Zelensky accused Russia of attacking civilians and warned that Russian actions in Kyiv and other areas showed “the sign of genocide” that “would lead to an international tribunal” for the perpetrators. In video posted Sunday, he described the bombing of residential areas and civilian infrastructure, and said that there is “not a single object in the country” that Russia considers off-limits.
In the fourth day of fighting, Russian forces entered the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, leading to heavy street fighting and back-and-forth rocket firing, according to the British Ministry of Defense. Ukraine maintained control of the capital as air raid sirens sounded and residents sheltered underground.
The Kharkiv governor warned residents to stay off the streets. Local Telegram channels showed Russian troops and armored vehicles driving through the streets, within five miles of downtown. The message from Oleg Synyehubov on Facebook followed earlier government reports that Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in the area.
Here’s what to know
- The Biden administration and its European allies vowed Saturday night to block the Kremlin’s access to its sizable foreign currency reserves in the West and to cut off Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system, a network that connects banks around the world. The actions could send Russia’s financial market into free-fall and cripple the Kremlin’s ability to pay for its new war, which has intensified in recent days.
- Russian troops have moved into Ukraine from the north, south and east. Russian successes in the south contrast with difficulties to take Kyiv, which is resisting more than Russia was expecting.
- In response to a plea from a Ukrainian official, Elon Musk on Saturday tweeted that the Starlink Internet service that SpaceX provides from its orbital satellite constellation is up and running in the war-torn country and that more ground terminals are on the way.
UNDERSTANDING THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE CONFLICT
Border control station hit by data wipe as long lines persist
A Ukrainian border control station processing people fleeing the country into neighboring Romania was hit by data-wiping software Friday, a cybersecurity expert who was at the checkpoint said.
“It’s massively hitting the border control,” said the expert, Chris Kubecka. “They are processing people with pen and pencil.”
Security experts had previously reported that a new wiping program had been deployed as the invasion unfolded. Russia has for years used cyberattacks against Ukraine, including the costly 2017 NotPetya attack, which wiped data and programs from machines in Ukraine causing billions of dollars in losses.
The Ukraine government’s cyber service has warned of an increase in “destructive actions,” as experts have said they expect the cyberattacks to escalate.
Such attacks are sure to only worsen the backlogs at checkpoints on Ukraine’s borders as stations struggle to process the sudden onslaught of refugees. The journey out of the country has taken days for some to travel relatively short distances, with lines slow-moving and many Ukrainians saying they were surprised that such an exodus was necessary so soon.
Those leaving Ukraine’s borders are mostly women and children, as men 18 to 60 years old have been prohibited from leaving and ordered by the Ukrainian government to stay in the country and fight the Russian invasion. As many as 5 million Ukrainians could become refugees if Russian attacks continue, the United Nations warned on Friday.
African and Arab students in Ukraine say they are stranded, call for help
From Nigeria to Ghana and Lebanon to Iraq, tens of thousands of students who left their home countries to study in Ukraine are desperately calling for support from their governments as Russia’s invasion enters a fourth day.
Some students say they have been abandoned by their native countries and that they have not been offered help.
An estimated 10,000 students from across the Arab world are enrolled at Ukrainian universities, the AFP reported, and African students reportedly make up 20 percent of international students. Many are attracted to Ukraine for its affordable education, while others choose Europe as a haven away from violence and troubles playing out at home.
“We left Iraq to escape war … but it’s the same thing in Ukraine” now, Ali Mohammed, an Iraqi student told Agence France-Presse in a telephone interview.
“We are demanding to go home. We are waiting to be rescued,” he said, adding that he had been unable to reach the Iraq Embassy in Kyiv.
“We are citizens of Nigeria, and we need help,” 23-year-old Nigerian student Sarah Ajifa Idachaba told Germany’s DW news outlet. “Please don’t neglect us, don’t leave us alone,” she said.
Temi Rosabel Tseye-Okotie, a Nigerian studying medicine in Ukraine, told the outlet she was scared and that little guidance had been provided. “The information we are getting from Nigeria is basically that we are on our own,” she said.
Ghanaian engineering student Percy Ohene-Yeboah told Reuters in an interview Thursday that it was probably “a bit too late for evacuation” and that he would remain hunkered down in an underground bunker.
“In a situation like this, you’re on your own. You’ve got to find the best way to find refuge for yourself,” he said.
Video: In Kyiv, warnings of imminent Russian shelling
As Russian forces continued their march towards Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, sirens, explosions and gunfire could be heard and residents sheltered underground.
Authorities warned of imminent Russian shelling late Saturday, and The Washington Post’s Siobhán O’Grady and Whitney Shefte spent the night in sleeping bags on the floor of their hotel bunker with others seeking shelter from the fighting. Others slept on hotel mattresses or chairs, they said.
Ukrainians have so far prevented a Russian takeover of Kyiv, one of several signs that the country put up more of a fight than Russian President Vladimir Putin had anticipated. But the movement of Russian forces into Ukraine intensified on Sunday, with troops entering the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, according to its governor.
Battle for control of Kharkiv: Street fighting, rocket attacks intensify
KHARKIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian and Russian forces were battling Sunday for control of the country’s second-largest city, with intense street fighting and back-and-forth rocket firing.
The governor of Kharkiv warned residents to stay off the streets, as Russian troops mounted their most significant incursion yet into any Ukrainian city. The message from Oleg Synyehubov on Facebook followed earlier government reports that Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in the area.
Local social media accounts showed Russian troops and armored vehicles driving through the streets, within five miles of downtown. The British Ministry of Defense, which has been providing regular accounts of the war, said that the fighting was “heavy.”
Though much of the Russian onslaught has focused on Kyiv, the eastern city of Kharkiv — with 1.5 million residents — is also crucial. It is predominantly Russian-speaking, but there is little appetite for separatism, and the Kremlin’s sway with the public has been on the decline.
Telegram channels asked citizens to carefully take photos and videos of the Russian troops so that civilian defense forces know where they are.
Zelensky rules out talks with Russia in Belarus after Kremlin announces delegation
MOSCOW — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ruled out talks with Russian officials in Belarus, after the Kremlin announced that Russian officials had flown to the Belarusian city of Gomel for negotiations.
Zelensky said talks could not be held in Belarus because its territory was being used by Russia to launch attacks on Ukraine. He said Ukraine wanted to meet in a neutral location to try to achieve peace. Ukraine had proposed Warsaw, Budapest, Istanbul, Bratislava in Slovakia and Baku in Azerbaijan, or a city in any country that Russia was not using to attack Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Sunday said a delegation of Russians had flown to Gomel for talks with a Ukrainian delegation on the crisis.
“In accordance with the agreement reached, the Russian delegation, consisting of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense and other departments, including the presidential administration, arrived in Belarus for negotiations with the Ukrainians. We will be ready to start these negotiations in Gomel,” Peskov told reporters.
Russia and Ukraine have been talking about a meeting of officials since Friday, but there has been disagreement on the venue. On Friday, the Kremlin said it was willing to talk on the condition that Ukraine “demilitarize and denazify,” making it clear that it expected Ukraine’s capitulation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded an end to Ukraine joining NATO, the removal of all of its weapons and its recognition of Crimea as part of Russia.
Utah, Ohio governors ban Russian liquor as boycotts intensify
Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox (R) banned Russian spirits from state-run liquor stores and ordered a government agency to review all of Utah’s economic partnerships with Russia, among the latest in U.S. and global efforts to boycott Russian goods to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) similarly moved to ban the purchase and sale of some Russian vodka in his state.
On Twitter, Cox wrote, “We will do our part to push back on the Russian invaders and stand with our sisters and brothers in Ukraine.”
Cox announced the ban in an executive order signed Saturday that directs the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to “remove all Russian-produced and Russian-branded products” from state liquor store shelves “immediately” and until the order is rescinded.
The order also instructs the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, a state-run agency, to “review the state’s procurements for any other economic relationships with Russia,” according to a news release.
“Russia’s ruthless attack on a sovereign nation is an egregious violation of human rights,” Cox said in the release. “Utah stands in solidarity with Ukraine and will not support Russian enterprises, no matter how small the exchange.”
DeWine on Saturday also announced a ban on the purchase and sale of Russian vodka made by the distillery Russian Standard, citing figures from the Ohio Department of Commerce’s liquor control division showing that some 6,400 bottles of vodka made by Russian Standard are available for sale in 487 liquor agencies in the state.
DeWine also declared Sunday a Day of Prayer for Ukraine in Ohio and said the Ukrainian flag would “soon fly at the Ohio Statehouse and Governor’s Residence.”
I have declared Sunday, February 27, 2022, a Day of Prayer in Ohio honoring the people of Ukraine. Ukraine’s flag will also soon fly at the Ohio Statehouse and Governor’s Residence to further show support for those under attack in Ukraine and for Ohio’s Ukrainian population. pic.twitter.com/Vu8Nntz9r6
— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) February 26, 2022
Google parent company blocks RT and other Russian channels from receiving money on YouTube
Google’s parent company Alphabet said it has blocked several Russian channels affiliated with recent sanctions, including state-owned media outlet RT, from making money off advertising on its YouTube video platform.
“In light of extraordinary circumstances in Ukraine, we’re taking a number of actions. We’re pausing a number of channels’ ability to monetize on YouTube, including several Russian channels affiliated with recent sanctions. We will be significantly limiting recommendations to these channels,” a YouTube spokesman said in a statement Sunday. “And in response to a government request, we’ve restricted access to RT and a number of other channels in Ukraine.”
Some of Russia’s most prominent television figures, including the head of Russia’s RT broadcaster, Margarita Simonyan, were added to the European Union’s sanctions list last week for their role in spreading Russian propaganda.
Major tech companies are coming under mounting pressure to use their influence over the world’s most popular phones, apps and social media platforms to take action against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s digital minister, on Friday sent a letter to Apple chief executive Tim Cook calling on him to stop supplying products and services, including the App Store, to Russia.
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called on the CEOs of major tech companies Friday to do more to counter information operations linked to Russia. He wrote to Alphabet chief executive Sundar Pichai that the company’s YouTube platform was still monetizing videos about the Ukrainian conflict from RT and other Russian state media organizations. RT’s YouTube accounts, including RT America, have continued to post content about Ukraine in recent days.
“Our teams are continuing to monitor closely for new developments, including evaluating what any new sanctions and export controls may mean for YouTube,” YouTube said Sunday, adding that the platform has “removed hundreds of channels and thousands of videos, including a number of channels for coordinated deceptive practices” over the past few days.
Cat Zakrzewski and Claire Parker contributed to this report.
North Korea blames U.S. for Ukrainian crisis, cites ‘disregard’ of Russian security
SEOUL — The North Korean Foreign Ministry blamed the United States and defended Russia in its first statement since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, faulting the United States for its “disregard” of Russian security and interfering in other countries’ affairs.
The statement released Saturday evening was written by researcher Ri Ji Song and published on the external-facing site of the Foreign Ministry, which is used to comment on geopolitical activities.
The statement did not directly name the Russian invasion of Ukraine but referred to the issue more generally.
“The root cause of the Ukrainian crisis also lies in the high-handedness and arbitrariness of the U.S. which has held on solely to the unilateral sanction and pressure while pursuing only global hegemony and military supremacy in disregard of the legitimate demand of Russia for its security,” the statement read.
The statement referred to commentary by international media and experts “that the contributing factor to the Ukrainian crisis is the imbalance of power in Europe due to the unilateral expansion of NATO and its threat as well as the grave threat to the national security of Russia.”
The statement also echoed frustrations North Korean officials had previously expressed about the United States imposing a “double standard,” responding harshly to North Korea’s weapons tests but not other countries’.
“The U.S. embellishes its own interference in internal affairs of others as ‘righteous’ for peace and stability of the world, but it denounces for no good reason self-defensive measures taken by other countries to ensure their own national security as ‘injustice’ and ‘provocation’ — this is just the arrogance of the U.S. style and its double standard,” it read.
Thousands of Russian tech workers sign a petition opposing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine
Thousands of Russian technology workers signed a petition calling for their government to stop its military operations in Ukraine, adding their voices to the growing calls from Russian citizens opposed to the war.
More than 10,000 people had signed the petition by Saturday evening, just two days after Natalya Lukyanchikova, who works for a large Russian technology company, created it and posted it to her Facebook page. Among them were employees of Russia’s most prominent tech companies, including social media giant VK, cybersecurity leader Kaspersky Lab and online job recruitment platform HeadHunter.
“We, employees of the Russian IT industry, are categorically against military operations on the territory of Ukraine initiated by the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” the petition says. “We consider any display of force that leads to the outbreak of war unjustified and call for the reversal of decisions that could inevitably entail human casualties on each side. Our countries have always been close to each other. And today we are worried about our Ukrainian colleagues, friends and relatives.”
The petition is the latest example of internal opposition to the invasion, which came as a surprise to many Russians. Some prominent comedians, television figures and political analysts have spoken openly against the war, and Thursday, thousands of Russians protested across the country, with more than 1,700 arrested in 47 cities, according to rights group OVD-Info. Spontaneous mass demonstrations are illegal in Russia and can lead to jail time and fines.
Australia to fund supply of lethal weapons to aid Kyiv
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sunday that his country will work with the United States and NATO partners in Europe to help fund the supply of lethal weapons to Kyiv.
Speaking to reporters after a vigil at a Ukrainian church in Sydney, Morrison also vowed to step up humanitarian support for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, including by speeding up the processing of Ukrainian visas to Australia.
Thousands of Ukrainians are scrambling to flee as Russian attacks on the country continue. More than 150,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed into neighboring countries, the United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said Saturday.
After two years of pandemic border closures that made it hard even for citizens to return from abroad and slowed immigration to a trickle, the prime minister said “there is quite a lot of room within those programs to take in more places, and Ukrainians will have a priority in terms of processing for those visas.”
He declined to put a number on how many refugees Australia would accept, noting that some may choose to relocate only temporarily to escape the conflict, rather than settle permanently.
SNL opens with ‘Prayer for Ukraine’ sung by Ukrainian chorus
NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” opened its show this weekend not with the usual skit, but with a rendition of “Prayer for Ukraine” sung by the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York.
The show’s Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong solemnly introduced the choir, which sang the Ukrainian hymn in front of a table with votive candles that spelled out “KYIV,” next to bouquets of sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine.
Among the song’s lyrics, translated to English, is the verse: “Protect our beloved Ukraine/ Bless her with freedom and light.”
The performance was a rare departure from the show’s “cold open” that usually weighs in on current events in the form of a skit that pokes fun at politicians and celebrities in the news. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then-New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani appeared on the show with first responders.
On Saturday, McKinnon and Strong returned to the stage after the chorus concluded, delivering the usual line, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night.”
Allies ready strong sanctions against Russia
KYIV, Ukraine — The United States and key Western allies on Saturday announced severe new sanctions on Russian banks as the Ukrainian capital came under bombardment with some of the fiercest shelling since the start of the Russian invasion.
The Biden administration, Canada and European allies will impose major restrictions on Russia’s central bank, freezing its ability to use its $640 billion in foreign reserves. They also announced that they would remove certain Russian financial institutions from the SWIFT messaging network that connects banks worldwide, a move that to date has been taken against only Iran and North Korea.
The latest steps to economically choke Moscow and its ruling class come as Kyiv is under attack from Russian forces encroaching on Ukraine’s largest city. A massive fireball was visible to the southwest of Kyiv after a pounding explosion that rocked the city in the early-morning hours local time on Sunday. At least one high-rise apartment building had been struck directly Saturday, fueling skepticism of Russia’s claim that it was targeting only military facilities.
In the streets of a war-rattled city, Zelensky rises as a hero
KYIV, Ukraine — Yuri Shuklin has never fired a gun, not a real one at least. His war experience, he said, comes from playing video games such as “Call to Action.” “Maybe it’s funny, but in some movies and video games, they have nice [battlefield] tactics,” he said.
In Ukraine, there’s precedent for Shuklin’s screen-to-reality sense of confidence: President Volodymyr Zelensky was an actor and comedian, whose only political experience before getting elected was playing the role of Ukraine’s president in a satirical TV series. Now, those savvy communication skills, Zelensky’s ability to sway audiences via social media, a healthy dose of grit and defiance — and not least of all, his readiness to die if necessary — has transformed him into an unlikely champion for Ukrainians and the world.
‘Weapons to anyone’: Across Ukraine, militias form as Russian forces near
KHARKIV, Ukraine — In a downtown government office building, men and women in military fatigues carried rocket-propelled grenades through hallways lined with ornate white crown molding. Others had AK-47s with loaded clips slung over the shoulders. Sandbags rested along windows as protection in case of potential blasts. A public bus pulled up to the building. There were hundreds of boxes of bullets inside.
This was the scene of the makeshift headquarters of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Saturday morning, right around the time artillery strikes from the Russian military hit the area for a third straight day. Even as the smell of sulfur wafted through the streets, more than 100 people waited in line to join the civilian reserve force.
The Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, which is believed to have more than 130,000 volunteers, has been conducting weekend training sessions for months in preparation to help defend its turf from Russia. Now that the attack has started, Ukrainians across the country are mobilizing and turning to the Territorial Defense Forces to arm them and send them into the fight. Anyone between 18 and 60 can join.