In a pre-dawn TV statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced an invasion of Ukraine and demanded that its military lay down their arms.
Moments after the televised speech, attacks were reported on Ukrainian military targets with explosions heard in the capital Kyiv.
Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, announced that martial law was now being imposed across all of Ukraine.
Here’s what President Putin said in his speech on Thursday 24 February and how leading nations have reacted.
What did Putin say in his televised speech?
Putin appealed to Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms and go home in a nationally televised address ahead of the offensive.
He said on a TV broadcast around 6am Moscow time: “Circumstances require firm and immediate actions from us. Donbas’ People’s Republics asked for help from Russia.
“In this regard, according to the article 51 part 7 of the United Nations charter, with the consent of the Russian Federation Council and in accordance with the ratified agreement on 22 February of this year on friendship and mutual aid with Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, I decided to conduct a special military operation.”
He continued: “Its goal is the protection of people who, during eight years, suffer from abuse and genocide from the Kyiv regime. We urge you to lay down arms immediately and go home.
“I will explain: all servicemen of the Ukrainian army who comply with this requirement, can freely leave the area of military actions and return to their families.”
Putin warned: “Whoever would try to stop us and further create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and lead you to such consequences that you have never faced in your history. We are ready for any outcome.”
Did Putin declare war?
Putin described the invasion as a “special military occupation” whilst also stating he wants to “demilitarise”, not occupy Ukraine.
He said that Russia wants to "defend itself from those who took Ukraine hostage," accusing the US and its allies of crossing Russia’s "red line" by expanding the NATO alliance.
He told Ukrainian service members to “lay down their arms and go home,” saying Russia could not exist with a “constant threat emanating from the territory of Ukraine”.
However, within minutes of the address, explosions could be heard in the capital city of Kyiv as well as the city of Kramatorsk in central Ukraine, and Odessa in the south.
Terrified citizens rushed to bomb shelters as missiles and air strikes broke the stillness of morning.
How has Ukraine responded?
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed that the Ukrainian people will “fight back” if Putin threatens their freedom.
He said: “The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace.
“But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.”
He later added: “We will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country. Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities.
“We will lift sanctions on all citizens of Ukraine who are ready to defend our country as part of territorial defence with weapons in hands.
“We have severed diplomatic relations with Russia. For all those who have not yet lost their conscience in Russia, it is time to go out and protest against the war with Ukraine.”
How have Western leaders responded to Putin?
The British foreign secretary Liz Truss tweeted her condemnation of the attack just after 4am local time.
She said: “I strongly condemn the appalling, unprovoked attack President Putin has launched on the people of Ukraine. We stand with Ukraine and we will work with our international partners to respond to this terrible act of aggression.”
Boris Johnson said Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a “catastrophe for our continent”, as he called on world leaders to meet and plan a response.
The Prime Minister tweeted his remarks after chairing an urgent Cobra emergency committee meeting on Thursday morning.
He is due to make a televised address to the nation at midday before speaking in the Commons in the evening.
President Joe Biden responded to Putin’s attack on Wednesday night, saying: “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.”
His statement continued: “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.”
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