February 25, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Amy Woodyatt, Rob Picheta, Ed Upright, Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 3:47 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022
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6:44 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Kremlin says Russians "do not have the right to organize protest actions" without permission

From CNN's Anna Chernova, Vasco Cotovio and Nathan Hodge in Moscow

Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Moscow on February 24.
Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Moscow on February 24. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian government has said that people who are against the country’s invasion of Ukraine “do not have the right to organize protest actions” without seeking permission first.

“Under the law, without following the appropriate procedures, these citizens do not have the right to organize protest actions in order to express their point of view,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a conference call with foreign journalists. 

Hundreds of protesters were detained by police on Thursday during anti-war demonstrations, with Russian riot police dispersing people via loudspeakers in Moscow, according to CNN teams in the city.

Under Russian law, large demonstrations require protesters apply for a permit, which has to be submitted no more than 15 but no less than 10 days before the event. Heavy fines -- and in some cases even prison time -- can be imposed on those who protest without a permit.

Individuals are allowed to stage solo “single pickets,” but it is not unheard of for people to be detained for those as well.

“There are single pickets, but such… well, I would not say mass events… but events with the participation of a certain number of people - they are simply not allowed by law. And therefore, certain measures were taken against them,” Peskov added. 

Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Moscow on February 24.
Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Moscow on February 24. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

Peskov conceded that there are Russians who are against what the Kremlin continues to describe as a “special operation,” and that the government needs to “better explain [its motives] to these citizens.” He also suggested there are more Russians in favor of the invasion than against. 

“The President hears everyone's opinion and understands the proportions of those who have a different point of view and those who are sympathetic to such necessary operations,” Peskov said.

6:14 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

China refrains from acknowledging Russia’s invasion and hits back at Biden's comments

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

China has continued to refrain from acknowledging Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, dodging more than 30 questions in its foreign affairs daily briefing Friday about Russian aggression and the current situation in Ukraine.

"All countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity should be respected” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin repeatedly responded to reporters, sticking closely to statements made from China in previous days.

Wang also reiterated that China “understands Russia's legitimate concerns on security issues,” and echoed calls for parties to “exercise restraint and avoid further escalation of the situation.”

China also responded to a veiled attack from US President Joe Biden on Thursday that any country that backed Russia would be "stained by association."

"Truly discredited countries are those that wantonly interfere in other countries' internal affairs and wage foreign wars in the name of democracy and human rights,” Wang said on Friday when asked about President Biden's comments.

Normal trade to continue: Wang also said China will continue its "normal trade cooperation" with Russia "in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit," and condemned Western sanctions as "never the fundamental and effective way to solve problems."

When asked whether China would veto the upcoming UN Security Council resolution condemning Moscow's actions, Wang evaded the question, saying it "will handle relevant issues in accordance with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter on the basis of China’s consistent position,” and that it continues to “promote peace talks in its own way."

6:39 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

US concerned Kyiv could fall to Russia within days, sources familiar with intel say

From CNN's Jim Sciutto and Katie Bo Lillis

Ukrainian soldiers take positions in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, February 25.
Ukrainian soldiers take positions in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, February 25. (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

US intelligence officials are concerned that Kyiv could fall under Russian control within days, according to two sources familiar with the latest intelligence.

The sources said that the initial US assessment from before the invasion anticipated that the Ukrainian capital would be overrun within one to four days of a Russian attack remains the current expectation.

Russian forces have moved to within 20 miles of Kyiv, senior administration officials told lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday night.

Officials believe Russia has been facing stiffer resistance from Ukrainian forces than it anticipated, according to the sources. But the officials in that briefing to Capitol Hill declined to say whether they believed Kyiv would fall.

CNN previously reported that a senior US defense official said Thursday that Russia was “making a move on Kyiv.”

Western intelligence officials assess that Russia’s plan is to topple the government in Kyiv and install a Russia-friendly proxy government — but they don’t yet know whether Putin will seek to occupy and hold Ukrainian territory afterwards, one of the sources familiar with the intelligence told CNN.

Officials denounce occupation: Ukrainian officials have vowed to resist any occupation. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry on Friday tweeted at Russian troops entered the Obolon district north of Kyiv that citizens should "Make Molotov cocktails and take down the occupier."

Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, told CNN Friday that if Russia were to capture Kyiv, the US should arm resistance fighters in the country.

“It certainly does impact our response about who we’re actually arming. At that point we have to make the realization that the Ukrainian military as we know it may be compromised and then I think we have to shift to actually supporting partisans and resistance fighters who are willing to take up the fight against Russia,” Gallego said.

5:59 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

"I am not afraid. I have to do this": Ukrainians enlist to fight Russian forces

From CNN's Atika Schubert in Lviv, Ukraine

Yuri Ivaniv, a 30-year-old veteran from the conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014, has returned to volunteer service once again to fight invading Russian troops.

Ivaniv told CNN his wife and child back home have emergency bags packed in case they have to flee to Poland.

His 6-year-old son was sleeping when he kissed him goodbye this morning. "We are all going. We have to fight. It’s our country. So I am not afraid. I have to do this," Ivaniv said.

But it's a conflict he never anticipated. Asked if he expected to have to fight again after his service in 2014, he said: “No. Never. He’s just mad, you know ... Putin."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on people to join the forces fighting Russia's invasion.

"Our boys and girls, the defenders of Ukraine, held up against this invasion on the first day. Ukrainians are showing their true heroism. Like our ancestors before, they are charging into battle. Russia continues to expect that our forces will grow tired, but we will not tire," Zelensky said in a video message on Friday.

5:49 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Western officials are watching Russian activity beyond Ukraine, source says

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, on February 22.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, on February 22. (Carolyn Kaste/AFP/Getty Images)

Western and US intelligence officials are paying close attention for any signs of potential Russian activity in the western Balkans, according to a source familiar with the intelligence, although so far, they have seen nothing out of the ordinary.

Officials are also closely watching the Russian use of its military assets in Moldova in its campaign in Ukraine, where Russia backs the separatist republic of Transnistria.

The attention hints at lingering Western concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions could be greater than Ukraine.

Asked Thursday by CBS if there is intelligence that Putin intends to advance beyond Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “You don't need intelligence to tell you that that's exactly what President Putin wants.”
"He's made clear that he'd like to reconstitute the Soviet empire. Short of that, he'd like to reassert a sphere of influence around neighboring countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc. And short of that, he'd like to make sure that all of these countries are somehow neutral,” Blinken said.

In Ukraine, the source said, Western intelligence officials assess that Russia’s plan is to topple the government in Kyiv and install a Russia-friendly proxy government -- but they don’t yet know whether Putin will seek to occupy and hold Ukrainian territory afterwards, the source said. 

5:42 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Ukrainians have pushed back Russians on bridge to Kherson

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Kherson

A CNN team visited a bridge that crosses from Russian-held areas into Kherson, southern Ukraine. There had been fighting around it, with our team witnessing four large shell craters, 10 discarded Ukrainian armored vehicles and several dead, but the Ukrainians seems to have been able to push them back.

On Friday morning the team also witnessed low-flying jets. Russian forces are said to be just on the other side of the bridge in hidden positions. Meanwhile, civilians are still driving back and forth over the bridge.

CNN's team is also hearing air raid sirens in Kherson Friday morning.

5:32 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

18,000 weapons given to reservists in Kyiv region, as Ukrainian men from 18-60 banned from leaving

From CNN’s Tim Lister in Kyiv

Some 18,000 guns with ammunition have been distributed to reservists in the Kyiv region alone since the Russian invasion began early Thursday, according to Ukrainian authorities. 

In a joint statement, defense minister Oleksiy Reznikov and Valeriy Zaluzhniy, chief of staff for the Armed Forces, said there were more arms coming.

“Soon we are to receive additional support with modern weapons and other resources from our partners,” they said.

Yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered a general military mobilization. 

Zelensky said that "in order to ensure the defense of the state, maintaining combat and mobilization readiness of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations," a broad-based mobilization was ordered, including in the capital, Kyiv, and all Ukraine's major cities.

This included a ban on all male citizens from 18- to 60-years-old leaving the country, according to the State Border Guard Service

The mobilization also instructed the "conscription of conscripts, reservists for military service, their delivery to military units and institutions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine" and other state security services.

5:37 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Head of DPR says region will need financial help from Moscow, and hints to closer ties with Russia

From Anna Chernova and CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Moscow

Head of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin attends a news conference in Donetsk, Ukraine, on February 23.
Head of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin attends a news conference in Donetsk, Ukraine, on February 23. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) said the region would need financial support from Moscow and suggested the possibility of even closer ties with Russia, in a live interview on Russia 24 Friday.

“Of course, the financial component here is quite serious and it will be difficult to do without Russia's support, but this is only at the first stages,” Denis Pushilin said. “Considering that the DPR will reach the administrative borders in the long run, according to our calculations, [the need for financial aid] will only be for a short-term period.”

“And then we will not only reach self-sufficiency but will also be able to help other regions,” Pushilin concluded.

Some background: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees recognizing the two controversial separatist-held regions, the DPR and the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR), Monday in a ceremony carried on state television. On Thursday, Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

Conflict first broke out in 2014 after Russian-backed rebels seized government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine. Intense fighting left portions of the Donbas region's eastern Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in the hands of Russian-backed separatists. Russia also annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in a move that sparked global condemnation.

The Ukrainian government in Kyiv asserts the two regions are in effect Russian-occupied. 

Casualties claimed: Pushilin went on to say Friday wasn’t a calm night for his forces.

“Unfortunately, I must admit that overnight there were wounded and dead among the military personnel [of separatist forces],” he said.

When asked when the military operation could be considered complete, Pushilin said: “As soon as we push back or destroy the weapons that are used to strike at our areas, then we can say that everything is completely safe on the territory of the DPR.”

He claimed several Ukrainian servicemen have been captured by the DPR forces.

“A number of servicemen, wanting to stay alive and return to their families, laid down their arms and surrendered,” Pushilin said suggesting prisoners will be able to return to their families “after the war ends.”

CNN cannot independently verify the claims made by Pushilin of casualties inflicted on Ukraine.

 

5:18 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Sirens sounded across Kyiv Friday morning

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv

Sirens rang out across Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv on Friday morning.

CNN witnessed a group of Ukrainian security forces leave the city police headquarters with weapons and ammunition -- apparently heading towards the northern district of Obolon, where fighting has been reported.

What is happening in Kyiv? Ukrainians in the capital huddled in air raid shelters Friday morning, amid claims of troops blowing up a bridge to stop an advance of Russian forces.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said Russian reconnaissance troops have entered Obolon, which is just a few miles from the city center.

The ministry in a tweet asked citizens of the district to report any suspicious movements and adds: "Make Molotov cocktails and take down the occupier."

Before dawn, explosions lit up the sky as Russia targeted the city with missile strikes, according to a Ukrainian government adviser. A CNN team reported hearing two large blasts in central Kyiv and a third loud explosion in the distance, followed by at least three more explosions to the southwest of the city a few hours later.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said airborne assault troops blew up a bridge over the Teteriv River at Ivankiv, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Kyiv, successfully preventing a Russian column of forces from advancing towards the capital.

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