Explosions heard across Ukraine as Russian military operation begins

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Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that Russia was attacking his country’s “military infrastructure” and border guards, but urged citizens not to panic and vowed victory.

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Russia’s defense ministry said it had neutralized Ukrainian military airbases and its air defense systems, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military offensive against his country’s neighbor.

“Military infrastructure at Ukrainian army air bases has been rendered out of action,” the defense ministry said in a statement carried by news agencies, which added that Kyiv’s air defense systems were “eliminated.”

Read more: Russian ground forces cross into Ukraine as death toll from shelling climbs

The ministry denied reports that its aircraft had been downed over Ukraine. Earlier, Ukraine’s military had said five Russian planes and one helicopter were shot down over its Luhansk region.

Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine said they had captured the towns of Shchastia and Stanytsia Luhanska in Ukraine’s region of Luhansk, the RIA news agency reported. There was no immediate comment by authorities in Ukraine.

Ukraine is coming under artillery attack along its northern border with Russia and Belarus, the country’s border guard service said on Thursday, adding that Ukrainian forces were returning fire.

The statement was issued as a Ukrainian interior ministry official reported the Ukrainian government-held town of Shchastya had fallen to Russian-backed eastern insurgents.

Ukraine’s border guards service said an attack is also taking place from Crimea, Reuters reported.

In a video message posted on Facebook after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the launch of a military operation against Ukraine, Zelensky also introduced martial law across the country, adding that he had spoken by phone with US President Joe Biden.

Explosions rang out before dawn Thursday in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and several cities near the frontline and along the country’s coasts.

AFP correspondents also heard blasts in the Black Sea port city of Odessa, close to the frontline of a Russian-backed rebel enclave and just across the sea from Russian-occupied Crimea.

Explosions also rang out in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which lies 35 kilometres (20 miles) south of the Russian border and outside the eastern zone where Kyiv has been battling Moscow-backed insurgents since 2014.

Ukraine closed its airspace to civilian planes, and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that his country was facing a “full-scale invasion”.

Closer to the eastern war zone, four loud blasts rang out in Kramatorsk, which serves as the Ukrainian government’s effective capital for the eastern war zone.

More blasts also rang out in Mariupol, a port on the Sea of Azov which provide a land bridge between Russia and the Kremlin-annexed Crimea peninsula.

“Russia’s offensive military operation is to destroy the Ukrainian state,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Our defenders are ready to repel the aggressor state and will do everything in their power to defend Ukrainian land,” it added, calling on Ukraine’s Western allies to “immediately” impose new sanctions on Russia.

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