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Live coverage: US officials say Russia frustrated with Ukraine’s resistance

Russian forces on Saturday continued their assault on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged his people to take up arms.

Follow The Hill’s live coverage below:

Russian forces blow up gas pipeline in Ukraine’s second biggest city

BY LEXI LONAS

11:05

Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city, the Ukrainian president’s office said Sunday, The Associated Press reported.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor said Ukraine is still in control of the city amid a battle with Russian forces, per the AP.

The blown up gas pipeline could cause an “environmental catastrophe,” the State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection said, according to the wire service.

The service said residents should drink fluids and cover their windows and doors with damp clothes, per the wire service.

This comes three days after Russia launched an invasion into Ukraine overnight Wednesday. Explosions were heard in Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities as President Vladimir Putin announced the military operation in a televised address.

Over 3,000 Russians arrested for protesting attack against Ukraine

BY LEXI LONAS

10:37 p.m.

More than 3,000 Russians have been arrested in cities around the country for protesting Russia’s attack against Ukraine. 

OVD-Info, a Russian protest monitoring organization, said in a post on Twitter Saturday afternoon that 3,093 people had been arrested in Russia for protesting the country’s invasion of Ukraine since it began overnight Wednesday.

The thousands of arrested protesters could face harsh legal repercussions, as the Russian government warned Thursday that protesting was illegal. 

“The law provides for severe punishment for organizing mass riots, as well as for resisting law enforcement officers. According to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, people who committed such illegal acts may face imprisonment,” The Investigative Committee of Russia  wrote. 

Protests have erupted in cities around the world opposing the invasion, which has been widely condemned by the international community and led the U.S. and its allies to impose multiple rounds of sanctions against Russia.

Russia closes airspace to airlines from multiple European countries

BY LEXI LONAS

10:17 p.m.

Russia announced early Sunday local time that it is closing its airspace to airlines from multiple European countries in retaliation for the nations barring Russian planes their own airspace after the country invaded Ukraine overnight Wednesday.

The  Russian civil aviation regulator Rosaviatsiya said planes from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Slovenia would not be allowed in Russia’s airspace, The Associated Press reported

Earlier in the week, Russia closed its airspace to airlines from the U.K., Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Czech Republic as well, according to the AP.

The actions are in response to all the countries closing their airspace to Russian planes, per the wire service.

Airlines have also been warned by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) not to fly over or near Ukraine due to the dangerous situation in the country.

UN confirms 64 civilian deaths in Russian invasion of Ukraine, believes real toll ‘considerably higher’

BY LEXI LONAS

9:11 p.m.

The United Nations said Saturday that it has confirmed at least 64 civilian deaths in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion into the country, but believes the real toll is “higher higher.”

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported at least 240 civilian casualties in the conflict, including 64 deaths, according to The Associated Press.

The number came from the U.N. human rights office, which has a strict verification process for counting deaths during conflicts, per the AP.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it believes the “real figures are considerably higher.”

The office also warned of “humanitarian situations” developing in Ukraine as thousands are losing electricity and water due to damage to civilian infrastructure, according to the AP.

 

Germany to bar Russian planes from its airspace

BY RACHEL SCULLY

9:00 p.m.

Germany’s Ministry for Digital and Transport on Saturday announced that it was preparing to shut the country’s airspace to Russian planes in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The Federal Minister Volker @Wissing supports the blocking of German airspace for Russian aircraft and has ordered everything to be prepared for this,” the ministry announced on Twitter.
 
Germany is the latest of several European countries to shut its airspace to Russian airlines following the Russian invasion into Ukraine overnight Wednesday.
 
German-based airline Lufthansa also canceled its flights to Russia for the upcoming week, according to Reuters, due to the “emerging regulatory situation.” A spokesperson told the wire service that Lufthansa is working closely with national and international authorities to monitor the situation.
 
“Flights that are in Russian airspace will leave it again shortly,” a spokesperson said, per Reuters.
 
Two Lufthansa flights between Germany and Asia on Saturday appeared to have turned back and returned to their departure airports, flight-tracking service FlightRadar24 found, according to the wire service.
 
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on Thursday warned flights not to fly over or near Ukraine amid the invasion, adding that Ukrainian airspace was closed to civilian flights that morning. 

Greek prime minister: ’10 innocent civilians of Greek origin killed by Russian air strikes’

BY BRAD DRESS

6:13 p.m.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said 10 “innocent civilians of Greek origin” were killed in Russian bomb strikes near the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

“Stop the bombing now!” Mitsotakis tweeted Saturday afternoon.

The bombs struck the outskirts of the Ukrainian villages of Sartana and Bugas near Mariupol, Greece’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters. Thousands of Greek expatriates live in the city.

Six Greek nationals were wounded in addition to the 10 who were killed, according to Reuters.

This comes amid Russia’s ongoing invasion into Ukraine, with forces clashing over the weekend around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

 

US, allies to kick certain Russian banks out of SWIFT banking system

BY BRETT SAMUELS

5:18 p.m.

The White House on Saturday announced that the United States and allies will kick certain Russian banks out of a major international banking system, a significant step in a bid to cripple the Russian economy in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The Biden administration and European allies agreed to cut Russia out of access to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a rapid shift from just days ago when it appeared such a move was unlikely in the near future.

The U.S. and European nations also committed to imposing measures to prevent the Russian Central Bank from using its reserves to undermine sanctions.

The announcement came via a joint statement from the leaders of the U.S., the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada. The leaders called Russian attacks on Ukraine “an assault on fundamental international rules and norms that have prevailed since the Second World War, which we are committed to defending.”

“We stand with the Ukrainian people in this dark hour. Even beyond the measures we are announcing today, we are prepared to take further measures to hold Russia to account for its attack on Ukraine,” the nations said in the statement.

Banks across the world use SWIFT to finalize transactions and transfers. Cutting Russia off from SWIFT would make it incredibly difficult for its banks to operate efficiently, but could also wreak economic havoc for European nations that depend on Russian oil and natural gas exports. 

Read the full story here.

Missiles hit two vessels in Black Sea

BY BRAD DRESS

4:33 p.m.

Missiles struck a cargo ship and an oil tanker near the southern tip of Ukraine in the Black Sea on Friday, a Ukrainian shipping company told The Washington Post.

The Millennium Spirit, which was carrying around 600 metric tons of fuel for Ukrainian forces, was struck just after noon on Friday, Stark Shipping Ukraine told the Post in a statement.

Two people were injured in the attack.

The Namura Queen was also struck on Friday about an hour later. The ship had been on its way with a shipment of grain to a port near Odessa.

EU foreign ministers will meet to discuss emergency assistance for Ukraine

BY CHLOE FOLMAR 

4:04 p.m.

The European Union’s foreign ministers will convene a meeting Sunday to discuss emergency assistance for Ukraine as the conflict between Russia and the former Soviet state rages on.

The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles announced the meeting Saturday.

“I am convening a virtual meeting of EU Foreign Ministers tomorrow at 18.00 to adopt further measures in support of #Ukraine, against aggression by #Russia,” Fontelles, who is from Spain, posted on Twitter.

“I will propose a package of emergency assistance for the Ukrainian armed forces,” Fontelles continued. “To support them in their heroic fight.”

The announcement comes as western countries scramble to provide hospital provisions and military aid to Ukraine amid attacks from the Russian military on major Ukrainian cities including Kyiv. 

Germany announced Saturday that it would provide 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 stinger missiles to Ukraine. 

“Ukraine, you are not alone!” Fontelles tweeted Friday. “You are part of Europe.”

He added: “No amount of tanks or missiles can change that. Ukraine will prevail.”

Pope expressed ‘profound pain’ for Ukraine in call with Zelensky

BY LEXI LONAS

3:52 p.m.

Pope Francis expressed “profound pain” for Ukraine during a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday.

“The Holy Father expressed his most profound pain for the tragic events happening in our country,” Ukraine’s embassy in the Vatican tweeted.

The call came after the pope went to the Russian Embassy in Rome to talk to the Russian ambassador about his concerns about Russia’s invasion into Ukraine. 

Zelensky has been urging international leaders to send aid and continue pressuring Russia with sanctions and other measures amid the ongoing attack.

The pope has called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and told Catholics to set aside Wednesday for fasting and prayer for the Ukrainian people earlier this week.

“Thanked Pope Francis @Pontifex for praying for peace in Ukraine and a ceasefire. The Ukrainian people feel the spiritual support of His Holiness,” Zelensky said Saturday after their call.

Zelensky adviser says 3,500 Russian troops killed or injured amid conflict in Ukraine

BY CHLOE FOLMAR

3:31 p.m.

An advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that 3,500 Russian soldiers have been killed or injured amid Russia’s war with Ukraine, Reuters reported.

The Ukraine Health Ministry reported 198 Ukrainian deaths and 1,115 injuries. The ministry did not clarify if this data was the total number of casualties or civilian only casualties.

Three Ukrainian children are among those killed in the conflict.

Ukrainian citizens take up arms amid the Russian invasion

BY CAROLINE VAKIL

2:27 p.m.

Ukrainian citizens are taking up arms amid the Russian invasion into the country, as one Ukrainian posed the question: ‘Who else but us?”

“My motivation is simple,” Zakhar Nechypor, an actor in Ukraine, told The New York Times in a video interview published on Friday. “It’s better than sitting at home and waiting for something to hit you. Who else but us?”

A Ukrainian member of parliament, Kira Rudik, posted a photo on Friday showing her brandishing a gun. 

“I learn to use #Kalashnikov and prepare to bear arms. It sounds surreal as just a few days ago it would never come to my mind. Our #women will protect our soil the same way as our #men. Go #Ukraine! ,” she tweeted. 

Hlib Bondarenko, a computer programmer, told the Times in their interview that while he was just an ordinary citizen, Russia’s “objective, clearly, at least to me, seems to be the occupation of my entire country and the destruction of everything that I love.”

“I’m just a regular civilian, I have basically nothing to do with war, or any other thing like it. And I wouldn’t really want to participate in anything like this, but I don’t really have any choice because this is my home,” he said.

Earlier in a press briefing on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged his citizens to take up arms against Russia.

“Our military, our national guard, our national police, our territory defense, special service, nationals of Ukraine, please carry on. We will win. Glory to Ukraine,” Zelensky said.

Germany says its sending anti-tank weapons, stinger missiles to Ukraine

BY CHLOE FOLMAR

2:00 p.m.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Saturday that his country would send anti-tank weapons and stinger missiles to Ukraine, marking a major shift in policy for the richest country in the EU.

The German leader said that the Russian invasion of the former Soviet state marked a “turning point.”

“The Russian invasion marks a turning point. It is our duty to support Ukraine to the best of our ability in defending against Putin’s invading army. That is why we are delivering 1000 anti-tank weapons and 500 #Stinger missiles to our friends in #Ukraine,” Scholz tweeted.
 
The country will also lift its ban on nations exporting German-made weapons, allowing 400 rocket-propelled grenade launchers to be sent to Ukraine from the Netherlands, according to Axios.
 
Germany’s change of heart regarding comes after months of criticism from the international community over its response to the Russia-Ukraine situation. Previously, Germany disallowed its weapons to be transferred by NATO allies to Ukraine, according to the outlet. 
 
Germany sent 5,000 helmets and a field hospital to Ukraine before its invasion, but has refrained from any lethal aid.

Nearby countries including Poland, Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have begun to send ammunition, fuel and medical supplies into Ukraine as it fights back against Russian forces.

Over 2,600 people detained in Russia in anti-war demonstrations 

BY CAROLINE VAKIL

1:30 p.m.

Over 2,600 people have been detained in Russia during anti-war protests, according to a site that monitors arrests made during demonstrations.

The site, OVD-Info, said on Twitter on Saturday that over 300 people have been detained Feb. 26, with close to half of the detainees apprehended in Moscow.

The site said that at least 2,776 people had been detained by officials in the last three days. 

The response from the Russian government, which has notoriously cracked down on protests in the past, launched its invasion into Ukraine early Thursday morning, local time. 

Demonstrations condemning Russia’s actions and calling for peace in Ukraine erupted in countries across the world since Thursday, with people in the U.S., U.K., Estonia, Germany, Japan and other areas waving Ukrainian flags.

White House officials have called Russian protesting against the invasion “deeply courageous.”

“Despite Putin’s crackdown at home, dissenting views remain, and I think that’s important to note,” White House press secretary Psaki said on Thursday. “To publicly protest against President Putin and his war is a deeply courageous act. Their actions show the world that despite the Kremlin’s propaganda, there are Russian people who profoundly disagree with what he is doing in Ukraine.”

Former Ukraine president asks globe not to believe Putin

BY BRAD DRESS

12:07 p.m.

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged the world not to believe the narrative from Russian President Vladimir Putin — but also not to fear him.

Poroshenko, who led Ukraine from 2014 to 2019, made the plea to CNN in an interview while armed with a rifle on the streets of Kyiv.

“I want to ask all the CNN viewers, all the people of the world, with one very simple request: Please don’t trust Putin. Don’t believe Putin. And two, don’t be afraid of Putin,” he told a CNN reporter on Saturday.

Putin, in a video on Friday, urged the Ukrainian military to overthrow its government, and called Ukraine’s government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, “neo-nazis.”

Zelensky is Jewish and the grandson of Holocaust survivors. 

Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists have been fighting a war since Poroshenko’s presidency in 2014, when Putin annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Putin ordered a full-force invasion of Ukraine on Thursday morning, embroiling the country in a war. As of Saturday, Russian forces are pressing closer to Kyiv but are meeting resistance from Ukraine’s military.

Poroshenko said he was “ready” to die protecting his nation, but still believed Ukraine could emerge victorious from the conflict.

“I think Putin will never catch Ukraine despite, no matter how many soldiers he has, how many missiles he has, how many nuclear missiles he has,” he told CNN’s John Berman on Friday. “We, Ukrainians are a free people.”

Defense Department says Russia frustrated by Ukrainian resistance

BY CAROLINE VAKIL

11:49 a.m.

Russia is growing frustrated by the level of Ukrainian resistance its military has encountered during the invasion, according to a U.S. senior Defense Department official who briefed reporters on Saturday, USA Today reported.

The official said that there has been an increase in the influx of troops into the country. Thirty percent of Russian troops entered Ukraine as of Friday, but later, that number jumped to 50 percent. The Defense official added that the situation is fluid and constantly changing, the newspaper reported. 

The official also noted that multiple means were used by the Pentagon to confirm that Ukrainian military resistance had stalled Russian forces, according to USA Today.

The development comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video on Saturday that Russia had not succeeded in capturing Kyiv. 

Read the full story here

Estonia and Romania ban Russia from air space

BY BRAD DRESS

11:07 a.m.

Estonia and Romania on Saturday banned Russian airlines from their airspace, after the U.K., Poland, Moldova and the Czech Republic did the same.
 
Bogdan Aurescu, Romania’s foreign minister, tweeted on Saturday that his nation “joined other EU member states in banning RU airlines from our airspace.”
 
Kaja Kallas, the prime minister of Estonia, also announced her country’s ban of Russian airlines from its airspace via Twitter on Saturday.
 
“We invite all EU countries to do the same,” Kallas wrote. “There is no place for planes of the agressor state in democratic skies.”
 
Latvia on Saturday said it would “close the airspace for airlines registered in Russia for commercial flights” with a decision on the matter currently under discussion at a meeting, according to Latvian Transport Minister Talis Linkait.
 
The U.K. has banned Russian airline Aeroflot, which prompted Russia to respond with banning British flights to and from Russia.
 
Delta Airlines also suspended a partnership with Russian airline Aeroflot on Friday.
 

Professional athletes, sports organizations condemn Russian invasion

BY CAROLINE VAKIL

10:34 a.m.

Professional athletes and organizations have taken a stand against the Russian invasion in Ukraine this week, condemning the attack and boycotting events in solidarity with the former Soviet nation.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued a statement on Thursday condemning Russia’s invasion into its neighboring country, and it took its disapproval a step further on Friday, urging international sport organizations to relocate or cancel their sporting events in Russia and Belarus.

“The IOC [executive board] today urges all International Sports Federations to relocate or cancel their sports events currently planned in Russia or Belarus. They should take the breach of the Olympic Truce by the Russian and Belarussian governments into account and give the safety and security of the athletes absolute priority. The IOC itself has no events planned in Russia or Belarus,” the IOC said on Friday.

The IOC also said that the Russian and Belarusian flags and anthems should not be included or displayed “in international sports events which are not already part of the respective World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sanctions for Russia.”

Read the full story here

Rep. Crow warns against posting about Ukrainian military movements on social media

BY BRAD DRESS

9:56 a.m. 

Correction: A previous version of this story had the incorrect first name for Rep. Crow. It has since been updated.

Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) warned social media users in touch with Ukrainians not to post about military movements online.
 
“For those of us talking with our friends in Ukraine – DO NOT repeat conversations re Ukrainian military movements and combat status (e.g. units running low on Javelins) on social media,” Crow tweeted on Friday. “Russia is monitoring. We put our friends at risk by publishing that information.”
 
Social media has taken on a large role during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with users posting videos of the fighting and commenting about the conflict online. 
 
Biden administration officials have warned about the spread of online disinformation about Russian invasion. President Biden himself has warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin is the aggressor, and that he “chose this war.”
 
Ukraine’s called to remove @Russia on Twitter on the first day of the invasion.
 
Other lawmakers have also weighed in on social media use during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
 
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) urged social media companies to limit the spread of Russian disinformation online and bolster Ukrainian communication services.
 
Facebook said it would set up a Special Operations Center staffed by experts to monitor and respond to posts.

People around the world protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

BY CAROLINE VAKIL

9:47 a.m.

From Washington, D.C. to Paris to Tel Aviv, people around the world this week protested Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, waving the Ukrainian flag and spotlighting its national blue and yellow colors.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Colosseum in Rome, London’s Downing Street and the European Union headquarters in Brussels were illuminated in yellow and blue this week to show solidarity for Ukraine after Russia invaded the country, The Washington Post reported.

Demonstrators held signs reading “No war” in Tokyo and “Hands off Ukraine” in Berlin. A protester demonstrating outside of the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv lit her Russian passport on fire, CBS News reported.

Former Russian president threatens to retaliate with sanctions against the West

BY CHLOE FOLMAR 

9:34 a.m.

The deputy head of Russia’s Security Council said Saturday that Russia may respond in a hostile way to sanctions from the U.S. and European Union, The Associated Press reported.

In a post on a Russian social media site, Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia is considering leaving its latest nuclear arms deal with the U.S., cutting off diplomatic ties with the U.S. and EU and freezing the assets of Western countries after many of them condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Thursday.

Medvedev added that Russia was mulling restoring the death penalty after being removed from a European rights group.

“We are being driven out of everywhere, punished and threatened, but we don’t feel scared,” Medvedev, the former president of Russia said.

Medvedev claimed that the U.S. had been “cowardly” leaving Afghanistan and is now using sanctions against Russia to make up for “shameful decisions” it has made in the past, according to the wire service. He described the Western sanctions as a show of “political impotence.”

More than 100K Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries

BY BRAD DRESS

9:24 a.m.

Nearly 116,000 Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries since Russia first invaded the former Soviet Union country on Thursday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) tweeted on Saturday morning.

Ukrainians have largely fled to Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and Romania, the UN said.

In Poland, officials set up processing centers, a special train to transport patients and as many as 120 hospitals to assist Ukrainians.

UNHCR said it will soon publish an information portal for Ukrainian refugees.

Up to five million people could be displaced by the conflict, U.S. intelligence has warned.

Russia claims it has captured Melitopol in southeastern Ukraine

BY CAROLINE VAKIL

8:11 a.m.

Russia’s defense ministry on Saturday claimed that it had captured the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol after conducting overnight strikes, Reuters reported.
 
The Russian defense ministry said that dozens of artillery vehicles, tanks and multiple aircraft had been destroyed and that Russian forces also attacked hundreds of military infrastructure targets, though Reuters noted it could not immediately reach officials from Ukraine for confirmation.
 
The defense ministry noted that the overnight strikes were conducted by ship- and air-based cruise missiles, according to the newswire.
 
Biden orders up to $350M to be released for military aid for Ukraine

BY CAROLINE VAKIL

7:42 a.m.

President Biden late Friday ordered the release of up to $350 million for military aid for Ukraine.

Biden ordered for the money to be allocated from the Foreign Assistance Act “in defense articles and services of the Department of Defense, and military education and training, and to make the determinations required under such section to direct such a drawdown.”   

The development comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed in a video messageon Saturday that Kyiv was still under Ukrainian control after Russian troops entered the city yesterday, CNN reported.

“We have ruined their plans. They have no advantage over us,” he said, according to the network.

Zelensky urges Ukrainians to take up arms as fighting in Kyiv escalates

BY CAMERON JENKINS

7:35 a.m.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday urged citizens to take up arms to fight off Russia as violence between the two nations continues to escalate.

“Our military, our national guard, our national police, our territory defense, special service, nationals of Ukraine, please carry on. We will win. Glory to Ukraine,” Zelensky said in a press briefing, according to The Guardian.

Reservists in Ukraine have also been prepared to take on Russia, with officials providing them with arms and Ukrainian television stations broadcasting details on how to make Molotov cocktails, according to CNN.

Zelensky on Saturday morning also posted a video to Twitter declaring that Ukraine will not give up its fight.

    “I am here. We are not putting down arms. We will be defending our country, because our weapon is truth, and our truth is that this is our land, our country, our children, and we will defend all of this,” Zelensky said in the video, which he appeared to film himself while standing on the street. 
    Tags Antony Blinken attack Europe invasion Jason Crow Jen Psaki Joe Biden Kremlin Kyiv Mark Warner Moscow Pope Francis Russia Ukraine Vladimir Putin War

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