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The latest on Russia's multidirectional assault on Ukraine

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

It's been a dizzying, horrifying and terrible day, especially for the people of Ukraine. Russia this morning launched the largest war in Europe since the end of World War II. It's bombed Ukraine's biggest cities and invaded it from at least three different directions. President Putin's moves have earned condemnation from the West. Here's President Biden speaking earlier today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Putin has committed an assault on the very principles that uphold the global peace. Now the entire world sees clearly what Putin and his Kremlin allies are really all about.

RASCOE: NPR's Tim Mak started his day in the capital Kyiv as explosions could be heard in the distance, and he joins us now. Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

RASCOE: Hey. Tim, Kyiv came under bombardment before dawn broke. Can you tell us what happened? What's been targeted?

MAK: Sure. So the residents of Kyiv and cities all across Ukraine were woken up overnight by bombing. And so where we were in central Kyiv, we heard explosions in the early morning and more throughout the day.

So far, what we're seeing is reports of military installations and airports being targeted by these attacks. We've heard reports of Russian troops on the outskirts of Kyiv, an airborne assault by Russian forces to take a key airport just north of the city. And at this hour, it's unclear whose hands it's in.

RASCOE: What do we know about what's happening elsewhere in Ukraine?

MAK: Well, it really looks like Putin's objective is, at least in these initial hours, to degrade the Ukrainian military's capabilities. We've heard about heavy bombing in major cities all across Ukraine. In Chernobyl, there's fighting at this old nuclear power plant. It's an exclusion zone and one of the closest routes to reach Kyiv for an invasion force coming in from Belarus.

RASCOE: How are Ukrainians responding to this aggression from Russia?

MAK: I mean, I think one initial reaction is one of shock. I arrived last evening on one of the last commercial flights into Kyiv, and Ukrainians were immediately pointing out that this is a city that's not panicking despite the threats of an invasion. And that situation obviously changed dramatically overnight.

Many residents of Kyiv were trying to evacuate towards the West, and we saw lines at ATMs, gas stations, supermarkets, traffic at a standstill. And as we saw - as we left the city, we saw these surreal sights - a tank convoy headed towards Kyiv, checkpoints, long fuel lines and even this kind of moving scene of a single elderly Ukrainian woman who was the only one at a bus stop for buses headed back in the direction of Kyiv.

RASCOE: Oh, wow. What has been the reaction from the Ukrainian army? Are they fighting back, in about the minute we have left? And what are you hearing from the government and President Zelenskyy?

MAK: You know, there are reports of them fighting back all across this country. There are reports of tanks and planes destroyed, of Russian soldiers that have surrendered. But Russia does appear to have overwhelming firepower here.

Earlier in the day, Zelenskyy spoke, and he's been speaking to the public on a regular basis. He said that the Ukrainian government is handing out weapons and calling on adults to protect their country. He called on all those who have combat experience to defend their land. And he said that their greatest asset was that of national unity. He imposed martial law in Ukraine and urged the citizens not to panic, saying...

RASCOE: OK.

MAK: ...We are strong, adding, glory to Ukraine.

RASCOE: OK, thank you. NPR's Tim Mak outside the capital, Kyiv. Thank you so much, and stay safe.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.