February 16, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Jack Guy, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:53 a.m. ET, February 17, 2023
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7:16 a.m. ET, February 16, 2023

Lukashenko says he will not send troops to Ukraine unless Belarus is attacked

From CNN's Fred Pleitgen, Zahra Ullah and Claudia Otto

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko meets with foreign media at the Independence Palace, Minsk, Belarus on February 16.
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko meets with foreign media at the Independence Palace, Minsk, Belarus on February 16. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

There is “no way” Belarus will send troops to Ukraine unless the country is attacked, the country's President Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday.

“We are peaceful people we know what war is and we don’t want war,” Lukashenko said at a press conference in Minsk at the Palace of Independence, attended by reporters from selected news outlets including CNN. 

“There is no way we are going to send our troops to Ukraine unless you are going to commit aggression against Belarus," added Lukashenko. “But don’t forget Russia is our ally, legally, morally and politically.”

Lukashenko added that Russia has “never asked” him to start a joint war in Ukraine.

Some context: Lukashenko is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the two countries maintain a joint grouping of military forces.

Russia used Belarusian territory as one of its entry points for the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. 

Joint military drills over the last year have contributed to concerns that Belarusian troops could join Russia's forces in Ukraine, but Lukashenko has repeatedly dismissed speculation that his troops would join the fighting in Ukraine.  

Read the full story here.

6:48 a.m. ET, February 16, 2023

Three missiles hit critical infrastructure facility in Lviv region overnight, says local official

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Head of Lviv Regional State Military Administration Maksym Kozytskyi speaks with journalists during a briefing at the Ukraine Media Center on October 11, 2022 in Lviv, Ukraine.
Head of Lviv Regional State Military Administration Maksym Kozytskyi speaks with journalists during a briefing at the Ukraine Media Center on October 11, 2022 in Lviv, Ukraine. (Stanislav Ivanov/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images)

Three Russian missiles have hit a critical infrastructure facility in Lviv region, according to the head of the Lviv region military administration Maksym Kozytskyi.

"Unfortunately, overnight the enemy launched a missile attack on our region. Three missiles hit a critical infrastructure facility," he said on Thursday.

"The only thing I can clarify is that this is not a facility that is crucial for the electricity supply in Lviv region," he added.

"There was a fire and it was quickly extinguished. The employees were in a shelter. There were no casualties or injuries," he said.

Russia fired at least 32 air and sea-launched cruise missiles targeting critical infrastructure facilities in Ukraine overnight Thursday, the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a post on Telegram. 

At least 16 of the missiles were destroyed by Ukrainian Armed Forces, the post said. 

6:47 a.m. ET, February 16, 2023

Russia launches "massive missile attack" on Ukrainian infrastructure, officials say

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Russia launched a "massive missile attack on critical infrastructure facilities" in Ukraine overnight into Thursday, firing at least 32 missiles, the Ukrainian Air Force said in a post on Telegram. 

At least 16 of the missiles were destroyed by Ukrainian air defenses, the post said. 

"Unfortunately, some of the Kh-22 cruise missiles reached their targets, hitting critical infrastructure," the post said. 

Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia also launched drones in the attacks.

"Unfortunately, there were hits in the North and West of Ukraine, as well as in Dnipropetrovsk and Kirovohrad regions," Yermak said. Ukraine's air defenses "managed to cope with most of the enemy missiles and UAVs," he added.

Earlier, officials in Ukraine's western Lviv region said Russian forces had struck a critical infrastructure facility.

6:47 a.m. ET, February 16, 2023

Russian strikes hit critical infrastructure in Lviv

From CNN's Teele Rebane

A "critical infrastructure facility" was hit during a Russian attack on Ukraine's western Lviv region on Thursday, Maksym Kozytskyy, head of the Lviv regional military administration, said in a Telegram post. 

There were no casualties or injuries, he said. 

A fire broke out but has since been extinguished, he added.

12:52 a.m. ET, February 16, 2023

Analysis: The West's hardest task in Ukraine — Convincing Putin he's losing

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen during the Navy Day Parade in St. Petersburg on July 31, 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen during the Navy Day Parade in St. Petersburg on July 31, 2022. (Stringer/Getty Images)

Ending the war in Ukraine on terms acceptable to its President Volodymyr Zelensky will require the West to convince Russian leader Vladimir Putin he’s losing.

Good luck with that.

Ahead of next week’s anniversary of the Russian invasion, US and Western leaders are gearing up for a show of unity and strength designed to establish once and for all that NATO is in the conflict for the long haul and until Moscow’s defeat.

“Russia has lost — they’ve lost strategically, operationally, and tactically,” the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said on Tuesday. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Wednesday that “Putin must realize that he cannot win” as he explained the rationale for rushing arms and ammunition to Ukrainian forces. And Julianne Smith, the US ambassador to NATO, told CNN’s Becky Anderson that Washington was doing all it could to “continue to apply pressure on Moscow to affect (Putin’s) strategic calculus.”

And in an opinion article by CNN’s Peter Bergen, retired US General and former CIA Chief David Petraeus said the conflict would end in a “negotiated resolution” when Putin realizes the war is unsustainable on the battlefield and on the home front.

The Western rhetorical and diplomatic offensive will ratchet up further as Vice President Kamala Harris heads to the Munich Security Conference this week. President Joe Biden will meanwhile visit Poland and a frontline NATO and ex-Warsaw pact state next week, bolstering his legacy of offering the most effective leadership of the Western alliance since the end of the Cold War.

Read the full analysis:

6:47 a.m. ET, February 16, 2023

Death toll rises to 3 after Russian attack on apartments in Pokrovsk, Ukrainian authorities say

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Kyiv 

A firefighter walks by an apartment block that was heavily damaged by a missile strike in Pokrovsk on Wednesday.
A firefighter walks by an apartment block that was heavily damaged by a missile strike in Pokrovsk on Wednesday. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

Ukrainian regional authorities said three people were killed and 11 people wounded on Wednesday in a Russian attack in the town of Pokrovsk in the eastern Donetsk region. One of the severely injured civilians remains in the hospital. 

"Four multi-story buildings and a school were damaged due to the attack," the head of the Donetsk region military administration Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a Telegram post. "The rescue operation at the building destroyed by Russians is over."

In a video of the aftermath posted by the Donetsk region military administration, one woman says her husband died in the kitchen of their apartment. 

Fourteen residents of the building have decided to evacuate from the Donetsk region, while the rest will remain in Pokrovsk, according to regional authorities. 

The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces launched 28 Multiple Launch Rocket System attacks on civilian infrastructure in both the Donetsk region and the Kherson region. 

10:41 p.m. ET, February 15, 2023

Russian official allegedly at the center of scheme to forcibly adopt, "re-educate" Ukrainian children

From CNN's Mick Krever

Read Maria Lvova-Belova’s social media, and one might think Russia is selflessly delivering Ukrainian children from evil into the care of Russian families desperate to share their love.

But according to American and European governments — and a new report by Yale investigators, backed by the US State Department — she is at the center of a Russian government scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, often to a network of dozens of camps, where the minors undergo political reeducation.

“Maria Lvova-Belova is one of the most highly involved figures in Russia’s deportation and adoption of Ukraine’s children, as well as in the use of camps for ‘integrating’ Ukraine’s children into Russia’s society and culture,” the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab’s Conflict Observatory wrote.

Lvova-Belova, who was appointed to be President Vladimir Putin’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights in 2021, created her Telegram channel days after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Between photos alongside the who’s who of Russian power — from Putin to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Chechen Leader Ramzan Kadyrov — she posts glossy photos and videos of the wonderful life supposedly being offered to Ukrainian children.

“By the end of the week, one hundred and eight orphans of Donbass who have received Russian citizenship will have parents,” Lvova-Belova wrote in a typical post on her Telegram channel last July, using the Russian spelling for Ukraine’s Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk) regions. “Shurochka was the first to be handed over to her mother. When I heard this happy child’s laughter, I could not hold back [tears].”

Lvova-Belova regularly visits Russian occupied-Ukraine, and the Russian government boasts of her personally escorting planeloads of children back from Ukraine. Putin has empowered Lvova-Belova to use unspecified “additional measures” to identify children who don’t have parental care in the four Ukrainian regions it claims to have annexed.

UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s organization, has said that “adoption should never occur during or immediately after emergencies,” and that during upheaval, children separated from their parents cannot be assumed to be orphans. The UN furthermore considers forcibly transferring another country’s population within or beyond its borders to be a war crime.

Russia has characterized reports of forcible relocation as “absurd” and said it does its “best” to keep minors with their families.

Read more here.

7:50 p.m. ET, February 15, 2023

"Tense" situation in eastern Ukraine amid ongoing offensive, Ukrainian defense official says

From CNN's Lauren Kent and Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

The situation in eastern Ukraine is "tense" as Russia's offensive is "ongoing," according to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar on Wednesday. 

"The assaults are day-and-night. The situation is tense," Maliar said in a Telegram post. "Yes, it’s hard on our people. You can see for yourself what kind of war Russia is doing. Nevertheless, our fighters are keeping the enemy from reaching their goals and inflicting massive losses."

Maliar claimed that Russia is facing personnel losses of "up to 80%" in some of its army units and units of the Wagner private military company. CNN cannot independently verify those claims. 

"Evacuation of the dead and wounded by the enemy is limited or not performed at all," Maliar said. "More and more Russian soldiers realize their commanders inadequately assess combat situations on the battlefield." 

Maliar also reiterated Ukraine's claims that many Russian soldiers have a low level of readiness after undergoing "accelerated" basic training courses of only 14 to 21 days. 

8:08 p.m. ET, February 15, 2023

US has growing concern about Russia-China partnership amid Ukraine war, deputy secretary of state says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Wednesday that the United States has “growing concern” about the partnership between China and Russia — and Beijing's tacit support for Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

“My assessment is the PRC (People's Republic of China) is trying to both increase its standing in the international community by saying that it's willing to mediate and help bring this horrifying invasion to an end. And at the same time, they are committed to their no-limits partnership with Russia,” Sherman said at an event at the Brookings Institution. “And we have, certainly , concern and growing concern about that partnership and the PRC’s support for this invasion.”

China is trying to “have it both ways,” Sherman said. She also expressed concern about Russia’s partnerships with Iran and North Korea.

However, Sherman said her message to those supporting Moscow is: “You're going to end up with an albatross around your neck.”

“The Ukrainians are going to deliver a strategic failure for Putin. And that's going to create a lot of problems for those who are supporting this unholy invasion going forward,” she said.