February 24, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Rob Picheta, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Ed Upright, Maureen Chowdhury and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 8:06 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022
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12:13 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Ukraine's president says Russian forces are attempting to seize control of Chernobyl nuclear power plant

From CNN’s Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London and Gul Tuysuz in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted that Russian forces are 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. 

“This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe,” he added. 

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry echoed Zelensky's warning, tweeting that a Russian attack on Ukraine could “cause another ecological disaster.”

“In 1986, the world saw the biggest technological disaster in Chernobyl,” the ministry tweeted. “If Russia continues the war, Chernobyl can happen again in 2022.”

Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, echoed Zelensky's earlier remarks that Russian forces had attempted to seize control of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, adding that the Ukrainian National Guard is working to protect the nuclear plant from attack.

“They made an attempt to seize the Chernobyl nuclear power station, and the fight is going right there with the Ukrainian National Guard protecting the Chernobyl station from the attack,” Markarova said during a press briefing. 

“For the first time since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster — after which Ukraine has been protecting, together with our European and American friends and allies, the world from another nuclear disaster — we have to defend it again from the Russian forces,” she added. 


12:08 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

European Union wants to target Moscow leadership with further sanctions

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London and James Frater in Lviv

The European Union wants to "hit" the Moscow leadership with its package of further sanctions regardless of whether SWIFT is included, according to a senior EU diplomat. 

Earlier on Thursday, CNN reported that the bloc was undecided as to whether to cut Russia off from SWIFT, a high-security payment network that connects thousands of financial institutions around the world.

The diplomat told journalists in a briefing that the combination of Tuesday's package alongside the fresh package due to come into effect from Friday, will be "really concentrated to hit the leadership in Moscow and those around Mr. Putin and profiting from this war.”

EU leaders are expected to discuss these sanctions during an emergency summit in Brussels on Thursday evening. 

The diplomat told CNN that they expected "leaders to focus on sharing their thoughts and political positions on the big things and not on discussing in details certain measures.”

"We want the biggest possible package targeting industrial sectors, export controls, financials, maybe a visa policy. SWIFT is one element, but it's not the focus of attention," the diplomat told reporters.  

The diplomat stressed that SWIFT is “on the table" and will still be considered regardless of whether it's included in the new package.  

"The first priority is now this very maximalist EU sanction package," they said. 

SWIFT may be needed "for things which are very relevant for some EU member states," the diplomat said, adding that it doesn't necessarily "mean it's excluded."

Earlier today, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania called for Russia to be cut off from SWIFT.

“We want this war to stop here and now. And we are not going to close front doors and back doors, which make it difficult to stop this war started by Mr. Putin as soon as possible," the diplomat cautioned.

The diplomat stressed the need to keep "some doors open" enabling the dialogue required "to stop a war."

Despite being asked several times, the diplomat did not address why Russian President Vladimir Putin is not being directly targeted by the sanctions.

EU member states that are "closest to Ukraine" also deserve empathy, the diplomat said, remarking that they are "now faced, in the 21st century, with something we thought we had left behind in the previous century."

12:29 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs reports nearly 400 instances of shelling by Russian forces

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London 

Police officers inspect the remains of a shell that landed in Kyiv on February 24.
Police officers inspect the remains of a shell that landed in Kyiv on February 24. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs says it has reported 392 instances of shelling by Russian forces in Ukraine, a spokesperson for the ministry said Thursday. 

“Battles continue practically along the entire territory of southeastern and central Ukraine,” the spokesperson said, noting that six bridges were also destroyed in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Donetsk and Kherson regions. 

“Our fighters of Ukraine's military forces and National Guard, our Border Force, our reservists continue to defend our country. Victory will be ours,” the spokesperson added.

2:26 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

On the ground: Moscow wakes up to war

From CNN's Nic Robertson in Moscow

In the hours after Russia began invading Ukraine, the scenes in Moscow were subdued. People who spoke to CNN about the conflict seemed surprised and concerned, as many of them had just started tuning in.

Russia's massive propaganda machine has not given the crisis between Kyiv and the Kremlin the same sort of billing as has the international media. State television, the main source of information for older Russians, has been echoing the message of Vladimir Putin. The Russian President has framed the conflict as a mission to protect Russian speakers in the Donbas region from genocide — an accusation the Russian president has repeatedly leveled without proof. Russian state media is also parroting the Kremlin's other unsubstantiated claims — that the Ukrainian government is attempting to obtain nuclear weapons and "nazify" the country, despite the fact that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish.

News reports have also, for the most part, failed to mention the Russian military's decision to strike targets in places far from east Ukraine, like the capital of Kyiv and the southern port city of Odessa.

That doesn't mean all Russians are being spoon-fed Putin's narrative. Russia is not North Korea. People who want to get independent information from foreign-language media outlets can do so.

So far, there has not been the surge of patriotic fervor that accompanied Russia's largely bloodless annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. There are likely many Russians who would prefer to see Putin tackle Russia's economic problems at home.

But gauging public opinion in Russia — especially opposition to the Kremlin — has become increasingly difficult in recent years. Putin has increasingly cracked down on independent mediahollowed out its civil society and all but banished peaceful dissent. Even tweeting about planned protests can potentially land someone in jail. 

If would-be protesters weren't already spooked, Russian authorities on Thursday warned citizens that participating in anti-war protests could lead to prosecution and criminal charges.

11:51 a.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Flight-tracking sites show empty airspace over Ukraine and its border with Russia

From CNN's Greg Wallace and Pete Muntean

(from ADSBexchange)
(from ADSBexchange)

The airspace over Ukraine and its border with Russia is empty, according to flight-tracking websites, with heavy air traffic apparently avoiding the region as evening sets in on the region Thursday.

Images from ADS-B Exchange show no aircraft over Ukraine, though the open-source site cannot display tracking data from aircraft operating in the area with the location broadcasting intentionally switched off.

Civilian flights over Ukraine, as well as Moldova to the south and parts of Russia, are currently restricted. 

One notice to pilots reads: “Air space of Ukraine closed for civil aviation flights due to military invasion of Russian Federation.”   

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency warned Thursday that “the presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems poses a HIGH risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels.”

There are risks to flying over conflict zones – as illustrated by the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine by a missile, killing 298 people. Western officials and a Dutch-led investigation said Russian President Vladimir Putin bears responsibility for the incident; Putin has denied it.  

11:37 a.m. ET, February 24, 2022

The world hasn't witnessed a move like this "since World War II," senior US defense official says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman and Oren Liebermann

A woman walks past debris in Mariupol, Ukraine, on February 24.
A woman walks past debris in Mariupol, Ukraine, on February 24. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

The world has not seen a “move like this, nation state-to-nation state, since World War II,” a senior US defense official told reporters Thursday about Russia's attack on Ukraine — “certainly nothing on this size and scope and scale.”

The official warned that if this conflict “unfolds the way that hereto we have come to believe it will,” it has “every potential to be very bloody, very costly and very impactful on European security writ large.”

“This is 100% a war of choice that [Russian President] Putin has decided to wage for reasons that are not justified,” the official added. 

11:31 a.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Brazilian diplomacy doesn't directly condemn Russian invasion, but vice president says he supports Ukraine

From CNN's Rodrigo Pedroso in Sao Paulo

The Brazilian Foreign Relations Ministry released a short statement Thursday, calling for the “immediate suspension of hostilities and the beginning of negotiations” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

“Brazil calls for the immediate suspension of hostilities and the start of negotiations leading to a diplomatic solution to the issue, based on the Minsk Accords and that takes into account the legitimate security interests of all parties involved and the protection of the civilian population,” the Brazilian diplomacy statement said. 

Notably, the statement doesn't call Russian moves on Ukrainian territory an “invasion.” 

President Jair Bolsonaro, who met Russia's President Vladimir Putin last week and expressed “solidarity” to Russia, has not made a public statement today. 

Brazilian government's position on Russia and Ukraine doesn't seem unanimous. Talking to the press on Thursday morning, Brazil's Vice President Hamilton Mourão condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and asked for actions beyond economic sanctions on Putin's government.

“The Western world is the same (place) as it was in 1938 with Hitler, on the basis of appeasement, and Putin did not respect the appeasement. That's the truth," Mourão said. "In my view, mere economic sanctions — which is an intermediate form of sanction — do not work.”

He also said significant action is needed by allies to provide the Ukrainians military support.

"The use of force is needed, a support for Ukraine, more than what is being put on. That's my view. If the Western world just let Ukraine falls, Bulgaria will be next, then the Baltic States, and so on. Just as Hitler's Germany did in the 1930s," he said. 

Mourão says Brazil supports Ukraine.

“Brazil is not neutral. Brazil has made it very clear that it respects Ukraine's sovereignty. So Brazil does not agree with an invasion of Ukrainian territory.”

11:19 a.m. ET, February 24, 2022

G7 leaders condemn Putin for attacking Ukraine: "He has put himself on the wrong side of history"

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

In a joint statement following a virtual meeting Thursday, the leaders of the G7 said Russian President Vladimir Putin has "re-introduced war to the European continent."

"He has put himself on the wrong side of history," the leaders wrote.

"We condemn President Putin for his consistent refusal to engage in a diplomatic process to address questions pertaining to European security, despite our repeated offers," the statement reads. "We stand united with partners, including NATO, the EU and their member states as well as Ukraine and remain determined to do what is necessary to preserve the integrity of the rules-based international order."

The G7 meeting concluded after just over an hour, according to a White House official, running 9:17 a.m. to 10:27 a.m. ET.

Meeting participants, according to the White House, were President Biden, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Council Charles Michel and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.


11:16 a.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Ukraine doesn't have enough equipment to repel Russian attack, Ukrainian diplomat says

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko speaks to the media at the Ukrainian Embassy in London on February 24.
Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko speaks to the media at the Ukrainian Embassy in London on February 24. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

Ukraine currently does not have enough military equipment to defend itself, the country’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Vadym Prystaiko, said Thursday.

"At this particular moment, we have enough people; we don’t have enough equipment,” Prystaiko said when asked if Ukraine’s forces on the ground are capable of repelling Russia’s attack.

While speaking to reporters at the Ukrainian Embassy in London, he added that Ukraine has been open about needing military equipment, plus financial and humanitarian support from other countries. 

European Union leaders are expected to announce a package of humanitarian support for Ukraine later on Thursday as well as sanctions against Russia.

“But we’re putting up a real fight … tanks, helicopters, planes being shot down. We are defending our land,” Prystaiko said.

Some areas are difficult to defend, he conceded, with Russia blocking the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

This is limiting Ukraine’s capabilities of bringing in reinforcements and supplies, he said, adding that humanitarian supplies will be needed “quite soon, quite critically” with the Russians “targeting critical infrastructure.”