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Ukraine’s capital was rocked by explosions and the sound of air-raid sirens early Friday, on the second day of a Russian advance that left residents and leaders bracing for the city to be overrun.
Ukraine said that hundreds of Russian troops were killed and injured as they bore down on Kyiv — with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy calling on Western governments to take stronger action against Russia and anyone with military experience in Europe to help defend the country's independence.
Russia is meeting "greater resistance" from the Ukrainians than they might have expected, a senior U.S. defense official told NBC News on Friday. "They are fighting for their country," the official said, referring to Ukrainian troops and freedom fighters.
Zelenskyy said that at least 137 people had been killed and 316 injured after Russia launched its invasion Thursday, attacking key cities and taking control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Pope Francis visits Russian embassy in Rome to express personal concerns over conflict
Pope Francis visited the Russian Embassy in Rome on Friday in an extraordinary gesture to convey his personal concerns about the conflict in Ukraine.
The Vatican confirmed to NBC News that the pope had made the visit, which appears to have no recent precedent.
Typically, popes receive ambassadors and heads of state in the Vatican, with the Vatican foreign minister expected to summon the ambassador under expected diplomatic protocol.
In this case, however, Francis took it upon himself to make the visit in a move appearing to reflect how upset he is at the situation unfolding in Ukraine.
Russian Ambassador to the Vatican Alexander Avdeev told Russia's state-run Tass news agency Friday that Francis "wanted to personally ask about the situation in Donbass and Ukraine."
The pope made the visit after the Vatican had announced that he had canceled a scheduled visit to Florence for Sunday and would not preside over Ash Wednesday commemorations next week due to "acute" knee pain.
The Vatican said Francis' doctors had prescribed a period of rest, with the pope having long suffered from sciatica nerve pain.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Ukrainians donate blood in large numbers as fighting continues
Ukrainians are queuing up in large numbers across the country to donate blood after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed on Thursday for the “wounded soldiers in hospital who need blood.”
Almost 500 people donated blood in the capital city of Kyiv alone, three times the average, the administration of Kyiv said on its Telegram channel. The city will also operate blood centers 24 hours a day.
Anyone over the age of 18 can donate blood as long as there are no medical complications.
The wreckage of an unidentified warplane lay in a residential area of Kyiv on Friday. Ukrainian forces claimed it was shot down in the early hours.
Servicemen of the Ukrainian National Guard take positions in central Kyiv, Ukraine on Friday.
Sean Penn is in Ukraine making a documentary about Russia’s invasion
Actor Sean Penn is in Ukraine documenting Russia’s invasion as tensions escalate in the region.
Penn, 61, is working on a documentary with VICE Studios, in association with VICE World News and Endeavor Content, a spokesperson for VICE confirmed. The spokesperson declined to provide NBC News with further comment or information about the project.
A representative for Penn did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
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Zelenskyy says he missed call with Italy's PM due to deadly fighting: 'Next time I'll try to move the war schedule'
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he missed a bilateral call with his Italian counterpart due to deadly fighting in Ukraine.
"Next time I'll try to move the war schedule to talk to #MarioDraghi at a specific time," he said, in what appeared to be an exasperated response to a comment from Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi noting Zelenskyy had missed the morning meeting.
"Meanwhile, Ukraine continues to fight for its people," he said.
The comments came after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said he had been meant to have a call with Zelenskyy Friday morning, but he said the discussion could not take place as the Ukrainian president was "no longer available."
Reflecting on an "extraordinary European council meeting" attended by Zelenskyy Thursday, Draghi said: "The connection with the President was a very dramatic moment."
"He is hiding somewhere in Kyiv. He said he is running out of time, that Ukraine is running out of time. That he and his family are the target of the Russian invasion. It was a dramatic moment that touched all the participants of the European council," Draghi said.
"This morning he looked for me and we scheduled a phone call at 0930, but then we couldn’t talk because President Zelenskyy was no longer available," he said, with his words appearing to prompt Zelenskyy's swift response.
As many as 4 million people could flee Ukraine 'if the situation escalates,' UN refugee agency warns
As many as 4 million people could flee Ukraine to other countries "if the situation escalates further," the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.
"According to our estimates, up to 4 million people may flee Ukraine to other countries if the situation escalates further," Shabia Mantoo, spokesperson of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told NBC News.
In a tweet earlier Friday, the UNHCR said it estimated that more than 100,000 people "must have already moved out of their homes in Ukraine, seeking safety in other parts of the country."
It said it was also aware of thousands of people having already crossed into Moldova, Romania and other countries.
In a statement on Thursday, the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said the agency was "gravely concerned about the fast-deteriorating situation and ongoing military action in Ukraine."
"The humanitarian consequences on civilian populations will be devastating," he said. "There are no winners in war, but countless lives will be torn apart."
Age restriction removed for joining Ukrainian military
Ukraine has removed age restrictions and further simplified procedures for its citizens to join the military, Brigadier General Yuri Galushkin said in a statement on Friday. Previously, only those aged between 18 and 60 could join.
Oleksii Reznikov, minister of defense, said on Facebook: “I decided, in agreement with the Commander of the territorial defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Brigadier General Yuri Galushkin, to involve in the territorial defense the Patriots over 60 years old, who are morally and physically ready to resist and defeat the enemy.”
Ukrainians have been advised to simply carry their identification to join the armed forces.
“So, if you 'get lost', good luck,” he added.
Russia retaliates to sanctions, bans all British flights from its airspace
Russia has banned all flights from the U.K. from landing or crossing its airspace, including transit flights, Russia's Federal Agency of Air Transport said in a statement on Friday.
The agency said it proposed talks with British aviation authorities but this was declined. Russia’s ban comes after the U.K. suspended Russia's flagship airline Aeroflot from landing at its airports, as announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday.
Virgin Atlantic airlines has apologized to its customers and said flights to and from Asia will take longer as a result.
People hide in a bomb shelter in Kyiv in the early hours of Friday.
UEFA moves Champions League soccer final to Paris from St. Petersburg
The governing body of European soccer, UEFA, has pulled the Champions League final from Russia replacing St. Petersburg with Paris following “the grave escalation the security situation in Europe,” it said in a statement on Friday.
The final will be held at Stade de France, the 80,000-seat national stadium of France, which is also the venue for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The game will be played as initially scheduled on Saturday 28 May at 21:00 local time (3 p.m. ET).
UEFA has also decided that the Russian and Ukrainian clubs as well as their national teams will be “required to play their home matches at neutral venues until further notice.”
The body also said it would "ensure the provision of rescue for football players and their families in Ukraine who face dire human suffering, destruction and displacement.”
Pacific island nation severs diplomatic ties with Russia
The Federated States of Micronesia, a country made up of more than 600 islands in the western Pacific, has severed diplomatic ties with Russia following what it called the “brutal invasion of Ukraine.”
“The FSM, with great sympathy to the People & Government of Ukraine, recognizes that Ukraine has been violently and unjustifiably invaded by the Russian Federation,” he said" the country's president, David W. Panuelo said in a statement Friday.
Micronesia is the first nation to have taken this step after Ukraine called on other countries and international organizations to suspend ties with Russia, after Ukraine severed its own diplomatic relationship with Russia on Thursday.
China says it opposes any 'illegal' sanctions against Russia
China said Friday that it opposes any "illegal" sanctions that harm the "legitimate rights and interests" of Russia, a country with which it has growing ties.
"The U.S. has imposed more than 100 sanctions on Russia since 2011, but this is not a fundamental and effective means to solve the problem," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular news briefing, according to CCTV, China's state broadcaster.
Although Wang continued to call for all countries' sovereignty and territorial integrity to be respected, China has so far declined to describe Russia's actions as an invasion. On Thursday, China said it would lift all restrictions on imports of Russian wheat, part of a deal reached when Putin met with President Xi Jinping in Beijing this month.
Earlier on Friday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison criticized China over what he said was a weak response to Russian actions, including the announcement on wheat.
"You don't go and throw a lifeline to Russia in the middle of a period when they are invading another country," he said. "That is simply unacceptable."
A woman walks around the wreckage of an unidentified aircraft that crashed into a house in a residential area of Kyiv on Friday, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine.
Ukraine warns Russian forces are using disguise to enter the country
Ukraine has warned Russian forces are using disguise to enter the country and “penetrate deep into the rear of Ukrainian positions.”
Russia's armed forces seized two vehicles from the National Guard of Ukraine on Friday and changed into the uniform of Ukrainian military, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar wrote on Facebook.
They were moving at speed towards Kyiv’s center from Obolon in northern Kyiv and were followed by a column of Russian military trucks, she said. The armed vehicles were later stopped, and no damage was reported, she added.
“The enemy uses our equipment!” Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation said in a statement.
“We ask the citizens of Ukraine to be vigilant and in case of receiving any information to inform law enforcement agencies,” it said on Facebook.
Gamma radiation dose rates exceed control levels after Russian troops seize Chernobyl, officials say
Ukrainian officials have said gamma radiation dose rates at the Chernobyl exclusion zone have exceeded "control levels" at a "significant number of observation points" after the power plant was captured by Russian forces.
In a Twitter statement Friday morning, Ukraine's Parliament said data from the automated radiation monitoring system of the exclusion zone had reflected a change in dose rates, which refer to the quantity of radiation that can be absorbed per unit time.
"But now it is currently impossible to establish the reasons for the change in the radiation background in the exclusion zone because of the occupation and military fight in this territory," it said.
In a separate statement, the State Inspectorate for Nuclear Regulation of Ukraine said that fluctuations in the performance of sensors could potentially be attributed to the disruption of topsoil "due to the movement of a large number of heavy military equipment through the exclusion zone and the release of contaminated radioactive dust into the air."
"The condition of nuclear facilities and other Chernobyl facilities is unchanged," it said.
International Criminal Court says it may investigate possible war crimes after Russian invasion
International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan has said he is following Russia's invasion of Ukraine "with increasing concern" and warned he may investigate possible war crimes in the country.
"I remind all sides conducting hostilities on the territory of Ukraine that my office may exercise its jurisdiction and investigate any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed within Ukraine," he said in a statement shared on Twitter.
Russia is not a member of the ICC. But the court can still investigate alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine regardless of the nationality of those accused of carrying them out, he said.
"Any person who commits such crimes, including by ordering, inciting, or contributing in another manner to the commission of these crimes, may be liable to prosecution before the Court, with full respect for the principle of complementarity," Khan said.
Taliban calls for peaceful resolution of Ukraine conflict
The Taliban, which retook control of Afghanistan in August last year after the U.S. forces' withdrawal, called for restraint in the Ukrainian conflict and expressed concerns about the “real possibility of civilian casualties” in a statement on Friday.
“The Islamic Emirate calls for restraint by both parties. All sides need to desist from taking positions that could intensify violence,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which called on both sides to resolve the conflict through dialogue.
Ukrainian forces blow up bridges to impede Russian forces, interior ministry says
Ukrainian military forces blew up two bridges near the capital of Kyiv to impede Russian forces, Ukraine's interior ministry said Friday.
The development comes after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday and launched missiles against the country.
Russian forces were believed to be around 20 miles away from Kyiv, a top U.S. Pentagon official told lawmakers in America on Thursday night.
Ukraine's Ministry of Interior Affairs said that Ukrainian armed forces blew up a bridge in Irpin, around 15 miles west of Kyiv, to prevent Russian forces from approaching the capital.
Another bridge in Hostomel, which is also west of Kyiv, was also blown up, according to the interior ministry. Photos were shared by an adviser to the Ukrainian ministry. NBC News has not independently confirmed the claims.
A damaged residential building is seen in Kyiv on Friday, a day after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine.
'We'll prevail,' Ukraine minister says
A Ukrainian government official vowed that the country's armed forces would resist for as long as they are able in the face of a Russian attack.
As sirens sounded in Kyiv on Friday morning, Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said Russian forces were trying to penetrate from the Chernobyl zone toward the capital.
"They're not far from Kyiv, but they Ukraine defense forces are fighting," Tkachenko said on MSNBC. "And I believe and I'm sure that we'll prevail. And freedom will prevail."
Zelenskyy said Russia continued missile strikes against Ukraine on Friday morning. More than 130 people have been killed in Ukraine and over 300 wounded since Russia invaded Thursday, he has said.
Ukraine prohibits men ages 18 to 60 from leaving
Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service announced late Thursday that all Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving the country.
In a statement posted on Facebook, the border guard service said the rule will apply for the period of martial law. It did not provide further details as to why.
Many people who have been trying to leave the country have struggled to find a way to get to the nearest border.
Alisa Rodionova, 20, said she is in Kyiv with her mother. "We don’t have transport to move anywhere," she said through the Telegram app.
Zelenskyy imposed martial law Thursday morning, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. No end date has been given.
Sirens activate in Kyiv as city warns to seek shelter
Sirens sounded in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on Friday morning with warnings from the city to immediately seek shelter, and Zelenskyy said Russian forces continued to fire missiles at Ukraine.
"Attention, this is not a training alarm! An air threat has been announced!" the Kyiv city government warned in a message on Telegram and its website after the sirens sounded around 7 a.m. local time.
The message told people to seek shelter and reminded residents that all subway stations were available as shelter.
Sirens were also heard in the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine.
Zelenskyy said Friday that Russian forces continued firing missiles at Ukraine at 4 a.m. Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that there have been "horrific Russian rocket strikes on Kyiv."
Zelenskyy said in a speech Friday that fighting continued, and he was defiant. "Russia expects us to get tired, but we’re not tired," he said.
A top Pentagon official told lawmakers in the U.S. on Thursday night that Russian forces were around 20 miles from Kyiv.
Large explosion rocks Kyiv apartment building
An apartment building in Kyiv was hit by debris after an aircraft was shot down over the capital city Thursday evening, according to Ukrainian officials and the country's emergency services.
Photos shared with NBC News producers in Kyiv showed a multistory apartment building that had sustained heavy damage. The state emergency service said on Telegram that eight people were injured and that 150 were evacuated from the building.
Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter that Ukraine had been the victim of "horrific Russian rocket strikes." Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior ministry, said on Telegram that Kyiv was attacked by either cruise or ballistic missiles. Details about any damage or casualties were not immediately available, and NBC News reporters on the ground were not able to independently verify the accounts.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said on Twitter that "at least three dozen missiles" appeared to have been fired at Kyiv in under an hour. He did not specify where he received that information from.
Macron says he called Putin because Zelenskyy couldn't reach him
French President Emmanuel Macron held a "frank, direct and quick" phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to ask him to stop military operations because Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had asked him to.
"It was also to ask him to discuss with President Zelenskyy, who had requested that, because he could not reach him," Macron told reporters after an E.U. summit in Brussels.
Top Pentagon official: Russian troops 20 miles from Kyiv
A top Pentagon official told lawmakers Thursday that Russian troops are just 20 miles from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, according to a source on the call.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, made the comments in an unclassified call with House lawmakers, the source said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was also on the call, described the current phase of the Russian military operation as the tip of the spear as the vast majority of Russian troops are still farther back, a person on the call and a senior defense official said.
Without providing a timeline, Austin said he expects the next phase to involve more Russian forces and focus on consolidating gains in populations centers, the member on the call and the senior defense official said. He also warned that civilians could be killed and injured, especially by missile and air strikes, a senior defense official said.
'Enemy sabotage groups' in Kyiv, Zelenskyy says
Zelenskyy said Thursday that Russian "enemy sabotage groups" had entered Kyiv, the capital, and that he was the "number one target."
"They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state," he said in a video address.
He said his family was the "number two target" but that they were still in Ukraine. Zelenskyy gave no additional details about the groups.
"My family is not traitors. They are the citizens of Ukraine," he said. "But I have no right to say where they are now."
Zelenskyy said he was still in the government quarter "together with all those who are necessary for the work of the central government."
E.U. leaders vow 'massive and targeted' sanctions on Russia
European Union leaders have approved "massive and targeted" sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
The sanctions target 70 percent of the Russian banking market, von der Leyen said. Others will target oil exports, ban the sale of aircraft and parts to Russian airlines and limit access to technology like semiconductors, she said.
The agreed-upon legal texts for the sanctions are expected to be finalized overnight and be ready for approval Friday, The Associated Press reported.
"President Putin chose to bring back war to Europe. This is a fully fledged invasion of Ukraine," von der Leyen said. She called Russia's actions "atrocious and unprovoked attacks" on Ukraine.
IOC condemns Russia for violation of Olympic Truce
The International Olympic Committee on Thursday condemned what it called Russia's breach of the Olympic Truce, which is intended to ensure a peaceful environment during the Games.
In a statement, the IOC said its president, Thomas Bach, reiterated the call for peace he made during the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. “Observe your commitment to this Olympic Truce. Give peace a chance," Bach said during the Opening Ceremony, according to the IOC.
The truce, which began seven days before the start of the Beijing Games on Feb. 4, extends seven days past the March 13 closing of the Paralympic Games. The truce resolution was adopted in December by the U.N. General Assembly and by consensus of all 193 U.N. member states, including the Russian Federation.
The IOC said Thursday that it was deeply concerned about the safety of the Olympic community in Ukraine following Russia's invasion. "It has established a task force to closely monitor the situation and to coordinate humanitarian assistance to members of the Olympic Community in Ukraine where possible," it said.
The truce dates back 3,000 years to when the ancient Greeks established the "ekecheiria" to allow the Games to take place despite conflicts among Greek city-states, according to the IOC.
Lawmakers received unclassified briefing with White House officials on invasion
House and Senate lawmakers received unclassified briefings with administration officials Thursday night and discussed a variety of issues pertaining to the invasion.
Multiple sources on the call said they were told what the administration has said publicly already. There was some discussion of potential humanitarian assistance and the talked-about supplemental spending, as well as future steps on sanctions.
Separately, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., asked specifically about humanitarian assistance on the House call, but Blinken made no formal requests, saying the State Department and the Defense Department are still assessing what’s needed, two sources on the House call said.
Rep. Young Kim, R-Calif., also pressed Treasury Secretary Yellen about why the Biden administration wasn’t blocking Russia from SWIFT. Yellen defended the decision and echoed Biden, saying new sanctions were more consequential, but she said all options remain on the table at Treasury.
Nothing new was discussed on the Senate call that isn’t publicly being circulated, a source said. Senators asked generally about the administration's next steps for sanctions and spoke about working on a supplemental spending measure in a bipartisan way but didn’t share specifics or formal requests.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., tweeted after the meeting: "Military leaders, Sec of State, Treasury & Commerce Secretaries just briefed senate. Strong denouncement of Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine by senators of both parties. Emphasis on need for immediate coordinated sanctions with rest of world. We stand with Ukraine 🇺🇦"
U.N. Security Council to vote Friday on condemning invasion
The U.N. Security Council will meet Friday to vote on a resolution to end Russia's aggression in Ukraine.
Norway's U.N. mission tweeted that the Security Council will meet at 3 p.m. ET. and "call upon all UN Members States to co-sponsor this resolution."
White House is aware of Zelenskyy's location
The White House said it is aware of Zelenskyy's whereabouts after sharing that he is in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
"We are aware of where he is located and are in touch with him," Psaki told reporters Thursday.
Russia sanctions are a ‘big deal,’ experts say. But effects could take years.
The flurry of sanctions the U.S. announced this week against Russia are some of the hardest-hitting that Moscow has ever faced, but the slow pain they inflict may not be enough to deter President Vladimir Putin from escalating his invasion of Ukraine, experts said.
President Joe Biden and several U.S. allies, including the European Union, the United Kingdom and Japan, have vowed to review further restrictions on Moscow as punishment for the invasion.
The sanctions already announced are significant in size and scope, former U.S. Treasury and State Department officials who handled American sanctions in the past said, but the longtime American reliance on the national security tool has left the U.S. with few other options if Putin and Russia do not respond.
Nevertheless, the Russian economy is already feeling the effects of war, and the sanctions could over time further cause the Russian stock market to falter, deflate the value of the ruble — which hit an all-time low Thursday — and make doing business in Russia increasingly difficult.
Sanctions are focused on preventing 'worst-case scenario,' Price says
Sanctions being pushed on Russia as a "primarily punitive" measure are part of a larger strategic move against Putin, State Department spokesman Ned Price told MSNBC on Thursday.
The sanctions, which were initially imposed Monday but escalated Thursday after Putin's attack on Ukraine, target 80 percent of Russia's banking assets. But they also limit Russia's ability to import about half of the technologies it needs, Price said.
"This is to do everything we can to prevent, to deter, a worst-case scenario," Price said. "We know that what Putin has put in place is the ability to mount a massive, large-scale, bloody, devastating campaign against Ukraine, but also against the Ukrainian people."
Price said the sanctions will build and gain momentum over time. Russia has been hit with sanctions by the U.S. several U.S. allies, including the European Union, the United Kingdom and Japan.
The ruble plummeted to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar Thursday as a result, but Russia's central bank promised to support any bank hurt by sanctions, insisting that it has the ability to maintain economic stability.
White House says Biden administration is prepared to welcome Ukrainian refugees
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that the Biden administration was prepared to welcome refugees from Ukraine into the U.S. but thought many would want to stay in nearby European countries.
Humanitarian groups and Eastern European governments have warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could trigger a major refugee crisis. Already, Psaki said, some Ukrainians have begun to cross the border into Poland.
"We certainly expect that most — if not the majority — will want to go to Europe and neighboring countries," Psaki said, adding that the U.S. had been engaging with European allies about how to best prepare for the flow of people.
Asked whether the U.S. was considering extending temporary protected status — a program that allows immigrants from countries experiencing instability to stay in the U.S. and work — to Ukrainians, Psaki said it would be a decision for the Department of Homeland Security to make.
Biden was criticized early in his presidency after he announced he would keep a Trump-era cap on refugees admitted to the U.S. Following significant blowback from Democrats, Biden reversed course and raised the cap.