February 25, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Amy Woodyatt, Rob Picheta, Ed Upright, Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 3:47 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022
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8:22 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Moscow is ready to send representatives to talk with Kyiv in Minsk, Kremlin says via Russian state news agency

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Nathan Hodge in Moscow 

Moscow is ready to send representatives to the Belarusian capital of Minsk to talk with Kyiv, according to a readout from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti reported. 

"Following Zelensky’s proposal to discuss the neutral status of Ukraine, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin can send representatives of the [Russian] Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Ministry and his administration to negotiations with the Ukrainian delegation," the readout said, according to RIA.

Minsk was chosen as a platform for the conversation, the readout added.

Remember: This comes with Ukraine under significant pressure, as Russian forces appear to be closing in on Kyiv. They have entered the Obolon district in the north of the city, just a few miles from its center, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.

7:58 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Pope met Russian ambassador to express concerns over Ukraine

From CNN's Hada Messia in Rome

Pope Francis met with Moscow’s ambassador to the Vatican at the Russian embassy on Friday to express his concerns about the invasion of Ukraine.

Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni told CNN the Pope went to express his “concern about the war” in Ukraine and met with the ambassador for over an hour and half.

The visit is considered to be an unusual occurrence and is not in keeping with normal protocols.

10:44 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Increased traffic observed at Polish border as Ukrainians flee

From CNN’s Antonia Mortensen

Refugees from Ukraine sit on a bus taking them to a temporary shelter after crossing the border from Shehyni in Ukraine to Medyka, Poland, on February 25.
Refugees from Ukraine sit on a bus taking them to a temporary shelter after crossing the border from Shehyni in Ukraine to Medyka, Poland, on February 25. (Michael Kappeler/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Poland is seeing a large uptick in people crossing into the country from the Ukraine as people flee a Russian invasion, according to Stanisław Żaryn, spokesman for the minister of special services coordinator’s office. Żaryn said that over the last 24 hours, there has been “increased traffic on the border” and that “29,000 people passed through the border crossings from Ukraine.”

Speaking to Polish broadcaster Radio Plus, Żaryn said that about half of those crossing the border have said they are fleeing the war.

“These are people who must be considered as war refugees. These people will be accepted in Poland in accordance with all procedures,” he said.

Poland is preparing for a larger wave of refugees, with the Polish government getting ready to accommodate them by setting up reception centers near the border to help process those arriving from Ukraine.

We constantly hope that the scale of the Ukrainian resistance and the reaction of the world will be so significant and well-conducted that Russia will be able to stop, but if it fails, Poland has developed mechanisms to receive those people who flee from Ukraine,” Żaryn said.
8:33 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Germany expands its support of NATO air policing in Romania

From CNN’s Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

A Eurofighter stands at the air base in Neuburg an der Donau, Germany on February 24. In response to the growing tensions, the Bundeswehr is preparing to transfer more Eurofighters to Romania to protect NATO's southeastern flank.
A Eurofighter stands at the air base in Neuburg an der Donau, Germany on February 24. In response to the growing tensions, the Bundeswehr is preparing to transfer more Eurofighters to Romania to protect NATO's southeastern flank. (Felix Hörhager/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Germany's Defense Ministry on Friday said it has expanded its support of NATO's air-policing mission in Romania.

''We have already stepped up Air Policing in Romania to secure the airspace on NATO's south eastern flank - to up to six Eurofighters by the end of March,'' the defense ministry tweeted, adding ''in mixed operations with Italy they will perform armed protection flights as 'Quick Reaction Alert.'”

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said that Germany intended to expand its support of the Romania mission and also to comply with further requests from the alliance.

Earlier this month, Germany sent three combat aircraft to participate in the NATO mission to protect Romanian airspace. Germany also recently deployed 350 additional troops to Lithuania as part of its NATO engagement — in addition to its 550 troops that are part of the German-led NATO combat unit.

8:29 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

"Counter offensive" ongoing in Donbas, says Russian military

From CNN's Nathan Hodge, Anna Chernova and Vasco Cotovio

A "counter-offensive" is underway in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, the Russian defense ministry's spokesperson said Friday, claiming Ukrainian servicemembers had surrendered to Russian troops and pro-Russian separatists.

CNN could not immediately check the veracity of those claims.

"Groupings of troops of the DPR and LPR [the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics] continue counter-offensive operations against units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with fire support from the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation," Igor Konashenkov said. "Troops of the DPR ... advanced one more kilometer deep into the defense of the nationalist [Ukrainian] battalions in the Volnovakha direction."

Konashenkov also claimed advances by Russian and separatist forces in the area of Stepovoye [Stepove] in the Luhansk region, and claimed without further evidence that 150 Ukrainian servicemembers had laid down their arms and surrendered in those operations.

Chernobyl taken: The Russian military also confirmed its airbone troops had taken control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Ukrainian officials on Thursday confirmed that Russian forces had overtaken and seized control of the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster.

Konashenkov said background radiation in the area of the nuclear power plant was "normal." He claimed that the Chernobyl operation was organized so that "nationalist formations or other terrorist organizations will not be able to take advantage of the current situation in the country to organize a nuclear provocation."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made baseless claims about Ukraine's nuclear ambitions. The White House on Thursday condemned Russia for "holding staff of the Chernobyl facilities hostage."

The structure of the New Safe Confinement (NSC) covering the 4th block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which was destroyed during the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, is pictured on November 22, 2018.
The structure of the New Safe Confinement (NSC) covering the 4th block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which was destroyed during the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, is pictured on November 22, 2018. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Sanctions expected: The Russian government was expecting US and NATO allies to retaliate against the invasion of Ukraine with sanctions and says it will retaliate, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.

“We were expecting it,” Peskov said. “Of course, responses will follow. The law of reciprocity will operate here.”

“But as to how symmetrical or asymmetrical they will be, it will depend on our analysis,” Peskov went on to say. “And our own interests. We will act solely on the basis of our own interests.”

The spokesman for the Kremlin also said he expects diplomatic relations with the global community to be fully restored, once there is widespread understanding of Russia’s motives.

“As soon as there is an understanding that this operation was necessary, an understanding of the inevitability of firm decisive actions on the part of Russia to ensure its security, one way or another, a period of normalization will come,” he said.

10:44 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Holding a Kalashnikov on the streets of Kyiv, ex-President Poroshenko says Putin is "simply crazy"

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks with CNN from Kyiv on February 25.
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks with CNN from Kyiv on February 25. (CNN)

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — armed and surrounded by defense forces — spoke with CNN this morning from the streets of Kyiv, saying that Ukrainians are ready to defend their country.

"Everybody should understand, [Russian President] Putin declared a war not for Ukraine. Putin declared a war to the whole world," he said.

He called the Russian president "simply mad."

He's just simply crazy. He's just simply evil to come here to kill Ukrainian[s]," Poroshenko said.

Poroshenko said his battalion is about two to three kilometers (about 1.5 miles) from the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers.

He said Ukraine needs the West's assistance, including sanctions, kicking Russia out of SWIFT — a high security messaging network that connects thousands of financial institutions around the world — and blocking Russian planes and ships in EU and NATO ports.

Poroshenko also thanked the United States and United Kingdom for providing defense weapons.

"This is important for us that we feel we are not alone, that you are together with us," he said.

The former president said Putin will never capture Ukraine.

"No matter how many soldiers he kills, how many missiles he has, how many nuclear weapons he has, we Ukrainian[s] are free people with a great European future," he said.  

Watch the interview:

7:47 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Zelensky appeals for direct talks with Putin

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv and Yong Xiong in Seoul

In a new video message on Friday, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky again called for direct talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Speaking in Russian, Zelensky said: "I would like to address the President of the Russian Federation once again. There is fighting all over Ukraine now. Let’s sit down at the negotiation table to stop the people’s deaths."

Zelensky returned to the theme of international sanctions against Russia, which he wants to be much tougher.

Europe has enough strength to stop this aggression. What to expect from European countries -- the abolition of visas for Russians, disconnection from SWIFT, complete isolation of Russia, the withdrawal of ambassadors, oil embargo, closing the airspace - all this must be on the table today," he said.

Zelensky also made a direct appeal to the people of Europe. 

"Go out, go out on the squares. Demand the end of this war. It is your right. When bombs fall in Kyiv, this is happening in Europe and not just in Ukraine. When missiles kill our people it is killing of all, all Europeans."

"Call your governments for Ukraine to receive more, more financial and military assistance. because this help is the help for you, for Europe."

"This is not just Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This is the beginning of the war in Europe," he said.

Russia willing to negotiate, says Chinese state media: In a phone call Friday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Putin said Russia is "willing to conduct high-level negotiations" with Ukraine, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

Putin said the US and NATO have “long ignored Russia's reasonable security concerns and repeatedly reneged on their commitments,” and their “continuous advance of military deployment eastward” has “challenged Russia's strategic bottom line,” CCTV reported.

Xi said that China "decides its position based on the merits of the Ukraine issue itself” and that China supports Russia and Ukraine resolving their issue through negotiation, the report added.

It also said "China is willing to work with all parties in the international community to advocate a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security concept."

10:44 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Kyiv resident sheltering in an underground subway station says spirits are high despite the danger

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová and Olga Voitovich in Kyiv

Residents shelter in a subway station.
Residents shelter in a subway station. (Maryna)

Many Kyiv residents have fled their homes as the Russian army appears to be closing in on the Ukrainian capital.

Maryna, who lives in the city, has been sheltering in a subway station since Thursday.

"There are a lot of families with kids and animals here. We are not that far from [the district of] Obolon, where sabotage and reconnaissance forces recently landed. That's why I'm here," she told CNN in a message.

Maryna with her cat Hermes.
Maryna with her cat Hermes. Maryna

Maryna -- who brought her cat Hermes to the shelter with her -- marveled at how calm everyone there was. She said there was enough food and water for everyone and people were in good spirits.

"Children are playing ball, someone is sleeping, someone is reading the news. No panic. I rarely see such kind-hearted people that Ukrainians turn into in the face of danger," she said.

8:24 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Formula One cancels 2022 Russian Grand Prix

From CNN's Zayn Nabbi and Amanda Davies in London

Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr steers his car during the second practice session for the Formula One Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom circuit in Sochi, Russia, on September 24, 2021.
Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr steers his car during the second practice session for the Formula One Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom circuit in Sochi, Russia, on September 24, 2021. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

Formula One announced on Friday it will not race in Russia this year, after the country launched an invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian Grand Prix, which joined the calendar in 2014, was scheduled for September 25 at Sochi's Olympic Park, but F1 organizers said it was "impossible" to hold the race in the "current circumstances."