Kyiv plunges into chaos as Putin aims to demilitarize Ukraine

People hug while waiting for a Kyiv bound train in Kostiantynivka, the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022. (VADIM GHIRDA / AP)

MOSCOW — Kyiv has plunged into chaos after Russian forces launched a "special military operation" against Ukraine, with terrified people queuing for hours to get fuel, food and medicine.

In a televised urgent address on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the operation was launched after the "authorities of Donetsk and Lugansk" requested assistance in "repelling Kyiv's military aggression".

A total of 11 airfields, three command posts, a Ukrainian naval base, and 18 radar stations of the S-300 and Buk-M1 air defense missile systems were among the facilities destroyed, the Russian Defense Ministry said

He said that Moscow would seek the "demilitarization and denazification" of Ukraine, called upon the Ukrainian army to lay down its weapons and that any attempts at foreign intervention would be met with a prompt response.

Moscow's plans do not include an occupation of Ukraine, Putin said, adding that the Ukrainian people have a right to self-determination.

He also said that Russia could not allow Kyiv to obtain nuclear weapons and recalled NATO's "illegitimate expansion" to the east.

Shortly after Putin spoke, reports emerged that there were explosions in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and power had been cut.

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A total of 11 airfields, three command posts, a Ukrainian naval base, and 18 radar stations of the S-300 and Buk-M1 air defense missile systems were among the facilities destroyed, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Signs of nervousness were growing as planes flew overhead, explosions were heard, and an alarm siren sounded in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, where citizens were standing in long lines hoping to draw money and stock up on supplies.

In the center of Kyiv, the local bus system, subway, banks, supermarkets, pharmacies and hotels were still operating normally. However, many private shops and bookstores have closed.

Many people left Kyivto seek shelter in western Ukraine, building up kilometers-long traffic jams.

"We were not able to leave, there were terrible traffic jams… We saw people walking from Kyiv just along the highway, with children, animals, suitcases," 28-year-old Iryna told Xinhua.

Iryna was forced to return to her home in Kyiv.

"Today we will sleep in the dressing room, there are no windows there," Iryna said.

Oksana, a 40-year-old manager, said she was hiding in an underground parking area after an air defense alarm in Kyiv.

"I keep my bag at the door, I'm afraid that the attack on the city will continue," Oksana said.

Oksana lives on the left bank of Kyiv. She said explosions were heard near her home the whole day.

"Like all people in my country, I am scared," she added, crying.

A Ukrainian policeman walks on a platform backdropped by people waiting for a Kiev bound train in Kostiantynivka, the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022. (VADIM GHIRDA / AP)

As tensions escalated, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law in the country and announced to sever ties with Russia. 

In a video address, Zelensky said his country is under attack. According to the Interior Ministry, military depots and airfields in the capital were hit by missiles.

Military operations underway

While mobilizing troops, Russia closed its airspace to civilian aircraft on its western borders with Ukraine and Belarus, the aviation authorities said Thursday.

Additionally, the Russian aviation authority Rosaviatsiya announced that Russia has temporarily closed more than 10 airports in the south and Crimea.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Russian Armed Forces are destroying "military infrastructure, air defense facilities, military airfields, aviation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces" with high-precision weapons, not targeting Ukrainian cities.

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Besides Kiev, several military targets in eastern and southern Ukraine were under attack early Thursday, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

The Ivano-Frankivsk International Airport and its fuel and lubricants depots in western Ukraine were also destroyed by Russia's missile systems, reported Ukrinform, citing the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.

Shortly after Putin announced the military operation in Ukraine, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday night called on Russia to withdraw its troops.

Photo taken on Feb 24, 2022 shows vehicles queuing up to leave the city in Kyiv, Ukraine. (PHOTO/XINHUA)

If the military action would lead to a generalized war, "it is difficult to forecast how dramatic it will be in the number of people who will die, in the number of people who will be displaced, in the number of people who will lose hope in relation to the future," Guterres told reporters following a Security Council emergency meeting on Ukraine.

Meanwhiile, the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have both denied the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine.

"What I will tell you is the president has been crystal clear and consistent: He is not sending US troops to fight in Ukraine. That has not changed," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during a daily briefing.

Putin calls

The Kremlin on Thursday said Putin held telephone conversations with leaders of several countries.

Putin had a telephone conversation with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, explaining how the situation around Ukraine is evolving.

Raisi expressed understanding with respect to Russia's security concerns caused by the destabilizing actions of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

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Issues relating to the diplomatic efforts to preserve and fully implement the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear program were reviewed, the Kremlin said, adding that it was noted that reaching a final agreement on the JCPOA would contribute to regional stability and security.

This handout satellite photo released by Planet Labs PBC shows the Mikolaiv Air Base in Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022.

Putin also briefed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about Moscow's stance on the Ukraine issue.

"When discussing the situation, Putin outlined his fundamental assessments of Kyiv's aggressive actions against the civilian population of Donbass, as well as about Kyiv's many years of destructive policy aimed at breaking the Minsk agreements," the Kremlin said.

Modi thanked Putin for the clarification and asked for assistance in ensuring the security of Indian citizens currently in Ukraine.

Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron also discussed the situation in Ukraine during a phone conversation.

According to the Kremlin, both sides had a "serious and frank" exchange of views on the situation around Ukraine.

The Kremlin added that Putin gave "comprehensive explanations of the reasons and circumstances for the decision to conduct a special military operation."