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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10:11 a.m. ET, April 29, 2022

NATO scrambled fighter jets multiple times this week to intercept Russian aircraft near alliance airspace

From CNN's Barbara Starr

NATO fighter jets stationed in both the Baltic and Black Sea regions scrambled “multiple times over the past four days” to track and intercept Russian aircraft near alliance airspace, according to a statement posted by NATO’s Allied Air Command.

NATO radars tracked a number of unidentified aircraft over the Baltic and Black Sea since Tuesday. NATO noted that Russian aircraft often “do not transmit a transponder code indicating their position and altitude, do not file a flight plan, or do not communicate.”

A Polish Air Force fighter jet F16 flies in the airspace of Poland as part of NATO's enhanced Air Policing (eAP) to secure the skies over Baltic allies, March 29.
A Polish Air Force fighter jet F16 flies in the airspace of Poland as part of NATO's enhanced Air Policing (eAP) to secure the skies over Baltic allies, March 29. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

In the Baltic region, fighter jets from Poland, Denmark, France and Spain were used at various times to intercept and identify approaching aircraft. In the Black Sea region, aircraft from Romania and the UK were used to investigate tracks of unknown aircraft approaching allied airspace, the statement said. There is no indication that US aircraft participated in the interceptions.

NATO said that the Russian aircraft never entered the alliance's airspace, and the “interceptions were conducted in a safe and routine manner.”

9:49 a.m. ET, April 29, 2022

Norway closes borders and ports to Russian freight vehicles and ships

From CNN’s James Frater

A 68 meters luxury yacht called Ragnar, owned by a former KGB officer, Russian oligarch Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, is pictured at the quay in Narvik, north Norway, on March 21.
A 68 meters luxury yacht called Ragnar, owned by a former KGB officer, Russian oligarch Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, is pictured at the quay in Narvik, north Norway, on March 21. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Norway has said it is following the European Union's fifth sanctions package on Russia and will introduce a ban on Russian road transport and Russian vessels being allowed to dock.

In a statement Friday, Anniken Huitfeldt, the Norwegian minister of foreign affairs, said, “We know that sanctions work best when several countries agree on them,” and “with this, we are implementing the EU's fifth and final sanctions package.”

“The sanctions are our most important means of pressure against the Russian regime” and it is “crucial that we stand with the EU and other countries to continue to weaken Russia's ability to finance the war in Ukraine,” she said.

A news release from the Norwegian government announced that starting on May 7, “there will be a ban on port calls for Russian-flagged vessels,” including commercial ships, yachts, some pleasure craft and recreational vessels.

Due to the special agreement between Norway and Russia on the management and conservation of fish stocks in the Barents Sea, the ban will not include fishing vessels, search and rescue vessels or research vessels, according to the news release. 

“The ban on freight transport by road will apply to transport companies established in Russia and apply immediately,” the news release added. 

The European Union adopted a fifth round of sanctions against Russia on April 8. 

Norway is part of the European Economic Area which gives the country access to the European Union’s internal market, but the country does not have to adopt EU foreign policy or rules on justice and home affairs.

8:56 a.m. ET, April 29, 2022

2 Russian regions claim their borders with Ukraine have been shelled

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Two regions of Russia that border Ukraine — Kursk and Bryansk — said that their territory has been shelled.

“The morning in the border [town] of Rylsk was restless. At about 8:00am, mortars fired at the checkpoint in the village of Krupets,” the Kursk region Gov. Roman Starovoit said in Telegram post Friday morning local time.

According to Starovoit, “the firing points were suppressed by the return fire of [Russian] border guards and the military.” There were no casualties or destruction, he added.

The head of the Bryansk region, Alexander Bogomaz, said the border department of the Federal Security Service (FSB) had reported shelling in the village of Belaya Berezka, allegedly carried out from Ukrainian territory.

“On April 29, a branch of the border department of the FSB of Russia in the Bryansk region in the village of Belaya Berezka, Trubchevsky district, was subjected to mortar fire from the territory of Ukraine,” Bogomaz said in a Telegram post on his official channel Friday. He said there were no casualties.

Water and electricity networks were damaged as a result of the shelling in the Bryansk region, Bogomaz added.

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

600 injured in recent bombing of Azovstal steel plant, Mariupol mayor says

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

The mayor of Mariupol said that more than 600 people were injured in Russian bombing that struck the makeshift hospital facility within the besieged Azovstal steel complex.

"You already know that they dropped bombs on the hospital, aerial bombs destroyed the hospital, and that is a sign of a war crime, because the number of wounded before that was 170, and now it is over 600," the mayor, Vadym Boichenko, said on Ukrainian television.

The Azovstal plant was heavily bombed on Wednesday night, according to multiple accounts.

A screen grab shows what is said to be the aftermath of Russian bombardment of a military field hospital in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 28.
A screen grab shows what is said to be the aftermath of Russian bombardment of a military field hospital in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 28. (Azov Regiment/Reuters)

Boichenko also claimed that the Russians had set up four "filtration" centers in the city where those who want to be evacuated are screened.

"If someone leaves the city and he is, in one way or another, connected with the civil service, with the municipal service, they get the sad news that they go to prison. Such people are being held and tortured there," he claimed.

CNN cannot verify the mayor's allegations.

He said some families who wanted to leave for Ukrainian territory were being forced to go to Russian-controlled areas.

12:27 p.m. ET, April 29, 2022

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Ukraine has accused Russian forces of threatening global food security by stealing wheat, and there's a continued military bombardment across the east of the country. There's fresh hope for civilians trapped inside a steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol, however.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Eastern assault: Heavy shelling by Russian forces is continuing along "the entire line of contact" in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukraine's General Staff of the Armed Forces said Friday. Russian troops also struck an important railway hub and supply line for Ukrainian troops in the country's east, according to video footage published on Thursday and Friday.

  • "Illegal theft of grain": Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of "robbing" wheat from parts of the country they have occupied, a move which increases the threat to international food supplies. “The looting of grain from the Kherson region, as well as the blocking of shipments from Ukrainian ports and the mining of shipping lanes, threaten the world’s food security," the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement reported by Reuters. The ministry also demanded that Russia stops "the illegal theft of grain, unblock Ukrainian ports, restore freedom of navigation and allow the passage of merchant ships.” CNN is unable to verify these allegations independently and the Kremlin has said it had no information on the matter.
  • Last stand at the steel plant: The Ukrainian President's office said renewed efforts would be made to evacuate people from the Azovstal industrial complex in Mariupol, where hundreds of civilians are thought to be trapped. But Russian forces have closed off an area in the city, potentially ahead of another attempt to storm the plant, a Ukrainian official has said. The pocket of fighters entrenched at the steel works has become a symbol of Ukraine's unwavering resistance in the face of an enemy that far outnumbers them.

  • Civilian casualties: 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. 
  • UK to fly war crime experts to Ukraine: The UK will send a team of war crime experts to Ukraine to help investigate “atrocities” by Russian troops in the country, British officials have said. They will arrive in Poland next week to meet the Ukrainian government, international partners, NGOs and refugees, according to a statement from the Foreign Office. The aim is to help gather evidence to prosecute Russian war crimes, it said Friday. The team will include experts in conflict related sexual violence, following reports of abuse by Russian forces in Ukraine.
  • Diplomatic relations: 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. Meanwhile, 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 Friday. 
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.