JURAS KARMANOV, JIM HEINZ, VLADIMIR ISACHANKOV and DASHA LITVINOVA

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, launching air strikes on cities and military bases and sending troops and tanks from various directions, which could rewrite the geopolitical landscape of the world. The Ukrainian government asked for help when civilians boarded trains and cars to flee.

President Vladimir Putin has ignored global condemnation and a cascade of new sanctions, unleashing Europe’s biggest ground war in decades, and cautiously cited his country’s nuclear arsenal. He threatened any country that tried to prevent “consequences you have never seen.”

Ukrainian officials say their forces are fighting the Russians on various fronts and have lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world’s largest nuclear disaster.

“Russia is on the path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and not giving up its freedom,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter.

He later suggested that Russia end hostilities.

“Ukraine has not chosen the path of war, but Ukraine offers to return to the path of peace,” he said.

In Washington, US President Joe Biden announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, accusing Putin of “choosing this war” and that his country would suffer the consequences of his actions. According to him, the sanctions are directed against Russian banks, oligarchs and high-tech sectors.

Zelensky, who had previously severed diplomatic relations with Moscow and declared martial law, described Russian forces advancing on a number of fronts, including the “difficult situation” in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, just over 20 kilometers east. border with Russia. , and Russian troops slowly advanced from the north on the city of Chernihiv. He said that the Russian landing party at the airport near Kyiv, the capital, was being destroyed.

He appealed to world leaders, saying that “if you do not help us now, if you do not provide powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door.”

Both sides claimed to have destroyed some of the planes and military equipment of the other, although little of this can be confirmed.

Hours after the invasion began, Russian forces seized control of the area around the Chernobyl station, which is now unused, after a fierce battle, Zelensky’s adviser Mikhail Podalak told the Associated Press.

A Ukrainian official said Russian shelling had affected a radioactive waste storage facility and that radiation levels had been reported to rise. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.

A nuclear reactor at a nuclear power plant 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, exploded in 1986, spreading a radioactive cloud across Europe. Several years ago, the damaged reactor was covered with a protective shelter to prevent radiation leakage.

“This is one of the most serious threats to Europe today,” Podaliak said.

The head of NATO said the “brutal act of war” had destroyed peace in Europe by joining a chorus of world leaders condemning an attack that could lead to mass casualties, overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected government and disrupt security after the Cold War. The conflict has already shaken global financial markets: stocks have fallen and oil prices have soared amid fears that heating bills and food prices will rise.

Condemnation came not only from the United States and Europe, but also from South Korea, Australia and beyond – and many governments have prepared new sanctions. Even friendly leaders, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, have sought to distance themselves from Putin. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson has said he seeks to cut Russia off from the UK’s financial markets by announcing sanctions in response to the invasion.

As the first major world leader to take a big step, Johnson has announced a freeze on the assets of all major Russian banks and plans to ban Russian companies and the Kremlin from raising money in British markets.

Johnson said of Putin: “Now we see him as he is – a bloody aggressor who believes in imperial conquest.”

A senior U.S. official said the UN Security Council was expected to vote Friday on a resolution condemning Russia for the attack and calling for the immediate withdrawal of its troops. Voting will continue, despite the fact that a legally binding measure will almost certainly be vetoed by Russia, said the official, who is not authorized to discuss the issue publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

While some upset Europeans have speculated about a possible new world war, the United States and its NATO partners have shown no signs of sending troops to Ukraine, fearing it would lead to a bigger war. Instead, they mobilized troops and equipment around Ukraine’s western flank – while Ukraine asked for help in defending and defending its airspace.

Also as a precaution, NATO has strengthened its members in Eastern Europe.

“Make no mistake: we will protect every ally from any attack on every inch of NATO territory,” said NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

The attacks were primarily from the air. Later, Ukrainian authorities described ground invasions in several regions, and border guards published footage showing a line of Russian military vehicles moving into territory held by the Ukrainian government. European authorities have declared the country’s airspace a zone of active conflict.

Only on Thursday evening did Russia confirm that its ground forces had moved to Ukraine, saying they had moved from Crimea, the southern region that Russia annexed in 2014.

After weeks of denying plans to invade, Putin launched an operation in a country the size of Texas that was increasingly leaning toward a democratic West and moving away from Moscow’s influence. The autocratic leader made it clear earlier this week that he saw no reason for Ukraine’s existence, raising fears of possible wider conflicts in the vast space once ruled by the Soviet Union. Putin has denied plans to occupy Ukraine, but his ultimate goals remain vague.

Ukrainians, who have long been preparing for the prospect of an assault, were urged to hide and not panic.

“Until the last moment, I didn’t believe it would happen. I just pushed those thoughts away, ”said a frightened Anna Dovnya in Kyiv as she watched soldiers and police pull shrapnel from a torn shell. “We have lost all faith.”

As social media amplifies the flow of military claims and counterclaims, it was difficult to determine exactly what was going on on the ground.

AP journalists saw or confirmed the explosions in the capital, in Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov, in Kharkov in the east and beyond. The AP has confirmed a video showing Russian military vehicles moving to Ukrainian-held territory in the north of Belarus and from Russia’s annexed Crimea in the south.

Russia and Ukraine have made competing claims about the damage they have done. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had destroyed many Ukrainian air bases, military facilities and drones, and confirmed the loss of a Su-25 attack aircraft, accusing it of “pilot error.” It said that the target was not in the cities, but with the use of high-precision weapons and stated that “there is no threat to the civilian population.”

The Armed Forces of Ukraine report the death of at least 40 servicemen, and a military plane carrying 14 people crashed south of Kyiv.

The Polish military has increased its readiness, while Lithuania and Moldova have moved on. Border crossings from Ukraine to Poland, which have prepared refugee centers, have increased.

Putin justified his actions in a nightly telecast, saying the attack was necessary to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine – a false statement that the United States predicted as grounds for the invasion. He accused the United States and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to prevent Ukraine’s accession to NATO and security guarantees.

He called the military action a “forced measure” related to the growing security risk for Russia.

Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Putin issued a strong warning to other countries not to interfere.

Recalling Russia’s nuclear power, he warned that “no one should doubt that a direct attack on our country will lead to destruction and terrible consequences for any potential aggressor.”

Among Putin’s promises was the “denazification” of Ukraine. World War II is approaching Russia after the Soviet Union was killed more than any other country fighting Adolf Hitler’s troops.

The Kremlin portrays members of Ukrainian right-wing groups as neo-Nazis, using their admiration for World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist leaders who sided with the Nazis. Ukraine is now headed by a Jewish president who lost relatives during the Holocaust and angrily rejected the allegations.

Hours before the invasion, Zelensky rejected Moscow’s claims that Ukraine posed a threat to Russia, and made a fervent request for peace.

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Isachenkov and Litvinov reported from Moscow. Angela Charlton in Paris; Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin; Ruff Caserte and Lorne Cook in Brussels; Nick Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine, Inna Varenitsa in eastern Ukraine; and Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Noman Merchant, Ellen Nickmeyer, Zick Miller, Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville of Washington.

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Follow the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis of the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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