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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8:29 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

"Counter offensive" ongoing in Donbas, says Russian military

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

A "counter-offensive" is underway in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, the Russian defense ministry's spokesperson said Friday, claiming Ukrainian servicemembers had surrendered to Russian troops and pro-Russian separatists.

CNN could not immediately check the veracity of those claims.

"Groupings of troops of the DPR and LPR [the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics] continue counter-offensive operations against units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with fire support from the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation," Igor Konashenkov said. "Troops of the DPR ... advanced one more kilometer deep into the defense of the nationalist [Ukrainian] battalions in the Volnovakha direction."

Konashenkov also claimed advances by Russian and separatist forces in the area of Stepovoye [Stepove] in the Luhansk region, and claimed without further evidence that 150 Ukrainian servicemembers had laid down their arms and surrendered in those operations.

Chernobyl taken: The Russian military also confirmed its airbone troops had taken control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Ukrainian officials on Thursday confirmed that Russian forces had overtaken and seized control of the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster.

Konashenkov said background radiation in the area of the nuclear power plant was "normal." He claimed that the Chernobyl operation was organized so that "nationalist formations or other terrorist organizations will not be able to take advantage of the current situation in the country to organize a nuclear provocation."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made baseless claims about Ukraine's nuclear ambitions. The White House on Thursday condemned Russia for "holding staff of the Chernobyl facilities hostage."

The structure of the New Safe Confinement (NSC) covering the 4th block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which was destroyed during the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, is pictured on November 22, 2018.
The structure of the New Safe Confinement (NSC) covering the 4th block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which was destroyed during the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, is pictured on November 22, 2018. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Sanctions expected: The Russian government was expecting US and NATO allies to retaliate against the invasion of Ukraine with sanctions and says it will retaliate, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.

“We were expecting it,” Peskov said. “Of course, responses will follow. The law of reciprocity will operate here.”

“But as to how symmetrical or asymmetrical they will be, it will depend on our analysis,” Peskov went on to say. “And our own interests. We will act solely on the basis of our own interests.”

The spokesman for the Kremlin also said he expects diplomatic relations with the global community to be fully restored, once there is widespread understanding of Russia’s motives.

“As soon as there is an understanding that this operation was necessary, an understanding of the inevitability of firm decisive actions on the part of Russia to ensure its security, one way or another, a period of normalization will come,” he said.

10:44 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Holding a Kalashnikov on the streets of Kyiv, ex-President Poroshenko says Putin is "simply crazy"

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks with CNN from Kyiv on February 25.
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks with CNN from Kyiv on February 25. (CNN)

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — armed and surrounded by defense forces — spoke with CNN this morning from the streets of Kyiv, saying that Ukrainians are ready to defend their country.

"Everybody should understand, [Russian President] Putin declared a war not for Ukraine. Putin declared a war to the whole world," he said.

He called the Russian president "simply mad."

He's just simply crazy. He's just simply evil to come here to kill Ukrainian[s]," Poroshenko said.

Poroshenko said his battalion is about two to three kilometers (about 1.5 miles) from the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers.

He said Ukraine needs the West's assistance, including sanctions, kicking Russia out of SWIFT — a high security messaging network that connects thousands of financial institutions around the world — and blocking Russian planes and ships in EU and NATO ports.

Poroshenko also thanked the United States and United Kingdom for providing defense weapons.

"This is important for us that we feel we are not alone, that you are together with us," he said.

The former president said Putin will never capture Ukraine.

"No matter how many soldiers he kills, how many missiles he has, how many nuclear weapons he has, we Ukrainian[s] are free people with a great European future," he said.  

Watch the interview:

7:47 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Zelensky appeals for direct talks with Putin

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv and Yong Xiong in Seoul

In a new video message on Friday, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky again called for direct talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Speaking in Russian, Zelensky said: "I would like to address the President of the Russian Federation once again. There is fighting all over Ukraine now. Let’s sit down at the negotiation table to stop the people’s deaths."

Zelensky returned to the theme of international sanctions against Russia, which he wants to be much tougher.

Europe has enough strength to stop this aggression. What to expect from European countries -- the abolition of visas for Russians, disconnection from SWIFT, complete isolation of Russia, the withdrawal of ambassadors, oil embargo, closing the airspace - all this must be on the table today," he said.

Zelensky also made a direct appeal to the people of Europe. 

"Go out, go out on the squares. Demand the end of this war. It is your right. When bombs fall in Kyiv, this is happening in Europe and not just in Ukraine. When missiles kill our people it is killing of all, all Europeans."

"Call your governments for Ukraine to receive more, more financial and military assistance. because this help is the help for you, for Europe."

"This is not just Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This is the beginning of the war in Europe," he said.

Russia willing to negotiate, says Chinese state media: In a phone call Friday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Putin said Russia is "willing to conduct high-level negotiations" with Ukraine, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

Putin said the US and NATO have “long ignored Russia's reasonable security concerns and repeatedly reneged on their commitments,” and their “continuous advance of military deployment eastward” has “challenged Russia's strategic bottom line,” CCTV reported.

Xi said that China "decides its position based on the merits of the Ukraine issue itself” and that China supports Russia and Ukraine resolving their issue through negotiation, the report added.

It also said "China is willing to work with all parties in the international community to advocate a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security concept."

10:44 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Kyiv resident sheltering in an underground subway station says spirits are high despite the danger

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová and Olga Voitovich in Kyiv

Residents shelter in a subway station.
Residents shelter in a subway station. (Maryna)

Many Kyiv residents have fled their homes as the Russian army appears to be closing in on the Ukrainian capital.

Maryna, who lives in the city, has been sheltering in a subway station since Thursday.

"There are a lot of families with kids and animals here. We are not that far from [the district of] Obolon, where sabotage and reconnaissance forces recently landed. That's why I'm here," she told CNN in a message.

Maryna with her cat Hermes.
Maryna with her cat Hermes. Maryna

Maryna -- who brought her cat Hermes to the shelter with her -- marveled at how calm everyone there was. She said there was enough food and water for everyone and people were in good spirits.

"Children are playing ball, someone is sleeping, someone is reading the news. No panic. I rarely see such kind-hearted people that Ukrainians turn into in the face of danger," she said.

8:24 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Formula One cancels 2022 Russian Grand Prix

From CNN's Zayn Nabbi and Amanda Davies in London

Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr steers his car during the second practice session for the Formula One Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom circuit in Sochi, Russia, on September 24, 2021.
Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr steers his car during the second practice session for the Formula One Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom circuit in Sochi, Russia, on September 24, 2021. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

Formula One announced on Friday it will not race in Russia this year, after the country launched an invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian Grand Prix, which joined the calendar in 2014, was scheduled for September 25 at Sochi's Olympic Park, but F1 organizers said it was "impossible" to hold the race in the "current circumstances."

10:45 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

UN "gravely concerned" about civilian casualties

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

Onlookers at a devastated apartment block in Kyiv after an airstrike on February 25.
Onlookers at a devastated apartment block in Kyiv after an airstrike on February 25. (Timothy Fadek/Redux for CNN)

The UN is "gravely concerned" about the situation in Ukraine, and is receiving increasing reports of civilian casualties, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani said Friday.

"Civilians are terrified of further escalation, with many attempting to flee their homes and others taking shelter where possible," Shamdasani said, adding that "the military action by the Russian Federation clearly violates international law. It puts at risk countless lives and it must be immediately halted."

The High Commissioner, she said, has stressed that "states that fail to take all reasonable measures to settle their international disputes by peaceful means fall short of complying with their obligation to protect the right to life.”

The UN Human Rights office said it is also "disturbed by the multiple arbitrary arrests of demonstrators in Russia who were protesting against war yesterday. We understand more than 1,800 protesters were arrested. It is unclear whether some have now been released," Shamdasani said.

She added that detaining individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression or of peaceful assembly constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of liberty and called for the protesters' immediate release.

A person is detained by police during an anti-war protest in Moscow, Russia, on February 24.
A person is detained by police during an anti-war protest in Moscow, Russia, on February 24. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Some background: Ukraine has already seen thousands of casualties from the long-running conflict with Russia. War broke out in 2014 after Russian-backed rebels seized government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have died in the conflict in Donbas since 2014. Ukraine says 1.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, with most staying in the areas of Donbas that remain under Ukrainian control and about 200,000 resettling in the wider Kyiv region.

6:57 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Russian FM Lavrov tells CNN "nobody is going to attack the people of Ukraine," despite continued strikes

 From CNN’s Matthew Chance in Kyiv

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting in Moscow on February 25.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting in Moscow on February 25. (Russian Foreign Ministry/Reuters)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that “nobody is going to attack the people of Ukraine,” despite the continuation of strikes by Russian forces on Friday, telling CNN that there will be “no strikes on civilian infrastructure.”

“I will stress: read what Putin said. No strikes on civilian infrastructure, no strikes on the personnel of the Ukrainian army, on their dormitories, or other places not connected to the military facilities. The statistics that we have confirm this,” Lavrov said.

“Nobody is going to somehow degrade the Ukrainian Armed Forces. We are talking about preventing Neo-Nazis and those promoting genocide from ruling this country,” he continued.

“The current regime in Kyiv is under two external control mechanisms. First, the West and the US. And second, neo-Nazis,” he said, repeating baseless claims that have been repeatedly rejected by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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

Russian airfield targeted by Ukrainian forces, geolocated social media video and images show

From CNN's Nathan Hodge, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Katie Polglase

A Russian military airfield near the Ukrainian border has been struck by at least one missile, according to geolocated social media video and images.

It's unclear who carried out the attack: neither the Ukrainian nor Russian governments have commented.

The videos appears to show a long-range missile hitting the airfield and several fires in the runway, which is in Millerovo, Russia, about 10 miles from the Ukraine border.

Komsomolskaya Pravda, a local newspaper, reported that a Ukrainian Tochka-U missile hit the military facility on Friday 25, citing a source in the law enforcement agencies of the region. 

Another media outlet, the Rostov Gazeta, reported Millerovo was attacked by armed formations of the Ukrainian army. It also reported an unspecified number of wounded. 

Millerovo is part of the Southern Military District and it houses the 31st guards fighter aviation regiment which has two squadrons of Su-30SM.

6:37 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

German lawmakers call on leader to cut Russia from vital SWIFT payments system

From CNN’s Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

People protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, on February 24 against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
People protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, on February 24 against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Hannibal Hanschke/Getty Images)

German lawmakers criticized Chancellor Olaf Scholz for not cutting Russia off from the vital high-security payment network, SWIFT, in the European Union’s latest round of sanctions on Moscow.

German Parliament member Norbert Röttgen, from the Christian Democrats party, said on Twitter that cutting Russia from SWIFT is the ''sharpest sword'' for sanctions, adding that: ''The SWIFT exclusion of Russia must not fail now because of Germany!''

This sentiment was shared with other German politicians. ''Russia must now be cut from SWIFT!'' German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht wrote on Twitter Thursday, adding ''If Germany prevents this key sanction, the way will be prepared for Putin to expand his war in #Europe.''

Germany is Russia's biggest gas customer and has tried to keep the Nord Stream 2 pipeline out of global politics. On Tuesday, the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz halted the Nord Stream 2 approval process over the Ukraine crisis.

Thousands protest: Meanwhile, thousands of people took to the streets of Berlin on Thursday night in a show of support for Ukraine, with many carrying Ukrainian flags, CNN's team in the city reports.

Police said that around 2,500 people -- among them some Ukrainian expatriates living in Germany -- gathered at the Brandenburg Gate, which was lit in Ukraine's national colors for a second night in a row.

Around 1,500 people also gathered outside Germany's Chancellery.

Demonstrators were seen chanting "Stand with Ukraine'' and ''Stop Putin, Stop war." Protesters held up signs reading ''Cut Swift, cut Russia off',' and ''Radical sanctions against Russia now.''

Around 150 protesters also gathered outside the Russian Embassy, police said.

Crowds also gathered in other German cities including Potsdam, Leipzig and Munich in a show of support as Moscow began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine Thursday.