Smoke rises near the Ukrainian town of Hostomel and the Antonov Airport, in northwest Kyiv on February 24, 2022. Russian forces are trying to seize an airbase on the capital's northern outskirts, a senior Ukrainian officer said.

Smoke rises near the Ukrainian town of Hostomel and the Antonov Airport, in northwest Kyiv on February 24, 2022. Russian forces are trying to seize an airbase on the capital's northern outskirts, a senior Ukrainian officer said. Daniel LEAL / AFP

World Leaders Vow Retribution as Russian Forces Press Deeper into Ukraine

"This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe,” says Ukrainian president, as NATO, UN members begin to enact responses.

Missiles hit Kyiv and ground troops advanced on Thursday as Russia’s armored invasion of Ukraine proceeded from the north, south, and east. World leaders condemned Russia and Vlaidmir Putin, and vowed to support and assist Ukraine, but offered no additional troops to help Ukrainians face the Russian onslaught. 

“What we are seeing are initial phases of a large-scale invasion,” a senior defense official told reporters in Washington on Thursday morning. 

The assault by land, sea, and air has employed long-range artillery fire and at least 75 bombers and other aircraft. More than 100 short-range, medium-range, and cruise missiles have been fired, including from warships in the Black Sea, the official said.  

President Joe Biden, who on Wednesday evening condemned the attack and vowed more sanctions, convened the National Security Council in the White House Situation Room early on Thursday. Biden is scheduled to meet with G-7 leaders before addressing the nation Thursday afternoon.

Russia’s assault is being captured on live television and across social media via a jumble of confirmed and unconfirmed reports, images, and videos from government officials, journalists, and civilians. CNN cameras caught Russian forces attempting to take the airport outside of Kyiv. 

In a Thursday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, “If you—my dear European leaders, my dear world leaders, leaders of the free world—don’t help us today, if you do not strongly help Ukraine, then tomorrow war will knock on your doors."

Zelenskyy also tweeted that Russian troops were attempting to seize the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, including the decaying remains of Reactor No. 4

“Russian occupation forces are trying to seize the #Chornobyl_NPP. Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated. Reported this to @SwedishPM. This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe,” he said.

Ukraine’s armed forces have posted claims that they have downed Russian aircraft, destroyed tanks and other ground equipment, and captured Russian troops. 

“The Russian occupiers, having encountered total opposition from Ukrainian defenders, surrender. A whole reconnaissance platoon of the 74th Motorized Rifle Brigade surrendered near Chernihiv,” the military command posted, in a tweet purporting to picture a captured Russian soldier.   

Zelenskyy has called on citizens to arm themselves, stand, and fight. 

Some are, the senior U.S. defense official said: "We have seen indications they are resisting and fighting back." 

Western media crews in Ukraine also have captured images of Ukranians fleeing the assault in traffic jams, on trains, and on foot, luggage in hand. 

Ukrainian leaders continue to beg the outside world for help stopping Russia’s attempt to takeover the country, but that help continues to exclude sending foreign fighters. 

“The United States is not putting troops in Ukraine to fight for Ukraine,” said the senior defense official.

On Wednesday evening, Putin warned the world not to interfere with his attack, which some intepreted as a threat to use nuclear weapons. 

Asked about it on Thursday, the senior defense official said, "We don't see an increased threat in that regard. That's as far as I'll go." 

At the United Nations, Ukraine’s ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya advanced the idea that Putin’s regime might not legitimately hold the UN Security Council seat, and veto, originally given to the Soviet Union. Citing Article 4 of the UN Charter, he said, “It says membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states.” 

Early Thursday morning, the government of Ukraine announced it was severing diplomatic relations with Russia. 

In London, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss summoned Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Andrey Kelin, “over Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine this morning,” her office said, in a statement. “She condemned Russia’s outrageous attack on Ukraine as a clear breach of international law. She reiterated there would be severe sanctions in retribution for the invasion, which will inflict pain on the Russian economy and those closely associated with the Kremlin.”

In Paris, President Emmanuel Macron said, “The crisis is here. We are ready. We will respond to this act of war unwaveringly and with composure, determination and unity.” 

France has at times been criticized for forging relations and peace talks with Russia apart from other international efforts. In his remarks, Macron said France would join international efforts via the G7, European Council, NATO, and the UN. 

“Last night’s events are a turning point in the history of Europe and of our country. They will have profound, lasting consequences for our lives. They will have consequences on the geopolitics of our continent and we will respond to them together,” said Macron.

Leaders from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland have invoked Article 4 of the NATO treaty, requesting full-body consultations on Russia’s assault. Invocation is rare and is meant to signal formally a serious risk or threat to the NATO alliance, convene its members, and produce a formal declaration or other action. 

Latvia’s Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš said, “Russia's attack on Ukraine is an unacceptable attack on its sovereignty, democracy and society. We are in close contact with our partners in the EU and NATO for further action, we request to start consultations on NATO Article 4. Our services are working in an enhanced mode. Let us be vigilant and united,” 

Leaders from any NATO member state can request an Article 4 consultation when they feel that “the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened” according to the treaty. 

In Finland, where debate about joining NATO has intensified over the past few months, President Sauli Niinistö condemned Russia’s invasion and said it would affect the discussion.

"Finland is not currently facing an immediate military threat, but it is also now clear that the debate on Nato membership in Finland will change," Marin said, according to the country’s national broadcasting service. He added that a Finnish application to Nato would require very broad parliamentary and public support.

In China, officials said the invasion was not an invasion, Reuters reported. “Regarding the definition of an invasion, I think we should go back to how to view the current situation in Ukraine. The Ukrainian issue has other very complicated historical background that has continued to today. It may not be what everyone wants to see,” said Hua Chunying, spokesperson at China’s foreign ministry.

Caitlin M. Kenney, Bradley Peniston, Ben Watson, and Marcus Weisgerber contributed to this report.