April 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Steve George, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Jessie Yeung, Sana Noor Haq, Ben Morse, Ed Upright, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 12:17 AM ET, Sat April 30, 2022
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8:52 a.m. ET, April 29, 2022

Ukraine claims it recaptured town near Kharkiv in the country's northeast

From CNN's Tim Lister, Julia Presniakova and Julia Kesaieva

Ukrainian soldiers stand on their armoured personnel carrier (APC), not far from the front-line in the Izyum district of the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on April 18.
Ukrainian soldiers stand on their armoured personnel carrier (APC), not far from the front-line in the Izyum district of the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on April 18. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian officials say a town near Kharkiv has been recaptured from the Russians.

Kostiantyn Nemichev, an official at the Kharkiv Regional State Administration and a member of the Azov regiment, said Ukrainian forces had liberated the settlement of Ruska Lozova, which is just north of Kharkiv. In recent weeks, the Ukrainians say they've liberated several towns and villages in the area. 

"This is a strategically important settlement located on the Kharkiv-Belgorod highway. It was from this suburb, during the occupation, that the enemy fired at the civilian infrastructure and housing estates of Kharkiv," Nemichev said.

Nemichev's comments were echoed by the Ukrainian military, which said Friday that the town had been liberated by the assault unit of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. 

The Russians, however, are still able to shell Kharkiv and its immediate surroundings. 

Oleh Syniehubov, head of Kharkiv regional administration, said the intensity of shelling had lessened. "However, it's still quite dangerous to be outside in the streets. Unfortunately, we record civilian deaths every day," he said.

"Kharkiv shellings are chaotic. Usually the residential districts are affected, these are Saltivka, Northern Saltivka, Oleksiivka," he said, adding that electrical power was lost in several districts.

Syniehubov said that in the south of the Kharkiv region, the area around Izium — which is held by the Russians — remains the "hottest" spot. He said Ukrainian forces were holding their positions.

He said evacuations continued from several towns within range of Russian artillery fire, including Barvinkove, "as we expect there might be a theater of combat operations there."

Syniehubov also claimed that a Russian military unit accused of atrocities in the town of Bucha north of Kyiv had now redeployed to Kharkiv region. "It was partially eliminated nearby Izium. With these people taken captive, we will do everything for them to be punished accordingly, or at least to testify about their commanders who gave orders for such atrocities that took place in Bucha."

7:49 a.m. ET, April 29, 2022

Russia's economy to contract by up to 10% this year, says Central Bank

From CNN's Robert North

The Russian economy is expected to shrink by 8 to 10% in 2022, according to new estimates from the Russian Central Bank.

It said economic activity began to decline in March 2022, after Russia invaded Ukraine and sanctions were imposed. The bank said there has been a contraction in consumer and business activity, and a decline in imports and exports.

It said businesses in Russia are now experiencing considerable difficulties in production and logistics. In a statement, the bank said: “The external environment for the Russian economy remains challenging and significantly constrains economic activity.”

Earlier this month, the World Bank predicted that Russian GDP would contract by 11.2% in 2022 while last week, the IMF forecast a contraction of around 8.5% this year. 

The Central Bank said the Russian economy will not start to recover until the end of 2023. In its statement, it said: “In 2023, the Russian economy will begin growing gradually amid a structural transformation.

"In 2023 Q4, output will be up by 4.0 to 5.5% on the same period in 2022. However, the overall GDP change in 2023 will be within the range of (-3.0)-0.0%”

The forecasts came as the Central Bank cut Russian interest rates from 17% to 14%. It said slowing consumer activity and the recovery in the ruble has eased the rate of inflation in the country slightly.

Price increases are still expected to remain high though, the bank is now forecasting inflation of 18 to 23% in 2022, slowing down to 5-7% in 2023.

7:41 a.m. ET, April 29, 2022

South Korea becomes latest country to say it'll return its embassy to Kyiv

From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo in Seoul 

The South Korean embassy to Ukraine will "soon" return to Kyiv, “considering the fact that the situation near Kyiv is stabilizing,” the country’s foreign ministry announced on Friday.

The ministry explained the move is “for smooth cooperation with the Ukrainian government" and the protection of South Korean nationals in the country. It said the exact timing of the move will be decided by the head of the embassy, in consideration of the safety of the embassy staff.

Several other countries, including the UK, Spain, Italy and France, have also announced plans to reopen embassies in the capital city. Slovenia reopened its embassy in Kyiv on March 28, according to Slovenia's Foreign Ministry. 

South Korea's embassy moved out of Kyiv on March 2 due to the escalation of violence near the capital region and has been operating from temporary offices in the Ukrainian cities of Lviv -- which later closed on March 18 -- and Chernivtsi, as well as Romania, according to its foreign ministry. 

The ministry also announced Friday that the South Korean government will provide an additional $50 million USD worth of non-combat support to Ukraine through the NATO-Ukraine trust fund, raising its total support for the country to about $1 billion USD.

8:07 a.m. ET, April 29, 2022

US Defense Secretary maintained his role in the nuclear chain of command during Kyiv trip

From CNN's Barbara Starr

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attend a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 24.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attend a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 24. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters)

The Pentagon launched a highly classified operation that would have allowed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to maintain his secretarial authorities during his trip to Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

None of Austin's powers, which range from advising US President Joe Biden in a nuclear crisis to ordering troops overseas if the US was attacked, were needed to be used during the excursion.

However, efforts to equip Austin with such powers as a precautionary measure were significant. The package of gear was similar in capabilities to what the Defense Secretary uses when he travels, but was specially modified for the unique war zone of Ukraine, according to an administration official.

During Austin's train journey to Kyiv, as well as his three-hour meeting, he was not receiving extensive real-time global intelligence as he does when he is in the Pentagon or on a US military base. But he was reachable the entire time and could respond to any crisis, the official added.

When asked if the powers that Austin retained on the trip made him ready for involvement in the launch of nuclear weapons, the Pentagon declined to offer details of what equipment was used and how those arrangements worked while Austin was in an active war zone.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby would only say “at no time was Secretary Austin unable to execute his authorities in the chain of command.” That statement is meant to include the secretary’s authorities on nuclear weapons, the official said.

If President Biden decides to visit Ukraine at some point the newly modified package of gear could form part of the basis a new suite of communications equipment, though the official points out presidential travel involves a number of personnel and equipment.

The most important part of a presidential travel effort is the military aide that carries the so-called nuclear football, which is a case of classified gear and coded material to assist the President in the event a decision is made to launch a nuclear weapon. 

Austin was able to maintain all of his military and national security authorities without interruption, using just the two staffers who traveled with him into Ukraine. They were Lt. Gen. Randy George, his senior military assistance, and Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian affairs.

This means Austin traveled with highly classified communications equipment and had the continuous capability to be in touch with key national security and military officials. US reconnaissance and intelligence gathering aircraft maintain an almost continuous presence over NATO’s eastern flank, but is not clear what role those capabilities may have played.

12:35 p.m. ET, April 29, 2022

Situation inside besieged steel plant is “beyond a humanitarian catastrophe,” commander inside tells CNN

A destroyed military field hospital, deep in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 28.
A destroyed military field hospital, deep in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 28. (Azov Regiment/Cover Images/Reuters)

The situation inside the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol is “beyond a humanitarian catastrophe,” a Ukrainian commander inside the facility told CNN.

Maj. Serhiy Volyna, commander of Ukraine’s 36th Separate Marine Brigade, spoke to CNN on Friday from inside the steel works, explaining that there are hundreds of people inside the plant, including 60 young people, the youngest of which is four months old.

The Azovstal plant has become the last vestige of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, with it holding out against Russian invasion for almost two months.

The pocket of entrenched Ukrainian fighters and civilians sheltering at the plant has become a symbol of the country's defiance.

Volyna explained that because of a recent Russian strike against the plant’s field hospital, they have been left without vital medical equipment, while also revealing that they “have very little water, very little food left.”

“The operating theatre was hit directly. And all the operating equipment, everything that is necessary to perform surgery has been destroyed so right now, we cannot treat our wounded, especially those with shrapnel wounds and with bullet wounds,” he said.

Volyna added: “We are looking after the wounded right now with whatever tools we have. We have our army medics and they’re using every skill they have to look after the wounded. And right now, we don’t have any surgical tools but we have some basics. But also, we are in dire need of medication. We have almost no medication left.”

According to a statement from the Ukrainian president's office on Friday, an operation to evacuate civilians from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol is planned for Friday. The statement gave no further details.

When asked about a possible evacuation plan, Volyna said he didn’t “know the details.”

“I know that the mission has arrived in Zaporizhzhia and that they are going to try and mount a rescue operation.”

Volyna said that he is in direct communication with President Volodymyr Zelensky, adding that the Ukrainian leader was briefing them "on the situation in Ukraine as a whole and around Mariupol,” as well as “keeping our spirits high.”

A Ukrainian official said on Friday that Russian forces have closed off an area in Mariupol, potentially ahead of another attempt to storm the Azovstal steel plant.

And Volyna isn’t sure how long he and his fellow Ukrainian’s can resist Russia’s attacks for.

“We cannot tell you for sure how long we can hold on for,” he said. “That all depends on the enemy movements and also on luck. We have great hopes that we will be evacuated, that the president will succeed in either evacuating or extracting us and we’ll just have to hope and see if that happens.” 

Watch the interview:

7:17 a.m. ET, April 29, 2022

Radio Liberty journalist killed in Kyiv Artem plant attack, according to city police

From CNN’s Sandi Sidhu and Khrystyna Bondarenko in Kyiv

 A Ukrainian journalist has died as a result of a missile attack on Kyiv’s Artem plant, according to a Kyiv police spokesperson. Vira Hyrych, 54, was identified in a rescue operation early Friday after the Kyiv mayor initially reported no casualties. 

A friend of Hyrych’s told CNN that she worked as a journalist for Radio Liberty in the Ukrainian capital. Iryna Androsova, also a Radio Liberty journalist, said Hyrych’s body was found in her apartment on the second floor of a building next to the factory. 

Six people have been hospitalized with injuries and carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the explosion and subsequent fire. Residents of a building opposite the factory told CNN they heard several explosions followed by a fire and saw some neighbors injured by shattered glass. 

The Russian defense ministry confirmed the attack on Friday. 

“High-precision, long-range air-based weapons of the Russian Aerospace Forces have destroyed the production buildings of the Artyom missile and space enterprise in Kiev,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a daily video briefing posted on the defense ministry's social media channels. 

Artem factory is Ukraine’s leading manufacturer of aircraft parts and air-to-air guided missiles.

7:20 a.m. ET, April 29, 2022

Putin accepts his invitation to the G20 summit in November

From Jorge Engels in London

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games medalists and paralympic athletes at the Grand Kremlin Palace, on April 26, in Moscow, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games medalists and paralympic athletes at the Grand Kremlin Palace, on April 26, in Moscow, Russia. (Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation to attend the G20 summit that will be held on the Indonesian island of Bali in November, the country's President Joko Widodo said in a statement Friday. 

“Indonesia wants to unite the G20. Don't let there be a split. Peace and stability are the keys to the recovery and development of the world economy,” Widodo said in the statement from Indonesia’s Cabinet.

Widodo also extended an invitation earlier this week to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who tweeted he was “grateful” for the invite, but did not specify whether he would attend the summit.

Earlier this week, Widodo spoke with Putin and Zelensky in separate phone calls, during which he conveyed to Putin the importance of ending the war in Ukraine "immediately" and Indonesia’s desire to contribute to a peaceful resolution to the conflict, according to the statement.

Widodo said he conveyed to Zelensky Indonesia’s readiness to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine but not military assistance, which he said is prohibited by Indonesia’s constitution and its foreign policy principles.

7:06 a.m. ET, April 29, 2022

Sweden and Finland remain undecided on NATO membership

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto arrives to take part in a NATO foreign ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 4.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto arrives to take part in a NATO foreign ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 4. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Sweden and Finland could deepen their military cooperation if the security situation in the Baltic Sea region deteriorates generally or is triggered by a potential application to join NATO, Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Friday.

But, standing alongside his Swedish counterpart Ann Linde at a Helsinki news conference, Haavisto said that neither country has decided yet whether to apply for NATO membership. Russia has previously warned that such a move could lead to a more aggressive stance from Moscow. 

"We already have ongoing cooperation. Of course, if our security environment becomes more challenging of course we can add bilateral planning, and it includes all sectors on military cooperation," Haavisto said.

On the question of NATO membership, Linde said: "We have not come to a conclusion yet in Sweden." No decision will be made before May 13, when an analysis report from Parliament on membership is due to be delivered, she added.

Haavisto said it would be “important” that both countries make a decision on joining NATO “in the same direction and in the same timeframe,” while “fully respecting” the independence of their respective decision-making over the issue.

On Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the accession process would “go quickly” and interim measures would be put in place should Finland and Sweden decide to apply to join the alliance.

Russia has threatened serious consequences should the countries do so, with the Kremlin saying on April 7 it would have to "rebalance the situation" if they did.

Finland joining NATO would add an additional 830-mile border between the alliance and Russia.

6:53 a.m. ET, April 29, 2022

Russian forces shell railway hub and supply line in eastern Ukraine

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv and Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

A railway wagon and sleepers burning after an attack near Lyman station, Ukraine, on April 28.
A railway wagon and sleepers burning after an attack near Lyman station, Ukraine, on April 28. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian troops have shelled an important railway hub and supply line for Ukrainian troops in the country's east, according to video footage published on Thursday and Friday.

The video shows railroad trucks on fire in the town of Lyman, a few miles east of Sloviansk, in Donetsk region.

The Russians were trying "to advance from the north of the region, neighbouring Kharkiv region -- in the Lyman direction, and do everything possible to get a direct route towards Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, reaching their strategic goals in the Donetsk region," said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of Donetsk regional military administration.

Kyrylenko insisted that "the enemy cannot break through. Lyman city is under the Ukrainian Armed Forces control."

However, he said the Russians were using artillery and airstrikes to wipe out settlements and prevent the Ukrainian defenders from fortifying their positions.

Excluding the city of Mariupol, nearly 1.7 million people had lived in government-controlled parts of Donetsk on the eve of the war, Kyrylenko added. Now there are about 370,000 civilians in the region.

Some background: Lyman has come under bombardment as Russian troops continue their military offensive across Ukraine's eastern regions.

On Friday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces said that Russian forces are also trying to inflict air strikes in eastern Ukraine.

The Izium area, located in the Kharkiv region, has become a staging ground for Russian forces as they try to advance through neighboring Donetsk and Luhansk. No offensive operations in that area have been conducted in recent hours, said the Ukrainian military.

"The main effort was focused on reconnaissance, identification of defensive positions of the units of the Defense Forces of Ukraine and hitting them with artillery fire," the General Staff said.

Further southeast, "in order to prevent the redeployment of our troops, the enemy is shelling the positions with artillery, mortars and multiple rocket launchers along the entire line of contact," it added.

CNN's Julia Kesaieva contributed reporting to this post.