February 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Adrienne Vogt, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Jeevan Ravindran, Peter Wilkinson, Jessie Yeung, Brad Lendon, Steve George, Meg Wagner, Amir Vera and Helen Regan, CNN

Updated 10:27 a.m. ET, March 6, 2022
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7:50 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Defenders of Ukrainian island may still be alive and now POWs, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine says

From CNN's Sebastian Shukla in Kyiv

The defenders of the small Ukrainian island of Zmiinyi in the Black Sea may still be alive, according to a statement released on Saturday by the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine (SBGSU).

"We [have a] strong belief that all Ukrainian defenders of Zmiinyi (Snake) Island may be alive,” the statement said.

Both President Zelensky and the SBGSU said Friday all the soldiers had been killed following the small island’s capture by Russian forces.

Preliminary information that border guards may be dead came before the defenders lost contact," Saturday's statement said.

On Friday, Russian Major-General Igor Konashenkov said 82 Ukrainian servicemen “laid down their arms and voluntarily surrendered to a unit of the Russian Armed Forces.”

The SBGSU statement added, “Russian media reported that Ukrainian servicemen on the island had been sent to Sevastopol” in Crimea.

On Friday, audio emerged of an exchange between the Ukrainian fighters and an officer of the Russian navy. In the exchange, the Ukrainians were heard to say to “Russian warship – go f*** yourself.”

6:45 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Two vast explosions seen in Kyiv appear to be around Vasylkiv

From CNN's From Tim Lister in Kyiv

The two vast explosions that lit up the night sky appear to have been around Vasylkiv, some 30 kilometers, or about 18 miles, south of Kyiv.

Vasylkiv has a large military airfield and multiple fuel tanks.

The area was the scene of heavy fighting Friday night, according to Ukrainian officials.

6:22 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Massive explosions reported near Kyiv

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv

Two large explosions lit up the night sky to the southwest of Kyiv early Sunday morning with one detonation that appeared to be approximately 20 kilometers, or about 12 miles, from the city center.

The second explosion rocked western Kyiv just before 1 a.m. local time (6 p.m. ET Saturday). The second blast also came from the south-western part of the city, in the direction of the city's second major airport.

WATCH HERE:

6:18 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Ukrainian official calls on "an IT army" to join the "fight on the cyber front"

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas

Ukraine Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted Saturday that Kyiv was “creating an IT army” to “continue to fight on the cyber front” as Russian forces continue their assault on Ukraine.

Fedorov tweeted a link to a channel on the messaging app Telegram that encouraged hackers to conduct cyberattacks on key Russian energy firms and financial firms. The proposed target list includes natural gas giant Gazprom and big Russian banks Sberbank and VTB. The Biden administration sanctioned the two banks on Thursday over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Telegram channel promoted by Fedorov was translated into English to appeal to “all IT specialists from other countries,” the English version said.

Cyberattacks have had a supporting role in the Russia-Ukraine war. A series of so-called distributed denial of service attacks flooded Ukrainian government websites with phony traffic prior to Russia’s invasion. The White House blamed one of those rounds of hacks on Russia’s GRU military agency (Moscow denied the allegation.).

On Friday, Ukrainian officials accused the Belarusian Ministry of Defense of trying to hack the private email accounts of Ukrainian military personnel. The ministry did not return CNN’s request for comment.

6:15 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

White House, EU announce expulsion of certain Russian banks from SWIFT

From CNN’s DJ Judd

The headquarters of Swift, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication is seen in La Hulpe, Belgium, on February 25.
The headquarters of Swift, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication is seen in La Hulpe, Belgium, on February 25. (James Arthur Gekiere/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images)

In an announcement late Saturday afternoon, the White House said, in concert with of the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada, the US is backing the expulsion of certain Russian banks from SWIFT, the high-security network that connects thousands of financial institutions around the world, and pledged efforts to “collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure for Putin.”

“This will ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally,” they wrote in a joint statement, also pledging “restrictive measures that will prevent the Russian Central Bank from deploying its international reserves in ways that undermine the impact of our sanctions,” and restricting the sale of “golden passports” that allow Russian oligarchs to avoid the brunt of sanctions already levied.

Earlier Saturday, CNN reported Biden was considering expelling Russia from SWIFT, but had yet to make a final decision. Fully expelling Russia from SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, has been presented as a financial “nuclear option," with the president and aides highlighting how complicated the move would be. They also noted the US cannot move unilaterally to expel Russia.

“That’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take,” Biden told reporters Thursday.

In addition, the nations announced the launch, later this week, of a “transatlantic task force” to “ensure the effective implementation of our financial sanctions by identifying and freezing the assets of sanctioned individuals and companies that exist within our jurisdictions.”

As part of Saturday’s announcement, they also promised to step up efforts to combat misinformation.

We stand with the Ukrainian people in this dark hour. Even beyond the measures we are announcing today, we are prepared to take further measures to hold Russia to account for its attack on Ukraine.”

5:19 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Russian invasion runs into stiff resistance, supply lines 'definite vulnerability,' US officials say

From Jim Sciutto and Oren Liebermann

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is encountering "stiffer than expected" resistance from the Ukrainian military as well as unexpected difficulties supplying its forces, two senior US officials with direct knowledge tell CNN. 

On the battlefield, Russia is suffering heavier losses in personnel, armor and aircraft than expected. This is due, in part, to the fact Ukrainian air defenses have performed better than anticipated in pre-invasion US intelligence assessments. In addition, Russia has yet to establish air supremacy over Ukraine, a senior defense official said, as the Ukrainian Air Force and air defense systems fight for control of the airspace. 

Ukrainian air defenses, including aircraft, do continue to be operable and continue to engage and deny access to Russian aircraft in places over the country,” the official said.

Without uncontested control of the skies, it becomes more difficult for an army on the move to see and strike targets from the air.

Officials caution this picture of the battlefield is just a moment in time, and the situation on the ground could change very quickly as Russian forces keep up their assault.

The Ukrainian military has a number of different anti-aircraft weapons, including radar-guided and heat-seeking missiles, as well as anti-aircraft guns, according to IHS Janes. The US has also provided Stinger anti-aircraft missiles in recent weeks, as have other NATO allies.

As of Saturday evening, the US had not seen any indication the Russian military has taken control over any Ukrainian cities, the official said, even as Russian forces have moved to surround some population centers, including the capital of Kyiv.

Keeping Russia's large invasion force supplied with fuel and ammunition has also proven difficult. As one senior US official explained, Russia anticipated a fast victory and may have neglected to plan for sufficient resupply. Supply lines, this official explained, are a "definite vulnerability."

What we assess now is that [Russia] had to commit a bit more logistics and sustainment, in fuel specifically, than what we believe they had planned to do this early in the operation,” said one of the officials.��

Together, these challenges have thus far prevented the quick overthrow of major Ukrainian cities including Kyiv, which US officials were concerned could play out in a matter of days. The city of Kharkiv near Ukraine’s border with Russia also has not fallen to invading forces, which officials worried could happen on the invasion's first night.

These officials caution, however, Russian forces still greatly outnumber Ukrainian forces and Russia continues to maneuver these forces into position around major urban centers. It’s also unclear how much of the slower movement can be attributed to the logistical challenge of moving such a large force.

Russia has spun its slow advance in Ukraine as a stop to allow time for negotiations, not a military setback.

On Saturday, the Russian Ministry of Defense said its troops have been ordered to resume their offensive “in all directions,” after a suspension was ordered for negotiations with the Ukrainian government. The ministry said the offensive was ordered to continue after Ukraine abandoned the consultations. 

A Ukrainian presidential adviser denied in the early hours Saturday that Ukraine had refused to negotiate.

“They are having problems,” a NATO official explained, pointing to the alliance’s latest intelligence. “They lack diesel, they are proceeding way too slow and morale is obviously an issue.”

Asked whether Russians are likely to intensify their efforts, the official said they have no choice.

“They are way behind schedule,” he said. “This is getting out of hand for them, every additional day is very painful.”
5:18 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Ukraine vows to punish Russia for war crimes in military tribunal after targeting of civilians

From CNN's Mia Alberti and Olena Mankovska.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has accused Russia of war crimes after targeting civilian targets and said Moscow will have to face a "military tribunal."

During a Saturday news conference, Shmyhal said Russia shelled kindergartens, residential blocks and "buses with children."

For these crimes, the Russian command will surely see military tribunal. The enemy will surely be punished for killing Ukrainian children. Ukraine will not forgive them for this," Shmyhal said.

The prime minister said Russia was deliberately attacking civilian infrastructure because it is "failing" in its offensive.

"The Russian government doesn't understand they are not fighting only with the government. In fact, they are fighting against the entire Ukrainian people," he said.

Russia said its forces are only targeting military installations and are not striking residential areas. 

After a Saturday government meeting, Shmyhal announced Ukraine is temporarily closing its borders with Belarus and Russia except for Ukrainian citizens abroad, whom he urged to join the fight.

"Please do come back and do prove you are on the side of the light. And I'm addressing all civilized countries: On whose side are you on?" Shmyhal asked. "Are you on the side of the killers of children, or are you on the side of the great European people who are defending their country and they're defending their freedom from the aggression?"
4:22 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Ukraine closes borders to Russia and Belarus

From CNN’s Sebastian Shukla in Kyiv

Ukraine is closing its borders to Russia and Belarus, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced Saturday evening. 

In a video statement posted on Telegram, Shmyhal said beginning Monday, February 28, only Ukrainian citizens will be allowed to cross from Russia and Belarus into Ukraine.

7:48 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Ukraine prompts UN Secretary-General to cancel his Geneva trip

From CNN's Roth Richards

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres speaks on February 23 in New York City.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres speaks on February 23 in New York City. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, released a statement Saturday, saying the situation in Ukraine has prompted Guterres to cancel a trip to Geneva for a Monday meeting of the UN's Human Rights Council.

Full statement below:

Due to the aggravating situation in Ukraine, the Secretary-General will remain in New York and not travel to Geneva as planned. He will send a video message to Monday’s meeting of the Human Rights Council.