April 26, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Helen Regan, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 10:05 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023
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5:29 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Russia emptied out a base in northern Crimea, satellite imagery shows

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London and Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

A March 27 satellite image of the facility near Medvedivka.
A March 27 satellite image of the facility near Medvedivka. (European Union/Copernicus Sentinel-2/EO Browser)

Russian forces have emptied out a key base in northern Crimea, recent satellite imagery reviewed by CNN shows. The facility, near the village of Medvedivka and close to the border of Kherson, housed a significant number of Russian armor. 

Imagery from the European Union’s Sentinel 2 satellite from January 21 shows a large footprint of Russian equipment. Higher resolution Maxar images from February 11 reveals dozens of armored vehicles, including tanks and artillery pieces. 

Newer imagery taken by the EU’s Sentinel 2 satellite reveals most of those vehicles are no longer present at the base. 

It wasn’t immediately clear why Moscow relocated the equipment or where to, but earlier in the month, Russian-installed officials in Crimea signaled that they expected a Ukrainian counteroffensive to target the peninsula. 

“I think the decision to build defensive structures in Crimea and on the approaches to the peninsula was correct and justified,” the Russian-appointed Crimean governor Sergei Aksyonov said on April 11. 

A February 11 satellite image of the facility near Medvedivka.
A February 11 satellite image of the facility near Medvedivka. (Maxar Technologies)

Maxar imagery from February 11 to February 16 shows a large concentration of defensive structures near Medvedivka, including a network of trenches and wedge-shaped anti-tank concrete barriers known as dragon’s teeth. One Maxar image from January 3 shows the fortifications were much smaller at the beginning of the year. 

“In general, I can say that our armed forces have built a modern, deeply echeloned defense,” Aksyonov said. “This does not mean that they will necessarily be used for their intended purpose.”
“We had to prepare for any scenario, and we did,” he added.

In light of Aksyonov’s comments, experts have suggested the withdrawal of Russian military equipment from the base in Medvedivka may be related to defensive operations ahead of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

3:17 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Ukrainian journalist killed in suspected Russian attack that injured Italian colleague, officials say

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio in London, Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Nick Paton Walsh in southern Ukraine

A Ukrainian journalist who was working as a fixer for Italian newspaper La Repubblica was killed Wednesday in a suspected Russian strike in Kherson that injured his Italian colleague, according to Ukrainian officials.

"The moment I heard the news about this inauspicious event, I contacted our military forces, who provided me with details on the case. I have been in touch with the journalist (Corrado Zunino), and I will do everything that I can to help him," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview with Italian broadcaster SkyTG24.

Kuleba said the Ukrainian had been killed in the incident, adding that Russian fighters "don't care if it's Russian, Italian or Ukrainian, they always shoot."

The first deputy head of the Kherson regional council, Yurii Sobolievsky, also confirmed to CNN that the Ukrainian journalist was killed and the body taken to the local morgue for examination.  

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani earlier described the incident as a drone attack, but Sobolievskyi told CNN that authorities in Kherson are still trying to establish the exact circumstances of the attack.

CNN has reached out to journalist Corrado Zunino and to Ukrainian authorities for additional information.

The Kremlin did not immediately comment on the incident.

CNN is not reporting the identity of the deceased journalist for the time being to allow time for Ukrainian authorities to notify his next of kin. 

3:49 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Russia expels 10 Norwegian diplomats from embassy in Moscow

From CNN's Catherine Nicholls and Uliana Pavlova 

Russian police officers stand guard outside the Norwegian embassy in Moscow, on April 26.
Russian police officers stand guard outside the Norwegian embassy in Moscow, on April 26. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

Ten diplomats working at Norway’s embassy in Moscow have been told to leave Russia, a spokesperson for Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.

“Norway’s Ambassador to Moscow was today informed by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that 10 of our diplomats at the Embassy in Moscow have been declared personae non gratae in Russia. The diplomats must leave Russia within a short time,” said the spokesperson, Ragnhild Simenstad.

According to the spokesperson, Oslo considers Moscow's move to be a reaction to Norway’s expulsion of 15 Russian embassy workers earlier this month on accusations of spying.

The Norwegian ambassador was summoned by Russia on Wednesday, when "a strong protest was expressed" in connection with Oslo's decision to expel the 15 Russian diplomats, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. 

"This hostile step further aggravated the situation in bilateral relations, which are already at a critically low level," the ministry said. 

The Norwegian ministry's Simenstad said the Russian decision is considered "an act of revenge," adding that "all our diplomats in Russia carry out ordinary diplomatic work. The Russian authorities know this well."

1:29 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Russian submarines are "more active" in the Atlantic despite ongoing Ukraine conflict, US general says

From CNN's Haley Britzky

While Russia continues its fight in Ukraine, the US military is seeing that Russian forces elsewhere have "not been affected negatively" by the war in Ukraine. 

The top US general in Europe said Wednesday that Russian submarine patrols have increased throughout the Atlantic. 

"One of those forces is their undersea forces. It's hard to talk in public, as you well know, sir, about undersea warfare and our efforts in that regard. But I can say that the Russians are more active than we've seen them in years, and their patrols into the Atlantic, and throughout the Atlantic, are at a high level, most of the time at a higher level than we've seen in years," Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander of US European Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

“And this is, as you pointed out, despite all of the efforts that they’re undertaking inside Ukraine,” he said.


1:27 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Ukraine is "in a good position" for a counteroffensive, senior US military official says

From CNN's Haley Britzky

The Ukrainians are "in a good position" for a counteroffensive against the Russian military, the senior US military commander in Europe told a congressional committee on Wednesday. 

"According to the modeling that we’ve very carefully done with them, the Ukrainians are in a good position," United States European Command head Gen. Christopher Cavoli said, adding that the US has worked with them on a possible surprise attack.  

Cavoli also said Russia’s ground force today is larger "than it was at the beginning of the conflict," despite suffering numerous losses in its war against Ukraine.

"The Russian ground force has been has been degenerated somewhat by this conflict, although it is bigger today than it was at the beginning of the conflict," Cavoli told the House Armed Services Committee.

Aside from its ground forces, Russia has a number of options left to them, he said.

The Air Force "has lost very little; they've lost 80 planes," he said. "They have another 1,000 fighters and fighter bombers."

"So they still use all of that conventional power as well, and they mix them all together," Cavoli said.

3:47 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Poland’s state-owned airline refuses boarding to Russian tennis player 

From CNN's Sammy Mncwabe in London

Vitalia Diatchenko competes in 2019.
Vitalia Diatchenko competes in 2019. (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Poland’s state-owned airline Lot refused to board a Russian tennis player in line with restrictions introduced following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the carrier said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday. 

Vitalia Diatchenko — whom the airline did not name in their statement – was denied boarding a Lot flight departing from Cairo on Monday as she was traveling to Calvi in Corsica via Warsaw and Nice to play at a tournament. 

The airline confirmed to CNN that it "could not accept a citizen of the Russian Federation on its flight," citing the restrictions introduced by Poland’s interior ministry during the Covid-19 pandemic and updated in March 2022 following the Ukraine invasion.

"The provisions of the regulation introduce restrictions at certain border crossings, including airport crossings, in relation to citizens of the Russian Federation traveling from outside the Schengen area,” the airline said.

Diatchenko told CNN on Wednesday that she was unable to reach her destination after being denied flying due to her Russian passport and is now back in Moscow. 

According to Reuters, the 32-year-old also said she attempted to purchase a ticket from German airline Lufthansa but was advised that she could only enter the Schengen area through Spain, which had issued her visa. CNN was not able to independently verify this. 

Some background: Tennis has continued to welcome Russian and Belarusian athletes at international competitions, despite the International Olympic Committee executive board’s initial recommendation in February 2022 that they be banned. 

In January, the IOC outlined a multi-step plan for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate at the upcoming 2024 Summer Games in Paris and the 2026 Winter Games in Milan. The IOC's plan met criticism from the United States, Canada and several European countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany and Poland.

According to the latest IOC recommendations released in March, athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport must compete only as individual neutral athletes and meet all anti-doping requirements. Those who support the war or are contracted to military or national security agencies cannot compete.

IOC president Thomas Bach defended the latest recommendations, citing tennis as an example that participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes "works" despite the war. Bach also blasted some European governments for what he called their "negative reactions" to the organization’s stance on Russia

5:28 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Italian journalist injured by drone strike in Kherson, foreign minister says

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio in London and Nick Paton Walsh in Southern Ukraine

An Italian journalist from the daily La Repubblica was injured during a drone strike in Kherson, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Twitter Wednesday. 

Tajani said journalist Corrado Zunino was doing "well and is being accompanied by our embassy in Kyiv," he wrote. 

"I have been in touch with (Foreign) Minister Kuleba who has assured me the full collaboration of Ukrainian authorities," Tajani also said. "I have informed Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and expressed my solidarity and support to (La Repubblica) Director Maurizio Molinari."

At the time of the incident, it was not immediately clear who was behind the drone strike or when it took place.

What Ukraine is saying: Andriy Yermak, the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said Zunino was injured near the Antonivskyi bridge.

"The enemy is shelling Kherson region. A 26-year-old man was injured in an artillery strike on Stanislav," Yermak said on Telegram on Wednesday. "Russians also shelled the Antonivskyi Bridge area, resulting in the injury of a foreign press representative."

In a comment to CNN, Yermak's office said the press representative he referenced was Zunino.

More on injured journalist: According to a statement from the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's office, Zunino sustained a shoulder injury.

"A correspondent of a foreign media outlet also sustained a firearm wound to the shoulder," it said. "He was working on a story about life in the city, which had been under occupation for a long time and is now subject to systematic shelling by the Russian army."

"He was taken to a hospital where he is receiving qualified medical care. Necessary investigative actions are currently underway to document another crime of the Russian Federation," the statement added.

Zunino said he is fine after being injured during a Russian strike in Kherson. 

"Travelling from Kherson to Odesa," Zunino tweeted Wednesday evening. "I am fine, I have a would in my right shoulder, grazed by the projectile that hit my great friend Bogdan."

CNN has reached out to Ukrainian authorities, but it was not immediately possible to confirm the condition his colleague was in. 

"An infinite pain," he added. "I was wearing a vest with 'Press' written on it."

Some context: Soon after the invasion of Ukraine began, Kherson was taken over by Russian forces, only emerging from months of occupation on November 11, 2022, when the Kremlin’s troops withdrew. However, the southern Kherson region is still partly held by Russia.

CNN's Mick Krever and Matthew Chance contributed to this post.

12:50 p.m. ET, April 26, 2023

It's 8 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

If you're just joining us, here's what you need to know to know about the latest developments in the war in Ukraine:

Xi and Zelensky hold a phone conversation: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he held an hour-long "meaningful" phone call with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Wednesday. This is the first time the two have spoken since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year. Moscow has taken notice of China’s willingness to facilitate negotiations with Ukraine, the Russian foreign ministry said. China has claimed neutrality in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, with Beijing calling for peace in the conflict — but it has also refused to condemn Russia’s invasion or make any public call for Russia to withdraw its troops.

What other countries are saying: The White House welcomed the news but expressed caution about whether the call could lead to "some sort of meaningful peace movement or plan." The Elysee Palace said France "encourages all dialogue that contributes to a resolution of the conflict [in Ukraine] in accordance with the fundamental interests of Ukraine and international law."

Prisoner swap: Ukraine and Russia carried out a prisoner swap, with Kyiv releasing 40 prisoners and Moscow freeing 44, according to officials from both countries. 

Further trials for Alexey Navalny: Jailed Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny now faces "two big trials," one on extremism charges and the other on terrorism charges, his spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter Wednesday. The extremism charges carry a total of up to 30 years in prison, while Navalny could face up to 35 years in prison on the terrorism charges, Yarmysh said. The director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, Ivan Zhdanov, said the investigator in the terrorism case would consider "the Tatarsky episode," in which an explosion killed military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky at a cafe in St. Petersburg on April 2. Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee claimed it was planned by Ukraine with the participation of Navalny’s supporters. Navalny’s foundation denies the claims.

Here's where the state of control stands in Ukraine:

11:31 a.m. ET, April 26, 2023

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Zelensky speak for first time since Russian invasion

From CNN's Steven Jiang, Wayne Chang, Alex Stambaugh and Radina Gigova

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping by phone for the first time since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

"I had a long and meaningful phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine's ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations," Zelensky said.

In the phone call, Xi and Zelensky exchanged views on the Ukraine crisis, with Xi reaffirming China's support for peace talks, according to the Chinese government. 

Xi said China will send a special envoy to Ukraine and other countries to help conduct "in-depth communication" with all parties for a political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, the government said, adding that Xi also said China is willing to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

China "will neither watch the fire from the other side, nor add fuel to the fire, let alone take advantage of the opportunity to profit," Xi said, acknowledging that the crisis has had a "major impact" internationally and that the "only feasible way out" is "dialogue and negotiation."

The call lasted an hour, and the two leaders "discussed a full range of topical issues of bilateral relations. Particular attention was paid to methods of possible cooperation to establish a just and sustainable peace for Ukraine," according to a readout from Zelensky.

The call was "an important dialogue," the head of the Ukrainian Presidential Office Andriy Yermak said in a Telegram post. 

In March, Xi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. 

Some background: China has claimed neutrality in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, with Beijing calling for peace in the conflict. But it has also refused to condemn Russia’s invasion or make any public call for Russia to withdraw its troops. Its officials have instead repeatedly said that the "legitimate" security concerns of all countries must be taken into account and accused NATO and the US of fueling the conflict.

CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv contributed reporting to this post.