Ukrainians seek shelter after night of Russian air strikes; Zelenskyy vows to fight – live updates – USA TODAY

Russian forces have grown increasingly frustrated by Ukrainian resistance, particularly near the capital of Kyiv, and the Russian advance remains about 18 miles from the city, a senior Defense Department official said Saturday.

Russia has, however, sent reconnaissance forces into Kyiv, the official said, declining to say how many of those troops have penetrated the city.

About 50% of Russia’s combat troops have entered Ukraine up from 30% on Friday, the official said, characterizing the number in the tens of thousands of combat and logistics troops. Russian troops are advancing along three major routes into Ukraine.

More: Satellite images, surveillance footage, social media posts show the latest on the war in Ukraine

The resistance is stiffening as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday pressed the world to help his country beat back a Russian invasion, even as those forces attacked Kyiv from various directions in an effort to take the capital.

The Pentagon Saturday also announced that $350 in emergency military aid to Ukraine. That package includes Javelin anti-armor missiles, ammunition and body armor, according to the Pofficial.

Zelenskyy tweeted that he had started “a new day on the diplomatic frontline” by talking to French President Emmanuel Macron. In a second tweet, Zelenskyy called the present “a crucial moment to close the long-standing discussion once and for all and decide on Ukraine’s membership in the #EU,” or European Union.

In the United States, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are holding a call with their national security team starting at 10 a.m. EST to discuss the latest developments on Ukraine.

But despite international condemnation of Russia’s strike against its smaller neighbor, Russia carried out airstrikes on cities and military bases in the predawn hours. The violence prompted thousands of Ukrainians to flee their homes, looking for safety in nearby countries. 

To catch you up: 

A Friday recap: Battle for Kyiv intensifies; defiant Zelenskyy urges resistance

Why is Russia invading Ukraine?: Could it be the start of WWIII? We explain.

Back in the U.S.: What is the draft? And can it ever be reinstated here? 

Let the news come to your inbox: Sign up here for Ukraine news to your email

Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Russian military forces have moved closer to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, which has been hit by explosions and gunfire.

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a major factor in Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine, which wants to join NATO and the European Union. Other former Soviet republics have joined NATO over the years, and Putin is against Ukraine’s inclusion. In diplomatic talks, he demanded assurances from NATO that it wouldn’t admit Ukraine. NATO said the decision is up to Ukraine.

On Snake Island, a strategic small outpost in the Black Sea, thirteen Ukrainian border guards were reportedly killed after a Russian warship asked them to surrender. A border guard responded with an expletive before being bombed, according to unverified audio. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said all 13 will be awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine posthumously.

Read more about Snake Island: Ukrainian soldier on Snake Island tells Russian officer ‘go (expletive) yourself’ before being killed

Russian forces meet firm resistance on path to Kyiv

Russian forces have grown increasingly frustrated by Ukrainian resistance, particularly near the capital of Kiev, and the Russian advance remains about 18 miles from the city, a senior Defense Department official said Saturday.

Russia has, however, sent reconnaissance forces into Kyiv, the official said, declining to say how many of those troops have penetrated the city.

The official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the Pentagon had used several means to determine that Russian forces invading Ukraine had been stalled by determined resistance.

The official warned that the battlefield situation is fluid and changing rapidly.

About 50% of Russia’s combat troops have entered Ukraine up from 30% on Friday, the official said, characterizing the number in the tens of thousands of combat and logistics troops. Russian troops are advancing along three major routes into Ukraine.

Addressing reports that some Russian military vehicles had run out of gas, the official said the invading force sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin had expended more fuel resources than it had planned for.

Ukrainian forces continue to contest the airspace over the country with warplanes and missile defense, the official said.

Also Saturday, the Pentagon announced that $350 in emergency military aid to Ukraine. That package includes Javelin anti-armor missiles, ammunition and body armor, according to the official. Prior to the invasion, military materiel had been arriving in Ukraine by cargo aircraft. U.S. military aid has continued to flow into Ukraine in the last few days but the official declined to say how it has arrived there.

– Tom Vanden Brook

Biden authorizes $350 million more in US military aid for Ukraine

The Biden administration is providing an additional $350 million in immediate U.S. military assistance to Ukraine as Russia continues a full-scale attack on the country with intense fighting in the capital city of Kyiv.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the drawdown of funds Saturday morning after Biden authorized the emergency military aid late Friday night through the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

“This package will include further lethal defensive assistance to help Ukraine address the armored, airborne, and other threats it is now facing,” Blinken said in a statement. “It is another clear signal that the United States stands with the people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereign, courageous, and proud nation.”

The aid brings the U.S.’s total assistance to Ukraine to more than $1 billion over the past year, according to Blinken, including $200 million in military assistance in December and $60 million last fall.

Zelenskyy has urged Ukraine civilians to join the fight against Russia, and as he remains defiant about not leaving Kyiv, he’s made clear about the need for more help.

“I need ammunition, not a ride,” he said in a video Friday.

– Joey Garrison

In Kyiv, residents seek shelter after night of explosions, street clashes

KYIV, Ukraine – Russian troops pressed toward Ukraine’s capital Saturday after a night of air strikes and street fighting but it was not immediately clear how far Russian troops had advanced.

Ukrainian officials have reported some success in fending off assaults. A U.S. official told reporters Friday the Pentagon had information suggesting that Moscow had expected a faster advance on Kyiv. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy refused an American offer to evacuate, insisting he would stay. “The fight is here,” he said.

Skirmishes reported on the edge of Kyiv suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces. A missile struck a high-rise apartment building in the city’s southwestern outskirts near one of Kyiv’s two passenger airports, Mayor Vitali Klitchsko said, leaving a jagged hole of ravaged apartments over several floors. A rescue worker said six civilians were injured.

Russia claims its assault on Ukraine is aimed only at military targets, but civilians have been killed and injured during Europe’s largest ground war since World War II.

– Caren Bohan and Associated Press 

TikTok is Russia’s newest weapon in arsenal for anti-Ukraine propaganda

In 2014, Russia flooded the internet with fake accounts pushing disinformation about its takeover of Crimea. Eight years later, experts say Russia is mounting a far more sophisticated propaganda effort as it invades Ukraine.

Armies of trolls and bots stir up anti-Ukrainian sentiment. State-controlled media outlets look to divide Western audiences. Clever TikTok videos serve up Russian nationalism with a side of humor. 

The effort amounts to an emerging part of Russia’s war arsenal with the shaping of opinion through orchestrated disinformation fighting alongside actual troops and weapons.

Analysts at several different research organizations contacted by The Associated Press said they are seeing a sharp increase in online activity by groups affiliated with the Russian state. That’s in keeping with Russia’s strategy of using social media and state-run outlets to galvanize domestic support while seeking to destabilize the Western alliance. 

Researchers saw a sudden and dramatic increase in anti-Ukrainian content in the days immediately before the invasion. On Valentine’s Day, for instance, the number of anti-Ukrainian posts created by the sample of Twitter accounts jumped by 11,000% when compared with just days earlier. Analysts believe a significant portion of the accounts are inauthentic and controlled by groups linked to the Russian government.

– David Klepper, The Associated Press

Russian propaganda: TikTok is Russia’s newest weapon in arsenal for anti-Ukraine propaganda

Troops from NATO member nations could be deployed to defend 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.

– The Associated Press

 Zelenskyy mobilizes Ukrainian reservists and those eligible for service

After Russia launched a military invasion into Ukraine early Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called up reservists and those liable for service for a full military mobilization.

As many Ukrainians fled to neighboring countries, the Ukraine State Border Guard Service announced that men ages 18 to 60 were prohibited from leaving the country, ahead of a possible draft to increase the country’s military service.

Talk of conscription led to questions in the U.S. about whether the government could ever reinstate the draft. That is highly unlikely in a country where antiwar sentiment has grown in the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress would have to reinstate the draft since induction authority expired in 1973. If approved, the president would then be authorized to induct civilians through the Selective Service Administration into the armed forces under an amendment to the Military Selective Service Act.

Even though there is no draft currently, almost all men and male immigrants aged 18 to 25 are required to register with the Selective Service. Women make up close to 17% of the U.S. armed forces, but Congress would have to pass legislation amending the act to require women register.

– Chelsey Cox

Russian protesters risk arrest to decry Putin’s war

MOSCOW – Risking arrest and intimidation, Russian citizens have taken to the streets in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities to protest President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Russians with prominent platforms – celebrity actors, television presenters,  comedians and pop stars – risked their state contracts and jobs to make anti-war statements.

Many Russians have seen horrifying images from the Ukraine conflict, broadcast by independent media. Some show the Russian army destroying apartment blocks with people inside, a tank rolling over a vehicle with an elderly man inside and bleeding women crying for an end to the fighting.

In St. Petersburg, Sergei Bobovnikov, an antique art expert, joined a street rally Thursday night where hundreds of people crowded the central avenue, Nevsky Prospect.

“No to war!” they chanted. “Hands off Ukraine!”

Some 1,745 people in 54 Russian cities were detained, at least 957 of them in Moscow, according to the Associated Press. 

Meanwhile, cities across Europe saw large gatherings where people voiced their outrage. 

In London, demonstrators outside the Downing Street residence of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held up placards Friday that read “Stop the war” and “Total embargo on Russia.”

From New York to Paris, cities lit up buildings in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag

– Anna Nemtsova, Caren Bohan and Associated Press 

Russian official shrugs off Western sanctions

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.

— Associated Press

Czechs to send more arms to Ukraine

The Czech Republic’s government has approved a plan to send more arms to Ukraine.

The Defense Ministry said it is immediately sending machine guns, submachine guns, assault rifles and pistols together with ammunition worth 188 million Czech crowns ($8.6 million).

The ministry said the Czechs will transport the weapons and deliver them to a place determined by the Ukrainian side.

The Czech Republic has already agreed to donate some 4,000 pieces of artillery shells worth 36.6 million Czech crowns ($1.7 million) to Ukraine.

— Associated Press

‘Our world is crumbling’: Ukrainians try to flee homes with food, belongings amid Russian invasion

Poles quit World Cup qualifying against Russia

WARSAW, Poland — The Polish Football Association says it will not play its World Cup qualifying match against Russia due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

More: Poland refuses to play against Russia in 2022 World Cup qualifying playoff

“No more words, time to act!” said association president Cezary Kulesza on Twitter, saying the move was prompted by the “escalation of the aggression.”

The match had been scheduled for March 24.

— Associated Press

Ukrainian health minister: Nearly 200 dead, 1,000 wounded

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.

— Associated Press

UN: Over 120,000 Ukrainians have fled

WARSAW, Poland — The UN refugee agency says that over 120,000 Ukrainian refugees have left the country since Russia began its attack on its neighboring country this week.

Speaking as Russian troops were engaging in battle with Ukrainian forces in the capital Kyiv on Saturday, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Kelly Clements, said in an interview on CNN the situation was expected to get worse.

“We now see over 120,000 people that have gone to all of the neighboring countries,” she said. “The reception that they are receiving from local communities, from local authorities, is tremendous. But it’s a dynamic situation. We are really quite devastated, obviously, with what’s to come.”

Most are heading to Poland and Moldova, but also to Romania, Slovakia and Hungary.

— Associated Press

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Missile hits apartment building near Kyiv Airport, says mayor

Russian troops invaded the capital of Ukraine, with gunshots and explosions heard overnight.

Becky Kellogg, Wochit

Zelenskyy: Ukraine is fighting ‘with weapons in hand’

Zelenskyy detailed further diplomatic efforts to drum up support for Ukraine Saturday, tweeting about a conversation with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“Ukraine is fighting the invader with weapons in hands, defending its freedom and European future. Discussed with @vonderleyen effective assistance to our country from (the European Union) in this heroic struggle. I believe that the #EU also chooses Ukraine,” he tweeted.

— Luciana Lopez

Zelenskyy: Italy Prime Minister supports removing Russia from SWIFT

In a tweet, Zelenskyy early Saturday wrote that in a phone conversation with Italy Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the Italian leader supported “Russia’s disconnection from SWIFT, the provision of defense assistance.”

Zelenskyy also pushed for Ukraine to become part of the European Union in the tweet.

This is the beginning of a new page in the history of our states 🇺🇦 🇮🇹. #MarioDraghi in a phone conversation supported Russia’s disconnection from SWIFT, the provision of defense assistance. Ukraine must become part of the #EU.

— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) February 26, 2022

SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. It is a global messaging system connecting thousands of financial institutions around the world. 

The U.S. did not impose removing Russia from SWIFT following concerns from European allies in what was seen as America’s harshest punishment at its disposal.

-Craig Harris and Associated Press

Zelenskyy: ‘Our weapons are our truth’

In a selfie-style video posted to twitter early on Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to stay and fight on.

“I am here. We will not lay down any weapons. We will defend our state, because our weapons are our truth,” he declared, denouncing as disinformation claims that he had surrendered or fled.

— Associated Press

Russia-Ukraine explained: Inside the crisis as US calls Russian movements an invasion

Sean Penn calls Russian invasion of Ukraine ‘a brutal mistake’ while filming documentary there

Sean Penn, in Ukraine working on a documentary about the ongoing Russian assault, called the invasion “already a brutal mistake of lives taken and hearts broken.”

“If he doesn’t relent, I believe Mr. Putin will have made a most horrible mistake for all of humankind,” Penn said in a statement to USA TODAY early Saturday morning. President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people “have risen as historic symbols of courage and principle. Ukraine is the tip of the spear for the democratic embrace of dreams. If we allow it to fight alone, our soul as America is lost.”

— Brian Truitt

Read the whole story here: Sean Penn calls Russian invasion of Ukraine ‘a brutal mistake’ while filming documentary there

Biden’s hitting Russia’s yacht-riding rich with sanctions. Will it blunt Putin’s Ukraine invasion?

Russia’s wealthy oligarchs and political elites flaunt a level of in-your-face affluence across the world. This week, their wealth and connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin made some of them targets of President Joe Biden’s sanctions in response to the Kremlin’s ongoing military invasion of Ukraine.

But if the Biden administration really wants to hurt Russian oligarchs enough to rein in Putin’s actions in Ukraine, it needs to hit them much harder – and hit a lot more of them, some U.S. officials and kleptocracy experts told USA TODAY.

By any measure, the new rounds of U.S. financial blockages issued this week go far beyond what has been done in the past to pressure Putin into curbing his rogue behavior, White House officials said. The sweeping actions would cause extreme hardship for some of Russia’s largest financial institutions and a small handful of Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats that Biden said use them as their own “glorified piggy bank.”

— Josh Meyer

Tens of thousands flee Ukraine into neighboring countries 

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have crossed into neighboring countries to the west in search of safety as Russia pounded their capital and other cities with airstrikes for a second day.

Those arriving were mostly women, children and the elderly after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday banned men of military age from leaving the country.

A woman from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, who arrived in Przemsyl, Poland, broke down in tears describing how men were pulled off trains in Ukraine before they got to the border.

“Even if the man was traveling with his own child he couldn’t cross the border, even with a kid,” said the woman, who would only give her first name, Daria.

More than 50,000 Ukrainian refugees have fled their country in less than 48 hours, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said Friday, as many more continued to move towards the borders. He said a majority went to Poland and Moldova.

— Associated Press 

US sanctions on Russian oligarchs miss richest of rich

The term Russian oligarch conjures images of posh London mansions, gold-plated Bentleys and sleek superyachts in the Mediterranean, their decks draped with partiers dripping in jewels.

But the raft of sanctions on oligarchs announced by President Joe Biden this week in response to the invasion of Ukraine may do little to dim the jet-setting lifestyles of Russia’s ultra-rich and infamous – much less force a withdrawal of tanks and troops.

U.S. sanctions target Russian President Vladmir Putin and a handful of individuals believed to be among his closest security advisers, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

But the list is just as notable for who isn’t on it — most of the top names from Forbes’ list of the richest Russians whose multi-billion-dollar fortunes are now largely intertwined with the West, from investments in Silicon Valley start-ups to British Premier League soccer teams.

Citing the concerns of European allies, the U.S. also didn’t impose what was seen as the harshest punishment at its disposal, banning Russia from SWIFT, the international financial system that banks use to move money around the world.

— Associated Press