'We want peace': Emotional plea from Ukrainian president as Russian invasion 'imminent'

23 February 2022, 18:09 | Updated: 24 February 2022, 01:14

President Volodymyr Zelensky issued an emotional televised address on Thursday - but says his call to President Putin was ignored
President Volodymyr Zelensky issued an emotional televised address on Thursday - but says his call to President Putin was ignored. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has made an emotional plea for peace to the Russian people on Thursday, amid warnings Putin could invade Ukraine within the next 48 hours.

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In a televised address, the president rejected Moscow's claim that his country poses a threat to Russia and warned that a looming Russian invasion could cause tens of thousands of deaths.

Speaking emotionally in Russian, he said: "The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace.

"But if we come under attack that threaten our freedom and lives of our people we will fight back."

Mr Zelensky said he tried to call Russian President Vladimir Putin late on Wednesday but the Kremlin remained silent.

On Thursday the UN Security Council announced it had scheduled an emergency meeting at the request of Ukraine.

It came as the Ukrainian government began closing airports in eastern Ukraine until at least 7am (9am in London) because of the expected confrontation.

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A nationwide state of emergency was declared for Ukraine on Wednesday.

The country's parliament approved President Volodymyr Zelensky's decree that imposes the measure for 30 days starting at midnight in a vote this evening.

The state of emergency allows authorities to impose restrictions on movement, block rallies and ban political parties and organisations "in the interests of national security and public order".

It comes after the Ukrainian government was hit by a cyber attack believed to have been carried out by Russian agents.

US intelligence has warned of a major invasion within the next 48 hours.

The websites for a number of Ukrainian government departments - including the Ministry of Defence and the Security Service - were all down on Wednesday afternoon as a result of the attack.

Ukrainian banks were also targeted, according to deputy prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov, in what analysts and officials have warned could be the first stage of a full-scale Russian attack.

It comes as US President Joe Biden has warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that intelligence suggests a full-scale invasion could occur within the next 48 hours, Newsweek reports.

A US official told the news outlet the invasion would include a "major thrust" towards the capital of Kyiv.

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"The President of Ukraine has been warned Russia will highly likely begin an invasion within 48 hours based on U.S. intelligence," said the official.

Another official added that the cyber attack could be followed by a ground invasion, that would likely occur during the night.

A source close to Zelenskyy also confirmed Mr Biden had issued the warning - although also added it was the third time in a month that such a warning had been received.

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Russia has sent troops into Donetsk and Luhansk, in what many fear is the first move in an invasion.

On Wednesday evening, Russian news agencies said the Kremlin has said the leaders of the two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine have asked President Putin for help in repelling aggression from Ukrainian Army.

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Hundreds of anti-war protesters gathered outside the Russian embassy in London on Wednesday evening chanting slogans like "Putin hands off Ukraine!" and "Russia is big enough already".

One protester, Olesya Khromeychuk, the Director of the Ukrainian Institute London, told LBC how her brother lost his life to Russian shrapnel and said: "We should all stand up and make sure this bloodshed does not happen."

Ukrainian anti-war demonstrators gather outside Russian embassy

It comes after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned Vladimir Putin has gone "full Tonto" after viral video clips showed Russian tanks gathering on the Ukrainian border.

His comments made reference to Tsar Nicholas U during the Crimean War, who Mr Wallace said had made the mistake of having no allies in his actions.

The former Scots Guards officer said his regiment had "kicked the backside" of the tsar in the Crimea and "we can always do it again".

He then said Putin was making the "same mistake".

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Mr Wallace also told reporters the UK was in a "good position" to help out Ukraine with aid, "no matter what that aid is", highlighting that even Russia themselves did not seem to have much faith in their abilities.

"Previously, they've deployed mobile crematoriums to follow troops around the battlefield, which in anyone's book is chilling," he told reporters.

"If I was a soldier, and knew that my generals had so little faith in me that they followed me around the battlefield in a mobile crematorium, or I was the mother or a father of a son, potentially deployed into a combat zone, and my government thought that the way to cover up loss was a mobile crematorium - I'd be deeply, deeply worried."

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In response to the looming threat from Russia, on Wednesday Ukraine declared a 30-day state of emergency.

Top security official Oleksiy Danilov said it would be imposed across all regions except in Donetsk and Luhansk, if approved by its parliament.

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