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Multiple Fatalities Confirmed: Ukraine Declares Full-Scale “Land, Air and Sea” Invasion By Russia Underway, As Putin’s Most Prominent Critic, Aleksei Navalny, Condemns Attack

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Explosions have been reported on Thursday in multiple cities in Ukraine and at least 40 people have been killed and dozens wounded, according to an adviser of the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In a televised speech early Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he has ordered a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Zelenskyy has since cut diplomatic ties with Russia and has declared martial law.

Damaged radar arrays and other equipment is seen at Ukrainian military facility outside Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.

Ukraine’s foreign minister wrote on Twitter that his country was facing “a full-scale attack from multiple directions” but “continues to defend itself” from the Russian invasion.

The country’s defense minister told citizens that the army was “fending off enemy forces” and “doing everything it can to protect you.”

But the army was under siege. In the east, Russia-backed separatists — their ranks bolstered by the arrival of hundreds of Russian mercenaries in recent days, according to European officials — said they were hammering Ukrainian troops along the entire 250-mile front line that has divided the rebels and Ukrainian forces since 2014.

Seeking to capture the entire territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, which Mr. Putin recognized as independent on Monday, the rebels were “using all weapons at their disposal,” the Russian news media reported. Ukrainian officials said the attacks included artillery strikes.

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Ukraine’s state border service reported that Russian troops stationed in Belarus, north of Ukraine, had launched an attack with support from the Belarusian military. Russia had deployed as many as 30,000 troops to Belarus for exercises this month that the United States warned could provide cover for an attack against Kyiv, which lies a fast 140-mile drive away from a main border crossing. President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus denied that his forces were involved.

By midmorning in Kiev, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had disabled all of Ukraine’s air defenses and air bases. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said that Russian forces had captured two villages in the Luhansk region.

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Aleksei A. Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition politician, used a court hearing on Thursday to condemn President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow, 2021.
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“The war with Ukraine has been unleashed to cover up the robbery of Russian citizens and divert their attention away from the country’s internal problems, from the degradation of its economy,” Mr. Navalny said.

Mr. Navalny, who is serving a prison sentence that could be extended by up to 15 years if he is convicted of embezzlement and other charges, went on to say: “This war will lead to a vast number of victims, destroyed lives and continued impoverishment of Russian people.”

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Mr. Navalny, who built a large anti-corruption organization and opposition party over the past decade with thousands of supporters and offices across Russia, was poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent in 2020 and arrested upon his return to the country last year.

Some of Mr. Putin’s critics describe his campaign against Mr. Navalny’s organization, which has been declared an extremist group and banned, as a prelude to the attack he has launched against Ukraine.

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Mr. Navalny has continued to criticize Mr. Putin via Twitter, through lawyers who meet him occasionally in prison. On Tuesday, after Mr. Putin made a long, aggrieved speech in which he appeared to lay claim to all of Ukraine, Mr. Navalny published a long Twitter thread calling members of Mr. Putin’s inner circle “senile thieves.”

Russian troops launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, as President Vladimir Putin cast aside international condemnation and warned other countries that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen.” (Feb. 24)

NATO officials say a virtual NATO summit meeting is being planned for Friday.

European Union ambassadors in Brussels moved closer to consensus on a significant package of sanctions targeting broad sectors of the Russian economy and individuals, but were debating whether to keep President Vladimir V. Putin off their list for now, diplomats who participated in or were briefed on the talks said.

The ambassadors met on Thursday morning, just hours after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and were due to meet again in the afternoon to prepare for negotiations that E.U. leaders will hold in Brussels on Thursday evening about an overall response to the invasion.

Diplomats said that earlier resistance by some countries over specific sectors — for example, by Italy over luxury goods and Belgium over diamonds — had evaporated in the face of the invasion and that there was now broad consensus across the 27 member states.

The E.U.’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles, described the proposed measures on Thursday morning as the “the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented.”

But a new rift emerged: A handful of member states led by Germany were advocating that the package exclude Mr. Putin for now.

Asked for comment, a German diplomat did not deny that Germany wanted to keep Mr. Putin off the latest sanctions.

The rationale for omitting him is a desire to keep channels open for dialogue with the top Russian leadership. They were considering exempting Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov for the same reason.

But other member states argued that the bloc should immediately inflict the maximum possible pain on Russia rather than hold back in hopes of renewed diplomatic dialogue.

E.U. leaders were due to convene in Brussels on Thursday evening and were expected to meet through the night. The sanctions they are expected to agree on will come into effect when the legal language is published, on Friday or Saturday, diplomats said.

A man is seen draping a blanket over what looks to be a deceased individual in Ukraine

Ukraine’s defense minster, Oleksiy Reznikov, called on anyone looking to take up arms against Russian forces to immediately enlist with the country’s territorial defense units. All anyone needs to sign up is a Ukrainian passport, Mr. Reznikov said. “The enemy is attacking, but our army is indestructible,” he said. “Ukraine is moving into all-out defense mode.”

The Ukrainian military claimed to have shot down several Russian military aircraft, and civilians lined up at recruitment offices to take up arms against President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces.

Initial reports of the fighting suggested that Russian forces had crossed into Ukraine at multiple points, with helicopter-borne troops flying in under the cover of machine-gun fire, naval units coming ashore in the southern port city of Odessa and military vehicles crossing from Crimea, the peninsula that Russia seized in 2014.

Ukrainian forces said they had shot down several Russian fighters and a helicopter in an increasingly intense battle to maintain control over key cities, a senior Ukrainian military official said. Ukrainian troops had also repelled Russian advances on two major cities: Chernihiv in the north, near the Belarus border, and Kharkiv in the northeast, close to Russia, the official said.

In videos posted to social media, Russian military vehicles were seen on the outskirts of Kharkiv, the second largest city, where troops had set up checkpoints on a main road. It appeared to be the farthest Russian troops had been seen penetrating into Ukraine.

The Ukrainian army is badly outgunned and outmanned by Russian forces, but in one indication that it was mounting a resistance, two Russian armored personnel carriers were seen damaged, one crashed into a tree, in the eastern Ukrainian town of Shchastya early Thursday.

Maryna Danyliuk, a retiree, was awaken by intense explosions — she believed them to be caused by Russian artillery fire — around 5 a.m. She hastily packed to flee.

By the time she was driving, she said in a telephone interview, she could hear sounds of combat on the town’s street, and saw the two apparently damaged armored vehicles. They had no markings other than a white circle surrounding the letter Z, a symbol that has been seen on Russian military vehicles in recent days on the Russian side of the border.

Video shows burning apartment buildings in the Kharkiv area of Ukraine. The footage is evidence of a possible attack on civilian infrastructure, which is next to a military base.

It was unclear what had happened to the vehicle crews, she said: “We were driving very fast. There was shooting in the city.”

In Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, about 100 men, ranging in age from their 20s to 50s, turned up at a military recruitment office even as the dull thuds of explosions could be heard from the direction of the town’s military airport.

They packed into a corridor and filled out forms to join the military, heeding a call from Ukraine’s defense minster, Oleksiy Reznikov, who asked all able citizens to immediately enlist with the country’s territorial defense units.

Packing up belongings from an apartment to move farther away from the military airport, which was bombed Thursday morning in Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine.

“The enemy is attacking, but our army is indestructible,” he said. “Ukraine is moving into all-out defense mode.”

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