As darkness fell, Ukrainians dug in for another night of brutal assault by Russian forces, with indications at the moment that the attack on the nation’s capitol was intensifying.
Two large explosions rocked an area south of Kyiv. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said one of the blasts was near the Zhuliany airport, and the mayor of Vasylkiv, about 25 miles south of the capital, said an oil depot there was hit, according to the Associated Press. Terrified men, women and children sought safety inside and underground, and the government maintained a 39-hour curfew to keep people off the streets.
The explosions, which came shortly before 1 a.m., according to the New York Times, came after days of fierce resistance by the Ukrainian military and civilians, a stand a U.S. official said was frustrating Russian forces.
Meanwhile, the the United States and its European allies agreed to remove “selected” Russian banks from the international SWIFT messaging system, which allows for the movement of financial transactions.
They also moved to impose restrictive measures on Russia’s central bank, a measure the White House and its partners said would further hammer Russia’s financial systems and hit the country’s wealthy and political elites.
About 50% of Russia’s combat troops have entered Ukraine, up from 30% on Friday, a senior Defense Department official said, characterizing the number in the tens of thousands of combat and logistics troops. Russian troops are advancing along three major routes into Ukraine.
Latest updates Ukraine:Satellite images, surveillance footage, social media posts
Resistance is stiffening as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday pressed the world to help his country beat back a Russian invasion.
The Pentagon Saturday also announced $350 million in emergency military aid to Ukraine. That package includes Javelin anti-armor missiles, ammunition and body armor, according to the official.
Despite international condemnation of Russia’s strike against its smaller neighbor, Russia carried out airstrikes on cities and military bases. The violence prompted thousands of Ukrainians to flee their homes, looking for safety in nearby countries.
To catch you up:
Why is Russia invading Ukraine?:Could it be the start of WWIII? We explain.
Back in the U.S.:What is the draft? And can it ever be reinstated here?
French President Emmanuel Macron asked his Belarus counterpart to demand that the country, Ukraine’s neighbor, quickly order Russian troops to leave.
In a phone conversation Saturday, Macron denounced “the gravity of a decision that would authorize Russia to deploy nuclear arms on Belarus soil,” a statement by the presidential palace said.
Macron told Alexander Lukashenko that fraternity between the people of Belarus and Ukraine should lead Belarus to “refuse to be a vassal and an accomplice to Russia in the war against Ukraine,” the statement said.
Belarus was one one of several axes used by Russia to launch attacks on Ukraine, with Belarus the point to move toward the capital Kyiv, a senior U.S. defense official has said.
Macron has pushed persistently to try to claw out a ceasefire amid the war, using the telephone to talk to all sides, diplomacy and sanctions by the European Union.
– The Associated Press
GENEVA — The United Nations says it has confirmed at least 240 civilian casualties, including at least 64 people killed, in the fighting in Ukraine that erupted since Russia’s invasion on Thursday — though it believed the “real figures are considerably higher” because many reports of casualties remain to be confirmed.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs relayed the count late Saturday from the U.N. human rights office, which has strict methodologies and verification procedures about the toll from conflict.
OCHA also said damage to civilian infrastructure has deprived hundreds of thousands of people of access to electricity or water, and produced a map of “humanitarian situations” in Ukraine — mostly in northern, eastern and southern Ukraine.
The human rights office had reported early Friday an initial count by its staffers of at least 127 civilian casualties – 25 people killed and 102 injured – mostly from shelling and airstrikes.
– The Associated Press
The United States and its European allies have agreed to remove “selected” Russian banks from the international SWIFT messaging system, the White House announced on Saturday. The White House also announced that the US and allied countries will move to impose new ”restrictive measures” on Russia’s central bank.
The new economic penalties on Moscow come as Russia’s military continues to bombard Kyiv and other population centers in its deadly invasion of Ukraine.
A senior administration official said the U.S. and EU will work to finalize the list of Russian banks that will be barred from the SWIFT system. But Russia will feel the impact of the decision well before it’s enacted, said the official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.
“I have great confidence the effects of these measures will be felt immediately in Russia’s financial markets,” the official said.
The U.S. official suggested some banks that handle energy transactions could be exempted in the SWIFT delisting process. That would help cushion the economic blow to Europe, which relies heavily on Russia for oil and gas.
The SWIFT system is based in Belgium, where officials will have the final sign-off on the list of barred institutions.
The U.S. and EU countries also announced new steps to limit the sale of “golden passports,” which allows wealthy individuals become citizens of European countries.
– Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he’s open for talks with Russia.
Zelenskyy said in a video message Saturday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev offered to help organize such talks. He added that “we can only welcome that.”
Zelenskyy also said he and Erdogan “agree that a ban on the passage of Russian warships into the Black Sea is very important today,” adding that “it has been done.” Turkey, however, hasn’t announced any ban for Russian warships to move through Turkish Straits following Erdogan’s talk with Zelenskyy.
Zelenskyy said that “Ukrainians’ readiness to protect our state, our solidarity and courage have thwarted the scenario of occupation of our country.”
“The world has seen that Ukrainians are strong, Ukrainians are brave, Ukrainians stand on their land and will not surrender it,” he said.
– Associated Press
In a significant shift, the German government said Saturday it will send weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine and supports some restrictions of the SWIFT global banking system for Russia.
Germany’s chancellery announced it will send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 “Stinger” surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine “as quickly as possible.”
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks a turning point. It threatens our entire post-war order,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement. “In this situation, it is our duty to help Ukraine, to the best of our ability, to defend itself against Vladimir Putin’s invading army.”
In addition, the German economy and climate ministry said Germany is allowing the Netherlands to ship 400 German-made anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.
Germany had long stuck to a policy of not exporting deadly weapons to conflict zones, including Ukraine. As recently as Friday, government officials said they would abide by that policy.
Germany on Saturday also joined the rest of the European Union in voicing support for SWIFT sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and German Economics Minister Robert Habeck announced the decision in a joint statement that indicated there might be limits in how far Germany is willing to go on the issue.
“We are working flat out on how to limit the collateral damage of a disconnection from #SWIFT, so that it hits the right people. What we need is a targeted and functional restriction of SWIFT,” the officials wrote in a statement.
SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. It is a global messaging system connecting thousands of financial institutions around the world.
SWIFT was formed in 1973, and is headquartered in Belgium. It is overseen by the National Bank of Belgium, in addition to the U.S. Federal Reserve System, the European Central Bank and others, NBC News reported. It connects more than 11,000 financial institutions in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, so banks can be informed about transactions.
Earlier Saturday, Zelenskyy said that Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi also voiced his approval for disconnecting Russia from SWIFT.
The U.S. did not impose removing Russia from SWIFT following concerns from European allies in what was seen as America’s harshest punishment at its disposal.
– JJ Hensley and Associated Press
Russian forces have grown increasingly frustrated by Ukrainian resistance, particularly near the capital of Kiev, and the Russian advance remains about 18 miles from the city, a senior Defense Department official said Saturday.
Russia has, however, sent reconnaissance forces into Kyiv, the official said, declining to say how many of those troops have penetrated the city.
The official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the Pentagon had used several means to determine that Russian forces invading Ukraine had been stalled by determined resistance.
The official warned that the battlefield situation is fluid and changing rapidly.
Addressing reports that some Russian military vehicles had run out of gas, the official said the invading force sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin had expended more fuel resources than it had planned for.
Ukrainian forces continue to contest the airspace over the country with warplanes and missile defense, the official said.
Also Saturday, the Pentagon announced that $350 in emergency military aid to Ukraine. That package includes Javelin anti-armor missiles, ammunition and body armor, according to the official. Prior to the invasion, military materiel had been arriving in Ukraine by cargo aircraft. U.S. military aid has continued to flow into Ukraine in the last few days but the official declined to say how it has arrived there.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that “the speed of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed likely as a result of acute logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance.”
“Russian forces are bypassing major Ukrainian population centres while leaving forces to encircle and isolate them,” the ministry said.
– Tom Vanden Brook and Associated Press
MEDYKA, Poland – At least 150,000 people have fled Ukraine into Poland and other neighboring countries in the wake of the Russian invasion, the U.N. refugee agency said Saturday.
Some walked many miles through the night while others fled by train, car or bus, forming lines miles long at border crossings. They were greeted by waiting relatives and friends or headed on their own to reception centers organized by neighboring governments.
“The numbers and the situation is changing minute by minute,” said Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. “At least 150,000 people have fled, they are refugees outside of Ukraine. … At least 100,000 people – but probably a much larger number – have been displaced inside Ukraine.”
Those arriving were mostly women, children and the elderly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy banned men of military age from 18 to 60 from leaving. Some Ukrainian men were heading back into Ukraine from Poland to take up arms against the Russian forces.
– The Associated Press
LONDON — Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich suddenly handed over the “stewardship and care” of the Premier League club to its charitable foundation trustees on Saturday.
The move came after a member of the British parliament called for the Russian billionaire to hand over the club in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich, who has owned Chelsea since 2003, made no mention of the war in his statement.
– The Associated Press
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroschenko, Zelenskyy’s predecessor, said he was prepared to die to defend his country.
“I think that we should do our best to protect our nation,” he told CNN in an interview Saturday. “To protect the nation against the Russian aggressor definitely bring the risk of life.”
Poroschenko, who was wearing a flak jacket and standing outside in Kyiv with members of the Ukraine military, sounded clear-eyed and defiant.
“Everybody here – all the young and old people – fully understand that we have this risk,” he said. “Somebody has a choice to go abroad. Somebody has a choice to be the refugee in some regions of Ukraine. But many, the biggest part, make a decision to take the rifle and to protect the nation.”
“I proud for these people. I proud for this country. And I proud to be Ukrainian.”
– Ledyard King
The Biden administration is providing an additional $350 million in immediate U.S. military assistance to Ukraine as Russia continues a full-scale attack on the country with intense fighting in the capital city of Kyiv.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the drawdown of funds Saturday morning after Biden authorized the emergency military aid late Friday night through the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.
“This package will include further lethal defensive assistance to help Ukraine address the armored, airborne, and other threats it is now facing,” Blinken said in a statement. “It is another clear signal that the United States stands with the people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereign, courageous, and proud nation.”
The aid brings the U.S.’s total assistance to Ukraine to more than $1 billion over the past year, according to Blinken, including $200 million in military assistance in December and $60 million last fall.
Zelenskyy has urged Ukraine civilians to join the fight against Russia, and as he remains defiant about not leaving Kyiv, he’s made clear about the need for more help.
“I need ammunition, not a ride,” he said in a video Friday.
– Joey Garrison
KYIV, Ukraine – Russian troops pressed toward Ukraine’s capital Saturday after a night of air strikes and street fighting.
Ukrainian officials have reported some success in fending off assaults. A U.S. official told reporters Friday the Pentagon had information suggesting that Moscow had expected a faster advance on Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy refused an American offer to evacuate, insisting he would stay. “The fight is here,” he said.
Skirmishes reported on the edge of Kyiv suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces. A missile struck a high-rise apartment building in the city’s southwestern outskirts near one of Kyiv’s two passenger airports, Mayor Vitali Klitchsko said, leaving a jagged hole of ravaged apartments over several floors. A rescue worker said six civilians were injured.
Russia claims its assault on Ukraine is aimed only at military targets, but civilians have been killed and injured during Europe’s largest ground war since World War II.
– Caren Bohan and Associated Press
In 2014, Russia flooded the internet with fake accounts pushing disinformation about its takeover of Crimea. Eight years later, experts say Russia is mounting a far more sophisticated propaganda effort as it invades Ukraine.
Armies of trolls and bots stir up anti-Ukrainian sentiment. State-controlled media outlets look to divide Western audiences. Clever TikTok videos serve up Russian nationalism with a side of humor.
The effort amounts to an emerging part of Russia’s war arsenal with the shaping of opinion through orchestrated disinformation fighting alongside actual troops and weapons.
Analysts at several different research organizations contacted by The Associated Press said they are seeing a sharp increase in online activity by groups affiliated with the Russian state. That’s in keeping with Russia’s strategy of using social media and state-run outlets to galvanize domestic support while seeking to destabilize the Western alliance.
Researchers saw a sudden and dramatic increase in anti-Ukrainian content in the days immediately before the invasion. On Valentine’s Day, for instance, the number of anti-Ukrainian posts created by the sample of Twitter accounts jumped by 11,000% when compared with just days earlier. Analysts believe a significant portion of the accounts are inauthentic and controlled by groups linked to the Russian government.
– David Klepper, The Associated Press
Russian propaganda:TikTok is Russia’s newest weapon in arsenal for anti-Ukraine propaganda
Slovakia’s defense minister says up to 1,200 foreign troops from other NATO members could be deployed in his country in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The plan is part of the NATO initiative to reassure member countries on the alliance’s eastern flank by sending forces to help protect them. Slovakia borders Ukraine.
Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said forces from the Netherlands and Germany are among those expected to come. Germany will also provide the Patriot system to boost Slovakia’s air defense.
The country’s government and Parliament have not yet approved the plan.
Nad also said his country’s government has approved sending arms and fuel worth 11 million euros ($12.4 million) requested by Ukraine. The aid will include 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons) of fuel, 2.4 million liters (630,000 gallons) of aviation fuel and 12,000 pieces of ammunition.
– The Associated Press
After Russia launched a military invasion into Ukraine early Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called up reservists and those liable for service for a full military mobilization.
As many Ukrainians fled to neighboring countries, the Ukraine State Border Guard Service announced that men ages 18 to 60 were prohibited from leaving the country, ahead of a possible draft to increase the country’s military service.
Talk of conscription led to questions in the U.S. about whether the government could ever reinstate the draft. That is highly unlikely in a country where antiwar sentiment has grown in the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress would have to reinstate the draft since induction authority expired in 1973. If approved, the president would then be authorized to induct civilians through the Selective Service Administration into the armed forces under an amendment to the Military Selective Service Act.
Even though there is no draft currently, almost all men and male immigrants aged 18 to 25 are required to register with the Selective Service. Women make up close to 17% of the U.S. armed forces, but Congress would have to pass legislation amending the act to require women register.
– Chelsey Cox
MOSCOW – Risking arrest and intimidation, Russian citizens have taken to the streets in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities to protest President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russians with prominent platforms – celebrity actors, television presenters, comedians and pop stars – risked their state contracts and jobs to make anti-war statements.
Many Russians have seen horrifying images from the Ukraine conflict, broadcast by independent media. Some show the Russian army destroying apartment blocks with people inside, a tank rolling over a vehicle with an elderly man inside and bleeding women crying for an end to the fighting.
In St. Petersburg, Sergei Bobovnikov, an antique art expert, joined a street rally Thursday night where hundreds of people crowded the central avenue, Nevsky Prospect.
“No to war!” they chanted. “Hands off Ukraine!”
Some 1,745 people in 54 Russian cities were detained, at least 957 of them in Moscow, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, cities across Europe saw large gatherings where people voiced their outrage.
In London, demonstrators outside the Downing Street residence of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held up placards Friday that read “Stop the war” and “Total embargo on Russia.”
From New York to Paris, cities lit up buildings in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
– Anna Nemtsova, Caren Bohan and Associated Press
A senior Russian official has warned that Moscow could react to Western sanctions over its attack on Ukraine by opting out of the last remaining nuclear arms pact and freezing Western assets.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, shrugged off a set of crippling sanctions that the U.S., the European Union and other allies slapped on Russia as a reflection of Western “political impotence.”
In comments posted on his page on Russian social media VKontakte, Medvedev said the sanctions could offer Moscow a pretext for a complete review of its ties with the West, suggesting that Russia could opt out of the New START nuclear arms control treaty that limits the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
— Associated Press
The Czech Republic’s government has approved a plan to send more arms to Ukraine.
The Defense Ministry said it is immediately sending machine guns, submachine guns, assault rifles and pistols together with ammunition worth 188 million Czech crowns ($8.6 million).
The ministry said the Czechs will transport the weapons and deliver them to a place determined by the Ukrainian side.
The Czech Republic has already agreed to donate some 4,000 pieces of artillery shells worth 36.6 million Czech crowns ($1.7 million) to Ukraine.
— Associated Press
‘Our world is crumbling’:Ukrainians try to flee homes with food, belongings amid Russian invasion
WARSAW, Poland — The Polish Football Association says it will not play its World Cup qualifying match against Russia due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“No more words, time to act!” said association president Cezary Kulesza on Twitter, saying the move was prompted by the “escalation of the aggression.”
The match had been scheduled for March 24.
— Associated Press
The Ukrainian health minister says that 198 people have been killed and more than 1,000 others have been wounded in the Russian offensive.
Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said Saturday that there were three children among those killed. His statement made it unclear whether the casualties included both military and civilians.
He said another 1,115 people, including 33 children, were wounded in the Russian invasion that began Thursday with massive air and missile strikes and troops forging into Ukraine from the north, east and south.
— Associated Press
Zelenskyy detailed further diplomatic efforts to drum up support for Ukraine Saturday, tweeting about a conversation with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
“Ukraine is fighting the invader with weapons in hands, defending its freedom and European future. Discussed with @vonderleyen effective assistance to our country from (the European Union) in this heroic struggle. I believe that the #EU also chooses Ukraine,” he tweeted.
— Luciana Lopez
In a selfie-style video posted to twitter early on Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to stay and fight on.
“I am here. We will not lay down any weapons. We will defend our state, because our weapons are our truth,” he declared, denouncing as disinformation claims that he had surrendered or fled.
— Associated Press
Russia-Ukraine explained:Inside the crisis as US calls Russian movements an invasion
Sean Penn, in Ukraine working on a documentary about the ongoing Russian assault, called the invasion “already a brutal mistake of lives taken and hearts broken.”
“If he doesn’t relent, I believe Mr. Putin will have made a most horrible mistake for all of humankind,” Penn said in a statement to USA TODAY early Saturday morning. President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people “have risen as historic symbols of courage and principle. Ukraine is the tip of the spear for the democratic embrace of dreams. If we allow it to fight alone, our soul as America is lost.”
— Brian Truitt
Read the whole story here:Sean Penn calls Russian invasion of Ukraine ‘a brutal mistake’ while filming documentary there
Russia’s wealthy oligarchs and political elites flaunt a level of in-your-face affluence across the world. This week, their wealth and connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin made some of them targets of President Joe Biden’s sanctions in response to the Kremlin’s ongoing military invasion of Ukraine.
But if the Biden administration really wants to hurt Russian oligarchs enough to rein in Putin’s actions in Ukraine, it needs to hit them much harder – and hit a lot more of them, some U.S. officials and kleptocracy experts told USA TODAY.
By any measure, the new rounds of U.S. financial blockages issued this week go far beyond what has been done in the past to pressure Putin into curbing his rogue behavior, White House officials said. The sweeping actions would cause extreme hardship for some of Russia’s largest financial institutions and a small handful of Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats that Biden said use them as their own “glorified piggy bank.”
— Josh Meyer
The term Russian oligarch conjures images of posh London mansions, gold-plated Bentleys and sleek superyachts in the Mediterranean, their decks draped with partiers dripping in jewels.
But the raft of sanctions on oligarchs announced by President Joe Biden this week in response to the invasion of Ukraine may do little to dim the jet-setting lifestyles of Russia’s ultra-rich and infamous – much less force a withdrawal of tanks and troops.
U.S. sanctions target Russian President Vladmir Putin and a handful of individuals believed to be among his closest security advisers, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
But the list is just as notable for who isn’t on it — most of the top names from Forbes’ list of the richest Russians whose multi-billion-dollar fortunes are now largely intertwined with the West, from investments in Silicon Valley start-ups to British Premier League soccer teams.
Citing the concerns of European allies, the U.S. also didn’t impose what was seen as the harshest punishment at its disposal, banning Russia from SWIFT, the international financial system that banks use to move money around the world.
— Associated Press