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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6:14 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

The Kremlin says it doesn't know where the detained American fighters are being held

From CNN’s Fred Pleitgen in Moscow

Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huyn, right.
Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huyn, right. (CNN)

Russia does not know where the two American volunteers fighting for Ukraine are being held or who will be judging on their case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN on Tuesday.

“I don’t know where they are being held and who is going to judge them. But the only thing that goes without saying is that they are going to be prosecuted and they will be able to stand in court,” Peskov said in a voice message.

According to Russian state media, the two American volunteers fighting for Ukraine were taken into detention by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk after being captured last week.

US citizens Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama, were interviewed by Russia's RT channel at a detention center in the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) on June 17, according to a report published on RT.

The two Americans went missing on June 9 during a battle north of Kharkiv and it was feared that they may have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and a fellow fighter.

5:19 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Explosions in southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

There have been several explosions in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, according to the regional administration. Details on casualties and locations have not been released.

Witnesses reported hearing three large blasts and images from the city showed at least one large column of black smoke.

The explosions follow missile attacks on the area around Mykolaiv on Monday.

The area along Mykolaiv's border with the Kherson region continues to see shelling by Russian forces defending the territory they have seized, according to the Ukrainian military. 

The regional administration said the town of Shyroke, 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of Mykolaiv, was shelled Monday night and Tuesday morning.

"According to preliminary information, there are no victims," it said.

The front lines in the Mykolaiv-Kherson regions have changed little in the past month, although Ukrainian forces made some modest gains in a counter-offensive that began early in June.

2:41 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Intense combat in Luhansk as Ukraine resists Russian offensives, Ukrainian military says

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

In the Luhansk region, the Ukrainian General Staff said Russian units were focused on preventing Ukrainian attacks against "the rear of the Russian group of troops operating in the Sloviansk direction," and were using artillery against civilian infrastructure in the area. 

Izium: This area, to the west and southwest of Izium, has seen more intense combat in recent days as Ukrainian troops try to carry out a counter-attack against Russian supply lines. 

Sloviansk: Ukrainian forces along the Siverskyi Donets river, north of Sloviansk, continue to resist Russian efforts to break through (around Bohorodychne and Dolyna), according to the General Staff.

Bakhmut: The Ukrainian military also reported Russian offensive operations in several areas south of the town of Bakhmut, a critical supply node for Ukrainian defenses. The Russians appear to have made incremental gains south of Bakhmut recently.

Kherson: In southern Ukraine, the General Staff said Russian units were trying to contain Ukrainian forces that have gone on the offensive along the border of the Kherson region, and had carried out numerous artillery and rocket attacks on settlements behind the front lines.

2:38 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Ukrainian forces under constant fire in Luhansk but hold positions, military says

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian troops are resisting a heavy Russian offensive in and around the city of Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region, despite continued shelling from several directions, according to the Ukrainian military. 

The General Staff said on Tuesday that "shelling of units of our troops from artillery of various calibers continues."  

Russia aiming for full control: The Russians were also carrying out airstrikes in several areas south of Severodonesk, and "the enemy does not stop the assault in order to establish full control over the city," the General Staff said.

Location of fighting: Ukrainian resistance in Severodonetsk is mainly from the large Azot chemical plant on the western edge of the city, where several hundred civilians are also sheltering. 

"Fierce fighting continues in the Severodonetsk industrial zone. The Russians hit the building of the First Entrance of Azot, fired on the territory of the brick factory, and opened fire near three bridges," said Serhii Hayday, head of the Luhansk regional military administration.

Russian reports have suggested that resistance is ebbing at the Azot plant. CNN cannot independently verify the situation in the area. 

Heavy shelling: Hayday said on Ukrainian television that Russian forces had tried to carry out offensive operations on Monday under cover of heavy shelling.

"There is no electricity, no water, no gas [in Severodonetsk]," he said. "Doctors remained in one of the buildings of the medical campus ... We cannot carry out the delivery of humanitarian cargoes, because there are military operations in the active phase."

Civilians at Azot: Hayday said there are about 568 people at Azot, "who flatly refused to evacuate."

"We even made videos, talked to people on video — they refuse to leave. Basically, these are employees of the enterprise and their families — a little more than 100 employees with their families. They still have water, food, and the simplest medical supplies ...They have supplies for several weeks."

In neighboring Lysychansk: A short distance to the south, the Ukrainian General Staff said, "Our soldiers are successfully resisting the assaults in the areas of Syrotyne and Bila Hora," two settlements near Lysychansk.

The Russians are trying to close in on Lysychansk and cut off remaining Ukrainian forces in Severodonetsk to complete the seizure of Luhansk.

Hayday said Tuesday that Lysychansk was being heavily shelled. "More than 10 high-rise buildings, private houses and a police station building were destroyed," he said.

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.