February 26, 2024 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Antoinette Radford, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:15 a.m. ET, February 27, 2024
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6:21 a.m. ET, February 26, 2024

Ukraine launches investigation into alleged killing of Ukrainian POWs by Russians

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Svitlana Vlasova

Ukraine's Prosecutor General's office said Sunday it had launched an investigation into the alleged killing of a group of Ukrainian prisoners of war by Russian forces.

Russian forces allegedly shot unarmed Ukrainian servicemen in the Bakhmut district in the eastern Donetsk region on Saturday, the office said.

A pre-trial investigation had been launched over an alleged "violation of the laws and customs of war combined with premeditated murder," after video surfaced on social media that appeared to show the execution of surrendering Ukrainian troops. 

"On 24 February 2024, a video recording was posted on one of the Telegram channels showing Russian soldiers shooting seven captured Ukrainian servicemen during an assault on our positions between the villages of Ivanivske and Khromove in Donetsk Oblast," the office said. 

"The drone footage shows that representatives of the Russian Armed Forces first order our defenders to leave the trench. Then, having gathered all the defenders in one place and moved a few meters away, the enemy fires automatic gunfire at them," the office said.

"The military of the aggressor state deliberately killed the wounded and unarmed Ukrainian soldiers, ignoring the norms of international humanitarian law."

The Ukrainian servicemen appeared to be surrendering when they were killed, Ukraine’s human rights commissioner Dmytro Lubinets said in a personal message shared on social media.

"Their hands were raised in the air, showing that they were unarmed and did not pose a threat. The Russians were supposed to take them prisoner, but instead mercilessly shot them," Lubinets said Sunday.

CNN is not able to independently verify the claims. 

10:00 a.m. ET, February 26, 2024

Navalny aides say he was due to be exchanged in a prisoner swap before his death

From CNN's Seb Shukla and Anna Chernova

Russian dissident Alexey Navalny appears on a screen via a video link from the IK-3 penal colony during a hearing against the Ministry of Justice in Supreme Court, in Moscow, Russia, on January 11.
Russian dissident Alexey Navalny appears on a screen via a video link from the IK-3 penal colony during a hearing against the Ministry of Justice in Supreme Court, in Moscow, Russia, on January 11. Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s aides said Monday they “achieved a decision on his exchange” in a prisoner swap while he was still alive and imprisoned in a penal colony. 

Maria Pevchikh, one of Navalny’s closest advisers said on social media that “in early February, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin was offered to exchange Vadim Krasikov, a killer and an FSB officer who is serving a sentence for murder in Berlin, for two American citizens and Alexey Navalny."

Krasikov was arrested in Berlin in 2019 for the murder of a Chechen militant in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Pevchikh said that Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch and former owner of Chelsea Football Club, “delivered the proposal to swap Navalny."

She added that he was acting as “an informal negotiator communication with American and European officials."

Pevchikh however, added that when she approached Abramovich about the details of: how, when and what circumstances he supplied the information to the President, he “did not answer these questions, but he did not deny anything either.” 

Pevchikh said that they “were at the final stage on the evening of February 15th."

Navalny died in prison on February 16. 

CNN cannot independently verify these claims, and German government spokesperson, Christiane Hoffmann, said that she “cannot give a comment about this at this stage,” in answer to a question about the prisoner exchange reports.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said he knew "nothing about such an agreement," in response to a question from CNN’s Matthew Chance about the alleged prisoner exchange.

6:12 a.m. ET, February 26, 2024

Kremlin says Putin was not involved in decision to hand over Navalny’s body to family

From CNN's Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Moscow, Russia, on January 31.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Moscow, Russia, on January 31. Maxim Shemetov/Re

The Kremlin said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not involved in the decision to hand over the body of opposition figure Alexey Navalny to his family. 

Navalny died while serving in a penal colony on February 16, and his family had for several days pleaded for Russian authorities to release his body.

On Friday, Russian authorities agreed to hand over the Kremlin critic's body.

Speaking in his regular call with journalists, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described the accusations made by Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya about blackmail and a suggested secret funeral for her son as “absurd,” adding that the Kremlin “has nothing to do with” the case and therefore “cannot exert pressure.” 

On Saturday, Navalny’s team reported that the body was now back with the family. Plans for his funeral remain unclear. 

Here's a brief timeline of the events leading up to Navalny's body being released:

  • February 16: Russian prison service says Navalny “felt unwell after a walk” and “almost immediately” lost consciousness. He is pronounced dead.
  • February 17: Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, and lawyer travel to the penal colony where he was held to see Navalny in the morgue, but are told his body wasn't there.
  • February 19: A spokesperson for the late Russian politician Alexey Navalny said his mother and lawyers were denied access on Monday to the morgue where his body is allegedly being held. 
  • February 20: Navalnaya, Alexey's mother releases a video from outside the penal colony, telling Putin to let her see her son.
  • February 21: Navalnaya files a lawsuit in the city court of Salekhard over the "inaction of the investigative committee to release Alexey’s body."
  • February 22: Navalny's mother says she has been allowed to see her son's body. But, she said in her video message on social media, that Russian investigators are “threatening” her into agreeing to a secret funeral for her son otherwise “they will do something with my son’s body. Russia's Investigative Committee sets conditions on the release of Navalny's body and says the death certificate will not be released unless terms agreed.
  • February 23:  Navalny's mother was given an ultimatum by a Russian investigator – either agree to a secret funeral without a public farewell, or Navalny would be buried at the penal colony where he was imprisoned. 
  • February 24: Navalny's body is handed over to his mother in Salekhard, his spokesperson confirms.
5:31 a.m. ET, February 26, 2024

France hosts representatives from 23 nations for conference to support Ukraine

From CNN's Camille Knight

French President Emmanuel Macron will host representatives from 23 nations at the Elysée Palace on Monday for an international conference to show support for Ukraine. 

The Elysée says the meeting is aimed at “exploring ways to strengthen the cooperation of partners in support of Ukraine,” as the war enters its third year.

Macron is hosting the presidents of Finland, Romania, Lithuania and Poland, as well as prime ministers from the Netherlands, Portugal, Estonia, Norway, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Slovenia, Ireland, Greece, Latvia and Luxembourg.

The foreign ministers of Sweden and the UK, as well as a representative from the US, are also joining.

Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is joining the summit virtually, are expected to deliver a joint opening speech at 11 a.m. ET.

4:49 a.m. ET, February 26, 2024

Ukrainian authorities say Russian attacks killed 4 people

From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova and Duarte Mendonca

Firefighters work to put out the flames at the Kostiantynivka train station in the Donbas region of Ukraine on February 25.
Firefighters work to put out the flames at the Kostiantynivka train station in the Donbas region of Ukraine on February 25. Laurel Chor/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Russian attacks on Ukraine have killed at least four people and wounded six over the last two days, authorities said. 

In the northeastern region of Sumy, Russian airstrikes killed at least two on Monday, the local military administration said. The Russian military used glide bombs and four explosions were reported, according to the administration.

In southern Kherson, a Russian attack killed two people and wounded one on Sunday, according to the region’s military administration.

Russian shelling damaged residential areas including three multi-storey buildings and 13 private houses, as well as a gas pipeline and cars in the district, according to regional military chief Oleksandr Prokudin.

In the eastern Donetsk region, Russian attacks wounded at least five people in multiple towns including Kostyantynivka, Kurakhove, Zakitne, Maksymilianivka and Chasiv Yar, according to Vadym Filashkin, head of the region's military administration.

1:11 a.m. ET, February 26, 2024

Analysis: Why Zelensky’s plea will fall on many deaf Republican ears

From CNN's Stephen Collinson

President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference at the Ukraine Year 2024 forum in the capital Kyiv on February 25.
President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference at the Ukraine Year 2024 forum in the capital Kyiv on February 25. SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

There is a simple reason why many Republicans will snub Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s desperate plea for billions of dollars in arms and ammunition. Sending more taxpayer funds to a war on the edge of Europe is incompatible with the “America First” creed of a party dominated by ex-President Donald Trump.

The previous and possibly future commander in chief’s position is countered by President Joe Biden, who warns that allowing Russia to win would embolden an adversary that could threaten US security.

Their likely rematch means the 2024 election is about far more than who will run the United States for the next four years. It’s likely to decide the fate of Ukraine, the shape of the Western world, and the nature of US global power.

Zelensky appealed to the Republican-led House to unblock the latest US aid package after Ukraine marked the second anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked invasion amid increasing signs the war is tilting Moscow’s way as Ukrainian soldiers run out of bullets.

He told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins in an interview in Kyiv on Sunday that Republicans such as Trump ally Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance – who have been speaking out against more Ukraine aid – do not comprehend the stakes of the conflict.

“To understand it is to come to the front line to see what’s going on, to speak with the people, then to go to civilians to understand … what will (happen to) them without this support. And he will understand that millions … will be killed. It’s a fact,” Zelensky said in an advance clip from the interview released on Sunday.

The full interview is due to air on CNN on Monday.

Read more of the analysis here.

12:11 a.m. ET, February 26, 2024

Zelensky says at least 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died in the war with Russia. Here's what to know

From CNN Staff

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said at least 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died in the war with Russia, in a rare admission of his country's losses.

Zelensky disputed Russian claims of much higher numbers when it comes to Ukrainian casualties. The Ukrainian president also said tens of thousands of civilians in occupied parts of the country have been killed. 

CNN cannot independently verify these numbers. Ukraine's battlefield losses are a closely guarded secret, but US officials estimate some 70,000 soldiers have been killed — and nearly twice that number wounded.

In his speech on Sunday, Zelensky reiterated his hope that the US would pass a bill through Congress to provide the nation with more funding.

He rejected comments from Republican US Sen. J.D. Vance that more US funding would not change the outcome of the war, telling CNN's Kaitlan Collins that “millions will be killed” if the US does not send aid.

Here are the latest developments in the conflict:

  • Aid arrives late: Ukraine's defense minister said that half of the military aid pledged to his country arrives late, costing Kyiv's forces on the battlefield. He blamed the delays on what he called a "dynamic and changing" situation and said "allied forces must provide supplies on time."
  • Schumer urges aid: US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for more aid to Ukraine after returning from his visit to the country. It adds to mounting pressure on US House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring a Ukraine aid bill up for a vote as concern grows about Kyiv's dwindling ammunition stockpiles.
  • War crimes: Ukraine's top prosecutor has said 350 Russian war crimes cases are before Ukrainian courts. More than 20 countries have opened investigations into possible Russian crimes against Ukrainian citizens, including the United States, he said.
  • "Bolder" action: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the West must be "bolder" in its support for Ukraine to stave off Russia's military advance. Writing in Britain's The Sunday Times, Sunak called on Kyiv's partners to supply the country with more weapons. His remarks come a day after G7 leaders said they remained committed to supporting Ukraine for "as long as it takes."
  • Voting in Zaporizhzhia: In the latest example of the Kremlin trying to enforce legitimacy in occupied parts of Ukraine, a Russian presidential election is underway in the southern region, according to state media. President Vladimir Putin is all but certain to win.
  • More sanctions over Navalny: Australia has imposed financial sanctions and travel bans on seven Russian prison officers it accuses of mistreating Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny at the Siberian penal colony where he died earlier this month. The US and EU enacted fresh sanctions against Russia last week in response to Navalny's death and Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

6:08 a.m. ET, February 26, 2024

Australia sanctions Russian prison officials over Navalny's death

From CNN’s Angus Watson in Sydney

Australia's Defence Minister Richard Marles speaks during a press conference aboard the Australian Navy ship HMAS Canberra in Sydney, Australia, on February 20.
Australia's Defence Minister Richard Marles speaks during a press conference aboard the Australian Navy ship HMAS Canberra in Sydney, Australia, on February 20. David Gray/AFP/Getty Images

Australia on Monday imposed financial sanctions and travel bans on seven Russian prison officers it accuses of mistreating Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny at the Siberian penal colony where he died earlier this month.

“Australia holds President Putin and the Russian Government responsible for Mr Navalny’s treatment and death in custody,” Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said in a statement.

The Kremlin has denied having anything to do with Navalny’s death.

Australia has hit Russian individuals with multiple rounds of “Magnitsky-style” human rights sanctions since December 2022, when it first applied penalties to Russians accused of poisoning Navalny in 2020. 

The United States and European Union enacted fresh sanctions against Russia last week in response to Navalny's death and Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

11:49 p.m. ET, February 25, 2024

Zelensky tells CNN "millions will be killed" in Ukraine without more US aid

From CNN's Ivana Kottasova, Andy Carey and Madalena Araujo in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 25.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 25. Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN that “millions will be killed” in the war against Russia if US lawmakers don’t approve President Joe Biden’s request for $60 billion of military aid to the country.

Asked by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins about a statement made by Republican US Sen. J.D. Vance that the outcome of the war would not change even if Ukraine receives the money, Zelensky said he wasn’t sure Vance “understands what is going on here.”

“To understand it, is to come to the front line to see what's going on, to speak with the people, then to go to civilians to understand … what will (happen to) them without this support. And he will understand that millions (of) people … will be killed. It's a fact,” Zelensky said. 

What Vance said: Earlier this month, Vance argued that the Senate-passed plan for Ukraine “is not going to fundamentally change the reality on the battlefield.” He said the US doesn’t have the manufacturing capacity to pump out sufficient ammunition for Ukraine and still address its own needs.

Instead, he called for a negotiated peace with Russia to end the war and complained there was no clear endgame for US policy.

More background: Ukraine has for months warned that it is running out of armaments. Zelensky said at a news conference earlier Sunday — just one day after the second anniversary of the war — that he was still hopeful more US funding might soon be approved.

US House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, is under increasing pressure to bring the Senate bill up for a vote. He has so far resisted calls to do so, at risk of a likely revolt from members of his own party.