Russian airstrikes bombard Ukraine as ground forces advance

Russia has launched what U.S. officials describe as the most significant military action in Europe in 77 years. Across Ukraine, Russia has attacked with airstrikes, missiles and troops. Ukraine says at least 57 people were killed and dozens wounded as the Russian army heads toward the capital, Kyiv. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has launched what U.S. officials describe as the most significant military action in Europe in 77 years.

    From the north, the east, and the south, Russia has attacked Ukraine with airstrikes, missiles, and troops. Ukraine says that at least 57 have been killed and 170 wounded. Elements of the Russian army, one of the largest in the world, are heading toward Kyiv, the capital.

    And the U.S. fears the goal is to take over the country and evict the government.

    Nick Schifrin begins our coverage.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In a European capital, the full weight of the Russian military, what the U.S. calls the initial phase of a full-scale invasion, with Russian helicopters flying low over residential rooftops and at the outskirts of Kyiv to seize a military airport, military vehicles pouring into Southern Ukraine, and Russian troops taking over the Chernobyl nuclear site on their way to sack the capital.

    Ukraine and U.S. say the Russian military is advancing on at least three axes, from Belarus in a pincer movement toward Kyiv, from the south and Russian-occupied Crimea, and from the east into the country's second largest city, Kharkiv, where the war entered living rooms.

    This is an unexploded rocket and the aftermath of a direct hit on a residential complex. In this city of 1.4 million, the only safe place was the subway, where children distract themselves, as their parents fear for the future and loved ones hold on tight.

  • Woman (through translator):

    It is normal people who don't want war who suffer. We want to live in peace, to go to work, build our families, develop our country. We just want a peaceful sky over our heads, instead of hiding as rats in holes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the vast majority of targets, Ukraine's military. A senior U.S. defense official says more than 160 Russian missiles launched from the air, sea and from inside Russia punished Ukraine's bases, airfields and air defenses.

    It sparked an exit of cars. Filled Kyiv streets, with families fleeing west away from the invasion, the highway out of town complete gridlock; 29-year-old Oksana Matiiash stopped at a gas station to tell us how she felt.

    Oksana Matiiash, Resident of Ukraine: One of the news media that I checked, there was a huge headline that Putin started war on Ukraine.

    I think that was the fastest in my life that I needed to pack my things. And I just took my hoodie, one sweater, one pair of jeans, my computer, and that's it. All of my belongings are left in Kyiv. It is really scary, but I do believe in Ukraine, in its leadership, in our leadership, in our armed forces.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But in Mariupol, an industrial city near the coast, others had nowhere to go.

  • Woman (through translator):

    I'm alone at work. Where will I run? Where do I go? Tell me please. My God.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And today is just day one. Russia has kept in reserve the vast majority of the more than 150,000 troops on Ukraine's border, who are waiting, posing for cameras and poised to further invade.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    At the White House. Today, President Biden unveiled sanctions designed to punish Russia long term. The U.S. has now blocked the assets of all of Russia's largest banks, including the largest, SberBank.

    The U.S. sanctioned Russian oligarchs who have — quote — "enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian state." And the U.S. banned exports of technology with any American intellectual property, including semiconductors used in cars, smartphones and missiles.

  • President Joe Biden:

    We're going to stop the ability to finance and grow Russia — the Russian military. We're going to impose major — and we're going to impair their ability to compete in the high-tech 21st century economy.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    President Biden warned again that gas prices could rise and urged oil companies not to exploit global instability.

  • President Joe Biden:

    My administration is using the tools, every tool at its disposal to protect American families and businesses from rising prices at the gas pump. We're taking active steps to bring down the cost. We are closely monitoring energy supplies for any disruption.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    American sanction timed with European export controls announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

  • Ursula von der Leyen, President, European Commission:

    Our measures will weaken Russia's technology, technological position in key areas, actually from which the elite makes most of their money. And this ranges from high-tech components to cutting-edge software. This will also seriously degrade the Russian economy and all areas in the future.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And the United Kingdom introduced new restrictions on wealthy Russians' access to British banks. It banned Aeroflot from British airspace and is working to exclude Russia from the SWIFT financial system.

  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

  • Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister:

    Putin will stand condemned in the eyes of the world and of history. He will never be able to cleanse the blood of Ukraine from his hands.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And the West fears Putin could expand the conflict into NATO. So the U.S. announced today it sent 7,000 members of an armored brigade combat team to Germany, in addition to F-35s and Apache helicopters arriving today along NATO's eastern flank, and the 3,000 additional soldiers recently sent to Poland.

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg:

  • Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General:

    We have increased our president in the eastern part of the alliance with thousands of more troops, ships and planes over the last weeks to send a very clear message that an attack on one ally will trigger the response from the whole alliance. And we do so not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent the conflict.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Inside Russia, Putin is preventing protest. Moscow police arrested hundreds of demonstrators calling for an end to a war that Putin said was to — quote — "demilitarize and denazify Ukraine," even though President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish and his great uncles died in the Holocaust.

    Last night, Putin also obliquely threatened nuclear war.

  • Vladimir Putin, Russian President (through translator):

    Whoever would try to stop us and further create threats to our country, to our people should know that Russia's response will be immediate and lead you to such consequences that you have never faced in your history. We are ready for any outcome.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Despite it all, today, Zelensky offered diplomacy.

  • Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukranian President (through translator)):

    We underline that it wasn't Ukraine who chose the path of war, but Ukraine is offering to get back to the path of peace.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And Ukrainians are offering something else. In the face of invasion, hundreds lined up outside of hospital to show their resilience and donate their blood.

    And, tonight, President Zelensky has ordered a general mobilization of all citizens in Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Nick, on that point, what are the Ukrainians able to do to defend themselves?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Ukrainian officials I talk to do detail a series of successes that they describe against the Russian invasion.

    They talk about tank battles in the northeast, mechanized units confronting convoys in the east, fighting along the Black Sea, and taking prisoners along the south as well.

    They are better trained. They have more equipment. And they say — senior officials in Ukraine talk to me about how they are better led, because they have been fighting for the last eight years in the east against Russian-backed separatists.

    But the bottom line, Judy, Ukraine's military is badly outgunned. Half the militaries in the east, which means they're spread thin throughout the rest of the country. And there's little stopping Russia from destroying Ukraine's air defenses, little stopping Russia from coming down from Belarus and, therefore, little stopping Russia from threatening the capital, Kyiv, itself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nick Schifrin.

    And we will see you again in just a few minutes.

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