Russia has finally launched its long-feared full-scale invasion of Ukraine after Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” was underway in a televised address to his citizens in the early hours of Thursday morning.
The cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kramatorsk and Mariupol have been under attack for almost a week now, with the locals putting up a courageous resistance at street level to ensure the conquest is far from the formality Mr Putin and the Russian military appear to have assumed it would be.
In the latest skirmishes, Russian paratroopers attacked Kharkiv as shelling left 21 people dead and another 112 injured.
Meanwhile, a 40-mile long convoy of Russian tanks is en route to the capital Kyiv, suggesting a full-blown siege of the city could soon be underway.
Moscow has warned citizens to leave the city before its assault gets underway – many have already done so, escaping for the borders as refugees from the fighting after queuing at ATMs, supermarkets and petrol stations for supplies.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky remains in the capital, presenting an admirably defiant front and continuing to appeal to the international community for support.
US president Joe Biden, UK prime minister Boris Johnson and UN secretary general Antonio Guterres have joined other global powers in condemning Moscow’s “unprovoked and unjustified” attack and promised to hold it “accountable”, with the Western powers subsequently introducing another round of tough economics sanctions against Russian banks and businesses.
The Russian ruble has since fallen to historic lows against the US dollar, forcing the country’s central bank to introduce capital controls as Russian businesses are boycotted around the world and its sports stars and musicians banned from taking part in international competitions as Mr Putin presides over a pariah state of his own making.
Tensions in Eastern Europe have rumbled on since December when Russia stationed an estimated 130,000 soldiers along its western border and then another 30,000 in Belarus, consistently denying it had any attention of making incursions into Ukraine.
Frantic diplomatic negotiations were pursued by the likes of US secretary of state Antony Blinken, French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Olaf Scholz and UK foreign secretary Liz Truss in the hope of averting calamity but ultimately came to nothing.
The situation escalated drastically when Mr Putin moved to officially recognize the pro-Russian breakaway regions of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) as independent states, enabling him to shift military resources into those areas in anticipation of the coming assault under the guise of extending protection to allies.
The decision to recognize the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR, which first declared independence in May 2014 and have been engaged in bloody conflict ever since, came after a direct appeal for military and financial aid from their respective leaders, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik.
Russia has previously denied accusations from Ukraine and Nato that it had been helping to arm and fund the rebels in a fight that has cost more than 14,000 lives.
The international community immediately hit out at Russia’s calculated chess move, with the United Nations Security Council expressing “great concern”.
Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador to the UN, insisted at the time that there would be no “new bloodbath” in eastern Ukraine but warned the West to “think twice” before making matters worse.
Behind all of this is Mr Putin’s fierce opposition to Ukraine joining Nato in search of greater protection.
He is believed to desire the return of former Soviet satellite states like Ukraine, Georgia and perhaps Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the embrace of what he still considers to be their motherland, lamenting their independence since the collapse of the USSR in 1989.
The Kremlin leader previously annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 in response to Ukraine voting out his ally Viktor Yanukovych, shrugging off the protests and international condemnation that followed.
Here are two maps to explain Ukraine’s frought situation as the conflict gets underway.
The first shows its borders within continental Europe (Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland lie to the south west and west while Belarus sits north) and its major cities.
The second details the incursions made by Russian troops, tanks, armored vehicles and artillery units so far, which are currently clustered around the eastern front surrounding the Donbas region of Ukraine where Donetsk and Luhansk are situated.
The Russian military also has a heavy presence in the Crimea and naval forces lurking in the Black Sea.
Adding to the gravity of the situation for Ukraine is the significant gulf in military strength between the two combatants.
While Ukraine has under 250,000 troops and is looking to add a further 130,000 to its ranks, Russia has almost a million soldiers at its disposal. It also has much more sophisticated and abundant military hardware.
Speaking of the disparity between the two armies, Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, said it is unfortunate that his country is not part of Nato.
“We are not part of this family and we are facing the biggest army in Europe by ourselves,” he said.