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Ukraine warns of ‘environmental catastrophe’ after Russia blows up gas pipeline

Ukrainian president tells civilians to take protective measures after Russian troops hit fuel infrastructure near Kharkiv, causing massive blast, during fierce battle for the city

  • Police detain a demonstrator during an action against Russia's attack on Ukraine in St. Petersburg, Russia, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
    Police detain a demonstrator during an action against Russia's attack on Ukraine in St. Petersburg, Russia, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
  • Ukrainian tanks move on a road before an attack in Lugansk region on February 26, 2022. (Anatolii Stepanov / AFP)
    Ukrainian tanks move on a road before an attack in Lugansk region on February 26, 2022. (Anatolii Stepanov / AFP)
  • An illuminated window on a residential building with the rest of the lighting turned off for safety reasons, in the city of Kyiv, February 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    An illuminated window on a residential building with the rest of the lighting turned off for safety reasons, in the city of Kyiv, February 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
  • Refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring Ukraine arrive to Przemysl, Poland, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
    Refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring Ukraine arrive to Przemysl, Poland, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
  • Ukrainian soldiers walk around debris of burning military trucks in a street in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    Ukrainian soldiers walk around debris of burning military trucks in a street in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
  • People run for cover during shelling on the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    People run for cover during shelling on the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
  • This general view shows damage to the upper floors of a building in Kyiv on February 26, 2022, after it was reportedly struck by a Russian rocket. (Daniel LEAL / AFP)
    This general view shows damage to the upper floors of a building in Kyiv on February 26, 2022, after it was reportedly struck by a Russian rocket. (Daniel LEAL / AFP)
  • A Ukrainian service member patrols the empty road on the west side of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, in the morning of February 26, 2022.  (Daniel Leal/AFP)
    A Ukrainian service member patrols the empty road on the west side of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, in the morning of February 26, 2022. (Daniel Leal/AFP)
  • People rest in the Kyiv subway, using it as a shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    People rest in the Kyiv subway, using it as a shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
  • An apartment building damaged following a rocket attack on the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    An apartment building damaged following a rocket attack on the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
  • A Ukrainian serviceman checks on a man who was acting suspicious not far from the positions on Ukraine's service members in Lugansk region on February 26, 2022. (Anatolii Stepanov / AFP)
    A Ukrainian serviceman checks on a man who was acting suspicious not far from the positions on Ukraine's service members in Lugansk region on February 26, 2022. (Anatolii Stepanov / AFP)
  • A soldier walks along Ukrainian armored vehicles blocking a street in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, February 26, 2022. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)
    A soldier walks along Ukrainian armored vehicles blocking a street in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, February 26, 2022. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)
  • A Polish border guard assists refugees from Ukraine as they arrive to Poland at the Korczowa border crossing, Poland, on Saturday, February 26, 2022. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)
    A Polish border guard assists refugees from Ukraine as they arrive to Poland at the Korczowa border crossing, Poland, on Saturday, February 26, 2022. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)
  • Map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as of 26 February 2022. (Viewsridge/Wikipedia commons)
    Map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as of 26 February 2022. (Viewsridge/Wikipedia commons)
  • Ukrainian servicemen stand by a deactivated Russian military multiple rocket launcher on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Friday, February 25, 2022. Russian troops bore down on Ukraine's capital Friday, with gunfire and explosions resonating ever closer to the government quarter, in an invasion of a democratic country that has fueled fears of wider war in Europe and triggered worldwide efforts to make Russia stop. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
    Ukrainian servicemen stand by a deactivated Russian military multiple rocket launcher on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Friday, February 25, 2022. Russian troops bore down on Ukraine's capital Friday, with gunfire and explosions resonating ever closer to the government quarter, in an invasion of a democratic country that has fueled fears of wider war in Europe and triggered worldwide efforts to make Russia stop. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they unfolded.

Ukrainian rabbi says Zelensky asked him to ‘pray for safety’

Ukrainian rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich says President Volodymyr Zelensky called him today.

“President Zelensky called me today and requested that every Jew in Ukraine pray for safety of each person in Ukraine and the end to the Russian invasion of our country,” Bleich says on Twitter. “The Russian invasion threatens every Jew in Ukraine.”

The US-born Bleich is one of several rabbis who claim to be Ukraine’s chief rabbi.

On Friday he said he was sheltering outside Kyiv and attempting to evacuate to the west.

Russian forces blow up gas pipeline in Ukrainian city of Kharkiv

The Ukrainian president’s office says Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.

The State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection warns that the explosion, which it says looked like a mushroom cloud, could cause an “environmental catastrophe” and advised residents to cover their windows with damp cloth or gauze and to drink plenty of fluids.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, says the Russian forces have been unable to take Kharkiv, where a fierce battle is underway.

The city of 1.5 million is located 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border.

Earlier reports by local media said a fuel facility also exploded near the city of Vasylkiv.

Ukrainian troops who told off Russian warship might still be alive

The Ukrainian troops who were believed killed after telling off a Russian warship, and gaining global renown, may still be alive, according to the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine.

The troops are likely prisoners of war, the border guards service says.

Yesterday, a Russian general claimed 82 Ukrainian troops surrendered, CNN reports.

Thirteen Ukrainian border guards were said killed while defending a strategic Black Sea island on Thursday.

“Russian warship, go fuck yourself,” one of the guards told the ship before it attacked them. The recording of the exchange was confirmed as authentic by Ukraine’s interior ministry.

The comment has become a rallying cry for Ukrainians and pro-Ukraine protesters.

Trump says Putin is smart

Former US president Donald Trump tells the CPAC Republican conference that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “smart.”

“Yesterday reporters asked me if I thought President Putin was smart I said, ‘Of course he’s smart,'” Trump says.

“Yes, he’s smart. The NATO nations and indeed the world, as he looks over what’s happening strategically with no repercussions or threats whatsoever, they’re not so smart, they’re looking the opposite of smart,” Trump says.

He mocks Western sanctions as a “weak statement.”

“Putin is saying, ‘Oh, they’re going to sanction me. They sanctioned me for the last 25 years. You mean I can take over a whole country and they’re going to sanction me? You mean they’re not going to blow us to pieces?’”

“The problem is not that Putin is smart, which of course he’s smart, but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb, dumb, so dumb,” Trump says to applause.

He calls the invasion of Ukraine “an assault on humanity.”

“Putin is playing Biden like a drum, and it’s not a pretty thing,” Trump says.

UN reports at least 64 civilians confirmed dead in Ukraine fighting

The United Nations says it has confirmed at least 240 civilian casualties, including at least 64 people killed, in the fighting in Ukraine that erupted since Russia’s invasion on Thursday — though it believed the “real figures are considerably higher” because many reports of casualties remain to be confirmed.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) relays the count from the UN human rights office, which has strict methodologies and verification procedures about the toll from conflict.

OCHA also says damage to civilian infrastructure has deprived hundreds of thousands of people of access to electricity or water, and produced a map of “humanitarian situations” in Ukraine — mostly in northern, eastern and southern Ukraine.

The human rights office had reported early Friday an initial count by its staffers of at least 127 civilian casualties – 25 people killed and 102 injured – mostly from shelling and airstrikes.

Elon Musk says Starlink satellite internet service deployed to Ukraine

Tech billionaire Elon Musk says his company SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service has deployed to Ukraine and was sending more terminals to the country.

“Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route,” Musk says.

He was responding Ukraine’s vice prime minister and minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov.

While you try to colonize Mars — Russia try to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space — Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people! We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations,” Fedorov said to Musk on Twitter.

Internet monitors have said connection has taken a hit in some areas of Ukraine during the Russian invasion. Ukrainian officials and analysts feared Russia would cut off Ukraine’s connection to the outside world.

Musk said last month that Starlink had 1,469 active satellites and 272 “moving to operational orbits.”

Fuel facilities reportedly attacked near two Ukrainian cities

A fuel facility explodes near the Ukrainian city of Vasylkiv, according to local media.

Video said to be from the area shows a massive conflagration.

Reports also say a gas pipeline has been attacked and is burning near the city of Kharkiv.

The Kyiv Independent says residents of the area have been told to shut their windows because of hazardous fumes.

Blinken confirms ‘key’ Russian banks will be cut off from global financing

US Secretary of State confirms the US and allies will cut some Russian banks out of the SWIFT global finance system.

“As a result of Putin’s war on Ukraine, we join with leaders of EU, France, Germany, Italy, UK and Canada to ensure key sanctioned Russian banks are disconnected from SWIFT, impose restrictions on Russian Central Bank, and further identify and freeze assets of sanctioned Russians,” Blinken says.

Removing banks from the SWIFT system will essentially cut them off from international banking transactions.

The fine details of the new sanctions have not yet been announced.

Macron claims Moscow may be able to deploy nuclear arms in Belarus

French President Emmanuel Macron asks his Belarus counterpart to demand that the country, Ukraine’s neighbor, quickly order Russian troops to leave, claiming Moscow has been given the green light to deploy nuclear arms there.

In a phone conversation, Macron denounces “the gravity of a decision that would authorize Russia to deploy nuclear arms on Belarus soil,” a statement by the presidential palace says.

Macron told Alexander Lukashenko that fraternity between the people of Belarus and Ukraine should lead Belarus to “refuse to be a vassal and an accomplice to Russia in the war against Ukraine,” the statement says.

Belarus was one one of several axes used by Russia to launch attacks on Ukraine, with Belarus the point to move toward the capital Kyiv, a senior US defense official has said.

Macron has pushed persistently to try to claw out a ceasefire amid the war, using the telephone to talk to all sides, diplomacy and sanctions by the European Union.

Explosions, airstrikes rock Kyiv

Heavy Russian shelling of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv illuminates the night sky.

Two large explosions have rocked the city in the past hour, according to CNN and The New York Times.

One of the explosions appeared to originate around 12 miles from the city center, CNN says. The second appeared to happen near a major airport.

Ukrainian officials have been warning of heavy Russian airstrikes against the city and have put in place a curfew to keep civilians off the streets.

The Kyiv Independent reports heavy shelling against the city of Kharkiv.

US official: West is going to ‘hunt down’ Russian oligarchs’ yachts, jets, cars

Western nations are going to “hunt down” Russian oligarchs’ “yachts, jets, fancy cars and luxury homes,” a US official says, after the White House, the EU and other allies announce new sanctions against Russia.

The new sanctions mean Russia “can’t support the ruble,” and that the country is not a “global and economic financial pariah,” the official says.

Ukrainian prime minister accuses Russia of war crimes

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal accuses Russia of war crimes.

Russia has attacked civilian targets including kindergartens, residential buildings and school buses, Shmyhal says, according to CNN.

“The Russian command will surely see military tribunal. The enemy will surely be punished for killing Ukrainian children. Ukraine will not forgive them for this,” Shmyhal says.

Russia closing its airspace to neighbors in retaliation

Russia is closing its airspace to planes from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Slovenia, a move that comes as Moscow’s ties with the West plunge to new lows over its invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s state aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya, announces that the measure was taken in retaliation for the four nations closing their airspace for Russian planes.

On Saturday, the agency also reported closing the Russian airspace for planes from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic in response to them doing the same.

EU announces new sanctions to ‘cripple Putin’s war machine’

The European Union announces new sanctions against Russia to “cripple Putin’s ability to finance his war machine.”

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission, says the bloc has decided to remove some Russian banks from the SWIFT global banking system to “stop them from operating worldwide.”

The EU will also “paralyze the assets of Russia’s central bank” to freeze its transactions, von der Leyen says.

She says the move was coordinated with the US, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and the UK.

“The Russian army is committing barbaric actions during its invasion of Ukraine. It is bombing and launching missiles killing innocent people”

“As Russian forces unleash their assault on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, we are resolved to continue imposing massive costs on Russia, costs that will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and our economies,” she says.

The White House says in a statement that the Western countries will also prevent wealthy Russians from acquiring citizenship from other countries to bar them from international financial systems.

The White House says the group will launch a “a transatlantic task force that will ensure the effective implementation of our financial sanctions.”

“Finally, we will step up or coordination against disinformation and other forms of hybrid warfare,” the White House says.

“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 White House says.

Jewish Agency says thousands of Ukrainians inquire about moving to Israel

The Times of Israel’s Judah Ari Gross reports on thousands of Ukrainians turning to the Jewish Agency to look at the possibility of immigrating to Israel amid the war.

A group of Ukrainians travel to Poland before immigrating to Israel, on February 26, 2022. (Jewish Agency)

Germany to close airspace to Russian flights

German officials say the country is preparing to close its airspace to Russian planes.

German Transport Minister Volker Wissing backs such a measure and has ordered all preparations for this to be undertaken, his ministry said on Twitter.

Hours earlier, a German-registered DHL cargo plane made a sharp turn back out of Russian airspace, according to air traffic monitoring website FlightAware.com.

Separately, German airline Lufthansa says it is halting flights to Russia and will stop overflying the country for the next seven days.

“Lufthansa will no longer use Russian airspace in the next seven days due to the current and emerging regulatory situation. Flights to Russia will be suspended during this period,” the company says in a statement.

“Flights that are currently in Russian airspace will leave it shortly,” it adds.

Israeli rescue service sends delegation to Moldova border to aid fleeing Ukrainians

Members of the ultra-Orthodox United Hatzalah rescue service are seen at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on February 26, 2022. (United Hatzalah)
Members of the ultra-Orthodox United Hatzalah rescue service are seen at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on February 26, 2022. (United Hatzalah)

The Israeli United Hatzalah rescue service says a delegation of 12 medical personnel are now heading to Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova, to assist civilians fleeing the war in Ukraine.

The delegation comprises EMTs, paramedics, doctors, a dentist, and members of its Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit.

They will be tasked with providing initial aid, assessing needs, and building comprehensive long-term treatment plans for fleeing refugees on the border with Ukraine, the organization says.

In Moldova, they will meet additional team members joining from Miami, Florida, and in the coming days, an additional team of 30 medical personnel will depart from Israel to join them, it adds.

Sirens continue to sound in Kyiv amid apparent battle in outskirts

Sirens continue to sound in Ukraine’s capital city, as distant gunfire is heard, according to a CNN correspondent on the ground.

Kyiv is currently under a strict curfew until Monday morning.

There are no immediate reports of casualties in the apparent gun battles near the city.

France to deliver more military equipment to Ukraine, ramp up sanctions against Russia

France will send more military equipment, as well as fuel, to Ukraine to help fight off the Russian invasion and slap more economic sanctions on Moscow, the presidency says.

The new sanctions would encompass “national measures to freeze the financial assets of Russian figures,” as well as “new measures” to be taken “with European partners concerning the SWIFT” interbank system, the Elysee says in a statement.

UK: Russia needs to be isolated ‘completely, diplomatically and financially’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (center) meets with military personnel at RAF Brize Norton, northwest of London, on February 26, 2022, to thank them for their ongoing work facilitating military support to Ukraine and NATO. (Ben Birchall/Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (center) meets with military personnel at RAF Brize Norton, northwest of London, on February 26, 2022, to thank them for their ongoing work facilitating military support to Ukraine and NATO. (Ben Birchall/Pool/AFP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky agree during a phone call that the world needs to isolate Russia “completely diplomatically and financially,” Johnson’s 10 Downing Street office says.

“The Prime Minister spoke to Ukrainian President Zelensky this evening. The leaders agreed on the need for the international community to isolate Russia completely diplomatically and financially,” the statement says.

US seeks urgent UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine crisis

The United States and Albania request an emergency UN Security Council meeting Sunday to adopt a resolution convening a special General Assembly session on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, diplomats say.

Only nine of the 15 Security Council members would need to vote for the resolution for it to be adopted.

Under a rarely-used procedure, none of the five permanent members — Russia is one of them — will be allowed to veto the convening of the assembly session Monday.

Over 3,000 detained for anti-war protests in Russia since Thursday

Police officers detain a woman during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Moscow, on February 24, 2022. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)
Police officers detain a woman during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Moscow, on February 24, 2022. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)

More than 3,000 Russians have been detained for holding anti-war protests since President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine three days ago, an independent monitor says.

“In the last 3 days, at least 3,052 people were arrested,” the independent OVD-info monitor, which keeps track of arrests during protests, writes on Twitter.

It said 467 people were arrested in 34 cities today alone.

Jewish Agency to open aliyah stations along Ukraine border

Two Orthodox Jews are seen arriving at the Medyka pedestrian border crossing in eastern Poland on February 25, 2022, fleeing the conflict in their country, one day after Russia launched a military attack on its neighbor Ukraine. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)
Two Orthodox Jews are seen arriving at the Medyka pedestrian border crossing in eastern Poland on February 25, 2022, fleeing the conflict in their country, one day after Russia launched a military attack on its neighbor Ukraine. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)

The Jewish Agency announces it will open six aliyah processing stations at Ukrainian border crossings with four countries: Poland, Moldova, Romania, and Hungary.

The stations, operated alongside the Nativ conversion preparation organization and the Foreign Ministry, are aimed at assisting Ukrainian Jews fleeing the war-torn country to immigrate to Israel.

The agency says it has been operating from a central aliyah station in Lviv in Western Ukraine since the Russian invasion began, where several new immigrants to Israel crossed to Poland today.

The agency moved that station to the Polish side of the border earlier today, after Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ordered the evacuation of all diplomatic staff out of Ukraine.

The agency says it expects a significant wave of immigration to Israel, subject to eligibility granted by Nativ, amid the ongoing war.

Yad Vashem, chief rabbi urge US not to sanction Roman Abramovich

In this photo, released by the Israel’s Government Press Office, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (left) talks with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at Stamford Bridge, in London, on Sunday, November 21, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/Israel’s Government Press Office via AP)
In this photo, released by the Israel’s Government Press Office, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (left) talks with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at Stamford Bridge, in London, on Sunday, November 21, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/Israel’s Government Press Office via AP)

The chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, a chief rabbi, and representatives of several other major Israeli organizations and charities have written to the US ambassador urging the US not to impose sanctions on Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich, Channel 12 reports.

The signatories, including Yad Vashem’s Dani Danon, Chief Rabbi David Lau, and Sheba Medical Center director-general Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, said such a measure would be both unfair and would negatively impact Israel and the Jewish world. They hailed Abramovich’s investments, philanthropy, and significant contributions to Israel.

The letter was sent to US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and is dated February 6, days after reports emerged that the US and others were preparing a list of targets for economic sanction should Russia invade Ukraine.

The US declined to comment on the letter.

Imposed since Russia began its assault on Ukraine on Thursday, US-led sanctions have excluded most of the top names from Forbes’ list of the richest Russians, like Abramovich, whose multi-billion-dollar fortunes are now largely intertwined with the West.

On Tuesday, Yad Vashem’s Dayan announced that Abramovich had made a multi-million shekel donation “that will significantly strengthen Yad Vashem’s mission.”

Yad Vashem’s spokesman did not give the exact sum, but said that it is “an eight-figure donation.”

“With this contribution, Roman Abramovich will become the second-largest private donor to Yad Vashem, after Miri and Sheldon Adelson,” he said.

Abramovich is also funding the creation of two new versions of Yad Vashem’s Book of Names, in which the museum had detailed the collected names of more than 4,800,000 Jewish men, women, and children who were murdered by the Nazis.

In 2018 the oligarch immigrated to Israel, instantly becoming one of the country’s richest people, with an estimated wealth of some $14 billion. The move came after he was unable to extend his visa in the UK amid a diplomatic spat between London and Moscow.

Abramovich is said to have donated more than $500 million in recent years to Israeli and Jewish causes, including some $100 million to fund the right-wing, pro-settlement Elad organization, which runs archaeological digs and sites in East Jerusalem and controversially buys properties in Palestinian areas to increase the Jewish presence there.

Russian-Israeli billionaire Abramovich hands over control of Chelsea to club’s foundation trustees

Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match against FC Barcelona in Gothenburg, Sweden, on May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match against FC Barcelona in Gothenburg, Sweden, on May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich hands over control of the Chelsea soccer club to the club’s foundation trustees, he says in a statement.

“During my nearly 20-year ownership of Chelsea FC, I have always viewed my role as a custodian of the Club, whose job it is ensuring that we are as successful as we can be today, as well as build for the future, while also playing a positive role in our communities,” the statement reads.

“I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart. I remain committed to these values. That is why I am today giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable Foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC,” Abramovich says.

“I believe that currently they are in the best position to look after the interests of the Club, players, staff, and fans,” he adds.

The move comes amid concerns Abramovich, a former Russian provincial governor and ally of President Vladimir Putin, could become subject to US sanctions amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Zelensky asks UN to strip Russia of its security council vote

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers his speech addressing the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 25, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers his speech addressing the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 25, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he has asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to strip Russia of its vote at the UN Security Council as punishment for invading Ukraine.

“To deprive the aggressor country of the right to vote in the UN Security Council, to qualify Russian actions and statements as genocide of the Ukrainian people, to help with the delivery of corpses of Russian soldiers. Talked about it in a conversation with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres,” Zelensky writes on Twitter.

Russia is one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council with the right to veto decisions, along with China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Shaked confirms Ukraine’s Zelensky requested Bennett to mediate with Russia

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked confirms that during Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday, “there was indeed a request” for Israel to mediate between Ukraine and Russia.

“The issue is being handled,” she tells Channel 12 news.

“I’m being very careful. The request was received. And the issue is being handled, and there’s no need to say more,” Shaked tells the network.

Ukraine parliament chairman asks counterpart to advance summit in Jerusalem

Israel Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy calls his counterpart Ruslan Oleksiyovych Stefanchuk, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

“The Russian attack on Ukraine is a blatant violation of international order,” Levy says to the chairman of the Ukraine parliament, according to a statement.

He adds that in the coming days, humanitarian aid will be delivered to Ukraine, and expresses his hope for an end to the violence.

Oleksiyovych thanks Levy, and asks him to promote a potential Russian-Ukrainian summit in Israel, the statement adds.

WATCH: Ukrainians try to block Russian tanks advancing through their town

Ukrainian citizens in the town of Bakhmach, some 175 kilometers (109 miles) northeast of Kyiv, attempt to block Russian tanks advancing forward, video footage shows.

A man is seen stepping in front of a tank and jumping on top, as it continues to roll forward. He jumps off and attempts to hold the tank back, and it stops for a brief moment. Bystanders then pull him aside and the tank continues, before stopping again when another man stands in front of it.

CNN says it has confirmed the authenticity and location of the video.

“People are begging the tanks to stop,” the voice on the video says, according to CNN.

Germany to send 1,000 anti-tank weapons, 500 surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine

Germany’s army will transfer 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 “Stinger” class surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine to help it in its battle against Russia’s invasion, the government says.

The weapons, which will come from the Bundeswehr’s own stocks, “will be delivered as quickly as possible to Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Sirens sound in Kyiv amid apparent gun battles in outskirts

Sirens are sounding in Ukraine’s capital city, as sounds of explosions and gunfire ring out, according to a Channel 13 news correspondent on the ground.

Kyiv is currently under a strict curfew until Monday morning.

There are no immediate reports of casualties in the apparent gun battles near the city.

Baltic nations seek to shut airspace to Russian airlines

The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania decide to close their airspace to Russian airlines, transport officials in the three countries say.

The legal formulation for the measure is underway and it wasn’t immediately clear when precisely the ban would take effect.

Lithuanian Transport Marius Skuodis told media outlets that the goal of the Baltic countries is to issue the ban at the same time.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweets that Western nations should isolate Russia both economically and politically after its invasion of Ukraine, saying “there is no place for planes of the aggressor state in democratic skies.”

Latvian Transport Minister Talis Linkaits tells local news agency LETA that the country’s decision to close its airspace to Russian airlines will be made in coordination with Estonia, Lithuania, and the EU.

Thousands march in Tel Aviv against Russian invasion of Ukraine, Israel’s lackluster response

Demonstrators carry placards and flags during a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, on February 26, 2022. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)
Demonstrators carry placards and flags during a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, on February 26, 2022. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)

Thousands are gathering in Tel Aviv’s HaBima Square and down Rothschild Boulevard to protest the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine as the war concludes its third day and, what protesters say, is Israel’s lackluster response.

Vyacheslav Feldman, founder of protest organizer Israeli Friends of Ukraine, told The Times of Israel that the demonstration’s first priority is to “stop the war,” and the second for the Israeli government to take a more active role.

“We’re asking the Israeli government to take a clearer step,” he said. “We want Israel to take a side.”

“Humanitarian assistance is nice, but what Ukraine needs is defensive weapons.”

Demonstrators carry placards and flags during a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, on February 26, 2022. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)

Mila and Irena, two new immigrants from Ukraine in their twenties, held signs with Oleg, a Russian immigrant to Israel. Mila and Irena each moved to Israel alone and their families remain in Ukraine.

In particular, the three stressed the abundance of false information circulating on Russian airways.

“They don’t know the truth of what’s going on,” Irena said, in her estimation of the war’s exposure to the broader Russian public.

While many protesters have roots in Ukraine, Russia, or the former Soviet Union, a significant contingent were Israelis motivated more by heritage than support.

“I’m here to stand against injustice,” a protester from the latter group said.

Ukrainian songs mixed with cheers of “glory to Ukraine” and “Putin is a dick.”

Demonstrators carry placards and flags during a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, on February 26, 2022. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/The Times of Israel)

Germany working to bar Russia from SWIFT interbank system

Germany says it is working on excluding Russia from the SWIFT interbank system in a “targeted and functional” way that would limit any collateral damage.

“We are working at the same time urgently on limiting the collateral damage from an exclusion from SWIFT so that (the measure) hits the right people,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck say in a joint statement.

“What we need is a targeted and functional limitation of SWIFT,” they add.

Ukraine Embassy begins recruiting Israelis to fight Russian invasion

The Ukrainian Embassy in Israel has begun actively recruiting people in Israel to fight against the Russian military as it faces a full-scale invasion.

“The Embassy has begun the formation of lists of volunteers who wish to participate in combat actions against the Russian aggressor,” the embassy writes in a public Facebook post in Ukrainian.

Some half-million Israelis are estimated to have Ukrainian roots, with tens of thousands having come only in the past few years, following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea.

In the Facebook post, the embassy asks those who wish to “participate in the protection of Ukraine from the Russian military aggression” to send an email with their personal information, including any “military specialty” they may have.

Earlier this week, before the Facebook post was published, the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel told The Times of Israel that his office had checked and ensured that it was legal for Israelis to volunteer for the Ukrainian military.

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed reporting

Germany approves rocket-launcher deliveries to Ukraine

Germany approves the deliveries of 400 anti-tank rocket launchers to Ukraine, a government source says, in a U-turn from its longstanding policy of banning weapon exports to conflict zones.

“Given the Russian attack on Ukraine, the government is prepared to release urgently needed material for the defense of Ukraine,” the source says in a statement.

Bennett to convene security cabinet amid Ukraine crisis

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will convene the high-level security cabinet tomorrow afternoon, his office says.

The meeting comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Bennett’s office does not specify the exact topics that will be discussed during the meeting.

Israel sends permanent ambassador to Poland amid Ukraine crisis

Yacov Livne. (Foreign Ministry)
Yacov Livne. (Foreign Ministry)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid orders to send Israel’s designated ambassador to Poland, Yacov Livne, to the country’s embassy in Warsaw, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Lapid made the decision in order to advance assistance to Israeli citizens crossing the border from Ukraine to Poland, the Foreign Ministry says in a statement.

“Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw, headed by charge d’affaires Tal [Ben-Ari] Yaalon, has worked in fruitful cooperation with the Polish authorities in the effort to assist Israelis leaving Ukraine, and we would like to express our gratitude to the Polish authorities for this assistance,” the statement says.

Israel’s mission to Poland was only at the charge d’affaires level following tensions over a controversial bill passed last year, seen as banning claims for restitution of some seized property, including that of Holocaust victims.

Livne is expected to leave for Warsaw tomorrow morning.

Russians ‘frustrated’ by slow invasion progress, US official says

Russia now has at least 50 percent of its massive invasion force inside Ukraine, but is making slow progress due to unexpectedly stiff resistance, a senior US defense official says.

“We would estimate that more than 50 percent of the Russian force that Mr. Putin had arrayed against Ukraine… has been committed inside Ukraine,” the official tells reporters.

“We have indications that the Russians are increasingly frustrated by their lack of momentum over the last 24 hours, particularly in the north parts of Ukraine,” the official says, insisting on anonymity.

The Russian military had still not taken control of any Ukrainian city, nor has it gained air superiority over the country, the official says.

Russian troops remain some 30 kilometers (18 miles) outside of Kyiv, the official says, while stressing that battlefield situations were actively changing.

Ukrainian resistance remains “viable,” and Western allies are still able to get weapons and other supplies to them despite the Russian attack.

The Russians “have been frustrated by… a very determined resistance and it has slowed them down.”

“Based on what we’ve observed, this resistance is greater than what the Russians expected,” the official says.

Fog of war leads to conflicting claims of Russian invasion progress, fatalities

In the fog of war, there are spectacular discrepancies in core claims of Russia’s progress and in the numbers of fatalities as cited by Russian and Ukrainian authorities, an Israeli Channel 12 reporter in Odessa notes.

Russia claims to have captured the port city of Mariupol and the 150,000-strong city Melitopol; Ukraine officially denies both of these claims.

She says Russia claims to have sustained zero fatalities in the invasion to date, while Ukraine claims 3,500 Russian soldiers are dead and 200 of its people.

Over 1,000 rally in Tel Aviv against Russian invasion of Ukraine

Hundreds gather in Tel Aviv to protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, on February 26, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 12)
Hundreds gather in Tel Aviv to protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, on February 26, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Hundreds of Israelis are now gathering in Tel Aviv to protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Channel 12 news says at least 1,000 have arrived so far, and thousands more are expected later this evening.

The demonstrators chant slogans against Russian President Vladimir Putin, and also complain the Israeli government is not supportive enough of Ukraine.

The network says many of the demonstrators have Ukrainian roots and even family in the country.

Russian army ordered to broaden Ukraine advance ‘from all directions’

The Russian army has been given orders to broaden its offensive in Ukraine “from all directions,” after Kyiv refused to hold talks in Belarus, Moscow’s defense ministry says in a statement.

“After the Ukrainian side rejected the negotiation process, today all units were given orders to develop the advance from all directions in accordance with the operation’s plans,” Russian army spokesman Igor Konashenkov says.

Kyiv enters curfew until Monday as Russians press on capital

The Ukrainian capital enters an intensified curfew until Monday morning, as Russian troops press on the city.

“The curfew in Kyiv will start on Saturday at 5:00 p.m and end at 8:00 a.m on Monday,” city authorities say on Telegram, adding that “all civilians that are on the streets during the period of the curfew will be considered members of sabotage groups of the enemy.”

The previous curfew imposed two days ago was overnight from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m.

Zelensky asks Turkey to block Russian warships entering Black Sea

The skyline of Istanbul's Levent district, seen from the Bosphorus. (Wikipedia/Ben Morlok/CC BY-SA)
The skyline of Istanbul's Levent district, seen from the Bosphorus. (Wikipedia/Ben Morlok/CC BY-SA)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asks Turkey to block Russian warships from traversing the Dardanelles or Bosphorus straits, which link the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.

“I thank my friend [President Recep Tayyip Erdogan] and the people of [Turkey] for their strong support. The ban on the passage of [Russian] warships to the Black Sea and significant military and humanitarian support for [Ukraine] are extremely important today. The people of  [Ukraine] will never forget that!” Zelensky writes on Twitter.

A senior Turkish official tells the Middle East Eye news site that “Turkey hasn’t made a decision to close the straits to Russian ships yet.”

The Kremlin has a key naval base in Syria, and recently held large naval drills in the Mediterranean and Gulf of Oman.

2 men killed in plane crash near Jerusalem

The scene of a light aircraft crash near Mevo Beitar, near Jerusalem, on February 26, 2022. (Israel Police)
The scene of a light aircraft crash near Mevo Beitar, near Jerusalem, on February 26, 2022. (Israel Police)

Two men in their 30s and 60s die after the light aircraft they were flying in crashes near the town of Mevo Beitar, near Jerusalem.

Police say the plane took off from an airfield in central Israel and was meant to land near Masada, but authorities lost contact with the craft over the Jerusalem Hills.

Officers searching the area found the crashed plane.

Medics called to the scene pronounced them both dead. They have not been immediately named.

An investigation has been opened.

US announces $350 million in new military aid to Ukraine

The United States will provide Ukraine with $350 million in additional military equipment to fight off Russia’s “brutal and unprovoked assault,” says US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“This package will include further lethal defensive assistance to help Ukraine address the armored, airborne, and other threats it is now facing,” Blinken says in a statement.

Blinken says that last fall as Russia started amassing troops on the border with its pro-Western neighbor, US President Joe Biden authorized $60 million in immediate military assistance to Ukraine, then another $200 million in December as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat became more acute.

Now the US is authorizing a third package “as Ukraine fights with courage and pride against Russia’s brutal and unprovoked assault,” Blinken said.

This means total US security assistance committed to Ukraine over the past year now exceeds a billion dollars, the secretary says.

Blinken did not detail what kind of weaponry was involved.

The new assistance follows a series of US and other western sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs in an effort to punish Putin and his inner circle for the invasion of Ukraine and cripple the Russian economy.

Russia closes airspace to flights from Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic

Russia says it is closing its airspace to flights from Bulgaria, Poland, and the Czech Republic in response to similar measures by these countries over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this week.

“Air carriers of these states and/or registered in them are subject to restrictions on flights to destinations on the territory of the Russian Federation, including transit flights through the airspace of the Russian Federation,” the federal air transport agency Rosaviation says.

The measure is set to go into effect from 3:00 p.m. local time on Saturday.

Kyiv mayor extends curfew on capital to strengthen defense as Russians press on

A soldier walks along Ukrainian armored vehicles blocking a street in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, February 26, 2022. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)
A soldier walks along Ukrainian armored vehicles blocking a street in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, February 26, 2022. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)

The mayor of the Ukrainian capital is imposing an intensified curfew as Russian troops press on the city, and is warning that violators will be considered “enemy” saboteurs.

Mayor Vitaly Klitschko says on Telegram that to improve the defense of the capital the curfew will be extended from 5:00 pm to 8:00 am local time between Saturday and Monday.

“All civilians who are on the street during the curfew will be considered members of the enemy’s sabotage and reconnaissance groups,” he writes.

The previous curfew imposed two days ago was from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m.

Ukraine president Zelensky says forces repelling Russian attacks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses his nation in a speech on Saturday, February 26, 2022, saying troops were successfully thwarting Russian attacks. (Screenshot/Twitter)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses his nation in a speech on Saturday, February 26, 2022, saying troops were successfully thwarting Russian attacks. (Screenshot/Twitter)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his country’s armed forces are successfully fighting back against Russian troops.

Zelensky says in a video Saturday that Russian attempts to advance into Kyiv have been repelled and Moscow’s plan to quickly seize the capital and install a puppet government has been thwarted.

“We’ve derailed their plan,” the 44-year-old leader said in a new video address, stressing that the Ukrainian army was in control of the capital Kyiv and main cities around it.

In an emotional speech, he accused the Russian forces of hitting civilian areas and infrastructure.

Zelensky pushed for Ukraine’s urgent ascension to the European Union, saying he discussed the issue with the EU leaders. He also urged cutting Russia from the SWIFT international electronic bank payment system, noting that Germany and Hungary should show “courage” and agree to the move.

Briefly switching to Russian, Zelensky hailed Russia’s cultural figures who denounced the invasion and urged them to redouble efforts to force the Kremlin to halt the attack.

He claimed that thousands of Russian troops were killed and hundreds of those who were taken prisoner “can’t understand why they were sent into Ukraine to kill and get killed.”

“The sooner you say to your government that this war should be immediately stopped, the more of your people will stay alive,” he said.

He asked Russians who spoke out against the war to keep up the pressure on the Kremlin, saying: “Simply stop those who are lying to you, lying to us, lying to the entire world.”

Ukraine says Russian missile headed for water reservoir near Kyiv shot down

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry says a Russian missile was shot down before dawn Saturday as it headed for the dam of the sprawling water reservoir that serves Kyiv.

“If the dam is destroyed, the flooding will cause catastrophic casualties and losses — including flooding of residential areas of Kyiv and its suburbs,” the ministry says.

Russian troops were pressing their attack on the Ukrainian capital, trying to advance on the city from several directions.

Russia has repeatedly claimed its assault on Ukraine is aimed only at military targets.

“Let me stress once again that only infrastructure sites of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are being targeted, ruling out damage to residential and social infrastructure,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told a briefing Saturday.

6 civilians hurt in Kyiv apartment block hit by Russian shell

Firefighters extinguish a fire in a high-rise apartment block, which was hit by recent shelling in Kyiv, on February 26, 2022. (Genya Savilov/AFP)
Firefighters extinguish a fire in a high-rise apartment block, which was hit by recent shelling in Kyiv, on February 26, 2022. (Genya Savilov/AFP)

A rescue worker says at least six civilians were injured by a rocket that hit a high-rise apartment building on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital.

Petro Prokopov, a firefighter who was taking part in rescue efforts, says the building on the southwestern edge of Kyiv near Zhuliany airport was hit between 16 and 21 floors on Saturday. He says at least six people were injured and apartments on two floors were gutted by fire.

Emergency responders have evacuated 80 people.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko posted an image showing a gaping hole on one side of the apartment building.

Former Russian president Medvedev shrugs off Western sanctions

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) listens to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during the State Council meeting on the agricultural policy at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on December 26, 2019. (Yekaterina Shtukina/Sputnik, Government Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) listens to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during the State Council meeting on the agricultural policy at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on December 26, 2019. (Yekaterina Shtukina/Sputnik, Government Pool Photo via AP)

A senior Russian official warns that Moscow could react to Western sanctions over its attack on Ukraine by opting out of the last remaining nuclear arms pact and freezing Western assets.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, shrugged off a set of crippling sanctions that the US, the European Union and other allies slapped on Russia as a reflection of Western “political impotence.”

In comments posted on his page on Russian social media VKontakte, Medvedev says the sanctions could offer Moscow a pretext for a complete review of its ties with the West, suggesting that Russia could opt out of the New START nuclear arms control treaty that limits the US and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Medvedev also raises the prospect of cutting diplomatic ties with Western countries, saying “there is no particular need in maintaining diplomatic relations” and adding that “we may look at each other in binoculars and gunsights.”

He points at the possibility of freezing Western assets in the country if the West proceeds with threats to freeze Russian assets.

Medvedev served as Russian president from 2008 to 2012 and as prime minister from 2012 to 2020.

Israeli diplomatic staff in Lviv to leave Ukraine for Poland

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid instructs Israeli embassy staff in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv to cross over into Poland, amid ongoing bouts of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian troops following Moscow’s invasion of its western neighbor starting Thursday.

The Israeli diplomatic staff will cross the border into Ukraine every day to continue their diplomatic work and provide consular services to help Israeli citizens leave Ukraine, the foreign minister indicates.

The embassy employees completed their relocation from the capital of Kyiv to Lviv, closer to the Polish border, on Tuesday. US diplomats and other missions left Lviv more than a week ago.

The Israeli ministry said it will post information on how to contact the embassy staff later in the day.

The Foreign Ministry reached this decision following a situational assessment Saturday morning that Russian troops may occupy Lviv, according to a statement.

This development came as reports circulated that Russian troops attempted a landing in the Lviv region, near the city of Brody to the northeast.

Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovy said a landing of three Russian helicopters was repelled by Ukrainian troops, a claim that was refuted by Ukraine’s security services.

Poland bows out of World Cup qualifying match against Russia over Ukraine invasion

The Polish Football Association says it will not play its World Cup qualifying match against Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.

“No more words, time to act!” says association president Cezary Kulesza on Twitter, saying the move was prompted by the “escalation of the aggression.”

The match had been scheduled for March 24.

Lviv mayor says Ukrainian troops fend off Russian landing close by

A general view of the center in Ukraine's western city of Lviv. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A general view of the center in Ukraine's western city of Lviv. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

The mayor of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, about 70 kilometers from the Polish border, says a Russian landing near the city of Brody has been repelled by Ukrainian troops. Brody is about 90 kilometers (56 miles) northeast of Lviv.

“At 9:00, in Brody area, Russian troops landed on three helicopters. About 60 people. Our troops fought back. Now they are retreating towards the forest in Leviatyn area,” Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy says on a Telegram channel, according to Ukrainian news agency Interfax.

“The armed forces are giving a worthy rebuff to the invader! We keep the situation under control,” Sadovyi adds, according to the translation.

The claim was later refuted by the office of the Security Service in the Lviv region.

“Currently, information is being disseminated about the landing of troops of the Russian Federation in the area of the Brody settlement — this is not true,” the press service of the SBU department in the Lviv region said in a statement, according to Interfax.

Czech Republic to donate machine guns, rifles, ammo worth $8.6m to Ukraine

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — The Czech Republic will donate machine guns, automatic and sniper rifles, pistols, and ammunition valued at 7.6 million euros ($8.6 million) to Ukraine, the defense minister says Saturday.

“The government on Saturday approved further help to Ukraine, which is facing a Russian attack,” Minister Jana Cernochova says in a tweet.

“The defense ministry will also take care of transport to a place set by the Ukrainian side. Our help is not over,” she adds.

In January, Prague donated 4,000 artillery shells worth 1.5 million euros to Ukraine.

Chinese banks said to limit financing for Russian purchases

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin prior to their talks in Beijing, China, on February 4, 2022. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin prior to their talks in Beijing, China, on February 4, 2022. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

BEIJING, China — Several Chinese public banks are limiting financing to purchase raw materials from Russia for fear of Western sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine, the Bloomberg news agency reports.

China and Russia have strengthened their ties considerably since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and subsequent Western sanctions.

To power its growth, the Asian giant has also increased its purchases of Russian commodities, with about 30 percent of Russian oil and gas now sold to China.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at least two of China’s largest state-owned banks, ICBC and Bank of China, are restricting funding for the purchase of Russian commodities, Bloomberg says.

The decision was taken for fear that allowing funding could be perceived as support for Moscow’s invasion and risk sanctions from the United States and its allies, the US news agency said, citing unidentified sources.

Bloomberg says the move may only be temporary.

ICBC is the world’s largest bank by assets, while Bank of China is the country’s largest commercial bank for currency trading.

US sanctions could potentially deprive them of access to the dollar.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday sparked a wave of international sanctions against Moscow, mainly from Western countries.

Washington has, among other things, imposed sanctions on energy giant Gazprom and other large Russian companies, which will no longer be able to raise money on Western financial markets.

China is walking a diplomatic tightrope over the Ukraine conflict.

It does not want to directly oppose its ally Russia.

While visiting Beijing for the Winter Olympics earlier in February, Putin signed important agreements with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

The two countries notably agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the financial sector and on the supply of gas.

But while Beijing has not condemned the invasion of Ukraine, it has also stopped short of outright support.

China abstained on Friday’s United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine and demanding the immediate withdrawal of its troops, which Russia vetoed.

On Saturday, the Chinese embassy in Ukraine advised its citizens to “refrain… from displaying signs of identification”, just days after telling those leaving Kyiv to clearly fix a Chinese flag to their vehicles.

UN says over 120,000 people have fled Ukraine since Russian attack

People fleeing the conflict from neighboring Ukraine arrive at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland, on Friday, February 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
People fleeing the conflict from neighboring Ukraine arrive at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland, on Friday, February 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland — The UN refugee agency says that over 120,000 Ukrainian refugees have left the country since Russia began its attack on its neighboring country this week.

Speaking as Russian troops were engaged in battle with Ukrainian forces in the capital Kyiv on Saturday, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Kelly Clements, says in an interview on CNN the situation was expected to get worse.

“We now see over 120,000 people that have gone to all of the neighboring countries,” she says. “The reception that they are receiving from local communities, from local authorities, is tremendous. But it’s a dynamic situation. We are really quite devastated, obviously, with what’s to come.”

Most are heading to Poland and Moldova, but also to Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary.

Ukraine health minister: 198 killed including 3 kids since Russian invasion began

Ukraine’s Health Minister Viktor Liashko says 198 Ukrainians have been killed, including three children, since Russia began its invasion of its western neighbor Thursday.

In a Facebook post, Liashko also says 1,115 Ukrainians have been wounded, among them 33 children, in the three days of fighting.

UK says Russian invasion of Ukraine slowed by resistance

LONDON — Britain says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been slowed by strong Ukrainian resistance.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey says fighting in the capital, Kyiv, was so far confined to “very isolated pockets of Russian special forces and paratroopers.”

He said that “the main armored columns approaching Kyiv are still some way off.”

“It looks like the Russian plan is nowhere near running to schedule. I think that will be a great cause of concern for President Putin and rather points to the fact that there was a lot of hubris in the Russian plan and that he may be awfully advised,” says Heappey.

Ukrainian embassy staff in Moscow leaving for Latvia

The Ukrainian embassy in Moscow is evacuating to Latvia, Reuters reports citing the Latvian foreign ministry.

“It was their plea, we readily agreed. We are assisting them in the process and help with settling down,” says Latvian foreign ministry spokesperson Jānis Beķeris, according to the report.

It is not immediately clear whether the embassy staff have already arrived in Latvia.

Reuters reports that the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow has been the site of low-key anti-war protests in the last few days.

Ukraine FM urges international community to fully isolate Russia, expel envoys

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweets an image of a damaged apartment block on the southwestern outskirts of Kyiv, hit by Russian shelling.

“Kyiv, our splendid, peaceful city, survived another night under attacks by Russian ground forces, missiles. One of them has hit a residential apartment in Kyiv,” he writes.

He urges the international community to “fully isolate Russia, expel ambassadors, [introduce an] oil embargo, ruin its economy.”

“Stop Russian war criminals!” he adds.

‘This war will last,’ warns France’s Macron on Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a media conference after an extraordinary EU summit on Ukraine in Brussels, on Friday, February 25, 2022. (Olivier Hoslet/Pool Photo via AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a media conference after an extraordinary EU summit on Ukraine in Brussels, on Friday, February 25, 2022. (Olivier Hoslet/Pool Photo via AP)

PARIS, France — The world must brace for a long war between Russia and Ukraine after Moscow launched an invasion of its pro-Western neighbor, French President Emmanuel Macron warns.

“If I can tell you one thing this morning it is that this war will last,” Macron says at France’s annual agriculture fair.

“This crisis will last, this war will last and all the crises that come with it will have lasting consequences,” Macron added, warning: “We must be prepared.”

Macron cut short his visit to the agriculture fair, usually one of the main fixtures on the French political calendar, in order to return to dealing with the crisis triggered by the Russian invasion.

“War has returned to Europe, this was chosen unilaterally by President [Vladimir] Putin, with a tragic humanitarian situation, a [Ukrainian] people who are resisting and a Europe that is there and resisting by the side of the Ukrainian people,” said Macron.

With the war and sanctions against Russia risking damage for specific sectors in France, notably the wine industry, Macron vowed a “plan of resilience” to help them cope.

The French leader was a key figure in efforts to avert conflict, repeatedly speaking to Putin and seeking in vain to broker a summit between the Russian leader and US President Joe Biden.

The war has also broken out as the clock ticks down to France’s presidential elections in April.

Macron, who is expected to seek and win a second term, has left the official declaration of his candidacy to the last minute, although he must make a move next week ahead of a March 4 deadline to register.

Russia fires cruise missiles at Ukraine military infrastructure

MOSCOW, Russia — The Russian army has targeted Ukraine’s military infrastructure with cruise missiles from the air and sea, the defense ministry says, as Moscow pressed on with the invasion of the pro-Western country.

“During the night, the armed forces of the Russian Federation launched a strike with long-range precision weapons using air- and sea-launched cruise missiles against the military infrastructure of Ukraine,” defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov says in televised remarks.

He said that the Russian army only targeted military infrastructure without damaging “residential and social infrastructure.”

That claim came despite evidence on the ground of residential buildings being hit.

Speaking on day three of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Konashenkov also says that the Russian troops had taken “full control” of the southeastern city of Melitopol.

“The Russian servicemen are taking all measures to ensure the safety of civilians and exclude provocations from the Ukrainian special services and nationalists,” the spokesman says.

He says that since the start of Russia’s attack Thursday, the military has hit 821 Ukrainian military facilities, including 14 airbases and 19 command facilities, and destroyed 24 air defense missile systems, 48 radars, seven warplanes, seven helicopters, nine drones, 87 tanks and eight military vessels.

The Russian navy has destroyed eight military boats, Konashenkov said.

Konashenkov didn’t say how many Ukrainian troops were killed and didn’t mention any casualties on the Russian side. His claims and Ukraine’s allegations that its forces have killed thousands of Russian troops couldn’t be independently verified.

He gave no details of any Russian losses in the fighting in the face of statements from Kyiv that they have inflicted heavy damages on Moscow’s forces.

On Thursday, Russian leader Vladimir Putin unleashed a full-scale invasion of Ukraine that has killed dozens of people, forced more than 50,000 to flee Ukraine in just 48 hours and sparked fears of a greater conflict in Europe.

Kyiv apartment block hit in Russian shelling; fierce fighting in capital, elsewhere

Ukrainian emergency services say that a high-rise apartment block was hit by shelling overnight in Kyiv as fighting raged between Russian attackers and Ukrainian forces.

The authorities say the number of victims was “being specified” and that an evacuation was underway. They posted a picture online of the tower block with a hole covering at least five floors blasted into the side and rubble strewn across the street below.

Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said online that the building had been hit by a missile.

An adviser to Ukraine’s president says that fighting is raging in the capital and in the country’s south, and that the Ukrainian military is successfully fending off Russian assaults.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Saturday that small groups of Russian forces tried to infiltrate Kyiv and engaged in fighting with Ukrainian troops. He said that Russia wants to seize control of the Ukrainian capital and destroy the country’s leadership, but said the Russian military has failed to make any gains and that the Ukrainian forces control the situation in Kyiv.

He said Russian forces were also focusing on the country’s south, where intense fighting is underway in Kherson just north of Crimea, and in the Black Sea ports of Mykolaiv, Odessa, and around Mariupol.

He said that Russia considers it a priority to seize the south, but it has failed to make any significant gains.

“Ukraine hasn’t simply withstood it. Ukraine is winning,” Podolyak said at a briefing.

‘We will not lay down our weapons,’ Zelensky says in video from central Kyiv

In this screenshot from a video posted Saturday morning, February 26, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukrainians will fight for their land, as Russian troops were said to be closing in on the capital, Kyiv. (Screenshot/Twitter)
In this screenshot from a video posted Saturday morning, February 26, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukrainians will fight for their land, as Russian troops were said to be closing in on the capital, Kyiv. (Screenshot/Twitter)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says there will be no surrender as Russian troops are said to be closing in on the capital Kyiv.

In a video posted to Twitter early Saturday, Zelensky says (in loose translations from Twitter): “There is a lot of fake information on the networks that I am calling on our army to surrender and that there is an evacuation, but I am here. We will not lay down our weapons. We will fight for our land.”

Zelensky captioned the video: “Do not believe the fakes.”

In another tweet, the Ukrainian president says he spoke with his French counterpart, Emmanual Macron, and that weapons and equipment were on the way to the embattled country, under attack by Russia.

“A new day on the diplomatic frontline began with a conversation with @EmmanuelMacron. Weapons and equipment from our partners are on the way to Ukraine. The anti-war coalition is working!” Zelensky wrote on Twitter.

US sanctions on Russian oligarchs miss richest of rich

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov walk past honor guards as they attend a ceremony to receive diplomatic credentials from newly appointed foreign ambassadors at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, October 11, 2018. In the wake of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, US sanctions are targeting Putin and a handful of individuals believed to be among his closest security advisers, including Lavrov. (Sergei Karpukhin/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov walk past honor guards as they attend a ceremony to receive diplomatic credentials from newly appointed foreign ambassadors at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, October 11, 2018. In the wake of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, US sanctions are targeting Putin and a handful of individuals believed to be among his closest security advisers, including Lavrov. (Sergei Karpukhin/Pool Photo via AP, File)

AP — US sanctions target Russian President Vladmir Putin and a handful of individuals believed to be among his closest security advisers, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. But the list is just as notable for who isn’t on it — most of the top names from Forbes’ list of the richest Russians whose multi-billion-dollar fortunes are now largely intertwined with the West, from investments in Silicon Valley start-ups to British Premier League soccer teams.

Citing the concerns of European allies, the US also didn’t impose what was seen as the harshest punishment at its disposal, banning Russia from SWIFT, the international financial system that banks use to move money around the world.

Biden said Thursday the new US sanctions would nonetheless cripple Russia’s financial system and stymie its economic growth by targeting Russia’s biggest banks, which the Treasury Department said holds nearly 80% of all the country’s banking assets.

“Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences,” Biden said, laying out measures that will “impose severe cost on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time.”

But much of the wealth of Russia’s richest isn’t held in the sanctioned Russian banks. Putin and the oligarchs aligned with him have had decades to stash assets overseas, much of it hidden in ways specifically designed to avoid sanctions.

Though the Kremlin officially reports Putin’s income at $131,900 annually, the Russian president is believed to benefit from many billions in cash and overseas assets held by trusted friends and relatives, many of whom are from his home city of St. Petersburg.

A 2017 study of Russian oligarchs published by the US-based National Economic Bureau estimated that as much as $800 billion is held by wealthy Russians in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Cyprus, and similar offshore banking centers. That vast fortune, held by a few hundred ultra-rich individuals, is roughly equal to the wealth of the entire rest of the Russian population of 144 million people.

Some oligarchs have also obtained dual citizenship in Britain and other Western countries, adding legal complications to attempts to unilaterally seize their assets.

An example is Roman Abramovich, a former Russian provincial governor and Putin ally who became a steel and metals magnate. Now a dual Israeli citizen with a net worth estimated at more than $13 billion, Abramovich has used his fortune to buy the British soccer club Chelsea and homes in London and New York. He and his now ex-wife frequently socialized with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the daughter and son-in-law of former President Donald Trump.

Biden administration wants $6.4b for US response in Ukraine

US President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House about Russian military activity near Ukraine, on February 22, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House about Russian military activity near Ukraine, on February 22, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration wants Congress to provide $6.4 billion to pay for an initial US response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, largely for military and humanitarian assistance in the region, three people familiar with the request said Friday.

The largest portions of money would be for the Defense and State departments and for the US Agency for International Development, which distributes civilian foreign aid. Smaller amounts would be for the Treasury and Commerce departments, whose chief roles in the Ukraine crisis will be to apply sanctions against Russia, its financial institutions, and state-owned businesses and its leaders, including President Vladimir Putin.

The request, which White House and other administration officials described to congressional aides in a conference call Friday, provides an early look at the costs American taxpayers could bear as a result of Russia’s attack on its western neighbor. Those assaults were in their second full day Friday as Russian forces pounded Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

The administration is seeking $2.9 billion for State Department, USAID, and other programs for security assistance to Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic nations and other Eastern European allies, an administration official said. It would also cover food and other humanitarian assistance, energy and economic aid plus efforts to thwart Russian cyberattacks.

The administration official said there would also be $3.5 billion for the Defense Department but provided no detail. The sums could change based on events in Ukraine and the needs of allied countries, the people describing the phone call said.

All three people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Facebook bans Russia state media from running ads, monetizing

The US online social media and social networking service Facebook's logo on a tablet screen in Moscow, on October 18, 2021. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)
The US online social media and social networking service Facebook's logo on a tablet screen in Moscow, on October 18, 2021. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)

Facebook restricts Russian state media’s ability to earn money on the social media platform as Moscow’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine reaches the streets of Kyiv.

“We are now prohibiting Russian state media from running ads or monetizing on our platform anywhere in the world,” Nathaniel Gleicher, the social media giant’s security policy head, says on Twitter.

He adds that Facebook would “continue to apply labels to additional Russian state media.”

Facebook’s parent company Meta said earlier Friday that Russia would hit its services with restrictions after it refused authorities’ order to stop using fact-checkers and content warning labels on its platforms.

Social media networks have become one of the fronts in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, home to sometimes misleading information, but also real-time monitoring of a quickly developing conflict that marks Europe’s biggest geopolitical crisis in decades.

“Yesterday, Russian authorities ordered us to stop the independent fact-checking and labeling of content posted on Facebook by four Russian state-owned media organizations,” Meta’s Nick Clegg said in a statement. “We refused.”

His statement came hours after Russia’s media regulator said it was limiting access to Facebook, accusing the US tech giant of censorship and violating the rights of Russian citizens.

On Wednesday, Facebook also released a feature in Ukraine that allows people to lock their profiles for increased security, using a tool the company also deployed after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last year.

Gleicher said Facebook had set up a Special Operations Center to monitor the situation in Ukraine “in response to the unfolding military conflict.”

Street fighting begins in Kyiv; people urged to seek shelter

Ukrainian servicemen walk past a sign reading 'I love Ukraine' set at Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, on February 25, 2022.  (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)
Ukrainian servicemen walk past a sign reading 'I love Ukraine' set at Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, on February 25, 2022. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian troops storm toward Ukraine’s capital early Saturday, and street fighting has broken out as city officials urged residents to take shelter. The country’s president refused an American offer to evacuate, insisting that he would stay. “The fight is here,” he said.

As dawn broke in Kyiv, it was not immediately clear how far the soldiers had advanced. Skirmishes reported on the edge of the city suggested that small Russian units were probing Ukrainian defenses to clear a path for the main forces.

The clashes follow two days of fighting that resulted in hundreds of casualties and pummeled bridges, schools and apartment buildings. US officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own.

The assault represented Putin’s boldest effort yet to redraw the world map and revive Moscow’s Cold War-era influence. It triggered new international efforts to end the invasion, including direct sanctions on Putin.

As his country confronted explosions and gunfire, and as the fate of Kyiv hung in the balance, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed for a cease-fire and warned in a bleak statement that multiple cities were under attack.

“This night we have to stand firm,” he said. “The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.”

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