the continent had long overcome, Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Thursday.
"This is Europe's darkest hour since the Second World War," he said on Twitter.
NATO condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine on Thursday, calling it "entirely unjustified and unprovoked." The statement came after consultations were held under Article 4 of the Washington Treaty. NATO called on Russia to immediately cease its military action and withdraw its forces, adding that Russia would pay a "very heavy economic and political price."
The NATO statement added that additional defensive land and air forces were being sent to the eastern parts of the alliance, as well as maritime assets. The readiness of NATO forces has been raised to respond to "all contingencies."
"Our measures are and remain preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory," said NATO. "Our commitment to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty is iron-clad. We stand united to defend each other." Article 5 determines that an armed attack on one NATO ally is considered as an attack on all members of the alliance and that it will "take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked."
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that the Western military alliance will deploy capabilities and forces on its territory after Russian invaded Ukraine, saying it put over 100 warplanes on high alert.
The alliance's leaders will also hold a virtual summit on Friday. NATO also activated its defense plans to give military commanders authority to move forces, including those at high readiness.
A number of countries, including Latvia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Denmark, closed or moved their embassies in Ukraine after the fighting began on Thursday.
Russia and Ukraine's neighbors expressed concerns regarding the consequences of the war on Thursday.
President Maia Sandu on Thursday said Moldova would introduce a state of emergency and was ready to accept tens of thousands of people coming in from neighboring Ukraine.
"We will help people who need our help and support," she said.
Dozens of cars were queuing on the border between Ukraine and Moldova, according to Moldovan media websites. Moldova also plans to close its airspace.
Lithuania's president declared a state of emergency on Thursday, telling the NATO country's army to deploy along its borders in response to "possible disturbances and provocations due to large military forces massed in Russia and Belarus."
Latvia, a Baltic nation that was once ruled from Moscow but is now a member of NATO and the European Union, said it should prepare for "possible security risks" after Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
"Latvia is safe; we are not under a direct military threat," the Latvian foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
"However, Latvia must also prepare for possible security risks – an unpredictable refugee flow, cyber threats, disinformation attacks, energy resource related challenges."
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday proposed that Russia and Ukraine hold talks in Minsk, the RIA news agency reported.
China rejected calling Russia's moves on Ukraine an "invasion" and urged all sides to exercise restraint, even as it advised its citizens there to stay home or at least take the precaution of displaying a Chinese flag if they needed to drive anywhere.
A Russian opposition activist who called for anti-war protests after Russia launched its massive military operation against Ukraine told Reuters that she had been detained by police on Thursday.
"I was detained on my way out of the house," Marina Litvinovich, the Moscow-based activist, wrote on Telegram. She confirmed her detention separately in a message to Reuters.
Litvinovich called on Russians earlier to gather in protest in various Russian cities on Thursday evening.