People take part in a protest against Russia's military operation in Ukraine, in Times Square, in New York City, U.S., February 24, 2022.
People take part in a protest against Russia's military operation in Ukraine, in Times Square, in New York City, U.S., February 24, 2022. Reuters / JEENAH MOON

Demonstrators in several major U.S. cities protested the invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt the missile and troop assault as U.S. President Joe Biden announced new sanctions against Russia.

Despite freezing temperatures, hundreds of protesters in Manhattan marched to the Russian mission to the United Nations, some cloaked in Ukrainian flags and chanting "stop the war." New York City has the largest Ukrainian community in the United States.

Anstasiia Yashchenko, a resident of Kyiv, told Reuters her family and friends were foremost on her mind while she attended the protest with her boyfriend, who had flown her to New York City 10 days earlier.

"I packed everything in like two suitcases and I just ran out of the apartment and just left," said Yashchenko, 23. She said she had hoped tensions would lessen, and could not believe her eyes when watching the invasion unfold early Thursday.

The earliest protest on Thursday occurred outside Russia's embassy in Washington around 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT), shortly after news broke that Russian forces had launched a massive attack against its neighbor.

Additional protests were scheduled for later on Thursday in Washington, Los Angeles, Houston, and Denver, according to social media posts. Similar rallies took place in cities around the world on Thursday.

Russia's invasion, the biggest attack on a European country since World War Two, has left many Ukrainian-Americans fearful for the safety of loved ones still living in the eastern European country.

One of the people at Washington's early-morning protest, which dispersed before sunrise, told Washington television station WUSA that he had been pleading with his parents and sister to leave and get to safety for weeks, to no avail.

Dozens of Ukrainians began fleeing Ukraine into Poland and other neighboring central European countries after Russia's assault began on Thursday, some taking only what they could carry and leaving behind possessions and pets.

Russians have also joined U.S. protests to voice their opposition. Outside the Russian U.N. mission in Manhattan on Thursday, Julia Makhalova, a 34-year-old who immigrated to New York from Russia in 2017, said she feared Putin's actions would escalate into a full-blown world war.

"I think it's very scary overall," she said in an interview. "The president is literally crazy."

In Russia, protest against the invasion of Ukraine has been stifled. A Moscow-based opposition activist, Marina Litvinovich, was detained by Russian police on Thursday after she called for anti-war protests in the country.