Russia has invaded Ukraine in what Russian President Vladimir Putin called a “special military operation” to demilitarize its neighbor.
Following his announcement in a televised speech just before 6 a.m. on Thursday Feb. 24, troops crossed the border and entered the southern port cities of Odessa and Mariupol.
“The People’s Republic of Donbass asked Russia for help,” Putin said. “I decided to conduct a special military operation.”
He said the operation aims to “protect people who have been bullied and subjected to genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years.”
“For that, we will strive to de-militarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine and will bring to justice those who committed multiple bloody crimes against civilians including Russian citizens,” Putin said.
Air raid sirens were heard in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital after the announcement. Ukrainians in Kyiv were seen in packed up cars lining up at gas stations before leaving the city, the New York Times reported.
There were reports of strikes on military facilities and border guards across the country.
“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cites are under strike,” Ukraine’s foreign minister said in a tweet.
Martial law had been introduced across Ukraine, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a statement following the attacks from Russian troops.
He said he had also spoken by phone to US President Biden, who has started gathering international support.
“I will talk to you soon. Don’t panic. We are strong, we are ready for everything. We will win over anyone because we are Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said in a video to the public.
Hours before the invasion, Zelenskiy had made a televised plea after midnight Thursday, hoping to avoid war and appealing directly to the Russian people.
“Listen to the voice of reason,” he said. “The Ukrainian people want peace.”
However, Putin declared the operation moments later, saying he had received a call for help from leaders of the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and was responding to threats from Ukraine.
Putin had recognized the independence of the two separatist states, self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in eastern Ukraine a day earlier on Feb. 21.