The Latest on Ukraine: Saturday, February 26, 2022
Zelenskyy's Unlikely Journey from Comedy to Ukrainian Hero
JOHN DANISZEWSKI, Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — When Volodymyr Zelenskyy grew up in southeastern Ukraine, his Jewish family spoke Russian and his father once forbade him going abroad to study in Israel.
Instead, Zelenskyy studied law. Upon graduation, he found a new home in comedy, rocketing in the 2010s to become one of Ukraine's most popular entertainers with the TV series "Servant of the People." He portrayed a high school teacher fed up with politicians who accidentally becomes president.
Fast forward a few years, and Zelenskyy is the president for real — and his role is as an unlikely hero for the 21st century.
Russians push toward Ukraine's capital; residents take cover
By YURAS KARMANAU, JIM HEINTZ, VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and JAMES LaPORTA, Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainians are bracing for another night of assaults as Russian troops close in on the capital of Kyiv and skirmishes erupt on the city's outskirts.
Small groups of Russian soldiers were reported Saturday in the capital, where the quiet was sporadically pierced by the sound of gunfire.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy insisted the country's fight would go on as he continued to press for help.
Much remained clouded by the fog of war, but scores were reported killed and the United Nations said some 120,000 Ukrainians were driven from their homes to neighboring countries.
How much, if any, territory Russia may have seized remains unknown.
Live updates: Germany to send anti-tank weapons to Ukraine
By The Associated Press, undefined
The latest on the Russia's invasion of Ukraine:
BERLIN — In a significant shift, the German government confirmed Saturday that it has approved the shipment of anti-tank weapons to Ukraine and supports some restrictions of the SWIFT global banking system for Russia.
The German economy and climate ministry said in a Saturday evening statement that Germany is allowing the Netherlands to ship 400 German-made anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.
"The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks a turning point. It threatens our entire post-war order," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said. "In this situation, it is our duty to do our best to help Ukraine defend itself against Vladimir Putin's invading army."
Germany had long stuck to a policy of not exporting deadly weapons to conflict zones, including Ukraine. As recently as Friday, government officials said they would abide by that policy.
The country has faced criticism from Ukrainian officials and other allies that it has not acted decisively enough to help Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion. Previously, Germany contributed 5,000 helmets to Ukraine's defense.
In addition, Germany said it will send 14 armored vehicles and up to 10,000 tons of fuel to Ukraine.
"After Russia's shameless attack, Ukraine must be able to defend itself," Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said. "The federal government is therefore supporting Ukraine in providing urgently needed material."
HELSINKI — The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have decided to close their airspace to Russian airlines, transport officials in the three countries say.
The legal formulation for the measure is underway and it wasn't immediately clear when precisely the ban would take effect.
Lithuanian Transport Marius Skuodis told media outlets that the goal of the Baltic countries is to issue the ban at the same time.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted on Saturday that Western nations should isolate Russia both economically and politically after its invasion on Ukraine, saying "there is no place for planes of the aggressor state in democratic skies."
Latvian Transport Minister Talis Linkaits told local news agency LETA that the country's decision to close its airspace to Russian airlines will be made in coordination with Estonia, Lithuania and the EU.
KYIV, Ukraine — The authorities in the Ukrainian capital say a curfew in the city will last through early Monday as Russian troops are pressing the offensive into Kyiv.
The city authorities previously announced the curfew to last from 5 pm to 8 am, but then clarified the order and specified that it will last from Friday afternoon until Monday's morning to keep people indoors through the day Sunday.
The measure comes as the Ukrainian authorities reported fighting with small groups of Russian troops that infiltrated the city. More Russian troops are closing in on Kyiv.
Some grocery stores were open until the curfew went into effect. The array of goods was thin. The concern for now is how long stockpiles will last. Some pharmacies were similarly open, but there were reports that new shipments from distributors had halted.
In addition, the Interfax news agency reported that Ukraine's three major cellphone service providers have blocked access for Russian SIM cards.
VIENNA — Germany has sent an additional ship to NATO's eastern flank, the German army announced Saturday.
In addition to deployments of additional soldiers, armored fighting vehicles, anti-missile systems and two ships, which Germany's Defense Ministry confirmed Friday, Germany has dispatched the Alster reconnaissance ship.
The ship left Eckernförde on Germany's Baltic Coast on Saturday and will contribute to electronic intelligence-gathering in the Baltic Sea and along the coast.
"The German Navy, the Bundeswehr and the entire alliance now need a reliable picture of the situation," Vice Admiral Jan C. Kaack, Commander of the Fleet, said in a statement. "In addition to other activities, the Navy also contributes to this with the Alster."
MEDYKA, POLAND — Lines of vehicles miles long are clogging border crossings out of Ukraine, as tens of thousands rush to neighboring countries to escape danger from invading Russian troops.
Nearly 120,000 people have so far fled Ukraine into Poland and other neighboring countries in the wake of Russian invasion, the U.N. refugee agency said Saturday. The largest numbers were arriving in Poland, where 2 million Ukrainians have already settled to work in recent years. Poland's government said Saturday that more than 100,000 Ukrainians had crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border in the past 48 hours alone.
One family from Chernivtsi in western Ukraine waited 20 hours before being able to cross the border into Siret in northern Romania.
At the border town of Medyka, the line of vehicles waiting to enter Poland stretched many miles into Ukraine.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland's President Andrzej Duda says the European Union should grant Ukraine the group's membership in an express way.
Duda said on Twitter that Poland is for immediately granting Ukraine the status of a candidate to the 27-member EU. Duda added that Ukraine should have access to EU funds, to help it rebuild from damage caused by Russia's armed invasion. "Ukraine deserves that," Duda tweeted.
In Rome, the Ukrainian ambassador to Rome backed that sentiment, insisting that "Ukraine earned and has the right to be a member of the European Union."
Ambassador Yaroslav Melnyk said Saturday on Italian state TV that "the destiny of Ukraine is the destiny of Europe" and that "when bombs fall in Ukraine that means bombs fall in Europe."
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A senior U.S. defense official says the United States estimates that more than 50% of Russian combat power arrayed along Ukraine's borders has entered Ukraine. That is up from a U.S. estimate Friday that one-third of the Russian force had been committed to the fight.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal U.S. assessments, would not say how many Russian troops that amounts to inside Ukraine, but the U.S. had estimated the total Russian force arrayed near Ukraine at more than 150,000.
The official said advancing Russian forces were roughly 30 kilometers outside Kyiv as of Saturday, and that an unspecified number of Russian military "reconnaissance elements" had entered the capital.
Meanwhile, Britain's Defense Ministry said Saturday that "the speed of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed likely as a result of acute logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance."
"Russian forces are bypassing major Ukrainian population centres while leaving forces to encircle and isolate them," the ministry said.
—By Robert Burns
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbian peace activists have held a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine following the Balkan nation's decision not to join international sanctions against Moscow.
Serbia has criticized the attack on Ukraine but has remained a rare country in Europe that refused to impose the sanctions against its traditional Slavic political ally Russia.
Holding a huge Ukrainian flag, the activists on Saturday braved rainy and cold weather to gather in Belgrade's central pedestrian street in protest of the Russian invasion. The activists from the Zene u crnom, or Women in Black, group held banners reading Stop Putin or other slogans against the invasion and calling for peace. Ukrainians living in Serbia have also joined the gathering.
The Women in Black organization has been harsh critic of Serbian nationalism. The group's offices in Belgrade recently were vandalized.
Serbia is formally seeking European Union membership but the country's populist authorities have fostered close ties with Russia and China.
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia and the Czech Republic have closed down their airspaces for Russian planes because of the invasion of Ukraine.
Slovenia's government on Saturday said the ban relates to all aircraft registered in Russia and operators based in Russia and licensed by a competent Russian authority. The decision became effective immediately and will remain in force until needed, the government said.
Saturday's decision was announced by Czech Transport Minister Martin Kupka a day after the Czech Republic banned all Russian airlines from using Czech airports.
"We're stepping up our measures against the Russian aggression in Ukraine," Kupka said.
ROME — Thousands of people have turned out in Milan to protest Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The march in Italy's business capital appeared to be the largest of similar protests held Saturday in many Italian cities and towns. In Milan, many participants held up a 20-by-10 meter (66-by-33 foot) rainbow-hued peace banner – with the enormous cloth sometimes covering their heads – to show opposition to the invasion.
In Rome, several hundred people rallied in a square in the city's historic center in a protest organized by Italian labor leaders. At the Rome protest, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza referred to the rallies when he said that the "cry is rising from the grassroots" to press for a "return to dialogue and a stop to arms."
BEREGSURANY, Hungary — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has told a news conference that Hungary is accepting all citizens and legal residents of Ukraine, regardless of whether they are subject to military conscription into the Ukrainian armed forces.
"We're letting everyone in," Orban said in the border town of Beregsurany. "I've seen people who have no travel documents, but we're providing them too with travel documents. And we're also allowing in those who have arrived from third countries after the proper screening."
Several thousand refugees fleeing Ukraine have crossed into Hungary in recent days, entering through five border crossings along Hungary's 137-kilometer (85-mile) border with Ukraine.
The move is a significant shift, for Hungary under Orban has in recent years firmly opposed all forms of immigration.
Regarded as Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest ally in the European Union, Orban has pursued close economic and diplomatic ties with the Kremlin. But he said that Russia's invasion of Hungary's neighbor would likely cause changes in his relationship with Putin, and that Hungary was supporting all proposed sanctions against Moscow at the European level.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia's defense minister says up to 1,200 foreign troops from other NATO members could be deployed in his country in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The plan is part of the NATO initiative to reassure member countries on the alliance's eastern flank by sending forces to help protect them. Slovakia borders Ukraine.
Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said forces from the Netherlands and Germany are among those expected to come. Germany will also provide the Patriot system to boost Slovakia's air defense. The country's government and Parliament have not yet approved the plan.
Nad also said his country's government has approved sending arms and fuel worth 11 million euros ($12.4 million) requested by Ukraine. The aid will include 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons) of fuel, 2.4 million liters (630,000 gallons) of aviation fuel and 12,000 pieces of ammunition.
TOKYO — From Tokyo to London to Taipei, Ukrainians living abroad and hundreds of protesters have turned out on the streets to join anti-war rallies spreading around the world as Russia's troops pressed toward Ukraine's capital.
Several hundred Ukrainians living in Japan gathered outside of Tokyo's main train stations Saturday, chanting "Stop war!" and "Peace for Ukraine." They held up signs including "No war," "Stop Putin, Stop Russia," while others waved Ukrainian flags. At a separate rally reportedly organized by Russian residents in Japan, several dozen people chanted "Hands off Ukraine!"
In Taiwan, more than 100 demonstrators chanting "Stand with Ukraine" and "Glory to Ukraine" protested outside the Russian representative office in Taiwan on Saturday.
"My family, my friends are now sheltered in their basements because of the air attacks," said Yulia Kolorova, a 49-year-old Ukrainian living in Taiwan.
KYIV, UKRAINE — The mayor of the Ukrainian capital is imposing an intensified curfew as Russian troops press on the city.
Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said on Telegram that the curfew will extend from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. Monday and "all civilians on the street during the curfew will be considered members of the enemy's sabotage and reconnaissance groups."
The previous curfew imposed two days ago was from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m.
PARIS — The captain of a Russian cargo ship intercepted early Saturday in the English Channel was formally advised that his vessel countervenes European Union sanctions levied days ago for its invasion of Ukraine, France's finance ministry said.
Customs officials examined the Baltic Leader after it was escorted to the port of Boulogne-Sur-Mer before a written contravention was handed to the captain, a ministry statement said.
A spokesperson for the Maritime Prefecture, Veronique Magnin, said the seizure of the ship apparently was the first such action in the English Channel.
The vessel, which was carrying cars, is owned by PSB Lizing, which an official close to Public Affairs Minister Olivier Dussopt said is among Russian companies listed in the EU sanctions. He confirmed that PSB Lizing is a subsidiary of PSB, or Promsvyazbank Public Joint Stock Company
The approximately 130-meter-(426.5 foot) ship was headed from Rouen, in Normandy, to Saint Petersburg, and was stopped near Honfleur, Magnin said France was continuing to hold the ship while a full investigation proceeds.
PARIS — French officials say marines patrolling the English Channel area have intercepted a cargo ship sailing under the Russian flag and escorted it to the port of Boulogne-Sur-Mer for an investigation.
The interception of the ship, carrying cars, early Saturday was triggered by financial sanctions levied days ago against Russia for its invasion of the Ukraine. Maritime spokesperson Veronique Magnin said it appeared to be the first such action in the English Channel.
The approximately 130-meter-(427-foot) ship was headed from Rouen, in Normandy, to Saint Petersburg, and was stopped near Honfleur, Magnin said.
Customs officials carrying out the investigation were verifying if the vessel is indeed linked to Russian financial interests, the spokesperson said. The process could take up to 48 hours.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says his country's armed forces are successfully fighting back against Russian troops.
Zelenskyy said in a video released Saturday that Russian attempts to forge into Kyiv have been repelled and Moscow's plan to quickly seize the capital and install a puppet government has been thwarted. In an emotional speech, he accused the Russian forces of hitting civilian areas and infrastructure.
Zelenskyy pushed for Ukraine's urgent ascension to the European Union, saying he discussed the issue with the EU leaders. He also urged cutting Russia from the SWIFT international electronic bank payment system, noting that Germany and Hungary should show "courage" and agree to the move.
Briefly switching to Russian, Zelenskyy hailed Russia's cultural figures who denounced the invasion and urged them to redouble efforts to force the Kremlin to halt the attack. He claimed that thousands of Russian troops were killed and hundreds of those who were taken prisoner "can't understand why they were sent into Ukraine to kill and get killed." "The sooner you say to your government that this war should be immediately stopped, the more of your people will stay alive," he said.
MOSCOW — A senior Russian official has warned that Moscow could react to Western sanctions over its attack on Ukraine by opting out of the last remaining nuclear arms pact and freezing Western assets.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia's Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, shrugged off a set of crippling sanctions that the U.S., the European Union and other allies slapped on Russia as a reflection of Western "political impotence."
In comments posted on his page on Russian social media VKontakte, Medvedev said the sanctions could offer Moscow a pretext for a complete review of its ties with the West, suggesting that Russia could opt out of the New START nuclear arms control treaty that limits the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
Medvedev also raised the prospect of cutting diplomatic ties with Western countries, saying "we may look at each other in binoculars and gunsights."
He pointed at the possibility of freezing Western assets in the country if the West proceeds with threats to freeze Russian assets.
KYIV, Ukraine — A rescue worker says at least six civilians were injured by a rocket that hit a high-rise apartment building on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital.
Petro Prokopov, a firefighter who was taking part in rescue efforts, said the building on the southwestern edge of Kyiv near Zhuliany airport was hit between 16 and 21 floors on Saturday. He said at least six people were injured and apartments on two floors were gutted by fire. Emergency responders have evacuated 80 people.
Kyiv's Mayor Vitali Klitschko posted an image showing a gaping hole on one side of the apartment building.
Separately, Ukraine's Infrastructure Ministry said a Russian missile was shot down before dawn Saturday as it headed for the dam of the sprawling water reservoir that serves Kyiv. "If the dam is destroyed, the flooding will cause catastrophic casualties and losses - including flooding of residential areas of Kyiv and its suburbs," the ministry said.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian health minister says that 198 people have been killed and more than 1,000 others have been wounded in the Russian offensive.
Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said Saturday that there were three children among those killed. His statement made it unclear whether the casualties included both military and civilians.
He said another 1,115 people, including 33 children, were wounded in the Russian invasion that began Thursday with massive air and missile strikes and troops forging into Ukraine from the north, east and south.
MOSCOW — The Russian military says it has launched a barrage of cruise missiles at Ukrainian military facilities.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Saturday that the military struck a range of Ukrainian military installations with long-range Kalibr cruise missiles.
He said that since the start of Russia's attack Thursday, the military has hit 821 Ukrainian military facilities, including 14 air bases and 19 command facilities, and destroyed 24 air defense missile systems, 48 radars, seven warplanes, seven helicopters, nine drones, 87 tanks and eight military vessels.
Konashenkov didn't say how many Ukrainian troops were killed and didn't mention any casualties on the Russian side. His claims and Ukraine's allegations that its forces have killed thousands of Russian troops couldn't be independently verified.
Konashenkov claimed that the Russian military has taken full control of the southern city of Melitopol, about 35 kilometers inland from the Azov Sea coast, and said Russia-backed separatists have made significant gains in the eastern region of Donbas.
KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of a city south of the Ukrainian capital says that the country's military has fended off a Russian attempt to take control of a military air base.
Natalia Balansynovych, the mayor of Vasylkiv, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Kyiv, said Saturday that Russian airborne forces landed near the city overnight and tried to seize the base. She said fierce fighting also raged on Vasylkiv's central street.
She said that Ukrainian forces repelled the Russian attacks, and that the situation is now calm. Balansynovych said there were heavy casualties, but didn't give any numbers.
KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukraine's president says that fighting is raging in the capital and in the country's south, and that the Ukrainian military is successfully fending off Russian assaults.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Saturday that small groups of Russian forces tried to infiltrate Kyiv and engaged in fighting with Ukrainian troops. He said that Russia wants to seize control of the Ukrainian capital and destroy the country's leadership, but said the Russian military has failed to make any gains and that the Ukrainian forces control the situation in Kyiv.
He said Russian forces were also focusing on the country's south, where intense fighting is underway in Kherson just north of Crimea, and in the Black Sea ports of Mykolaiv, Odesa and around Mariupol.
He said that Russia considers it a priority to seize the south, but it has failed to make any significant gains.
"Ukraine hasn't simply withstood it. Ukraine is winning," Podolyak said at a briefing.
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