On February 24, 2022, Europe wakes up to a war on its eastern flank as Russia invades neighbouring Ukraine, sparking the worst conflict on the continent since World War II. After weeks of speculation about President Vladimir Putin’s intentions following a massive troop build-up on the border, AFP reports in a high-priority alert shortly before 6:00 am (0300 GMT): “Russia’s Putin announces a ‘military operation’ in Ukraine”. In a television address, Putin says he aims to demilitarise and “de-Nazify” Ukraine, reiterating his unsubstantiated allegation that Ukrainian forces are carrying out a “genocide” in breakaway pro-Russian territories in the east. He warns Western countries against coming to Ukraine’s assistance, saying they face unforetold consequences. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accuses Putin of launching a “full-scale invasion”. Explosions ring out across the country, from the capital Kyiv to the Black Sea port of Odesa and Kharkiv on the border with Russia. Within hours, Ukrainian border guards announce that Russian ground forces backed by tanks and other heavy equipment have crossed into Ukraine from the north, south and east. As air raid sirens blare, a deeply shaken Ksenya Michenka whisks her teenage son and their cat to the safety of an underground metro station off Kyiv’s historic Maidan Square. “We need to save our lives,” she says tensely. Flights over Ukraine and from cities in southern Russia are cancelled. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky imposes martial law, preventing men of the fighting age from leaving the country. International condemnation is swift, with US President Joe Biden saying “the world will hold Russia accountable”. He calls Zelensky, vowing “support and assistance”, addresses the American people, and announces the US and the Group of Seven biggest economies will impose “devastating” economic sanctions on Russia. He vows to defend “every inch” of NATO territory but reiterates that the US, which is wary of being drawn into direct conflict with Russia, will not send troops to non-NATO-member Ukraine. Oil prices break $100 for the first time in more than seven years at the start of a day in which prices for aluminium, of which Russia is a key producer, and wheat, of which Ukraine is a top grower, reaching record highs. The Russian ruble falls nine percent against the dollar several hours after the invasion. In the afternoon NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance is activating its “defence plans” for members. EU leaders impose stinging sanctions targeting Russia’s financial, energy and transport sectors. China goes against the tide of international condemnation, telling Russia’s foreign minister it understands Moscow’s “reasonable concerns on security issues” in Ukraine. Russia moves quickly to try to hobble Ukraine’s defence capabilities, claiming to have destroyed more than 70 military targets, including 11 airfields. Ukraine, meanwhile, says it has downed five Russian planes and a helicopter. In the eastern town of Chuguiv, AFP sees a man in his thirties weeping over the body of his father who was killed in a missile strike and meets Olena Kurilo, a 52-year-old teacher, her face covered in bandages from flying glass. Kurilo, whose bloodied features become one of the iconic images of the war, tells AFP she “never thought” that Russia would invade Ukraine but is ready to resist.