The sound of explosions was heard in many Ukrainian cities. We are declaring martial law throughout Ukraine, – said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the morning of Thursday February 24.
He then took to Twitter to spread the word further:
“Talked to President Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz, the President of the European Council, Andrzej Duda, Boris Johnson. Urged them to stop Putin, the war against Ukraine & the world immediately! Building an anti-Putin coalition. Immediate sanctions, defense & financial support to Ukraine! Close the airspace! The world must force Russia into peace,” Zelensky tweeted.
Later in the day, he broke diplomatic ties with Russia and called on Ukraine’s citizens to join the fight and for Russians to protest their government’s moves. “We are already distributing weapons to protect our land. Anyone who has not lost their conscience in Russia should come out and protest the war with Ukraine,” he said.
Troops and military vehicles entered Ukraine from the Belarusian border early that morning and began an attack world leaders decried as the start of a Russian invasion that could “cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government.”
In a statement, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that “five enemy aircraft and a helicopter were shot down,” Euronews reported Thursday morning. “The united forces are providing a strong opposition to the Russian Federation’s airborne forces. The military units are at their positions. The enemy is suffering,” he added.
The Russian side denied the losses.
Luhansk, Sumy and Chernihiv in the east of Ukraine all came under attack, while tanks battled on the outskirts of Kharkiv after paratroopers dropped in. Blasts were also reported in the west, in Zhytomyr and Lviv, close to the border with Poland, the Daily Mail reported Thursday.
“Extraordinary video footage showed what appeared to be a Kalibur cruise missile slamming into Ivano-Frankivsk airport. An apartment block in Kharkiv was also struck, causing civilian casualties, among them a young boy.
“Meanwhile pro-Russian rebel forces pushed out from the occupied Donbas region, capturing two villages and claiming to have shot two Ukrainian jets out of the skies. The port cities of Mariupol and Odessa, where Ukraine’s main naval bases are located, were also attacked. Russian tankers appeared to have blockaded the Kerch Strait, leading from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, cutting off Mariupol,” Daily Mail reporters wrote.
As of 3pm Thursday, 40 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed because of the Russian aggression, Ukrainian news agency Unian reported.
On hearing of Thursday’s Russian moves directly from the Ukrainian President, US President Joe Biden publicly condemned the attack.
“The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky contacted me…I condemn the unjustified attack by the Russian military,” Biden said.
“I have informed him of the steps we are taking for international condemnation, including at the UN Security Council. He asked me to call on world leaders to speak out clearly against President Putin’s horrible aggression and to stand by the Ukrainian people. I will meet with the leaders of the G7, and the United States and our allies and partners will impose tough sanctions on Russia.
“We will continue to support and assist Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” Biden added.
European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on Russia to immediately cease the hostilities, withdraw its military from Ukraine, and fully respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.
Their joint statement says such use of force and coercion “has no place in the 21st century.”
“President Michel of the European Council urgently convened an extraordinary meeting of the European Council,” reads the statement. “The EU leaders will meet later today to discuss the crisis and further restrictive measures that will impose massive and severe consequences on Russia for its action, in close coordination with our transatlantic partners. President von der Leyen will outline a further sanctions package being finalized by the European Commission and which the Council will swiftly adopt.
“We deplore the loss of life and humanitarian suffering. The EU and its Member States are ready to urgently provide a humanitarian emergency response. We call on Russia and Russia-backed armed formations to respect international humanitarian law.
“The EU stands firmly by Ukraine and its people as they face this unparalleled crisis. The EU will provide further political, financial and humanitarian assistance.
“We are coordinating our response with our international partners, including NATO and G7, whose leaders will meet today.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “We are shocked by the horrible events happening in Ukraine. President Putin has chosen the path of bloodshed and destruction by attacking Ukraine.”
Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric released a statement saying she “strongly condemned the Russian military attack against Ukraine in flagrant violation of the Statute of Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights. This is a dark hour for Europe and everything it stands for.
“I call upon the authorities of Russia to immediately and unconditionally cease hostilities and return to diplomacy to restore peace and avoid further devastating consequences for the entire continent. Protecting civilian lives must remain a matter of priority. All my thoughts are with Ukraine, its people and its authorities,” she said.
“Together with the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, we will swiftly take necessary measures to respond to the current situation.”
The Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, Shalva Papuashvili, responded to the events via Twitter and announced his support for Ukraine.
“Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine could not be avoided. We once again call on the international community to make effective and firm steps to stop Russia escalating into a full-scale conflict, and ensure the protection of international norms. We stand with Ukraine in these difficult times,” he tweeted.
The Build-Up Ukrainians in Russia Advised to Leave
On Wednesday February 23, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on its people to refrain from traveling to Russia, and asked those Ukrainians who are already in Russia to immediately leave.
“Due to the intensification of Russian aggression against Ukraine, which may also lead to a substantial restriction on the possibility of providing consular assistance on Russian territory, the Foreign Ministry advises Ukrainian citizens to refrain from traveling to the Russian Federation for any purpose and, if there, to leave its territory immediately,” the statement read.
The EU on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Russian Duma members, 27 individuals, and entities, following Russia’s recognition on Monday of the so-called “independence” of Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
As Reuters reported, “All members of Russia’s Duma, parliament’s lower house, will be hit with EU sanctions, which typically involve travel bans and asset freezes.
“This package of sanctions, which was approved in unanimity by the member states, will hurt Russia, and it will hurt a lot,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told a news conference alongside France’s foreign minister at a meeting in Paris.
US President Joe Biden imposed sanctions on Russian banks: The Russian State Development Corporation (VEB) and Russian Military Bank. Sanctions will also be imposed on the sovereign debt of Russia, meaning Moscow is prohibited to place state debt bonds in America and Europe.
Australia announced sanctions against Russia targeting energy, oil, gas, transport, telecommunications and mineral reserves, it’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“The invasion of Ukraine has effectively already begun. Russia is at peak readiness to now complete a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and that is likely to occur within the next 24 hours,” Morrison said on Wednesday.
The Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, stated that as Russia had “recognized the independence” of occupied Donetsk and Luhansk, Germany was pulling the plug on Nord Stream 2.
“Today, I asked the economy ministry to withdraw the existing report on the analysis of supply security,” Scholz stated Tuesday.
He noted that now it is up to the international community to react to this one-sided, incomprehensible, and unjustified action by the Russian president. “Send a clear signal to Moscow that such actions won’t remain without consequences,” he said. He highlighted that Germany’s reaction was the necessary administrative step so that no certification of the pipeline can now take place, adding that without this certification, Nord Stream 2 cannot go into operation.
Nord Stream 2 is the pipeline through which Russian natural gas is to flow to Europe. Construction of the pipeline project has been completed but still needs a German regulator certificate before commissioning, and this process has been suspended since last autumn.
The US opposed the construction of the pipeline as they believed the pipeline would increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov Speaks to his Army
“The Kremlin has taken another step towards the restoration of the Soviet Union. The only thing that separates it is Ukraine and the Ukrainian army,” said Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov in an address to the military on Tuesday.
“Thanks to your courage, dedication and professionalism, the plans of the enemy have been thwarted, those who have been waging a worthless war all these years, hiding behind the backs of women and children, setting fire to schools and homes, kidnapping and torturing, lying and intimidating, robbing us or land. Yesterday, he revealed his real face, the face of a criminal who wants to leave the free world in captivity. He realizes his guilt and tries to unite all the groups around him with joint responsibility, because he is afraid. The crime committed will inevitably lead to punishment,” Reznikov said.
“Now we will see real friends next to us, who will be more and more numerous, not those ‘friends’ who have been calling on us to capitulate.
“There will be difficulties and losses, but it will inevitably lead to our victory because we are on our own land and the truth is on our side. The Ukrainian army is supported by our nation. The people’s faith is a sign that we are doing everything right. Our strength lies in unity, self-confidence, and a cold mind,” he concluded.
The same day, President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili spoke out against Russia’s Monday recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.
“Georgia strongly condemns Russia’s ‘recognition’ of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which repeats the scenario that led to the occupation of 20% of the Georgian territory,” she tweeted. “Georgia stands by you President Zelensky, and in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and peace,” she added.
Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili also rebuked Russia’s move, saying it was another step towards violating the fundamental principles of international law.
“Russia’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk is another step against the fundamental principles of international law and, unfortunately, repeats the occupation of Georgian territories in 2008. We strongly support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Garibashvili wrote on Twitter.
Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili also noted that Russia was violating international law.
“In this situation, the strong position of the international community is crucial to prevent a war in Ukraine and to do everything possible to uphold the fundamental principles of international law. It is important for the Western partners to take a firm stand to ensure two things: the prohibition of war and the enforcement of international law,” Papuashvili said.
He highlighted that, as part of the sanctions, the Georgian government is guided by the security interests of the country, the Georgian people, and Ukraine.
“If you look at Zelensky’s statement, his position is honorable when he maintains composure and firmness in this difficult situation, and when he reiterates that war must not be allowed and that every opportunity must be used to enforce the principles of international law through other levers. Our government will act based on the same principles,” Papuashvili said.
“Georgia unequivocally supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced. “We express hope that the international community will give its strict assessment and response to this further violation of the fundamental principles of international law, and to the absolutely unacceptable attempt to redraw forcefully the state borders in Eastern Europe.”
Putin Recognizes So-called Independence of Occupied Donetsk and Luhansk
On February 21, Russia recognized the so-called independence of occupied Donetsk and Luhansk.
“Given the current situation, I have decided to recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk,” Russian President Putin announced. “I ask the Federation Council to ratify this decision immediately. After that, a decision on assistance to these republics will be prepared.
“All the consequences for development and bloodshed will be borne by the ruling government of Ukraine. I hope for the support of the Russian people in these decisions,” he added.
The announcement followed an extraordinary meeting of his security council broadcast on national television.
The Russian Duma had addressed Putin on February 15 demanding recognition of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Two days later, Putin released a video address, in which he said that he “sees how the international situation has become complicated,” and noted that “Russia is always ready for a direct dialogue,” but the interests and security of its citizens are “unconditional.”
“Our country is always open for direct and correct dialogue; to solving the most difficult problems diplomatically. I repeat that the interests and security of our citizens are unconditional for us. Therefore, we will continue to develop and improve the army and navy,” he said.
Also on Monday 21st, the Joint Operations Headquarters of Ukraine claimed Russia had opened fire 136 times in Donbas in the prior 24 hours, including 116 times with weapons banned by the Minsk Agreement.
Two servicemen were killed as a result, while four others were injured, the agency said. Reportedly, no civilians were hit.
This information was also confirmed by the Russian side, however, it claimed that those killed were members of a “sabotage group” and were planning a “terrorist attack.”
Western countries had been warning about the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine for several weeks, and on February 18, the US President said that Vladimir Putin had already decided to attack. Official Moscow denied this.
On February 18, it was announced that Russian-backed separatist leaders, led by the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, had begun evacuating part of the population.
On February 19, both separatist leaders declared full military readiness. They talked about “planned aggression” from Kyiv, which Ukraine denied.
At the same time, the Ukrainian military intelligence service said it had received information about the mining of infrastructure facilities in Donetsk. The agency says this is part of the preparation for a so-called “fake attack,” the purpose of which is to blame the opponent for the attack and begin a war.