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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in the spotlight again Tuesday when he avoided directly answering a question about a possible prisoner swap for detained Americans Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich. Lavrov instead mentioned several Russian nationals who are currently being held in US prisons.
Meanwhile, Russia is focusing its forces on its assault of the eastern city of Bakhmut, the Ukraine military said. All of this while at least two people were killed and almost a dozen were injured during a Russian strike on Kupyansk, a town about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of the concentrated fighting in Bakhmut.
Here are the top headlines you need to know:
- Missiles moratorium in question: Russia may end its self-imposed moratorium on the use of its ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles, according to Vladimir Ermakov, the Russian foreign ministry's head of nuclear nonproliferation. Russia would continue to adhere to the moratorium based on the US missiles deployed, their characteristics and their ability to reach the Asia-Pacific region, Ermakov told state-owned media agency TASS.
- Cultural sites destroyed: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that “more than 60 museums and galleries in different regions of our country have also been destroyed or damaged by the occupiers” since the invasion began. Two women were killed in a Russian attack using S-300 missiles, which hit a museum in Kupyansk.
- Assault on Bakhmut: Russia is targeting its assault on the already-battered eastern city of Bakhmut, the Ukrainian military said. The situation in Bakhmut keeps changing, as “there is a positional war going on,” said Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the eastern grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
- Drone video: New video released by Ukrainian Defense Intelligence appears to show a drone strike against a Russian surveillance complex in Kherson. The video is dated as Monday, but CNN cannot confirm when the operation took place. There is growing evidence of Ukrainian strikes against Russian targets behind the front lines in the south.
- Evacuations happening: Ukrainian officials say evacuation measures are being implemented in some Russian-controlled towns in the occupied Zaporizhzhia region.
Ukrainian Defense Intelligence has released video appearing to show a drone strike against a Russian surveillance complex on the east bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson.
One of its units posted on Telegram that the target was destroyed at the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant at a distance of more than 6 kilometers (approximately 4 miles,) and eliminated a Russian surveillance station.
The video is dated April 24, but CNN cannot confirm when the operation took place.
The video shows an operator watching surveillance video, purportedly from another drone. Smoke emerges from the upper story of a building, which CNN has geolocated as on the Russian-held side of the Dnipro River at the power plant.
The same unit posted video of road conditions, showing vehicles struggling to gain traction in seas of mud, with the commentary: “As you can see, the weather conditions do not yet allow equipment and the military to work at full capacity. Therefore, there will be a counteroffensive, but it takes time and conditions. Be patient.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that “more than 60 museums and galleries in different regions of our country have also been destroyed or damaged by the occupiers” since the invasion began.
He said two women were killed in a Russian attack using S-300 missiles on the Kupyansk museum in the Kharkiv region. The town is about 10 kilometers from the front lines.
He also said that a church was destroyed by a Russian strike in the southern Kherson region. “This church became one of hundreds of churches and prayer houses destroyed by Russian strikes,” he said.
Zelensky alleged that Russian forces had broken into the house of a Tatar activist, Abduresheet Dzhepparov, in Crimea. “He is one of the representatives of the Crimean Tatar national movement, a human rights activist, a citizen of Ukraine. It is unknown where he is now, what is happening to him.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov avoided directly answering a question about a possible prisoner swap for Americans Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, instead mentioning several Russian nationals who are currently being held in US prisons.
"We have approximately 60 people who are serving sentences here. And in most cases, the accusations are dubious," Lavrov said.
"They didn't deign to comply with the requirements of the bilateral consular convention, under which if they have any suspicions about Russian citizens, then they need to be not abducted like it's done in Hollywood films, but they need to turn to the Russian Federation and they need to lay out their concerns," Lavrov said.
Some background on the two cases: Wall Street Journal reporter Gershkovich was arrested in March and faces up to 20 years in prison on espionage charges, which the newspaper vehemently denies. Whelan, a former Marine who is a US, Irish, British and Canadian citizen, was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 by Russian authorities who alleged he was involved in an intelligence operation. He was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison.
The US State Department has designated both Gershkovich and Whelan as wrongfully detained, which Lavrov again said that Russia rejected.
"In the Russian Federation, there are several American citizens who are serving sentences for various crimes," Lavrov said. "I refer to Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich. They were detained when they were committing a crime: receiving material that was a state secret. And the vociferous, pathos-laced statements about journalists by definition not being able to commit crimes is something which we reject."
Lavrov added he believes those cases should be dealt with privately.
"The channel for the discussion of these matters exists. This is work that is not public in nature, and publicity here will only complicate the process for reasons which are understandable and there's no need to tell you professionals about why," Lavrov said.
Lavrov is in New York for the meeting of the UN Security Council, as Russia currently holds the rotating presidency of the council.
Russia may end its self-declared moratorium on the deployment of its ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles, according to Vladimir Ermakov, the Russian foreign ministry's head of nuclear nonproliferation.
Ermakov told state-owned media agency TASS in an interview on Tuesday that Russia will only continue to adhere to its moratorium depending on the range of US missiles deployed, their characteristics and their ability to reach the Asia-Pacific region.
“In particular, the readiness of Russia to continue adhering to the unilateral moratorium on the deployment of ground-based medium-range and shorter-range missiles in certain regions will fundamentally depend on the specific parameters of [US] missiles’ range,” Ermakov said.
"But even now we can say with confidence that the destabilizing military programs of the United States and its allies are making our moratorium more and more fragile, both in the Asia-Pacific region and in Europe," he said.
Some background: The United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia in 2019.
The agreement, signed in 1987 by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, limited both nations from fielding both "short range" and "intermediate range" land-based ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers that could be used to carry either nuclear or conventional payloads.
Then-US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the 2019 withdrawal was "a direct result of Russia's sustained and repeated violations of the treaty over many years and multiple presidential administrations."
As a result of the US decision, Russia also announced its withdrawal from the accord.
But Russia claimed it would continue a moratorium on the deployment of such weapons. At the time, Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said:
"We invited the US and other NATO countries to assess the possibility of declaring the same moratorium on deploying intermediate-range and shorter-range equipment as we have, the same moratorium Vladimir Putin declared, saying that Russia will refrain from deploying these systems when we acquire them unless the American equipment is deployed in certain regions."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed Russia’s offer of a moratorium as "not credible," because he said Russia had been deploying such missiles for years.
Remember: In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was suspending his country’s participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, which put limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia could have.
Ukrainian officials are reporting that evacuation measures are being implemented in some Russian-controlled towns in occupied parts of the Zaporizhzhia region.
Yevhen Yevtushenko, head of the Ukrainian-controlled Nikopol district military administration, said that according to residents on the opposite side of the Dnipro River — which is held by Russia — evacuation buses have begun arriving.
He said in a Telegram post that one young family had tried to sign up for evacuation from the settlement of Kamianka-Dniprovska, "but the administration refused."
"So far, only the top collaborators are being evacuated, while the rest [of the people] are waiting for the Ukrainian Armed Forces," he claimed.
He shared a purported exchange of messages between the family and the Russian-backed administration, in which the family was told: "Unfortunately, the seats for these buses are already reserved per the administration's decision. There is no registration available at this time."
The town is close to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
"People are afraid that before leaving, the Russians will organize a provocation with mass casualties to blame Ukraine for everything," Yevtushenko said.
Ukrainian officials said last week that the Russian-backed authorities in nearby Enerhodar were planning to arrange the evacuation of children from the town early in May.
There is continuing speculation that this part of Zaporizhzhia may be the target of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the coming weeks.
A little part of Ukraine is reborn in southern Brazil.
Just over a year ago, the football club FC Mariupol disappeared, as the city it represented was pummeled by Russian artillery and bombers.
On March 19, 2022, the team was due to welcome FC Kollos to the Volodymyr Boyko Stadium for a match in the Ukrainian Premier League. But by then its training center had been bombed; the club's campus had become a Russian barracks.
When the Ukrainian professional league resumed, FC Mariupol was missing from the schedule, its squad disbanded and its 12,000-capacity stadium deserted.
But hope was not abandoned.
The club’s Vice President, Andriy Sanin, told CNN Tuesday: “When we don't play, people forget about us. And this was very disturbing for us. We started looking for ideas how to make people to keep talking about us.”
One idea was half a world away.
“The first country that comes to mind when you think about football is, of course, Brazil. We found a whole province that is almost 80% ethnic Ukrainian, and we found a football club,” Sanin said.
The province, or region, was Prudentópolis in southern Brazil, where a large number of inhabitants are of Ukrainian descent. The town of Guarapuava boasts the largest Ukrainian community in South America. 75% of its 52,000 inhabitants claim Ukrainian descent.
And the football club? Associação Atlética Batel.
It's not exactly a powerhouse of Brazilian football, as the team plays in the third division of the state league in Paraná. But Batel suddenly has an international following. For the next six games, and maybe beyond, it’s changing its name to FC Mariupol, adopting the orange shirts of the Ukrainian side as well as its crest and logo.
To Sanin, “This gives hope that if the club has not died, the city will not die either, and it will be revived.”
“Ukrainian Mariupol will be revived just like the Ukrainian football club Mariupol,” he told CNN.
In Brazil, Batel’s club president, Alex Lopes, said: "Our club and our region have a lot in common with the Ukrainian people. Our goal is to help keep FC Mariupol, which was the pride of the city, alive until they can really get back into business."
On the newly created website FCMariupolLives, Batel commented: ”Ukraine has always opened the gates of Europe to Brazilians. Now, it's time for Brazil to welcome the Ukrainians and keep FC Mariupol alive.”
Sanin says it’s impossible to express how much Batel’s gesture means to the Ukrainian club. He confessed that a video created in Prudentópolis to embrace FC Mariupol reduced him to tears.
The website created by the club says: “We will take care of FC Mariupol until all the Ukrainian can go to Volodymyr Boyko stadium again to watch their home team play.”
The feeling is mutual. Sanin told CNN: “I really hope that later, after the war, we will definitely meet with the guys from the Brazilian club. We will invite them to Mariupol, to the Sea of Azov.”
Sanin, like millions of Ukrainians, is awaiting the much-heralded launch of a Ukrainian counter-offensive. And he’s optimistic that the Volodymyr Boyko stadium will soon see the orange shirts in action again.
“A few days ago we asked the Ukrainian Premier League to postpone our return to big football for another season. So we can return in the 2024/25 season.”
The Ukrainian military said Moscow is concentrating its forces on the assault in the battered eastern city of Bakhmut — and consequently reducing offensive operations in some other areas.
Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the eastern grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said on Ukrainian television that the situation in Bakhmut "changes from time to time, and there is a positional war going on."
"The enemy is concentrating all its forces on Bakhmut, and in fact is not conducting such powerful combat operations anywhere else in our operational area of responsibility," Cherevatyi said.
In Bakhmut over the past day, he said, the Russians "attacked our positions 23 times, fired 280 times with various types of artillery, and carried out four air raids. There were 85 attacks and 20 firefights in the Bakhmut area alone. One-hundred-and-seventy-five occupiers were killed in action, 213 were wounded."
Cherevatyi’s figures cannot be independently verified.
He said that Wagner fighters were no longer carrying out independent missions in Bakhmut.
"Both airborne units of the occupying army and special forces are increasingly being used. Therefore, we realize that the enemy's losses are very significant," he said.
Cherevatyi said that Ukrainian artillery was constantly engaged in protecting supply routes into Bakhmut, while engineers were doing all they could "to ensure that there are several routes of communication."
Unofficial pro-Russian Telegram channels claim that the Ukrainians are continuing to retreat from parts of Bakhmut and have destroyed the communications tower on the western side of Bakhmut.
CNN is unable to verify the claims.