President George Bush says Putin’s attack is the ‘gravest’ threat to Europe since World War Two

Russian launched total war on Ukraine today, with missiles raining from the sky, tanks rolling across the border from Belarus , and masses of paratroopers descending on eastern regions after Vladimir Putin personally gave the order to attack.

‘Hundreds’ of Ukrainian troops have already been killed in early clashes, Kyiv said, as the fight came to them on all fronts at a moment’s notice. Cruise missiles, guided bombs and GRAD rockets took out targets from east to west – aimed at airfields, military bases, ammo dumps, and command posts including in the capital.

The first sign an invasion was imminent came at just before 12am Ukrainian time (10pm in the UK), when Russian-backed rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine issued a request for military assistance from Moscow in what is being widely seen as a ‘False Flag’ operation to justify Putin’s decision to attack.

Moments later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a defiant message to the nation, vowing his countrymen would ‘fight back’ in the event of an invasion, telling Moscow: ‘When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.’

A frenzied string of diplomatic manoeuvres, including an emergency UN Security Council meeting in New York, were not enough to dissuade Putin, who declared a ‘special military operation’ at around 3am Ukraine time.

At around 6am, Zelenskyy declared martial law in a video message filmed on his phone, urging his people ‘not to panic’ and promising: ‘We will win over everybody because we are Ukraine.’

As Europe faced its worst military crisis for decades, here is how this morning’s dramatic events unfolded, minute by minute. All times are shown first in Ukrainian time with the GMT equivalent following in brackets.

12:00am (10pm) 

‘We will fight back’: Ukrainian president delivers emotional TV address

Volodymyr Zelenskyy vows the Ukrainian people will ‘fight back’ if Putin launches a full-scale invasion.

His comments follow a request by Moscow-backed rebel leaders in the east of the country for military assistance to fend off Ukrainian ‘aggression’ – considered by the West to be a ‘false flag’ to justify an invasion. 

A solemn President Zelenskyy says: ‘The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace.

‘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.’

The Ukrainian president says he tried to call Putin earlier in the evening, but there was ‘no answer, only silence’, adding that Moscow has around 200,000 soldiers by Ukraine’s borders.

At Ukraine’s request, the United Nations Security Council quickly schedules an emergency meeting – the second in three days.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba calls the separatists’ request ‘a further escalation of the security situation.’ 

Ukraine readies for conflict and enters a month-long state of emergency, effective at midnight. 

3:30am (1:30GMT) 

Explosions heard in strategically important port city of Mariupol 

Residents in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol are woken up at 3.30am by the sound of explosions.  

Video footage appears to show clouds of smoke rising up into the night sky nearby, but it is unconfirmed whether this is as a result of shelling.

Mariupol, located on the Black Sea 50 miles from the Russian border, handles 50 per cent Ukraine’s steel and mineral exports.

Taking the strategic location would give the people’s republics of Donbas access to the sea, and choke off a vital economic artery for Ukraine’s legitimate government.  

4:30am (2:30am GMT) 

UN meeting where Ukraine’s ambassador tells Russian counterpart: ‘war criminals go straight to hell’  

The UN Security Council holds an extraordinary emergency meeting in New York to try to dissuade Russia from sending troops into Ukraine. 

During the charged session, Ukrainian ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya implores the council, chaired by Russia, to ‘do everything possible to stop the war’.

He demands that Russia’s ambassador relinquish his duties as chair.

‘There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell, ambassador,’ a visibly emotional Kyslytsya says.

At a charged UN Security Council meeting, Ukrainian ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told his Russian counterpart: 'There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell, ambassador'

At a charged UN Security Council meeting, Ukrainian ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told his Russian counterpart: ‘There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell, ambassador’

Secretary General Antonio Guterres urges Putin to stop his tanks.

‘If indeed an operation is being prepared, I have only one thing to say from the bottom of my heart,’ he says.

‘President Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died.’

Mr Guterres says he is witnessing, ‘the saddest moment in my tenure as Secretary General of the United Nations’ and that Europe risks, ‘the worst war since the beginning of the century’.

Afterwards, he warns Russian action would not only be ‘devastating for Ukraine’ and ‘tragic’ for Russia ‘but with an impact we can not even foresee in relation to their consequences for the global economy.’

‘In a moment when we are emerging from Covid and so many developing countries absolutely need to have space for the recovery, which would be very, very difficult with the high prices of oil, with the exports of wheat from Ukraine and with rising interest rates caused by instability in international markets,’ he adds. 

5am (3am GMT) 

Putin’s announces ‘special military operation’ and threatens West 

Putin announces a ‘special military operation’ in eastern Ukraine, claiming it’s intended to protect civilians.

In a televised address, Putin says the action comes in response to threats coming from Ukraine.

He claimed Russia wanted to ‘de-Nazify, not occupy’ Ukraine. Putin says the responsibility for bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian ‘regime.’

Putin warns countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action will lead to ‘consequences they have never seen.’

The strongman could be seen wearing the same suit and red tie he wore on Monday to lay out his factually inaccurate version of Ukraine’s history, saying essentially that it was always part of Russia.

In hindsight, Putin’s attempts to rewrite history at his convenience, could be interpreted as evidence that he had already decided to invade Ukraine, and that he misled leaders in the West who pleaded with him for diplomacy. 

5:30am (3:30am GMT) 

Explosions are heard in Kyiv just minutes after Putin’s speech ends  

Following the end of Putin’s speech, explosions are reported in Kyiv, Odessa, Ukraine’s third-largest city, as well as the city of Kramatorsk in the eastern Donetsk region. 

A CNN reporter in Kyiv says: ‘I just heard a big bang right here behind me. I’ve never heard anything like it.’

Matthew Chance, Senior International correspondent for the network, says he heard between seven and eight blasts.

Chance quickly put on his flak jacket and headgear while he continued to report from a balcony in the Ukrainian capital.

A CNN reporter in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv puts on a flak jacket as he hears explosions just after 5.30am

A CNN reporter in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv puts on a flak jacket as he hears explosions just after 5.30am

‘There are big explosions taking place. I can’t see them or explain what they are. but I will tell you the U.S has warned the Ukrainian authorities there could be air strikes and ground attacks as well around the country, including the capital.

‘I don’t know if that’s what’s occurring now but it’s a remarkable coincidence that the explosions come just minutes after Putin gave his speech,’ Chance explained.

‘This is the first time we’ve heard anything. It has been absolutely silent. This is the first time. It has to be more than just a coincidence.

‘I think it’s safe where I am. I have a flak jacket,’ Chance remarked before ducking down to put on his protective gear.

He suggested that the blasts he heard were still some distance away from the centre. 

6am (4am GMT)

Ukrainian president declares martial law 

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy imposes martial law and urges his people to stay at home and not panic as Russian troops pour into the country. 

In a video message published shortly after the Kremlin began its attacks across Ukraine, Zelenskyy says Russia has carried out missile strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure and border guards, and that explosions have been heard in many cities.

The Ukrainian President also says he had spoken by telephone to US President Joe Biden. 

He pleads: ‘Dear Ukrainian citizens, this morning President Putin announced a special military operation in Donbas. Russia conducted strikes on our military infrastructure and our border guards. There were blasts heard in many cities of Ukraine. We’re introducing martial law on the whole territory of our country.

‘A minute ago I had a conversation with President Biden. The US has already started uniting international support. Today each of you should keep calm. Stay at home if you can. We are working. The Army is working. 

‘The whole sector of defence and security is working. No panic. We are strong. We are ready for everything. We will win over everybody because we are Ukraine.’

Paratroopers drop into Ukraine’s second largest city as Russians launch multiple attacks

From around 6am and onwards 

Footage appears to show masses of paratroopers landing in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s largest city. 

The US appeared to know an invasion was about to happen, according to ABC’s Martha Raddatz. 

She said she received a text from a senior Pentagon official three hours before the invasion saying: ‘You are likely in the last few hours of peace on the European continent for a long time to come. Be careful.’ 

As violence spreads, Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, writes on Facebook that the Russian military have launched missile strikes on Ukrainian military command facilities, air bases and military depots in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro.

Later in the morning, five Russian jets are reportedly shot out of the sky over the Donbass before Moscow boasts of taking out all anti-aircraft defences, giving them control of the skies. 

Ukrainian border guards say they have come under attack by heavy artillery, tanks and troops from Russia and Belarus – as Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko throws his forces into the fight.

Luhansk, Sumy, Kharkiv and Chernihiv in the east of Ukraine are all reported as coming under attack, but blasts are also reported in the west – in Zhytomyr and Lviv, close to the border with Poland. 

Extraordinary video footage shows what appears to be a cruise missile slamming into Ivano-Frankivsk airport, also in the west.

Meanwhile pro-Russian rebel forces push out from the occupied Donbass region, capturing two villages and claiming to have shot two Ukrainian jets out of the skies. The port city of Odessa, where Ukraine’s main naval base is located, also comes under attack.