June 22, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, June 23, 2023
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8:06 a.m. ET, June 22, 2023

Kremlin denies Zelensky claim Russia is “considering” attack on Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Anna Chernova

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the Zaporizhzhia region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, on March 29.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the Zaporizhzhia region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, on March 29. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The Kremlin has denied a claim made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Russia is “considering” a “terrorist attack” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) in occupied southern Ukraine.

Zelensky made the allegation in a video message published by his office, in which he said that Ukrainian intelligence “has received information that Russia is considering a scenario of a terrorist attack at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.”

Zelensky said they believed the alleged attack would involve “radiation leakage.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov refuted Zelensky’s claim in his regular press briefing on Thursday.

“This is another lie,” Peskov said. “You know, there have just been contacts with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) there, on the ground. A very high assessment from the IAEA. They saw everything – everything they wanted to see.”

Ukraine's military intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, told state TV on Tuesday that the Russians had mined the Zaporizhzhia plant.

“And the most horrifying part is that a cooler is mined. If they disable it by blowing it up… there is a great chance that there will be significant problems," Budanov said.

Safety fears: The ZNNP is the largest in Europe. Fighting around the plant as Russia occupied the region last year sparked fear that it could be the site of another nuclear accident in Ukraine.

Those fears have grown since the recent breach of the Nova Kakhovka reservoir – a source of the water used to cool the reactors at the plant.

IAEA director Rafael Grossi said Wednesday that staff at the plant are “exploring alternative ways of getting water” in light of the dam breach.

6:49 a.m. ET, June 22, 2023

US “extremely disappointed” by Gershkovich appeal rejection

From CNN's Jo Shelley in London

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy speaks to the media after a hearing to consider an appeal against the detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Moscow, Russia, on June 22.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy speaks to the media after a hearing to consider an appeal against the detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Moscow, Russia, on June 22. Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

The US is “extremely disappointed” by a Russian court’s decision to reject Evan Gershkovich’s appeal against his pre-trial detention, ambassador Lynne Tracy told reporters outside Moscow City Court on Thursday.

“This was a procedural hearing, appealing the conditions of his continued detention and we were extremely disappointed by the denial of his appeal,” Tracy said.

Tracy said she “could not speak with Evan directly at the courthouse today,” and blasted Russia’s denial of US diplomats’ requests for consular access to him.

“Failing to comply with its obligations under the consular convention enforced between our two countries, Russia has denied the US embassy’s requests for formal consular access on three occasions since I last visited Evan in April,” she said. 

“Nonetheless, today, in the courtroom, Evan continued to show remarkable strength and resiliency in these very difficult circumstances.”

Earlier on Thursday, Russian state news agency TASS reported that the Russian foreign ministry was considering a request from the US for consular access to Gershkovich.

Gershkovich, 31, was arrested in March on espionage charges, which he and the Wall Street Journal vehemently deny.

On May 23, his detention was extended until at least August 30 while he awaits trial.

Tracy added: “Despite Russian officials’ public assertions about Evan’s activities, let me reiterate the US government’s firm position. The charges against him are baseless. He is an innocent journalist who was carrying out journalistic activities and has been wrongly detained."

"Such hostage diplomacy is unacceptable and we call on the Russian Federation to release him as well as Paul Whelan, another US citizen who has been wrongfully detained. And we call for that release to occur immediately," she said.

Whelan, a former US marine, was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 by Russian authorities who alleged he was involved in an intelligence operation. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison on an espionage charge he vehemently denies.

7:49 a.m. ET, June 22, 2023

Gershkovich detention appeal denied by Moscow court

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Sharon Braithwaite

US journalist Evan Gershkovich, left, attends a hearing to consider an appeal on his extended detention at The Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, on June 22.
US journalist Evan Gershkovich, left, attends a hearing to consider an appeal on his extended detention at The Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, on June 22. Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images

An appeal by Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Evan Gershkovich against his detention has been denied by Moscow City Court.

Gershkovich appeared in court Thursday for a hearing in his appeal against a ruling to extend his detention until August 30.

He was first arrested in March on espionage charges – the first time an American journalist had been arrested on charges of spying in Russia since the Cold War.

The WSJ called Gershkovich's continued detention “an outrage.” 

“Our colleague Evan Gershkovich appeared in Moscow City Court today for an appeal against his ongoing pretrial detention. Although the outcome was expected, it is no less an outrage that his detention continues to be upheld," the WSJ said in a statement released Thursday.

“Evan has been wrongfully detained for more than 12 weeks for nothing more than doing his job as a journalist,” the statement continued. “We continue to demand his immediate release.”

5:33 a.m. ET, June 22, 2023

WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich appears in Moscow court

From CNN's Anna Chernova

WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich stands behind a glass wall of an enclosure at a court hearing in Moscow on Thursday.
WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich stands behind a glass wall of an enclosure at a court hearing in Moscow on Thursday. Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

The detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich appeared at a hearing at Moscow City Court on Thursday.

Gershkovich is attending a hearing in his appeal against a ruling to extend his detention until August 30.

The court’s press service said Thursday’s hearing would be held behind closed doors.

Both Gershkovich’s parents, Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich, are in court, along with US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy.

Gershkovich appeared in the courtroom wearing a dark T-shirt and jeans, standing in a glass cage.

Some background: Gershkovich is an American journalist who had been reporting from Russia for the Wall Street Journal before he was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on espionage charges in March.

His arrest marked the first time a US journalist had been arrested on charges of spying in Russia since the Cold War.

Gershkovich has denied all allegations and there has been a global outcry demanding his release.

He appeared in Moscow City Court in April to ask that his pre-trial detention be under house arrest rather than in jail. The court denied requests for his bail.

4:01 a.m. ET, June 22, 2023

Russia considering US request to visit detained journalist Evan Gershkovich, state media says 

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite and Radina Gigova

Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court, in Moscow, Russia, on April 18.
Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court, in Moscow, Russia, on April 18. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP/File

The Russian Foreign Ministry has received a request from the United States for consular access to detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, Russian state news agency TASS reported Thursday.

The deputy head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sergey Ryabkov, said Moscow is taking the matter into consideration, TASS said.

The US State Department said Wednesday it would surely have US embassy representation at Gershkovich’s hearing Thursday in Russia, but did not have specifics about what to expect in court.

Gershkovich was arrested in March on espionage charges, in a sign of the Kremlin’s crackdown on foreign news outlets since it invaded Ukraine last year and as relations plummet between Washington and Moscow. The Wall Street Journal has vehemently denied the spying accusations against him.

“We’ve been very clear that Evan is wrongfully detained, being wrongfully detained and targeted for simply doing his job as a journalist,” State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told a news briefing Wednesday.

Multiple past requests for consular access have been denied by the Russian government.

4:02 a.m. ET, June 22, 2023

Ukrainian shelling hits bridge connecting Kherson with Crimea, Russia-backed official says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Alex Stambaugh 

Vladimir Saldo speaks during an exhibition in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on June 14.
Vladimir Saldo speaks during an exhibition in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on June 14. Stringer/Getty Images

A bridge connecting Ukraine's southern Kherson region to the Crimean peninsula was the target of Ukrainian shelling overnight, a Russia-backed official said Thursday.

Vladimir Saldo, the Moscow-installed head of the occupied Kherson region, said on Telegram that Kyiv's forces carried out "barbaric shelling of civilian facilities," including a bridge near the village of Chonhar [known as Chongar in Russian]. 

The surface of the bridge was damaged, but there were no casualties, Saldo said, adding that traffic between Kherson and Crimea has been temporarily diverted.

The Russia-appointed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksenov, said bomb experts are assessing the type of ammunition used in the alleged attack. Without providing any evidence, Saldo said long-range Storm Shadow cruise missiles given to Ukraine by the UK could have been used.

There are three vehicle crossing points connecting Kherson and Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014 in violation of international law. 

"Failure of one of [the bridges] cannot cardinally disrupt the transport logistics of the land transport corridor," said Oleg Kryuchkov, an adviser to the head of Crimea, adding people should use the two other crossing points near the town of Armiansk. 

Remember: Ukraine has consistently said that it wants to recapture all of its territory controlled by Russia, including Crimea, which has served as a key logistics hub for Moscow's forces during the invasion.

10:56 a.m. ET, June 22, 2023

Ukraine is gaining the edge along the Dnipro River with formidable patrol boats

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen, William Bonnett and Daria Markina Tarasova in Kyiv, Ukraine

This satellite image shows the water level of the Dnipro River near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, in Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine on June 13.
This satellite image shows the water level of the Dnipro River near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, in Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine on June 13. European Union/Copernicus Sentinel-2/Reuters/File

The 34-foot vessel speeds along Ukraine’s Dnipro River at maximum velocity, before its captain shouts: “Hold!” It does a snap turn and then smoothly moves on, in a seamless motion, barely slowing down.

With little armor, the US-donated Dauntless Sea Ark patrol boat relies on speed to evade attacks, and its impressive maneuverability is a key asset for Ukraine’s recently established river fleet.

“We’re looking for any kind of enemies everywhere, air, on land and on the river as well,” Captain Anton, his surname withheld for security reasons, says of his mission. “All the river Dnipro, from the north to the south, the riverine fleet must protect it.”

With a length of almost 1,400 miles (2,200 km) the Dnipro is the fourth longest river in Europe, rising in Russia, flowing through Belarus and Ukraine, before finally ending in the Black Sea. It cuts through Ukraine, connecting some of its major cities — such as Kyiv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — providing water, electricity and a natural barrier against advancing armies.

Its water supply helps cool the reactors of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. And the destruction caused by the recent blast at the Nova Kakhovka dam also highlighted its importance for Ukrainians and Russians alike.

“The river is a strategic object,” Captain Anton says. “(Because of the explosion) now we can understand how it is important to make it a safe and secure place.”

For that reason Ukraine has been developing its river fleet, seeking to maintain control of the Dnipro and its shores, especially as it pushes through with its long awaited counteroffensive. In addition to some old Soviet equipment and civilian vessels modified for combat purposes, it has recently received support from the United States, NATO and other allies to bolster its fleet.

Read the full story here.

12:13 a.m. ET, June 22, 2023

It's early morning in Kyiv. Here's the latest on Russia's war in Ukraine

From CNN staff

More than 400 global companies pledged support Wednesday for rebuilding Ukraine's war-torn economy at a conference in London.

The World Bank estimated in March that the cost of rebuilding the country one year on from the start of the war amounted to $411 billion — a huge figure that is set to increase as the conflict drags on.

If you're just now catching up, here's what you should know:

  • Russian attacks: Russia claimed Wednesday that its forces had attacked units of the Ukrainian army and destroyed their equipment in the area of the Vremivka ledge — one of the epicenters of fighting, located in the southeast of the country near the border of the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions. Meanwhile, heavy fighting continues in the eastern Donetsk region as Russian forces keep their focus in the areas of Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Mariinka, according to an earlier update from the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
  • Military equipment: Russia will boost the mass production of drones and increase their deployment to the battlefield, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday. Putin also said Moscow will continue improving its armed forces based on the "invaluable" experience gained in Ukraine during its "special military operation," a term Russian officials use to refer to the invasion.
  • EU sanctions: European Union ambassadors have agreed on the 11th package of sanctions against Russia, the Swedish Presidency of the EU Council said Wednesday. The EU Commission chief said the new package "will deal a further blow to Putin’s war machine with tightened export restrictions, targeting entities supporting the Kremlin."
  • Dam collapse latest: Mines displaced by flooding after the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam could end up on beaches around the Black Sea, the head of a UN mine program said Wednesday. The collapse of the dam was "almost a biblical disaster — and that's before you throw in the mine equation," he said.
  • Black Sea grain deal: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met with his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London. They discussed "a wide range of areas where Ukraine and Türkiye can advance bilateral cooperation," Kuleba said in a tweet. The Black Sea Initiative agreement is up for renewal on July 17. 
11:39 p.m. ET, June 21, 2023

US will have representatives at detained journalist Evan Gershkovich's upcoming hearing in Russia

From CNN's Michael Conte and Jennifer Hansler

Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom in Moscow  on April 18.
Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom in Moscow on April 18. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

The US State Department said it would surely have US embassy representation at detained journalist Evan Gershkovich’s hearing Thursday in Russia, but did not have specifics about what to expect at the hearing.

“We continue to feel that this whole legal process as it relates to Evan is a sham,” said State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel at a news briefing Wednesday. “We’ve been very clear that Evan is wrongfully detained, being wrongfully detained and targeted for simply doing his job as a journalist.”

Patel did not know when US officials were last granted consular access to the detained American. Multiple past requests for access have been denied by the Russian government.