The latest on the Ukraine-Russia crisis

By Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Jeevan Ravindran, Sana Noor Haq, Peter Wilkinson, Adrienne Vogt and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 3:50 a.m. ET, February 20, 2022
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2:37 p.m. ET, February 19, 2022

Ukrainian soldiers "ready for any scenario" as mortar shells explode near front line, interior minister says

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv and Katharina Krebs in Novoluhanske and Kramatorsk

Ukraine's Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy, left, visits soldiers at a front line position in Novoluhanske, Ukraine, on February 19.
Ukraine's Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy, left, visits soldiers at a front line position in Novoluhanske, Ukraine, on February 19. (Timothy Fadek/Redux for CNN)

A CNN team and other journalists accompanying Ukraine’s interior minister on a tour of the front lines in eastern Ukraine came under mortar fire Saturday.

No one was injured.

Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy sought cover as several mortar rounds landed nearby. Shortly after the shelling, he gave interviews to international media in Novoluhanske. 

About a dozen mortar rounds landed within a few hundred meters of the group.

Speaking to CNN prior to leaving the area, Monastyrskiy said, “We spoke with soldiers on the ground. The spirit is incredibly brave and all guys are ready for any scenario.”

He said that it had been his first time under fire. He told reporters that he was in the car en route and they had to stop every time they heard shelling and lay on the ground.

At a news conference later in Kramatorsk, Monastyrskiy was asked by CNN what role Ukraine believed that Russian military advisers were playing in the fighting in the eastern part of the country. 

"We have information about the advance of the Russian army along our territory," he said. "There is also information that certain units of the Wagner PMC have entered our territory. The purpose of the stay is to organize sabotage in our territory."

Some background: Wagner is a private Russian paramilitary force that has long been associated with the separatists in eastern Ukraine and has also deployed to Libya, Syria and the Central African Republic, among other countries.

The Russian government denies any connection with Wagner or other private military contractors.

Over the past few days, the Ukrainian armed forces have reported a surge in heavy weapons fire against Ukrainian positions along what is known as the line of contact.  

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said that through 17:00 local time (10 a.m. ET) Saturday, "70 violations of the ceasefire regime were recorded by the Russian occupation forces, 60 of which by using weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements."

The ministry also said that two Ukrainian serviceman were killed and four wounded on Saturday.

The Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov repeated in a Facebook post Saturday that Ukraine had no plans to launch an offensive against the breakaway regions, as claimed by the leaders of the self-declared Luhansk and Donetsk republics. 

"We do not plan any offensives, but we will not allow the firing on the positions of our troops and human settlements with impunity," Reznikov said.

1:26 p.m. ET, February 19, 2022

UK foreign secretary: "Worst-case scenario" between Ukraine and Russia "could happen as early as next week"

From Duarte Mendonca in Lodnon

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, right, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, second left, during a meeting at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, on February 19.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, right, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, second left, during a meeting at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, on February 19. (Ina Fassbender/Pool/AP)

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss accused Russia on Saturday of not being “serious about diplomacy” while warning that the “worst-case scenario could happen as early as next week.”

Truss also said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's speech at the conference was “extremely sobering.”

“This is one of the most dangerous moments for European security that we've experienced since early in the 20th century. And we need to show unprecedented unity,” Truss said. “There were many people who would want to think hopefully about the situation, but I think we need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, and that worst-case scenario could happen as early as next week.”

Truss said the United Kingdom would stand in unity with its partners to support Ukraine.

“We need to be strong because that is the only thing that Russia understands. And I think we need to be strong in supporting Ukraine and not selling Ukraine out with concessions on sovereignty,” Truss said.

“Ukraine needs our support at the United Nations and at the OSCE and they also need our economic support because there is a real threat of economic destabilization. They need our defense support, and the UK is committed to continuing to supply that support, standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine,” she added.

The foreign secretary stressed that the UK is “resolute in imposing severe costs on Russia in the event of an invasion, including tough sanctions.”

“We will stop oligarchs being able to move their money internationally. We will stop them traveling, and we will make it tougher for Russian companies to tap into our capital markets. And we're also going to make it harder for Russia to access sovereign debt markets,” she said.

Truss said the UK stands with Europe and the United States in being “completely united in support of Ukrainian sovereignty and self-determination.”

“This is not just an issue for Europe. This is an issue for the world, because if a sovereign nation is able to be invaded with no consequences, that sends a signal to other aggressors around the world,” she added.

“What this crisis has demonstrated is we are united. We are prepared to put tough sanctions in place in the event of an incursion. We are prepared to supply that defensive support to Ukraine,” Truss said.

1:59 p.m. ET, February 19, 2022

Ukrainian chaplain finds himself wearing two robes as tension in the region rises

From CNN's Sebastian Shukla in Mariupol, Ukraine

Roman Peretyatko, who serves as both a civilian and military chaplain, stands in his church, Archangel St. Michael, in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Roman Peretyatko, who serves as both a civilian and military chaplain, stands in his church, Archangel St. Michael, in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Mark Phillips/CNN)

Mariupol is a city in southeastern Ukraine that literally straddles war and peace. Here, even the local chaplain wears two hats — or robes — military and civilian. 

Roman Peretyatko is the chaplain at the Archangel Michael church in Mariupol, but he is also the military chaplain with the Ukrainian Border Guard Service. For him, this eight-year war between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists is not only professional but also personal.

At the "Old Crimea" graveyard in Mariupol, a vast cemetery on the outskirts of the city, a plot of graves is dedicated to the fallen soldiers in the war.

Plot 21, at the ‘Small Crimea’ cemetery in Mariupol, is a plot for fall soldiers. Flags mark their resting places. 
Plot 21, at the ‘Small Crimea’ cemetery in Mariupol, is a plot for fall soldiers. Flags mark their resting places.  (Sebastian Shukla/CNN)

Peretyatko showed CNN the grave of a friend who he buried in 2015. Among the other tombstones, veteran Ruslan Vostovoit told us their deaths were needless, but that Russian President Vladimir Putin is responsible because “he wants to play his game."

Back at the church, Peretyatko read the morning prayers where both he and locals are praying and serving peace.

Many locals come to him for solace.

“If they ask what’s going to happen next, we say it’s God’s will. We prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Peretyatko said.

 

Roman Peretyatko stands over the grave of his friend whom he buried in 2015. As both a military and civilian chaplain, he makes both locals and soldiers feel at ease. 
Roman Peretyatko stands over the grave of his friend whom he buried in 2015. As both a military and civilian chaplain, he makes both locals and soldiers feel at ease.  (Sebastian Shukla/CNN)

12:19 p.m. ET, February 19, 2022

US defense secretary says Russia could invade "in short order"

From CNN's Aaron Pellish

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he does not believe Russia’s increased military presence along the Ukraine border is a “bluff” and that Russian President Vladimir Putin could decide to attack Ukraine “in short order.”

Austin told ABC News in an interview taped Friday that Russia has developed the combat infrastructure along Ukraine’s border to “conduct a successful invasion.”

“He has a number of options available to him and he could, he could attack in short order,” Austin said.

When asked about the possibility that Putin is increasing tensions without intending to actually invade, Austin said, “I don’t believe it’s a bluff.”

“I think he’s assembled the right kind...of thing that you need to conduct a successful invasion," he said. “If they were redeploying to garrison, we wouldn't be seeing the kinds of things in terms of not only combat power, but also logistical support, medical support, combat aviation that we've seen in the region."

12:55 p.m. ET, February 19, 2022

NATO partners should clarify timeline of when Ukraine can join alliance, Zelensky tells CNN

From CNN’s Emmet Lyons

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, on February 19.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, on February 19. (Tobias Hase/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN that NATO partners need to clarify a timeline upon which Ukraine can join the alliance. 

“Ukraine needs security guarantees,” he told CNN. “We are smart people, we are not narrow-minded. We understand there are lots of different risks because of NATO, there is no consensus around other allies, everyone is saying there is some distance that we need to go between Ukraine and NATO that we need to walk. All we are saying is: Tell us how much time does it take to complete this distance?” 

In earlier remarks to the Munich Security Conference, Zelensky posed the question as to why Ukraine was not being permitted to join NATO.

“We are told the doors are open ... but the strangers are still not allowed,” he said. 

CNN also asked Zelensky about the use of US intelligence to dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine. 

“I am grateful for the work that both of our intelligence has been doing. But the intelligence I trust is my intelligence. I trust Ukrainian intelligence who ... understand what's going on along our borders who have different intelligence sources and understand different risk based on intercepted data. … This information should be used," the Ukrainian president said.

“We are not really living in delusion. We understand what can happen tomorrow … Just putting ourselves in coffins and waiting for foreign soldiers to come in is not something we are prepared to do,” he said 

Zelensky called for international partners to support Ukraine by investing in the country. 

“Strengthen our arms … our economy. Invest in our country. Bring your business in,” he said. “We are not panicking; we want to live our lives."

2:21 p.m. ET, February 19, 2022

US House Speaker Pelosi warns of US sanctions "never seen before" if Russia invades Ukraine

From CNN's Veronica Stracqualursi and Eva McKend

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), left, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), center, at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, on February 19.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), left, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), center, at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, on February 19. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned on Saturday that the United States will impose sanctions "never seen before in terms of the intensity and timing" if Russia invades Ukraine.

“We’re not for any war," said Pelosi, who is leading a congressional delegation at the Munich Security Conference. “Diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy — and that’s why we’re talking about sanctions in the event of an invasion. These are sanctions as if you’ve never seen before in terms of the intensity and timing.”

Asked if sanctions will be enough if Russia invades, Pelosi replied, "I do, because we have not seen sanctions as we’re going to see now." 

"This has been ratcheted up because the stakes are so high and the lives that could be lost are so many. This isn’t about sanctions on trade violations, or sanctions on one thing or another. This is sanctions in response to hostilities that are deadly and unnecessary," she said.

Pelosi also postulated as to what could be motivating Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggesting that he could take action to mark the 100th anniversary of the Soviet Union founding.

"I think that part of his fear, Putin’s insecurity, is that the people of Ukraine have embraced democracy, free-market system and the rest. And they like it and they will not choose the Russian system over theirs," she said.

Forty members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, are attending the conference in a show of solidarity with NATO as Russian troops amass along the border with Ukraine. 

“In the face of that threat, NATO is more united than ever, ready to impose the most severe sanctions ever. We hope and pray that this will not be necessary,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. “The door to diplomacy remains open and will be open until and unless Putin slams it shut.”

“The rest of the world is watching us, and if we don’t act in unison to bring about the toughest sanctions that have ever been deployed, then other nations will feel free to subjugate their democratic neighbors,” Schiff said.

CNN's Lindy Royce-Bartlett contributed reporting to this post.

12:10 p.m. ET, February 19, 2022

Meeting of Ukraine-Russia representatives fails to occur in absence of Russian delegation

From CNN's Tim Lister

An attempt by international mediators to convene a meeting of Ukrainian and Russian representatives on the deteriorating situation in eastern Ukraine failed Saturday after the Russian delegation did not attend.

The meeting was due to be held under the auspices of the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, which is chaired by a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Ambassador Mikko Kinnunen.

"Unfortunately, and despite the worsening situation in the conflict related to eastern Ukraine, some participants linked their attendance to certain political preconditions. As a consequence, the meeting did not take place," Kinnunen said.

"I regret this, as I am convinced that particularly in a situation like this, every opportunity should be used in order to defuse tensions and reduce the risk of unwanted consequences. For three days now, we have been observing a worrying degree of escalation, including military activities and inflammatory rhetoric," he said.

Kinnunen said he joined with the OSCE's leadership in deploring "the spreading of disinformation about an imminent military action by the Ukrainian government forces."

"It is our responsibility to make sure that civilians do not have to pay the price for miscalculations or provocations. All participants are called upon to prevent a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation on both sides of the contact line and to fully respect international humanitarian law," he said.

On Friday: The leaders of the self-declared Russian-backed regions in eastern Ukraine said that a Ukrainian military offensive was imminent.

They instructed civilians to leave the territories and ordered men between the ages of 18 and 55 to sign up for military service.

Separatist leaders posted videos announcing that they were organizing the mass evacuation of civilians to Russia. But a CNN analysis of the videos’ metadata indicates the footage was recorded days earlier.

Ukraine has repeatedly denied it has any plans to attack the breakaway regions.

12:33 p.m. ET, February 19, 2022

France urges citizens in eastern Ukraine to leave immediately

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu

A Ukrainian soldier patrols in the village of Novoluhanske, located in the Luhansk region, in Ukraine, on February 19.
A Ukrainian soldier patrols in the village of Novoluhanske, located in the Luhansk region, in Ukraine, on February 19. (Oleksandr Ratushniak/AP)

France is advising citizens in eastern Ukraine to leave immediately, as well as all French nationals who are not in the country, for urgent reasons, according to a statement published by the French foreign ministry on Saturday.

“It is also recommended to all French nationals who are not in Ukraine for compelling reasons to leave the country,” the statement said. 

French citizens in the eastern Ukrainian oblasts of Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk and the region of Dnipro are asked to leave the area “without delay.”

The statement also advised French citizens to postpone all travel to Ukraine.

11:38 a.m. ET, February 19, 2022

Austrian Airlines and Lufthansa cancel flights into some areas of Ukraine

From CNN's Samantha Beech and Inke Kappeler

Austrian Airlines has canceled all flights to and from Kyiv and Odessa until the end of February due to the security situation in Ukraine, company spokesperson Anna Pachinger told CNN on Saturday.

The city of Lviv is not yet affected by the suspension, the spokesperson said.

German airline Lufthansa is also suspending flights to and from Kyiv.

The suspension affects all departures starting Feb. 21 until Feb. 28, according to a statement on the company’s website Saturday. The airline is still showing booking options available for flights Monday into Lviv, Ukraine.

The statement said Lufthansa is “constantly monitoring the situation and will decide on further flights at a later date.”

The company said customers should leave mobile numbers in their bookings to be automatically informed of any changes.

Dutch airline KLM had previously announced it canceled flights to Ukraine until further notice.