Scores of people have been killed in a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, prompting the West to aim new sanctions at Moscow and US president Joe Biden to warn that the Kremlin sought to "re-establish the former Soviet Union".
Kyiv said on Thursday night that 57 Ukrainians had been killed and 169 injured after Russian president Vladimir Putin unleashed his military against the country and warned that anyone who tried to stop him would face "such consequences that you have never encountered in your history".
Fierce fighting raged close to major cities across Ukraine and the Kremlin's troops moved menacingly towards Kyiv, prompting the Taoiseach to vow that Ireland would never recognise any government installed by Russia in its neighbour's capital.
Ukrainian officials said Moscow's forces had taken control of the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant – scene of the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986 – some 130km north of Kyiv, and were trying to seize the Antonov airport about 30km outside the capital after attacking with helicopters and paratroopers.
Kyiv said its troops had destroyed several Russian military aircraft and tanks, but lacked the powerful air defence systems that could intercept the cruise and ballistic missiles that started striking Ukrainian military and strategic sites from about 5am on Thursday.
‘Bullying and genocide’
Repeating unfounded claims about Ukraine’s treatment of its Russian speakers, Mr Putin said his “special military operation” was intended “to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide” in Ukraine since its pro-western revolution in 2014.
“And for this we will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine, as well as bringing to justice those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.”
After months of fruitless east-west diplomacy, Mr Putin and French president Emmanuel Macron on Thursday had what the Kremlin called a "serious and frank exchange of views" on about Ukraine and the Russian leader gave an "exhaustive explanation" for his actions.
Shortly after the invasion began, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy went on television to tell Russians, in their own language, that “this needs to stop before it’s too late . . . Do Russians want war?” I wish I had the answer, but the answer depends only on you.”
Hundreds of people were arrested at anti-war marches in Russian cities on Thursday night.
As Russia attacked from land, sea and air, Mr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was hearing “not just missile blasts, fighting and the rumble of aircraft. This is the sound of a new iron curtain, which has come down and is closing Russia off from the civilised world . . . Our national task is to make sure this curtain does not fall across our land.”
In response to the invasion, the EU agreed to impose what EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called "the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented".
The bloc will freeze Russian assets, bar its banks from European financial markets, target key sectors of its economy and impose controls on certain exports to the country, in moves that were co-ordinated with the US, Britain other western states.
In announcing a similar raft of new sanctions, Mr Biden said that “Putin chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences.”
“He has much larger ambitions than Ukraine,” Mr Biden added. “He wants to, in fact, re-establish the former Soviet Union.”
Nato is rapidly beefing up its presence near Russia to ease the fears of member states in eastern Europe, and on Friday will hold an emergency summit on the crisis.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Ireland “stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people in their darkest hour” and would “absolutely not” recognise any Russian-imposed government in Kyiv.