Russian military strikes hit at least 3 schools, cathedral and shops in Kharkiv
From CNN's Paul P. Murphy, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Celine Alkhaldi and Katie Polglase
At least three schools in Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, were hit by Russian military strikes on Tuesday, according to videos and photos posted to social media.
CNN has geolocated, and confirmed the authenticity of the videos and photos.
One of the schools is in the northern neighborhood of Saltivka; the other two just over a kilometer (about 0.6 miles) apart in the industrial district in the southeast of the city.
Classes have been suspended since the Russian invasion began. It's unclear at this time whether there were any injuries or casualties as a result of the strikes.
Cathedral and shops hit: Other videos and photos show damage to a cathedral and a row of shops in the city.
A number of framed art and other objects inside Kharkiv's Assumption Cathedral were broken by blasts from a strike on the nearby City Council building, photos show. The floor is covered with broken glass from the windows.
In Saltivka, video obtained by a local news outlet shows a row of shops in front of an apartment building destroyed by military strikes. A nearby building is also seen on fire.
In recent days, a number of apartment complexes, government buildings and residential areas have been damaged during the attacks.
8:10 p.m. ET, March 2, 2022
China asked Russia to delay invasion of Ukraine until after Olympics, Western intel shows
From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis and Natasha Bertrand
A Western intelligence report indicated that Chinese officials, in early February, requested that senior Russian officials wait until after the Beijing Olympics had finished before beginning an invasion into Ukraine, US officials said Wednesday.
US officials broadly view the report as credible, but its particulars are open to interpretation, according to one source familiar with the intelligence. Although the request was made around the time that President Vladimir Putin visited Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Olympics — where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping — it is not clear from the report whether Putin addressed the matter with Xi directly, the source said.
Western intelligence officials warily watching Putin’s buildup on the Ukrainian border at the time had anticipated that Putin might delay any military action until after the Olympics to avoid angering China.
After Putin and Xi’s meeting, Moscow and Beijing issued a joint statement declaring that their partnership had “no limits” and condemning NATO expansion — a key pillar of Putin’s justification for attacking Ukraine.
That statement has elevated Western concerns about a burgeoning alliance between China and Russia.
Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said, "The claims mentioned in the relevant reports are speculations without any basis, and are intended to blame-shift and smear China."
CNN has reached out to the Russian embassy in Washington for comment.
The New York Times first reported the existence of the report.
8:05 p.m. ET, March 2, 2022
Putin finds some friends in Latin America as the UNGA condemns Russian invasion
From CNN's Matt Rivers and Stefano Pozzebon
As Russia trends closer toward pariah status in many countries worldwide, it appears that it can still count on the support of a small group of countries in the West — Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — and perhaps the burgeoning backing of another central American country.
The latest proof of such support came at Wednesday’s emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Bolivia joined several dozen other countries in abstaining during a vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to demand Moscow withdraw its troops “immediately, completely and unconditionally.”
While Venezuela could not formally vote at the session because it has not paid its dues to the UN for several years, it almost assuredly would have voted against the resolution or abstained if given the chance.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week and has said multiple times that Putin has his “total support.” After the phone call, Maduro tweeted an old photo of himself and Putin shaking hands, and has blamed the conflict on “destabilizing actions of NATO.”
While the countries did not vote against the resolution, the abstention votes were notable. It meant each country chose not to declare illegal — and immoral — an invasion that the vast majority of the rest of the world agrees is a flagrant violation of international norms and laws.
Cuba and Nicaragua are long-time allies of Russias, with the bond between Cuba and Russia going back decades. Cuba’s government has blamed the current conflict on the United States and NATO’s “increasingly offensive military doctrine that threatens peace.”
Meanwhile, Nicaragua was one of the first countries in the world to formally recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine — two pro-Russian areas that Russia formally recognized shortly before it invaded Ukraine.
El Salvador’s abstention was telling, as well, mirroring the silence from the country’s leadership about the conflict since it began.
The country’s president, Nayib Bukele, was extremely vocal in the days leading up to Russia’s invasion, mocking US assertions that an invasion was imminent.
“The boy who cried wolf,” Bukele tweeted on Feb. 18, responding to US President Joe Biden, who said he believed Russia would invade in the next several days.
Since Russia has invaded, however, Bukele has remained silent on the matter.
Meanwhile, Latin America’s heavyweights, including Mexico and Brazil, have drawn fire from critics who have accused the two countries of giving Russia a free pass.
Although both countries’ UN delegations voted in favor to condemn Russian invasion and for a military withdrawal, Mexican President López Obrador and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have stopped short of criticizing Putin or imposing any sanctions.
“We’re not going to take any kind of economic reprisal because we want to have good relations with all the governments in the world,” said López Obrador. “We do not consider that [the war] concerns us, and we think that the best thing is to promote dialogue to achieve peace.”
Bolsonaro, who visited Moscow a few weeks ago, has said that his country was, “not going to take sides.”
“We are going to continue to be neutral and help however possible to find a solution,” said the president currently up for reelection later this year.
7:59 p.m. ET, March 2, 2022
Zelensky claims deteriorating morale among Russian troops
From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed the morale of Russian forces is crumbling.
In a Facebook message on Wednesday night, Zelensky said: "More and more occupiers are fleeing back to Russia, from us, from you, from all those who drive out the enemy with javelins, guns, tanks, helicopters - with everything that shoots. I wish you health, native Ukrainians, strong and kind, but not to the enemy!"
"We are a nation that broke the enemy's plans in a week — plans those have been built for years, vile, calculated, with hate for our country, for our people, for any people who have 2 things: freedom and heart. But we stopped them and beat them."
Zelensky added, "Our military, our border guards, our territorial defense, even ordinary farmers capture the Russian military every day. And all the captives say only one thing: they do not know why they are here. Despite the fact that there are dozens of times more of them, the morale of the enemy is constantly deteriorating."
He also mentioned the opposition to Russian forces of ordinary Ukrainians. "Blocking roads, people come out in front of enemy vehicles - it’s extremely dangerous, but how courageous. It is also salvation."
Zelensky accused Russian troops of looting.
"Let's throw them away with shame, as do those people who drive the occupiers out of grocery stores when the Russian military is trying to find food. These are not warriors of the superpower, these are confused children who were used. "
"They will not have peace here, they will not have food here, they will not have a single quiet moment here. The occupiers will receive only one thing from Ukraine — a rebuff, a worthy rebuff. They will always remember that we do not give up."
"Our army is doing everything to break the enemy completely. 9,000 Russians killed in one week," Zelensky said.
CNN cannot confirm Ukrainian estimates of how many casualties Russian forces have suffered.
7:42 p.m. ET, March 2, 2022
US defense secretary: "Any rhetoric about the employment of nuclear weapons is dangerous"
From CNN's Ellie Kaufman
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in an interview, “any rhetoric about the employment of nuclear weapons is dangerous.”
Austin was asked if he has seen any actions backing up President Vladimir Putin’s recent statements regarding Russia’s nuclear weapons.
“Any rhetoric about the employment of nuclear weapons is dangerous, and I think we should avoid that if at all possible,” Austin told NBC’s Lester Holt during the interview that aired Wednesday. “It creates the climate, it creates the conditions for gross miscalculations, and we don’t want to see that happen,” he said.
Putin placed his strategic forces, including nuclear weapons, on a heightened state of alert over the weekend.
Austin said he is “comfortable” with the US’s nuclear posture, adding “I’m confident that we can defend not only ourselves, but our allies and partners.”
Earlier Wednesday, Austin canceled a planned test of the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that was initially scheduled to occur this week to avoid “any actions that could be misunderstood or misconstrued” during heightened tensions with Russia, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.
7:47 p.m. ET, March 2, 2022
Police in St. Petersburg arrest at least 350 anti-war protesters, according to a local monitor site
From CNN's Philip Wang and Sahar Akbarzai in Atlanta
Police in Russia’s second biggest city St. Petersburg have arrested at least 350 anti-war protesters on Wednesday, according to local monitor site OVD-Info.
Multiple videos show that police arrested an elderly woman holding anti-war and anti-nuclear signs while protesters cheered and applauded for the woman.
At least 7,615 people have been detained in anti-war protests in Russia since last Thursday according to OVD-info.
7:19 p.m. ET, March 2, 2022
New EU sanctions target Belarus officials and exports
From CNN's Pierre Meilhan in Atlanta
The European Union approved new sanctions against Belarus on Tuesday for its involvement in the “unacceptable and illegal Russian military aggression against Ukraine," notably prohibiting the sale of a wide ranging type of machinery, including nuclear reactors.
In its 117-page official release, the Council of the European Union stated that “it shall be prohibited: to sell, supply, transfer or export, directly or indirectly, machinery as listed ... whether or not originating in the Union, to any person, entity or body in Belarus or for use in Belarus.”
The new sanctions aim not only at Belarus' exports to the European Union, but also the Union’s exports of machinery to Belarus.
Sectors and products ranging from iron and steel, tobacco, wood, cement and rubber are targeted by the new restrictions. “It also prohibits the export to Belarus or for use in Belarus of dual-use goods and technology, exports of goods and technology which might contribute to Belarus’s military, technological, defence and security development, and exports of machinery”, the official release said.
Some sanctions also target 22 Belarusian military personnel and officials.
No Belarusian banks were targeted with fresh sanctions for now.
8:03 p.m. ET, March 2, 2022
Kherson mayor indicates the city has fallen
From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh and Tim Lister
The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Kherson Ihor Kolykhaiev has said that the Ukrainian military is no longer in the city and that its inhabitants must now carry out the instructions of “armed people who came to the city’s administration” — indicating that the city has now fallen under Russian control.
The announcement on his Facebook page follows several days of pressure on Kherson by Russian forces who had surrounded the city.
Kherson is a strategically important city on an inlet from the Black Sea with a population of nearly 300,000. On Wednesday in Kyiv, the mayor had disputed Russian claims of control saying Ukrainian forces were still fighting in parts of the city. The new posting said Ukrainian forces had left.
The mayor also told the New York Times in an interview that a group of about 10 armed Russian officers, including the commander of forces attacking the city, entered the city hall building Wednesday. He said he was informed by the Russian officers that they were planning to set up a new administration similar to those in two Russian-backed separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine, according to the NY Times interview.
What this means: If Kherson is now under Russian control, it would be a significant moment in the conflict, as it would mark the first major city seized by Russian forces.
Late Wednesday, Hennady Lahuta, the head of Kherson regional administration, issued a message saying: “I ask everyone who is not at home now, or who is planning to go outside, not to do so. The occupiers are in all areas of the city and are very dangerous.”
Without saying explicitly that the Russians controlled the city, mayor Kolykhaiev said on Wednesday night that “there were armed visitors in the city executive committee today.”
"The team and I are peaceful people, we had no weapons, there was no aggression from our side."
“I didn't make any promises to them. I just have nothing to promise. I'm only interested in the normal life of our city! I just asked not to shoot people.”
In his Facebook message, he went on to say, “We do not have Armed Forces in the city, only civilians and people who want to LIVE here!”
Kolykhaiev said that there were now new rules in the city, which included a curfew and restrictions on transport in and out of the city.
He said that another rule was that “Pedestrians walk one by one, maximum two. Don’t provoke the military.”
He finished: “Let it be for now. The flag above us is Ukrainian. And in order to keep it the same, these requirements will have to be met. I can't offer anything else.”
7:29 p.m. ET, March 2, 2022
Rep. Crow: Putin views the conflict in Ukraine "as an existential threat to him and his legacy"
From CNN's Jason Kurtz
Dem. Rep. Jason Crow says it's "disappointing" to witness the events unfolding in Kherson, Ukraine, a city currently under siege.
Though Ukraine denies that the city has in fact fallen to Russia, it's undeniable that the situation there is dangerous and frightening. Crow, however, maintained a tone of optimism during a live conversation with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
"Let's also not forget that there were cities that fell to the Russians and then were retaken by the Ukrainians over the last couple of days, so let's not count the Ukrainians out," he said.
Meanwhile, said Crow, the Russian armed forces continue to struggle.
"They're having logistical problems, re-supply problems, fuel problems. Their morale is extremely low, they're encountering some desertions," he explained.
However, though Russia maintains "an overwhelming combat advantage on paper," Crow notes that conflicts aren't settled on paper.
"Odds don't fight and win wars, people do. So we have to continue to get the flow of weapons and equipment as fast as possible and get the things in the hands of the Ukrainians that they need to win this," he said.
Meanwhile, said Crow, this conflict is likely to continue for some time, with Russian President Vladimir Putin not likely to move away from his primary goal.
"This is going to be a long slog. I think if we expect Putin to take an off-ramp here or to de-escalate this because of the toll on his own army, I think we're not thinking about this in the way that Putin is thinking about this," Crow detailed.
"He views this as an existential threat to him and his legacy and frankly, he does not care about his own soldiers, so he's willing to just throw as much combat power at the problem as he needs to do to win this," said Crow.
"This is going to get worse and worse for the Ukrainians," Crow predicted, adding "time is on the Russian's side right now."