Ukraine Says Dozens Killed as Russia Launches Invasion

Dozens of people have been killed during the first hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, officials said, with fighting widespread across the country.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ordered wide-ranging attacks on Ukraine on Thursday, hitting multiple cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling, and attacking by land and sea.

Sirens rang out in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and large explosions were heard there and in other cities.

Oleksii Arestovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said more than 40 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and dozens were wounded in the first hours of the invasion, and that up to 10 civilians had been killed.

The mayor of Mariupol claimed that three civilians had been killed in the eastern port city and six others injured amid Russia’s invasion.

Emergency services said a boy was killed in eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region after shelling struck an apartment building.

Ukraine’s military said it had destroyed four Russian tanks on a road near the eastern city of Kharkiv, killed 50 troops near a town in the Luhansk region and downed six Russian warplanes elsewhere in the east.

Russia denied reports its aircraft or armoured vehicles had been destroyed. Russian-backed separatists claimed to have downed two Ukrainian planes.

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the casualty figures.

Ukrainian police said on Thursday that Russia had carried out 203 attacks since the beginning of the day.

Russia’s defence ministry said it had neutralised Ukrainian military airbases and its air defence systems.

The ministry also said its forces had destroyed 74 above-ground military infrastructure facilities in Ukraine on Thursday, including 11 aerodromes, according to a report by the country’s RIA Novosti news agency.

After weeks of denying plans to invade, Putin justified his actions in an overnight televised address, asserting that the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine – a claim Ukraine and its allies have slammed as false and a pretext for a wider invasion.

Putin also accused the United States and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands for Ukraine to be barred from joining NATO and for security guarantees. He has also called Ukraine an artificial creation and denied its right to statehood.

After Russia launched attacks on Thursday, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy declared martial law, cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and called on civilians to join the fight to defend Ukraine.

“As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter. “Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom.”

Jens Stoltenberg, the chief of the NATO alliance, said Russia’s “brutal act of war” shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders who decried the attack, which could cause massive casualties, topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government and upend the post-Cold War security order.

The World Health Organization (WHO) voiced alarm over an expected health emergency in Ukraine.

“Amid the conflict rapidly unfolding in Ukraine, the WHO Regional Office for Europe reiterates its deepest concern for the safety, health and wellbeing of all civilians impacted by the crisis in the country and possibly beyond,” the office said in a statement, warning any further escalation could result in a humanitarian catastrophe.

The European arm of the world health body added it was working closely “with all UN partners in rapidly scaling up readiness to respond to the expected health emergency triggered by the conflict”.

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