Ukraine official says at least 57 killed and 169 injured following attacks by Russian forces
From CNN’s Gul Tuysuz in Kyiv
There are 57 people who have died and 169 people have been injured – including both combat and non-combat injuries – following attacks by Russian forces, Ukraine’s Minister of Healthcare Viktor Lyashko said Thursday.
Speaking live on Ukraine’s 1+1 TV channel, Lyashko said hospitals and medical workers had also come under fire on Thursday – including in Avdiivka and Vuhledar in Donetsk – with casualties reported among medical workers.
2:51 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
US sanctions Belarusian defense minister and others for support of Russian invasion
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
The US Treasury Department on Thursday announced sanctions against 24 Belarusian individuals and entities, including the defense minister, due to their “support for, and facilitation of” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Biden administration had said that Minsk would face “swift and decisive” sanctions if it allowed Russia to launch an attack of Ukraine from its territory.
Among those targeted by Thursday’s sanctions are two Belarusian state-owned banks – Belinvestbank and Bank Dabrabyt – as well as Belarusian Minister of Defense Viktor Gennadievich Khrenin and State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Aleksandr Grigorievich Volfovich.
“Having already sacrificed its legitimacy to suppress the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people, the Lukashenka regime is now jeopardizing Belarus’s sovereignty by supporting Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“Treasury continues to disrupt Belarus’s military and financial capabilities through targeted sanctions. Further, due to the interconnectedness between the two countries, the actions Treasury took against Russia today will also impose severe economic pain on the Lukashenka regime,” Yellen said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko spoke by phone on Thursday, according to Belarusian state news agency Belta.
CNN also witnessed, through a livestream video, troops atop a column of military vehicles entering Ukraine from a border crossing with Belarus Thursday.
3:00 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in pictures
Russian invaded Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation early Thursday. Russian forces surrounded Ukraine from three sides and have been attacking from land and sea.
Here are the visuals as the assault quickly spread across Ukraine. You can also visit CNN's photo gallery for more.
2:44 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
US expels second-ranking Russian diplomat after expulsion of US deputy chief of mission from Moscow
From Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler
The US expelled the No. 2 diplomat at the Russian embassy in Washington, DC, in response to Russia expelling the second-ranking US diplomat in Moscow earlier this year, a State Department official confirms.
The Russians were alerted of this yesterday, and the diplomat was given a few weeks to leave the US, the official said.
The US took this action as a direct response to what the Russians had done — nothing related to the Ukraine crisis. This instance follows years of diplomatic tit-for-tats exchanged between the two countries.
The No. 2 person at the Russian embassy who will be leaving is the minister counselor.
2:35 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
More than 100,000 people have moved within Ukraine, UN refugee agency estimates
From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez
More than 100,000 people have moved within Ukraine, “fleeing the violence for safety,” the United Nations refugee agency said in a statement Thursday.
“There has been significant displacement inside the country – it seems that more than 100,000 people have moved within the borders fleeing the violence for safety. And there have been movements towards and across international borders. But the situation is still chaotic and evolving fast,” said Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesperson at the agency.
Refugee resettlement organizations are mobilizing resources to assist displaced Ukrainians, advocates tell CNN. The scale and scope of refugee resettlement is likely to come into focus in the coming days and weeks. But refugee advocates are already warning of displacement — and meeting the needs of refugees — as Russia invades Ukraine.
“Usually, these conflicts and exodus of refugees happens over time. You see a few people, then a few more people,” said Melanie Nezer, senior vice president of global public affairs at HIAS, a refugee resettlement organization. Nezer cautioned that it’s still unclear how long the conflict will last and if people will be able to return home.
“We are working to quickly mobilize resources and connect with partners to establish a response that will provide life-saving support to civilians forced to flee their homes,” Lani Fortier, senior director of emergencies at the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement.
HIAS’ partner in the region, Right to Protection, has been assisting displaced people in Ukraine for years. Since the invasion, staff have been seeking safety, Nezer said.
“Yesterday we were doing work, literally we were out in the field in the east serving our clients, and today everyone is on the move,” she added.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned Wednesday at the UN General Assembly meeting as many as five million people could be displaced “by Russia’s war of choice.”
Some context: The United States has resettled thousands of Ukrainians in recent years. The process, though, can be long and cumbersome, meaning that an influx of refugees to the US is not expected imminently.
“Because resettlement is not the first response in a conflict situation, we're not anticipating huge numbers of Ukrainian refugees through the US resettlement program specifically,” said Jenny Yang, senior vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, another resettlement agency.
2:39 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
President Biden says the US is prepared to respond to Russian cyberattacks
From CNN's Maegan Vazquez
The United States is prepared to respond to cyberattacks by Russia, said President Joe Biden, adding that for months the US has been working with the private sector to bolster its security.
“If Russia pursues cyberattacks against our companies, our critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond,” Biden said during remarks from the White House. “For months, we've been working closely with the private sector to harden their cyber defenses [and to] sharpen our ability to respond [to] the Russian cyberattacks as well.”
“America stands up to bullies; we stand up for freedom," Biden said. "This is who we are."
US officials remain on high alert for any cyber activity against key domestic targets including banks and critical infrastructure, an official recently told CNN. US officials told businesses to watch for potential ransomware attacks following sanctions issued against Russia earlier this week.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the administration has not yet attributed cyberattacks on some Ukrainian government websites, but noted that the attack is “consistent with [the] type of activity Russia would carry out in a bid to destabilize Ukraine.”
Earlier Thursday, multiple Russian government websites appeared to go offline outside of Russiaas the war in Ukraine continued to unfold — though the exact reasons for the outages were not immediately clear.
4:24 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
US sanctions on Russia are robust but effectiveness is yet to be determined, CNN's Erin Burnett says
Analysis from CNN's Erin Burnett / Written by CNN's Aditi Sangal
Burnett explained the numbers that matter here in relation to the sanctions Biden announced:
First, $100 per barrel
"That is where Brent and crude oil are trading now. So denying Russia, and those companies that deal with that, the ability to benefit from that — that's pain," she said. "To the extent they can still sell it to China, which they can. China is still going to remain — unless there's a big development here — going to pretty much become the primary buyer of a lot of Russian things and the primary provider of those tech exports."
"That's how much the Russian stock market finished down today, after initially losing half its value. So there's pain there. Putin said about an hour or two ago to the wealthy in that country that your patriotic duty is to now shoulder some of the downside here, making it very clear there will be pain."
Third, the unknown.
Biden mentioned the "elites and their families, the billionaires, the corrupt" in Russia will be sanctioned, Burnett said. "He didn't tell you how many and he didn't tell who they are. He said we're going to know in the coming days. That's crucial. So far they have only sanctioned five of them."
She added that the list of Russians sanctioned so far are not anywhere near the top 25, 35 or 45 wealthiest Russians. "This list is going to really matter" Burnett said.
"A lot will come down to who the individuals are, and are they really going to block them from access to the things they care about the most? The art galleries, yachts, women, and the glitz of the western world. That's what they want. If isn't blocked, then they will not be effective," she said.
More context: In his White House remarks today, Biden said his threat to directly sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin is “not a bluff,” he told CNN.
Biden said the current sanctions “exceed anything that's ever been done,” but he didn’t answer when asked why he hasn’t directly sanctioned Putin yet.
Asked by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins what could stop Putin if sanctions can’t, the President responded, “I didn’t say sanctions couldn't stop him.”
“The threat of the sanctions and imposing the sanctions and seeing the effect of the sanctions are two different things,” Biden said. “He's going to begin to see the effect of the sanctions.”
Pressed by Collins on if direct sanctions on Putin were a step he was prepared to take, Biden said the threat was “not a bluff, it’s on the table.” But asked why not sanction him now, the President didn’t respond.
CNN's Nikki Carvajal contributed reporting to this post.
Here's how CNN's Abby Phillip reacted to President Biden announcing the second round of sanctions against Russia:
2:38 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
Russian government websites mysteriously go dark as invasion continues
From CNN's Brian Fung and Sean Lyngaas
Multiple Russian government websites appeared to go offline outside of Russia Thursday as the war in Ukraine continued to unfold — though the exact reasons for the outages were not immediately clear.
A website belonging to the Russian military became inaccessible to users outside of Russia early Thursday evening Eastern European Time, as did the domain for Russia's federal government (albeit briefly) and the English-language version of the Kremlin's website.
According to Doug Madory, an analyst at the internet monitoring firm Kentik, the disruptions are part of a broader pattern of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks targeting Russia's government.
"It is a simultaneous flood of traffic from sources around the world on a specific port ... to a specific set of IP addresses," Madory told CNN. "That isn't a natural flow of internet traffic."
It is unclear who may be responsible for the flood of bogus internet traffic. Other cybersecurity experts expressed doubts that a major DDoS campaign was underway. At least some of the website outages may be the result of Russia's own moves to preempt potential DDoS attacks, three cybersecurity experts told CNN.
Deactivating the websites is a "defensive measure and a means of isolating a portion of the [Russian] Internet," said CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton.
James Lewis, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Russia likely unplugged its own websites "to reduce risk."
"Nobody has taken credit [for the outages], and people aren't shy about doing that," Lewis said.
Brett Callow, a threat analyst at the information security firm Emsisoft, said it is a common practice for a domain owner to disconnect its own website in the midst of a crisis.
"US companies frequently do a similar thing during ransomware incidents, namely, block all connections from outside the US," Callow said.
2:43 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
Video shows Russian military vehicles at Chernobyl nuclear accident site
From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Josh Pennington
Russian military vehicles are at the Chernobyl nuclear accident site near Pripyat, Ukraine, according to videos uploaded to social media.
Earlier on Thursday, the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management spokesperson, Yevgeniya Kuznetsovа, told CNN that the Russian military had taken control over the plant.
"As you can see, we are surrounded by these tanks," an individual is heard saying on one of the videos posted to social media.
In the three videos, three vehicles are seen; one of the vehicles is a Russian tank and is emblazoned with a white "v" on the front.
Similar white markings have suddenly appeared on Russian military vehicles in recent days.
The vehicles are parked outside of one of the main buildings in the same complex as Chernobyl's damaged nuclear reactor. They are roughly 3,000 feet from the New Safe Confinement shield.
"We were attacked," a man is heard saying in the video. "There is another man with us. They all just disappeared. The station is completely empty."
The man moved around a room in the complex building as he filmed.
"Damn it," he said. "They've even left their helmets, there is not a single ensign anywhere."
On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Twitter that Russian forces were attempting to seize control of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
“Russian occupation forces are trying to seize the Chernobyl [Nuclear Power Plant]. Our defenders are sacrificing their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated,” Zelensky tweeted.