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horrific At least 137 dead in Ukraine as 100,000 flee for their lives after 'barbaric' attacks by Russia

  • Russian banks and leading companies hit with heavy sanctions
  • ‘Sound of new iron curtain’ shakes Ukraine and world

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Rescuers work at the crash site of the Ukrainian Armed Forces' Antonov aircraft, which, according to the State Emergency Service, was shot down near the capital, Kyiv. Photo: Reuters

Rescuers work at the crash site of the Ukrainian Armed Forces' Antonov aircraft, which, according to the State Emergency Service, was shot down near the capital, Kyiv. Photo: Reuters

Rescuers work at the crash site of the Ukrainian Armed Forces' Antonov aircraft, which, according to the State Emergency Service, was shot down near the capital, Kyiv. Photo: Reuters

Missiles pounded the Ukrainian capital on Friday as Russian forces pressed their advance and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pleaded with the international community to do more, saying sanctions announced so far were not enough.

Air raid sirens wailed over Kyiv amid unconfirmed reports that a Russian plane had been shot down and crashed into a building a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion that has shocked the world.

A senior Ukrainian official said Russian forces would enter areas just outside the capital, Kyiv, later on Friday and that Ukrainian troops were defending positions on four fronts despite being outnumbered.

Zelenskiy said he understood Russian troops were coming for him but vowed to stay in Kyiv.

"(The) enemy has marked me down as the number one target," Zelenskiy said in a video message. "My family is the number two target. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state."

"I will stay in the capital. My family is also in Ukraine."

Vladimir Putin's “barbaric” tyranny plunged Europe into war on a scale not seen since 1945 as Russian troops advanced on Kyiv last night.

The Russian president ordered a full-blown invasion just before dawn yesterday, with ground troops crossing into Ukraine in a multi-­pronged assault.

Tanks, helicopters and jets swarmed the country as missiles rained down on cities, killing at least 137 citizens, Ukrainian officials said.

Last night, Ukraine remained defiant despite Russian troops seizing control of a strategic military airfield just outside Kyiv following fierce fighting.

Russia also occupied the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant less than 100km from the capital, providing ground troops with a clear route to Kyiv. Around 100,000 civilians have already fled their homes, according to the United Nations.

The International Atomic Energy Agency urged “maximum restraint” to protect nuclear sites during the clashes.

Western leaders were united in condemning Mr Putin, with Joe Biden, the US president, saying his “naked aggression” would make him a “pariah”.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen called the invasion a “barbaric” attack on an independent nation that threatened “the stability in Europe and the whole of the international peace order”.

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British prime minister Boris Johnson denounced Mr Putin as a “bloodstained aggressor”.

In near-unison, the US, EU and other Western allies announced a round of punitive measures against Russian banks and leading companies, and imposed export controls aimed at starving the country’s industries and military of high-tech products.

From the US to Western Europe and Japan, South Korea and Australia, nations lined up to denounce the Kremlin as the outbreak of fighting raised fears about the shape of Europe to come.

Mile-long traffic jams stretched out of Kyiv, and train stations ran out of tickets as desperate civilians tried to escape to safety over the western borders – the start of an exodus that could total five million people.

Oil prices soared and stock markets tumbled amid rising fears of a global economic crisis.

The invasion was started by Mr Putin, in a pre-recorded address to the nation, at 3am Irish time, in which he said he had made “the decision of a military operation” for the “denazification of Ukraine”.

He also appeared to signal his willingness to deploy nuclear weapons, warning the West that “whoever tries to impede us... must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to consequences you have never seen in history”.

Nato’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said thousands of troops would be sent to re-
inforce Nato’s eastern flank in countries that border Russia and Ukraine, including Poland and the Baltic States. “Our collective defence commitment is iron-clad. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to shield the alliance from aggression,” he said.

At the end of the first day of fighting, Ukraine claimed Russia was being forced into an “operative pause”, claiming that a “blitzkrieg won’t happen”.

But US Pentagon officials claimed the Kremlin’s clear intention was a race to Kyiv to overthrow Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, and install a new leadership allied to the Kremlin.

“They have every intention of basically decapitating the government and installing their own means of governance,” an official said.

The Pentagon said last night that Russia had not yet deployed the “full scope” of the cyber-warfare capabilities, adding that it was “not clear exactly why” it had not yet done so.

President Zelensky said: “Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom.”

He added: “What we have heard today are not just missile blasts, fighting and the rumble of aircraft. This is the sound of a new iron curtain, which has come down and is closing Russia off from the civilised world.”

Up to 190,000 Russian troops had massed on Ukraine borders in recent weeks and the full-scale invasion was launched from the north, south and east.

Russia claimed to have destroyed more than 70 military targets, including 11 airfields, and captured a hydro-electric power plant as well as the area surrounding Chernobyl.

Russian forces were deployed on land, air and sea with troops using Russian-held Crimea as a launch pad for an onslaught on the Black Sea port of Odessa.

Ukraine announced last night that 57 citizens had been killed by Russian forces and a further 169 wounded.

Ukraine said it had shot down a number of aircraft but Western defence analysts said Russia had gained control of the skies, paving the way for a land invasion.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said visa requirements would be waived for Ukrainian people fleeing to Ireland.

He described the attack as “an outrageous and moral breach of the most fundamental principles of international law” and “immoral and totally beyond comprehension”.

He warned that sanctions on Russia “will hit hard and will be far-reaching”.

Mr Martin added that Ireland “stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people in their darkest hour”.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz accused Mr Putin of trying “to wipe an entire country off the world map”.

French president Emmanuel Macron called Mr Putin to “demand an immediate halt” to the offensive.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin gave the French president an “exhaustive” explanation of the reasons for Russia’s actions.

Shares on the Moscow stock exchange lost a third of their value in one of the worst collapses in history while Russia’s central bank scrambled to rescue the rouble after it sank to record lows.

Meanwhile, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said the force is “at all times” in contact with international security agencies and sharing information following the invasion.

He said any threats or intelligence that were uncovered would be brought to the attention of the Government.

Mr Harris was speaking following the meeting of the Policing Authority in Dublin Castle yesterday afternoon.

There have long been suspicions that agents working on behalf of the Russian state are operating in Ireland to gather intelligence both here and from other European countries.

Asked whether gardaí were increasing their monitoring of and investigations into people of interest in Ireland linked to the hostile state, the garda chief said: “These are national security matters and I’d report on these to the Minister of Justice." (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)


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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]


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