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Germany says it's sending military aid

Germany also said it was considering a "targeted" approach to disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT banking system as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine.

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Ukrainian forces kept hold of the capital city of Kyiv Saturday as a senior U.S. Defense official said there were signs the invading Russian forces were frustrated by fiercer-than-expected resistance.

Here's what to know now:

In a major shift, Germany announced it would join the list of countries sending military assistance to Ukraine — and said it was considering a "targeted" approach to disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT banking system.

The U.S. continues to see indications of viable Ukrainian resistance, a senior U.S. Defense Department official said Saturday. Moscow was particularly stymied by the fight Ukrainians have put up in the north around Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, the official said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has refused to leave the capital. Instead he has been posting videos from the streets, urging his people to join him in defiance.

Follow our in-depth coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis here.

391d ago / 1:06 AM UTC

Here are the Russian oligarchs targeted in Biden's sanctions

A former KGB leader, diamond mine executive and deputy prime minister — these are just some of the roles held by Russian oligarchs targeted by the Biden administration in a round of "unprecedented" sanctions against members of Putin's inner circle.

The U.S., working closely with European allies, has been steadily waging sanctions against Moscow with the goal of deterring Putin from escalating actions in Ukraine. The efforts, which do not appear to have thwarted Putin yet, could have lasting effects on Russian business and government leaders with international dealings.

The White House said Friday it would also take the rare step of directly sanctioning Putin, a largely symbolic act given that the Russian leader has hidden his wealth and made it difficult to freeze assets.

“Elites close to Putin continue to leverage their proximity to the Russian President to pillage the Russian state, enrich themselves, and elevate their family members into some of the highest positions of power in the country at the expense of the Russian people," the U.S. Department of the Treasury said in a statement.

"Sanctioned oligarchs and powerful Russian elites have used family members to move assets and to conceal their immense wealth.”

391d ago / 12:52 AM UTC

U.N. humanitarian chief: 'We are not leaving Ukraine'

The United Nations' humanitarian coordinator vowed that aid operations in embattled Ukraine would remain and would expand in the country following Russia's military invasion.

Even before Russia attacked the country, around 3 million people in eastern Ukraine needed aid due to eight years of war, Martin Griffiths, the U.N.'s humanitarian assistance under-secretary, said Friday.

"We had not left. We are not leaving Ukraine," Griffiths said at a briefing. "Obviously, our people there are bunkered down at the moment. But we're expanding our presence in Ukraine and scaling up efforts to help meet the needs of people affected across that country."

There have been unconfirmed reports of shelling on urban centers and civilian casualties, Griffiths said, and populations have been displaced. "I think it's fair to say that hundreds of thousands of people are on the move in Ukraine and out of Ukraine as we speak," he said.

The U.N. has moved $20 million for immediate emergency aid for Ukraine. Also Friday, Canada pledged to match donations made to the Red Cross for humanitarian aid to Ukraine and to those displaced by the conflict, up to $10 million.

391d ago / 12:25 AM UTC

Chernobyl isn't the biggest nuclear risk. Ukraine's active nuclear power plants are.

While much attention has been paid to Chernobyl this week as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, there is growing concern about the four active nuclear power plants that supply half of the nation's power.

Those four power plants, located near towns and cities in western and southern Ukraine, contain 15 operating nuclear reactors. The concern is that a nuclear disaster could occur if during the conflict they were accidentally damaged, left unmaintained or cut off from the power grid needed to cool the reactors.

Ukraine reported that its country's nuclear power reactors are still operating "safely and securely," the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday morning.

But the organization, which is dedicated to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, said it remained deeply concerned.

391d ago / 12:21 AM UTC

One of Russia's closest allies denies request for troops

Kazakhstan, one of Russia's closest allies and a southern neighbor, is denying a request for its troops to join the offensive in Ukraine, officials said Friday.

Additionally, the former Soviet republic said it is not recognizing the Russia-created breakaway republics upheld by Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, as a pretext for its aggression in Ukraine. 

Despite ceasefire accords covering the disputed land, Putin on Monday declared Russia's recognition of Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) as independent states.

The surprising development from a traditional ally of Russia has the support of the United States.

“We welcome Kazakhstan’s announcement that they will not recognize the LPR and DPR," the National Security Council said in a statement. "We also welcome Kazakhstan’s refusal to send its forces to join Putin’s war in Ukraine."

391d ago / 11:39 PM UTC

Russia vetoes U.N. Security Council condemnation of its offensive

Russia on Friday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning its offensive in neighboring Ukraine.

The council voted 11-1, with three abstentions, to condemn the country's military aggression and call for it to cease, reverse and withdraw. China was among three abstentions despite its tacit support for Russia, including a refusal to back sanctions against the country.

India and United Arab Emirates also abstained. Russia's vote included "no" and its veto. Russia holds the presidency of the elite council for the month of February and presided over the vote.

The resolution cosponsored by the United States and Albania would have had the council condemning the offensive "in the strongest terms" and demanding that Russia "immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine."

391d ago / 10:20 PM UTC

Ukrainian ambassador to U.S. accuses Russia of war crimes

Russia has committed war crimes, taken civilians hostage and attacked an orphanage with 50 children inside, Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, said at a press conference Friday.

"The Russian propaganda machine says that civilians were not targeted. I want to tell you that is not true," she said, claiming that Russian rockets hit residential areas and ambulances, injured children and destroyed strategic gas pipelines.

She said that Ukrainian armed forces are keeping the situation under control, claiming that 2,800 Russians were dead in the conflict and that 80 Russian tanks, 10 planes and seven helicopters had been destroyed.

NBC News has not confirmed the numbers of any injuries or deaths on either side.

The ambassador also raised concerns about the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which remains irradiated and a key storage facility for atomic waste after the infamous 1986 meltdown. The Russians seized control and took 92 hostages, she said, forcing them to work in shifts that do not comply with international regulations.

"All responsibility now lies with the Russian army," she said regarding the continued maintenance of Chernobyl. 

Markarova noted that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and President Joe Biden had another call Friday to discuss an anti-war coalition that included 73 countries, "working hand in hand," though she said those countries should also work to further defend Ukraine from Russian attacks.

While she applauded the sanctions the U.S. and other countries have announced on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, she said the sanctions on Russia should go further to fully "exclude it" from the international financial system.

The press conference concluded with Markarova thanking Russians who had "protested against Putin's attack on Ukraine."

"We would like to say, we see you, and it gives us hope that there are forces in Russia that don’t support a brutal attack on this nation," she said. 

391d ago / 10:15 PM UTC
391d ago / 9:33 PM UTC

Russian offensive unexpectedly slowed by stiff Ukrainian resistance

Two days in, the Russian offensive appeared to be stymied by stiffer-than-expected resistance from highly motivated Ukrainian armed forces.

Despite an overwhelming advantage in manpower and equipment, the Russian advance lost some of its momentum Friday and the quick victory Russian President Vladimir Putin was counting on is no longer assured, a senior United States defense official told NBC News.

"We do assess that there is greater resistance by the Ukrainians than the Russians expected," the official said. “They are fighting for their country.”

391d ago / 8:55 PM UTC

White House will directly sanction Putin

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced Friday it would join the European Union in directly sanctioning President Vladimir Putin, as Russian forces continued a brutal invasion of Ukraine, threatening to take over the capital city of Kyiv.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that following a conversation with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the U.S. would join European allies in sanctioning Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other members of the Russian national security team.

The Biden administration has been ratcheting up sanctions against Moscow over the past few days, working in coordination with European allies to take unprecedented measures in hopes of deterring Putin from launching a wide-scale attack against Ukraine.

But those efforts appeared to have done little to keep Putin from pushing Russian forces further into Ukraine on Friday, as Kyiv was rocked by explosions and the sound of air raid sirens.