By YURAS KARMANAU, JIM HEINTZ, VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and DASHA LITVINOVA
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — 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.”
Ukraine’s president said Russian forces were trying to seize the Chernobyl nuclear plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, and Ukrainian forces were battling other troops just miles from Kyiv for control of a strategic airport. Large explosions were heard in the capital 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.
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.
Condemnation rained down not only from the U.S. and Europe, but from South Korea, Australia and beyond — and many governments readied new sanctions. Even friendly leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban sought to distance themselves from Putin.
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.”
While some nervous Europeans speculated about a possible new world war, the U.S. and its NATO partners have so far shown no indication they would join in a war against Russia. They instead mobilized troops and equipment around Ukraine’s western flank — as Ukraine pleaded for defense assistance and help protecting its airspace.
In Washington, President Joe Biden convened a meeting of the National Security Council on Thursday to discuss Ukraine as the U.S. prepares new sanctions. Biden administration officials have signaled that two of the measures they were considering most strongly include hitting Russia’s biggest banks and slapping on new export controls meant to starve Russia’s industries and military of U.S. semiconductors and other high-tech components.
The attacks came first from the air. Later Ukrainian authorities described ground invasions in multiple regions, and border guards released footage showing a line of Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukraine’s government-held territory. European authorities declared the country’s airspace an active conflict zone.
In a worrying development, Zelenskyy said Russian forces were trying to seize the Chernobyl plant, and a Ukrainian official said Russian shelling hit a radioactive waste repository and an increase in radiation levels was reported. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.
Other governments did not immediately corroborate or confirm the claims.