February 20, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Rob Picheta, Leinz Vales, Eve Brennan, Ed Upright, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:24 a.m. ET, February 21, 2023
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10:07 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023

China willing to work with other nations on securing ceasefire and lasting peace in Ukraine, top envoy says

From CNN's Beijing bureau, Alex Stambaugh and Anna Chernova 

Wang Yi attends a meeting with Hungarian Foreign and Trade Minister and their delegations at the Foreign Office in Budapest, Hungary on February 20.
Wang Yi attends a meeting with Hungarian Foreign and Trade Minister and their delegations at the Foreign Office in Budapest, Hungary on February 20. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images)

China is willing to work with other countries to achieve an early ceasefire and lasting peace in Ukraine, the country's top diplomat Wang Yi said while visiting Budapest on Monday, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

"China will work with all the peace-loving countries, including Hungary, to make efforts to achieve an early ceasefire and lasting peace," Wang Yi said during a meeting with Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, Xinhua reported. 

Wang, who was named Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s top foreign policy adviser last month, is due to arrive in Russia this week, a year after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

Neither Russia nor China has specified whether Wang would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, on Monday, Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "we do not exclude a meeting" between Wang and Putin. 

China’s Foreign Ministry said earlier the visit to Moscow will provide an opportunity for China and Russia to continue to develop their strategic partnership and “exchange views” on “international and regional hotspot issues of shared interest.”

Some background: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Wang on Saturday in Munich, Germany, and warned “about the implications and consequences” if Beijing increases its support for Russia’s war effort, according to a US readout of the meeting.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned China not to give any support to Russia, saying it could lead to another world war.

9:00 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Analysis: Biden's presence in Kyiv sent a message of defiance to Putin most directly

From CNN's Stephen Collinson

There is no more powerful symbol of Vladimir Putin’s failure.

A year ago, the Russian leader launched a blitzkrieg against Ukraine, mocking its history and sovereignty, sending his tanks churning toward Kyiv to obliterate the democratically elected government led by a former comic actor. His purpose was clear: To crush once and for all Ukraine’s dreams of joining the West and to force it to return to the orbit of greater Russia.

Back then, anyone predicting how the anniversary of the war would be marked might have mused about a Russian military parade and a visit by Putin himself to a puppet leader he installed in a nation again under Moscow’s iron fist.

The reality is far different following heroic Ukrainian resistance bolstered by weapons sent by NATO members.

The president of the United States, in overcoat and shades, strolled through Kyiv in daylight, visiting a historic church as air raid sirens wailed and standing exposed alongside President Volodymyr Zelensky in the city’s vast, open and iconic St. Michael’s Square.

His presence sent a message of defiance to Putin most directly and a cherished sign of resolve and empathy for the people of Ukraine. His audience also included European powers in a western alliance that Biden has led and invigorated like no president since the end of the Cold War. And every time a commander-in-chief makes such an audacious splash on the world stage he’s also making a point to Americans – on whose support continuing extraordinary support for Ukraine’s war effort depends – and to his own fervent domestic critics.

Read more here

8:41 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Nearly 22,000 Russians have tried to enter the US since Putin’s war draft

From CNN's Rosa Flores in Austin, Texas

Nailia Manzurina’s eyes filled with tears as she remembered the moment she and her two young sons had to separate from her husband in their native Russia.

“Praise God it was just temporary,” she said as she wiped away tears.

It was late September 2022 and emotions were high in Russia because President Vladimir Putin had just imposed the country’s first military draft since World War II. Social media videos showed mothers and wives wailing as their loved ones were dragged into the war in Ukraine. Young men rushed to neighboring countries in droves to avoid getting pulled into the fight.

Nailia’s husband, Mikhail Manzurin, 25, qualified for the draft but he disagreed with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And he felt, very strongly, that he shouldn’t be forced to serve in the military against his will.

“I don’t want to kill (the) innocent people of Ukraine. They’re protecting their territories. They’re protecting their homes. And I don’t want to be a part of this invasion,” Mikhail Manzurin said.

Fearing Mikhail would be drafted, jailed or worse, the family decided to flee, embarking on a multi-country odyssey with their newborn, Philip, and toddler, Mark, that would take them through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Dubai, Mexico and ultimately to the United States – all with the help of strangers.

They would become part of a vast wave of Russians seeking shelter from the war in the United States. Over the past six months, data posted by American border authorities shows that the number of Russian citizens they have encountered has nearly tripled: from 1,645 Russians in August 2022 (the month before Russia’s draft began) to 4,509 in January.

In total, nearly 22,000 Russians, including the Manzurins, have tried entering the United States through the country’s southern border since October 2022, the first full month after the draft was announced, according to the latest US Customs and Border Protection data.

Read more here

8:24 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Japan pledges an additional $5.5 billion to Ukraine 

From CNN's Junko Ogura in Tokyo 

Japan will provide an additional $5.5 billion (around 738 billion yen) in financial assistance to Ukraine, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Monday, just days before the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion. 

"Japan is in a position to lead the world's efforts to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression and to uphold a free and open international order based on the rule of law," Kishida said while speaking in Tokyo. 

Japan had already pledged $600 million in financial assistance, millions worth of humanitarian aid and joined Western allies in imposing sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. 

Kishida also announced he will host an online summit of G7 leaders with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday, the day of the anniversary and ahead of the annual G7 summit in Hiroshima in May. 

6:44 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Biden's visit to Kyiv showed Ukrainians the US "is with us in this fight," ambassador says

Oksana Markaorva, Ukrainian ambassador to the US, speaks with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Monday, February 20, 2023.
Oksana Markaorva, Ukrainian ambassador to the US, speaks with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Monday, February 20, 2023. CNN

US President Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv on Monday was "very important" to Ukrainians as a demonstration of solidarity and unity, according to Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States.

"Even though our countries are divided by thousands of kilometers and ocean, we are united by bravery and by love for freedom and our willingness to fight for it. So it has been very important for the people of Ukraine to see American president on the Presidents Day in Kyiv and saying that our strategic friend number one, United States, is with us in this fight," she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Markarova said she hopes Biden’s trip “will also unlock a lot of additional support, which is so needed in order to finish this war faster.”

Zelensky has been pushing for more US weaponry, including fighter jets, a request that is being met with skepticism by the US and other Western officials, who say the jets would be impractical, both because they require considerable training and because Russia has extensive anti-aircraft systems that could easily shoot them down.

But, while in Kyiv on Monday, Biden did announce new military assistance and incoming Russian sanctions.

As to how the next phase of the war will look, Markarova said Ukraine is “prepared for everything.

“We are ready to defend our country,” she said. “As I said a year ago, Ukrainians will not give up and will not surrender, and that's what we will do. We will not surrender, and we will not rest until we win.”

6:19 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023

President Biden has left Ukraine, but not before delivering a unifying message. Here's what to know

From CNN staff

President Joe Biden has crossed into Poland after an unprecedented trip to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Monday. There, the president reaffirmed his support and announced new aid for Ukraine.

On the ground, Russia is increasing the number of soldiers in Ukraine, prompting calls from world leaders for allies to continue sending military support and additional ammunition to Kyiv.

Here's what you need to know:

  • Biden's surprise visit to Ukraine: The United States president made an unprecedented trip to Kyiv Monday for the first time since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Biden walked alongside President Volodymyr Zelensky as air raid sirens could be heard ringing out around the capital. Biden announced a half-billion dollars of additional assistance to Ukraine and incoming sanctions against Moscow as he vowed to continue to support Kyiv. Zelensky praised Biden's visit, saying it leaves Ukraine "closer to victory."
  • Delivery of tanks: Portugal's defense ministry said it is ready to send three Leopard 2 A6 combat tanks to Ukraine in March. Several countries have offered to give tanks to Ukraine, though not all have confirmed how many they plan to send. Tanks from allies come at a critical point in the war, as Russia prepares for a spring offensive and as Ukraine hopes to retake territory seized over the past 12 months.
  • Increasing volume of Russian troops: Russia is massing “almost twice the number of soldiers that were there at the beginning of the war" in Ukraine, European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this is a result of Russia trying to make up for poor equipment and logistics, describing the strategy as "throwing just waves of people on the defensive lines." The NATO chief said Putin is "planning for more war," as Borrell urged allies to send more ammunition to Ukraine to counter the threat.
  • Tensions with China: Zelensky is warning China not to give any support to Russia in the war, saying it could lead to another world war. On Sunday, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS' "Face the Nation" program that Washington is concerned China is considering providing “lethal support” to Russia’s war in Ukraine.   
  • Possible ban of Olympic athletes: The US and more than 30 other countries are backing a proposed ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in international sports, according to a joint statement published by the British government. The countries asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reverse its decision to create a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in the upcoming Games as “neutral athletes." 
5:06 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Ukrainian commander on the frontlines in Bakhmut thanks Biden for support

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Maria Kostenko 

Ukrainian soldiers defending the fiercely contested eastern city of Bakhmut from Russian forces thanked US President Joe Biden for visiting Kyiv on Monday, nearly a year since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion. 

"This is the most powerful message of support for Ukraine at this moment," Commander Yuriy Fedorovych Madyar, a colonel in the 28th Separate Mechanized Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said in a video published on a popular Telegram channel that features war-related content. 

Madyar is walking alongside another Ukrainian soldier amid destroyed buildings in what they said was Bakhmut. He talks about the situation on the battlefield and references Russian President Vladimir Putin's upcoming address on Tuesday.

"Thank you, Mr. President Biden! God bless America! Thank you for your support and help," the soldier walking with him says in the video.

Madyar said there hadn't been "territorial success for the enemy in the Bakhmut outskirts" on Monday. CNN is not able to independently verify those claims.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last Wednesday that the situation in Bakhmut was "the most difficult out of all" the contested areas in Ukraine.

5:02 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Zelensky hails importance of Biden's visit to Kyiv in his evening address

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Maria Kostenko 

US President Joe Biden walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at St. Michaels Golden-Domed Cathedral during an unannounced visit in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, February 20.
US President Joe Biden walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at St. Michaels Golden-Domed Cathedral during an unannounced visit in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, February 20. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The visit Monday by US President Joe Biden was an important day for Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday in an evening address. 

"Today was a symbolic day. The 362nd day of a full-scale war, and we, in our free capital of our free country, are hosting a visit from our powerful ally, the President of the United States of America, and talking to him about the future of Ukraine, our relations, the whole of Europe and global democracy. This is an indicator of how resilient Ukraine is. And how important Ukraine is to the world," Zelensky said. 

The specific steps "to liberate our still-occupied territories and to guarantee reliable security for our country and for all the peoples of Europe" are known. "All we need is determination," he said. 

Zelensky thanked the American people, members of Congress from both parties and members of Biden's team for helping strengthen the alliance between the two countries.

"Now we are convinced that there is nothing that can undermine our democracy. Not a single aspect of Ukrainian life is and will ever be fragile. Our strength is a powerful contribution to the strength of all freedom-loving nations in the world," he said.