In a surprise statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “military operation” in Ukraine on Thursday and called on soldiers there to lay down their arms, defying Western outrage and global appeals not to launch a war.
“I have made the decision of a military operation,” he said shortly before 6:00am (0300 GMT) in Moscow, as he vowed retaliation against anyone who interfered. His statement came after the Kremlin said rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine had asked Moscow for military help against Kyiv.
In response, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky made an emotional late-night appeal to Russians not to support a “major war in Europe”.
Speaking Russian, Zelensky said that the people of Russia are being lied to about Ukraine and that the possibility of war also “depends on you”. “Who can stop (the war)? People. These people are among you, I am sure,” he said.
Zelensky said he had tried to call Putin but there was “no answer, only silence”, adding that Moscow now had around 200,000 soldiers near Ukraine’s borders.
Soon after Putin’s announcement, explosions were heard in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and several other cities.
A CBS journalist reporting live from Kyiv said during a live telecast that he had heard five loud explosions. During his report, he was also caught off-guard by a roaring sound, which he attributed to a fighter jet.
— Rebecca Aguilar (@RebeccaAguilar) February 24, 2022
The journalist stopped for a moment and moved to his side. “That sounded like a fighter jet overhead,” he said.
Several others on Twitter shared videos of explosions from Ukrainian cities. One video from Mariupol city captured loud thundering sounds.
United States President Joe Biden said the world was praying for Ukrainians suffering an “unprovoked and unjustified” attack by Russian military forces.
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Biden said. “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable.”
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Russia’s action had put countless lives at risk.
“Once again, despite our repeated warnings and tireless efforts to engage in diplomacy, Russia has chosen the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent country,” Stoltenberg said.