UPDATE: 8 PM PACIFIC: The fog of war has descended upon Ukraine in full force. Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky is claiming 137 people have been killed and 316 wounded in the first full day of the Russian assault on the country. Most of the dead were reported to be soldiers, but at least one Ukranian civilian was reported killed. No information was available on Russian casualties.
Reports trickled in on individual acts of bravery by Ukraine’s soliders in defense of their country. One report said 13 soldiers were killed when they refused to surrender their Snake Island position. Another rumor circulated of a Ukranian pilot known as “The Ghost” who had single-handedly downed six Russian jets. although that could not be confirmed.
Zelensky gave a video address to his nation, lamenting the lack of support for Ukraine. “We have been left alone to defend our state,” Zelensky said. “Who is ready to fight alongside us? I don’t see anyone. Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of NATO membership? Everyone is afraid.”
Some military analysts believe Kyiv could fall within hours; others put the time line as early as Sunday. Zelensky said he was staying in the capital. Ukraine’s air defense has reportedly been disabled.
2ND UPDATE, 5:47 AM: Russia continued its assault on Ukraine, drawing condemnation from world leaders and vows of severe sanctions.
In the capital city of Kyiv, residents tried to leave, with photographers capturing the scene of cars lined up in a massive traffic jam.
A number of news outlets, citing a Ukrainian official, reported that more than 40 Ukrainian soldiers had died. Air and missile attacks have been reported across the country.
On CNN, Clarissa Ward reported from a subway station in Kharkiv that had become a shelter for residents.
“Almost everyone we are talking to … says the same thing: They are asking us, ‘What’s happening? What’s going to happen? The other question we are getting again and again from people today is, ‘Where is the world? Why is the world not coming to our rescue? How is it possible in 2022 you can launch an invasion on a European country and nobody seems to be able to put a stop to it?”
President Joe Biden convened the National Security Council in the Situation Room at the White House to discuss the latest developments. He is scheduled to make a statement around midday.
Network coverage reflected the unprecedented nature of the attack and the potential for long-term instability.
“We haven’t seen anything like this, really, since Hitler invaded Poland in World War II. I just hope this is not the beginning of World War III,” Rep. Michael McHaul (R-TX), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on CBS Mornings.
UPDATED, Wednesday, 10:43 PM: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the world to “build an anti-Putin coalition,” introduced martial law in Ukraine and spoken to President Joe Biden amid a full-scale Russian attack on the country.
In a tweet shortly after an address Thursday morning, Ukraine time, Zelenskiy said he had spoken with Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Polish President Andrzej Duda and European Council President Charles Michel about the strikes by Russia, which have been declared a “full-scale invasion” by Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in the past hour.
Zelensky called for the building of an “anti-Putin coalition,” “immediate sanctions and defense” and for the world to “force Russia into peace.”
Kuleba, meanwhile, described a “war of aggression” and said Ukraine “will win.”
In an earlier address, per CNN, Zelensky said “there were blasts heard in many cities of Ukraine.” That confirmed reports of explosions from multiple U.S. correspondents across the country. “Russia conducted strikes on our military infrastructure and our border guards,” he was reported to have said.
Zelensky urged citizens to stay calm and vowed, “We will win over everybody because we are Ukraine.”
In a statement, Biden said, that, in the conversation with Zelensky, he “condemned this unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces. I briefed him on the steps we are taking to rally international condemnation, including tonight at the United Nations Security Council. He asked me to call on the leaders of the world to speak out clearly against President Putin’s flagrant aggression, and to stand with the people of Ukraine.”
Biden said that he will be meeting with the leaders of the G7 on Thursday, “and the United States and our Allies and partners will be imposing severe sanctions on Russia. We will continue to provide support and assistance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”
News networks have mobilized for coverage of the crisis overnight.
Zelensky’s office sent an image of an explosion to CNN. Matthew Chance said the image was of an aftermath of a cruise missile attack at the Kyiv airport.
— Michael Holmes (@holmescnn) February 24, 2022
On Fox News, correspondent Steve Harrigan said that “the Russians can come in and take Kyiv. They can carry out regime change, they can decapitate the leadership here and whatever brutal form they choose. They can do that. But they can’t hold on.”
He added, “I think if you ask me my opinion, which I’m glad to give, if this is a major war, this is the downfall of Vladimir Putin. This is the downfall of his Russia, this is the down fill of an autocracy, because they can win in the short-term but they cannot win in the long term. Ukraine, Europe is not going to stand for it.”
Anchor Bret Baier said that “this could turn into a giant insurgency. If it does, the world powers that support Ukraine are going to be funneling in money and weapons and whatever else…and suddenly Ukraine becomes Afghanistan for Russia.”
PREVIOUSLY: Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he was launching a “special military operation” to the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, as networks mobilized with special reports on Wednesday evening to report on what may be the start of a large-scale invasion.
Shortly after Putin’s early morning speech, just after 7 PM PT, CNN’s Matthew Chance in Kyiv, told anchor Don Lemon that “there are big explosions taking place in Kyiv right now,” and the correspondent then put on a flak jacket and helmet as he was on air. CNN’s Clarissa Ward, reporting from Kharkiv, then also appeared and reported hearing blasts in that city.
ABC, CBS and NBC each interrupted regular programming with special reports.
“We have been bracing for this, we have been waiting for this potential day to come,” NBC News’ Richard Engel said.
Later, the network reported that the explosions in Kyiv were missile strikes, citing Ukrainian officials.
On CBS News, Norah O’Donnell said, “We may be witnessing how what is the beginning of the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II.” Correspondent Charlie D’Agata was on live in Kviv when explosions broke out behind him, and what sounded like a fighter jet.
On ABC News, Martha Raddatz, in Lviv, reported that a senior Pentagon official texted her earlier on Wednesday that “you are likely in the last few hours of peace on the European continent for a long time to come.”
Throughout Wednesday evening, as Russian military action looked imminent, CNN focused on the possibility of an immediate invasion, and MSNBC and Fox News began shifted focus from opinion hosts to the latest developments. Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle did feature a phone interview with former President Donald Trump, who blamed President Joe Biden for Putin’s actions . “And it all happened because of a rigged election,” Trump said, referring to 2020 and his unfounded claims that the election was stolen from him. Ingraham called a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “pathetic display.” “In Russian, he was essentially imploring Vladimir Putin not to invade his country,” she said. Earlier in the week, Trump had offered praise for Putin’s move to recognize separatist parts of Ukraine as independent countries.
Networks prepared to cover the Ukraine crisis overnight, with Fox News pre-empting Gutfeld! for coverage anchored by Shannon Bream and then Trace Gallagher. MSNBC planning continuing coverage, with Ali Velshi anchoring until early morning hours and Katy Tur picking up at 11 PM PT. Lemon continued in CNN’s anchor chair late into Wednesday evening.
Putin’s announcement in an early morning televised speech came at the same time that the United Nations Security Council was holding an emergency meeting, with portions captured by cable news networks. The Russian president said that Ukrainian soldiers should lay down their arms, although he insisted that the Russians did not intend to occupy the country. Putin also said that the purpose was the “demilitarization and denazification” of the Ukrainian regime and to protect Russian citizens in the country, suggesting a much wider incursion than just the eastern Donbas region of the country. He also warned of “the kind of consequences you have never experienced” to those who try to interfere in the Russian action.
But the U.S. and allies have warned of Putin establishing a pretext for a wider invasion, based on what President Joe Biden called a “twisted rewrite of history.”
In response to Putin’s speech, Biden said in a statement, “President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. 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 added, “I will meet with my G7 counterparts in the morning and then speak to the American people 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.”