Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that he believes Russian forces will attack the country’s capital of Kyiv overnight.
“I have to say frankly that this night will be harder than the day,” he said in a pre-recorded video from an undisclosed location.
“This night, they are going to storm. All of us should understand what is awaiting us this night. We have to hold out. Ukraine’s destiny is being decided right now,” he added.
Earlier, Kyiv residents were told by the defense ministry to make petrol bombs to repel the invaders, and on Friday evening witnesses reported hearing artillery rounds and intense gunfire from the western part of the city.
Zelensky filmed himself with aides on the streets of the capital, vowing to defend Ukraine’s independence.
US Imposes Sanctions on Putin, Other Russian Leaders
The United States imposed sanctions Friday on Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Treasury Department said.
“We are united with our international allies and partners to ensure Russia pays a severe economic and diplomatic price for its further invasion of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in statement.
“If necessary, we are prepared to impose further costs on Russia for its appalling behavior on the world stage,” she said.
The Treasury Department also will impose “full blocking sanctions” on state-owned Russian Direct Investment Fund, a White House spokesperson said in a tweet on Friday.
The fund is a financial entity functioning as a sovereign wealth fund and designed to attract capital into high-growth sectors.
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Ukrainians Flee War, Seeking Safety Across Western Borders
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have crossed into neighboring countries to the west in search of safety. Those arriving were mostly women, children, and the elderly.
Germany’s foreign minister said Friday that the European Union will take in all people fleeing Ukraine due to the current conflict.
“We need to do everything to immediately take in the people who are now fleeing bombs, fleeing tanks, that’s also what we’ve been preparing for in recent weeks,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters in Brussels. “We will bring the people from Ukraine to safety.”
UK Prime Minister Vows Sanctions Against Putin
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain would introduce sanctions against Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to inflict maximum punishment for invading Ukraine, his Downing Street office said Friday.
The comments from Johnson suggest that Western powers are acting in concert on unprecedented measures to try to force Putin to stop the invasion of Russia’s neighbor.
In comments to NATO leaders, the UK leader pressed again for immediate action to exclude Russia from the SWIFT system of financial transactions.
NATO to Send Response Units to Defend Allies
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that President Joe Biden and his counterparts have agreed to send parts of the organization’s response force to help protect allies in the east over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said the leaders decided to send parts of the NATO Response Force and elements of a quickly deployed spearhead unit.
He did not say how many troops would be deployed, but confirmed that the move would involve land, sea, and air power.
EU Commission President in Warsaw for Urgent Talks About Enhancing Eastern EU Region’s Security
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is in Warsaw for urgent talks with NATO’s nine eastern flank members on how to enhance the region’s security, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The participants were also due to remotely join a NATO summit in Brussels.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, hosting the talks between the so-called NATO Bucharest Nine, in his opening speech said that “demons of a great war, unseen since 1945” have returned to Europe.
NATO’s eastern flank members fear Moscow could also target them.
Czech Republic to Ban Russian Airlines
The Czech Republic’s transport minister says his country has banned all Russian airlines from Czech airports, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Martin Kupka said Friday the ban covers all regular flights between Prague and Moscow and Prague and St. Petersburg, as well as charter flights.
Russian planes will also be banned from landing at the western Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary, a popular destination for Russian tourists. The measure becomes effective at midnight.
Additionally, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said his country will stop issuing visas for Russian citizens and will urge other European Union countries to do the same.
Lithuania Retail Chains to Remove Russian Products From Shelves
Major retail chains in Lithuania started to remove Russian and Belarusian products from shelves, a move joined by online shops and widely applauded by the public as a protest against Moscow’s decision to invade Ukraine.
Maxima LT, the largest chain in the Baltic nations, said Friday the Russian goods it sells are mainly alcohol, dried products and candy, amounting to millions of euros in sales.
Other retailers like drug stores and home suppliers made similar announcements. The Lithuanian postal service said it will not be distributing any more Russian periodicals.
International companies such as IKEA are facing pressure to remove Russian-made goods from sale in the small Baltic country, which fears Russian aggression.
Zelensky: I Am ‘Target Number One,’ My Family is ‘Number Two’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday morning addressed his country and said he is “target number one” and his family is “target number two” for Russian troops, while later saying that the Biden administration is “watching from a distance” as the invasion unfolds.
“I know that a lot of misinformation and rumors are being spread now,” Zelensky said in a video, uploaded online. “In particular, it is claimed that I have left Kyiv. I remain in the capital; I am staying with my people. My family is not a traitor, but a citizen of Ukraine.”
Zelensky added: “According to our information, the enemy marked me as target number one. My family is the number two goal. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the Head of State. We have information that enemy sabotage groups have entered Kyiv. … I am staying in the government quarter together with others.”
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US and Allies Not Cutting Off Russia from SWIFT Payment System, Keep It as Nuclear Option
President Joe Biden said Thursday the United States and its international allies have decided not to cut Russia off from the SWIFT international payments system as punishment for invading Ukraine, though the measure has been left on the table as a last resort in case the situation escalates.
Biden told a press briefing on Feb. 24 that Russia would not be frozen out of SWIFT, the messaging system banks use to settle cross-border payments and that is a key mechanism for financing international trade.
The president said the sanctions imposed on five Russian banks in response to the Ukraine invasion were at least as punishing as a SWIFT cutoff.
“It is always an option,” Biden said of the ban. “But right now, that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take.”
Biden’s remarks came as Russian forces pressed forward with a multi-pronged invasion of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has called a “special military operation” to demilitarize and neutralize Ukraine as a claimed NATO-aligned threat. Western leaders have denounced Putin’s military action as a baseless act of aggression.
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Ukraine Citizens Told to ‘Make Molotov Cocktails’
Residents in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, were told to “make Molotov cocktails” on Friday as they hid in makeshift shelters and subway stations, awaiting a Russian assault.
“Make Molotov cocktails, neutralize the occupier!” the Defense Ministry wrote on Twitter, while local authorities told people in the northwestern Obolon to stay off the streets due to “active hostilities” that were approaching.
“We ask citizens to inform about the movement of [Russian] equipment! Make Molotov cocktails, neutralize the occupier! Peaceful residents – be careful! Do not leave the house!” the Defense Ministry wrote on Twitter, according to a translation
Some residents took refuge in subway stations being used as air-raid shelters, or rushed to basements of apartments blocks or other buildings when air-raid warnings sounded.
Russian Forces Killed 13 Ukrainian Soldiers Refusing to Leave Tiny Island
More than a dozen Ukrainian soldiers were killed while defending a tiny island located in the Black Sea after they refused to surrender to Russians threatening to bomb them.
Ukraine on Thursday lost contact with its forces on Zmiinyi (Snake) Island—a roughly 40-acre speck of land located south of the port of Odessa—after Russia conducted strikes from air and sea, Kyiv said.
A Ukrainian official said 13 soldiers had been killed in the bombing and an audio clip has emerged that is purported to have captured an exchange between Ukrainian and Russian forces prior to the attack.
“This is a Russian warship. I propose you lay down your weapons and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary victims. Otherwise, you will be bombed,” the Russians said, according to the audio obtained by local news agency Ukrainskaya Pravda.
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Russia’s Lavrov Says Moscow Wants Ukrainian People to Be Independent
Russia wants the Ukrainian people to be independent and have the possibility to freely define their destiny, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.
Lavrov said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was lying when he said he was ready to discuss the neutral status of Ukraine.
Lavrov also said Russia will ensure the demilitarisation of Ukraine but sees no possibility of recognizing the current Ukrainian government as democratic.
Explosions Heard in Kyiv, Official Says Enemy Aircraft Downed
Explosions rocked Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv overnight while the country’s adviser to the interior minister has attributed the blasts to the downing of a Russian aircraft.
Explosions were reported in Kyiv around 3 a.m. Friday local time.
Olexander Scherba, a Ukrainian diplomat who was the country’s ambassador to Austria 2014–2021, said on Twitter that at least “two heavy explosions” occurred in Kyiv and that cruise ballistic missile had hit the city. He later posted a video of an explosion in the sky, captioned: “Kyiv now… A drone or plane hit? A missile intercepted?”
Adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister Anton Gerashchenko said on Telegram that Ukraine’s air force shot down a Russian plane or drone, after which crashed in the Darnitsky district. This was what accounted for the explosions seen in the skies above Kyiv, he said.
Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba announced around 6 a.m. that the city endured “horrific Russian rocket strikes.”
It was unclear whether the Russian aircraft was manned.
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Pentagon Chief Speaks to European Allies, Including Ukrainian Counterpart
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, and separately to 15 NATO allies late on Thursday.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a readout of the call between Austin and Reznikov that the two spoke about “Russia’s unfounded and unprovoked war against Ukraine,” and both expressed they would continue coordinating closely. Austin “made clear that the United States’ support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering and that the United States will continue to provide defensive assistance to Ukraine.”
On Twitter, Austin said he had calls with 15 different NATO allies “to express solidarity with the Ukrainian people and discuss a coordinated Allied response to Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine.”
Specifically, Austin spoke individually with his counterparts from Canada and Turkey, and convened a virtual meeting with his counterparts from France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. He also joined a teleconference with his counterparts from the Bucharest Nine (B-9) Countries—Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.
Austin said the United States “has deployed an additional 15,000 forces in recent days and weeks and now has more than 90,000 U.S. service members in Europe,” according to a Pentagon readout of the calls.
Biden Takes Veiled Swipe at China
U.S. President Joe Biden issued a veiled criticism against China on Thursday when he unveiled new sanctions on Russia, following Moscow’s all-out assault on Ukraine.
“Putin will be a pariah on the international stage. Any nation that countenances Russia’s naked aggression against Ukraine will be stained by association,” Biden told reporters at the White House, without naming China.
Biden’s remarks came after China refused to denounce the Russian attack and rejected Moscow’s move as an invasion. Instead, the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated Beijing’s call for “all sides to exercise restraint” and blamed Washington for “hyping up war.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—the biggest attack on a European state since World War II—has left at least 137 dead and 316 wounded in Ukraine as of early Friday local time, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Putin’s actions betray his sinister vision for the future of our world—one where nations take what they want by force,” Biden said.
When asked if he was “urging China to help isolate Russia,” Biden said: “I’m not prepared to comment on that at the moment.”
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Japan, New Zealand Announce Sanctions, Penalties on Russia
Japan and New Zealand announced new sanctions and penalties against Russia on Friday, after the country began attacking multiple cities of Ukraine on Thursday.
Japan—which had, alongside Australia, already announced sanctions against Russia prior to the invasion—levied a new set of sanctions against Moscow. According to local reports, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the sanctions included visa suspensions for certain Russian individuals, as well as export controls, and the freezing of assets held by financial institutions.
The latest asset freeze will target Promsvyazbank, Bank Rossiya, and Russia’s economic development bank VEB, and does not include Sberbank, Russia’s largest financial institution. Sberbank is on the U.S. sanctions list.
New Zealand, which does not have an autonomous sanctions law, still moved to condemn Russia’s attack and invasion of Ukraine, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying that Russia will face the consequences for its “flagrant disregard” for international law.
The country also imposed travel bans on Russian officials and others linked to the attack, imposed a blanket ban on exports to Russia’s military, and suspended consultations between Russia’s and New Zealand’s foreign ministries.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced Thursday that it would join in unspecified multilateral economic sanctions on Russia, but will not take action unilaterally.
A foreign ministry official who later briefed reporters mentioned export controls as part of possible international sanctions, reported Reuters. “Of course some countries are considering unilateral sanctions including financial measures but we are not considering that,” he said, adding that discussions are underway to finalize details.
Australia Imposes More Sanctions on Russia
Australia imposed more sanctions on Friday against Russia, targeting several of its elite citizens and lawmakers, and said it was “unacceptable” that the Chinese regime was easing trade restrictions with Moscow at a time when it invaded Ukraine.
“We will work along with our partners for a rolling wave of sanctions and continuing to ratchet up that pressure on Russia,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said during a media conference.
Morrison voiced concerns over the “lack of strong response” from China and criticized Beijing about reports it had eased trade curbs with Moscow by allowing imports of wheat from Russia.
“You don’t go and throw a lifeline to Russia in the middle of a period when they are invading another country. That is simply unacceptable,” he said.
EU Leaders Agree on More Sanctions Against Russia
European Union leaders put on a united front early on Friday after a six-hour meeting during which they agreed on a second package of economic and financial sanctions against Russia.
The legal texts for the sanctions agreed were expected to be finalized overnight and to be submitted for approval to EU foreign affairs ministers during a meeting scheduled Friday afternoon.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Ukraine’s invasion put into question Europe’s peace order and said the EU will hold the Kremlin accountable for its actions, saying sanctions will have a maximum impact on the Russian elite.
Von der Leyen said the package, decided in concertation with Western allies, includes targeting 70 percent of the Russian banking market and key state-owned companies, including in defense.
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Ukraine Orders General Mobilization, Announces 137 Dead
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has signed a decree ordering a general mobilization of the population after Russia started attacking the country in the early hours of Thursday.
The decree, on the presidential website, said the mobilization “to ensure the defense of the state” would be carried out within 90 days of the decree coming into force.
The mobilization order applies to the territories of Vinnytsia, Volyn, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zhytomyr, Zakarpattia, Zaporizhia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kyiv, Kirovohrad, Luhansk, Lviv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Poltava, Rivne, Sumy, Ternopil, Kharkiv, Kherson, Khmelnytsky, Cherkasy, Chernivtsi, Chernihiv regions, and the city of Kyiv.
Zelensky said early Friday local time that 137 people had been killed and 316 were wounded.
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Mimi Nguyen Ly, Frank Fang, Lorenz Duchamps, Tom Ozimek, Jack Phillips, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.
Click here for coverage from Feb. 24.