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Russia invades Ukraine: What you need to know

February 24, 2022

Casualties, shelling, Russian tanks and emergency meetings to coordinate the West's response. DW has an overview as a Russian war on Ukraine unfolds.

Workers load the debris of a rocket onto a truck in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Kyiv
Workers load the debris of a rocket onto a truck in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in KyivImage: Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo/picture alliance

Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, with explosions heard across the country and Russian tanks entering Ukrainian territories. 

Here's a look at the most significant developments from today and how the situation unfolded: 

Putin announces 'special operation' 

In an unscheduled television address on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he "decided to conduct a special military operation."

Putin claimed the "operation" was to "protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide... for the last eight years," or since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea. Moscow-backed separatists have fought the government's forces in eastern Ukraine ever since. 

Vladimir Putin: 'Lay down your weapons and go home'

The Russian government claimed hours earlier that separatist leaders had requested military help to fend off what they called Ukrainian "aggression." 

Putin said, "We will strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine." 

At an emergency UN Security Council meeting, Russia's envoy Vassily Nebenzia said the "operation" was targeting "the junta" in power in Kyiv.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenkskyy was elected in a 2019 vote, although some eligible voters could not take part owing either to Russia's annexation of Crimea or the fighting in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. 


Ukraine`s UN envoy says Russia declared war

Ukraine: Worst-case scenario plays out

Air raid sirens sounded over the Ukrainian capital at the break of dawn.  

The Ukrainian leadership said at least 40 soldiers had been killed so far by Russian airstrikes.

Zelenskyy declared martial law and said Russia was attacking his country's "military infrastructure." 

A map illustrating where Russia attacked Ukraine

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, "Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes."

"This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now," he added.

Ukraine's border guard reported that Russian tanks entered Ukraine in the Luhansk region and Crimea.

Russia's Defense Ministry said it had neutralized Ukrainian military airbases and air defense systems.

Explosions across Ukraine: DW's Nick Connolly reports

West reacts: Sanctions, condemnation and NATO reinforcement

World convened on Thursday as part of multiple bodies, including the European Union, NATO and the G7.  

NATO announced it would deploy additional forces to eastern Europe "to take additional steps to further strengthen deterrence and defense across the alliance."

The European Union was quick to vow the "strongest, the harshest package" of sanctions ever considered, the bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said.

Europen Union leaders agreed to a sweeping second set of sanctions against Russia at an emergency meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

"These sanctions cover the financial sector, the energy and transport sectors, dual-use goods as well as export controls and export financing, visa policy, additional listings of Russian Individuals and new listing criteria," the European Union said in a statement.

"With this package, we will target the strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking their access to technologies and markets that are key to Russia," European Commission President U von der Leyen said before presenting the sanctions.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed solidarity with Ukrainians, saying "Putin's war" on their country was completely without justification. The US and the UK strongly condemned the Russian invasion. 

How are EU and NATO reacting? DW's Alexandra von Nahmen reports from Brussels

The US, the EU, Japan and the UK had already unveiled a range of economic and financial sanctions against Russia earlier this week, while Germany suspended the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline

The moves came in the wake of Putin ordering troops into the separatist-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine after he recognized the independence of the two regions.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden announced "devastating" Western sanctions against Russia after a virtual closed-door meeting with the other G7 powers.

The G7 states are the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Biden tweeted that the G7 leaders "agreed to move forward on devastating packages of sanctions and other economic measures to hold Russia to account. We stand with the brave people of Ukraine."

In a joint statement, the seven countries said they were "ready to act" to minimize disruptions to world energy markets resulting from Russia's attack on Ukraine.

Failed diplomacy

For weeks, Western intelligence has shown that a Russian attack on Ukraine was imminent, with over 150,000 Russian troops massed along the Ukrainian borders. 

NATO allies have also warned that Russia was seeking a pretext to invade Ukraine further. 

Still, diplomatic efforts were continuing to prevent an invasion. But when Putin announced the recognition of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine as "independent republics," diplomacy came to a halt. 

"While we were trying to find a political solution, they were planning for this invasion," NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday. "Russia has shut the door" on a political solution, he added. 

Up until late Wednesday, Ukraine's Zelenskyy said he attempted to reach out to Putin. In an emotional address, Zelenskyy said, "Today I initiated a phone call with the president of the Russian Federation. The result was silence."

Russia on Wednesday had withdrawn its diplomatic mission from Kyiv. Ukraine on Thursday officially severed diplomatic ties with Russia. 

UN Secretary-General to Putin: 'Stop your troops from attacking Ukraine'

A brief history of Ukrainian-Russian relations

Ukraine, the largest country on the European continent, had a short-lived independent state following World War I. It was absorbed by the Soviet Union, which forced the terror of famine on the country in the 1930s under Josef Stalin.

Infografik Ukraine und Russland: militärische Stärke im Vergleich EN

In 1991, Ukraine officially declared its independence. Russia recognized Ukraine's borders in a number of international agreements.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine politically began looking westwards and started talking with both the European Union and NATO.

In 2004, the first of two significant revolutions on Maidan Square took place, known as the "Orange Revolution." That year, voters elected the pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko over the Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych, who later won the 2010 elections.

In 2013, Yanukovych stopped the signing of an association agreement with the EU he had said he supported earlier. Protests ensued and the second Maidan revolution, Ukraine's "Revolution for Dignity" as it has become known, culminated in his security forces firing on demonstrators gathered on Maidan. Yanukovych fled to Russia by helicopter the next day, taking with him briefcases of cash and documents.

A year later, Russia annexed Crimea. Bloody battles and heavy losses in the eastern part of the country have been ongoing since then. 

In eastern Ukraine, Russian-backed separatists are fighting for what they have called "people's republics " in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and more than 13,000 people have been killed so far, according to the UN. An additional 1.4 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced by the conflict.

fb/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)