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Russia-Ukraine conflict updates: Biden unveils more sanctions after Russia takes Chernobyl

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday by land, air and sea after weeks of tense buildup and efforts from global leaders to find a diplomatic solution.

This event has ended. For more updates, read here.

Zelenskyy orders full military mobilization to counter Russia

Teaganne Finn

Zelenskyy said he was ordering a full mobilization of the Ukraine armed forces to counter Russia's attacks.

The mobilization will be carried out within 90 days from the date of entry into force, he said in a statement.

Zelenskyy also confirmed that 137 people have been killed and that 316 have been injured thus far since the attacks began Thursday.

Why would Russia want to take Chernobyl?

Few places conjure more foreboding than Chernobyl, the site of the deadly 1986 nuclear disaster. So alarm bells rang in the West when Russian forces seized the decommissioned power plant in the early hours of their invasion of Ukraine on Thursday.

Why would Russia make a radioactive wasteland one of its very first targets in Ukraine?

While the full answer may be known only to top officials in Moscow, the site happens to lie along one of the most direct paths to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

“The location is important because of where it sits,” retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, said in an interview. "If Russian forces were attacking Kyiv from the north, Chernobyl is right there on the way, almost in the way."

Chernobyl is less than 10 miles from Ukraine's border with Belarus, a Russian ally where Moscow has been massing troops in preparation for its attack on Ukraine. From there, it's a relatively straight shot of about 80 miles south to Kyiv.

Read the full story here.

Russia sanctions are a ‘big deal,’ experts say. But effects could take years.

The flurry of sanctions the U.S. announced this week against Russia are some of the hardest-hitting that Moscow has ever faced, but the slow pain they inflict may not be enough to deter Putin from escalating his invasion of Ukraine, experts said.

Biden and several U.S. allies, including the European Union, the United Kingdom and Japan, have vowed to review further restrictions on Moscow as punishment for the invasion.

The sanctions that have already been announced are significant in size and scope, said former Treasury and State Department officials who handled U.S. sanctions in the past, but the longtime U.S. reliance on the national security tool has left the U.S. with few other options if Putin and Russia do not respond.

Nevertheless, the Russian economy is already feeling the effects of war, and the sanctions could over time further cause the Russian stock market to falter, deflate the value of the ruble — which hit an all-time low Thursday — and make doing business in Russia increasingly difficult.

“We’re counting a lot on sanctions, and the ones the Biden administration have put together are really pretty tough,” said Daniel Fried, a longtime diplomat and former ambassador to Poland who helped lead the West’s 2014 response to Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine as the State Department coordinator for sanctions policy. He called the recent sanctions "a big deal." 

Read the full story here.

Russia says it will support banks under sanctions

Russia said its central bank will support banks affected by the sanctions the U.S. and other countries imposed this week.

Leaders in Europe, Canada and the U.S. announced Thursday that they are committed to issuing severe economic sanctions following Putin's decision to attack Ukraine. Biden took aim at Putin by mounting pressure through Russia's economy, including the two largest majority state-owned institutions, Sberbank and VTB.

Russia issued a statement through its central bank assuring that the state has a plan to remain functioning regardless of the sanctions. 

"All operations of banks in rubles will be carried out, and the corresponding services will be provided to all customers as usual," the statement said. "All customer funds in foreign currencies are also held and can be withdrawn in the account currency. The Bank of Russia is ready to support banks with funds in rubles and foreign currency." 

A majority of the bank's balance at each bank is measured in rubles, the statement insists, and "maintain a high margin of stability."  

Some Russians share black squares on social media to indicate anti-war stance

Some well-known Russians have posted black squares on social media to publicly indicate their opposition to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

Black squares were shared to show solidarity with the protests in the U.S. after the death of George Floyd nearly two years ago. And Thursday, many Russians appeared to use the same tactic to show their support for the country's anti-war movement. 

Television host and comedian Ivan Urgant posted “Fear and pain. NO to war" on Instagram, alongside a black square, for his 9.9 million followers.

Maxim Galkin, a Russian singer and comedian, posted the same black square for his 9.4 million Instagram followers, writing: "There can be no justification for war! No War!" 

Two-time Olympic figure skating silver medalist Evgenia Medvedevа wrote over a black background on her Instagram story, "I hope this all ends as soon as possible, like a bad dream," placing a white dove emoji below the text for her 1.3 million followers.

Former television host Xenia Sobchak, whose father was a mentor to Putin, posted the black square to Instagram for her millions of followers. "We are all now locked in this situation. No exit. We, the Russians, will be dealing with the consequences of today for many years to come," she wrote.

Russian attack on Ukraine draws protesters around the world

Image: People attend an anti-war protest in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Feb. 24, 2022.
Anton Vaganov / Reuters

Saint Petersburg, Russia

Image: Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Moscow on Feb. 24, 2022.
Alexander Nemenov / AFP - Getty Images

Moscow

Image: Demonstrators hold a Ukrainian flag as they protest in support of Ukraine, in Times Square New York, on Feb. 24, 2022.
Kena Betancur / AFP - Getty Images

New York City

Image: A demonstrator wears eye shadow with the colors of the Ukrainian flag at an anti-war protest in Dublin, Ireland, on Feb. 24, 2022.
Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters

Dublin

Image: Ukrainians who live in Rome protest near the Russian Embassy in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.
Alessandra Tarantino / AP

Rome, Italy

Image: Ukrainians living in Turkey hold a protest against Russia's military operation in Ukraine, near the Russian Consulate in Istanbul
Dilara Senkaya / Reuters

Istanbul, Turkey

Conductor Valery Gergiev, a Putin supporter, replaced ahead of Carnegie Hall performance

Teaganne Finn

Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, a known friend and supporter of Putin’s, will no longer lead a series of concerts this weekend at Carnegie Hall. 

Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra announced Thursday that the Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin will step in for Gergiev, leading the orchestra in three concerts at Carnegie Hall from Friday through Sunday. 

No reason was cited for Gergiev’s removal from the program; his relationship with Putin reflects the global denunciation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Daniel Froschauer, the orchestra’s chairman, called Gergiev a gifted artist and said he would take the podium for the Carnegie dates. “He’s going as a performer, not a politician,” Froschauer said.

Carnegie Hall and the orchestra also said the Russian pianist Denis Matsuev, who had been scheduled to perform with Gergiev and the orchestra Friday, would not appear.

Russian forces have moved closer to Kyiv, fired more than 160 missiles, says U.S. defense official

Russia has launched more than 160 missiles since it began striking Ukraine, a senior U.S. defense official said.

Russian troops, meanwhile, have moved closer to Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, the official said Thursday, adding that the country has also sent additional airborne troops to Kharkiv, where fighting is ongoing. 

As part of its response to Russia's aggression and in support of its NATO allies, the U.S will deploy 7,000 more troops to Germany from Fort Carson, Colorado, the Defense Department said.

57 people killed in Russian attacks, top Ukrainian health official says

Fifty-seven people have died and 169 others have been injured since the Russian attacks began Thursday, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said.

Lyashko, who said there were both combat and non-combat injuries, did not differentiate between civilian and military casualties.

Medical workers are included in the numbers, as he reported that hospitals and medical workers have come under fire in areas like Avdiivka and Vuhlerad.

U.S. sanctions also target Belarus for supporting Russia

The new round of sanctions against Russia that Biden unveiled Thursday also targets another country: Belarus. 

The measures take aim at Belarusian state-owned banks and the country's defense and security industries, as well as a number of its "regime-connected officials and elites," for their support of Russia's invasion, according to the Treasury Department. 

The White House said in a statement, "We call on Belarus to withdraw its support for Russian aggression in Ukraine."

Biden announced the latest round of sanctions just hours after the United Kingdom slapped similar sanctions on Belarus, as well as Russia. Other U.S. allies are expected to follow suit.

Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus and a close ally of Putin's, said Thursday that troops from his country could be used in further Russian military operations in Ukraine if necessary, local media reported.

U.S. expels No. 2 ranking Russian diplomat

Abigail Williams

Doha Madani and Abigail Williams

The second-highest ranking Russian diplomat is being expelled from the U.S. in retaliation for a similar move made by Russia earlier this month, a senior State Department official told NBC News Thursday.

Sergey Trepelkov is the second-highest ranking diplomat at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., under Ambassador Antoly Antonov. The move is not a response to the Ukraine invasion, the State Department official said, but is instead a counter to Russia ousting U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Bart Gorman earlier this month. 

Gorman had not completed his three-year diplomatic tour before being told to leave Russia.

“We believe it is critical that our countries have the necessary diplomatic personnel in place to facilitate communication between our governments,” the official said. “However, we will not let actions like this go without a response and today, we have announced our response.”

Obama rips Russian invasion, urges Americans to support Biden's response

Former President Barack Obama on Thursday blasted Russia's "illegal" invasion into Ukraine and urged "every American, regardless of party," to support Biden's efforts to impose sanctions.

Obama, in a written statement, also said that whatever international economic consequences that arise from sanctions against Russia are a "price we should be willing to pay to take a stand on the side of freedom."

"For over the long term, we all face a choice, between a world in which might makes right and autocrats are free to impose their will through force, or a world in which free people everywhere have the power to determine their own future," he said.

Putin using false 'Nazi' narrative in attack on Ukraine, experts say

Putin peddled accusations of Nazi elements within Ukraine on Thursday to justify the Russian attack, a move that experts slammed as slanderous and false.

In announcing he had launched Russian forces against key Ukrainian military and logistics posts, Putin said he's striving for "the demilitarization and denazification" of the sovereign democracy in Kyiv.

David Harris, the CEO of the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy group, said he's confident that Putin's Nazi narrative "won't work."

"First, Ukraine is led by a Jewish president, who was overwhelmingly chosen by voters in a democratic election. It reflects today's Ukrainian mindset and outlook, a far cry from the past," Harris said. 

"And second, the ones behaving like Nazis are, let's be clear, Putin and his regime. Brazenly invading another country, invoking fake grievances, lying incessantly and denying another nation's right to chart its own destiny are all, yes, taken from the Nazi playbook."

Read the full story here.

Biden declines to say whether he's urging China to help isolate Russia

Biden declined to comment when he was asked whether he was "urging China to help isolate Russia" in his White House address Thursday.

He told reporters he was "not prepared to comment on that at the moment."

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday that the U.S. believes Beijing and Moscow are working together to create a new, "profoundly illiberal" world order. 

Asked by reporters to comment on Russia's invasion earlier Thursday, China's foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, said, "This is perhaps a difference between China and you Westerners. We won't go rushing to a conclusion," according to Reuters.

FAA expands no-fly area for U.S. airlines over Ukraine, Belarus and Russia

Teaganne Finn

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a notice expanding the area in Eastern Europe and Russia in which U.S. airlines and pilots cannot operate. 

The expanded Notices to Air Missions now cover the entire country of Ukraine, the entire country of Belarus and a western part of Russia.

Before the restrictions, the FAA prohibited operations in an eastern region of Ukraine. The restrictions do not apply to military operations.

Biden: 'I'll do everything in my power' to lower gasoline costs

Biden said he'll do everything he can to blunt the impact of rising gasoline costs during his White House address on Thursday, as oil prices climbed following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“I will do everything in my power to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump," the president said. “This is critical to me."

The U.S. will release oil from the Strategic Oil Reserves to reduce the cost of gasoline if it becomes necessary, he added.

Biden says there's 'a complete rupture' in U.S.-Russia relations

Teaganne Finn

Biden said "there is a complete rupture right now" in the relationship between Russia and the U.S. if the Russians continue "on the path they are on." 

“You have the majority of the rest of the world in total opposition of what he [Putin] is doing, from Asia to South America to Europe to around the world," Biden said at a news conference Thursday. "And so it's going to be a cold day for Russia." 

Photos show scenes of fear and chaos in Ukraine after Russian missile strikes

Image:
Alex Lourie / Redux Pictures

The scene outside an apartment building in Chuhuiv.

Image:
Alex Lourie / Redux Pictures

Helena, 53, a teacher, was injured by a falling shard of mirror in Chuhuiv, near Kharkiv.

Image:
Pierre Crom / Getty Images

A resident inside a bomb shelter in Kyiv.

Image:
Emilio Morenatti / AP

Traffic jams as people leave Kyiv.

Image:
Vadim Ghirda / AP

A woman and child peer out of the window of a bus as they leave Sievierodonetsk in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine.

See more photos in our gallery

European leaders not interested in pulling Russia out of SWIFT, Biden says

Pulling Russia out of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, is not an option European leaders are currently pursuing, Biden told reporters on Thursday.

"The sanctions that were proposed on all their banks have equal consequence — maybe more consequences —  than SWIFT number one," Biden said. "Number two, it is always an option. But right now, that's not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take." 

SWIFT is a secure messaging system that links more than 11,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries and territories. Removing Russia from the coalition would prevent the country from making most international transactions but could also hurt other economies.

Biden says additional troops will be sent to Germany

Biden, during his White House address on Thursday, said he had authorized sending additional U.S. forces to Germany to help NATO respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I'm authorizing additional U.S. force capabilities to deploy to Germany as part of NATO's response, including some forces that the Department of Defense placed on standby weeks ago,” he said. 

Putin launched 'greatest threat to European stability since WWII,' Trudeau says

Putin's attack on Ukraine is an attack on the principles of democracy around the world, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a speech reiterating his country's commitment to sanctioning Moscow.

Canada is arranging safe passage for its citizens and permanent residents in Ukraine at the land borders with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova, Trudeau said on Thursday, adding that his government is also prioritizing immigration applications for Ukrainians.

He called the attack on Ukraine "the greatest threat to European stability since World War II" and expressed his country's "unwavering" commitment to human rights. 

"Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected and Ukrainian people — like all people — must be free to determine their own future," Trudeau said. "I want to be clear our quarrel is not with the people of Russia: it is with President Putin and Russian leadership that has enabled and supported this further invasion of Ukraine." 

Biden announces stronger round of sanctions against Russia

Biden on Thursday announced a new, stronger round of sanctions against Russia in response to the nation’s invasion of Ukraine that he said are designed to “maximize the long-term impact” on the country.

“Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences,” Biden said during a speech from the White House.

The sanctions, undertaken in conjunction with U.S. allies, will “stunt the ability to grow and finance” the Russian military and will include new limits on what can be exported to Russia.

The new round of sanctions will target four additional major Russian Banks, including VTB, a state-owned bank in Russia and the second-largest bank in Russia.

The measures will not include removing Russian from SWIFT, Biden said.

Biden added that the U.S. and its allies would add names to the list of Russian elites and their family members” who have already been targeted individually with sanctions.

Chernobyl power plant captured by Russian forces

Teaganne Finn

Russian occupation forces have seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, said Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Minister.

Earlier Thursday, Zelenskyy called Russia’s move to seize the area, which is north of Kyiv near the border of Belarus, “a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.” 

The Chernobyl nuclear accident took place on April 26, 1986, near Pripyat, in the north of the country, which was then part of the Soviet Union. A reactor core fire, sparked by an uncontrolled reaction during a routine test, released radioactive contamination into the air for 10 days. And that contamination rained down on parts of the Soviet Union and Western Europe.

Gabe Piscione

Ukrainian military: Russia attacking from land, air and sea

Graham Lee Brewer

Russian forces continue "to act aggressively along the entire line of the common border," the Ukrainian military reported on Thursday morning, although NBC News has not been able to confirm the government's assertions. 

The Ukrainian government reported conflicts across the region involving tanks and "columns of enemy armored vehicles." The post said the military was fighting with 20 Russian helicopters for control of an airfield in the city of Hostomel, on the outskirts of Kyiv.

The government also reported that a Russian cruiser, “Moscow,” had started shelling Zmiinyi Island.

McConnell says U.S. must ensure Ukrainians are "fully armed," calls for tougher sanctions

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday said that the U.S. must ensure Ukrainians are "fully armed" in the fight against Russian forces as he called for tougher sanctions against Moscow.

“A combination of perception of weakness and a yearning for empire is what led to the war in Ukraine," McConnell told reporters in Louisville, Kentucky. “Ratchet the sanctions all the way up. Don’t hold any back. Every single available sanction should be employed. There’s no such thing as a little invasion.”

He also stressed the importance of ensuring that Ukraine has the military capabilities to counter Russia's aggression. “If the Ukrainians have the willingness to fight, and we’re going to find that out starting today, we need to make sure they’re fully armed and able to use every available weapon that will help inflict maximum damage on the Russian forces," he said.

Videos hint at Russia's military might in Ukraine

Within hours of Putin authorizing military action in Ukraine, dramatic video hinted at the force of Russia's military hardware.

As Russian forces launched what Ukrainian officials described as a “full-scale attack” on their homeland Thursday, footage captured on the ground showed helicopters swooping over cities. Meanwhile, tanks and other military vehicles rolled out onto streets.

In one video verified by NBC News, helicopters could be seen flying toward Antonov Airport in Hostomel, near Kyiv, as heavy smoke swirled on the horizon.

In another video, shot from nearby Vyshhorod, helicopters appear to drop flares as they travel over water and then inland.

More here.

Biden has been presented with options for massive cyberattacks against Russia

Biden has been presented with a menu of options for the U.S. to carry out massive cyberattacks designed to disrupt Russia’s ability to sustain its military operations in Ukraine, four people familiar with the deliberations tell NBC News.

Two U.S. intelligence officials, one Western intelligence official and another person briefed on the matter say no final decisions have been made, but they say U.S. intelligence and military cyber warriors are proposing the use of American cyber weapons on a scale never before contemplated. Among the options: Disrupting internet connectivity across Russia, shutting off electric power, and tampering with railroad switches to hamper Russia’s ability to re-supply its forces, three of the sources said.

“You could do everything from slow the trains down to have them fall off the tracks,” one person briefed on the matter said.

Read more here.

On TikTok, livestreams show protests — and attract scams

Livestreams on TikTok are bringing a first-person view of the conflict from all over Europe — but some of the streams purporting to come from Ukraine appeared to be fake.

Some of the livestreams appear to be authentic, showing crowds gathered in major cities to protest Russian aggression. But other TikTok users are pretending to be in Ukraine, using doctored or dubbed footage of other places in an attempt to solicit followers and monetary donations.  

One account, which called for donations through TikTok, featured a livestream of a line of houses in a residential area as the sounds of gunshots, sirens and people screaming for help could be heard in the background. But that account hours earlier had posted a different angle of the same street in which cars with U.K. license plates were visible. 

Other videos posted to TikTok appear to be recycling old video and passing it off as coming from Ukraine. In one video viewed almost 20 million times on TikTok and posted about two hours after the first reports of shellings in Ukraine, a soldier is seen parachuting out of an airplane. “Bro is recording an invasion,” the top comment reads.

The video is from a training exercise, first posted to an Instagram account by a user with the same username on April 6, 2016. The user on TikTok was seen later on Tuesday livestreaming on his couch.

Schiff calls for increased sanctions against Russia, says he expects bipartisan support

Jacob Fulton

Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said Thursday that the U.S. needs to "dramatically escalate" sanctions against Russia, and expressed support for the country's removal from the SWIFT banking system. 

As countries look to potentially decrease European reliance on Russian energy, Schiff said the conflict should result in the "final death" of Nord Stream 2. 

He also said he expects bipartisan support for any restrictions Biden may look to place against Russia. 

"If there's any authority he doesn't have that he does need for these sanctions, I think he'll get it from Congress," Schiff said.

Families in Kyiv takes shelter in basements and subways: ‘It’s very frightening’

In Kyiv, basements and subway stations have become make-shift bunkers.

Anastasiia Odintsova, 38, told NBC News her family took shelter in the basement of her building when they heard air-raid sirens Thursday.

“It’s very frightening, especially when you have two children and can't explain why Russia shoots at us,” Odintsova said.

Anastasiia Odintsova hides in a basement with her family in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Anastasiia Odintsova hides in a basement with her family in Kyiv, Ukraine.Courtesy Anastasiia Odintsova

She said it was the first time she’s had to use her basement as a bunker.

“It’s not a real shelter for military action, but it is better than our flat,” she said, adding that her children — aged 8 and 15 — were “afraid but don’t want to leave home.”

“We all want to stay in our country, safe and free.”

Czech Republic, Sweden and Poland won't play World Cup qualifiers in Russia

Sweden, Poland and the Czech Republic will not play World Cup qualifying matches in Russia, soccer officials in those nations said Thursday, hours after Moscow's attack on Ukraine.

Visiting Poland is set to play Russia on March 23 and if the hosts win, they'd face off about a week later against the Sweden-Czech Republic playoff winner, also in Russia.

The soccer federations of all three nations said they cannot play in Russia and want matches moved.

"Swedish football is appalled by what we now see unfolding in Ukraine," said the Swedish Football Association, adding that "as the situation now stands, it will be impossible to play a possible playoff match for the World Cup in Moscow against Russia on March 29." 

Ukrainian residents taking shelter in subway stations

People in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, have taken shelter in subway stations that local officials have offered as impromptu bomb shelters amid attacks from Russian forces. 

People take shelter in a Kyiv subway station after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
People take shelter in a Kyiv subway station after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.Viacheslav Ratinskyi / Reuters

Public transportation has come to a halt and turnstiles opened in an offer of refuge, according to NBC News correspondent Matt Bradley. Though the city's mayor has insisted fighting has stopped in the areas surrounding Kharkiv, those taking shelter are cut off from information about what's happening around them.

"It's a really dicey situation, nobody knows exactly what's going on, even right in front of their face," Bradley reported.

U.S. defense official: Russians fired more than 100 missiles in opening phase of invasion

A senior defense official, as part of operational update in the situation in Ukraine, told NBC News that the initial phase of Russia's invasion of Ukraine began around 9:30 p.m. ET, with sea- and land-based missile launches.

More than 100 Russian missiles – including short range ballistic missiles, medium range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, surface to air missiles and sea missiles launched from the Black Sea – were fired in the initial salvo, the official said.

Targets have so far been military and air defenses, barracks, ammunition depots, and 10 airfields, the official said, adding that there is no clear understanding of the level of casualties on either side.

Smoke rise from an air defense base in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Feb. 24, 2022.
Smoke rise from an air defense base in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Feb. 24, 2022.Evgeniy Maloletka / AP

The ground incursion began around 5:00 a.m ET from Belarus, moving northwest to Kyiv. Russian troops parachuted into Kharkiv around the same time.

The full scope of electronic warfare (jamming) and cyberattacks have not come into play yet but still could be used.

Russia will also use cruise missile strikes to target government buildings, including in civilian population centers, the official said, citing the U.S. assessment of Russia’s next moves.

The official said that several U.S. F-35 fighter jets are arriving to the region later Thursday: two to Estonia, two to Lithuania and two to Romania. In addition, 32 Apache helicopters were en route to the region Thursday, but weather may delay the arrival of some.

The official said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have not had any communication with their Russian counterparts since the invasion began.

Putin has 'reintroduced war in Europe,' G-7 says in joint statement

The world leaders of the Group of Seven condemned Putin on Thursday and called on Russia to immediately withdraw its military forces from Ukraine.

"This has fundamentally changed the Euro-Atlantic security situation," the G7 foreign ministers said in a joint statement. "President Putin has reintroduced war to the European continent. He has put himself on the wrong side of history."

The leaders agreed on sanctions in a coordinated stand against Putin and reiterated support for Ukraine, calling Russia's presence in Crimea an "illegal" occupation. They also condemned Belarus' involvement, reminding the country of its "international obligations."

"We call on all partners and members of the international community to condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms, to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, and raise their voice against this blatant violation of the fundamental principles of international peace and security," they said in the statement.

Ukraine invasion jeopardizes U.S.-Russia space cooperation

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is already causing tension in the space community, one of the few global arenas in which the U.S. and Russia still cooperate.

In a statement posted Wednesday on Twitter, Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of Russia’s space agency, hinted at tensions but said he values cooperation with NASA.

“We greatly value our professional relationship with NASA, but as a Russian and a citizen of Russia I am very unhappy with the openly hostile policy of the U.S. towards my country,” Rogozin said, according to a translation.

Rogozin also tweeted “Glory to Russia!” on Monday, after Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a televised speech with misleading claims that Ukraine is “historically Russian land” and false claims the country has fallen into the hands of neo-Nazis and corrupt “puppets” controlled by the West.

NASA said in a statement that the agency is carrying out spaceflight operations as normal: “NASA continues working with Roscosmos and our other international partners in Canada, Europe, and Japan to maintain safe and continuous International Space Station operations.”

Ukraine ambassador calls for more severe sanctions against Russia

Oksana Markarova, Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S., said Thursday that Russia had bombed their airports, warehouses, hospitals and civilian infrastructure. 

Speaking to reporters at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, D.C., Markarova urged the international community to form an "anti-Putin coalition" and called on the West to immediately implement more severe sanctions against Russia.

"The future of the world order depends on this," Markarova said.

Ukraine's Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova speaks at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington on Feb. 24, 2022. Standing at left with Markarova is Maj. Gen. Borys Kremenetskyi, Defense Attache with the Embassy of Ukraine.
Ukraine's Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova speaks at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington on Feb. 24, 2022. Standing at left with Markarova is Maj. Gen. Borys Kremenetskyi, Defense Attache with the Embassy of Ukraine.Patrick Semansky / AP

Markarova also asked for more help with defensive capabilities and humanitarian assistance, but said that Ukraine does not "expect anyone to fight for us."

She also said that a Russian platoon has surrendered to Ukraine's military after the Russian troops, she said, claimed to be unaware that they were being brought to the country to kill Ukrainians.

NBC has not been able to verify that claim. 

"We are protecting our home and we will not stop," Markarova said.

Russian disinformation, propaganda ramp up as conflict in Ukraine grows

Russia’s effort to spread disinformation and propaganda across the internet and through foreign and domestic media about its invasion of Ukraine started weeks ago — and it’s expected to ramp up now that the conflict has begun.

Disinformation experts say that they have seen a concerted effort from Russian leaders and state-backed media to push a false narrative around the reasons for invading Ukraine, and that they expect that to continue as both international pressure and even some domestic Russian resistance to war grows.

“We’re going to see a huge onslaught,” said Jane Lytvynenko, senior research fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. “And we need to be prepared for that.”

Lytvynenko said people should be prepared for a wide variety of disinformation and propaganda, including the use of authentic images and video to push false narratives.

Read the full story here.

Ukraine president warns Russian forces attempting to seize Chernobyl nuclear facility

Russia isolated as 'Iron Curtain' falls down, Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered citizens details of military resistance in his latest update on Thursday, while continuing to urge Russian citizens to push back in protest against Putin. 

Zelenskyy praised the work of Ukrainian forces at the Russian border while calling the fight in the southern part of the nation "complicated" in remarks posted on Telegram. He also expressed optimism in his country's defense.

"The sounds that we hear today are not only missile strikes, explosions and rockets — it’s the sound of the Iron Curtain falling down and closing Russia from the other civilized world," Zelenskyy said.

He renewed calls for Ukrainian citizens to aid territorial defense forces, asking anyone with military experience to offer themselves in the effort. Switching to Russian, Zelenskyy spoke of the sanctions he has asked for from world leaders in retaliation to Putin's military operation. He urged Russians to voice their dissent and called the suggested sanctions "the most powerful" in world history.

"I want you to stand your case in the Red Square and big streets in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities of Russia. Not just on the Instagram," Zelenskyy said. "Russia is now being isolated from the rest of the world."

U.S. defense official: Russians 'making a move' on Kyiv

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has so far focused on three main axes of assault – all of which have been assessed to have the intention of taking key population centers – and Putin's forces are "making a move on Kyiv," a senior defense official told NBC News.

The first axis is a south-to-north approach from Crimea to Kherson; the second axis is a north-central to south approach from Belarus to Kyiv; and the third axis is a northeast to south approach occurring around Kharkiv, where the heaviest fighting is currently occurring, the official said.

The official disclosed the information as part of an operational update on the situation in Ukraine.

Russia is “making a move on Kyiv,” the official said, adding that the the U.S. assessment of Putin’s actions indicate that Russia has “every intention of basically decapitating the government and installing their own method of governance.”

“We have not been surprised so far with what we have seen them do,” the official said. “It is very much in line with what was expected.”

Russia’s actions so far indicate that its invasion is still only in its initial phase, the official said. Russia’s military operation will include multiple phases, but the U.S. does not currently know how many phases the invasion will include – or how long the phases will take.

SWIFT banking system could be used as sanction against Russia. What is it?

In recent weeks, President Joe Biden has threatened Russian President Vladimir Putin with "severe economic consequences" and sanctions like "he's never seen" if Russia invades Ukraine.

Now, with Putin taking military action against Ukraine, Biden and U.S. allies may consider imposing one of the harshest financial penalties against Russia: kicking it out of the SWIFT banking system.

But doing so, which some financial analysts have likened to a "nuclear option," would be an unprecedented move against one of the world's largest economies.

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, is a cooperative of financial institutions formed in 1973 and headquartered in Belgium. It is overseen by the National Bank of Belgium with cooperation from other major central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve System, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank.

Read the full story here.

White House: Biden's meeting with G7 has concluded

Sally Bronston

Jason Abbruzzese and Sally Bronston

A meeting of the world leaders of the Group of Seven — Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — concluded at 10:27 a.m., a White House official told NBC News. The meeting also included Charles Michel, the head of the European Council, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The call, which started at 9:17 a.m. and lasted just over an hour, was convened to discuss a joint response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a White House official said.

Biden to announce new 'consequences' for Russia

President Joe Biden is expected to announce "further consequences" for Russia in a speech at the White House on Thursday afternoon, including additional sanctions.

"Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable," Biden said in a statement Wednesday evening.

The president is expected to speak at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Biden announced a narrow round of sanctions against Russia on Tuesday after Putin moved troops into Moscow-backed breakaway regions in the eastern part of Ukraine, hoping to deter the Russian leader from launching a large-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Read more about his speech on NBCNews.com.

Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden meets with the National Security Council in the White House Situation Room on Feb. 24, 2022.White House

Kyiv mayor announces curfew for capital, metro stations will be open as shelters

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Kyiv's mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said that the capital will be under a curfew Thursday from 10:00 p.m. local time until 7 a.m. 

"This is a necessary step, but in the current conditions of military aggression and martial law, necessary for the safety of the capital's residents," the mayor said on his Telegram channel.

Public transport will not operate during curfew, but metro stations will be available as shelters around the clock, the mayor said.

"We ask all Kyiv citizens to return home on time," he added. "If you need to move around the city during the curfew, in particular, employees of critical infrastructure companies, you must have identification documents."

Molodova's president welcomes Ukrainians fleeing conflict

Maia Sandu, Molodova's president, said Thursday that its borders are open to Ukrainians fleeing Russia's invasion.

Sandu added that her government has set up "temporary placement centers" to help Ukrainians and that there were "over 4,000 crossings today."

Scenes from Ukraine as conflict with Russia escalates

Images from Thursday show fear and chaos in Ukraine after Russia launched what Ukraine said was a "full-scale attack."

AFP via Getty Images; AP

Photos in order: A woman prays in Kyiv; Ukrainian military vehicles move past Independence Square in Kyiv; a Ukrainian military truck burns at an air defense base in Mariupol; police inspect an area after an apparent strike in Kyiv; a woman waits for a train trying to leave Kyiv; the body of a rocket in a apartment after shelling on the northern outskirts of Kharkiv.

'This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe': Zelenskyy warns Russia is trying to seize Chernobyl

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday that Russian forces are trying to seize the defunct and contaminated Chernobyl nuclear power plant north of Kyiv near the border of Belarus. 

"Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated," Zelenskyy tweeted, referring to the 1986 incident in which the power plant's reactor building exploded, causing the release of large amounts of radiation into the air.

Zelenskyy said that he reported the situation to the Swedish prime minister. 

"This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe," Zelenskyy tweeted. 

Earlier in the day, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister wrote on Facebook that Russians breached the Ukrainian border from Belarus into the Chernobyl Zone. 

The adviser, Anton Gerashchenko, said the National Guard of Ukraine, which guards the storage of unsafe radioactive waste, was fiercely resisting.

"If the occupiers' artillery strikes hit the nuclear waste storage facility, radioactive dust may cover the territories of Ukraine, Belarus and the EU countries," Gerashchenko wrote.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is an area with a more than 18-mile radius around the former nuclear power plant. Areas of Belarus and Ukraine are contaminated by the radioactive fallout, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The zone is largely uninhabited. 

White House: Biden's meeting with G7 leaders has started

Sally Bronston

Sally Bronston and Adam Edelman

Biden's virtual meeting with G7 leaders began at 9:17 a.m. ET, a White House official told NBC News.

Biden and the G7 leaders are meeting to discuss their joint response to Putin's attack on Ukraine.

Biden will speak to the American public later Thursday to announce how the U.S. and its allies will further respond to Russia's invasion.

Chinese and Russian foreign ministers speak by phone

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke by phone on Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Chinese state media reported.

Wang told Lavrov that Beijing "always respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries," according to a statement published by CCTV, China's state broadcaster. He also said the Ukrainian issue has a "complex and special history" and that China understands Russia's "legitimate concerns" on security issues.

In a reference to NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance that Ukraine has expressed interest in joining, Wang said that the "Cold War mentality" should be completely abandoned and a "balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism" should be established through dialogue and negotiation.

NBC News

Emergency personnel work at the crash site of a Ukrainian military plane south of Kyiv on Thursday.

Image: TOPSHOT-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CONFLICT
Ukraine Emergency Ministry Press Service / AFP - Getty Images

U.S. moves six F-35 aircraft to Baltic Sea, Black Sea regions from Germany

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Six U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft moved to the Baltic Sea and Black Sea regions Thursday from their base in Germany, U.S. Air Forces in Europe announced

The Air Force said the aircraft will support NATO's collective defense and have "unprecedented communication capabilities, command and control, and lethality for the combined and joint force."

"These capabilities afford NATO leaders the flexibility to project power and assert air dominance in highly contested environments," the Air Force said. 

It said that the aircraft, assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron, will be operating out of air bases in Estonia, Lithuania and Romania. 

4 people killed after Russian shell hits hospital, Ukraine says

Anastasiia Parafeniuk

Chantal Da Silva and Anastasiia Parafeniuk

At least four people were killed when a Russian shell hit a hospital in Vuhledar in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine Thursday.

Ukraine's interior ministry said on its Telegram channel that the shell had struck the facility, with at least 10 other people left injured in the attack. Six doctors were among those injured, it said.

European Commission president promises harsh sanctions aimed at Russia's economy

President Vladimir Putin “ordered atrocious acts of aggression against a sovereign and independent country and innocent people,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday, unveiling plans for a new package of sanctions to punish Russia.

Putin “chose to bring war back to Europe,” she said in a news conference. “In a determined and united response the European Union will make it as difficult as possible for the Kremlin to pursue its aggressive actions.”

She added that she would present a package of “massive and targeted sanctions” to European leaders for their approval on Thursday.

These sanctions “will harshly limit Russia’s access to the capital markets” and have a “heavy impact,” she said, adding that they “would suppress Russia’s economic growth,” and cut off access to new technology including high tech components and cutting edge software. 

“Let me be very clear, it is President Putin who will have to explain this to his citizens,” she said. “I know that the Russian people do not want this war.” 

Biden convenes National Security Council in White House Situation Room

Sally Bronston

Sally Bronston and Adam Edelman

President Joe Biden convened a National Security Council meeting Thursday morning in the White House Situation Room to discuss the latest developments in Ukraine, a White House official told NBC News.

Biden previously said he will speak to the American public later Thursday "to announce the further consequences the United States and our Allies and partners will impose on Russia for this needless act of aggression against Ukraine and global peace and security."

 

NBC News

Bush: Invasion is 'gravest security crisis on the European continent since World War II'

Former President George W. Bush on Thursday called Russia's invasion of Ukraine "the gravest security crisis on the European continent since World War II" and ripped Russian leader Vladimir Putin for "authoritarian bullying."

"I join the international community in condemning Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine. The American government and people must stand in solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people as they seek freedom and the right to choose their own future," Bush added.

"We cannot tolerate the authoritarian bullying and danger that Putin poses," Bush said. "Ukraine is our friend and democratic ally and deserves our full support during this most difficult time."

Sen. Mark Warner warns that Russia's cyberattacks on Ukraine could draw NATO states into broader war

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a pair of interviews he’s concerned that Russia’s cyberattacks on Ukraine could expand and ensnare NATO nations, including the U.S., into a broader war.

Warner, in interviews with Axios Wednesday night and CBS News Thursday morning, suggested that Russia’s cyberattacks inside Ukraine could quickly spiral out of control, damaging digital assets outside the country as they spread, including those inside NATO member states, which could trigger NATO’s collective defense principle.

“One of the things that I'm gravely concerned about is if Russia unleashes its full cyber power against Ukraine; once you put malware into the wild in a sense, it knows no geographic boundary. So if the Russians decide they're going to try to turn off the power, turn off all the electricity all across Ukraine, very likely that may turn off the power in eastern Poland, in eastern Romania. That could affect our troops. If suddenly hospitals are shut down, if those NATO troops, American troops somehow have a car accident because the stop lights don't work, we are suddenly in an area, hypothetically an Article Five, where one NATO country is attacked, we all have to come to each other's aid,” Warner told CBS News.

“If Russia launched 100 pieces, 1,000 pieces of malware in an attack against NATO or Ukraine, that might bleed into NATO nations, we are in totally unpredictable territory,” he said.

Under NATO’s Article 5 Collective Defense principle, an attack on one member state is considered an attack against all member states. According to a 2021 NATO communique, the organization said it would determine “on a case-by-case basis” whether Article 5 could be triggered by a cyberattack.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly said he would not send U.S. combat troops into Ukraine.

NBC News

Ukrainian servicemen get ready to repel an attack in Ukraine's Lugansk region on Thursday.

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CONFLICT
Anatolii Stepanov / AFP via Getty Images

Former NATO Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis warns Russia may try to capture Zelenskyy

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis said in an interview on NBC's "TODAY" Thursday that he thinks Russia is going to try to capture Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

"I think he’s gonna go full-bore, get to Kyiv, try and capture Zelenskyy," Stavridis said about Putin. 

The U.S. has to protect Zelenskyy and "figure out a way for him to have a government in exile, arm a Ukrainian resistance," he said. "We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us."

Stavridis warned he thinks this will be an "extensive campaign" and described the military strategy as being from "Military War College 101."

"Start with assaults that take out the air defense, take out the command and control, back it up with a cyber-attack, move your shock troops forward, your tank columns, all that’s in place, it’s been building for months," he said. "There’s really no mystery here."

Stavridis served as Supreme Allied Commander Europe from 2009 to 2013. 

NBC News

No U.S. diplomatic personnel in Ukraine

Abigail Williams

U.S. Embassy in Kyiv personnel did not drive back across the border from Poland to Ukraine on Thursday, a U.S. official confirmed to NBC News.

Since Monday, at Washington’s direction, the U.S. diplomatic personnel had been spending the night in Poland and driving into Lviv each morning to continue diplomatic engagement and emergency consular work. 

NBC News

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemns Putin's 'hideous and barbaric venture'

Russia's attack on Ukraine is a "hideous and barbaric venture" that "must end in failure," Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a televised address to the nation Thursday. 

"We have Ukrainian friends in this country, neighbors, co-workers," he said. "Ukraine is a country that for decades has enjoyed freedom and democracy, and the right to choose its own destiny." 

"We and the world cannot allow that freedom just to be snuffed out," he added. "We cannot and will not just look away."

Together with its allies, he said the U.K. on Thursday, would "agree a massive package of economic sanctions designed in time to hobble the Russian economy." 

"Our mission is clear," he added. "Diplomatically, politically, economically, and eventually, militarily, this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure."

Russian forces make breakthrough in Kyiv region, Ukraine says

Russian forces have made a breakthrough in the Kyiv region, breaking through the state border, Ukraine's Ministry of the Interior said. 

In a post to its Telegram channel, the ministry said Russian military personnel had entered through the Vilcha checkpoint, which is less than 100 miles north of the capital.

"Border guards together with the Ukrainian military accepted the battle," it said. 

Biden to speak to American people; Congress calls for powerful sanctions on Russia

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

President Joe Biden is expected to meet with his G7 counterparts Thursday morning and then will address the American people to detail how the U.S. will respond to Russia. 

Biden said in a statement Wednesday evening that he was monitoring the situation from the White House and would get regular updates from his national security team.

He said he will speak to the American public "to announce the further consequences the United States and our Allies and partners will impose on Russia for this needless act of aggression against Ukraine and global peace and security."

Many members of Congress struck a bipartisan tone and condemned Putin's decision to invade Ukraine,  calling for swift and powerful sanctions on Russia. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Putin’s “unprovoked attack” has underscored the need to blacklist the Russian president and “expel the current Kremlin leadership from the international community.”

“Today must mark a historical shift in how the world views and deals with the despot in Moscow,” Menendez said.

Some Republicans blamed the attack on Ukraine on Biden, arguing that he didn't do enough in terms of sanctions to prevent the invasion. 

After weeks of waiting, Ukrainians face Russia's terrifying might

Image: Russia Starts Large-Scale Attack On Ukraine
People wait for buses as they attempt to evacuate the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Thursday.Pierre Crom / Getty Images

Ukrainians are facing the terrifying force of a deadly Russian onslaught, which has turned weeks of quiet fears into reality.

Air raid sirens wailed across Ukraine's capital Kyiv Thursday as explosions boomed and flashed in cities across the country minutes after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military action against its western neighbor.

At the same time, long lines snaked outside of ATMs, supermarkets and gas stations in cities such as Kyiv and Mariupol as people scrambled to prepare for what was coming. 

Residents told NBC News of how their lives have been turned upside down overnight, with communities across the country gripped with "severe panic."

Read full story here.

NBC News

NATO calls Russian attack 'unjustified and unprovoked,' deploys extra forces

NATO called Russia’s attack on Ukraine “entirely unjustified and unprovoked” in a statement on Thursday. 

“This renewed attack is a grave violation of international law, including the UN Charter,” said the North Atlantic Council. “It constitutes an act of aggression against an independent peaceful country.”

NATO has reiterated its support for the sovereignty of Ukraine as well as its territorial waters. It called on Russia to “immediately cease its military action and withdraw all its forces” and to “allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access and assistance to all persons in need.”

It also announced additional defensive land, sea, and air forces to be deployed in the eastern flank of NATO near Ukraine and Russia which it called as “preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory” measures.

“It is Russia, and Russia alone, which has chosen escalation,” the statement said.

Russia aims to neutralize Ukraine's 'military potential,' Kremlin spokesman says

Tatyana Chistikova

Chantal Da Silva and Tatyana Chistikova

Russia said Thursday its aim to is to neutralize Ukraine's "military potential." 

In a briefing, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia's attack on Ukraine was "dictated only by our national interests and concern for the future."

"These are the only goals," he said.  "No one talks about occupation, this word does not apply here. Russia’s aim is neutralization of Ukraine’s military potential."

World leaders condemn Russian attacks in 'Europe's darkest hour'

Rhoda Kwan

World leaders have joined President Joe Biden in his condemnation of Russia's attacks on Ukraine and vowed to hold Moscow accountable.

In Europe, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz all criticized military action, as did the leaders of Ukraine's neighbors in Poland and Romania. 

Elsewhere, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the attack "egregious" and the prime ministers of Australia and Japan voiced their disapproval.  

Read full story here

At least 40 Ukrainian soldiers killed, presidential adviser says

Oksana Parafeniuk

Chantal Da Silva and Oksana Parafeniuk
Image: UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CONFLICT
Ukrainian military vehicles move past Independence square in central Kyiv on Thursday.Daniel Leal / AFP - Getty Images

Dozens of Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the midst of Russia's attack, an adviser to the Ukrainian president's office has said.

Oleksiy Arestovych said Thursday that at least 40 soldiers had been killed in the hours since Russia launched its assault. Arestovych said most of the fatalities were caused by airstrikes and rocket strikes in the morning.

He said that less than 10 civilians were also reported to have been killed.  

Russia has launched 'full-scale attack' from 'multiple directions,' Ukraine's foreign minister says

Image: Russia Starts Large-Scale Attack On Ukraine
People examine the damage caused by a rocket to a building in Kyiv on Thursday.Chris McGrath / Getty Images

Ukraine's foreign minister has sounded the alarm that Russia's attack has quickly evolved into a "full-scale attack from multiple directions." 

"No, this is not a Russian invasion only in the east of Ukraine, but a full-scale attack from multiple directions," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet Thursday morning.

Still, he said, "the Ukrainian defense has not collapsed."

"Ukrainian army took the fight. Ukraine stands with both feet on the ground & continues to defend itself," he said. 

China avoids calling Russian action an 'invasion'

China on Thursday repeated its call for all parties involved in the situation in Ukraine to exercise restraint.

“We still hope that parties concerned will not shut the door to peace and engage instead in dialogue and consultation and prevent the situation from further escalation,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular news briefing.

Hua rejected a reporter's description of Russia’s predawn military operation as an “invasion.” 

She also responded to comments by Ned Price, the U.S. State Department spokesman, who suggested on Wednesday that since China often promotes the principle of sovereignty, it should use its "considerable influence and sway" with Russia to persuade Putin to back down.

"The U.S. is not in a position to tell China how to respect national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Hua said, citing what she said was interference by the U.S. and its allies on Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other of China's "internal affairs."

NBC News

Kyiv resident and journalist Volodymyr Yermolenko described hearing explosions in the capital and said Ukrainians will fight Russian aggression.

Zelenskyy says Ukraine has severed diplomatic relations with Russia, comparing attack to WW2

Ukraine has officially severed diplomatic relations with Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced Thursday morning as he called on Russians to protest the attack on Ukraine, comparing it to the Second World War. 

"For all those who have not yet lost their conscience in Russia, it is time to go out and protest against the war with Ukraine," he said in a tweet.

"Russia treacherously attacked our state in the morning, as Nazi Germany did in #2WW years," he said in a separate post. "As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history."

Russia, he said "has embarked on a path of evil," while Ukraine "is defending itself & won't give up its freedom no matter what Moscow thinks."

In a separate statement, Zelenskyy said Ukraine would "lift sanctions on all citizens of Ukraine who are ready to defend our country as part of territorial defense with weapons in hands."

"We will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country. Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities," he said in another post.

Lithuania and Moldova announce states of emergency

Lithuania and Moldova — two countries close to Ukraine — are introducing a state of emergency, their presidents said Thursday.

“Today I will sign a decree on introducing the state of emergency, which will passed by the Parliament in an extraordinary session,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said in an address on Thursday morning.

He called Russia’s actions “unprovoked military aggression” which threaten “millions of innocent lives and undermines the foundations of international order.”

The president has reiterated that “Lithuania is safe” as a part of NATO and said the Baltic state would consider further sanctions on Belarus over its involvement.

Moldova, which is not a part of NATO, is ready to accept the thousands of people feeling from Ukraine, said President Maia Sandu.“We will help people who need our help and support,” she said on Thursday.

Ukrainian military says battles unfolding in Kharkiv and Kherson regions

Airstrikes hit Chuhuiv, Ukraine
Ukrainian firefighters try to extinguish a fire after an airstrike hit an apartment complex in Chuhuiv, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine on Thursday.Wolfgang Schwan / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Battles are unfolding across Ukraine, the country's armed forces said Thursday, with fighting ongoing in both the Kharkiv and Kherson regions. 

"Heavy fighting is taking place in the Kharkiv area and in the area of the Joint Forces operation, where the enemy has suffered casualties and equipment," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in an operational note Thursday morning. 

Meanwhile, the operational note said the situation "in the Kherson direction is difficult, but Ukraine's defense forces are repelling the aggressor." 

Ukraine's military said earlier Thursday that at least 50 Russian troops had been killed near a town in Luhansk region, while a total of at least four Russian tanks were destroyed near the eastern city of Kharkiv, it said. 

In addition, Ukraine said a sixth plane of the armed forces of Russia was destroyed in the Kramatorsk region Thursday. 

Russia has denied reports of aircraft and armored vehicles being destroyed, according to Reuters.

Zelenskyy calls for unity among Europeans in call with Macron

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for unity among Europeans and "multiple interventions to support Ukraine" in a Thursday morning phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, the Élysée Palace said in a statement.

The palace said Macron spoke to Zelenskyy at around 8 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET). 

It said Macron assured his Ukrainian counterpart of "France's full support and solidarity" and said the French president had triggered a defense council with cabinet ministers and advisors later Thursday morning.

NBC News

NBC News

Cars queue in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday as people scramble to leave the city following the launch of Russian military action.

Image:
Emilio Morenatti / AP

Ukraine's defense minister says 'anyone who is ready and able to hold a weapon' can join forces

Tanks move into the city, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized military operation in eastern Ukraine, in Mariupol
Tanks move towards the city of Mariupol in south eastern Ukraine, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation on Thursday.Carlos Barria / Reuters

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov has called on "anyone who is ready and able to hold a weapon" to join the country's defense forces after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military operation targeting eastern Ukraine.

"Dear compatriots! The enemy is attacking, but our army is invincible," Reznikov said in a Facebook post Thursday morning. "Ukraine is entering a regime of total defense."

"Anyone who is ready and able to hold a weapon can just now join the ranks of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in your region," he said. 

The defense minister directed those looking to obtain weapons to contact the brigades and battalions of troop forces in their area. 

"You only need to have a passport," he said, as he called for "death to the Russian occupiers" and "glory to Ukraine."

Military facilities in Kyiv, across Ukraine hit in missile strikes, interior ministry says

Image: UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CONFLICT
Black smoke rises from a military airport in Chuguyev near Kharkiv, Ukraine on Thursday.Aris Messinis / AFP - Getty Images

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry and state emergency services said early Thursday that missiles struck a number of facilities in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Dnipro. 

Among the facilities hit were the center of the Military Administration, military depots and airfields, with shelling also reported at border areas. 

The interior ministry said one of its facilities of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine in Kyiv had been hit, saying it was likely struck by missile weapons. 

It also said the Ivano-Frankivsk International Airport in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, was being destroyed by missile systems, with an airport in Lutsk, a city on the Styr River in northwestern Ukraine, being targeted by shelling. 

Press agency photos showed smoke rising from a military airport in Chuguyev near Kharkiv — Ukraine's interior ministry confirmed the airport had been hit.

Ukraine announces first casualties: 6 dead in Odessa bombing

At least six people were killed and seven others wounded in a bombing in the southern Odessa region, according to Ukraine's General Office of the National Police

The casualties occurred in the city of Podolsk as Russian forces continue military operations in Ukraine. It's the first announcement of any casualties as the situation in the region unfolds Thursday.

Conditions on the seven people injured in the bombing are not yet clear. There are 19 people unaccounted for in the bombing, authorities said.

Oil prices jump as Russia launches attack on Ukraine

Joanna Tan, CNBC

Abigail Ng, CNBC

Joanna Tan, CNBC and Abigail Ng, CNBC

Oil prices popped more than 5 percent on news that Russia was launching a military attack in Ukraine.

U.S. crude futures jumped by 5.23 percent to trade at $96.92 per barrel. Brent crude futures were up 5.4 percent at $102.07 per barrel, crossing the $100 level for the first time since 2014.

Natural gas prices surged 5.39 percent. Spot gold, traditionally seen as a safe-haven asset, rose 1.82 percent and last traded at $1,942.21.

Read more here

Video shows tanks entering Ukraine from Belarus border

A live video stream broadcast online by the Ukrainian government showed tanks and armored vehicles entering the country from Belarus early Thursday.

The surveillance footage, from the Senkivka border checkpoint about 140 miles north of Kyiv, showed a procession of tanks entering Ukraine. The Ukrainian armed forces said earlier on Thursday that they had destroyed two Russian tanks.

Ukraine says it destroyed 2 Russian tanks

Doha Madani and Reuters

Two Russian tanks were destroyed Thursday as Ukrainian forces faced Russian military operations in the country, Kyiv's military said. 

Ukraine’s defense ministry added that it had also taken down “several trucks” in addition to the tanks. NBC News has not confirmed the claims, and Russian news agencies denied previous reports from Ukrainian officials that its planes had been shot down by Ukraine’s military.  

Russian forces have made attacks on what appeared to be strategic military targets over the past several hours.

Behind the scenes at the White House

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Elyse Perlmutter-Gumbiner

Peter Alexander, Mike Memoli and Elyse Perlmutter-Gumbiner

The first inkling that an invasion may have been underway came Wednesday night as top White House deputies from key agencies were called to gather for a meeting around 8:40 p.m. local time, multiple officials told NBC News.

As reports started pouring in that explosions were heard in eastern Ukraine, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan huddled with White House communications director Kate Bedingfield inside the West Wing. The two helped finalize President Joe Biden’s statement.

Shortly before midnight, a White House official told NBC News that Biden had been briefed via secure call by Secretary of State Blinken, Defense Secretary Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley and Sullivan. Minutes later, Biden spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, according to a U.S. official. 

Biden announced that the U.S, and its allies and partners would be imposing “severe sanctions” on Russia. A White House official said they would be significant new actions to punish Russia, but would not say that the U.S. would unload every financial penalty in its arsenal.

Putin wants war with entire 'Democratic world,' Zelenskyy warns

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the civilians to remain calm as Russian forces attacked the country Thursday, promising to start an "anti-Putin" coalition with fellow world leaders. 

Zelenskyy said that the country was not only being attacked by bombs "but also by fakes" and promised to give residents regular updates as the situation unfolds. He did not offer additional information to allegations about fake attacks;.

"It’s important to get your truth from the official sources," Zelenskyy said. "Today Russia has started invasion into Ukraine, Putin has started a war with Ukraine and with all the democratic world. He wants to destroy our country, he wants to destroy everything we have overcome, everything live for." 

He added that he has asked world leaders to impose sanctions against Putin and for military support against Russia. 

"We have to save a democratic world and we will do this," he said. "Glory to Ukraine!"

Baltic states call for 'strongest possible sanctions' against Russia

Rhoda Kwan

The foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have jointly called for the "strongest possible sanctions" on Russia after its attack against Ukraine, including disengaging Russia from SWIFT, the international payment system, and isolating the country politically. 

"This act of agression[sic] is not acceptable, its a blatant violation of the international law, of all international norms and a crime against Ukrainian people that we condemn," the three ministers said in a statement posted on Facebook and Twitter read on Thursday.  

The officials also pledged to provide military assistance for the people of Ukraine to defend themselves, as well as economic, financial and political support and humanitarian aid. 

“In this difficult moment we stand united with the people of Ukraine… We support you and do anything possible so that agressor[sic] will pay a highest possible price," the statement said. 

German leader Scholz: 'A dark day for Europe'

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that Russia's attack on Ukraine was a blatant violation of international law.

"There is no justification for it. Germany condemns this reckless act by President Putin in the strongest possible terms. Our solidarity is with Ukraine and its people," Scholz said in a statement early Thursday.

He called for Russia to immediately stop its military action. "This is a terrible day for Ukraine and a dark day for Europe," Scholz said.

He was among many Western leaders to condemn Russia's military actions, with calls for harsh sanctions to follow. 

Scholz on Tuesday took the first steps to suspend certification for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in response to Russia's actions earlier this week.

Ukraine President Zelenskyy speaks with world leaders about 'anti-Putin coalition'

Anjali Huynh

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he had spoken with other world leaders about measures to stop Russian attacks and build an "anti-Putin coalition" in a tweet issued early Thursday morning.

Zelenskyy specified that he talked to President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, European Council President Charles Michel, Poland President Andrzej Duda and United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson about "immediate sanctions, defense and financial support."

"Close the airspace! The world must force [Russia] into peace," he wrote.

State Department issues security alert for U.S. citizens in Ukraine

The U.S. Department of State has issued a security alert to American citizens in Ukraine, warning them to seek cover and prepare to shelter in place. 

The State Department said in the alert that the U.S. government will not be able to evacuate citizens from Ukraine, and encouraged citizens to remain vigilant. 

"Further Russian military action can occur at any time without warning. U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine are strongly encouraged to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness," the memo said.

The memo encouraged citizens to know where to go to seek shelter and what to do in the aftermath of an attack.

"Know the location of your closest shelter or protected space. In the event of mortar and/or rocket fire, follow the instructions from local authorities and seek shelter immediately," the alert said. "If you feel that your current location is no longer safe, you should carefully assess the potential risks involved in moving to a different location."

The State Department also said it has suspended consular operations in Lviv following the suspension of consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv two weeks ago.

U.S. citizens requiring consular services, including passports and visas, have been instructed to visit American embassies in neighboring countries like Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. 

Ukrainian officials say they have shot down Russian planes

Ukraine's military is reporting that it has shot down five Russian planes and a helicopter Thursday as it fends on attacks across the country. NBC has not confirmed. 

"The opponent is taking the losses," the defense ministry said. "Keep calm and believe in Ukrainian defenders." 

The country's airspace is currently shut down to civilian traffic. The defense ministry also reported having shot down a Russian plane in an "area of environmental protection" that appeared to be separate from the other five planes. 

Polish prime minister: 'Europe and the free world has to stop Putin'

Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister of Poland, Ukraine's neighbor to the west, has called for an immediate response to what he called Russia's "criminal aggression."

"Europe and the free world has to stop Putin," he said in a tweet Thursday morning as countries surrounding Ukraine closely watch the unfolding conflict.

Morawiecki, a nationalist who has often clashed with the European political establishment, said the European Council meeting scheduled for Thursday "should approve fiercest possible sanctions."

Twitter publishes security advice in Ukrainian, Russian

Twitter on Thursday published updated advice in Ukrainian, Russian and English on how people can secure their accounts while in conflict zones. 

In a series of tweets from @TwitterSafety, the San Francisco-based tech company said it was important for users to be aware of settings such as how to set a strong password, how to keep location information private and how to delete an account if a user wants to for safety reasons. 

The tweets did not say whether the company was aware of specific accounts being compromised in connection to with the Russia-Ukraine crisis, but the social media network has been a battleground for views and information about the conflict.

On Wednesday, Twitter reinstated several accounts that had been documenting Russia's military actions, after saying it had removed them accidentally. 

House to receive unclassified briefing call on Ukraine on Thursday

The House will receive an all-member unclassified briefing call from key Biden administration officials on Thursday on the situation in Ukraine, two sources familiar with the planning told NBC News.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are expected to be briefers, the sources said, adding that the call is expected to follow a separate unclassified briefing for senators.

The all-member Senate call has been scheduled for 5 p.m. on Thursday, a Senate aide told NBC News Wednesday.

Bitcoin, U.S. futures markets down sharply as Russia attacks Ukraine

Bitcoin, American futures and the Japanese Nikkei stock index all slumped following news that Russia had launched a military operation in Ukraine. 

The value of Bitcoin had dropped 8.63 percent over 24 hours by 12:30 a.m. Thursday, with the sharpest drop concurrent to Putin's announcement. Dow Jones and Standards & Poor futures were down just less than 2 percent, while NASDAQ futures had slipped about 2.4 percent.

During active trading, the Nikkei index had fallen 2 percent at the same time, half an hour before the close of trading. 

Moscow's exchange halted trading Thursday as the value of the ruble dropped, according to the Financial Times.

  

Ukraine says Russian troops attacked border units with help from Belarus

Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs said Russian troops attacked Ukrainian border units and checkpoints with help from Belarus on Wednesday evening. Ukraine shares a border with Belarus to its north and with Russia to the east.

NBC News has not confirmed the attacks, and Ukrainian officials did not disclose any casualties. 

"This is happening within Luhansk, Sumy, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Zhytomyr regions," the ministry said. "In addition, the attack takes place from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea." 

Ukrainian armed forces and national guard are working to support border guards, and will fire "at the enemy" as needed, the ministry noted. 

Boris Johnson affirms support for Ukraine on call with Zelenskyy

Jacob Fulton

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the Russian military's attacks on Ukraine, the Prime Minister's Office said Thursday. 

The leaders discussed the current state of the attacks, and Johnson told Zelenskyy "the West would not stand by," according to the office. 

Johnson said he was appalled by the attacks, and hoped Ukraine would resist. 

Explosions, sirens heard in Kyiv as Russia launches attacks on key Ukrainian cities

Russia launched attacks on multiple cities in Ukraine on Wednesday evening, a decisive escalation after months of military buildup that stirred dire warnings from the United States and its allies.

NBC News reporters in the central capital of Kyiv and the northeast city of Kharkiv reported hearing loud explosions or thuds just minutes after Putin said in a public address that he had authorized a military action against Ukraine. Journalists in other cities also reported hearing explosions.

Putin said he was taking action to “demilitarize” Ukraine because the West had pushed too far in trying to draw the country into the NATO alliance and had threatened Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine.

“I urge you to immediately lay down your weapons and go home,” Putin said, speaking to Ukrainian soldiers during a special televised address. 

Read more here

Justin Trudeau condemns Russia’s 'egregious attack' on Ukraine

Anjali Huynh

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced Russia's "egregious attack" on Ukraine and called on Moscow to immediately halt "all hostile and provocative actions" in a statement issued Wednesday night.

“Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia’s egregious attack on Ukraine," Trudeau said. "These unprovoked actions are a clear further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They are also in violation of Russia’s obligations under international law and the Charter of the United Nations."

“Canada calls on Russia to immediately cease all hostile and provocative actions against Ukraine and withdraw all military and proxy forces from the country," he added. “Russia’s actions will be met with severe consequences."

Trudeau said that he will meet with G7 leaders Thursday morning and continue to work closely with NATO and other allies to respond to the acts, including possibly imposing "significant sanctions" in addition to those already announced.

First emergency sirens heard in Kyiv

Rhoda Kwan

Emergency sirens have sounded in Kyiv, signaling an attack is underway on the Ukrainian capital.

NBC News correspondent Erin McLaughlin said officials told her earlier that they were scrambling to get the city ready for possible attack, including preparing bomb shelters and creating plans for evacuation and critical infrastructure.

Biden to meet with G7 leaders to discuss 'severe sanctions' on Russia

Biden announced he will meet with leaders of the G7 to impose "severe sanctions" on Russia in support of Ukraine. 

The White House released a written statement following Biden's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In the statement, Biden said he briefed Zelenskyy on the steps his administration is taking to "rally international condemnation" against Russia. 

Biden said Zelenskyy had reached out to him and asked Biden to call on world leaders to "speak out clearly against President Putin’s flagrant aggression," the statement said. 

"Tomorrow, I will be meeting with the Leaders of the G7, and the United States and our Allies and partners will be imposing severe sanctions on Russia," he said. "We will continue to provide support and assistance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people."