Russia Invades Ukraine, Latest Updates: Refugee Crisis Grows, Payment Firms Halt Operations – CNET

Russia Invades Ukraine, Latest Updates: Refugee Crisis Grows, Payment Firms Halt Operations – CNET

Refugees hold each other as they talk to an officer in Medyka, Poland, after crossing the border from Ukraine.

Refugees hold each other as they talk to an officer in Medyka, Poland, after crossing the border from Ukraine. “This is the fastest-moving refugee crisis … since World War II,” says the UN’s high commissioner for refugees.

Wally Skalij/Getty Images

This story is part of War in Ukraine, CNET’s coverage of events there and of the wider effects on the world.

What’s happening

Ukraine’s military and citizens continue to resist the Russian invasion. As Russia’s attacks escalate, casualties grow and the refugee situation becomes a major crisis.

Why it matters

Leaders in the US and Europe have imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia, but that may be just the start in a new era of hostility between the West and Moscow.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, in a move Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called a “war against the whole of Europe.” International leaders have joined US President Joe Biden in condemning the “brutal attack.” The US, EU and UK have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, including ones aimed directly at Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Tensions had been growing for months and were marked by angry speeches from Putin, as well as a buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s borders. Ukraine, which had been part of the Soviet Union for much of the 20th century, declared its independence in 1991. Since then, the country has been establishing closer ties with Western Europe and the US.

Here is breaking news on the war. 

Read more: Over 1 Million Refugees Have Fled Ukraine. Here’s How to Help

Saturday, March 5

PayPal, major credit card companies halt services in Russia

PayPal said it’s suspending its services in Russia and cited the country’s “violent military aggression in Ukraine.” The company had discontinued domestic services in Russia in mid-2020 but still allowed cross border transactions. Later Saturday, the Associated Press reported that Mastercard and Visa also would be suspending operations in Russia. Mastercard cards issued by Russian banks won’t be supported, and cards issued outside the country won’t work at Russian ATMs or stores, the AP said, adding that Visa transactions will stop in the coming days. A number of tech companies have also stopped selling products and services in Russia as a response to the invasion.

Refugee crisis grows

At least 1.2 million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries in the 10 days since Russia’s invasion began, the leader of the United Nations refugee agency told The New York Times on Saturday. “This is the fastest-moving refugee crisis — let’s call it a refugee crisis, please, it’s a refugee crisis — since World War II,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the Times. Kelly T. Clements, the UN’s deputy high commissioner for refugees, emphasized in a tweet that “a person with a story is behind every number.”

Putin ramps up his threats, deal to evacuate civilians falls apart

Russian President Vladimir Putin likened international sanctions against his country to “a declaration of war.” He also said “the future of Ukrainian statehood” was at risk. 

Meanwhile, an agreement between Ukraine and Russia on evacuating civilians from the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha broke down, with Ukrainian officials saying Russian forces had continued shelling, and the Russians blaming the deal’s collapse on Ukraine.

Friday, March 4

Amazon amps up AWS security in Ukraine

Amazon Web Services is working with Ukrainian customers and partners to keep their apps secure, including helping customers migrate any on-premises infrastructure into AWS to prevent physical or cyberattacks from disrupting services, and providing malware intelligence and security tools.

“For several weeks, we have been partnering closely with Ukrainian IT organizations to fend off attacks and working with organizations in Ukraine, and around the world, to share real-time, relevant intelligence,” AWS said late Friday. “As this activity has ramped up, our teams and technologies detected the threats, learned the patterns and placed remediation tools directly into the hands of customers.”

Bloomberg, CNN, BBC, CBS stop journalists reporting in Russia

With Putin on Friday enacting a new law that punishes people who spread “false information” about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, news organizations including the BBC, CNN, CBS and Bloomberg have stopped their journalists from reporting within Russia. The law carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

“The change to the criminal code, which seems designed to turn any independent reporter into a criminal purely by association, makes it impossible to continue any semblance of normal journalism inside the country,” said Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief, John Micklethwait.

TikTok to label Russian state-controlled content

TikTok said Friday that it’ll start warning viewers when videos are posted by Russian state-controlled media accounts. The labels will be added in the coming days to the bottom of videos, similar to other TikTok banners.

Russia blocks Facebook

The Russian government said it will block access to Facebook in the country in response to the social network restricting accounts of some state-controlled media. The move escalates a decision by Russia’s communications regulator on Feb. 25 to partially restrict access to Facebook. 

In a statement posted to Twitter, Facebook executive Nick Clegg said the social network would work to restore access. 

“Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out,” Clegg said. “We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they remain available to people to safely and securely express themselves and organize for action.”

Microsoft stops sales in Russia

Microsoft suspended sales of its products and services in Russia, the company said in a blog post Friday.

“We continue to work proactively to help cybersecurity officials in Ukraine defend against Russian attacks, including most recently a cyberattack against a major Ukrainian broadcaster,” company President Brad Smith wrote.

Google pauses all advertising in Russia

Google suspended advertising on search, YouTube and display marketing in Russia. It followed Russian internet watchdog Roskomnadzor accusing the Google-owned YouTube of running campaigns to misinform Russians about the invasion.

Ukraine’s biggest nuclear plant seized by Russian forces

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, was seized by Russian forces, according to Ukraine’s state nuclear regulator. 

A fire broke out in a nearby training building amid the attack, but didn’t affect the reactor buildings. There are no signs of elevated radiation levels around the plant, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The US Embassy in Ukraine called the attack on the nuclear power plant a “war crime.”

Thursday, March 3

Airbnb suspends operations in Russia and Belarus

Airbnb is halting all operations in Russia and Belarus, the home-sharing company’s CEO and co-founder, Brian Chesky, said in a tweet Thursday.

It’ll block calendars from accepting new bookings in those countries until further notice, in addition to restricting those users from making new reservations as guests, the company told CNBC.

Intel halts shipments to Russia

Intel has suspended all shipments to its customers in Russia and Belarus, it announced Thursday. 

“We will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine and the global community in calling for an immediate end to this war and a swift return to peace,” Intel said in a statement. The Intel Foundation has raised more than $1.2 million for relief through an employee donation and matching campaign.

Russia blocks access to app stores, social media, Western news sites

Russia has blocked access to several big app stores and Western news organizations such as BBC and Deutsche Welle, as well as social media sites including Facebook and Twitter, according to Der Spiegel reporter Mathieu von Rohr, who tweeted the news Thursday.

US announces more sanctions on Russian oligarchs

The US said it’s sanctioning an expanded list of Russian elites and their family members that have supported Russian President Vladimir Putin. The sanctions will freeze the assets of the individuals and target their “yachts, luxury apartments, money, and other ill-gotten gains,” said the White House. 

The Department of State is also imposing visa restrictions on 19 Russian oligarchs as well as 47 family members and close associates. 

Russia, Ukraine agree to ‘humanitarian corridors’ to allow civilians to evacuate

After a second round of talks on Thursday, the Ukrainian and Russian delegations agreed to limited cease-fires in some local areas of Ukraine to create “humanitarian corridors” that would enable civilians trapped by the war to escape, reported The Washington Post. The cease-fires will reportedly only be in place along evacuation corridors and for limited times. 

“The main issue that was resolved today is the issue of saving people, civilians, who found themselves in the zone of military clashes,” Russian presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky said, according to the Post. 

The delegations have reportedly agreed to convene a third meeting. 

Wednesday, March 2

BMW, Ford, GM pull back from Russia

Automakers including BMW, Ford and GM have announced plans to scale back their operations in Russia. BMW said Wednesday it will stop local production in Kaliningrad and halt exports to Russia. Ford is suspending its operations in Russia “effective immediately, until further notice.”

They follow GM on Monday saying it would suspend business in Russia, while Honda has also reportedly suspended Russian exports. Mazda also plans to.

Tesla superchargers made free for those fleeing Ukraine

Electric vehicle owners leaving Ukraine can use Tesla superchargers for free in Trzebownisko, Poland; Košice, Slovakia; Miskolc, Hungary; and Debrecen, Hungary, a report Wednesday said. There are around 30,000 EVs in Ukraine, according to the Kyiv Independent.

Ukraine and Russia to enter second round of talks 

Delegations from Ukraine and Russia are planning to meet for their second round of talks on Wednesday, according to The New York Times, citing Zelenskyy adviser Oleksiy Arestovych.

EU bans Russian state-run news agencies in Europe

The European Union on Wednesday prohibited state-controlled news outlets Russia Today and Sputnik from broadcasting and publishing within Europe.

“We are witnessing massive propaganda and disinformation over this outrageous attack on a free and independent country,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.” We will not let Kremlin apologists pour their toxic lies justifying Putin’s war or sow the seeds of division in our Union.”

Read more: Russia’s Ukraine War Raises Specter of an Online Splinternet

Tuesday, March 1

Biden announces ban on Russian aircraft in US airspace

US President Joe Biden announced during his first State of the Union address that Russian aircraft would be prohibited from entering US airspace in an effort to increase the pressure on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. The US joins Canada and the European Union in banning aircraft owned or registered by Russians from flying across its borders.

“Tonight, I’m announcing that we will join our allies in closing off American air space to all Russian flights, further isolating Russia and adding additional squeeze on their economy,” the president said.

The ban will reportedly be enforced from 6 p.m. PT on Wednesday.

Google adds refugee resources

Google on Tuesday added an SOS alert on Search across Ukraine to point people searching for evacuation information to UN resources for refugees and asylum seekers. The search giant said it’s also upping its account security protections and removing misinformation, while Google Pay “may become unavailable in certain countries.”

Snapchat halts ads across Russia and Ukraine

Snapchat stopped all advertising running in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus on Tuesday, as well as halting advertising sales to Russian and Belarusian entities.

“We do not accept revenue from Russian state-owned entities,” Snap said, but the Snapchat app remains live in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus because Snap said it’s “an important communications tool for family and friends.”

Biden and Zelenskyy discuss sanctions, defense

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden spoke again Tuesday. “Just had a conversation with @POTUS. The American leadership on anti-Russian sanctions and defense assistance to Ukraine was discussed,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “We must stop the aggressor as soon as possible. Thank you for your support!”

Apple stops selling products in Russia

Apple halted online transactions in Russia and exports to its Russian partners, in addition to including limiting Apple Pay transactions in the country, it said Tuesday. The company also disabled some features of Apple Maps in Ukraine to protect civilians.

“We are deeply concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and stand with all of the people who are suffering as a result of the violence,” it said in an e-mailed statement. “We are supporting humanitarian efforts, providing aid for the unfolding refugee crisis, and doing all we can to support our teams in the region.”

DirecTV removes RT America programming

Satellite TV provider DirecTV will no longer carry RT America, one of Russia’s state-controlled international television networks, in the US, DirecTV said Tuesday. 

“We are accelerating this year’s contract expiration timeline and will no longer offer their programming effective immediately,” DirecTV said in a statement. “We felt it necessary to move the timeline up from mid-year following the devastating recent events in Ukraine.”

Facebook is demoting Russian state media content

Meta said Tuesday that it’s demoting content shared on Facebook and Instagram by Russian state-controlled media outlets. Meta is also making the content harder to find and labeling it on both platforms. “This link is from a publisher Facebook believes may be partially or wholly under the editorial control of the Russian government,” the label says.

Ukrainian president calls for his country to be admitted into EU 

Zelenskyy implored lawmakers to grant European Union membership to Ukraine, in an emotional video conference address to the European Parliament.

“The EU will be much stronger with us. We have shown our strength and that we are equals,” he said, as previously reported by the BBC. “On your side, you can prove to us that you are by our side, that you will not give up on us.”

YouTube blocks Russian state media channels

YouTube blocked channels connected to Russian state-controlled media outlets RT and Sputnik, parent company Google said.

“It’ll take time for our systems to fully ramp up,” Google’s European branch said in a tweet. “Our teams continue to monitor the situation around the clock to take swift action.”

Monday, Feb. 28

Facebook to restrict some Russian state media across the EU

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, will limit access to RT and Sputnik across the European Union. 

“We have received requests from a number of Governments and the EU to take further steps in relation to Russian state controlled media. Given the exceptional nature of the current situation, we will be restricting access to RT and Sputnik across the EU at this time,” said Nick Clegg, who oversees global affairs at Meta, in a tweet. 

Clegg didn’t specify when these new restrictions would start. Facebook previously restricted access to several accounts, including from Russian state-controlled media, in Ukraine after a request from the government there.

Twitter to label tweets that link to Russian state media

Twitter on Monday began adding labels to tweets that shared links to Russian state-backed media sites and is also taking steps to reduce their spread on the social network. The label reads “This Tweet links to a Russia state-affiliated media website” and links to a Twitter help center page on government and state-affiliated media accounts. 

“Since the invasion, we’ve seen more than 45,000 Tweets a day sharing links to Russian state-affiliated media outlets,” said Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site integrity, in a series of tweets explaining the company’s decision. “While we’ve labeled the accounts of hundreds of global state media outlets for years, Tweets sharing their content lacked visible context.”

Twitter said it would roll out the labels to other state-affiliated media outlets in the coming weeks. 

Ukrainian and Russian delegations end initial talks

Ukraine and Russia sent delegations to neighboring Belarus to enter the first talks since the Russian invasion began, the Washington Post and New York Times reported. The talks reportedly lasted almost five hours and more are expected in the coming days. 

The delegations “identified a number of priority topics on which specific solutions were outlined,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, according to the Washington Post. No specific resolution was reached and both sides will reportedly return to their countries for consultations. 

Sunday, Feb. 27

Google Maps live traffic data temporarily disabled in Ukraine

Google Maps tools offering live information about traffic conditions and activity in stores and restaurants were temporarily disabled in Ukraine, the search giant confirmed to CNET via email.

The decision to disable these features was apparently made to protect local users’ safety after consultation with Ukrainian regional authorities, as previously reported by Reuters.

Meta restricts some Russian accounts in Ukraine

The giant social network said it had restricted access to some accounts in Ukraine, including some belonging to Russian state media organizations. Meta took the move at the request of the Ukrainian government. It’s also considering similar requests from other countries.

The company had previously established a center staffed with native Russian and Ukrainian speakers to monitor the platform. It also expanded its fact-checking capability and prevented Russian state media accounts from running ads, effectively demonetizing them. 

Elon Musk activates Starlink in Ukraine amid internet disruption

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said Saturday that the company’s Starlink satellite internet service is active in Ukraine and that more terminals are being sent to the country as invading Russian troops disrupt internet access. Musk’s actions were in response to a plea from a senior Ukrainian government official for him to provide more Starlink stations to the country. The satellite-based service provides an alternative to land-based systems that can often be difficult to deploy in remote areas or vulnerable to interruption by military action or natural disaster.

Saturday, Feb. 26

US, allies to expel some Russian banks from SWIFT payments system

Significantly ramping up sanctions, the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the European Commission said Saturday that they’ve committed to “ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed” from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication messaging system. Millions of financial messages and money transfer orders are sent over SWIFT by banks worldwide, including the US Federal Reserve System, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank. The allies said the move will ensure that the affected Russian banks “are disconnected from the international financial system,” harming “their ability to operate globally.”

Social media sites tamp down on ads

Google-owned YouTube reportedly prohibited Russian state-owned media outlet RT and other Russian channels from making money off of ads on the video site. Facebook had made a similar move on Friday, banning Russian state media from running ads or monetizing on its platform. It followed up Saturday with a blog post about the invasion-related steps it’s taking, including expanding its third-party fact-checking capacity in Russian and Ukrainian.

Twitter, meanwhile, had said Friday that it was “temporarily pausing advertisements in Ukraine and Russia to ensure critical public safety information is elevated and ads don’t detract from it.” On Saturday, it said “we aware that Twitter is being restricted for some people in Russia and are working to keep our service safe and accessible.”

Russian advance slows 

A Pentagon official said Russian forces were “increasingly frustrated by their lack of momentum,” The New York Times reported Saturday, as outgunned Ukrainian forces held on to the capital, Kyiv, overnight amid what a number of news outlets characterized as intense street fighting.

Britain’s ministry of defense cited “strong Ukrainian resistance” and logistical troubles as the causes of the slowdown, the Times said, while the Kremlin asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a pause Friday to allow for possible negotiations with Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy continued his calls for the country to “stand firm” as Russian forces push in from the north, from Crimea in the south and from the east through Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk and Sumy.

Friday, Feb. 25

Meta halts Russian state media ads 

The Facebook owner said late Friday it was “prohibiting Russian state media from running ads or monetizing on our platform anywhere in the world.” 

The move followed a partial block on access to Facebook in Russia after the country’s communications regulator claimed the social network had censored some Russian media. 

US and EU personally sanction Putin

The European Union and the United States agreed to personally sanction Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday.

“Following a telephone call conversation President Biden held with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and in alignment with the decision by our European allies, the United States will join them in sanctioning President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov and members of the Russian national security team,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing Friday afternoon.

Psaki added that the secretary of the Treasury will also impose “full blocking sanctions on the Russian Direct Investment Fund — a state owned financial entity that functions as a sovereign wealth fund, which is supposed to attract capital into the Russian economy in high-growth sectors.”

Russian forces reach Kyiv

Russian troops reportedly reached Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, early Friday morning. CBS News reported explosions and gunfire in the city. 

Zelenskyy posted a video of himself and other government officials. He said they haven’t fled the city and are defending Ukraine.

Zelenskyy talks with Biden

Ukraine’s president said he spoke with Biden on Friday, tweeting that they discussed “strengthening sanctions, concrete defense assistance and an anti-war coalition.”

Earlier Friday, a Kremlin spokesperson reportedly said Putin was willing to negotiate with Ukraine, but later comments by the Russian leader cast doubt on peace talks, according to The New York Times.

Thursday, Feb. 24

Ukraine death toll reaches 137

At least 137 people were killed on the first day of Russia’s assault, Zelenskyy said. 

“Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter, calling the Russian military actions “a full-scale invasion.” 

“This is a war of aggression,” Kuleba said.

Russia seizes Chernobyl

Russian forces took control of the Chernobyl nuclear power site by Thursday afternoon, according to the Associated Press. 

“This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe,” Zelenskyy said on Twitter. 

More sanctions hit Russia

Biden gave an address later Thursday, saying the US would cut off Russian banks and stop Russia’s ability to finance and build its military. 

“Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will end up costing Russia dearly economically and strategically,” Biden said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said Thursday that Russian banks would face a full asset freeze, and he banned Russia’s national airline, Aeroflot, from landing in the UK. Britain extended sanctions to Belarus for assisting in the Russian invasion.

Biden, G7 condemn Russia

Following a meeting Thursday, the leaders of the Group of Seven nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US — issued a joint statement condemning Russia.

“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Biden said in a statement. “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring.”

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Russia’s actions are “an act of aggression against a sovereign, independent and peaceful country.” He added, “this is a deliberate, cold-blooded and long-planned invasion.”

Russia invades Ukraine

Russia invaded Ukraine at around 4:30 a.m. local time Thursday, with Russian forces launching attacks from the country’s eastern border with Ukraine, from the north in Belarus and from the south in Crimea. 

Zelenskyy declared martial law in Ukraine.

Putin repeated discredited claims of violence against ethnic Russians in Ukraine to justify the invasion.

Countries in Central Europe, including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, prepared to receive an influx of refugees.

Wednesday, Feb. 23

Zelenskyy appeals for peace

Zelenskyy made a plea for peace Wednesday in a last-minute effort to avoid war.

“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” Zelenskyy said. “But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.”

Ukrainian banks and government hit by suspected cyberattack

Multiple Ukrainian government websites went offline Feb. 23 as the result of a mass distributed denial of service attack, according to the head of the Eastern European nation’s Ministry of Digital Transformation. Some banking websites were down as well, Mykhailo Fedorov said on Telegram.

DDoS attacks cripple sites by overwhelming them with a flood of requests to serve up web pages.

Tuesday, Feb. 22

First sanctions

The European Union on Tuesday agreed to a package of sanctions against Russia, targeting banks that fund the country’s military operations and banning trade between the EU and the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, while Germany halted approval of the Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany. 

Biden on Tuesday said the US will provide defensive assistance to Ukraine and reinforce NATO allies. The Pentagon put 8,500 US troops on high alert to bolster NATO’s response force.

Monday, Feb. 21

Putin recognizes breakaway regions as independent

Putin on Feb. 21 recognized two Moscow-backed regions in eastern Ukraine — Donetsk and Luhansk — as independent entities and ordered the deployment of Russian forces to “keep the peace.” In a lengthy televised address about his decision, Putin also aired historical grievances and made baseless claims of Ukrainian aggression, as reported by The New York Times. 

Friday, Feb. 18

US blames Russia for cyberattacks

On Feb. 18, US officials said they believe Russia was responsible for cyberattacks against Ukraine’s banks and military earlier this month. They were the latest in a string of digital incursions that’ve been blamed on Russia, including attacks that defaced government websites and planted destructive malware on Ukrainian computer networks.

“This recent spate of cyberattacks in Ukraine are consistent with what a Russian effort would look like, and laying the groundwork for more disruptive cyberattacks accompanying a potential further invasion of Ukraine sovereign territory,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser, during a briefing at the White House

Monday, Jan. 10

US pushes back on Russia’s security demands

On Jan. 10, US and Russian officials met for strategic stability talks in Geneva. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said both countries shared concerns, but the US was firm that it would “not allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s open door policy.”

The meeting came after the US and NATO in December rejected a Russian proposal that called for “a Cold War-like security arrangement,” according to The New York Times, including demands for “ironclad” guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia never become members of NATO. 

NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a military alliance among two countries in North America and 28 in Europe. The admission of either Ukraine or Georgia would increase NATO’s presence along Russia’s border. 

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