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War in Ukraine | Russia invades Ukraine, captures Chernobyl power plant

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(Kiev) Deadly battles between Russians and Ukrainians were taking place on Thursday at the gates of Kiev and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant fell into the hands of the attackers, following the launch by the army of Vladimir Putin of a massive attack against Ukraine, with air strikes and ground invasion.

To avoid an extension of this conflict to “other European countries”, against which German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned, the military forces of the NATO states have been placed on alert and certain units will movement in order to reinforce the defenses of the allies on the eastern flank.

The first day of the offensive, described as a “success” by the Russian Ministry of Defense, caused dozens of deaths in a few hours, causing an outcry in the international community, especially on the Western side.


The leaders of the 27 countries of the European Union met Thursday afternoon in Brussels, the American president Joe Biden was to address his compatriots from 1:30 p.m. and the Atlantic Alliance called a summit by videoconference for Friday .

The attack began at dawn, after Vladimir Putin had recognized the independence of Ukrainian separatist territories in Donbass on Monday, then had a military intervention validated by the Russian Parliament on Tuesday.

“I took the decision of a special military operation” having for goal “a demilitarization and a denazification of Ukraine”, announced the master of the Kremlin on television before dawn.

“We do not have in our plans an occupation of Ukrainian territories, we do not intend to impose anything by force on anyone,” he said, calling on the Ukrainian soldiers to “lay down their arms”.

In an attempt to justify this intervention, the Russian president notably reiterated his unfounded accusations of a “genocide” orchestrated by Kiev in the pro-Russian separatist territories, cited a call for help from the separatists and denounced the aggressive policy of the NATO.

Russia had “no other way” to defend itself, he told reporters on Thursday evening.

Territorial Gains-

Just after Mr. Putin’s speech, explosions rang out in Kiev, the capital, in Kramatorsk, a city in the east which serves as the headquarters of the Ukrainian army, in Kharkiv (northeast), the second city of Ukraine, in Odessa, on the Black Sea, and in Mariupol, the main port in the east of this country.

The Chernobyl power plant, site of the worst nuclear accident in history in 1986, fell into the hands of Russian soldiers, according to Ukrainian authorities.


PHOTO EVGENIY MALOLETKA, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mariupol, the main port in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has declared martial law and announced the severance of diplomatic relations with Moscow.

In the morning, a member of his team indicated that “more than 40 Ukrainian soldiers had died, dozens injured” and “nearly 10 civilians killed”. In the Odessa region alone, the official death toll was 18 inhabitants of a village killed in strikes.

In the early evening, the authorities of the Kherson region (south) also reported 13 civilians and nine soldiers killed.

As the hours passed, Russian forces appeared to approach Kiev, where a curfew was imposed. Ukrainian authorities said Russian ground forces were in the vicinity of the capital and that a Ukrainian military plane had crashed in the area with 14 people on board.

Mr Zelensky also said that the Ukrainian army was trying to retake a military airport near Kiev, where “enemy paratroopers were stopped”.

Both sides were making unverifiable claims, but the Russian army was gaining ground. In the Kherson region, local authorities announced that Russian troops were present in several areas and had notably taken control of Genichesky, a town some 300 km west of the Russian border.

Evacuations


PHOTO BERNADETT SZABO, REUTERS

Ukrainians flee to the border with Hungary on February 24, 2022.

In Kiev, at dawn, residents taken aback rushed into the metro to take shelter or try to leave the city.

Cars full of families were fleeing the capital, as far as possible from the Russian border, located 400 km away.

Others were determined to stay, like Olena Chevchenko, an NGO worker. “We are hoping for international support,” she told AFP, “no one knows what will happen next.”

“I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime,” said Olena Kourilo, 52, an educator in Chuguyv, near Kharkiv, her face stripped with bandages due to wounds from a strike that left at least one dead. , noted AFP.

On the main roads of eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian army was everywhere. A civil defense official said civilian evacuation operations were hampered by heavy artillery fire and poor communications.

In neighboring Poland, anticipating an influx of Ukrainian refugees, the Minister of the Interior announced the imminent opening of reception centres. The EU also said it was “fully prepared” to welcome the refugees.

Nearly 800 demonstrators arrested, according to an NGO


PHOTO KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

In Moscow, some residents expressed their concern, others their support for Vladimir Putin.

“It does not please me, I am completely worried”, dropped Nikita, a 34-year-old executive, saying that he did not know “who is right or wrong”.

Anti-war rallies took place in central Moscow, in Pushkin Square and the main Tverskaya Street, as well as in St. Petersburg. Dozens of people were arrested, nearly 800 across Russia, according to an NGO.

The authorities have warned that they will crack down on any unauthorized protests.

” I am shocked. My relatives live in Ukraine. What to tell them on the phone? “Hold on tight” ? “Launched a Moscow protester, Anastassia Nestoulia. “There are not many of us, people don’t want to lose their peaceful life. »

The Russian attack, after months of tension and diplomatic efforts to avert a war, has drawn international condemnation, with many fearing it could signal the start of Europe’s worst conflict since 1945.

Joe Biden denounced an “unjustified attack”, Emmanuel Macron spoke of “a turning point in the history of Europe” and Olaf Scholz considered that this “challenged peace” on the continent.

After the first sanctions earlier this week, the American president announced on Twitter that the leaders of the G7, during a virtual meeting on Thursday, had agreed to impose “devastating” sanctions on Russia.

The Europeans, for their part, promised “unprecedented isolation” of Russian officials.

But Moscow has promised a “severe” response to these sanctions. Analysts for their part stressed that Vladimir Putin had already shown that he feared neither isolation nor shaking the international order, quite the contrary.

Panic in the markets

Vladimir Putin warned those “who would try to interfere”: “They must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead to consequences that you have never experienced before”.

China, which has close relations with Moscow, said it was following the situation “closely” and called for restraint from all parties.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who spoke on the phone with the Russian President on Thursday; called for an “immediate cessation of violence”,

The Russian offensive comes eight years after Moscow annexed Crimea and sponsored the takeover of parts of Donbass by pro-Russian separatists, sparking a regional conflict that has claimed more than 14,000 lives.

It wreaked havoc on the world markets, with the stock markets falling and the prices of raw materials and cereals soaring.

Oil notably crossed 100 dollars a barrel, a first since 2014.

The Moscow Stock Exchange plunged by more than 35% and the ruble hit a historic low against the dollar, before the intervention of the Russian central bank.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva warned that the conflict poses “a significant economic risk for the region and the world” as the global economy tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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