Russia invades Ukraine: Here's what you need to know

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Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a predawn attack on Ukraine Thursday, hitting cities with airstrikes and sending tanks across the border. The move, which U.S. intelligence agencies have been predicting for months, was widely condemned by world leaders.

President Biden, who convened a virtual meeting with G-7 allies early Thursday, was scheduled to address Putin's "unprovoked and unjustified" assault in an address to the nation Thursday afternoon.

Here's what to know about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

What exactly happened?

In a televised speech just before 6 a.m. Moscow time, Putin announced that his forces were entering Ukraine in what he described as a "special military operation" aimed at the “demilitarization and de-Nazification” of the sovereign nation. Within moments of Putin's address, distant explosions were witnessed by reporters in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa as Ukrainians woke up to a new, uncertain reality.

Have there been any casualties?

Oleksii Arestovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said at least 40 people had been killed and dozens others wounded in the attack so far. But given the size and sweep of the Russian invasion, it’s safe to expect that the actual number of casualties is higher.

The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service site near Kyiv was damaged and reduced to rubble by shelling Thursday.
The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service site near Kyiv was damaged by shelling Thursday. (Press handout via Reuters)

How did Ukraine respond?

Zelensky cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law.

“As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history," he tweeted. "Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom.”

The Ukrainian president said Russian forces were trying to seize the Chernobyl nuclear plant, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986, and Ukrainian forces were battling other troops just miles from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, for control of a strategic airport.

Zelensky also described the invasion as “a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”

How did NATO react?

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called Putin's invasion of Ukraine "a brutal act of war."

“Peace on our continent has been shattered,” he said.

At a tense emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, tore into his Russian counterpart, Vasily Nebenzya.

"Your country declared a war against my country," Kyslytsya said, adding: “There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell, ambassador.”

What was the response from the White House?

In a statement, President Biden condemned Putin's "unprovoked and unjustified attack":

The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces. 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.

I will be monitoring the situation from the White House this evening and will continue to get regular updates from my national security team. Tomorrow, I will meet with my G-7 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. We will also coordinate with our NATO Allies to ensure a strong, united response that deters any aggression against the Alliance. Tonight, Jill and I are praying for the brave and proud people of Ukraine.

What's next?

Biden participated in a virtual meeting early Thursday with G-7 leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to “discuss their joint response,” according to a White House official.

Biden plans to address the nation at 1:30 p.m. ET, when he is expected to announce "full-scale" sanctions against Russia.

Where are Russian forces surrounding Ukraine? Check out this explainer from Yahoo Immersive to find out.