June 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Jeevan Ravindran, Hafsa Khalil, Ed Upright, Adrienne Vogt and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 2:31 a.m. ET, June 22, 2022
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2:04 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Analysis: Two months on, Russia is still struggling to capture Severodonetsk

Analysis from CNN's Tim Lister

A bridge that travels from Lysychansk to Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine is seen nearly destroyed on June 19.
A bridge that travels from Lysychansk to Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine is seen nearly destroyed on June 19. (Madeleine Kelly/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

It's been nearly two months since Russian forces began their assault on the city of Severodonetsk. But despite overwhelming firepower, they still can't dislodge determined Ukrainian resistance — nor cut the supply lines that provide the city's remaining defenders with a drip-feed of weapons and ammunition.

The fierce Ukrainian defense of Severodonetsk, despite heavy losses, has forced the Russians to concentrate firepower on a relatively small area and held up their efforts to seize the 10% of Luhansk region they still do not control.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the seizure of Ukraine's eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions as one of the objectives of Moscow's special military operation that began in February. For now, that operation is largely stalled; a large part of Donetsk remains beyond the Russians' reach.

Russian forces are making modest gains — the Russian Defense Ministry said Sunday that the town of Metelkino just southeast of Severodonetsk had been taken. But the Russians' goal of encircling the Ukrainian troops defending the twin cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk still appears some way off.

In a campaign lacking agility and imagination, the Russians have resorted to one principal tactic: overwhelming indirect fire against any and all Ukrainian positions, regardless of the collateral destruction.

The aim is to leave nothing standing that can be defended. The use of troops on the ground to take and hold urban areas has been less frequent and less successful.

In a video of Ukrainian special forces in the area released at the weekend, one unidentified Ukrainian soldier says: "They are throwing everything they have, all the munitions they have. It doesn't matter for them if it's our positions or civilian areas, they wipe everything from the face of earth and then they use artillery and then they start moving forward little by little."

Read the full analysis here.

1:32 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Zelensky: Ukraine "doing everything" to deserve EU candidacy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during his Monday evening video address.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during his Monday evening video address. (Office of President of Ukraine)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Monday that Ukraine is moving along the path to becoming part of the European Union.

"Step by step, we are moving through this crucial week and doing everything daily, so no one doubts that Ukraine deserves candidacy. We are proving daily that we are already a part of the European Union," Zelensky said.

The President previously said Ukraine should expect "greater hostile activity" from Russia as the EU considers this week whether the country should be formally considered for candidate status. Leaders of the EU's 27 member states are meeting to discuss the process.

12:42 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

3 killed as Russia intensifies shelling on Kharkiv, regional official says

From CNN’s Sarah Sirgany in Kharkiv and Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

At least three people were killed on Monday during Russia’s intensified shelling of Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, according to the head of the region's administration.

“In recent days, the Russian occupiers, who cannot succeed in fighting the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Kharkiv region, have intensified shelling of the regional center and other settlements,” said Oleh Synehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional state administration.

Synehubov said three people died in the shelling — a 65-year-old woman in Kutuzivka, a 61-year-old woman and a 49-year-old man in Balaklia. 

On the ground: A CNN team in Kharkiv heard several explosions across the city over the past 48 hours, noting a slight increase in frequency. Air raid sirens went off several times during the day on Monday.

Russians using Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) and other missiles have struck targets in Kharkiv, according to Synehubov.

 “There are hits in the industrial zone and in educational institutions," he said.

Synehubov also said about 700,000 people now live in the city of Kharkiv, about half of the population prior to February's invasion.

Regarding a “new Russian offensive on Kharkiv” Synehubov said: “We are constantly recording the accumulation and movement of troops on the border with our region and are monitoring the situation.”

Some context: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday said Ukraine should expect “greater hostile activity” from Russia as the European Union considers whether the country should formally be considered for candidate status. Leaders of the EU’s 27 member states are meeting this week to discuss this.

12:40 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Mother of American captured in Ukraine says she's putting trust in US officials to bring him home

Bunny Drueke, the mother of Alexander John-Robert Drueke, speaks with CNN on Monday.
Bunny Drueke, the mother of Alexander John-Robert Drueke, speaks with CNN on Monday. (CNN)

Bunny Drueke, the mother of one of the Americans captured in Ukraine, said she is putting her trust in the US State Department to bring the two men back home.

Who are the Americans? US citizens Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama, were taken into detention by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk after being captured last week, according to Russian state media. They went missing on June 9 during a battle north of Kharkiv.

Speaking to CNN's Jake Tapper on Monday, Bunny said she had watched some of the videos that have appeared in Russian media of her son. CNN has chosen not to broadcast the videos because they show him speaking under duress.

"The one where he addressed me directly really made me happy. I play it over and over and over again. Especially right before I go to bed. It's just wonderful to hear his voice and see him," she said.
"I have chosen not to look at those other videos because they are propaganda. Before Alex left, he told me that he needed to speak very directly and frankly with me, that if he were captured, they would be forcing him to make statements. I was not to believe anything except 'I love you, mom'." 

Bunny said US officials told her they are "working behind the scenes" and arranging for "Alex and Andy to come home eventually."

"They're still working at verifying where they are and who has them," she said.

Asked what message she would send to her son, Bunny said: "I would like to tell Alex that I'm taking good care of his dog and that I'm being brave and doing exactly what he asked me to do. And that I love him with all of my heart."

12:00 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

It's 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Russian forces attacking the key city of Severodonetsk, in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, have enough reserved to launch a large-scale offensive, the head of the region's military, Serhiy Hayday, said.

Here are the latest developments on Russia's war in Ukraine:

  • Possible offensive on key city: Hayday said dozens of pieces of Russian heavy military equipment had been brought into the region and were already deployed on the battlefield. In Severodonetsk, Hayday said fighting is underway in the industrial area, but “most of the city is under control [of Russian army]." Only the industrial zone and Azot plant remain in Ukrainian hands.
  • Geneva Conventions "don't apply" to captured Americans: Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Geneva Conventions for the protection of prisoners of war do not apply to the two Americans captured in Ukraine, accusing them of being "involved in illegal activities." Peskov did not clarify whether the pair were being held by Russian or Donetsk authorities.
  • Biden visit not on the cards: US President Joe Biden said he is “not likely” to visit Ukraine when he travels to Germany and Spain this weekend for the G7 and NATO summits. Biden, who has not visited Ukraine since the country was invaded, said he doesn’t want to “cause more difficulty for Ukrainians.”
  • Africa "taken hostage": Addressing the African Union Commission via video link, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Africa has been “taken hostage" by Russia's invasion. He warned the global food crisis will continue “as long as this colonizing war goes on,” affecting the lives of as many as 400 million people all over the world who depend on Ukrainian exports.
  • Russian Nobel laureate auction: Dmitry Muratov, 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, auctioned off his medal for $103.5 million on Monday, with all proceeds going to benefit Ukrainian child refugees. Muratov is the editor-in-chief of Russia’s independent news outlet, Novaya Gazeta.
12:42 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Putin doesn't represent Russia, daughter of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny says

From CNN's Jim Sciutto

Dasha Navalnaya, the daughter of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny speaks with CNN on Monday June 20.
Dasha Navalnaya, the daughter of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny speaks with CNN on Monday June 20. (CNN)

The daughter of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny says the maximum high-security prison where he was recently moved to is "one of the most dangerous" in Russia with conditions akin to "psychological torture."

Dasha Navalnaya spoke to CNN's Jim Sciutto on Monday after her father was transferred from the penal colony where he was serving his term.

Some background: In March, a Moscow court sentenced Navalny to a further nine years in a maximum-security prison. He was convicted on fraud charges over allegations that he stole from his Anti-Corruption Foundation. Navalny had spent several months in Berlin, Germany in 2020 recovering from poisoning with nerve agent Novichok — an attack he blames on Russian security services and on Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.

"No one notified the attorneys or the family about his transfer. And it, of course, is very concerning because he is one-on-one with the same people in government that tried to kill him in 2020," Navalnaya said.

Navalnaya said her father is being kept isolated so he cannot communicate with anyone.

"This is one of the most dangerous and famous high-security prisons in Russia known for torturing and murdering inmates. They fenced off a separate barrack in the area to really create a prison within the prison, so that he can't speak publicly and isolate him from any information. They don't let him go anywhere. People are not allowed to communicate with him. And this kind of isolation has really — purely psychological torture for anyone," she said.

Asked whether she believes the trials are for show, Navalnaya said, "Yes, absolutely. Putin doesn't want him out."

"Putin doesn't want him speaking. Putin doesn't want everyone knowing his government is corrupt. And, you know, the most important thing that we like to communicate is that no one should associate Putin with Russia because Putin — he doesn't represent Russia and Russia is not Putin."

2:27 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Kremlin claims Geneva Conventions don't apply to Americans captured in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov speaks to NBC on June 20.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov speaks to NBC on June 20. (NBC)

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Geneva Conventions for the protection of prisoners of war do not apply to two Americans captured in Ukraine, accusing them of being "involved in illegal activities."

Peskov made the comments during an exclusive interview with NBC News on Monday night. 

Who are the Americans? US citizens Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama, were taken into detention by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk after being captured last week, according to Russian state media. They went missing on June 9 during a battle north of Kharkiv.

Peskov called Drueke and Huynh "soldiers of fortune."

"They were involved in firing and shelling our military personnel. They were endangering their lives. And they should be responsible. They should be held responsible for those — for those crimes that they have committed. Those crimes have to be investigated," he told NBC News. 

Peskov wouldn't clarify whether the pair were being held by Russian or Donetsk authorities.

"So they’re being held in a new place, a new place to ensure that the investigation of their crimes is being completed," he said. 

Peskov said their case would be "investigated in due course" but said "Geneva Conventions cannot be applied for soldiers of fortune."

"They are in not in the Ukrainian Army. They are not subject to Geneva Convention," he said. 

Some context: Geneva Convention protections include that prisoners of war "must at all times be humanely treated."

"Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention," Article 13 of the convention states.

11:07 p.m. ET, June 20, 2022

Luhansk military head: Russian army has enough firepower to launch a "large-scale offensive" on Severodonetsk

From CNN's Sebastian Shukla

Russian forces attacking the key city of Severodonetsk, in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, have enough reserved to launch a large-scale offensive, the head of the region's military, Serhiy Hayday, said.

Speaking on Monday evening, Hayday said dozens of pieces of Russian heavy military equipment had been brought into the region and were already deployed on the battlefield.

In the city itself, Hayday said fighting is underway in the industrial area, but “most of the city is under control [of Russian army]. Now the Ukrainian military controls only the industrial zone and the territory of the Azot plant.”

Hayday also provided an update on the fighting in the neighboring city of Lysychansk. He said there was fighting along the highway between Lysychansk and Bakhmut and that all the towns in that area are being shelled. Lysychansk “had been shelled almost all day” on Monday, he added. 

2:24 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Russian Nobel Peace Prize laureate auctions his medal for more than $100 million to help Ukraine refugees

From CNN’s Philip Wang in Atlanta 

Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, gives a short speech after the conclusion of bidding during a charity auction at The Times Center on June 20, in New York City.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, gives a short speech after the conclusion of bidding during a charity auction at The Times Center on June 20, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Dmitry Muratov, 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, auctioned off his medal for $103.5 million on Monday, with all proceeds going to benefit Ukrainian child refugees.

Heritage Auctions tweeted that Muratov “auctioned his 2021 #NobelPeacePrize to benefit UNICEF’s child refugee fund. It sold for $103,500,000.”

“Right now, the award is an opportunity for me to share it with people,” Muratov said before the auction, urging people around the world to join the cause and make their contributions.

According to a statement from Heritage Auctions, Norwegian Nobel Institute Director Olav Njølstad supported the auction, calling it a "generous act of humanitarianism."

Muratov is the editor-in-chief of Russia’s independent news outlet, Novaya Gazeta. He criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the government’s use of military force, both in and outside Russia, according to the Nobel Peace Prize organization.