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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9:45 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

More than 500,000 refugees have fled Ukraine amid Russia's ongoing invasion, UN Refugee Agency says

From CNN's Nada Bashir

A displaced Ukrainian with her children at a temporary shelter in Beregsurany, Hungary, on Monday, Feb. 28.
A displaced Ukrainian with her children at a temporary shelter in Beregsurany, Hungary, on Monday, Feb. 28. (Akos Stiller/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

More than 500,000 refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries amid Russia’s ongoing invasion and military aggression, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said Monday. 

“UNHCR is working with partners and local authorities to provide humanitarian aid and support those in need,” UNHCR added in a Tweet. 

In an earlier tweet, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said neighboring countries must urgently share this responsibility “in concrete ways.” 

The European Union has shown “unity and firm action” in a way “never seen before” in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Monday while speaking from a mobile refugee camp at the Siret border point in Romania.

“I also see the need for the European Commission to step up when it comes to support in funding, in personnel and in other aspects," she said.

8:49 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

White House is watching Belarus closely and prepared to levy more sanctions, US official says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak 

The White House is watching actions taken by Belarus closely and is prepared to levy more sanctions on the country amid reports that Belarusian forces could join Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, a senior administration official said.

"We’re watching those events very carefully," the official said when asked about reports of intelligence showing Belarus is prepared to join the Russian invasion.

"We’ve said to the extent Belarus continues to aid and abet Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, they will also face consequences," the official said. "We’ve already rolled out some of those measures. Those costs will continue to ratchet much higher."

8:16 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

On the ground: This Kyiv family is sheltering at their community synagogue

From CNN's Gul Tuysuz in Kyiv

Dan Horovyi and his family have beein staying at the orthodox Jewish Karlin Stolin community synagogue.
Dan Horovyi and his family have beein staying at the orthodox Jewish Karlin Stolin community synagogue. CNN's Gul Tuysuz

Dan Horovyi, a member of the orthodox Jewish Karlin Stolin community, has been staying in the basement of the community synagogue with his wife and two-year-old son.

“When all this started, we knew we had to do something, and thank God we had a place to hide— not just a place to stay alive but a place to live,” he told CNN. “We could stay here for a month with no problems."

He added that the family had everything they needed there.

“This place is open to our community, other Jewish communities in Kyiv, and we also have people who are not Jewish also staying with us,” he said.

Dan Horovyi's two-year-old son is also at the synagogue.
Dan Horovyi's two-year-old son is also at the synagogue. CNN's Gul Tuysuz
8:02 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Talks commence but fighting rages on. Here's what you need to know.

Battles have continued throughout Monday near several key Ukrainian cities, even as delegates from Ukraine and Russia sat down for talks.

It's early afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know if you're just joining us.

  • Talks underway: A meeting between Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Belarus began just before 1 p.m. Kyiv time (6 a.m. ET) on Monday. Ukraine's delegation includes several high-ranking officials, but not President Volodymyr Zelensky. Ukraine demanded an “immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops” in the lead-up to the meeting.
  • Ukraine beats back Russian forces: Russian forces have "slowed their offensive" but are "still trying" to take Ukrainian ground around the country, according to the Ukrainian military. The bulk of Russian ground forces are still more than more than 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) north of Kyiv, the UK's Ministry of Defense said Monday.
  • More civilians killed: The latest toll for civilian deaths in Ukraine stands at 102, with 304 people injured, but the true figure is feared to be “considerably higher,” the UN’s Michelle Bachelet said Monday. The death toll includes seven children, Bachelet said. Ukraine's interior ministry released higher figures on Sunday, at 352 civilians killed.
  • Belarus could join invasion, intel suggests: A Ukrainian government official told CNN that the country's intelligence indicates Belarusian "readiness to maybe participate directly" in the invasion of Ukraine. A second source close to the Ukrainian government said the Biden administration has conveyed similar warnings.
  • Russian economy stunned: Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a meeting Monday with his top economic advisers amid massive fallout from Western sanctions, the Kremlin said. Moscow's stock exchange will not open Monday, after the country's currency plummeted.
  • Ukraine asks to join the EU: Zelensky asked the European Union on Monday to "urgently admit Ukraine" to the bloc. "Our goal is to be with all Europeans, and to be equal to them. I am sure we deserve it. I am sure it is possible," he said in a televised message.
  • Nuclear threat: White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to put Russia's deterrence forces, which includes nuclear arms, on high alert is part of a wider pattern of unprovoked escalation and "manufactured threats" from the Kremlin.
8:49 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

In aggressive move, US will cut off Russia's central bank from US dollar transactions

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal, Jeremy Diamond and Kevin Liptak

The US is taking immediate action on Monday to prohibit US dollar transactions with the Russian central bank and fully block the Russian direct investment fund, senior administration officials said, taking aim at some of Russia's most powerful means of mitigating the effect of sanctions.

The steps are meant to prevent Russia from accessing a "rainy day fund" that officials said Moscow had been expecting to rely upon during the invasion of Ukraine. Instead of using the reserves to buffer a plummeting Ruble, Russia will no longer be able to access the funds it keeps in US dollars.

The sweeping new sanctions, taken with Germany, France, the UK, Italy, and Canada, European Union and others, come as Russia’s economy is already in freefall.

“No country is sanction proof,” a White House official said. “Putin’s war chest of $630 billion in reserves only matters if you can use it to defend his currency, specifically by selling those reserves in exchange for buying the ruble.”

“After today's actions that will no longer be possible, and fortress Russia will be exposed as a myth.” 

In a phone call with reporters Monday morning, a senior administration official said the move was “the culmination of months of planning and preparation across our respective governments across technical, diplomatic and political channels, including at the highest levels.”

“We were ready and that's what allowed us to act within days, not weeks or months of Putin escalation,” the official said. 

"Our strategy, to put it simply, is to make sure that the Russian economy goes backward as long as President Putin decides to go forward with his invasion of Ukraine," a second senior administration official said.

In a bid to mitigate the impact of the sanctions on US and European energy consumers, the Treasury Department will exempt most energy-related transactions from the sanctions, a significant carve-out in the sanctions.

One official called the ongoing sanctions a “vicious feedback loop that's triggered by Putin his own choices and accelerated by his own aggression.” 

The sanctions also fully block the Russian Direct Investment Fund and its CEO, Kirill Dmitriev. Officials said they were, “symbols of deep seated Russian corruption and influence peddling globally.” 

“Today's actions represent the most significant actions in the US Treasury is taken against an economy of this size and assets of this size,” another official said. “What also makes this asset significant is not just the amount of assets or the size of the country we're targeting, but the speed at which our partners and allies have worked with us to enact this response.”

Asked about potential additional sanctions on Belarus, which appears poised to elevate its role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, an official said the US is watching events "very carefully" and that sanctions on Belarus would "continue to ratchet much higher."

8:01 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

US embassy in Belarus suspends operations as Russia continues to attack Ukraine

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

The US is suspending operations at the US embassy in Belarus and also allowing non-emergency employees and family members to depart the US embassy in Russia due to safety and security issues resulting from Russian aggression towards Ukraine, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in a statement. 

“The U.S. Department of State has suspended operations at our Embassy in Minsk, Belarus and authorized the voluntary departure (“authorized departure”) of non-emergency employees and family members at our Embassy in Moscow, Russia. We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine,” Blinken said on Monday morning. 

Blinken cited the department’s highest priority being the safety and security of US citizens, including US government personnel worldwide.

Some background: CNN reported overnight that a Ukrainian government official said that Ukrainian intelligence indicates Belarusian "readiness to maybe participate directly" in the invasion of Ukraine. This "in addition to allowing Russians to use their territory as well as letting them cross the border" into Ukraine. A second source close to the Ukrainian government tells CNN that in addition to the Ukrainian intel, the Biden administration has also conveyed to the Ukrainian government that Belarus is preparing to invade. 

“The Department of State continually adjusts its posture at embassies and consulates throughout the world in line with its mission, the local security environment, and the health situation. We ultimately have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens, and that includes our U.S. government personnel and their dependents serving around the world,” Blinken said.

8:14 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

EU ministers to discuss sending defensive weapons to Ukraine in "watershed moment"

Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell holds a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, on February 28.
Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell holds a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, on February 28. (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

European Union defense ministers will on Monday discuss plans for member states to jointly finance and coordinate the delivery of defensive weapons to Ukraine, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said Monday. 

“Half a billion euros [$560 million] will be devoted to providing defensive arms, high-calibre arms, and anti-tank [equipment] — all kinds of agreements in order to repel the aggression,” Borrell said. 

“We have to coordinate what we are doing and what we can do additionally with these resources,” he added. 

Borrell’s remarks, ahead of a virtual meeting of EU defense ministers on Monday, come after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the EU would, for the first time, finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack. 

This is a watershed moment,” von der Leyen said Sunday. 

Addressing reporters in Brussels, Borrell said that Ukrainian forces are “resisting” Russia’s invasion in parts of the country – including Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol – with Russia’s forces suffering a “high toll” in casualties, according to the EU representative. 

“But we have to provide ammunition, we have to provide high calibre guns and anti-tank equipment,” Borrell continued. 

The EU foreign affairs chief also stressed that the international community cannot allow a situation where a “powerful country smashes their neighbor using its military capacities.”

“If we allow this, it is the law of the jungle,” he added.

7:49 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

On the ground: This software developer is waiting to enlist and defend his country

From CNN's Gul Tuysuz in Kyiv

In Ukraine's capital, Andrii Tereshko says he has been feeling frustrated as he waits to enlist to fight for his country, "but the line is too long."

The 26-year-old software developer wanted to join territorial defense units but he was met with long wait lines on Sunday.

"They took 100, then told us to come tomorrow. Today, I tried to enlist but they said they are full and they don’t have more weapons," he told CNN.

When the tensions started escalating, Tereshko says everyone was scared because he, like many else, didn't know what to expect.

"But we always hoped that nothing would happen. No one expected full-scale invasion," he said. "When I woke up on Thursday to full-scale invasion, I was less scared ... When war started, I felt like I focused more. There is only one thing now — protect my country. That’s the only thing now."
Andrii Tereshko in Kyiv is frustrated as he hasn't been able to enlist yet. 
Andrii Tereshko in Kyiv is frustrated as he hasn't been able to enlist yet.  CNN's Gul Tuysuz
9:15 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Most Americans want US to do more to stop Russia, but also oppose direct military action: CNN poll

From CNN's Jennifer Agiesta and Ariel Edwards-Levy

Americans overwhelmingly favor increased economic sanctions against Russia and broadly support further action to stop Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but most oppose direct US military action, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.

Eighty-three percent of Americans said they favored increased economic sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion, with just 17% opposed.

New sanctions and economic restrictions aimed at Russia were announced by the US and other countries while the poll was in the field on Friday and Saturday. Support for increased sanctions in the new poll stands well above the 67% who favored the same in 2014 amid Russia's incursion into eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea.

A smaller majority, 62%, also wanted to see the US do more to stop Russian military action in Ukraine, with 38% saying the country has already done enough. But the public is opposed to direct military action by the US: Only 42% were in favor of such a move should sanctions fail to work, with 58% opposed.

Among those who said the US should do more to stop Russia's military incursion, though, 58% were in favor of the use of military action if sanctions failed.

There's little sign that the public is rallying around President Joe Biden's response to the crisis, despite the broad support for the type of sanctions his administration has put in place. Just 42% said they trust Biden at least moderately to make the right decisions regarding the situation in Ukraine, about on par with his overall approval rating in recent polling. These results, like most of Biden's numbers, are deeply polarized, with 84% of Democrats but just 9% of Republicans saying they trust his decision-making at least moderately.

Read the full story here: