Defiant Zelensky Offers Ukrainians Weapon to Fight Russia

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In the wake of military attack on Ukraine, the president, Volodymyr Zelensky has reassured his citizens that Russia will be defeated.

Russian forces launched a military assault on neighbouring Ukraine earlier today, crossing its borders and bombing military targets near big cities.

In a pre-dawn TV statement Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia did not plan to occupy Ukraine and demanded that its military lay down their arms.

Moments later, attacks were reported on Ukrainian military targets.

Ukraine said that “Putin has launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine”.

Russia’s military breached the border in a number of places, in the north, south and east, including from Belarus, a long-time Russian ally. There are reports of fighting in some parts of eastern Ukraine.

About 10 civilians are believed to have been killed, including six in an air strike in Brovary near the capital Kyiv. A man was also killed in shelling outside the major eastern city of Kharkiv.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser said that more than 40 soldiers had died and dozens more were wounded. Ukraine said it had killed 50 Russian troops and shot down six Russian aircraft, but this has not been verified.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced martial law across all of Ukraine, severed all diplomatic relations with Russia and said weapons would be distributed to anyone who wanted them.

“No panic. We’re strong. We’re ready for anything. We’ll defeat everyone, because we are Ukraine,” he said in a video statement. Ahead of Russia’s attack he had made a last-ditch attempt to avert a conflict, warning that Russia could start “a major war in Europe” and urging Russian citizens to oppose it.

Warning sirens blared across the capital, which has a population of almost three million. Traffic queued to leave the city and crowds sought shelter in Kyiv’s metro stations. Several neighbouring countries have begun preparations to take in a large number of refugees.

“We don’t understand what we should do now,” one woman called Svetlana told the BBC. “We’re now going to a place where we can be safe and we hope we can leave safely. We have family in Mariupol and now they’re very nervous.”

In the metro, a couple with a toddler followed developments on their phones and asked: “Where are Nato?”

Mark, a 27-year-old sales executive said he was ready to be called up to fight: “We don’t have another way,” he said.

Russia first launched strikes on Ukraine’s military infrastructure and border guard units, according to Mr Zelensky. Then Ukrainian forces said Russian military vehicles had crossed the border near Kharkiv in the north, Luhansk in the east, Russian-annexed Crimea in the south and from Belarus too. Belarus’s authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko said his country’s military were not involved but could be if needed.

Russian tanks were later seen on the outskirts of Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million people. Russian forces also reportedly landed by sea at Ukraine’s major port cities of Odesa on the Black Sea and Mariupol on the internal Sea of Azov.

Ukraine’s army said Kyiv’s Boryspil international airport was among a number of airfields that had been bombed, along with military headquarters and warehouses in the big cities of Kyiv, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Mariupol.

Footage verified by the BBC showed missiles slamming into an airport in the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk

Mr. Zelensky said Russia had positioned almost 200,000 troops and thousands of combat vehicles on Ukraine’s borders.

(Additional Report from BBC World)

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