The Ukrainian government said on Thursday it had recaptured an airport on the outskirts of Kiev, which had previously been taken over by Russian airborne troops, as President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered mandatory military service and banned all men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces, in an update at 20:00 local time (13:00 ET), said they believe there are more than 60 Russian battalion tactical groups deployed on Ukrainian soil, equivalent to between 30,000 and 60,000 troops.
It stated that “the enemy’s morale is extremely low.”
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, dispatched his troops early Thursday morning to carry out what he called a “special military operation.”
Prior to the invasion, analysts and intelligence experts believed that Putin had up to 190,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders at various locations.
A convoy of army trucks passes a police post in the northern Crimean city of Armyansk early Thursday morning on its way to Ukraine.
On Thursday, a Russian tank was spotted in Ukraine, apparently captured by Ukrainian forces.
Before dawn, Russian troops attacked from the south across the Crimea; from the east, where the city of Kharkiv is under heavy pressure; and from the north, when troops from both Russia and Belarus cross the Belarusian border in tanks.
Loud explosions were heard around Kiev early Thursday morning, and US officials said they expected the city to fall by the end of the weekend.
General George Joulvan, who commanded NATO during the war in the Balkans, said on Thursday evening that he expects Kiev to fall within 24 to 36 hours.
As night fell on Thursday, residents sought shelter in the city’s deep subway system, knowing nighttime shelling was likely.
In the afternoon, smoke swirled over the city, and one blow was believed to have hit a railway bridge in the center of Kiev.
A local resident stands in front of a shelled house in Horlivka, Donetsk, Thursday.
Russian paratroopers were spotted at the Antonov airport in Gostomel, 32 km from Kiev.
On Thursday, Russian troops fought for control of the airport, which they captured earlier in the day.
The battle for control of the airport is captured in startling footage obtained by CNN as their reporter Matthew Chance drove up to the city of Gostomel, 20 miles from central Kiev.
Gostomel, home to Antonov Airport, is considered a vital staging post for Russian invaders due to its proximity to the capital.
Chance spoke to some of the soldiers, assuming they were Ukrainians, and was shocked when they told him they were Russian airborne troops.
Airborne units are considered an elite force, specially selected for their skill and ability to parachute during the initial attack.
By Thursday evening, however, the Ukrainian government said it had regained control of the airport.
This was announced by Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko, reports Kyiv Independent.
The Ukrainian National Guard tweeted a photo of three young soldiers holding a bullet-riddled Ukrainian flag.
They signed the photo as follows: “Guards with their flag, torn to pieces after today’s battle.
“Congratulations to all of you and we say that we will win!”
The National Guard of Ukraine has shared a photo of soldiers who they say repelled an attack by Russian paratroopers at the airport.
Guardsmen with their own ensign, poshmatovannym with tricks after today’s battle. They give you a breath and a being that we can overcome! 🇺🇦https://t.co/0wLlv8pGNw pic.twitter.com/lDEYdCFTf2
— ZS UKRAINE (@ArmedForcesUkr) February 24, 2022
A spokesman for the Ukrainian government said on Thursday evening that the Russians had been kicked out of the airport.
If true, this would be a stunning development. Ukraine’s defense minister claims he has restored the security of an airport that was seized by Russian air assault troops – Russia’s elite military units – on the outskirts of Kiev. He added that the fight continues. pic.twitter.com/6SpT7lhIn6
— Alexander S. Vindman (@AVindman) February 24, 2022
Zelenskiy was in a bunker at a secret location Thursday night and said in a video posted on social media that he was told he was the “number one target” for Russian assassins.
According to him, at least 137 Ukrainians were killed, including 10 soldiers and 300 wounded.
Seeking to stave off the city’s imminent takeover, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke Thursday night with Vladimir Putin, who gave the French leader a “comprehensive” explanation of his justification for the war.
The Kremlin said the call was initiated by Macron, and he and Putin agreed to keep in touch.
They spoke after Russian forces seized control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after a “fierce” battle, with the state of the nuclear storage facilities “unknown”.
The seizure of the facility raised concerns about a radiation leak that could cause radioactive fallout in Europe.
The Chernobyl disaster in what was then Soviet Ukraine sent clouds of nuclear material across much of Europe in 1986, and the site has remained closed ever since, although it has been open to tourists in recent years.
Some of the Russian military concentrated in the Chernobyl “exclusion zone” before crossing into Ukraine early Thursday morning, a Russian security source told Reuters.
According to the source, Russia wants to take control of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in order to signal NATO to stop military intervention.
“Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 does not happen again,” Zelensky wrote shortly before the power plant was seized.
“This is a declaration of war on all of Europe.”