Ukraine invasion in pictures: Russian troops rock cities

Vladimir Putin unleashed the biggest military offensive in Europe since the Second World War when the Russian president ordered troops into Ukraine on February 24.

After months of Kremlin threats against Kyiv, followed by foiled attempts by Western leaders to defuse the crisis, Putin made a speech vowing to “demilitarize and denazify Ukraine”. He then ordered troops to invade the country from the north, east and south.

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about authorizing a special military operation in the Donbas region of Ukraine during a televised address on state TV on February 24 © Russian Pool / Reuters
Smoke rises after an explosion in Kyiv
After the invasion, Russia launched an all-out assault on Ukraine, including shelling towns and cities such as the capital Kyiv on February 24 © Ukrainian President’s Office / Zuma Press Wire / Dpa
People sitting and lying down in a Kyiv subway
People in Kyiv use an underground train station as a bomb shelter on February 24 © Emilio Morenatti / AP

Within days, Putin’s war on Ukraine was creating images rarely seen in Europe in half a century: civilians sleeping underground on metro station platforms, refugees streaming over borders, city centers littered with rubble after heavy shelling.

Russian forces unleashed some of their worst violence in Russian-speaking cities in Ukraine’s east, including Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, where despairing residents were incredulous and angry after a week of bombing.

A wounded woman in Kharkiv after an air strike
Air strikes on residential buildings in Kharkiv resulted in casualties on February 24 © Wolfgang Schwan / Anadolu Agency / Getty
An injured Ukrainian soldier sits on the pavement in Kyiv
Ukrainian soldiers have been injured during the conflict, as seen here in Kyiv on February 25 © Emilio Morenatti / AP
Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky calls on world leaders to rally behind his country on March 1 © Umit Bektas / Reuters

Ukraine’s civilian government continued its business even after President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law, working from underground shelters or homes.

Zelensky’s popularity has soared since he stepped into the role of wartime leader, delivering morale-boosting messages while wearing green military-issue T-shirts or sweaters and urging world leaders to rally behind his country.

A damaged building in Kyiv
The upper floors of a building in Kyiv were damaged after being struck by what Ukrainian authorities said was a Russian rocket on February 26 © Daniel Leal / AFP / Getty
Debris and destroyed cars show the aftermath of Russian shelling in Kharkiv
The eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv was subjected to relentless Russian shelling on March 1 © Sergey Dolzhenko / EPA / Shutterstock
An aerial view of a smoky building that has been split in two by shelling in the Kyiv region
A residential building destroyed by shelling in the Borodyanka settlement in the Kyiv region on March 3 © Maksim Levin / Reuters

Moscow meted out heavy bombardment on Mariupol, the southern port city that has been a stronghold of pro-Kyiv sentiment. The attacks knocked out power, hot water, heating and internet services. Isolated residents were left in dark, freezing conditions.

Cities in Ukraine’s south began to fall this week as Russian forces pushed north from the occupied Crimean peninsula, while city officials did their best to keep public services running under occupation.

Men and women preparing Molotov cocktails in Uzhhorod, Ukraine
Civilians in Ukraine have been preparing Molotov cocktails to try to repel attacks by Russian forces, as seen here in Uzhhorod on February 27 © Serhii Hudak / Reuters
Two women make camouflage nets in Lviv
Volunteers tie pieces of fabric while making camouflage nets outside the Ivanychuk Library in Lviv on March 1 © Ethan Swope / Bloomberg
A woman holding an AK-47
A woman learns to use an AK-47 assault rifle during a civilian self-defense course in Lviv on March 4 © Daniel Leal / AFP / Getty

Some residents of occupied towns said the invading troops were under-equipped or demoralized and taunted them openly, but others said they were worried that the occupiers might take revenge or stage propaganda events claiming locals welcomed the “liberation” of Ukraine.

Ukrainians are volunteering for civic duties, military service or collecting guns in places like Kyiv, where the military halted Russian troops’ advances. Residents of the capital are preparing for expected military assaults and a siege.

A Russian convoy making its way towards Kyiv
Satellite imagery of a Russian convoy making its way towards Kyiv on February 28 © Maxar Technologies / AP
Smoke rising from the TV Tower in Kyiv
A Russian missile hit the TV Tower in Kyiv on March 1 © Ukraine Defense Ministry / EYEPRESS / Reuters
People stand by the remains of damaged Russian military vehicles in Bucha
The remains of damaged Russian military vehicles in the town of Bucha, near Kyiv, on March 1 © Serhii Nuzhnenko / AP

Russia’s war on Ukraine has created more than 1mn refugees, the UN said this week. It is the fastest movement of people seen anywhere in the world this century.

Kyiv on Friday warned of the threat of a “humanitarian disaster” in communities devastated by the war. The Ukrainian president’s office said it had asked the International Committee of the Red Cross for help with evacuating civilians and delivering emergency aid to areas hit by the war.

A woman and and her son look through the window of an evacuation train
A woman and her son on an evacuation train from Kyiv to Lviv on February 25 © Umit Bektas / Reuters
A girl sat outside holding cuddly toys while her brother looks at a smartphone
A brother and sister at Medyka border crossing in eastern Poland on February 26 © Wojtek Radwanski / AFP / Getty
A woman reaches her hand back to someone as people try to board a train at Kyiv station
People cram on to a train at Kyiv station on March 4 © Zurab Kurtsikidze / EPA / Shutterstock

Tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

The air, ground and sea offensive ordered by Russia’s president involves three broad fronts. One front is from the south via Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. The second is from the east via the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region, whose separatist governments Putin recognized on February 22. The third is a broad northern front that has targeted the cities of Kharkiv, Sumy and the capital Kyiv.

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