Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is underway with reports of explosions and gunfire heard in Kyiv and other cities in the country while Vladimir Putin has announced he has launched a special military operation in the separatist east of Ukraine.
Regular blasts have been heard from the Ukraine capital Kyiv and the sound of gunfire came from near to the main airport of Boryspil in Kyiv.
Passengers and staff are being evacuated from the airport, said the Ukraine government.
A the same same time video footage on social media taken in Mariupol, around 30 miles from the Russian border, shows what seems to be plumes of smoke rising amid explosions.
“For more than 70 years, we have avoided large-scale war in Europe. With his illegal invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has tragically brought decades of general peace to an end,” said US senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“Now the US and our NATO allies must stand united and resolute against Putin’s efforts to renew the Russian empire at the expense of the Ukrainian people.”
Putin has told the Ukraine army to lay down their arms in the area.
( Image: AFP via Getty Images)
It comes as Vladimir Putin said that Russia will carry out a special military operation in the Donbass and he has called on all Ukrainian soldiers to “immediately” lay down their weapons and go home, according to the Tass new agency.
He claims that Russia is acting out of self-defence and told the Ukrainian military that their “fathers and grandfathers” didn’t fight so they could help “neo-nazis”.
In a televised address early on Thursday morning, Putin said the action comes in response to threats coming from Ukraine.
He added that Russia does not have a goal to occupy Ukraine, but said the responsibility for bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian ”regime”.
US President Joe Biden has called Russia’s decision to commence a military operation in eastern Ukraine an “unprovoked and unjustified attack”.
He said in a statement: “The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer 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. 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.”
Putin said Russia has been left with no choice but to defend itself against what he said were threats emanating from modern Ukraine.
Putin also made an appeal to the Ukrainian military: “I urge you to immediately lay down your weapons and go home. All servicemen of the Ukrainian army who fulfil this demand will be able to freely leave the combat zone and return to their families.”
The scope of the Russian military operation in Ukraine was not immediately clear. A Reuters reporter in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, heard explosions which sounded like artillery shelling in the distance soon after Putin had finished speaking.
( Image: REUTERS)
Putin said Russia would respond instantly if any external force tried to interfere and that Moscow would try to de-militarise and ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine.
“Russia cannot feel safe, develop, and exist with a constant threat emanating from the territory of modern Ukraine,” said Putin.
Earlier US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he believes Russia will invade Ukraine within hours after separatists on Wednesday asked for Russian help to repel “aggression” and as explosions rocked the breakaway eastern city of Donetsk.
Putin has said this week that he wants to take the important Azov sea port of Mariupol which deals with around half of Ukraine’s steel and mineral exports, it is reported.
Blinken told NBC News he expected Russian forces would attack Ukraine overnight although he still held out hope for diplomacy to pull Europe back from the brink of war.
“Everything seems to be in place for Russia to engage in a major aggression against Ukraine,” Blinken said in an interview, adding he could not be precise about time or place.
( Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A pro-Ukraine rally was held in Mariupol on Tuesday night where people gathered to protest in the face of a Russian invasion, waving Ukraine flags.
Separatists have requested help from Russia in the east of Ukraine and hours after the plea on Wednesday, at least five explosions were heard in the separatist-held eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk on Thursday morning.