February 19, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Sophie Tanno, Matt Meyer, Mike Hayes and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:04 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023
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5:41 p.m. ET, February 19, 2023

Navalny film wins Best Documentary at BAFTA awards

From CNN's Lauren Kent and Maija Ehlinger

"Navalny," a CNN Films and HBO co-production, took home Best Documentary at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards Sunday night. 

The film follows Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny through the assassination attempt against the Kremlin critic in 2020 and his political rise in Russia.  

The documentary win comes as Navalny himself remains in Russia, where he is serving a nine-year term in a maximum-security prison, and where he earlier this month was transferred to harsher solitary confinement for six months. 

Christo Grozev, a Bellingcat investigator and collaborator on the film, was barred from attending the BAFTA award ceremony this year following safety advice from the British police. 

But Dasha Navalnaya, Navalny's daughter, was in attendance at the awards show on Sunday. 

"I'm very happy that the story about my father came out and the work he is doing is getting noticed," Navalnaya told CNN while on the BAFTA red carpet. "It's very important to remember to fight for your freedom, for democracy around the world. I'm in UK now and I study at Stanford in the United States, and not a lot of people remember that Russia is not a democratic country and we're really trying to fight for the freedom of the people there." 
4:07 p.m. ET, February 19, 2023

Ukraine blames Russia for disruption to UN nuclear watchdog's work in Zaporizhzhia

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in 2022.
Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in 2022. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine’s foreign ministry issued a statement Sunday accusing Russia of interfering with the work of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is currently occupied by Russian forces.

The UN watchdog said earlier this month that it has been unable to rotate its team of experts present in the plant in southern Ukraine due to "increased military activity."

Since September, teams of experts have spent about one month each at the plant, then swapped out with another group, the IAEA explained in a statement. In order to do so, they have to cross the front line into Ukrainian-controlled territory. The organization deemed that too dangerous this month, calling the area surrounding the plant "volatile" and a "combat zone."

In Ukraine's statement Sunday, the foreign ministry claimed that Russia continues to surround the plant with military equipment and servicemen. Ukraine accused Russia of violating the norms of international law and undermining nuclear and radiation safety at the plant.

"If Russia is not stopped, its criminal actions at the Ukrainian nuclear facility could lead to a catastrophe, the scale of which is yet to be known by Europe," the foreign ministry said. 

It called on Moscow authorities “to immediately unblock the rotation of IAEA experts and ensure their instant safe movement through the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine to the Zaporizhzhia NPP.” 

More background: IAEA chief Rafael Grossi held talks with senior Russian officials in Moscow earlier this month. According to the IAEA, the talks were part of the lengthy efforts to "agree and implement a much-needed nuclear safety and security protection zone around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP)."

Zaporizhzhia, with six reactors, is the largest nuclear power station in Europe. The area, and the nuclear complex, has been under Russian control since the beginning of the war. Grossi and other nuclear experts have been concerned about the threat of a nuclear accident amid shelling around the plant.

Grossi has assured Ukraine the IAEA will never recognize Russia as the owner of the Zaporizhzhia plant, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. Grossi also pledged a continuous presence of the IAEA at all of Ukraine's nuclear plants.

CNN's Katharina Krebs, Yulia Kesaieva and Lauren Kent contributed to this report.

3:09 p.m. ET, February 19, 2023

Watch: Outgunned Ukrainian pilots take the fight to Russia in ancient Soviet-era helicopters

Exclusive by CNN's Sam Kiley and Olha Konovalova

CNN spent time embedded with the Sikorsky Brigade in eastern Ukraine, which is operating from a secret base. It has a handful of helicopters and pilots there, conducting combat missions against Russian forces.

Given the gigantic advantage that Russia enjoys over Ukraine in terms of aircraft and pilots, it’s staggering that Ukraine can still threaten Russian forces.

Read Kiley's full report here, and watch the story in the player above.

4:16 p.m. ET, February 19, 2023

What you need to know about Moldova, Ukraine's tiny neighbor accusing Russia of plotting against it

From CNN's Cristian Gherasim

As Russia’s war in Ukraine approaches its one-year mark, residents in neighboring Moldova feel anxious over even more than the errant missiles that have entered their territory from the nearby battlefield.

Alarm bells are ringing in the capital of Chișinău and across the West that Russian President Vladimir Putin could seek to destabilize the Moldovan government.

Last month, the head of Moldova's security service warned there is a “very high” risk that Russia will launch a new offensive in the eastern part of the country in 2023.

On Monday, Moldovan President Maia Sandu warned of an alleged Russian plot to destabilize her government. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced "deep concern" Friday about the prospect of Moscow meddling with the tiny country.

And on Sunday, Poland's prime minister became the latest prominent leader to stress the need to protect Moldovans, saying Russia's "fingerprints" can be found all over the small nation, and that NATO allies "all need to help them" for the sake of stability in Europe.

Russia’s foreign ministry has rejected the accusations as "unfounded and unsubstantiated."

Why Moldova is important: Moldova sits to the south of Ukraine, relatively close to Russia’s front lines along the Black Sea coast. Importantly, it separates southern Ukraine from NATO and European Union member Romania to the west.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a handful of “frozen conflict” zones in eastern Europe emerged, including a sliver of land along Moldova’s border with Ukraine known as Transnistria.

The territory declared itself a Soviet republic in 1990, opposing any attempt by Moldova to become an independent state or to merge with Romania. When Moldova became independent the following year, Russia quickly inserted a so-called “peacekeeping force” in Transnistria, sending troops to back pro-Moscow separatists there.

This supposed “peacekeeping” presence has mirrored Moscow’s pretext for invasions in Georgia and Ukraine.

And concerns have only grown since the Kremlin began to claim the rights of ethnic Russians are being violated in Transnistria – another argument used by Putin to justify his February 2022 invasion of Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine, which contained two breakaway Russian-backed statelets.

CNN's Elise Hammond, Uliana Pavlova and Michael Conte contributed to this report.

1:17 p.m. ET, February 19, 2023

Russian shelling kills 3 people and wounds 5 in Ukraine’s Kherson region, military says 

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko and Mariya Knight

Three civilians were killed and five others, including three children, were wounded by Russian shelling Sunday in southern Ukraine, local officials said.

The shelling hit the village of Burhunka in the Kherson region, the region's military administration said in a Telegram post.

The three people killed were a mother, father and uncle from a family whose house was struck by the shelling, it said.

1:20 p.m. ET, February 19, 2023

Polish prime minister says Biden visit "will reassure all Europe" of the US commitment to Ukraine

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in Dublin 

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attends the European Council Meeting in 2022 in Brussels, Belgium.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attends the European Council Meeting in 2022 in Brussels, Belgium. (Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he expects US President Joe Biden's visit this week to signal "strong confirmation" of the countries' shared goal of Russian defeat in Ukraine.

Biden “will reassure all Europe that the United States is with us in this fight for freedom and peace," Morawiecki said in an interview with CBS' "Face the Nation" program Sunday.

"I expect that there will be very strong confirmation of our resilience and our joint efforts to defeat Russia in Ukraine," Morawiecki said.   

"Instead of saying, as some western European politicians say, that Russia cannot win this war and Ukraine cannot be defeated, we have to change the paradigm, and we have to say, 'Ukraine must win and Russia must be defeated,'" the prime minister said.  

Biden is set to arrive in Warsaw on Tuesday for the two-day trip, timed around the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The president will meet his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda on Tuesday to discuss Polish aid to Ukraine alongside the "important" logistical role Poland has played in getting aid to Ukraine, the White House said Friday.

1:25 p.m. ET, February 19, 2023

Ukraine is in critical need of ammunition, EU's top diplomat says 

From CNN's Mia Alberti and Sugam Pokharel

Ukrainian soldiers load ammunition on the frontline near Vuhledar, Ukraine on February 14.
Ukrainian soldiers load ammunition on the frontline near Vuhledar, Ukraine on February 14. (Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The European Union's top diplomat warned Sunday that Ukraine's available ammunition is critically low, and Europe needs to solve the shortage quickly.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that allies have been taking up too much time with decisions on battle tanks for Ukraine, while the ammunition situation grew dire.

"Don’t confuse the short-term objectives with the medium terms purposes. Short-term, very short-term, more ammunitions to Ukraine," Borrell said, during a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

Borrell said the ammunition issue needed to be addressed in "a matter of weeks.”   

"The Ukrainians have a lot of applause and not enough ammunitions. That’s the paradox. They need to get less applause and better supplied with arms," Borrell said, of Kyiv's global reception.

"The Ukrainians are fighting, paying the highest price with their lives, but this war happens on European soil, affects us and has a global impact around the world, which also affects our security,” he continued.  

He said EU has been slow in providing military aid to Ukraine and that future deliveries cannot be done by joint procurements, which he argued are too time-consuming: "We have to use what we have, what the member states have."

Some background: CNN reported last week that Ukraine is burning through ammunition faster than the US and NATO can produce it.

The US and its allies have already sent nearly $50 billion in aid and equipment to Ukraine’s military over the past year.

Yet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that the “current rate of Ukraine’s ammunition expenditure is many times higher than our current rate of production,” which is putting “our defense industries under strain.”

Much of that strain is being shouldered by American defense contractors. Even as the US embarks on an historic effort to re-arm, there are questions about whether it’ll be enough. As Ukraine prepares for a much-anticipated spring offensive in the coming weeks, the US is still years away from reaching its expected level of increased weapons production.

CNN's Haley Britzky and Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.

2:03 p.m. ET, February 19, 2023

US Sen. Graham calls on US to start training Ukrainians on F-16s immediately

From CNN’s Aaron Pellish

A US Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas in 2022. 
A US Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas in 2022.  (Larry MacDougal/MDOL/AP/File)

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called on the Biden administration to begin training Ukrainian pilots to operate F-16 fighter jets “today,” in order to provide Ukraine with the planes as soon as possible.

The South Carolina senator said in an interview with ABC on Sunday that US lawmakers attending the Munich Security Conference were in “virtually unanimous belief” that the US should provide F-16 training, and that he believes President Joe Biden’s decision on the issue is “imminent.”

Graham urged the Biden administration to not be cautious or fearful of aggravating Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying “don’t worry about provoking Putin, worry about beating him.” 

Graham also called on the administration to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism following Vice President Kamala Harris’ remarks in Munich declaring Russia has committed crimes against humanity.

“You have to have actions consistent with that statement,” Graham said. 

The senator said Harris’ comments in Germany were particularly poignant given the historical context. 

“We're talking about the vice president of the United States declaring that Russia is involved in crimes against humanity — in Germany of all places, you know, echoes of World War II," Graham said. "How can you say that — and she is correct — and not give the victim of the crime against humanity the defensive weapons they need to stop the crime?”

On China's support for Russia: Graham said he was concerned with the US intelligence assessment that China is considering providing deadly weapons to Russia for its war effort.

He said “that would change everything, forever." 

“If you jump on the Putin train now, you're dumber than dirt. It would be like buying a ticket on the Titanic after you saw the movie. Don't do this,” Graham said. “The most catastrophic thing that could happen to US-China relationship, in my opinion, is for China to, to give lethal weapons to Putin.”