February 27, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Jack Guy, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Leinz Vales and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:50 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023
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5:43 a.m. ET, February 27, 2023

Russia’s invasion has triggered "the most massive violations of human rights," UN chief says

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres speaks during a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, February 27.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres speaks during a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, February 27. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/AP)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered "the most massive violations of human rights we are living [through] today," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said Monday.

"It has unleashed widespread death, destruction and displacement," Guterres continued.

"The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has documented dozens of cases of conflict-related sexual violence against men, women and girls," he added.

Guterres made the speech at the UN Human Rights Council’s meeting commemorating the 75-year anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Geneva.

He called on international governments to respect and revitalize the declaration, which he said is often "misused and abused."

Some context: Russian war crimes and human rights abuses during the war in Ukraine add up to a "litany of violations of international humanitarian law," Human Rights Watch said in January.

In the rights group’s annual report, it said that evidence of war crimes in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, were part of a pattern that "has been repeated countless times."

HRW’s World Report 2023 also highlighted the bombing of a theater in Mariupol, despite signs warning that children were sheltering there, as well as strikes on other non-military targets.

5:10 a.m. ET, February 27, 2023

Russian forces focusing attacks in eastern Ukraine, says Ukrainian military 

From CNN’s Radina Gigova and Olga Voitovych 

Damage is seen after attacks in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on February 24.
Damage is seen after attacks in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on February 24. (Marek M. Berezowski/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russian forces are focusing their efforts on conducting offensive operations in eastern Ukraine, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Monday. 

Ukrainian forces repelled 81 Russian attacks around Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Shakhtarsk over the last 24 hours, it said, adding "the threat of Russian missile strikes remains high throughout Ukraine."

"The enemy is trying to destroy the critical infrastructure of our country, continues to carry out strikes and artillery shelling of civilian facilities and civilian houses," the General Staff said. "The enemy is constantly conducting aerial reconnaissance to adjust its strikes."

Two of the Russian attacks were conducted by using Shahed-136 UAVs against civilian infrastructure, the General Staff said. Both drones were shot down. 

Russian forces also fired more than 50 times from multiple launch rocket systems targeting civilian infrastructure in the Donetsk region and the Kherson region, in the south of the country, the General Staff said.

"There are killed and wounded civilians, civilian buildings were destroyed and civilian infrastructure was damaged," it said. 

Russian attacks have killed at least one person and injured two others in the Kherson region in the last 24 hours, according to the regional military administration.

"They fired from multiple rocket launchers, mortars, artillery, tanks, UAVs and infantry fighting vehicles," it said. 

4:45 a.m. ET, February 27, 2023

At least 2 killed in Russian drone attack on Ukrainian city 200 miles from Kyiv

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

At least two people were killed and four others wounded Monday in a Russian drone attack on the Ukrainian city of Khmelnytskyi, local officials have said.

In a Telegram post, mayor Oleksandr Symchyshyn said one of the deceased was a rescue worker with Ukraine's State Emergency Service who "died in the line of duty" in the city, located about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southwest of Kyiv.

“Another massive terrorist attack on the Khmelnytskyi community. This time the enemy used a UAV. As of now, there are 1 killed and 4 wounded. A number of buildings were damaged. Fires are being extinguished,” Symchyshyn said. 

Later Monday, Serhiy Hamaliy, the head of the Khmelnytskyi region military administration, said that another person had died as a result of the attack.

"Unfortunately, there is one more death in the hospital," Hamaliy said in a Telegram post. "The doctors could not save the life of another rescuer."

Ukrainian authorities said earlier that 11 of 14 Shahed drones launched by Russia were shot down Monday, with the majority destroyed near the capital, according to preliminary estimates.

4:46 a.m. ET, February 27, 2023

Ukraine shoots down 11 Iran-made attack drones as Russia targets Kyiv

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian forces use a searchlight to scan the sky for drones over Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 27.
Ukrainian forces use a searchlight to scan the sky for drones over Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 27. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Ukraine scrambled its air defenses early Monday after Russia launched attacks with Iran-made drones, the Ukrainian military said in a Telegram post.

Ukrainian authorities said 11 of 14 Shahed drones launched by Russia were shot down, with the majority destroyed near Kyiv, according to preliminary estimates.

"The drone attack was actually carried out in two waves, prolonged as much as possible… That's why the night air raid alarm in Kyiv lasted for a long 5 and a half hours,” the Kyiv city military administration said in a statement. 

No casualties or strikes against infrastructure facilities have been reported so far, according to Serhii Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration.

12:23 a.m. ET, February 27, 2023

"It's all a lie": Russians are trapped in Putin's parallel universe. But some want out

From CNN's Rob Picheta

One year ago, when Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine and began Europe’s biggest land war since 1945, it waged another battle at home — intensifying its information blockade in an effort to control the hearts and minds of its own citizens.

Draconian new censorship laws targeted any media still operating outside the controls of the Kremlin and most independent journalists left the country. A digital Iron Curtain was reinforced, shutting Russians off from Western news and social media sites.

And as authorities rounded up thousands in a crackdown on anti-war protests, a culture of fear descended on Russian cities and towns that prevents many people from sharing their true thoughts on the war in public.

One year on, that grip on information remains tight — and support for the conflict seemingly high — but cracks have started to show.

Some Russians are tuning out the relentless jingoism on Kremlin-backed airwaves. Tech-savvy internet users skirt state restrictions to access dispatches and pictures from the front lines. And, as Russia turns to mobilization to boost its stuttering campaign, it is struggling to contain the personal impact that one year of war is having on its citizens.

“In the beginning I was supporting it,” Natalya, a 53-year-old Moscow resident, told CNN of what the Kremlin and most Russians euphemistically call a “special military operation.” “But now I am completely against it.”
“What made me change my opinion?,” she contemplated aloud. “First, my son is of mobilization age, and I fear for him. And secondly, I have very many friends there, in Ukraine, and I talk to them. That is why I am against it.”

CNN is not using the full names of individuals who were critical of the Kremlin. Public criticism of the war in Ukraine or statements that discredit Russia’s military can potentially mean a fine or a prison sentence.

Read more here.

12:24 a.m. ET, February 27, 2023

Zelensky fires Ukraine's commander of joint forces

From Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a news conference in Kyiv on February 24.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a news conference in Kyiv on February 24. (James McGill/SOPA Images/SIPA/AP)

Ukraine’s commander of joint forces operation has been dismissed from his post, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced in a decree Sunday.

Major Gen. Eduard Mykhailovich Moskalov had been appointed to the position last March when Lt. Gen. Oleksandr Pavliuk was appointed head of the Kyiv regional military administration.

Zelensky did not provide an explanation for Moskalov's dismissal, but it's the latest in a long line of recent leadership changes made by his administration.

Ukrainian authorities have conducted a series of anti-corruption searches and crackdowns across the country, and a variety of high-profile dismissals have followed.

It is not yet clear if Moskalov's firing was connected to the recent corruption purge.

8:55 p.m. ET, February 26, 2023

On first visit to Kyiv, Saudi foreign minister signs off on $400 million Ukraine aid package

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Sunday in Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Sunday in Kyiv. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters)

For the first time since the two countries established diplomatic relations 30 years ago, a Saudi foreign minister has visited Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky's office released a video of him meeting Saudi Arabia's Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Sunday.

Zelensky said he expected the meeting would "provide a new impetus to further intensification of our mutually beneficial dialogue."

"Thank you for supporting peace in Ukraine, our sovereignty, and territorial integrity," he continued. "This is very important for us and our society."

Saudi Arabia has steered a neutral course in the conflict. The Kingdom mediated a prisoner exchange last year, in which two American and five British citizens were released from Russian detention. 

Sunday's visit was the first to Kyiv by a Saudi Foreign Minister in 30 years.
Sunday's visit was the first to Kyiv by a Saudi Foreign Minister in 30 years. (MOFA of Saudi Arabia/Twitter)

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, called the meeting successful in a message on Telegram.

"Ukraine will receive real help from Saudi Arabia," the Ukrainian official said. "The Presidential Office signed two documents formalizing a $400 million aid package to Ukraine: $100 million in humanitarian aid and $300 million in oil products."

"Ukraine and Saudi Arabia have common challenges and experiences in dealing with them. We are talking about Iranian UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones) that were supplied to certain 'rebels' and attacked Saudi oil facilities," Yermak said, in a reference to the use of Iranian drones by Houthi forces in Yemen.

"Since last year, the same Iranian UAVs have been in possession of Russian terrorists and have been attacking Ukraine's energy infrastructure."

8:06 p.m. ET, February 26, 2023

CIA director says there's evidence Russia offered to help Iran's missile program in exchange for military aid

From CNN’s Sam Fossum

CIA Director William Burns said in an interview Sunday that the alliance between Russia and Iran is developing rapidly, an emerging narrative that he called "disturbing."

"It's moving at a pretty fast clip in a very dangerous direction right now, in the sense that we know that the Iranians have already provided hundreds of armed drones to the Russians, which they're using to inflict pain on Ukrainian civilians and Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. We know that they've provided, you know, ammunition for artillery and for tanks as well," Burns said on CBS' "Face the Nation." 

Burns said the CIA is also seeing signs that Russia is proposing to help the Iranians on their missile program, and at least considering the possibility of providing fighter aircraft to Iran, in exchange for military aid in their ongoing invasion.

Meeting with Russia's spy chief: Burns also described his conversation with the director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, and said Russian President Vladimir Putin is "too confident" in his ability to grind down Ukraine.

He called the discussion with Naryshkin "pretty dispiriting," but said he got some key points across.

"My goal was not to talk about negotiations. That's something that Ukrainians are going to need to take up with the Russians when they see fit. It was to make clear to Naryshkin — and through him, to President Putin — the serious consequences should Russia ever choose to use a nuclear weapon of any kind as well. And I think Naryshkin understood the seriousness of that issue, and I think President Putin has understood it as well," Burns said. 

Asked why the conversation was dispiriting, Burns added: "There was a very defiant attitude on the part of Mr. Naryshkin as well, a sense of cockiness and hubris, reflecting Putin's own view — his own belief today that he can make time work for him, that he believes he can grind down the Ukrainians, that he can wear down our European allies, that political fatigue will eventually set in." 

8:46 p.m. ET, February 26, 2023

The brutal fight for Bakhmut has turned to urban combat as forces battle for every inch of territory

From CNN's Tim Lister

A Ukrainian Army serviceman waits for an order near Bakhmut on Thursday.
A Ukrainian Army serviceman waits for an order near Bakhmut on Thursday. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

There is one thing that Russian and Ukrainian accounts agree upon: The fighting around the eastern city of Bakhmut is relentless, and the casualties — on both sides — are high. 

A fierce fight in the streets: Until a few weeks ago, the battle was waged largely with tanks, artillery and mortars. But Bakhmut has increasingly become a field of urban combat, with every street and building in the suburbs and surrounding villages contested.

Russian forces — including fighters from the Wagner private military company — have edged toward the center of the city from the east, south and north.

Ukrainian units have launched frequent counter-attacks to try to reclaim some territory and preserve their precarious access to Bakhmut from the west. That access has become gradually more complicated as routes into the city have come under control of Russian forces.

Ukrainian soldiers on unofficial social media accounts have said they are increasingly reliant on dirt roads to reach — and leave — Bakhmut, tracks that may become impassable as the frost turns to mud.

Russia aims to encircle Ukraine's troops: Rather than drive directly toward the city center, Wagner groups have sought to surround the city in a wide arc from the north. In January, the groups claimed the nearby town of Soledar, and have since taken a string of villages and hamlets north of Bakhmut.

That process appears to have gone a step further in recent days, with Wagner apparently reaching the village of Yahidne immediately to the northwest of Bakhmut. The village sits on a route that, until recently, was used by Ukrainians to get in and out of the city.

The next target for the Russians could be the town of Chasiv Yar, a straggling collection of Soviet-era apartment blocks, sitting on high ground which has already been extensively damaged. Ukrainian officials said it came under artillery fire again Sunday.

How long will Ukraine defend the city? The conundrum for the Ukrainian military is whether it remains feasible to continue defending Bakhmut.

At the beginning of February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, "No one will surrender Bakhmut. We will fight as long as we can. We consider Bakhmut our fortress."

More recently, in an interview with Italian media, Zelensky's tone was slightly different. “It is important for us to defend (Bakhmut), but not at any price and not for everyone to die,�� he was quoted as saying.

If Bakhmut can no longer be held, it will be important to note where Ukrainians choose to draw their next defensive lines. The cities of Kostiantynivka and Kramatorsk are not far to the west of Bakhmut and have already registered an uptick in Russian missile attacks.  

For now, there's no sign of a withdrawal of Ukrainian units from the Bakhmut area and the brutal fighting wears on.