President Vladimir Putin dramatically escalated East-West tensions by ordering Russian nuclear forces put on high alert Sunday, while Ukraine's embattled leader agreed to talks with Moscow as Putin's troops and tanks drove deeper into the country, closing in around the capital. Citing “aggressive statements” by NATO and tough financial sanctions, Putin issued a directive to increase the readiness of Russia's nuclear weapons, raising fears that the invasion of Ukraine could lead to nuclear war, whether by design or mistake. The Russian leader is “potentially putting in play forces that, if there’s a miscalculation, could make things much, much more dangerous,” said a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss rapidly unfolding military operations. Putin's directive came as Russian forces encountered strong resistance from Ukraine defenders. Despite Russian advances across the country, U.S. officials say they believe the invasion has been more difficult, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, though that could change as Moscow adapts. Read:Ukraine, Russia diplomats to meet on Belarus border Amid the mounting tensions, Western nations said they would tighten sanctions and buy and deliver weapons for Ukraine, including Stinger missiles for shooting down helicopters and other aircraft. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, meanwhile, announced plans for a meeting with a Russian delegation at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border. It wasn’t immediately clear when the meeting would take place, nor what the Kremlin was ultimately seeking, either in those potential talks on the border or, more broadly, from its war in Ukraine. Western officials believe Putin wants to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own, reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence. The fast-moving developments came as scattered fighting was reported in Kyiv. Battles also broke out in Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, and strategic ports in the country's south came under assault from Russian forces. By late Sunday, Russian forces had taken Berdyansk, a Ukrainian city of 100,000 on the Azov Sea coast, according to Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Zelenskyy’s office. Russian troops also made advances toward Kherson, another city in the south of Ukraine, while Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov that is considered a prime Russian target, is “hanging on," Arestovich said. With Russian troops closing in around Kyiv, a city of almost 3 million, the mayor of the capital expressed doubt that civilians could be evacuated. Authorities have been handing out weapons to anyone willing to defend the city. Ukraine is also releasing prisoners with military experience who want to fight, and training people to make firebombs. In Mariupol, where Ukrainians were trying to fend off attack, a medical team at a city hospital desperately tried to revive a 6-year-old girl in unicorn pajamas who was mortally wounded in Russian shelling. During the rescue attempt, a doctor in blue medical scrubs, pumping oxygen into the girl, looked directly into the Associated Press video camera capturing the scene. “Show this to Putin," he said angrily. “The eyes of this child, and crying doctors." Their resuscitation efforts failed, and the girl lay dead on a gurney, her jacket spattered with blood. Nearly 900 kilometers (560 miles) away, Faina Bystritska was under threat in the city of Chernihiv. “I wish I had never lived to see this,” said Bystritska, an 87-year-old Jewish survivor of World War II. She said sirens blare almost constantly in the city, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from Kyiv. Chernihiv residents have been told not to switch on any lights “so we don’t draw their attention,” said Bystritska, who has been living in a hallway, away from any windows, so she could better protect herself. “The window glass constantly shakes, and there is this constant thundering noise,” she said. Read:Germany boosts defense budget above 2% of GDP Meanwhile, the top official in the European Union outlined plans by the 27-nation bloc to close its airspace to Russian airlines and buy weapons for Ukraine. The EU will also ban some pro-Kremlin media outlets, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The U.S. also stepped up the flow of weapons to Ukraine, announcing it will send Stinger missiles as part of a package approved by the White House on Friday. Germany likewise plans to send 500 Stingers and other military supplies. Also, the 193-member U.N. General Assembly scheduled an emergency session Monday on Russia's invasion. Putin, in ordering the nuclear alert, cited not only statements by NATO members but the hard-hitting financial sanctions imposed by the West against Russia, including Putin himself. “Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, but top officials from leading NATO members made aggressive statements regarding our country,” Putin said in televised comments. U.S. defense officials would not disclose their current nuclear alert level except to say that the military is prepared all times to defend its homeland and allies. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told ABC that Putin is resorting to the pattern he used in the weeks before the invasion, “which is to manufacture threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression.” The practical meaning of Putin’s order was not immediately clear. Russia and the United States typically have land- and submarine-based nuclear forces that are on alert and prepared for combat at all times, but nuclear-capable bombers and other aircraft are not. If Putin is arming or otherwise raising the nuclear combat readiness of his bombers, or if he is ordering more ballistic missile submarines to sea, then the U.S. might feel compelled to respond in kind, said Hans Kristensen, a nuclear analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. Earlier Sunday, Kyiv was eerily quiet after explosions lit up the morning sky and authorities reported blasts at one airport. A main boulevard was practically deserted as a strict curfew kept people off the streets. Authorities warned that anyone venturing out without a pass would be considered a Russian saboteur. Terrified residents hunkered down in homes, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault. Food and medicine were running low, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said. “Right now, the most important question is to defend our country,” Klitschko said. In downtown Kharkiv, 86-year-old Olena Dudnik said she and her husband were nearly thrown from their bed by the pressure blast of a nearby explosion. “Every day there are street fights, even downtown,” with Ukrainian fighters trying to stop Russian tanks, armored vehicles and missile launchers, Dudnik said by phone. She said the lines at drugstores were hours long. “We are suffering immensely,” she said. “We don’t have much food in the pantry, and I worry the stores aren’t going to have anything either, if they reopen." She added: “I just want the shooting to stop, people to stop being killed." Pentagon officials said that Russian troops are being slowed by Ukrainian resistance, fuel shortages and other logistical problems, and that Ukraine's air defense systems, while weakened, are still operating. But a senior U.S. defense official said that will probably change: “We are in day four. The Russians will learn and adapt.” The number of casualties from Europe's largest land conflict since World War II remained unclear amid the confusion. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said Sunday that 352 Ukrainian civilians have been killed, including 14 children. It said an additional 1,684 people, including 116 children, have been wounded. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov gave no figures on Russia's dead and wounded but said Sunday his country's losses were “many times” lower than Ukraine's. About 368,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighboring countries since the invasion started Thursday, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Along with military assistance, the U.S., European Union and Britain also agreed to block selected Russian banks from the SWIFT system, which moves money around thousands of banks and other financial institutions worldwide. They also moved to slap restrictions on Russia’s central bank. Russia's economy has taken a pounding since the invasion, with the ruble plunging and the central bank calling for calm to avoid bank runs. Russia, which massed almost 200,000 troops along Ukraine's borders, claims its assault is aimed only at military targets, but bridges, schools and residential neighborhoods have also been hit.
Russian troops stormed toward Ukraine’s capital early Saturday, and street fighting broke out as city officials urged residents to take shelter. The country’s president refused an American offer to evacuate, insisting that he would stay. “The fight is here,” he said. The clashes followed two days of fighting that resulted in hundreds of casualties and pummeled bridges, schools and apartment buildings. U.S. officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own. The assault represented Putin’s boldest effort yet to redraw the world map and revive Moscow’s Cold War-era influence. It triggered new international efforts to end the invasion, including direct sanctions on Putin. As his country confronted explosions and gunfire, and as the fate of Kyiv hung in the balance, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed for a cease-fire and warned in a bleak statement that multiple cities were under attack. “This night we have to stand firm,” he said. “The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.” Zelenskyy was urged to evacuate Kyiv at the behest of the U.S. government but turned down the offer, according to a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of the conversation. The official quoted the president as saying that “the fight is here” and that he needed anti-tank ammunition but “not a ride.” City officials in Kyiv urged residents to take shelter, to stay away from windows and to take precautions to avoid flying debris or bullets. Also read: President refuses to flee, urges Ukraine to ‘stand firm’ The Kremlin accepted Kyiv’s offer to hold talks, but it appeared to be an effort to squeeze concessions out of the embattled Zelenskyy instead of a gesture toward a diplomatic solution. The Russian military continued its advance, laying claim Friday to the southern Ukraine city of Melitopol. Still, it was unclear in the fog of war how much of Ukraine is still under Ukrainian control and how much or little Russian forces have seized. As fighting persisted, Ukraine’s military reported shooting down an II-76 Russian transport plane carrying paratroopers near Vasylkiv, a city 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Kyiv, an account confirmed by a senior American intelligence official. It was unclear how many were on board. Transport planes can carry up to 125 paratroopers. A second Russian military transport plane was shot down near Bila Tserkva, 50 miles (85 kilometers) south of Kyiv, according to two American officials with direct knowledge of conditions on the ground in Ukraine. Read:Explosions heard in Kyiv early Friday as Russia presses Ukraine assault The Russian military has not commented on either plane. The U.S. and other global powers slapped ever-tougher sanctions on Russia as the invasion reverberated through the world’s economy and energy supplies, threatening to further hit ordinary households. U.N. officials said millions could flee Ukraine. Sports leagues moved to punish Russia and even the popular Eurovision song contest banned it from the May finals in Italy. Through it all, Russia remained unbowed, vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that it stop attacking Ukraine and withdraw troops immediately. The veto was expected, but the U.S. and its supporters argued that the effort would highlight Moscow’s international isolation. The 11-1 vote, with China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining, showed significant but not total opposition to Russia’s invasion of its smaller, militarily weaker neighbor. NATO, meanwhile, decided to send parts of the alliance’s response force to help protect its member nations in the east for the first time. NATO did not say how many troops would be deployed but added that it would involve land, sea and air power. Day Two of Russia’s invasion, the largest ground war in Europe since World War II, focused on the Ukrainian capital, where Associated Press reporters heard explosions starting before dawn. Gunfire was reported in several areas. A large boom was heard in the evening near Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the square in central Kyiv that was the heart of protests which led to the 2014 ouster of a Kremlin-friendly president. The cause was not immediately known. Five explosions struck near a major power plant on Kyiv’s eastern outskirts, said Mayor Vitaly Klitschko. There was no information on what caused them, and no electrical outages were immediately reported. It was unclear how many people overall had died. Ukrainian officials reported at least 137 deaths on their side from the first full day of fighting and claimed hundreds on the Russian one. Russian authorities released no casualty figures. U.N. officials reported 25 civilian deaths, mostly from shelling and airstrikes, and said that 100,000 people were believed to have left their homes. They estimate that up to 4 million could flee if the fighting escalates. Zelenskyy tweeted that he and U.S. President Joe Biden spoke by phone and discussed “strengthening sanctions, concrete defense assistance and an antiwar coalition.” Late Friday, Biden signed a memo authorizing up to $350 million in additional security assistance to Ukraine, bringing the total security assistance approved for Ukraine to $1 billion over the past year. It was not immediately clear how quickly the aid would flow. Zelenskyy’s whereabouts were kept secret after Zelenskyy told European leaders in a call Thursday that he was Russia’s No. 1 target — and that they might not see him again alive. His office later released a video of him standing with senior aides outside the presidential office and saying that he and other government officials would stay in the capital. Zelenskyy earlier offered to negotiate on a key Putin demand: that Ukraine declare itself neutral and abandon its ambition of joining NATO. The Kremlin said Kyiv initially agreed to have talks in Minsk, then said it would prefer Warsaw and later halted communications. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said later that Kyiv would discuss prospects for talks on Saturday. The assault was anticipated for weeks by the U.S. and Western allies and denied to be in the works just as long by Putin. He argued the West left him with no other choice by refusing to negotiate Russia’s security demands. In a window into how the increasingly isolated Putin views Ukraine and its leadership, he urged Ukraine’s military to surrender, saying: “We would find it easier to agree with you than with that gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis who have holed up in Kyiv and have taken the entire Ukrainian people hostage.” Playing on Russian nostalgia for World War II heroism, the Kremlin equates members of Ukrainian right-wing groups with neo-Nazis. Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, angrily dismisses those claims. Putin has not disclosed his ultimate plans for Ukraine. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave a hint, saying, “We want to allow the Ukrainian people to determine its own fate.” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia recognizes Zelenskyy as the president, but would not say how long the Russian military operation could last. Ukrainians abruptly adjusted to life under fire, after Russian forces invaded the country from three sides as they massed an estimated 150,000 troops nearby. Residents of a Kyiv apartment building woke to screaming, smoke and flying dust. What the mayor identified as Russian shelling tore off part of the building and ignited a fire. “What are you doing? What is this?” resident Yurii Zhyhanov asked Russian forces. Like countless other Ukrainians, he grabbed what belongings he could, took his mother, and fled, car alarms wailing behind him. Elsewhere in Kyiv, the body of a dead soldier lay near an underpass. Fragments of a downed aircraft smoked amid the brick homes of a residential area. Black plastic was draped over body parts found beside them. People climbed out of bomb shelters, basements and subways to face another day of upheaval. “We’re all scared and worried. We don’t know what to do then, what’s going to happen in a few days,” said Lucy Vashaka, 20, a worker at a small Kyiv hotel. At the Pentagon, press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. believes the offensive, including its advance on Kiev, has gone more slowly than Moscow had planned, noting that Ukraine forces have been fighting back. But he also said the military campaign is in an early stage and circumstances can change rapidly. The Biden administration said Friday that it would move to freeze the assets of Putin and Lavrov, following the European Union and Britain in directly sanctioning top Russian leadership. Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, called the sanctions against Putin and Lavrov “an example and a demonstration of a total helplessness” of the West.
World shares advanced Friday but U.S. futures were lower as Russian troops pressed toward the capital of Ukraine. Market benchmarks rose in London, Paris, Tokyo and Shanghai but fell in Hong Kong. Russian shares gained 15%, rebounding after a nosedive on Thursday as the invasion of Ukraine began. The price of oil hovered just below $100 per barrel and prices of most other commodities fell after surging the day before. Despite uncertainty about the Ukraine and worries over inflation and the pandemic, an overnight turnaround on Wall Street seemed to buoy Asian and European shares. Investors appeared relieved that sanctions against Russia were not as severe as they might have been, even as Ukraine’s president pleaded for international help to fend off an attack that could topple his democratically elected government, cause massive casualties and ripple out damage to the global economy. France's CAC 40 edged up 0.6% in early trading to 6,562.96, while Germany's DAX rose 0.2% to 14,083.92. Britain's FTSE 100 gained 1.2% to 7,295.52. Read: Ukraine's capital under threat as Russia presses invasion But U.S. futures augured a less upbeat start for New York markets, with the future for the benchmark S&P 500 down 1.2% while the contract for the Dow industrials was 1% lower. Russia was pressing its invasion of Ukraine to the outskirts of the capital Friday after unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks from three sides in what amounts to the largest ground war in Europe since World War II. Market players might be betting that the crisis could slow moves by central banks to cool inflation by raising interest rates and unwinding other support for pandemic-burdened economies, said Ipek Ozkardeskaya of Swissquote Bank SA. “But in reality, it’s about volatility, high volatility that results from a high-voltage environment," Ozkardeskaya wrote in a commentary. “This morning, the US equity futures are again in the red. It’s impossible to tell what direction the market will take in the next five minutes. The only certainty is uncertainty, and this is how it will be for the next couple of sessions unfortunately." The Russian invasion of Ukraine caused a barrage of new, targeted financial sanctions meant to isolate, punish and impoverish Russia in the long term. But U.S. and European officials have held back on one key financial measure, choosing for now not to boot Russia off SWIFT, the dominant system for global financial transactions. Japan on Friday announced new sanctions on Russia, including freezing the assets of Russian groups, banks and individuals and suspending exports of semiconductors and other sensitive goods to military-linked organizations in Russia. Earlier in the week, Tokyo suspended new issuances and distribution of Russian government bonds in Japan, to reduce financing opportunities for Russia. It also banned trade with the two Ukrainian separatist regions. Read:Explosions heard in Kyiv early Friday as Russia presses Ukraine assault But while most nations in Asia rallied to support Ukraine, China denounced sanctions against Russia, blaming the United States and its allies for provoking Moscow. In Asian trading, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 surged 2.0% to finish at 26,476.50. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost some of its earlier gains to close 0.1% higher at 6,997.80. South Korea's Kospi jumped 1.1% to 2,676.76. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.6% to 22,767.18, while the Shanghai Composite rose 0.6% to 3,451.41. Russia and Ukraine are major producers of both energy and grains and other commodities and the conflict pushed prices of many higher, adding to inflationary headaches for central banks. Asian economies already reeling from the pandemic are particularly vulnerable to rising energy costs. Japan imports almost all its energy, although its purchases from Russia are limited. On Friday, benchmark U.S. crude was up 59 cents at $93.40 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the basis for international oil prices, added $1.08 to $96.50 a barrel. Prices for energy have surged more in Europe than in the U.S. because its economy is more closely tied to Russia and Ukraine. The spot price in Europe for natural gas has jumped more than 50%. Higher energy and food prices are amplifying worries about inflation, which in January was at its hottest level in the United States in a couple generations, and about what the Federal Reserve will do to rein it in. The U.S. Fed looks certain to raise rates beginning next month for the first time since 2018. Although it sometimes has delayed big policy decisions in times of geopolitical uncertainty, such as the Kosovo war and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, economists say they still expect it to act to tamp down inflation. A major concern is whether it can do that without choking the economy into recession. In currency trading, the U.S. dollar inched down to 115.25 Japanese yen from 115.48 yen. The euro cost $1.1189, up from $1.1204. The Russian ruble was down 1.5% at 83.75 to the dollar.
Russian troops bore down on Ukraine’s capital Friday, with explosions and gunfire sounding in the city as the invasion of a democratic country fueled fears of wider war in Europe and triggered worldwide efforts to make Moscow stop. With reports of hundreds of casualties from the warfare — including shelling that sliced through a Kyiv apartment building and pummeled bridges and schools — there also were growing signs that Vladimir Putin’s Russia may be seeking to overthrow Ukraine’s government. It would be his boldest effort yet to redraw the world map and revive Moscow’s Cold War-era influence. NATO decided to send parts of the alliance’s response force to help protect its member nations in the east for the first time. NATO didn’t say how many troops would be deployed but added it would involve land, sea and air power. In the fog of war, it was unclear how much of Ukraine is still under Ukrainian control and how much or little Russian forces have seized. The Kremlin accepted Kyiv’s offer to hold talks, but it appeared to be an effort to squeeze concessions out of embattled President Volodymyr Zelenskyy instead of a gesture toward a diplomatic solution. Read:Explosions heard in Kyiv early Friday as Russia presses Ukraine assault The U.S. and other global powers slapped ever-tougher sanctions on Russia as the invasion reverberated through the world’s economy and energy supplies, threatening to further hit ordinary households. U.N. officials said millions could flee Ukraine. Sports leagues moved to punish Russia and even the popular Eurovision song contest banned it from the May finals in Italy. Day 2 of Russia’s invasion, the largest ground war in Europe since World War II, focused on the Ukrainian capital, where Associated Press reporters heard explosions starting before dawn and gunfire was reported in several areas. After 8 p.m., a large boom was heard near Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the square in central Kyiv that was the heart of protests which led to the 2014 ouster of a Kremlin-friendly president. The cause was not immediately known. Five explosions struck near a major power plant on Kyiv’s eastern outskirts, said Mayor Vitaly Klitschko. There was no information on what caused them and no electrical outages were immediately reported. Russia’s military said it seized a strategic airport outside Kyiv, allowing it to quickly build up forces to take the capital. It claimed to have already cut the city off from the west — the direction taken by many to escape the invasion — leading to lines of cars snaking toward the Polish border. Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed to have blocked off the cities of Sumy and Konotop and that the offensive had claimed dozens of Ukrainian military assets. The statement could not be independently confirmed. Intense gunfire broke out on a bridge across the Dneiper River dividing eastern and western Kyiv, while another key bridge to the capital was blown away. Ukrainian officials reported at least 137 deaths on their side and claimed hundreds on the Russian one. Russian authorities released no casualty figures, and it was not possible to verify the tolls. U.N. officials reported 25 civilian deaths, mostly from shelling and airstrikes, and said that 100,000 people were believed to have left their homes, estimating up to 4 million could flee if the fighting escalates. Zelenskyy tweeted that he and U.S. President Joe Biden spoke by phone and discussed “strengthening sanctions, concrete defense assistance and an antiwar coalition,” adding that he was grateful for Washington’s support. His whereabouts were kept secret after telling European leaders in a call Thursday night that he was Russia’s No. 1 target — and that they might not see him again alive. His office later released a video of him standing with senior aides outside the presidential office, saying he and other government officials would stay in the capital. “All of us are here protecting our independence of our country,” Zelenskyy said. “And it will continue to be this way. Glory to our defenders, glory to Ukraine, glory to heroes.”
Explosions were heard in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv early Friday as Russian forces pressed on with a full-scale invasion that resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Ukrainians in the first full day of fighting and could eventually rewrite the global post-Cold War security order. After using airstrikes on cities and military bases, Russian military units moved swiftly to take on Ukraine's seat of government and its largest city in what U.S. officials suspect is a brazen attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to dismantle the government and replace it with his own regime. Ukrainian leaders pleaded for help as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee, and hotels in Kyiv were being evacuated amid early indications of an assault. Ukrainian forces braced for more attacks after enduring for hours a Russian barrage of land- and sea-based missiles, an assault that one senior U.S. defense official described as the first salvo in a likely multi-phase invasion aimed at seizing key population centers and “decapitating” Ukraine's government. Already, Ukraine officials said they had lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world's worst nuclear disaster. Also read: Chernobyl no-go zone targeted as Russia invades Ukraine In unleashing the largest ground war in Europe since World War II, Putin ignored global condemnation and cascading new sanctions. With a chilling reference to his country’s nuclear arsenal, he threatened any country trying to interfere with “consequences you have never seen,” as a once-hoped for diplomatic resolution now appeared impossible. “Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom,” Zelenskyy tweeted. His grasp on power increasingly tenuous, he pleaded Thursday for even more severe sanctions than the ones imposed by Western allies and ordered a full military mobilization that would last 90 days. Zelenskyy said in a video address that 137 “heroes,” including 10 military officers, had been killed and 316 people wounded. The dead included all border guards on the Zmiinyi Island in the Odesa region, which was taken over by Russians. He concluded an emotional speech by saying that “the fate of the country depends fully on our army, security forces, all of our defenders.” He also said the country had heard from Moscow that ”they want to talk about Ukraine’s neutral status." U.S. President Joe Biden announced new sanctions against Russia, saying Putin “chose this war” and had exhibited a “sinister” view of the world in which nations take what they want by force. Other nations also announced sanctions, or said they would shortly. “It was always about naked aggression, about Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary — by bullying Russia’s neighbors through coercion and corruption, by changing borders by force, and, ultimately, by choosing a war without a cause,” Biden said. Blinken said in television interviews that he was convinced that Russia was intent on overthrowing the Ukrainian government, telling CBS that Putin wants to “reconstitute the Soviet empire." Fearing a Russian attack on the capital city, thousands of people went deep underground as night fell, jamming Kyiv's subway stations. At times it felt almost cheerful. Families ate dinner. Children played. Adults chatted. People brought sleeping bags or dogs or crossword puzzles — anything to alleviate the waiting and the long night ahead. But the exhaustion was clear on many faces. And the worries. “Nobody believed that this war would start and that they would take Kyiv directly,” said Anton Mironov, waiting out the night in one of the old Soviet metro stations. “I feel mostly fatigue. None of it feels real.” Also read: EU to sanction Russian banks, energy, others The invasion began early Thursday with a series of missile strikes, many on key government and military installations, quickly followed by a three-pronged ground assault. Ukrainian and U.S. officials said Russian forces were attacking from the east toward Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city; from the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014; and from Belarus to the north. Zelenskyy, who had earlier cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law, appealed to global leaders, saying that “if you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer a powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door.” Though Biden said he had no plans to speak with Putin, the Russian leader did have what the Kremlin described as a “serious and frank exchange" with French President Emmanuel Macron. Both sides claimed to have destroyed some of the other's aircraft and military hardware, though little of that could be confirmed. Hours after the invasion began, Russian forces seized control of the now-unused Chernobyl plant and its surrounding exclusion zone after a fierce battle, presidential adviser Myhailo Podolyak told The Associated Press. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said it was told by Ukraine of the takeover, adding that there had been “no casualties or destruction at the industrial site.” The 1986 disaster occurred when a nuclear reactor at the plant 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Kyiv exploded, sending a radioactive cloud across Europe. The damaged reactor was later covered by a protective shell to prevent leaks. Alyona Shevtsova, adviser to the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, wrote on Facebook that staff members at the Chernobyl plant had been “taken hostage." The White House said it was “outraged” by reports of the detentions. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense issued an update saying that though the plant was “likely captured,” the country's forces had halted Russia's advance toward Chernihiv and that it was unlikely that Russia had achieved its planned Day One military objectives. The chief of the NATO alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, said the “brutal act of war" shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders decrying an attack that could cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government. The conflict shook global financial markets: Stocks plunged and oil prices soared amid concerns that heating bills and food prices would skyrocket. Condemnation came not only from the U.S. and Europe, but from South Korea, Australia and beyond — and many governments readied new sanctions. Even friendly leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban sought to distance themselves from Putin. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he aimed to cut off Russia from the U.K.’s financial markets as he announced sanctions, freezing the assets of all large Russian banks and planning to bar Russian companies and the Kremlin from raising money on British markets. “Now we see him for what he is — a bloodstained aggressor who believes in imperial conquest,” Johnson said of Putin. The U.S. sanctions will target Russian banks, oligarchs, state-controlled companies and high-tech sectors, Biden said, but they were designed not to disrupt global energy markets. Russian oil and natural gas exports are vital energy sources for Europe. Zelenskyy urged the U.S. and West to go further and cut the Russians from the SWIFT system, a key financial network that connects thousands of banks around the world. The White House has been reluctant to immediately cut Russia from SWIFT, worried it could cause enormous economic problems in Europe and elsewhere in the West. While some nervous Europeans speculated about a possible new world war, the U.S. and its NATO partners have shown no indication they would send troops into Ukraine, fearing a larger conflict. NATO reinforced its members in Eastern Europe as a precaution, and Biden said the U.S. was deploying additional forces to Germany to bolster NATO. European authorities declared the country’s airspace an active conflict zone. After weeks of denying plans to invade, Putin launched the operation on a country the size of Texas that has increasingly tilted toward the democratic West and away from Moscow’s sway. The autocratic leader made clear earlier this week that he sees no reason for Ukraine to exist, raising fears of possible broader conflict in the vast space that the Soviet Union once ruled. Putin denied plans to occupy Ukraine, but his ultimate goals remain hazy. Ukrainians were urged to shelter in place and not to panic. “Until the very last moment, I didn’t believe it would happen. I just pushed away these thoughts,” said a terrified Anna Dovnya in Kyiv, watching soldiers and police remove shrapnel from an exploded shell. “We have lost all faith.” With social media amplifying a torrent of military claims and counter-claims, it was difficult to determine exactly what was happening on the ground. Russia and Ukraine made competing claims about damage they had inflicted. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had destroyed scores of Ukrainian air bases, military facilities and drones. It confirmed the loss of one of its Su-25 attack jets, blaming “pilot error,” and said an An-26 transport plane had crashed because of technical failure, killing the entire crew. It did not say how many were aboard. Russia said it was not targeting cities, but journalists saw destruction in many civilian areas. Poland’s military increased its readiness level, and Lithuania and Moldova moved toward doing the same. Putin justified his actions in an overnight televised address, asserting the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine — a false claim the U.S. predicted he would make as a pretext for invasion. He accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and for security guarantees, saying the military action was a “forced measure.” Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Putin issued a stark warning to other countries not to meddle. In a reminder of Russia’s nuclear power, he warned that “no one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor.”