After months of escalating tensions, Russia launched a broad military attack on neighboring Ukraine in the early hours of Feb. 24. In a televised speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had ordered a “special military operation” to defend ethnic Russians in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The areas in eastern Ukraine are controlled by Moscow-backed separatists and were recognized Feb. 21 by Moscow as independent republics, a move which the EU denounced as a violation of international law. Ukrainian leadership has said at least 40 people have already been killed in what it called a “full-scale invasion” by Russian forces.
While Putin said the aim of the assault was to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine and to demilitarize (rather than occupy) Ukraine, the U.S. says Russia’s moves are intended to create a pretext for a wider invasion. Russian troops had been amassing at the Ukrainian borders for months.
Read More: Putin Wants Revenge Not Just on Ukraine But on the U.S. and Its Allies
Large explosions were
reportedly heard Feb. 24 in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the northeastern city of Kharkiv, and other areas. Regional authorities in Odessa, a southern port city and key Ukrainian navy base, said that 18 people were killed in a missile attack.
“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” Ukrainian president
Volodymyr Zelensky said, in Russian, in a direct appeal to Russia’s citizens. “But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.” A Russian tank enters a region controlled by Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Nanna Heitmann—Magnum Photos
Zelensky declared martial law early Feb. 24 and urged Ukrainians to stay at home and to remain calm. The Ukrainian leader said that he had asked for a call with Putin late Wednesday before the invasion, but that the Kremlin did not respond. Thousands of Ukrainian citizens have attempted to flee major cities, including Kyiv, while others have taken shelter in
subway stations or makeshift bunkers. Read More: Here’s What We Know So Far About Russia’s Assault on Ukraine
World leaders quickly
condemned Moscow’s actions, which U.S. President Joe Biden called “unprovoked and unjustified.” Following the invasion, the E.U. announced a raft of sanctions against Russia “designed to take a heavy toll on the Kremlin’s interests and their ability to finance war.”
Although Ukraine has existed for over three decades as an independent nation-state, in Putin’s eyes the former Soviet state is an integral part of Russia’s “own history, culture, spiritual space.” In an attempt to rewrite history, the Russian leader
said Feb. 21 that Ukraine never had “real statehood.” Ukraine had expressed a desire to join the military alliance NATO, a suggestion which Moscow condemned.
Here’s a roundup of the most powerful images which tell the story of the first days of Russia’s invasion.
March 9 Dead bodies are put into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol on March 9 as people cannot bury their dead because of the heavy shelling by Russian forces. Evgeniy Maloletka—AP Eugene says goodbye to his partner Tanya before boarding a train to Dnipro from the main train terminal in Lviv on March 9. Dan Kitwood—Getty Images A monument of the city founder Duke de Richelieu is seen covered with sand bags for protection, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in central Odessa on March 9. Liashonok Nina—Reuters Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from a damaged maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9. Evgeniy Maloletka—AP A Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces member hugs a resident who leaves his home town following Russian artillery shelling in Irpin on March 9. Oleksandr Ratushniak—AP Ukrainian soldiers and emergency employees work at the site of the damaged maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9. A Russian attack severely damaged the maternity hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol. Evgeniy Maloletka—AP March 8 A member of the Honour Guard holds a portrait of the member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valerii, who was killed during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, during a funeral ceremony in Kyiv on March 8. Valentyn Ogirenko—Reuters Firefighters try to extinguish a fire at a storage area holding chemicals which was shelled, on the outskirts of Brovary on March 8. Roman Pilipey—EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Family members react during a joint funeral at 'Saint's Peter and Paul Garrison Church' in Lviv, for two soldiers who died in the east of the country during recent fighting, on March 8. The two servicemen, Victor, 44 who was killed in the Mykolaiv region and Ivan, 25, who was killed in the Zaporizhzhia region were laid to rest at the Lychakiv cemetery surrounded by family, friends and colleagues. Dan Kitwood—Getty Images An elderly woman is coated in snow as she sits in a wheelchair after being evacuated from Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv on March 8. Vadim Ghirda—AP A wounded serviceman of the Ukrainian Military Forces smokes after a battle with Russian troops and Russia-backed separatists in Lugansk region on March 8. Anatolii Stepanov—AFP/Getty Images March 7 The body of a civilian, whose cause of death was not confirmed, is seen on a destroyed bridge used to evacuate residents from Irpin after Russian forces entered the city on March 7. Four civilians were killed on March 6 by mortar fire along the road leading from Irpin to Kyiv, which has been a key evacuation route for people fleeing Russian forces advancing from the north. Chris McGrath—Getty Images Women and children, many of them from the besieged city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, shelter in a waiting hall at the train station in Lviv on March 7. Ivor Prickett—The New York Times/Redux Ukrainian soldiers and militiamen carry a woman in a wheelchair as the artillery echoes nearby, while people flee Irpin on the outskirts of Kyiv on March 7. Emilio Morenatti—AP A resident holds a white flag as he flees heavy fighting via a destroyed bridge as Russian forces entered the city of Irpin on March 7. Chris McGrath—Getty Images March 6 Mourners attend the funeral for Senior Sgt. Yevhen Verveyko of the Ukrainian National Army, who was killed while fighting Russian forces, in Yavoriv on March 6. Ivor Prickett—The New York Times/Redux A factory and a store burning after being bombarded in Irpin, in the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 6. Emilio Morenatti—AP Civilians get their documents checked by soldiers as they evacuate Irpin on March 6. Marcus Yam—Los Angeles Times/Getty Images The bodies of people killed by Russian shelling lay covered in the street in the town of Irpin on March 6. Diego Herrera Carcedo—AP March 5 Ukrainians crowd under a destroyed bridge as they try to flee, crossing the Irpin river in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 5 Emilio Morenatti—AP A sick woman in a semi-conscious state is carried by Ukrainian soldiers as they cross the Irpin river while fleeing the city in the outskirts of Kyiv on March 5. Emilio Morenatti—AP George Keburia says goodbye to his wife Maya and children as they board a train to Lviv at the Odessa train station on March 5. Salwan Georges—The Washington Post/Getty Images March 4 People remove personal belongings from a burning house after being shelled in the city of Irpin on March 4. Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images A man stands in front of a residential building damaged in a shelling in the city of Chernihiv on March 4. Dimitar Dilkoff—AFP/Getty Images Marina Yatsko and her boyfriend Fedor comfort each other after her 18-month-old son was killed at a hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 4 Evgeniy Maloletka—AP A machine-gunned bus is photographed after an ambush in the city of Kyiv on March 4. Emilio Morenatti—AP Civilians, mostly women and children rush to board any train car that still has any room on it, as the sounds of battle gunfire and bombing fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces draw closer to the city of Irpin on March 4. Marcus Yam—Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock March 3 Ukrainians preparing to spend the night in an improvised refugee shelter outside the city of Przemysl, Poland, on March 3. Mattia Del Punta—NurPhoto/Getty Images A Ukrainian military member walks to collect water and other goods from an abandoned supermarket to distribute to local residents, in Irpin city, Kyiv on March 3. Roman Pilipey—EPA-EFE/Shutterstock A burning building after bombing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 3 Maxim Dondyuk March 2 Serhii, father of teenager Iliya, cries on his son's lifeless body lying on a stretcher at a maternity hospital converted into a medical ward in Mariupol on March 2. Iliya was fatally wounded Wednesday while playing soccer in Mariupol when shelling started amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The explosive hit the soccer field near a school in the Azov Sea city. Evgeniy Maloletka—AP March 1 A damaged administrative building in the aftermath of a Russian shelling in downtown Kharkiv on March 1. Sergey Kozlov—EPA-EFE/Shutterstock The dead bodies of soldiers are seen in a military vehicle on a road in the town of Bucha, close to the capital Kyiv, on March 1. Serhii Nuzhnenko—AP A member of the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine stands inside the damaged Kharkiv regional administration building in the aftermath of a shelling in downtown Kharkiv on March 1. Sergey Kozlov—EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Soldiers help a couple and their infant child cross a broken bridge over the Irpin river, that was destroyed to stop the advancing of Russian tanks, as they flee their city of Irpin, on March 1. Marcus Yam—Los Angeles Times/Getty Images Medical workers show a newborn baby to a woman who gave birth in a maternity hospital converted into a medical ward in Mariupol on March 1. Evgeniy Maloletka—AP Feb. 28 Cars are stopped at a roadblock set by civil defensemen at a road leading to central Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 28 Emilio Morenatti—AP A Ukrainian elderly woman eats a slice of bread inside a crowded Lviv railway station, Feb. 28. Russia's military assault on Ukraine has entered its fifth day, forcing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and foreign residents to seek refuge in neighboring countries Bernat Armangue—AP People fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine cross train tracks to get to a train leaving for Poland at the train station in Lviv, Ukraine, on Feb. 28 Thomas Peter—Reuters Mothers tend to their children who are undergoing cancer treatment in the bomb shelter of the Oncology ward at Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital on Feb. 28 in Kyiv, Ukraine Chris McGrath—Getty Images Feb. 27 People stand in line in front of a supermarket while smoke billows over the town of Vasylkiv just outside Kyiv on Feb. 27, after overnight Russian strikes hit an oil depot Dimitar Dilkoff—AFP/Getty Images Cars line up on the road to the Shehyni border crossing as people flee to Poland, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, outside Mostyska, Ukraine, Feb. 27 Natalie Thomas—Reuters Feb. 26 Ukrainian forces detain a man near a building damaged by a Russian rocket attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 26 Ron Haviv—VII/Redux A view of a high-rise apartment block which was hit by recent shelling in Kyiv on Feb. 26. Genya Savilov—AFP/Getty Images People wait for a train to Poland at the railway station of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Feb. 26. Yuriy Dyachyshyn—AFP/Getty Images Ukrainian servicemen walk by a damaged vehicle, at the site of a fight with Russian troops, in Kyiv on Feb. 26, 2022. Valentyn Ogirenko—Reuters Volunteers from the Territorial Defense Force make Molotov cocktails to use against the invading Russian troops in Kyiv Feb. 26 Marcus Yam—Los Angeles Times/Getty Images Feb. 25 Servicemen of the Ukrainian National Guard take positions in central Kyiv on Feb. 25, 2022. Gleb Garanich—Reuters A burnt, damaged bedroom of an apartment is seen in a residential block hit by an early morning missile strike in Kyiv on Feb. 25. Chris McGrath—Getty Images The body of a Russian soldier lies near destroyed Russian vehicles the day after fighting with Ukrainian soldiers on a highway outside Kharkiv, on Feb. 25. Tyler Hicks—The New York Times/Redux Members of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine walk towards a rocket case stuck in pavement following a recent shelling in Kharkiv on Feb. 25. Maksim Levin—Reuters In this screen-grab, from a video released by Ukrainian Police Department Press Service, firefighters inspect the damage of a building following a missile attack on the city of Kyiv, on Feb. 25. Ukrainian Police Department Press Service/AP Ukrainian military volunteers receive weapons at a weapons storage facility in Fastiv, on Feb. 25. Brendan Hoffman—The New York Times/Redux People rest and shelter in the Kyiv subway on Feb. 25. Efrem Lukatsky—AP Feb. 24 The body of a missile stuck in the ceiling of an apartment after a Russian air strike on the northern outskirts of Kharkiv on Feb. 24, 2022. Sergey Bobok—AFP/Getty Images Black smoke rises from a military airport in Chuhuiv near Kharkiv on Feb. 24, 2022. Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images A Russian tank enters a region controlled by Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine on Feb. 24. Nanna Heitmann—Magnum Photos Ukrainian security forces accompany a wounded man after an airstrike hit an apartment complex in Chuhuiv, Kharkiv Oblast on Feb. 24. Wolfgang Schwan—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images A man uses a carpet to cover a body on the ground after bombings on the eastern Ukraine town of Chuhuiv on Feb. 24. Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images Kyiv residents try to leave the city following missile strikes in the Ukrainian capital on Feb. 24. Chris McGrath—Getty Images Hundreds of people seek shelter underground inside the dark train cars of a metro station in Kharkiv, as the Russian attack on Ukraine continues on Feb. 24. Marcus Yam—Los Angeles Times/Getty Images Ukrainian firefighters arrive to rescue civilians after an airstrike hit an apartment complex in Chuhuiv, Kharkiv Oblast on Feb. 24. Wolfgang Schwan—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images A woman holds her baby as she gets on a bus leaving Kyiv on Feb. 24. Emilio Morenatti—AP Ukrainian servicemen get ready to repel an attack in Ukraine's Lugansk region on Feb. 24. Anatolii Stepanov—AFP/Getty Images A wounded woman stands outside a hospital after a bombing in Chuhuiv by Russian forces, on Feb. 24. Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images Smoke rises from an air defense base in the aftermath of a Russian strike in Mariupol, Ukraine on Feb. 24. Evgeniy Maloletka—AP A couple kiss goodbye before the woman boards a bus out of Kyiv on Feb. 24 Emilio Morenatti—AP A person puts gasoline into their vehicle in Kramatorsk, in Donetsk oblast, Donbass region, on Feb. 24. Many Ukrainians are fleeing following several explosions in different cities. Diego Herrera—Europa Press/Getty Images A woman and child look out of the window of a bus as they leave Sievierodonetsk, the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, on Feb. 24. Vadim Ghirda—AP