Russia invades Ukraine: Chernobyl nuclear site captured, Kiwi describes aftermath of missile strikes


• At least 80 Russian air strikes on Russia during first day of attack.

• Hundreds killed and injured by invading forces.

• Invading forces said to have taken control of Chernobyl nuclear site.

• Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Russian move aimed “to destroy Ukraine politically by liquidating the head of state”.

• Kiwi in Kyiv describes “the craziest day in my life, or that of anyone else here”,

• NZ PM describes Vladimir Putin’s actions as a “blatant use of military might”,

• Ukrainians in New Zealand talk of “humanitarian catastrophe” to come

As Russia’s globally condemned and deadly military attack on Ukraine surged on overnight, a New Zealander has spoken of the terror of cruise missile strike on the country’s capital.

The initial 36 hours of the attack have included bombing raids, cruise missile strikes, the use of heavily armed attack helicopters, and troops, tanks and other armoured vehicles crossing the border; an operation which Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has described as both being a “brutal act of war”, anda “blatant violation of international law.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday doubled down on her condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s action, saying it was a “blatant use of military might”.

And New Zealand photo-journalist Tom Mutch – who is based in Kyiv – was out drinking when Putin unleashed his military might on neighbouring Ukraine.

He told the New Zealand Herald he heard the repeated thuds of cruise missiles hitting in and around Kyiv – adding it had been “the craziest day in my life, or that of anyone else here”.

Later he ventured up a hill which gave a vista across the city where he could see plumes of smoke rising from where missiles had landed, including one which had landed “basically smack bang in the centre of the city”.

A large-scale battle between Russian and Ukrainian forces for an airbase on the northern outskirts of Kyiv had been ongoing, which Mutch said would be used to bring in more soldiers and supplies as the invasion ramps up.

He added fears the Russians would besiege the capital were rising and many locals had taken to the roads to try to escape before the exit routes are cut off.

Mutch said he was taking things “not a day at a time, but an hour at a time, 10 minutes at a time”.

“I would like to stay and report it out.

“If we start getting serious, serious rocket strikes or air strikes in the centre of Kyiv and it turns into ugly guerrilla warfare, I probably will try and high-tail it, but who knows if that will even be an option at that stage.”

Mutch is one of about 40 New Zealanders in the Ukraine area. Some had already received consular help to leave and there was a team in Poland set up to assist further.

The UK Ministry of Defence has told world leaders there have been more than 80 airstrikes on Ukraine by Russia during the first 24 hours of the battle.

In an intelligence briefing, it spoke of how the Russian forces had “highly likely” taken control of the Chernobyl nuclear site.

But it added Ukrainian troops had displayed “fierce resistance”, and the ministry doubted Russia would have met its goals for the first day of the attack.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the “credible reports” Russian forces had taken control of Chernobyl and were “holding staff . . . hostage” was “unlawful and dangerous hostage taking, which could upend the routine civil service efforts required to maintain and protect the nuclear waste facilities, is obviously incredibly alarming and greatly concerning.

“We condemn it and we request their release.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier said in a videoed speech yesterday that he believed the Russians “want to destroy Ukraine politically by liquidating the head of state”.

He added: “The enemy has designated me as the target number one, and my family as the target number two”.

Zelensky also said the Russian invasion had led to the death of at least 137 and the wounding of at least 316 Ukrainians. That number included military staff and civilians.

At a press conference yesterday, Ardern said New Zealand’s response included imposing a “blanket ban” on travel and any exports that could end up in military use in Russia.

But she could not say if any equipment had been supplied to the Russian military recently.

By Putin choosing this “avoidable” path, an “unthinkable” number of lives could be lost, Ardern said.

Asked if this was war, Ardern said it would be the “closest thing to war my generation will have seen”.

The “blatant use of military might” that would take innocent lives was something “we cannot stand”, she said.

“Russia must now face the consequences,” Ardern said.

“The world is speaking very clear to Russia. What they have done is wrong and they will face consequences,” she said.

Recalling New Zealand’s ambassador to Russia and expelling other diplomats remained an option but was not a “decision taken lightly”, she said.

Anti-war protests have broken out across Russia including hundreds gather in downtown Moscow.

And Ukrainians from across New Zealand are set to hold peaceful protests in the major centres over the weekend.

Yurko Gladun, chairman of the Northern region Ukrainian Association of New Zealand, said like many Ukrainians, he cannot believe it is truly happening.

“You cannot imagine and you cannot believe that in the 21st century this is possible,” he said.

“This is over 70 years after the bloody World War [II].”

While the casualties are not yet known, Gladun believes it will be a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

“Ukrainians know who their enemies are, they will fight, we will fight eye and tooth and that means there will be heaps of casualties, thousands,” he said.

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