February 28, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Rob Picheta, Ed Upright, Maureen Chowdhury, Jason Kurtz, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, March 1, 2022
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1:52 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Belarus to renounce non-nuclear status following Russia's invasion of Ukraine

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie and Josh Pennington

People cast their votes in the 2022 Belarusian constitutional referendum in the capital, Minsk, on Sunday.
People cast their votes in the 2022 Belarusian constitutional referendum in the capital, Minsk, on Sunday. (Peter Kovalev/TASS/Getty Images)

Belarus on Sunday signaled that it would renounce its non-nuclear status, following the launch of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from the former Soviet nation last week.

Authorities in the country — ruled by Moscow-backed strongman Alexander Lukashenko for nearly three decades — said the move was backed by a referendum.

According to the Belarus Central Elections Commission, some 78.63% of the eligible voting population took part in the vote, with 65.16% in favor of a new constitution that will shed the country’s non-nuclear status and give Lukashenko the opportunity to run for two additional terms in office. 

But Western leaders will not recognize the legitimacy of Sunday’s vote. In a statement from January, the US mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) described the referendum as “neither a viable — nor credible — path forward for Belarus.”

The vote follows a years-long violent crackdown by the Lukashenko regime against his domestic political opponents, following the disputed presidential election in 2020 which was marred by fraud and triggered mass protests. 

What this could mean for Russia: Belarus' new constitution could theoretically allow Moscow to place nuclear weapons on its neighbor's territory for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, when Minsk gave up its stockpile and became a nuclear-free zone.

The amendments and additions to the constitution passed in the referendum will come into effect in 10 days' time, according to Lukashenko’s office. 

Lukashenko and Putin: Addressing journalists at a polling station in Minsk on Sunday, Lukashenko said he could ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to “return the nuclear weapons” Belarus gave away if the West transfers any nuclear weapons to Poland or Lithuania.

"If America or ... France, two nuclear powers, start transferring nuclear weapons to Poland or Lithuania, on our borders ... I will go to Putin so that he will return to me the nuclear weapons that I, without any special conditions, gave to them,” Lukashenko said.

In his on-camera remarks, Lukashenko also accused the West of “pushing Russia to ignite World War III,” before warning that “a nuclear war would end the world.” 

1:54 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

US Embassy in Ukraine urges Americans to leave, warns of 30-hour wait at crowded border crossings

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq in Lviv

The US Embassy in Ukraine said late Sunday that the security situation throughout the country "continues to be unpredictable, with active fighting inside many cities and other locations."

"Conditions may deteriorate as military attacks by Russia continue in various parts of the country without any warning," it added in a statement, urging Americans there to "depart now using privately available transportation options if it is safe to do so."

The embassy cautioned that roads may be crowded, exposed to combat operations, and that infrastructure like bridges may have been destroyed or damaged by the fighting. "Sheltering in place may remain the best option for some," it said.

Long wait at the border: The embassy recommended citizens cross into Hungary, Romania and Slovakia if possible, citing "severely backed up" border crossings into Poland and Moldova.

"Some are experiencing extremely long wait times (well over 30 hours in some cases)," the embassy said.

The embassy also warned conditions at each border "can change very quickly and wait times can increase at any time without warning."

Wave of refugees: Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and refugees of other nationalities are attempting to flee Ukraine from various border crossings, according to local government officials in Lviv. 

Nearly 400,000 Ukrainian refugees have fled their homes since Russia's invasion on Thursday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported on Sunday.

1:07 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Dalai Lama calls for peace in Ukraine, says war is "outdated"

From CNN's Jadyn Sham and Lizzy Yee

The Dalai Lama on Monday said he was "deeply saddened" by the conflict in Ukraine, as the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader called for peace and "mutual understanding." 

"War is outdated — non-violence is the only way," he said in a statement. 

"Problems and disagreements are best resolved through dialogue," he added.

"Genuine peace comes about through mutual understanding and respect for each other's wellbeing.

"We must not lose hope. The 20th century was a century of war and bloodshed. The 21st century must be a century of dialogue. I pray that peace is swiftly restored in Ukraine."

12:49 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Ukrainian intel suggests Belarus is prepared to join Russian invasion

From CNN’s Jake Tapper

Ukrainian intelligence suggests Belarus is showing "readiness to maybe participate directly" in Russia's invasion, "in addition to allowing Russians to use their territory as well as letting them cross the border" into Ukraine, a Ukrainian government official told CNN.

A second source close to the Ukrainian government told CNN that in addition to the Ukrainian intel, the Biden administration has also conveyed to Kyiv that Belarus is preparing to invade. 

The Washington Post first reported that Belarus was preparing to send soldiers into Ukraine, citing a US administration official. 

Talks at the border: The intelligence comes as talks are set for Monday between Russia and Ukraine near the Belarusian border.

Belarus is an ally of Russia and is being used as a launch point for Russian troops into Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said Belarus' President Aleksander Lukashenko called his Ukrainian counterpart on Sunday.

"The politicians have agreed that the Ukrainian delegation will meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River," Zelensky’s office said. "Aleksander Lukashenko has taken responsibility for ensuring that all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on the Belarusian territory will remain on the ground during the Ukrainian delegation's travel, meeting and return."

Belarus' take on the invasion: Lukashenko said last week that Belarusian troops could join the invasion “if it becomes necessary.”

“Our troops are not participating in any way in this operation. We’re not going to justify ourselves here about our participation or non-participation in this conflict. I repeat once again. Our troops are not there but if it becomes necessary, if Belarus and Russia need them, they will be there,“ Lukashenko said on tape from state news agency Belta’s YouTube channel. 

Zelensky's appeal to Belarusians: On Sunday, Zelensky spoke directly to Belarusians as “neighbors," saying it was "a referendum for you as well."

"You decide who you are and whom to become. How you would look in your children’s eyes. How you’d look in each other’s eyes. In your neighbor’s eyes. And we are your neighbors,” Zelensky said.

The White House declined to comment. CNN has also reached out to the US State Department for comment.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday morning on MSNBC that the US and its allies reserve the right to further sanction Belarus. The US Treasury Department already issued sanctions against 24 individuals and entities on Thursday.

12:36 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Thousands of Indian citizens remain in Ukraine as evacuation efforts continue

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi 

Indian students arrive from Ukraine at the Indira Gandhi International airpor in Delhi on Sunday.
Indian students arrive from Ukraine at the Indira Gandhi International airpor in Delhi on Sunday. (Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times/Getty Images) 

At least 2,000 Indian citizens have been evacuated from Ukraine since the war began, with efforts underway to evacuate "thousands" that remain, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said at a news briefing Sunday.

“Many of our citizens have been stuck for long periods of time crossing over into Poland ... because this is the main border crossing," Shringla told reporters. He added that there are hundreds of thousands of people trying to cross the border. "It is not an organized situation. It is a conflict zone,” he said.

When asked about Indians allegedly facing harassment from Ukrainian forces while attempting to cross the border, Shringla said Ukrainian officials "have been very helpful and I did tell them that we expect in every way that they would assist in facilitating the safe and — to the extent possible — hassle-free evacuation of our citizens.”

The UN vote: On Saturday, India was one of three countries, including China and the UAE, to abstain from voting on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

India then abstained from another vote to refer the matter to an emergency session of the UN General Assembly on Sunday.

When explaining the decision, the Indian ambassador to the UN said India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already spoken to both Russia and Ukraine's leaders, and encouraged peace talks between the two.

12:30 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Analysis: How Zelensky changed the West's response to Russia

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

Five days into Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his courageous nation have already done more to transform the West's policy toward Russia than 30 years of post-Cold War summits, policy resets and showdowns with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Ukrainian leader's defiance has inspired and shamed the United States and the European Union into going far further — and far faster — in turning Russia into a pariah state than it appeared they were ready to go. By promising weapons and ammunition to Zelensky, the West appears increasingly to be drawn into a possible proxy war with Moscow over Ukraine, even though it is not a NATO member that benefits from the bloc's direct mutual defense agreements.

After insisting last week that sanctions would be graded on a rising curve based on Russian behavior, Washington and its allies have now rushed to personally sanction Putin and have kicked key Russian banks out of the vital SWIFT global financial network.

Zelensky's emotional appeal: The significant stiffening of the global front against Russia over the weekend followed increasingly fervent calls by Zelensky for help. European leaders reported that in a call with them last week, he had said he didn't know how long he or his country had left.

Few outsiders expected Zelensky, a former comic actor who, to the frustration of US officials, ignored or downplayed US warnings of an imminent invasion for weeks, would morph into a leader to match this moment in his country's history. His dismissiveness changed a few days before the invasion when he made increasingly heart-rending appeals for help.

Read the full analysis:

12:15 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

The sun is rising in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

As dawn breaks in Kyiv, all eyes are on a Russia-Ukraine meeting set to happen Monday, with tensions high as fierce fighting continues on the ground. If you're just joining us, here's the latest.

  • Talks set for today: Delegations from Ukraine and Russia will meet on the Ukraine-Belarus border, without preconditions, according to Kyiv's Interior Ministry. The announcement came Sunday, as Ukrainian and Russian forces faced off in multiple cities across Ukraine. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a brief televised statement that he doesn't expect much from the meeting. 
  • Nuclear forces on high alert: Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country's deterrence forces — which include nuclear arms — onto their highest state of alert on Sunday, citing NATO leaders making "aggressive comments about our country." US White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the move was part of a wider pattern of unprovoked escalation and "manufactured threats" from the Kremlin. 
  • Closing airspace: The European Union is shutting down Russian access to EU airspace — meaning all Russian-owned, registered and controlled aircraft will no longer be able to land in, take off or fly over any territory of the EU.
  • Refugee crisis: More than 368,000 Ukrainians have fled the country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Almost 200,000 refugees have crossed to Poland since the start of the invasion.
  • Death toll rising: A total of 352 civilians in Ukraine have died following the invasion, Ukraine's Interior Ministry said on Sunday. At least 14 of those killed are children, while another 1,684 people have been injured.
  • Russian casualties: For the first time since the beginning of the invasion, Russian authorities acknowledged a number of deaths and injuries among their forces in Ukraine, without providing precise numbers. Russia also claimed that the losses were “considerably lower” than those seen in Ukrainian forces.
  • Anti-war protests: Russian authorities have detained almost 6,000 people for participating in unsanctioned anti-war protests across the country over the past four days, an independent monitoring site reported.  
12:12 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Ukraine's Air Force claims successful drone strike on Russian forces near Kherson

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

A screenshot from a video shared by the Ukrainian Air Force shows a drone strike near Kherson, Ukraine.
A screenshot from a video shared by the Ukrainian Air Force shows a drone strike near Kherson, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Air Force)

The Ukrainian Air Force posted a video on Facebook on Sunday morning, claiming to show a successful drone strike by the military.  

According to the Ukrainian Air Force, the purported attack took place in Chornobayivka, which is just north of Kherson. It's unclear when the strike took place. 

In the video taken by the drone, a column of vehicles is seen on a road. An explosion is suddenly seen, appearing to hit the middle of the column, obscuring the view of the vehicles.

In recent days, Kherson has been the site of intense fighting between Ukrainian fighters and Russian forces attempting to advance across the Dnieper River. 

12:00 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

In Pictures: Buildings lit up and rallies held worldwide in support of Ukraine

The Sebitseom islets in Seoul are lit up in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on Feb. 28.
The Sebitseom islets in Seoul are lit up in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on Feb. 28. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

South Korea's capital has joined a number of cities around the world lighting monuments in blue and yellow in support of Ukraine, reflecting the colors of its national flag.

Four landmarks in Seoul — the City Hall, Namsan Seoul Tower, Sebitseom on the Han River and Seoullo Media Canvas — were lit up on Monday.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians and supporters protested against the Russian invasion outside Moscow's embassy in Seoul on Sunday and Monday.

The Empire State building in New York City is lit up with the colors of the Ukrainian flag on Feb. 25.
The Empire State building in New York City is lit up with the colors of the Ukrainian flag on Feb. 25. (Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

New York's Empire State Building was also lit up blue and yellow last week, with crowds gathering in Times Square on Saturday to protest the Russian invasion.

One protester, Olga Ladygima, told CNN she hadn’t slept for the past three nights. She is from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, she said — and her friends in Ukraine have stayed up too, making homemade bombs to try to stop Russian tanks.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is lit up in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on Feb. 24.
The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is lit up in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on Feb. 24. (Paul Zinken/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Approximately 100,000 people in Germany's capital, Berlin, attended a protest this weekend against the invasion, police told CNN.

Crowds walked between the Russian embassy, Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column on Sunday wearing blue and yellow, and holding up signs showing solidarity with Ukraine.