Live Updates

Russia’s war in Ukraine

Forensic experts try to identify remains in Ukraine
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What we're covering

  • Ukrainian forces are withdrawing from the embattled eastern city of Severodonetsk after months of bloody combat, a regional military chief said.
  • Russian forces are gaining an advantage in eastern Ukraine as they learn from mistakes made during the earlier stages of their invasion, two US officials told CNN.
  • European Union leaders have agreed to grant Ukraine and Moldova candidate status for EU membership. The EU said it will “swiftly” work on increasing military support to Ukraine and will work on further financial assistance.
  • The BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — said they support talks between Russia and Ukraine in a joint statement published on the Kremlin’s website.
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31 Posts

Follow the latest news on Russia’s war in Ukraine here and read more about today’s developments in the posts below.

How Mila Kunis raised millions to support Ukrainians in need

In 1991, when actor Mila Kunis moved to the United States, her family left their home in what was then the Soviet Union. She was seven and a half; she spoke Russian and says she thought of herself as Russian.

“If I said the word Ukraine, no one would know where that country was on the map, and so I was like, ‘that’s exhausting.’ Let’s just stick to the big red dot over there, and so I would say I’m from Russia for many, many years,” Kunis told CNN’s Erin Burnett.

Last February, when Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Kunis said she found a new sense of pride in the country where she was born. She made it clear: “I am Ukrainian who speaks Russian, and I found myself correcting myself and my friends who are also from Ukraine.”

Since the invasion, roughly one-third of Ukraine’s citizens have been forced to abandon their homes and more than five million have sought refuge in other countries.

Watching news of the war impacted Kunis deeply. She told Burnett, “As a mother, any time you see children in any facet of harm, it is indescribable pain because all you want to do is help a child. That’s all; that’s literally all I want to do.”

So, Kunis and her husband Ashton Kutcher decided to “reverse engineer that desire and try to figure out the most productive way of helping,” she said.

Together, they looked for ways to have an immediate impact on the people who are suffering. They decided to raise money and help provide housing and supplies for refugees.

They partnered with GoFundMe.org, which set up the technical structure to accept donations within hours

According to their fundraiser, donations directly benefit Flexport.org and Airbnb.org, two organizations actively on the ground providing immediate help to those who need it most. Flexport.org is organizing shipments of relief supplies to refugee sites, and Airbnb.org is providing free, short-term housing.

Kunis and Kutcher named their campaign Stand With Ukraine and launched it in early March with the goal of raising $30 million. The couple donated $3 million in matching funds. Just two weeks later, they exceeded their goal, and in a video said 65,000 people contributed.

To date, Stand with Ukraine has raised more than $36 million, and more than 75,000 people have donated. Kunis says the campaign not only helps the people of Ukraine but allows supporters around the world to be involved.

You can read more about Kunis’ fundraising efforts here.

Programming Note: Mila Kunis, Sean Penn, Chef José Andrés and Glenn Close will be among the celebrities recognized during “CNN Heroes Salutes,” hosted by Erin Burnett Saturday, June 25th at 10 p.m. ET.

Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol says there is no water and thousands of tons of garbage in the streets

Vadym Boichenko, the exiled mayor of Mariupol, gave a brief update on the situation inside the city now under Russian control. 

Speaking on Friday, Boichenko said that 120,000 residents of the city are trapped, unable to escape. He added that the sanitary situation in the city is becoming critical.

“Garbage has not been taken out since February. Thousands of tons of garbage lie on the street, rotting. The sewer does not work. There is no water,” he said.

Boichenko is no longer physically in the city, but he provides updates on the conditions inside the city from sources and information he receives. 

According to those sources, Russian forces have “distanced themselves from the locals because they are afraid of getting infected.” 

Boichenko added that he is unsure if diseases may be spreading around the city.

US secretary of state says it "makes no sense" for Russia to demand inspecting Ukrainian ships

Antony Blinken during the International Conference On Global Food Security on June 24 in Berlin, Germany.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it doesn’t make sense for Russia to demand that it be able to inspect every Ukrainian ship leaving Ukrainian ports.

“By what right or by what logic does Russia insist on inspecting Ukrainian sovereign ships leaving Ukrainian ports going to other countries? That makes no sense,” Blinken said to CNN’s Fred Pleitgen at a press conference in Germany on Friday.

Blinken is in Berlin for a ministerial conference on food security. He also said that Ukraine needs assurances that its ports will be safe from potential Russian ships, when asked about Russian demands that Ukraine clears the passages of mines. 

“When Russia says that it might be prepared to let ships out, that potentially creates the risk of Russian ships going in and attacking Odesa directly. So the Ukrainians have to have confidence that in doing anything that would allow their ships to get out of port that the Russians won’t take advantage of that and allow Russian ships to go in and attack Odesa,” Blinken said. 

Blinken did not say there has been any definitive progress on getting Ukrainian grain out of the country despite high-profile attention — both by the Biden administration and its allies — on the problem for over a month now. 

Blinken also expressed support for the United Nations, which has been trying to work with both the Russians and the Ukrainians to develop a solution. 

“The United Nations, the secretary general, have been working very persistently to see if some kind of agreement can be reached that would allow a channel out of Odesa for Ukrainian ships and so food and grain. We very much support that effort,” Blinken said. 

Mykolaiv mayor urges "everyone who wants to stay alive to leave the city"

The mayor of the southern Ukraine city of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Sienkevych, has urged residents of the city to leave.

“I suggest everyone who wants to stay alive to leave the city. About 230,000 people remain in Mykolayiv city now,” the mayor said.

Evacuation routes out of the city are in the directions of Odesa, Kryvyi Rih and Kyiv.

He described the situation as “generally very bad. The city is shelled every day.”

The mayor said 111 people have been killed and 502 people have been injured, including six children.

IAEA "increasingly concerned" for staff at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

A Russian serviceman guards in an area of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine, on May 1.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is “increasingly concerned about the difficult conditions facing staff” at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Friday in a statement.

Grossi also stressed that IAEA must go there “as soon as possible” and that the situation at the site, under the control of Russian armed forces, is “clearly untenable.”

“The IAEA is aware of recent reports in the media and elsewhere indicating a deteriorating situation for Ukrainian staff at the country’s largest nuclear power plant,” Grossi said.

“The situation at this major nuclear power plant is clearly untenable. We are informed that Ukrainian staff are operating the facility under extremely stressful conditions while the site is under the control of Russian armed forces,” he said, adding the recent reports are “very troubling and further deepen my concern about the well-being of personnel there.”

Ukrainian forces are withdrawing from Severodonetsk to "better defend themselves," senior US official says

Ukrainian forces moving back from Severodonetsk are “putting themselves in a position where they can better defend themselves,” according to a senior US defense official.

“The Ukrainian armed forces are performing a professional, tactical retrograde in order to consolidate their forces in positions that they can better defend themselves,” said the official in a background call with reporters.

The official also said Russian forces are still “just eking out inch by inch of territory” in Donbas and characterized the Russian move on Severodonetsk as a “very small, very incremental gain.” 

However, the official said they did not want to minimize the “significant” percentage of territory Russia does control in Ukraine or the loss of Ukrainian lives.

Settlements south of Lysychansk are under increased fire, Ukraine's defense ministry says

Several settlements south and southeast of the city of Lysychansk are currently under increased fire by Russian forces, Ukrainian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzianyk said at a briefing Friday. 

“The hottest sectors of the front are the settlements in the southern and southeastern directions from Severodonetsk. The enemy has significantly increased the number of air strikes,” Motuzianyk told journalists. “As a result of the strikes on Lysychansk, a large number of buildings were destroyed in the surrounding settlements.”

“The settlements of Borivske, Verkhniokamenka, Mykolaivka and Bila Hora are under fire,” Motuzianyk added.

The remarks highlight the ground Russian forces have gained in the past few days, with all the settlements in close distance to the strategic axis of Lysychansk-Severodonetsk. 

“[Russia] is trying to establish full control over Severodonetsk, conducts offensive operations to try to surround our troops in the area of ​​Lysychansk and to block the main logistics routes,” Motuzianyk said. “Heavy fighting continues; the enemy is trying to entrench in the areas of Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka.”

Motuzianyk also said Ukrainian forces had been able to repel a Russian offensive in Borivske.

Ukrainian forces will have to withdraw from Severodonetsk, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration said earlier.

All pledged rocket systems will be in Ukraine by mid-July, US defense official says

The first batch of four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems that the US pledged to Ukraine are now in the country, and the newly announced batch of four HIMARS will be delivered by “mid-July,” according to a senior US defense official.

Another platoon of Ukrainians is in training to operate the systems, the official told reporters on a background call.

G7 foreign ministers say Russia is to blame for exacerbating food insecurity

Russia’s war against Ukraine is exacerbating food insecurity, the G7 foreign ministers said Friday in a joint statement.

The ministers reiterated their condemnation of the war and called on Moscow “to cease its attacks and threatening actions and un-block the Ukrainian Black Sea ports for food exports.”

“In today’s meeting the G7 Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, and the High Representative of the European Union, reaffirmed in the strongest terms their condemnation of Russia’s continued war of aggression against Ukraine,” according to the joint statement.

A Russian soldier guards a pier with grain storage silos in the background at Mariupol Sea Port, Ukraine, on June 12.

The ministers said that in addition to Russia’s blockade of ports, troops are bombing grain silos and damaging Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure.

“Ministers rejected Russia’s false narrative and disinformation on sanctions. All G7 sanctions include exemptions to allow Russian food and agricultural products to get to global markets,” according to the statement.

The foreign ministers pledged to support Ukraine with military and defense assistance “for as long as necessary.”

International partners "united" in fight against looming food crisis, German foreign minister says

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, right, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, address journalists following a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany, on June 24.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Friday international partners are working together in the fight against the looming food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

”We are working together against Russia’s cynical grain war that threatens to destabilize countries,” Baerbock told reporters at a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, adding, ”This difficult time is also a time of almost unprecedented closeness and unity.”

”We will not allow this war to starve the world,” Baerbock said, adding, ”There is insecurity in the world regarding delivery, especially of grains, and payment.” 

Baerbock said the top priority of Friday’s food security conference hosted by Germany is to set up reliable transport routes, including the opening of transport via sea and rail, to allow grain from Ukraine to be exported.

The German foreign minister also said with the initiative of the US, temporary silos will be built in Ukraine to store and export grain to avert a global food crisis.

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

After months of grueling fighting, Ukrainian forces are withdrawing from the city of Severodonetsk, a key strategic stronghold in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. A regional Ukrainian military chief accused Russia of destroying most of the city’s infrastructure during an intense shelling campaign.

Here are the latest headlines on Russia’s war on Ukraine:

  • Several Ukrainian units still remain in Severodonetsk, as the withdrawal is expected to last a few days, head of the local district military administration, Roman Vlasenko, told CNN.
  • Ukrainian forces in the city held on much longer than many observers anticipated, but the military has clearly now decided that there was nothing more to defend – and that hundreds of civilians sheltering at a chemical plant were in greater danger every passing day, writes CNN’s Tim Lister.
  • Ukraine’s long-term goal of joining the European Union received a boost Thursday, after the bloc’s 27 member states agreed that the country should be given candidate status — a significant step on the path to full membership. 
  • German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock accused Russia of using ”hunger as a weapon of war” and holding ”the whole world hostage,” ahead of a key gathering on Friday in Berlin.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his country is “grateful” to US President Biden and the American people for the latest package of $450 million in military aid.
  • As he marked four months since Russia began its invasion, Zelensky wrote on his official Telegram channel on Friday: “Everything changed for Ukraine four months ago. We became a country in army boots. A country in tanks, aircraft, ships. A country in trenches and shelters.”
  • A Russian-installed politician in the occupied southern Ukrainian city of Kherson was killed on Friday, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. Ukrainian officials claimed responsibility.

"We became a country in army boots," Zelensky says, observing four months of war

As he marked four months since Russia began its invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his nation “became a country in army boots.”

“Everything changed for Ukraine four months ago. We became a country in army boots. A country in tanks, aircraft, ships. A country in trenches and shelters,” Zelensky wrote on his official Telegram channel on Friday.

“Our way of life changed, but not our worldview. The path on which we are going to the goal changed, but the goal remained the same,” he continued

Russia began its invasion of Ukraine four months ago on Feb. 24.

Lavrov claims EU and NATO making "coalition" to "essentially" fight war with Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed Friday that the EU and NATO are gathering a “coalition” to “essentially” prepare for a war with Russia.

Commenting on Ukraine and Moldova joining the EU, Lavrov said the EU is not a military-political bloc, therefore, unlike NATO, the development of its relations with other countries does not create any threats or risks for Russia.

However, Russia perceives the rhetoric of the union had been increasingly aggressive and “Russophobic,” Lavrov said at a joint press conference with his Azeri counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov in Baku.

France's President Emmanuel Macron, left, President of the European Council Charles Michel, center and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, right, attend a press conference after a European Council meeting where they granted Ukraine and Moldova EU candidacy status in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23.

The European Council granted Ukraine and Moldova EU candidacy status on Thursday in a bid to show support for the two countries in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

The question of Ukraine and Moldova joining the EU was labelled “internal European affairs” by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, also on Friday. However, he added that it is crucial that a decision on the matter does not further affect Russia’s relations with the two countries or the European bloc.

“These are, of course, internal European affairs,” Peskov told reporters on a regular conference call.

He added, however: “It is crucial for us that all these processes do not bring more problems to us and to the relations of the above-mentioned countries with us. And that it doesn’t lead to a further deterioration of our relations with the EU.”

Peskov’s comments echo the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin who said last Friday that Russia “has nothing against” Ukraine entering the EU as it is the “sovereign decision of any country” to join an economic bloc.

Ukrainian withdrawal from Severodonetsk could last a few days, says local official

Ukrainian soldiers ride on an armored personnel carrier (APC) on a road out of the eastern Luhansk region, Ukraine, on June 23.

Ukrainian forces have begun to withdrawn from Severodonetsk, but several units still remain in the Donbas city, as the operation is expected to last a few days, head of the Severodonetsk district military administration, Roman Vlasenko, told CNN.

“As of now, the Ukrainian military still remains in Severodonetsk,” Vlasenko said on Friday. “They are being withdrawn from the city at the moment. It started yesterday.”

Vlasenko went on to say that 568 civilians were also in the city, inside the Azot plant.

Some background: Amid intense urban combat, hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children, took shelter in the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk. Unlike the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, it offers little protection below ground.

As with Azovstal, the Azot plant and its immediate surroundings became the focal point of Ukrainian resistance, frustrating Russian commanders.

Russia claims it has encircled up to 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas

Russia says it has encircled around 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas as it intensifies its efforts to capture Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, its defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a Friday briefing.

“In total, in the Hirske area, we have cut off up to 2,000 people: about [Ukrainian] 1,800 servicemen, 120 Nazis from Right Sector, up to 80 foreign mercenaries, as well as over 40 armored combat vehicles and about 80 guns and mortars,” Konashenkov said, adding that 41 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered voluntarily in the past 24 hours.

CNN has reached out to the Ukrainian military and regional administration for comment on Russia’s claims — which CNN has been unable to independently verify — but has yet to hear back.

Earlier on Friday, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration conceded that Russian forces had made progress in some areas to the south of Lysychansk, namely Zolote and Toshkivka.

The Russian Ministry of Defense also said Moscow’s forces had targeted five ammunition depots in the Luhansk region, adding that Ukrainian forces were seeing high levels of attrition.

“To replenish the losses in manpower, Ukrainian command are forced to form separate rifle battalions formed by untrained, mobilized citizens in each regions towards Donetsk and Luhansk,” he said.

In the same area of Luhansk, the head of the Hirske military-civilian administration Оleksii Babchenko said that town had been “completely occupied” by Russian forces. The specifics have not yet been confirmed.

“Unfortunately, as of 8 a.m. today, Hirske territorial community is completely occupied,” Babchenko said in a televised address. “Despite the fact that there was a very strong fortified area near Zolote, the breakthrough was made from the direction of Orikhove-Toshkivka.

“The occupation regime is currently being established.

“As early as Tuesday (June 21), it was impossible to reach Hirske, to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate the population, because all roads were either not under our control, or already being fired at,” he said.

Babchenko went on to say that around 60% of buildings in the town had been damaged.

"Russia uses hunger as weapon of war and holds the whole world hostage," says German minister

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock attends a press conference on Germany's contribution against the global hunger crisis at the International Conference on Food Security in Berlin on June 24.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock accused Russia of using ”hunger as a weapon of war” and holding ”the whole world hostage,” ahead of a key gathering on Friday in Berlin.

US State Secretary Antony Blinken is among those attending the conference on the looming food crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.

Baerbock told reporters in Berlin that the event, entitled “Uniting for Global Food Security,” will address supply shortages caused by the war, while aiming to “stabilize food supplies worldwide.”  

She said the conference was called into action ”at very short notice” and that 50 delegations, as well as 40 ministers, from around the world will be attending.

The top priority is to set up reliable transport routes to allow grain from Ukraine to be exported, she said of the food security conference.

The West has demanded that Russia stop the blockade of Ukrainian seaports to allow vast stores of grain to be taken to world markets as fears rise of famines in vulnerable regions.

Germany’s development minister Svenja Schulze, who was speaking at the same news briefing, said the country will spend $4.2 billion this year in the fight against global hunger.

The Berlin conference will take place as the leaders of the G7 countries prepare to meet in the Bavarian Alpine resort of Schloss Elmau between June 26 and 28.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to discuss financial aid for Ukraine with the G7 leaders by video link on Monday. 

EU needs to buy energy collectively to prevent winter crisis, says Belgian Prime Minister

European Union member states need to buy energy collectively and implement price caps on gas to prevent what could be a hard winter, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Friday.

“We need to form an energy bloc, we need to buy energy collectively, we need to make use of price caps and we need to coordinate better among ourselves,” he added.

De Croo went on to say that the EU Commission “should really take the lead right now.”

Europe has tried to reduce its reliance on Russian natural gas since the invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Europe’s energy crisis escalated this month as Moscow further reduced supplies to Germany, Italy and other members of the European Union. Twelve EU countries have so far been affected by Russian gas supply cuts, the bloc’s climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said on Thursday.

Gas supply in the EU is “currently guaranteed” but the situation is “to be taken seriously,” the EU Commission told CNN on Thursday.

On Thursday, the EU and Norway agreed to further strengthen their cooperation in the energy field, providing the EU with additional gas supplies.

With previous reporting from CNN’s Arnaud Siad.

Russia is on the verge of taking a key Ukrainian city, but bigger battles await

It was more a question of when, rather than if, the remaining Ukrainian units in the eastern city of Severodonetsk would be withdrawn.

For the last several weeks, Russian forces have simply destroyed every defensive position the Ukrainians have adopted, pushing them into a few square blocks in and around the city’s Azot chemical plant.

Ukrainian forces in Severodonetsk held on much longer than many observers anticipated, forcing the Russians and their allies to devote resources to the city that might have been used to press the offensive elsewhere.

But the Ukrainian military has clearly made the decision that there was nothing more to defend – and that hundreds of civilians sheltering at the plant were in greater danger with every passing day.

According to the Institute for War, a US think tank that follows the campaign closely, “The loss of Severodonetsk is a loss for Ukraine in the sense that any terrain captured by Russian forces is a loss – but the battle of Severodonetsk will not be a decisive Russian victory.”

Now the battle moves across the Siverskiy Donets river to Lysychansk, the last city in Luhansk held by Ukrainian forces. And there are already signs that the Russians will use the same merciless tactic of area bombardment to grind down Ukrainian forces, deploying combat planes, multiple launch rocket systems and even short-range ballistic missiles such as the Tochka-U. 

Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, noted Friday: “There is a lot of military equipment. According to our information, at least six Tochka-U left in the direction of Lysychansk from Starobilsk only. One is enough destructive power – six is a total disaster.”

The loss of Severodonetsk – and, potentially, Lysychansk in the coming days – may have been priced into Ukrainian calculations, given the overwhelming firepower of Russian forces and the apparent improvement in Russian logistics since the campaign against Kyiv was abandoned. But every town and city defended provides an opportunity to degrade the enemy.

There are still large areas of the neighboring Donetsk region under Ukrainian control. The regional military administration says about 45% of Donetsk is held by Ukrainian forces, including the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

There are not many obvious defensive positions west of Lysychansk, in an area of open countryside. Ukrainian commanders will have to decide whether the whole pocket – courageously defended for weeks – is better abandoned for a more consolidated defense of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka, the industrial belt of Donetsk.

The question is whether the losses inflicted on Russian forces in recent weeks will impair their ability and desire to gobble up more territory, especially as Ukraine deploys more accurate western weapons such as the HIMARS rocket systems.  

Equally, it’s unclear whether the punishment endured by Ukrainian units in the Donbas region over the last two months has left them with enough resources to launch counter-attacks against Russian flanks (as they have attempted against Russian forces advancing from Kharkiv region in the north.)

The Kremlin has not veered from its ultimate objective of taking all of Donetsk and Luhansk. It now has almost all the latter. Completing the “special military operation” will still take weeks, and more likely months, if at all. It has become a classic war of attrition.

Ukraine's President Zelensky "grateful" to US for additional $450m in military aid

U.S. Marine Corps High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems with 3d Battalion, 12th Marines, pictured in Okinawa, Japan, on September 30.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his country is “grateful” to US President Biden and the American people for the latest package of $450 million in military aid.

The Biden administration on Thursday announced the additional military aid for Ukraine, with the United States giving the war-stricken country four more multiple launch rocket systems and artillery ammunition for other systems.

The package, which will be drawn from existing Defense Department stocks, also includes 18 patrol boats for monitoring coasts and rivers, and small arms.

The most significant part of the package is the four additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), wheeled vehicles capable of launching barrages of guided rockets at targets up to approximately 40 miles away.

Zelensky tweeted on Friday: “We’re grateful to [US President Joe Biden] and the American people for the decision to provide another $450 million defense aid package to Ukraine. This support, including additional HIMARS, is now more important than ever.

Russia has destroyed roads leading into Lysychansk, says local official

A Ukrainian armored personnel carrier (APC) rides on the road while smoke rises over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk, Ukraine, on June 23.

Russian forces have targeted and destroyed some of the roads leading into the encircled Ukrainian city of Lysychansk, according to the head of the Luhansk regional military administration.

The post, which included video of one of the targeted bridges, continued: “The bridge is damaged, only cars will be able to pass it now, the truck will not pass into the city.”

Russian forces have been attempting to cut off supply lines into Lysychansk and Severodonetsk for weeks as they closed in on the two population centers.

Pro-Russian politician killed in occupied Kherson, state media says

A Russian-installed politician in the occupied southern Ukrainian city of Kherson was killed on Friday, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Dmitry Savluchenko, head of the Department of Youth and Sports for the region, was killed “as a result of a terrorist attack,” according to RIA.

Ukrainian officials claimed responsibility for Savluchenko’s death.

“Our partisans have another victory,” Serhii Khlan, adviser to the head of the Kherson Civil Military Administration said in a Facebook post on Friday. “A pro-Russian activist and traitor was blown up in a car in one of Kherson’s yards in the morning.”

Russian forces make gains in Donbas, south of Lysychansk

Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside Lysychansk, Ukraine, on June 23.

Russian forces have made some gains in the past 24 hours, claiming two villages to the south of the neighboring Donbas cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.

Forces from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) said on Friday they had captured the villages of Hirske and Zolote. 

“The Ukrainian group, located in the Gorskoye-Zolotoye cauldron, has been liquidated. All settlements are under our control,” Andriy Marochko, an officer with the self-proclaimed LPR militia said in Telegram remarks carried by Russian state news agency TASS on Friday.

The head of the Luhansk regional military administration, Serhiy Hayday, conceded that Russian forces had made gains south of Lysychansk. 

“The enemy is advancing towards Lysychansk from the side of Zolote and Toshkivka,” he said. “They really succeed in some settlements.”

Ukrainian forces to withdraw from Severodonetsk, regional military chief says

Ukrainian soldiers ride a tank on a road in the eastern Luhansk region, Ukraine, on June 23.

Ukrainian forces will have to withdraw from Severodonetsk, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, Serhiy Hayday, said Friday, accusing Russia of destroying most of the city’s infrastructure.

“Unfortunately, we will have to withdraw our military [from Severodonetsk]. It makes no sense to stay in positions broken after many months [of hostilities], because the number of dead in unfortified territories may grow every day,” Hayday said in a televised address.
“Our defenders, who are there, have already received a command to withdraw to new positions, and to fully conduct hostilities from there.”

Hayday said the situation in Severodonetsk was unsustainable after round the clock shelling by Russian forces over several months. 

Hayday went on to say Russia was now targeting neighboring Lysychansk from Zolote and Toshkivka, around 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) to the south.

“They really succeed in some settlements,” he said. “Lysychansk is logistically stretched, the landscape is complex. Therefore, it is difficult to take it immediately.”

According to Hayday, Russian attempts to infiltrate the city with sabotage and reconnaissance groups had been repelled. He added that evacuations and deliveries of military and humanitarian aid to the city were ongoing. 

4 killed in Russian military transport plane crash, state media reports

Four people died when a Il-76 military transport plane crashed in the city of Ryazan, western Russia, during a training flight on Friday, state-run news agency TASS reported, citing the Russian Defense Ministry.

Ten people were aboard the jet, according to TASS. 

According to the Defense Ministry, the plane crashed due to an engine malfunction; there was no cargo on board.

Russian forces under orders to blockade two major Ukrainian ports and are mining the Black Sea, US says

The United States has information that the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy “is under orders to effectively blockade the Ukrainian ports of Odesa and Ochakiv,” a US official told CNN, citing what was described as recently declassified intelligence.

According to this official, that intelligence also revealed indications that Russian forces are deploying mines in the Black Sea and have previously mined the Dnipro River.

Western officials have accused Moscow of “weaponizing” food supplies as leaders and experts warn of a looming food crisis with millions of tons of Ukrainian grain unable to reach to global market due to the war. 

“We can confirm that despite Russia’s public claims that it is not mining the northwestern Black Sea, Russia actually is deploying mines in the Black Sea near Ochakiv,” the US official told CNN Thursday.

The Guardian first reported on the findings of the newly declassified intelligence. 

Moscow has claimed it is not impeding agricultural shipments from Ukraine and has said Kyiv must de-mine the waters for the ships to transit.

“The Russian Federation is not creating any obstacles for the passage of ships or vessels. We are not preventing anything,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in early June.

On a call with reporters Thursday, hosted by the US State Department’s Africa Regional Media Hub, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, “We shouldn’t be buying the argument that it’s Ukraine who blocked the sea with its mines in order not to allow the shipment or the vessels to come in and out.”

“Russia was mining the sea. We were mining the sea to defend ourselves. The Russians were mining it to — not to allow — to destroy our ships,” he said. “The real issue is what happens when the harbor is demined.  Who will ensure and how it can be ensured that Russia will not abuse open harbor and attack Odesa from the sea?  This is the question that everyone is rattling their minds on: how to make sure that Russia doesn’t attack Odessa from the sea.”

EU says it will "swiftly work on a further increase of military support" to Ukraine

The European Union says it will “swiftly” work on increasing military support to Ukraine and will work on further financial assistance.

In a news release following the first day of the two-day EU Summit, the European Council said, “The European Union remains strongly committed to providing further military support to help Ukraine exercise its inherent right of self-defence against the Russian aggression and defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty. To this end, the European Council calls on the Council to swiftly work on a further increase of military support.”

Leaders of the European Union (EU) attend day one of the EU leaders summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23.

The European Council also urged Russia to “immediately stop targeting agricultural facilities and removing cereals, and to unblock the Black Sea, in particular the port of Odesa, so as to allow the export of grain and commercial shipping operations,” blaming Russia for the global food security crisis.

The European Council also condemned “Russia’s indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure,” adding that “international humanitarian law, including on the treatment of prisoners of war, must be respected.”

“Russia, Belarus and all those responsible for war crimes and the other most serious crimes will be held to account for their actions, in accordance with international law,” it said.

Ukraine's EU hopes get shot in the arm as bloc's leaders approve candidate status

European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a joint news conference in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23.

Ukraine’s long-term goal of joining the European Union has received its latest shot in the arm, after the bloc’s 27 member states agreed Thursday that the country should be given candidate status — a significant step on the path to full membership. 

“Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU,” European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter after talks in Brussels. Leaders also agreed to approve Moldova’s candidacy.

The decision, made at an EU Council summit, comes a week after President of the European Commission Ursula von Der Leyen said it was the opinion of the bloc’s executive body that Ukraine deserved candidate status because it “has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and the country’s determination to live up to European values and standards.”

However, it is still likely to be years before Ukraine is able to join the EU. The process is lengthy and requires agreement from the 27 member states at almost every stage. This means that there are multiple opportunities for member states to use their veto as a political bargaining chip. 

Read more here.

BRICS countries — which include Russia — support Ukraine-Russia talks in joint declaration

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a keynote speech in virtual format at the opening ceremony of the BRICS Business Forum in Beijing, China, on June 22.

BRICS countries said they support talks between Russia and Ukraine in a joint statement published on the Kremlin’s website on Thursday.

The BRICS countries include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

“We have discussed the situation in Ukraine and recall our national positions as expressed at the appropriate fora, namely the UN [Security Council] and UN [General Assembly]. We support talks between Russia and Ukraine,” the statement read.

“We have also discussed our concerns over the humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine and expressed our support to efforts of the UN Secretary-General, UN Agencies and ICRC to provide humanitarian assistance in accordance with the basic principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality established in UN General Assembly resolution 46/182,” they added.

The BRICS summit, hosted virtually by Beijing, marks Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first international forum with other heads of major economies since he launched his invasion in Ukraine back in February. 

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously indicated he is willing to hold direct talks with Putin.

Situation in Severodonetsk "difficult" but "stable," Ukrainian military says

The situation in the city of Severodonetsk is “difficult” but “stable,” according to Oleksii Hromov, deputy head of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces.

“As of now, the situation is difficult, stable, the fighting is ongoing,” Hromov told reporters in a briefing Thursday. 

“Our servicemen have weapons at their disposal and are supported by artillery units, but unfortunately the enemy has the fire advantage,” he said. “[Russia] has enough artillery systems, enough munition, they inflict massive fire strikes, but our servicemen skillfully maneuver among the fortified positions.”

Hromov conceded that Russia had damaged Ukraine’s supply routes into the city, but he said military leadership had found alternative ways to send ammunition in and bring out the wounded. 

In neighboring Lysychansk, “there is no safe place” left, Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk region military administration, said on Thursday.

The “whole of Lysychansk is being shelled with large caliber and air strikes,” he said.

Authorities continue to evacuate civilians and deliver humanitarian aid, he added.

Russia is gaining advantage in eastern Ukraine as forces learn from earlier mistakes, US officials say

Russian forces are gaining an advantage in eastern Ukraine as they learn from mistakes made during the earlier stages of their invasion of the country, including better coordinating air and ground attacks and improving logistics and supply lines, two US officials with direct knowledge of US intelligence assessments told CNN.

The US does not expect new weapons systems recently supplied to Ukrainian forces, including the HIMARS multiple rocket launch system, to immediately change the situation on the battlefield in part because those systems are so far being sent with both a limited range and a limited number of rockets to ensure they are not fired into Russian territory. Additionally, Russian forces have been able to destroy some of the new Western-supplied weapons, including M777 howitzers, in targeted attacks.

The US assessments, which increasingly envision a long and punishing battle in eastern Ukraine, come as the months-long war there has reached a pivotal moment in recent days. Ukraine’s military has been burning through Soviet-era ammunition that fits older systems, and Western governments are facing a tough decision on whether they want to continue increasing their assistance to the country.

The US assessments paint a dismal image of the future of the war, with high personnel and equipment losses on both sides. US officials believe that Russian forces plan to maintain intense attacks in the east, characterized by heavy artillery and missile strikes, with the intention of wearing down Ukrainian forces and NATO resolve over time.

Read more here.