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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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.

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.