(Update 3: Updates casualties, adds info)
Kyiv/Moscow, Feb 24 (EFE).- Kyiv has severed diplomatic ties with Moscow, the Ukrainian president said Thursday, after Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine.
Volodomyr Zelenskyy, who added that authorities were already distributing weapons “to all those who wish, to all those who are able to defend” the country, said Ukraine “will not give up its freedom, whatever Moscow thinks.”
“Russia treacherously attacked our state in the morning, as Nazi Germany did in World War II. As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history. Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself,” he said.
At least 18 people were killed in a Russian air strike against a military unit located in the Odessa region, on the Black Sea coast, Ukraine’s state emergency service reported.
The Ukrainian presidency had earlier reported the deaths of at least 40 soldiers while dozens more were wounded in Russian bombings of airfields and military bases in Ukraine.
Ukraine also reported Russian troops and tanks crossing at Kharkiv and Luhansk, as well as at Vilcha border point in the northern Kyiv region, while bombings and explosions were reported in cities across the country.
“Russia is delivering strikes on our military infrastructure, on our border guards. Explosions are being heard in many cities of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said, adding that he was introducing martial law across the country.
But he insisted there was “no need to panic. We are strong. We are ready for everything. We will defeat everyone because we are Ukraine.”
Earlier on Thursday, Zelenskyy appealed to the international community to help “force Russia into peace.”
In a pre-dawn televised address, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced a “military operation” in eastern Ukraine, which was followed by Kyiv declaring soon after that “a full-scale invasion” by Moscow had begun.
“There have just been missiles on the military headquarters, airports, military warehouses. Gunfire at the border is underway. A new geopolitical reality in the world from today,” deputy interior minister Anton Gerashchenko wrote on Facebook.
In his address, Putin said he had “taken the decision to carry out a special military operation,” with a goal “to defend people who for eight years have been suffering persecution and genocide by the Kyiv regime.”
“For this we will aim for demilitarization and deNazification of Ukraine, as well as taking to court those who carried out multiple bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation. Our plans do not include occupying Ukrainian territory.”
He also had a warning for the West: “Anyone who tries to interfere with us, or even more so, to create threats for our country and our people, must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history.”
Throughout the morning, social media posts showed Ukrainians queuing at ATMs and traffic streaming out of the capital as air-raid sirens sounded.
Long traffic jams were forming on the streets of the capital as people tried to flee Kyiv, several witnesses told Efe, while others have sought shelter in the city’s underground metro stations.
Kyiv has recommended its population evacuate from the eastern Donbas region and ordered the closure of its airspace, with Russia doing the same on its western borders with Ukraine and Belarus, according to a notice issued by Russian aviation authorities.
The invasion came days after Putin ordered the deployment of “peacekeeping” troops to the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region, which Moscow said it was formally recognizing this week. EFE