April 25, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Brad Lendon, Adrienne Vogt, Caolán Magee, Leinz Vales and Christina Zdanowicz, CNN

Updated 11:20 p.m. ET, April 25, 2023
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3:01 p.m. ET, April 25, 2023

Lavrov reiterates Russia’s claim that Whelan and Gershkovich are not wrongly detained

From CNN’s Matthew Chance

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov answers questions from the press on Tuesday, April 25.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov answers questions from the press on Tuesday, April 25. (UNTV)

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.

1:48 p.m. ET, April 25, 2023

Russia says it may suspend its moratorium on deploying intermediate and short-range nuclear missiles

From CNN’s Tim Lister and Uliana Pavlova

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.

1:23 p.m. ET, April 25, 2023

Ukrainian official says Russian "collaborators" are evacuating from town in Zaporizhzhia region

 From CNN's Julia Kesaieva

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.

2:24 p.m. ET, April 25, 2023

Mariupol's disbanded football team reborn in Brazil

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

For the next six games, and maybe beyond, Associação Atlética Batel is changing its name to FC Mariupol, adopting the orange shirts of the Ukrainian side as well as its crest and logo.
For the next six games, and maybe beyond, Associação Atlética Batel is changing its name to FC Mariupol, adopting the orange shirts of the Ukrainian side as well as its crest and logo. (From FCMariupolLives)

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.”
11:57 a.m. ET, April 25, 2023

Ukrainian military says Russia is concentrating its forces on Bakhmut assault

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva

Ukrainian soldiers of the 80th brigade fire artillery in the direction of Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on April 24.
Ukrainian soldiers of the 80th brigade fire artillery in the direction of Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on April 24. (Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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.


10:23 a.m. ET, April 25, 2023

Russian-backed official says Ukraine fired 6 HIMARS at strategic southern town

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

A total of six Ukrainian High Mobility Artillery Rocket System rockets were fired at the southern town of Tokmak on Tuesday, according to a senior Russian-appointed official in the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia.

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the military-civilian administration, said that four of the rockets were shot down by Russian air defenses, and two landed in the north of the city.

"According to preliminary reports, one civilian was killed and four others received injuries of varying degrees of severity," he said on Telegram.

Why the town is important: Tokmak, which is about 70 kilometers (43 miles) northeast of Melitopol, has become a hub for Russian forces in Zaporizhzhia. It's where a counteroffensive from Ukraine is largely expected — due to its strategic location between Crimea, the Russian-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine and the Russian mainland.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said last week that a counteroffensive would not be announced.

Elsewhere in the region, Russia has also been trying to hit what it thinks are Ukrainian targets. The town of Orikhiv, about 40 miles southeast of Zaporizhzhia, has seen the repeated bombardment of anything that might resemble a military hub: a sports school, a farming warehouse, and empty buildings.

9:39 a.m. ET, April 25, 2023

Children from Russian-occupied Vasylivka sent to Belarus camp

From CNN's Olga Voitovych, Nick Paton Walsh and Vasco Cotovio

Children from the Russian-occupied Ukrainian district of Vasylivka have been sent to a so-called “recreation camp” in Belarus, according to the Russian-installed civil-military administration.

The Ukrainian government estimates nearly 20,000 children have been illegally deported to Russia, Belarus or forcibly relocated to the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Officials also claim 470 children have died, while 949 children have been wounded and 406 are currently missing.

The Russian-installed Vasylivka civil-military administration said, “the recreation program for children, of course, is free and is supported personally by Lukashenko and Putin."

 “The first batch of 43 children from 8 to 15 years old will stay at the children's health camp from April 24 till May 10, and the next visit is planned from May 14,” they said.

A report released in February detailed allegations of an expansive network of dozens of camps where kids underwent "political reeducation," including Russia-centric academic, cultural and, in some cases, military education.

Remember: Allegations of forced deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia form the basis of war crimes charges brought against Putin and a senior official, Maria Lvova-Belova, by the International Criminal Court last month.

CNN has reached out to the office of Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, Dmytro Lubinets, on this incident, but has yet to hear back.

Ukrainian officials have previously referred to such camps as part of Moscow’s efforts to forcibly deport children from Ukraine.

8:36 a.m. ET, April 25, 2023

At least 2 killed and 10 injured by Russian strike on Kupyansk

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Vasco Cotovio

Rescuers remove a body from the site of a Russian missile attack in Kupyansk, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on April 25.
Rescuers remove a body from the site of a Russian missile attack in Kupyansk, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on April 25. (Viktoriia Yakymenko/Reuters)

Ukrainian authorities have discovered another body while clearing the rubble of a museum in the town of Kupyansk struck by a Russian missile on Tuesday, increasing the death toll to two. 

“In total, the bodies of two dead women were pulled from the rubble of the destroyed building,” Ukrainian State Emergency Services said. “Also, 10 people were injured, 4 of them were hospitalized.”

“Search operations and rubble removal have been completed,” it added.

Russian forces allegedly used an S-300 surface to surface missile to target Kupyansk, according to the Ukrainian President’s Chief of Staff, Andrii Yermak.

Earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of doing “everything to destroy [Ukraine] completely,” as he commented on a Russian missile strike in Kupyansk.

“We have no right to forget about it for a single second,” Zelensky said. “We must bring [Russia] to justice both on the battlefield and with fair court sentences to the terrorists.”

8:05 a.m. ET, April 25, 2023

Wagner leader denies relationship with defense ministry has improved

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Anna Chernova

Yevgeny Prigozhin attends a funeral ceremony at the Troyekurovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, on April 8.
Yevgeny Prigozhin attends a funeral ceremony at the Troyekurovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, on April 8. (AP)

The boss of Russian private military company (PMC) Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has seemingly denied that his relationship with the Russian defense ministry has improved.

It comes after the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, suggested in a report that the relationship between the two parties had been “repaired,” with the view of getting Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt offensive operations in Ukraine.

“ISW has observed a sudden improvement in Prigozhin’s relations with the Russian MoD (Ministry of Defense) and the Kremlin since early April,” ISW said in its report on April 22.

“The Russian MoD, for example, began to directly acknowledge Wagner forces in its daily situational reports and provided Wagner with ammunition and mobilized personnel as reinforcements in early April 2023.”

But when asked about the report, Prigozhin called it “fake news.”

“There is a lot of fake news planted, and this is one of them,” he said in his official Telegram channel. I am not going to exchange ammunition for my guys even for friendship with the Lord God.”

Some background: Prigozhin has not shied away from publicly commenting on his differences with Russia's leadership. Prigozhin has been highly visible on the front lines in recent months and is quick to claim credit for Russian advances.

A Ukrainian military intelligence report obtained by CNN detailed the remorseless tactics used by Wagner. The report, dated December 2022, concluded that “the deaths of thousands of Wagner soldiers do not matter to Russian society.”

In January, a former Wagner mercenary said the brutality he witnessed in Ukraine ultimately pushed him to defect, in an exclusive CNN interview.