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E.U. announces plans to help Ukraine, blocks airspace

The European Union said it would provide weapons to Ukraine and ban state-owned media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik.

The European Union announced new measures Sunday designed to bolster Ukraine in its fight against Russia, while imposing bans on Russian aircraft and state-owned media outlets.

"For the first time ever, the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack," European Commission President Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen said. "This is a watershed moment."

She went on to say that "in another unprecedented step, we will ban in the EU the Kremlin's media machine," citing Russia Today and Sputnik.

In the private sector, FedEx and UPS announced they were suspending shipments to Russia, further isolating Russia's economy from the rest of the world.

The moves came as Ukraine agreed to talks with Russian officials in neighboring Belarus, after initially rejecting the idea, while Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country's nuclear deterrent forces to be on high alert.

Fighting continued across Ukraine early Sunday, with the Russian assault appearing to be stymied by the stiffer-than-expected resistance, according to a United States defense official. The area surrounding Kyiv saw fighting and heard blasts and air-raid sirens, while Ukrainian officials claimed they had regained control of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, from Russian forces.

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

U.S. citizens should consider leaving Russia immediately, State Department says

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow warned U.S. citizens Sunday that they should consider leaving the country immediately as more countries impose airspace restrictions on Russia.

"An increasing number of airlines are canceling flights into and out of Russia, and numerous countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines," the embassy said in a statement. "U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available."

The embassy added that U.S. citizens should have a contingency plan "that does not rely on U.S. government assistance." Americans also should monitor local and international media, keep in contact with family and friends, stay alert to their surroundings when in public, review security plans and always carry their passports with current Russian visas, the embassy said.

Since January, the State Department has said Americans should not travel to Russia because of "ongoing tension along the border with Ukraine, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens, the embassy's limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, harassment by Russian government security officials, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law."

E.U. approves 450 million Euros in 'lethal assistance' to Ukrainian military

The European Union will finance a large package of "lethal assistance" to held aid Ukraine in its effort to repel Russian forces, Josep Borrell, the E.U.'s foreign policy chief, said Sunday.

Borrell detailed the package to reporters after a virtual media event with other member states' foreign ministers. It is the first time the E.U. has helped finance the purchase and delivery of weapons for a country under attack. 

"We have decided to use our capacities to provide arms — lethal arms, lethal assistance — to the Ukrainian army by a value of 450 million support package and 50 more millions for the non-lethal supplies, fuel protective equipment," Borrell said. "All these will be covered by our European Peace Facility and intergovernmental fund."

The total package would be more than 556 million Euros.

Poland has agreed to serve as a logistical hub, and defense ministers will meet Monday to discuss how to spend the support package, as well as how to safely transport materials to the Ukrainian front lines, Borrell said.

Zelenskyy doubts upcoming talks with Russia will lead to breakthrough

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced Sunday that a Ukrainian delegation would meet with Russian officials near the Pripyat River in Belarus but indicated that a breakthrough is unlikely.

"I emphasize, without any conditions, I will say as frankly, as always: I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting," he said in a video shared to his Telegram channel, "but let them try so that no citizen of Ukraine would have any doubt that I, as president, did not try to stop the war when there was even a small chance."

In a phone call earlier Sunday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko pledged that all missiles, planes and helicopters in his country would remain on the ground as Ukrainian officials travel to and from Belarus, as well as during the coming meeting, Zelenskyy said.

Ukraine has not said when the meeting would take place or who would be part of its delegation.

‘Very probable’ that Switzerland will freeze Russian assets, Swiss president says

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis said Sunday that it was "very probable" that neutral Switzerland would follow the European Union on Monday in sanctioning Russia and freezing Russian assets in the Alpine country.

Cassis, interviewed on French-language Swiss public television, said the seven-member Federal Council would meet Monday and review recommendations by the departments of finance and economy.

Asked whether Switzerland — a major financial center and commodities trading hub — would follow the E.U. in freezing Russian assets, he said: "It is very probable that the government will decide to do so tomorrow, but I cannot anticipate decisions not yet taken."

U.N. Security Council votes to call rare emergency General Assembly session on Ukraine

The U.N. Security Council voted Sunday to call a emergency special session of the General Assembly that will take place Monday, a rare move that comes as the U.S. and its allies, including the European Union, crack down on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

The decision to call the session passed with 11 votes in favor. China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstained, and Russia was the lone vote against the resolution. Because it was a procedural vote, only nine votes were needed for it to pass, and Russia's veto did not apply.

"Russia cannot veto our voices. Russia cannot veto the Ukrainian people. Russia cannot veto the U.N. Charter. Russia cannot and will not veto accountability," said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., calling the vote "an important step forward" toward holding Russia responsible for its actions. 

Thomas-Greenfield, addressing Russia and reports that its forces have targeted civilians in Ukraine, said the "world is watching."

"Photographic and video evidence is mounting, and you will be held to account for your actions. We will not let atrocities slide," she said.

International Atomic Energy Agency says no damage after second reported missile strike on waste site

Missiles struck a nuclear waste disposal facility in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, but there were no immediate signs of damage or radioactive release, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, said Sunday.

The IAEA said the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine informed the agency that the strike occurred late Saturday or early Sunday local time.

The reported strike came less than 24 hours after the Ukrainian government reported an attack on a similar disposal facility near the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, the IAEA said. Again, there were no immediate reports of a radioactive release.

NBC News was unable to immediately confirm the reports.

Russian forces on Thursday captured the decommissioned power plant at Chernobyl, the site of the deadly 1986 nuclear disaster.

FIFA bans Russian flag and anthem; England says it won't play against Russia

FIFA has banned the use of Russian flags or anthems and prohibited athletes from playing under Russia’s banner ahead of the Football World Cup 2022.

While Russia has not been completely banned from the tournament, no matches will be played on the Russian soil and “home” matches will be played on neutral grounds — without any spectators.

“The member association representing Russia shall participate in any competition under the name ‘Football Union of Russia (RFU)’ and not ‘Russia’,” said FIFA in a statement on Sunday.

The England Football Association also confirmed that it won’t play against Russia in any international fixture.

“This includes any potential match at any level of senior, age group or para football,” it said in a statement on Sunday. This follows a similar move by Poland, Sweden, and Czech Republic.

Both FIFA and England Football Association have condemned Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

FedEx, UPS suspend deliveries to Russia

FedEx and UPS have both suspended shipments to Russia, further isolating the country's economy after Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

FedEx announced Saturday that it's "temporarily suspending inbound and outbound services to Ukraine and inbound service to Russia until further notice."

Earlier, UPS said it was temporarily suspending "shipments to destination addresses in Russia." Packages to and from Ukraine have been stopped since Thursday.

The United States and European Union have imposed a series of sanctions in response to President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions and other punitive measures target financial institutions, air transportation and even top officials in the Russian government, including Putin.

New York governor orders review of all state investments with Russian companies

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order Sunday mandating an immediate review of any state investment or purchase from Russian companies in retaliation to Putin's invasion in Ukraine. 

The state would immediately divest from any institution found in the review, Hochul, a Democrat, said.

Individual states have begun taking various actions to punish Moscow amid federal sanctions that were levied against Russian banks, Putin, and Putin's inner circle by the Biden administration in recent days.  

"We are going to also continue to refrain from any future investments," Hochul said prior to signing the order. "This is a strong statement. It's a statement of our priorities. It's a statement of our values." 

Pro-Ukraine demonstrators gather outside White House

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the White House on Sunday in support of Ukraine.

Demonstrators carrying Ukrainian flags marched into Lafayette Square Park chanting "stop the war," "save Ukraine" and "USA, support Ukraine."

People also carried homemade signs condemning Putin and pleading with Western countries to do more. Some signs read "close the sky" and "no fly zone," urging NATO allies to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine, an option that has been ruled out by the West.

Other signs read: "Putin is a war criminal" and "stop SWIFT."

Law enforcement briefly shut down Lafayette Square Park, forcing protesters to move a few blocks away from the White House. The park was reopened after roughly an hour.

Ukraine healthcare minister: 16 children killed so far during Russian invasion

Russian forces have killed at least 16 children during their invasion of Ukraine, Healthcare Minister Viktor Liashko said Sunday.

The remarks, from the minister's verified Telegram channel, followed those of Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who detailed what he described as Russian "war crimes" in a press briefing earlier Sunday, alleging children had been killed in recent days. Russian troops on Friday assaulted an orphanage with 50 children inside, as well as a kindergarten, Kuleba said.

Health Minister Oleh Liashko said in a Facebook post Saturday that three children were among the 198 Ukrainians who have died since the attack began Thursday. He added that 1,115 had been wounded, 33 of whom were children.

NBC News has not independently verified the figures.

Kyiv mayor proud of citizens’ spirit, anxious about future

As Russian troops draw closer to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv’s mayor is filled with pride over his citizens’ spirit yet anxious about how long they can hold out.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, after a grueling night of Russian attacks on the outskirts of the city, Mayor Vitali Klitschko was silent for several seconds when asked if there were plans to evacuate civilians if Russian troops managed to take Kyiv.

“We can’t do that, because all ways are blocked,” he finally said, speaking in English. “All ways are blocked and right now we are encircled — everywhere is Russians and we don’t have a way to evacuate the people. And everyone who had plans to evacuate himself already moved.”

The AP was not able to immediately verify the mayor’s report that Kyiv was surrounded, and his spokesperson later tweeted that the mayor had misspoken.

Klitschko himself later backed away from his earlier assessment, saying on his Telegram channel that “In the evening, Russian Internet publications spread information with reference to me that Kyiv is allegedly surrounded and evacuation of people is impossible. ... Do not believe lies! Trust information only from official sources.”

Psaki responds to Putin ordering nuclear deterrent forces on high alert

Russian oligarchs to face international sanctions, U.S. official says

European leaders are in step with the U.S. over the decision to target assets owned by Russian oligarchs as well as sanctioned companies in retaliation for Putin's invasion of Ukraine, a senior White House official said. 

The Biden administration plans to launch a transatlantic task force to identify any "ill-gotten gains" from elites close to Putin and the Russian government, the official said. This is in addition to severe sanctions placed on Putin's personal assets and the limitations on Russian banks. 

"We’ve also sanctioned Russian oligarchs and Putin’s inner circle and their family members, including Putin’s cronies who sit atop Russia’s largest financial institutions and are responsible for providing the resources necessary to support Putin’s further invasion of Ukraine," the official said.

Russia's central bank said Thursday that it would offer assistance to any banks or businesses facing sanctions, after the ruble plummeted in value against the U.S. dollar.

The U.S. and its allies announced Saturday that they would limit Russia's access to SWIFT, a service that facilitates global transactions among thousands of financial institutions. That decision, along with sanctions on Russian banks, Putin, and Putin's inner circle, is designed to tighten the financial straits on Putin's war reserves. 

Ukraine takes credit for cyberattacks on Russian websites

Ukraine's national police service said Sunday that it was working with volunteers to launch cyberattacks on Russian and Belarusian websites.

In a Facebook post to its verified page, the police service said many major websites were unavailable. 

"The website of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, the FSB of the Russian Federation, Sberbank and other important government and critical information systems for the Russian Federation and Belarus are currently down," the police service said.

Various Russian websites have experienced intermittent outages in recent days, and Ukraine has called for volunteers who wish to help Ukraine both defend its own infrastructure and help with attacks on Russia.

Numerous distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, in which hackers overwhelm websites with traffic, targeting both Russian and Ukrainian websites, have been tracked in recent weeks.

BP splits with Russian oil giant Rosneft

BP, the big British oil company, said Sunday that it was ending its business relationship with Rosneft, a Russian oil and gas company.

BP said in a news release that it would divest its 19.75 percent stake in Rosneft and that its CEO, Bernard Looney, was resigning from Rosneft's board.

The high-profile move severs one of the biggest financial relationships between Russia and the West.

"BP has operated in Russia for over 30 years, working with brilliant Russian colleagues," BP chair Helge Lund said in the news release. "However, this military action represents a fundamental change. It has led the BP board to conclude, after a thorough process, that our involvement with Rosneft, a state-owned enterprise, simply cannot continue."

Ukraine calls for more anti-tank and anti-air missiles

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba put out a fresh call Sunday for the weapons that have been crucial to the country's fight against Russia.

"We need weapons to fight to defend our country. We specifically need anti-tank, anti-air, anti-missile weapons," Kuleba said in a news conference. "We need more air-to-air and ground-to-air missiles to counter invaders. We need more drones, more vehicles, aircraft artillery, guns, machine guns, ammunition."

Russia's armored units and air power have been stymied thus far by some of the handheld weapons supplied by the West: Javelin and NLAW anti-tank missiles and stinger anti-aircraft missiles. These are relatively simple and easy-to-use weapons that can be fired by individuals and have been used in previous conflict to great effect. Stinger missiles in particular are well known for their role in Afghanistan's resistance against Russia in the 1980s.

In a major reversal of its previous stance, Germany said Saturday it would be contributing anti-tank and Stinger missiles to the Ukrainian cause.

Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star general and MSNBC contributor, said, "You can take an average civilian and in one hour have them perfectly capable of operating the Javelin and the effectiveness is likely to be in excess of 90 percent first-round hit."

"And to boot, since you don't have to guide it all the way to the target, your chance of being killed during the engagement go from extremely high to almost non-existent," he added.

E.U. bans Russian planes across its airspace

The European Union is banning all travel from Russian planes over its airspace in response to President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced Sunday.

"We are proposing a prohibition on all Russian-owned, Russian-registered or Russian-controlled aircraft," von der Leyen said. "These aircraft will no more be able to land in, take off or overfly the territory of the E.U. This will apply to any plane owned, chartered or otherwise controlled by a Russian legal or natural person."

The ban covers any aircraft privately owned by a Russian oligarch, von der Leyen added.

Individual European countries had previously prohibited various Russian aircraft from their airspace.

EU to arm Ukraine in 'watershed' moment, ban state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik media outlets

The European Union announced new steps against Russia on Sunday, including the financing and delivery of arms to Ukraine and a ban on the state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik media outlets.

"For the first time ever, the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack," European Commission President Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen said. "This is a watershed moment."

She went on to say that "in another unprecedented step, we will ban in the EU the Kremlin's media machine."

"The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin's war and to saw division in our Union," von der Leyen said.

The EU also said it was closing its airspace to all Russian airplanes.

No reason to doubt reports of Russia's nuclear activation, defense official tells NBC News

The U.S. currently has no reason to doubt reports that Putin asked his military’s nuclear deterrent forces to be on alert, a senior defense official told NBC News on Sunday.

In a meeting televised on state television on Sunday, Putin said the decision to place the country’s nuclear weapons on increased readiness to launch was in response to “aggressive statements" from NATO leaders. There's no view yet from U.S. intelligence on how this might play out, according to the defense official.

“We believe that this is an unnecessary and escalatory one," the official said. 

Russian forces have faced fierce resistance from Ukrainians since Russia invaded the country overnight Wednesday, while also facing severe sanctions from the U.S. and its allies. It appears that Russia has put roughly two-thirds of its combat power around Ukraine, the official said, but its military seems to be losing momentum. 

There's no evidence from U.S. intelligence that Russian forces have taken any Ukrainian cities as of yet, and it appears Russia is behind schedule on where it hoped to be with its invasion plans, the official added. 

France joins other European countries in airspace ban on Russia

France has joined a growing list of European nations in banning Russian aircraft from its airspace.

"France is shutting its airspace to all Russian aircraft and airlines from this evening on," French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said Sunday on Twitter. "To the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Europe responds with total unity."

The United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic are among the European countries prohibiting Russia from using their airspace. The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are also enforcing airspace closures, limiting the westbound routes available to Russia.

In response to earlier sanctions, Russia banned British airlines from crossing its airspace and landing at its airports.

Ukrainian foreign minister calls Russia's willingness to hold talks 'a victory for Ukraine’

Russia's willingness to hold talks after encountering serious resistance to its invasion is a "victory for Ukraine," Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said during a briefing Sunday.

"I think that the fact that Russia is ready to hold talks — without any preconditions, without any ultimatums, without any demands addressed to Ukraine — is already a victory for Ukraine," Kuleba said.

"After they suffered losses and realize that their plan doesn't go as it was actually planned and designed and the blitzkrieg failed, Russia started speaking with the language of ultimatums saying that they are ready to talk with Ukraine with preconditions that have to be met before talks begin," he said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office confirmed Sunday that a delegation has agreed to meet with Russian officials at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River. Zelenskyy earlier said that his government would not attend negotiations in Belarus, a close ally of Moscow’s where thousands of Russian troops massed in the lead-up to the invasion last week.

Ukrainian officials said Sunday that their forces had taken back control of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, after fighting pitched street battles with the Russian troops.

Former USCIS officials call on Biden to give Ukrainians temporary protected status

Two former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service officials are calling on the Biden administration to immediately grant protections to Ukrainians that would allow them to remain in the country without fear of deportation.

Emilio Gonzalez, who served as director of USCIS under former President George Bush, and León Rodríguez, who served as the director of USCIS under the Obama administration, told NBC News on Sunday that they have written a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to grant Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainians in the U.S., which they plan to send in the coming days.

"It's just something very pressing and something that I feel very strongly about," said Gonzalez, in a phone interview. "I did when I was the USCIS director, and I do now [feel] that some people through no fault of their own need protection and if they find themselves in the greatest country in the world at that point in their lives, we should extend that protection."

Under U.S. immigration laws, the secretary of the Homeland Security is authorized to offer TPS to immigrants living in the country if it is determined that their home countries are unable to safely accept deportees due to armed conflict, natural disasters, an epidemic or other "extraordinary" emergencies.

Asked whether the U.S. was considering extending TPS to Ukrainians, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday it would be a decision for the DHS to make. 

"TPS is always on the table when you have a major military crisis that causes the level of displacement that this one has caused," said Rodríguez in a phone interview, noting that the status had previously been granted for other nations, including Syria and Venezuela. "So there's nothing different really about Ukraine in my mind." 

"It is my sincere hope that people will be able to return to Ukraine soon, but right now, there's no question that it is not a place to which people can return safely," he added. 

Russia suspends space launches from French Guiana in response to sanctions

Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, is halting all launches of its Soyuz rocket from Europe's spaceport in South America over sanctions imposed by the European Union.

"In response to EU sanctions against our enterprises, Roscosmos is suspending cooperation with European partners" on space launches from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said in a statement posted Saturday on Twitter, according to a translation.

The agency said it will also withdraw 87 personnel from the South American launch site who work for several Russian companies to support the launch of Soyuz rockets. "The issue of the departure of Russian employees is being worked out," Roscosmos said on Twitter.

Russian-built Soyuz rockets are used to launch satellites from French Guiana for Arianespace, a commercial launch provider based in France. Roscosmos' announcement will likely delay the launch of two Galileo navigation satellites from South America, while increasing tensions between Russia and its other space agency partners, including NASA and the European Space Agency.

Thousands join protest in Berlin as rallies around the world demand end to conflict

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Berlin on Sunday to protest Russia's invasion of Ukraine as demonstrations erupted around the world in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

An estimated 100,000 people were at the demonstration at the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin, according to The Associated Press. 

In aerial photos, a seemingly endless mass of demonstrators could be seen surrounding the Brandenburg Gate and beyond, with many waving yellow and blue Ukrainian flags as some carried signs with slogans like "We stand with Ukraine" and "Stop Putin." 

Protests have taken over city streets around the world over the weekend, including across Europe and beyond. 

In photos, demonstrators could be seen gathering in London's Trafalgar Square on Sunday, waving flags and signs in solidarity with Ukrainians. Demonstrations could also be seen in Athens, Greece; Istanbul; Johannesburg; and other cities around the globe.

Doctors Without Borders suspends work in Ukraine

Doctors Without Borders, the humanitarian organization known for providing medical care in conflict zones, said Friday that it was suspending its work in Ukraine.

"Our teams in Belarus and Russia stand ready to provide humanitarian assistance if needed and we are looking to send teams to other neighbouring countries to be ready on stand-by, either for response in Ukraine or to provide humanitarian medical assistance to refugees seeking asylum abroad," the organization said in a news release.

As it suspends its HIV and health care programs in Ukraine, Doctors Without Borders said it will refocus its efforts on preparing emergency medical kits and adapting as the conflict unfolds.

U.S. to send additional $54M to victims of Ukraine invasion

U.S. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield says United Nations can isolate Russia

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Sunday Russia can be isolated by the United Nations and will be called out by the U.S. and its allies for invading Ukraine in upcoming meetings.

"We can isolate them in the United Nations, We can isolate them in U.N. specialized agencies, they are feeling that isolation," said Thomas-Greenfield in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The U.N. Security Council will hold another meeting later Sunday, "in which we will make a decision to call for an emergency session of the General Assembly, which we plan to have on Monday," she said, adding that Russia "will be called out and their aggressions will be brought to the attention of the world."

"Then hopefully later in the week, we will have a vote possibly as early as Wednesday on a General Assembly resolution that the Russians cannot veto," Thomas-Greenfield added.

'Safer here': Tears and hugs as families reunite at Polish train station

There’s no schedule, the border guards say, but all of the trains arriving at the Przemysl train station on Poland’s border with Ukraine are packed with hundreds of people trying to spot their relatives through the windows.    

Polish soldiers greet them as they dismount. Behind a fence some 10 feet away, anxious relatives look out to see if their loved ones are on board. 

Among them was Oksana, 40, who said she was waiting for her son Andri, 14.

“I think he’ll be safer here,” said Oksana, who did not wish to give her last name because she still had family in Ukraine and feared for their safety. 

Her wait ended when she got a text from her cousin Olana, 42. Spotting them in the crowd she ran over to them and they hugged and cried. 

U.S. to send $54 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine

The United States will send nearly $54 million in additional humanitarian aid to Ukraine, the U.S. Agency for International Development said in a statement Sunday. 

USAID and the State Dept are issuing the funds to provide resources such as healthcare, safe drinking water and sanitation, among other things, the statement said.

"This includes critical emergency health supplies to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of people, as well as emergency food assistance to meet the immediate needs of 125,000 people," it added. 

They will also deliver high thermal blankets this week to help more than 18,500 people, including those displaced from their homes, the disabled and older people, stay warm during the harsh winter, the statement said. 

Ukraine agrees to talks with Russia at Belarus border

Ukraine has agreed to talks with Russia at the Belarus border, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office confirmed Sunday.

In a statement on Telegram, Zelenskyy's office said he had spoken with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in a phone call. The two world leaders agreed that a Ukrainian delegation would meet with Russian counterparts in talks at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River. 

Zelenskyy's office said Lukashenko had agreed to ensure that all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on Belarusian territory would remain on the ground during the Ukrainian delegation's travel, as well as during the talks and during the delegation's return.

Putin orders nuclear deterrent forces to be on 'high alert'

President Vladimir Putin has ordered nuclear deterrent forces to be on alert as international tension builds over Russia's four-day-old invasion of Ukraine.

Putin said in a meeting of top officials on Sunday, that the move was in response to leading NATO powers making what he called “aggressive statements,” according to Tass, the state-owned Russian news agency.

The move is also a reaction to the West announcing hard-hitting financial sanctions against Russian businesses and key individuals, including Putin himself, the president said in televised comments.

Read more here.

There are 'no Russian troops in the capital,' Kyiv mayor says

There are "no Russian troops" in Kyiv and the Ukrainian capital "continues to defend itself," the city's mayor said Sunday.  

"Our military, law enforcement and territorial defense continue to detect and neutralize saboteurs,"  Vitali Klitschko said in a Telegram post and he warned that Russia was still shelling residential neighborhoods in the capital. 

Klitschko said there had also been clashes and shootings overnight, but Ukrainian forces had managed to destroy "several large sabotage groups." 

A curfew imposed ordering people to stay indoors would remain in place until at least Monday morning, he said, adding, "do not go outside. You can leave only if, at the signal of the air alarm, you go to the shelter."

Ukraine in full control of Kharkiv, country's Parliament says

Kharkiv, Ukraine's second city, which was the site of fighting with Russia forces Sunday morning, is firmly in Ukrainian hands, according to the Ukrainian Parliament and a presidential advisor.

"Kharkiv is under our control! The Armed Forces of Ukraine, National Police, and Area Defence are working on elimination of the enemy forces from the city," the Parliament said on its Telegram channel.

It added that Chuhuiv was also under Ukraine's control, while fighting continues in Lypetsk, Vovchansk, and Belgorod.

Presidential Advisor Oleksiy Arestovych said in a briefing Sunday: "The enemy is disorganized and now only a small part of its forces is engaged in tries to conduct reconnaissance."

6 babies born in bomb shelters across Ukraine this weekend

Ukrainians have been sheltering in basements and subway stations for days now — and that includes heavily pregnant women. Across the country six babies were born in shelters since Friday, the country's Parliament said on its Telegram channel.

One women gave birth in a Kyiv subway station; two women delivered their babies in a makeshift maternity ward in a shelter in Kherson; in a shelter in Kolomyya, in Ivano-Frankivksk Oblast, a baby girl was born; and on Sunday a set of twins were born in a Kyiv shelter. All the infants are healthy and their mothers doing well, the statement said.

"These are the faces of this war. This is the sign that life goes on and we are not giving up," it added.

Lines form at ATMs as cash become scarce in Dnipro

DNIPRO, Ukraine — In the Ukrainian city of Dnipro access to money is becoming increasingly difficult and many people are roaming around trying to find ATMs. 

Lines form immediately when they are refilled. With withdrawals limited to 1,000 hryvnia or around $30, some are trying multiple transactions. But those who do are quickly and loudly reprimanded by the people behind.

Germany commits to $100 billion defense spending increase following Russia's invasion

Image: Scholz addresses special German parliament meeting on Ukraine
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz receives a standing ovation while addressing an extraordinary session at the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin on Sunday.Michele Tantussi / Reuters

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Germany is committing 100 billion euros ($112.7 billion) to a special fund for its armed forces, raising its defense spending above 2 percent of its GDP.

Scholz told a special session of the Bundestag in Berlin on Sunday that it was clear “we need to invest significantly more in the security of our country, in order to protect our freedom and our democracy.”

Germany had come under criticism for not investing adequately in its defense budget and not doing enough to respond to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

On Saturday evening, the German government announced it would be sending weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine to help troops against invading Russia forces.

Putin praises special forces for their 'flawless service'

Vladimir Putin has thanks his country's special forces for their "flawless service" in a TV address Sunday. 

The Russian president said the special operations units, called Spetsnaz, had "on more than one occasion" proved that they were able "to clearly and correctly resolve the most difficult and high-responsibility tasks." 

"You always carry out your war duties in the provision of Russia’s national interest in the defense of your native land and our citizens with honour," he said, adding, "you know how dynamically the character of modern war conflicts changes." 

He paid "special gratitude" to the units in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine known collectively as the Donbas, where Russian backed separatists have been battling the Ukrainian military since 2014.  

After recognizing the territories as independent states last week, Putin dispatched the first wave of Russian troops into Ukraine to perform "peacekeeping duties."

Where will Putin stop? As Ukraine holds on, Eastern Europe holds its breath

Where does Russian President Vladimir Putin plan to stop?

That is the question that has thrust the United States and its allies into an uncertain new era, cleaving a divide between East and West not seen since the Cold War and conjuring up fears of worst-case scenarios that were difficult to comprehend days ago.

Putin always knew that the U.S. and Western Europe would not step in militarily when he launched his invasion last week; the White House and other governments have always made it clear they would not go toe-to-toe with Russia, the country with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, over the defense of Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO.

But the same is not true for Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which are all members of the alliance.

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200,000 refugees have 'been forced to flee' Ukraine, U.N. says

More than 200,000 people have been forced to flee Ukraine and enter neighboring European countries, The UN's refugee agency said Sunday.

Border authorities in Poland said that around 100,000 people had arrived in recent days, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. Others have traveled to Moldova and Romania, it added.

Image: People coming from Ukraine descend from a ferry boat to enter Romania after crossing the Danube river at the Isaccea-Orlivka border crossing between Romania and Ukraine on Saturday.
People coming from Ukraine descend from a ferry boat to enter Romania after crossing the Danube river at the Isaccea-Orlivka border crossing between Romania and Ukraine on Saturday.Daniel Mihailsecu / AFP - Getty Images

"While the scale and scope of displacement will only likely become apparent in the coming days and weeks, Ukrainian authorities estimate that as many as 5 million people could flee the country, triggering a refugee crisis that will test response capacities in neighbouring countries," the agency said in a report Saturday evening, which then put the number of refugees crossing the border at 116,000.

Image: Helena, right, and her brother Bodia from Lviv, at the Medyka pedestrian border crossing, in eastern Poland on Feb. 26, 2022.
Helena, right, and her brother Bodia from Lviv, Ukraine, sit at the Medyka pedestrian border crossing, in eastern Poland on Saturday.Wojtek Radwanski / AFP - Getty Images

Inside Ukraine, the report said that "significant infrastructural damage has left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity or water, while bridges and roads damaged by shelling have left communities cut off from markets for food and other basic supplies."

In Ukraine's eastern Donbas region where Russian-backed separatist forces have been battling the Ukrainian military since 2014, the report said that the current situation was "exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation" and "generating new multisectoral needs across the country." 

Image: Ukrainian refugees are seen at the Slovak-Ukrainian border crossing in Vysne Nemecke, eastern Slovakia, on Feb. 26, 2022.
Ukrainian refugees are seen at the Slovak-Ukrainian border crossing in Vysne Nemecke, eastern Slovakia, on Saturday.Peter Lazar / AFP - Getty Images

Blasts heard in Kyiv, fighting reported in vicinity

A series of blasts was heard to the west of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv's center on Sunday, minutes after air raid sirens sounded, a Reuters correspondent reported.

Ukrainian media reported explosions and a gunfight in a nearby town.

According to Ukrainian news website, a bridge has been blown up near the town of Bucha west of Kyiv. It was unclear whether it had been bombed by Russian troops or destroyed by the Ukrainian side.

Anton Herashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine's interior minister, said fighting was under way in Bucha with Russian forces that were trying to advance towards Kyiv. 

U.S. and allies applying 'Iran model' to Russia with SWIFT restrictions, official says

A senior Biden administration official has described the decision by the United States and some of its allies to remove select Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system as applying “the Iran model.” 

Banks kicked off of SWIFT will have to “use a telephone or a fax machine” to send money internationally, helping to turn Russia into “a global economic and financial pariah,” the official who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters. 

The U.S. and its allies will “hunt down” the “yachts, jets, fancy cars and luxury homes” of sanctioned Russian companies and oligarchs, they said. 

On Saturday, the U.S. along with the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada announced that select Russian banks would be removed from the service that facilitates global transactions among thousands of financial institutions.

The option had been on the table, but some allies in Europe with economies more closely tied to Russia's had been reluctant to include SWIFT among sanctions because of the possible impact it could have.

An armed civil defense guard patrols a Kyiv street that's empty due to curfew. Sunday. Ukrainian authorities say that Russian troops have entered Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv and fighting is underway in the streets.

Efrem Lukatsky / AP

Zelenskyy urges foreigners to join Ukrainian resistance to Russia's invasion

Ukraine's embattled President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has appealed to people across the world to join the resistance against Russia's invasion and enlist in Ukraine's armed forces. 

"Anyone who wants to join the defense of Ukraine, Europe and the world can come and fight side by side with the Ukrainians against the Russian war criminals," he said a statement on the government website just after 8 a.m. local time (1 a.m. ET).

Zelenskyy accused Russia of "using very vile tactics with all elements of war crimes under Geneva 1949 Convention," including killing civilians.

"This is not just Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is the beginning of a war against Europe, against European structures, against democracy, against basic human rights, against a global order of law, rules and peaceful coexistence," he said.

He invited foreigners to join an international territorial defense legion, and said anyone could contact the defense attaché at the Ukrainian embassy in their country for more details.

Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, echoed the president's call and added in a tweet: "Together we defeated Hitler, and we will defeat Putin, too." 

Ukraine rejects Belarus as location for talks

Ukraine’s president said on Sunday that his country was ready for peace talks with Russia but not in Belarus, which was a staging ground for Moscow’s 3-day-old invasion.

Speaking in a video message Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy named Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku as alternative venues. He said other locations are also possible but made clear that Ukraine doesn’t accept Russia’s selection of Belarus.

The Kremlin said Sunday that a Russian delegation had arrived in the Belarusian city of Homel for talks with Ukrainian officials. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the delegation includes military officials and diplomats.

“The Russian delegation is ready for talks, and we are now waiting for the Ukrainians,” Peskov said.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, with troops moving from Moscow’s ally Belarus in the north, and also from the east and south.

Russian troops move into Kharkiv

Russian troops have moved into the center of Kharkiv, a city in northeast Ukraine.

City Chief of Police Volodymyr Tymoshko warned residents to stay inside.

“It is quite dangerous on the streets of the city now,” he said through Telegram, according to an NBC News translation. “Due to the small groups of the enemy who broke into the city, fighting continues.”

Russian troops take Ukrainian city home to hydroelectric power plant, mayor says

Nova Kakhovka, a city in southern Ukraine home to a strategic hydroelectric power plant, is in the hands of Russian forces, Mayor Volodymyr Kovalenko said Sunday.

"Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson Oblast is completely under the control of Russian troops, they seized the city executive committee, removed all Ukrainian flags from buildings," Kovalenko said in a statement on Telegram, according to an NBC News translation. 

It was unclear if Russian forces had taken control of the power plant. 

The Kherson region, which borders Crimea, was once served by a canal that brought water from the Dnieper River, which also churns electricity at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Station. In 2017, Ukraine built a dam that blocked the canal's supply of water from the river to Crimea. 

Invading Russian troops have already destroyed the dam in the Kherson region, Reuters reported, allowing for the water to flow freely to the occupied peninsula. 

Kyiv official says capital is 'completely controlled' by Ukraine forces

As Ukraine starts its fourth day fending off Russian troops and munitions, a Kyiv official declared Sunday that the capital city was still in the hands of Ukrainians.

"The situation in Kyiv is calm, the capital is completely controlled by the Ukrainian army and defense," Mykola Povoroznyk, first deputy head of the Kyiv City State Administration, said on messaging service Telegram.

He warned that it was not news to savor; the city was under attack by Russian forces. "There were several clashes with sabotage groups at night," Povoroznyk said.

Ukraine's minister of defense, Oleksiy Reznikov, said early Sunday that forces fending off the Russian offensive in Kyiv have made history. "Three days changed our country and the world forever," he said on Facebook.

"I see a heroic army, a civil guard, fearless border guards, selfless rescuers, reliable police officers, tireless medical angels," Reznikov said on Facebook

He also praised thousands of Ukrainians who took up arms in defense of Kyiv and their country. "You are seen by all, the whole world!" he wrote.

‘SNL’s’ solemn and stunning cold open, ‘Prayer for Ukraine,’ was no joke

"Saturday Night Live" opened its first show since the Beijing Winter Olympics with a stunning and solemn performance by the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York.

Singing "Prayer for Ukraine," the approximately 30-member group appeared in traditional white vyshyvankaUkraine's national flower, sunflowers, adorned the stage around a table with candles that spelled out "Kyiv." 

It was "SNL's" way of urging peace as Russia invaded Ukraine following its initial offensive Thursday morning.

A U.N. office estimated there have been at least 240 confirmed civilian casualties in Ukraine since Russia attacked, with at least 64 deaths. 

The chorus was founded after World War II by Ukrainian immigrants who wanted to preserve their cultural heritage in a new homeland, according to Ukrainian Weekly. It is now 72 years old and is composed strictly of nonprofessional performers.

Its Facebook page says the group performs work by Ukrainian composers but that its genres can include classical, sacred and folk choral.

Social media reaction to the chorus, introduced by Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong, was heavily favorable, with some calling it powerful, beautiful and just right. The Christian hip-hop artist Tedashii tweeted that the performance honored "those fighting for their life in Kiev."

Google blocks state-owned media outlet, other Russian channels from earning ad dollars

Alphabet Inc's Google on Saturday barred Russia's state-owned media outlet RT and other channels from receiving money for ads on their websites, apps and YouTube videos, similar to a move by Facebook after the invasion of Ukraine.

Citing "extraordinary circumstances," Google's YouTube unit said it was "pausing a number of channels’ ability to monetize on YouTube." These included several Russian channels affiliated with recent sanctions, such as those by the European Union.

Google is also barring Russian state-funded media outlets from using its ad technology to generate revenue on their own websites and apps.

In addition, the Russian media will not be able to buy ads through Google Tools or place ads on Google services such as search and Gmail, spokesman Michael Aciman said.

"We’re actively monitoring new developments and will take further steps if necessary," Aciman said.

Videos from affected media will also come up less often in recommendations, YouTube spokesperson Farshad Shadloo said. He added that RT and several other channels would no longer be accessible in Ukraine after a Ukrainian government request.

Russia received an estimated $7 million to $32 million over the two years to December 2018 from ads across 26 YouTube channels it backed, digital researcher Omelas told Reuters at the time.

YouTube has previously said it did not treat state-funded media channels that comply with its rules differently from others when it comes to sharing ad revenue.

A much needed rest in Kyiv

Image: A woman sleeps on chairs in the underground parking lot of a hotel that was turned into a bomb shelter in Kyiv on Feb. 27, 2022.
A woman sleeps on chairs in the underground parking lot of a hotel that was turned into a bomb shelter in Kyiv on Sunday.Vadim Ghirda / AP

Ukrainian former tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky enlists in reserve army

Ukrainian former tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky enlisted in his country's reserve army last week prior to Russia's invasion, he said, despite a lack of military experience, although he can handle a gun.

The 36-year-old Stakhovsky, who won four ATP titles and had a shock win over Roger Federer in the second round of Wimbledon in 2013, said on Saturday he was willing to take up arms in Ukraine's defense.

"Of course, I would fight, it's the only reason I'm trying to get back," Stakhovsky told Sky News.

"I signed up for the reserves last week. I don't have military experience, but I do have experience with a gun privately.

"My dad and brother are surgeons, they are stressed out, but I speak to them frequently — they sleep in the basement.

"None of us believed that this could happen, and yet it happened."

Former heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko also enlisted in Ukraine's reserve army this month, saying that love for his country compelled him to defend it.

Radioactive waste site struck by Russian munitions

Russian munitions struck a radioactive waste site in Kyiv, prompting some concern that the effects won't be known until the shelling and missile fire stops, government officials in Ukraine said Sunday. 

The State Inspectorate for Nuclear Regulation of Ukraine said in a statement that the capital branch of the government Radon Association reported seeing falling missiles on security cameras. 

"It is currently not possible to assess the extent of the destruction," the state office said, according to a translation of its statement. 

Experts from the Ukrainian State Association Radon, or Radon Association, reported the attack by phone after seeing it via security video, the inspectorate said. They had taken shelter and viewed the offensive via a remote video system intended for security, it said. The site's automated reporting system had failed.

Now those personnel are pinned down until the offensive at their location ends, the inspectorate said.

Assessment will happen in the wake of Russia's mission, it said. At the same time, the inspectorate believes there is no radioactive threat to people outside of a buffer zone intended to protect communities from radioactive waste sites.

Ukraine has more than a half dozen of these regional sites, including the Kyiv SISP, for State Interregional Specialized Plants for Radioactive Waste Management. They were built to accept waste from the use of radiation in medicine, science and "different industries," according to the government.

Russian forces blow up gas pipeline in Kharkiv, Ukrainian officials say

Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian officials said Sunday.

Video shared by State Special Communications' Telegram channel showed a rising fireball similar to a mushroom cloud. Officials reassured in the post that was not a nuclear strike.

"In Kharkiv, the occupiers blew up a gas pipeline," the communications office said.

More than 200 miles to the west near Vasylkiv, south of the capital of Kyiv, a Russian ballistic missile attack set an oil depot on fire, officials said. The flames could reportedly be seen from Kyiv, and fighting was reported to be preventing emergency services from working to extinguish the blaze.

Missiles hit Vasylkiv, oil plant on fire, officials say

Ballistic missiles struck the city of Vasylkiv, south of Kyiv, and an oil plant was on fire, the mayor said as a Russian attack in the country continued for a fourth day.

"You all can see what is happening right now, you see the fire," Vasylkiv Mayor Natalia Balasinovich said in a video message.

Alexey Kuleba, head of the administration in Kyiv Oblast, said on Facebook that the missile strike caused a fire at the oil depot in the village of Kryachky, just outside of Vasylkiv.

Fighting was ongoing and prevented emergency services from extinguishing the fire, according to Kuleba. "We are in danger of an ecological catastrophe. We do everything possible to prevent this!" he said in the statement.

Ballistic missiles also struck an airfield, the mayor said. Vasylkiv is around 20 miles south of the capital of Kyiv. The fire could reportedly be seen from there.

Image: A fire at a Ukrainian petroleum storage depot after a Russian missile attack in Vasylkiv, near Kyiv on Sun., Feb. 27, 2022.
A fire at a Ukrainian petroleum storage depot after a Russian missile attack in Vasylkiv, near Kyiv on Sun., Feb. 27, 2022.Alisa Yakubovych / EPA

California-based app Premise battles accusations of helping Russian military

Premise, a San Francisco-based tech company that pays users around the world to share market research and intelligence information with companies and governments, said it suspended its activities in Ukraine on Friday “out of an abundance of caution” after Ukrainian officials accused it of assisting Russia.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine alleged in a Facebook post that enemies were using Premise’s smartphone app to collect data in the western city of Stryi and other parts of the country for the Kremlin.

Premise CEO Maury Blackman said in a statement on Friday that the accusations were “unequivocally false” and that the company does not work for the Russian military or government. “Our company and our team worldwide strongly support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people defending themselves against this illegal act of aggression by Russia,” he said.

Premise did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a separate news release also published on Friday, Blackman said that “the public statement of the Ukraine Defense Ministry that has gotten circulation is incorrect.”

Read more here. 

Ukraine roads company removing road signs to confuse Russians

MOSCOW - A Ukrainian company in charge of building and maintaining roads said it was removing all road signs that could be used by invading Russian forces to find their way around the country.

"The enemy has poor communications, they cannot navigate the terrain," the company Ukravtodor said in a Facebook update late on Friday. "Let us help them get straight to hell."

It posted an edited photo of a standard road sign in which directions to nearby cities have been replaced with profanities.

China so far not helping Russia evade sanctions, U.S. official says

WASHINGTON — China so far does not appear to be helping Russia evade Western financial sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, but doing so would "do profound damage" to China's reputation, a senior Biden Administration official said on Saturday.

"The latest signs suggest that China's not coming to the rescue," the official told reporters after announcing that the United States and its allies agreed to impose sanctions against Russia's central bank and disconnect key Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial transaction network.

The official said that recent reports that some Chinese banks have stopped issuing letters of credit for purchases of physical commodities from Russia were a positive sign.

This "suggests that, much like has been the pattern for years and years, China has tended to respect the force of U.S. sanctions," the official added.

China is Russia's biggest trade partner for both exports and imports, buying a third of Russia's crude oil exports in 2020 and supplying it with manufactured products from cell phones and computers to toys and clothing.

Shelling in northeast Ukraine reportedly hits residential building, 1 dead

A woman was killed after an artillery shell struck a residential building in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, emergency services said Sunday morning local time.

The State Emergency Service said in a statement that "enemy artillery" struck a 9-story building and that an elderly woman in a fifth-floor apartment died. NBC News has not independently verified the claim.

Twenty people were rescued from a destroyed part of the building, the emergency service agency said. Sixty people hiding from the shelling in the basement were not injured, it said. 

There have been at least 240 confirmed civilian casualties in Ukraine since Russia attacked it and invaded Thursday morning, a United Nations office said. That number includes at least 64 dead. The U.N. believes the "real figures are considerably higher," because many reports of casualties have yet to be confirmed.

Kyiv children's hospital says it's undamaged, 6-year-old caught in nearby attack dead

An official at a Kyiv children's hospital allegedly damaged by Russian forces Saturday says it remained intact despite nearby fighting, though a child brought to the hospital had died.

Three adults and three children were brought to the Ukraine National Specialized Children’s Hospital, called Okhmadyt, after getting caught in a nearby attack, the hospital's press manager, Anastasia Maggeramova, said over the phone. One six-year-old boy was dead when he arrived at the medical facility.

“We heard an attack and after that some people came in by emergency vehicle," she said, adding that they were treating the three adults and two children who had survived. "Now a child is dead because of [the] massive attack.”

Maggeramova said the hospital staff had frequently heard nearby conflict over the past few days, though it had not yet reached the medical facility. This is the most patients they'd yet received because of the conflict, she said. 

“Our doctors have tried to do their best to save them and to help them,” Maggeramova said.

Local reports had said Saturday that the hospital, which specializes in treating children with cancer, had been hit by Russian artillery fire and killed one child. 

Though they remained safe so far, Maggeramova said the staff wanted people to know what was happening.

“We want the world to know the truth: civilian people are under attack," she said. "Children are suffering, people are suffering because of war, because of attacks, because of terrible things now happening here in Ukraine.”

Trump boasts as Russian attack continues; blames Biden, not Putin

ORLANDO — Former President Donald Trump test drove a new message on Ukraine Saturday night that immediately won approval from his base.

"I stand as the only president of the 21st century on whose watch Russia did not invade another country," he said to applause at the Conservative Political Action Conference here.

Russia launched attacks into Georgia during President George W. Bush's administration, Crimea during President Barack Obama's administration and into Ukraine just a few days ago. 

In a break with traditional decorum from a former president — but in line with Trump's approach to his successor — he placed more blame for the invasion on President Joe Biden, rather than on Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin.

"The problem is not that Putin is smart," Trump said. "The problem is our leaders are dumb — so dumb."

While he called the attack on Ukraine "an assault on humanity," he declined to criticize Putin for launching it.

"If you take over Ukraine, we’re going to sanction you, they say," Trump said of the western alliance. "Sanction, well that’s a pretty weak statement."

At least 240 civilian causalities in Ukraine, U.N. says

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 — 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.

What happens after removal from SWIFT? Phone or fax, U.S. official says

Banks removed from SWIFT banking system would have to "use a telephone or a fax machine" to send money internationally, a senior Biden administration official said.

The U.S. and its allies on Saturday announced an agreement in which they "commit to ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system" as punishment for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Which banks have not been determined, but the administration official said that those already under U.S. and European Union sanctions would be considered first.

"If one of these 'de-SWIFT-ed' Russian banks wants to make, or receive, a payment with a bank outside of Russia, such as a bank in Asia, it will now need to use the telephone or a fax machine," the administration official said on condition of anonymity.

"In all likelihood, most banks around the world will simply stop transacting altogether with Russian banks that are removed from SWIFT," the official said.

SWIFT is an industry-owned cooperative headquartered in Belgium. The U.S. official said that the list of banks that could be removed would be finalized by the EU.

French president asks Belarus counterpart to order removal of Russian soldiers

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has asked his Belarus counterpart to demand that the country, Ukraine’s neighbor, quickly order Russian troops to leave, claiming Moscow has been given the green light to deploy nuclear arms there.

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.

U.N. Security Council to meet Sunday

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council will meet Sunday afternoon to hold a procedural vote on a request by Ukraine for an emergency session of the 193-member General Assembly in light of Russia’s invasion of its country.

There are no vetoes on a procedural vote in the council, unlike on resolutions. A procedural vote requires approval from nine of the 15 council members.

Council diplomats said approval is virtually certain, and the emergency meeting of the General Assembly is expected to be held on Monday.

Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya tweeted Thursday that he asked General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid to prepare for an emergency meeting in the coming days.

He said the meeting should be held under the so-called “Uniting for Peace” resolution, initiated by the United States and adopted in November 1950 to circumvent vetoes by the Soviet Union during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The resolution gives the General Assembly the power to call emergency meetings to consider matters of international peace and security when the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution Friday demanding that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops.

Ohio, New Hampshire move to halt sale of Russian vodka

The governors of Ohio and New Hampshire on Saturday moved to halt the purchase or sale of Russian-made vodka in response to Russia's invasion and continued attack on Ukraine.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the state to no longer buy or sell vodka made by Russian Standard and said retailers have been asked to remove it from their shelves.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu tweeted that he signed an executive order instructing state liquor stores to remove Russian-made and Russian-branded spirits.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also asked retailers and restaurants to voluntarily remove all Russian products, and later Saturday Utah Gov. Spencer Cox ordered Russian-made products removed from state-run liquor stores. 

Some parts of Canada have also pulled Russian-made liquor.

Ontario's finance minister on Friday directed the liquor control board to remove products produced in Russia. And the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation and the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation also removed Russian Standard vodka, the CBC reported.

Latest SWIFT move against Russia follows 'the Iran model'

The move to kick some of Russian banks out of the SWIFT financial system follows "the Iran model" since this is what was done to Tehran in 2018, a senior Biden administration official told reporters Saturday. 

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the banks that are already under U.S. and E.U. sanctions will be considered first, but ultimately E.U. officials will have the final say. 

Germany readying to block airspace to Russia

Germany is preparing to close its airspace to Russian aircraft, the latest European country to take that step since Russia attacked Ukraine this week.

Germany's transportation minister, Volker Wissing, supports the move and has ordered preparations to be made, the transportation ministry tweeted.

The United Kingdom, Romania and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are among the countries that have either closed or announced plans to close their airspace to Russian aircraft.

Also Saturday, German airline Lufthansa said it will not use Russian airspace for the next seven days "due to the current and emerging regulatory situation."

Flights that were in Russian airspace would leave, it said, and all flights to Russia will be suspended.

U.S. and key allies kick select Russian banks out of SWIFT payment system

The U.S., European Union, United Kingdom and Canada on Saturday announced that select Russian banks would be removed from the SWIFT payment system, a move that Ukraine had pushed allies for in recent days.

"We will hold Russia to account and collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," the joint statement read. "This past week, alongside our diplomatic efforts and collective work to defend our own borders and to assist the Ukrainian government and people in their fight, we, as well as our other allies and partners around the world, imposed severe measures on key Russian institutions and banks, and on the architects of this war, including" Putin.

"As Russian forces unleash their assault on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, we are resolved to continue imposing costs on Russia that will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and our economies," the statement continued. "We will implement these measures within the coming days."

The allies said they "commit to ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system," will impose "restrictive measures that will prevent the Russian Central Bank from deploying its international reserves in ways that undermine the impact of our sanctions," and that they "commit to acting against the people and entities who facilitate the war in Ukraine and the harmful activities of the Russian government."

On that last bit, the group of nations said they will take "measures to limit the sale of citizenship — so-called golden passports — that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems."

The nations said they will launch a task force this week to ensure the implementation of the sanctions and identify and freeze assets of sanctioned people and companies within each of their jurisdictions.

Russian police detain conflict demonstrator in a night of protests

Image: Russian police detain a demonstrator in St. Petersburg on Feb. 26, 2022.
Russian police detain a demonstrator in St. Petersburg on Saturday.Dmitri Lovetsky / AP

Cryptocurrency donations pour in after Ukraine puts out call on Twitter

Ukraine's government received more than $4 million in cryptocurrency on Saturday shortly after it began directly soliciting funds on social media, according to its accounts' public transactions.

Ukraine's official Twitter account, as well as its minister for digital transformation, tweeted Crypto wallet addresses where people can donate their bitcoin, ethereum and tether, a cryptocurrency whose value is tied to the U.S. dollar.

Within a few hours, those addresses had received more than $761,949 of bitcoin and more than $3.4 million worth of ethereum, the account showed.