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Crisis in Ukraine

FLEEING UKRAINE Residents of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, try to leave the city after Russia's attack on the country on February 24. PIERRE CROM—GETTY IMAGES

An updated version of this story is available in the March 11, 2022, issue of TIME for Kids.

On February 24, Russian forces launched an attack on Ukraine. The move comes after weeks of Russian troop buildup along Ukraine’s borders.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Ukraine’s president. He has urged Ukrainians to remain calm as many people are trying to flee the country for their safety. Zelenskyy says Ukraine will defend itself. He has called on world leaders to provide military assistance and to place sanctions on Russia. A sanction is a kind of punishment. Often, sanctions are designed to hurt a country economically.

World leaders have condemned Russian president Vladimir Putin for his actions. United States president Joe Biden called the attacks on Ukraine “unprovoked and unjustified.” He said he would place new sanctions on Russia that would “impose a severe cost on the Russian economy.”

“This is a dangerous moment for all of Europe, for freedom around the world,” President Biden said at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

In Context

Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It shares a long border with Russia, and is home to 44 million people. It is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. Ukraine was once part of the Soviet Union. So was Russia. Ukraine and Russia became separate countries after the breakup of the Soviet Union, in 1991.

Putin claimed an attack against Ukraine was necessary in order to protect people in two parts of eastern Ukraine. These regions are controlled by separatist groups. These groups want their regions to break away from Ukraine. The groups are supported by Putin. This week, he recognized the two regions as independent republics.

Putin has also accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demand to stop Ukraine from joining NATO. That’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It’s made up of 28 European countries and two North American countries, Canada and the U.S. By joining NATO, Ukraine would get direct support from these countries.

The U.S. says Russia’s moves are an excuse for a wider invasion of Ukraine. “This was never about genuine security concerns on [Russia’s] part,” Biden said. “It was always about . . . Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary.”

Zelenskyy called on Russians to protest Putin’s actions. Thousands of Russians took to the streets on February 24 to demonstrate against their country’s decision to invade Ukraine. About 1,700 people across 53 cities were detained by authorities.

On February 24, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called Russia’s attack on Ukraine “reckless.” “We stand with the people of Ukraine at this terrible time,” he said.