Russian president Vladimir Putin launched an attack on Ukraine which began at around 5am Ukraine time, when explosions were heard near major Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv. Protesters waving Ukrainian flags and placards gathered outside the gates of Downing Street to call for action to halt Russian aggression, chanting slogans such as “Hands off Ukraine” and “Stop Putin, stop the war”.
Protesters gathered as Boris Johnson announced a “vast invasion is underway, by land, by sea and by air” in a televised address.
The Prime Minister promised to impose “massive” sanctions that would “hobble” the Russian economy in the wake of the attack.
The demonstration, which was organised by a community group of Ukrainians and Europeans called London Euromaidan, called for stricter sanctions including the freezing of 50 oligarchs’ UK assets and blocking Putin’s funds.
Many also called for military assistance to Ukraine, including British military boots on the ground.
One of the protesters Vladyslav Chyrkin told the Big Issue: “My friends and my family are still in Ukraine and facing a lot of bombings which is a terrifying thing.”
“Some of my friends have been facing bombing since 2014 in the east of Ukraine already.”
He added that “there wasn’t a time when Ukraine was a part of Russia,” despite claims of separatists in the region.
He said “Ukraine was never Russia. I don’t want civilians of Ukraine to die.” adding that President Putin “feels like God” and just wants to “fill his power and fill his wallet.”
Maria Lysenko, a Russian living in London, said she started crying when she heard Russia had invaded Ukraine this morning.
She said: “Please sanction everyone, Abramovich, all the Russian oligarchs… all Putin’s wallets.”
The Right Rev Kenneth Nowakowski, the bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, was present at the protest.
He told the Guardian: “I don’t want to criticise the British government because we’re grateful for what they’ve done so far but there is so much more than can and should be done now.”
“It’s also worth remembering that this is a war that has been going on for eight years now. The rest of the world is now waking up to it and the fact that Putin may not just stop at Ukraine.”
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Protester Yuriy Yurchuk, an opera singer at the Royal Opera house who was due to perform in Moscow in two weeks’ time, told the Guardian there needed to be an international response.
He said: “There’s still a place for talking but there should be a comprehensive response to what is happening in Ukraine, including a military one and also international condemnation. Otherwise, what is the UN for?”
Protesters also gathered outside the Russian embassy in London last night calling on the Government to impose tougher sanctions.
The Russian military moved into Ukraine soon after the Russian president announced a “military operation” in the country’s eastern Donbas region in a televised speech in which he urged Ukrainian forces to lay down their weapons.
Putin said: “To anyone who would consider interfering from outside: If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history. All the relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me.”
Tanks and troops have poured into the country from Ukraine’s eastern, southern and northern borders since the invasion began, Ukraine has reported.
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Ukraine has said Russia has carried out 203 attacks since the start of the day with fighting happening almost across the entire territory, according to Reuters, with missile strikes and explosions reported near major cities and military infrastructure.
There are huge traffic jams on roads out of the capital Kyiv as people try to flee the city, while others have sought shelter in basements and underground metro stations.
Queues have formed for buses, cashpoints and petrol as Ukraine closed its airspace to civilian flights.
Several European countries bordering Ukraine including Poland, Slovakia and Hungary have said they are preparing for an influx of refugees as people seek safety outside the country.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the invasion was a “catastrophe for our continent”.
He said Russia had “attacked a friendly country without any provocation and without any credible excuse” and must not be allowed to succeed.
Mr Johnson said: “Diplomatically, politically, economically, and eventually, militarily, this hideous and barbaric adventure of Vladimir Putin must end in failure.”