July 7, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Sana Noor Haq, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 3:58 a.m. ET, July 8, 2022
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4:58 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Ukrainian flag raised again on Snake island

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

The Ukrainian flag is hoisted on Snake Island on July 4 following the withdrawal of Russian troops last week.
The Ukrainian flag is hoisted on Snake Island on July 4 following the withdrawal of Russian troops last week. (Andriy Yermak/Office of the President of Ukraine)

The Ukrainian flag is flying again on Snake Island in the Black Sea, days after Russian troops left, according to Serhii Bratchuk, spokesman of the Odesa military administration.

The text on the flag says: "Remember the Russian warship ... Zmiiny [Snake] Island — this is Ukraine!"

It was signed by the head of Odesa Military Administration Maksym Marchenko, Bratchuk said. 

Russian forces left Snake Island last week after it was heavily bombarded and its air defenses destroyed. 

Some context: Known as Zmiinyi Ostriv in Ukrainian, the small but strategic territory was the scene of one of the opening salvos of the war in Ukraine, with demands from a Russian warship calling for the Ukrainian defenders to surrender, who boldly replied with “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.”

8:14 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Russians bombard areas of Donetsk as they prepare for next stage of offensive

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

As Russian forces consolidate their hold on the Luhansk region, they are also stepping up artillery and other forms of bombardment in neighboring Donetsk, with the area around Sloviansk a major target.

Here's a summary of the fighting around Ukraine:

  • Sloviansk: The Ukrainian military's General Staff said the Russians are trying to conduct an assault on areas north and northeast of the city, with several settlements coming under fire from artillery and multiple rocket launchers. But Sloviansk itself was said to be quiet Wednesday night.
  • Bakhmut: The General Staff said there was also shelling south of the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, another Russian target. Russian forces are within 6 or 7 kilometers (3-4 miles) of Bakhmut, which they would have to take in order to launch a concerted offensive against the roughly 45% of Donetsk region that is still in Ukrainian hands. The General Staff also reported tank and artillery fire along other parts of the front line in Donetsk and southern Zaporizhzhia regions, but no territorial losses to the Russians. 
  • Kharkiv: In the north, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces continue to shell settlements around the city of Kharkiv. Local authorities said a boarding school was hit by shells overnight but reported no casualties. 
  • Kherson: Fighting also continues in the southern Kherson region, where Ukrainian forces are trying to protect recent gains. The General Staff said in the Dobryanks region "our soldiers almost completely destroyed the enemy's sabotage and reconnaissance group and successfully repelled the enemy assault that followed it." And on the border of Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, the General Staff said the Russians were shelling several areas in an effort to prevent Ukrainian forces from advancing.
  • Odesa: The Odesa military regional administration said two missiles had been fired overnight at Ukrainian infrastructure, destroying two agricultural storage sites. "There is a clear trend that the enemy is trying to destroy our grain ... agricultural hangars, the future harvest, grain storage. As it was in Mykolaiv. Now we see it in Odesa region," said Serhii Bratchuk, spokesman of the military administration.
3:35 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Analysis: Biden is caught in a storm between Russia and its US prisoners

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

Supporters hold up signs reading "Bring Brittney Home" during a rally to support the release of detained basketball star Brittney Griner at Footprint Center on July 6, in Phoenix, Arizona.
Supporters hold up signs reading "Bring Brittney Home" during a rally to support the release of detained basketball star Brittney Griner at Footprint Center on July 6, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden is in a tightening vise between increasingly fretful families of Americans imprisoned in Russia and Vladimir Putin — a leader who has few scruples about using civilians to grind out his political goals.

Biden is facing rising pressure from relatives of WNBA star Brittney Griner and ex-US Marine Paul Whelan, who are frustrated at his failure to bring them home and have questioned whether their fates have his personal attention.

Former US Marine Paul Whelan, detained in Russia on espionage charges, holds a message before a hearing at the Lefortovo Court in Moscow, on October 24, 2019.
Former US Marine Paul Whelan, detained in Russia on espionage charges, holds a message before a hearing at the Lefortovo Court in Moscow, on October 24, 2019. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

But the White House's response is only deepening his political discomfort. After Biden on Wednesday phoned Griner's wife Cherelle and responded to a letter from the basketball player, Whelan's sister said she was "astonished" her brother did not get similar treatment.

The situation has become yet another crisis bearing down on the White House and testing its sometimes faltering public messaging machine ahead of midterm elections that are likely to be, in part, a referendum on Biden's presidency.

As the political heat rises on the President, US leverage needed to free the pair is compromised by antagonistic relations between Moscow and Washington, leaving them essentially political pawns caught in a wider geopolitical trap. Given the aftershocks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the relentless US campaign to isolate and punish the Kremlin, there may never have been a worse time to be an American imprisoned in Russia.

Read Collinson's full analysis here.

3:00 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Ukrainian medic released in prisoner exchange accuses captors of torture

From CNN's Alex Marquardt and Pierre Bairin in Avdeeva, Ukraine

A well-known Ukrainian paramedic who was held prisoner by Russian and separatist forces for three months after being captured in the southeastern city of Mariupol has accused her guards of psychological and physical torture during her time in captivity.

Yulia Paievska, 53, widely known in Ukraine by her nickname Taira, said the abuse started immediately after she was recognized at a checkpoint near Mariupol and taken prisoner, along with her driver, on March 16.

“For five days I had no food and practically did not drink,” Paievska told CNN on Tuesday, almost three weeks after she was released in a prisoner exchange on June 17.

The abuse, including beatings, she said, was “extreme” and “did not stop for a minute all these three months.”

From mid-March until mid-June, the pair were held in occupied territory in the Donetsk pre-trial detention center by a combination of forces from Russia and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, she said.

“Constantly you are told that you are a fascist, a Nazi,” she said, comparing the conditions to a gulag. She said she was told it “would be better if you were dead than see what will happen next.”

Frustrated that Paievska wouldn’t give her Russian and pro-Russian separatist captors an on-camera confession of supposed neo-Nazi connections, she said, they “threw me into solitary confinement, into a dungeon without a mattress, on a metal bunk.”

Read Paievska's story here.

2:29 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

It's 9:30 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Ukrainian officials are urging the remaining residents in the Donetsk region to evacuate to safer areas, as Russian forces inch closer to the eastern territories. After taking over the last remaining Ukrainian-controlled city in the neighboring Luhansk region, Russian forces are moving toward cities in Donetsk still controlled by Kyiv. 

Here are the latest headlines.

  • Leave Donetsk, residents told: The head of the regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko said, "Russia has turned the entire Donetsk region into a hot spot where it is dangerous to remain for civilians," and urged those still in the region to evacuate. Ukraine still controls 45% of Donetsk, but after taking over Lysychansk in the Luhansk region, Russian forces are now pushing toward Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, with renewed strikes.
  • Pockets of resistance in Luhansk: The head of the Luhansk military administration, Serhiy Hayday, said the region has not yet been completely occupied by Russian forces and fighting continues in a settlement on its outskirts. Up to 8,000 people still in the eastern city of Severodonetsk will soon face "awful conditions" with no water, gas or power supply, according to local military administration official Oleksandr Striuk.
  • Western weapons are "working": Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Western artillery they have received has "started working very powerfully." In his nightly address Wednesday, the President said the military was able to strike "depots and other spots that are important for the logistics of the occupiers," and this "significantly reduces the offensive potential of the Russian army."
  • Crucial grain harvest: Ukraine expects to harvest at least 50 million tons of grain in 2022 — well below the 85 million tons it produced the previous year but still above expectations, said Taras Vysotskyi, the first deputy minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine. He said Ukraine would have to export about 30 million tons of that grain.
  • Crowd-funded drone: A Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone, secured by Lithuania for Ukraine after a local crowdfunding campaign, was expected to be shipped to Kyiv on Wednesday. The campaign was launched by Lithuanian online broadcaster Laisves TV and the purchase was organized by the Lithuanian Defense Ministry. After learning it was being bought via crowdfunding, the manufacturer donated the drone for free.  
  • Sloviansk offensive "likely": Russia is likely to try and mount an offensive toward Sloviansk, in Donetsk, the city's military administration head, Vadym Liakh said, adding that Ukrainian forces are currently holding Moscow’s armies on the Siverskyi Donets river. He warned that "the civilian population will be shelled more and more often." Liakh also said strikes on the city have intensified in recent weeks and the pace of civilian evacuations had increased.
8:44 p.m. ET, July 6, 2022

Ukrainian official: Luhansk region not in complete Russian control yet

From CNN's Karen Smith

The eastern Luhansk region has not yet been completely occupied by Russian forces and fighting continues in a settlement on the outskirts of the region, the head of the Luhansk region military administration, Serhiy Hayday said on Wednesday.

Russian forces have suffered “enormous losses” in equipment and personnel, according to Hayday. Russian forces have been trying to take control of the Luhansk region for more than four months.

He added hospitals in the occupied area of the region are full of Russian soldiers who are severely wounded.

Hayday also said he believes Russian forces are trying to develop an offensive against the cities of Sloviansk and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

12:52 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Zelensky thanks Ireland for senate resolution recognizing Russia's invasion of Ukraine as genocide

From CNN's Karen Smith and Hande Atay Alam 

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky shakes hands with Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin during their press conference in Kyiv on July 6.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky shakes hands with Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin during their press conference in Kyiv on July 6. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Ireland for taking in Ukrainian refugees and for Ireland’s senate recently adopting a resolution that recognizes the Russian invasion of Ukraine as genocide.

At a joint news conference on Wednesday with Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin in Kyiv, he said the two discussed a joint response to the threat to food security, the energy crisis and the preparation of the new seventh sanctions package against Russia.

Martin said “Ukraine belongs to the European Union” and Ireland will be with Ukraine “every step of the way."

“Russia's brutal war against this beautiful democratic country is a gross violation of international law. It is an affront to everything that Ireland stands for. It cannot and it will not be allowed to stand,” Martin continued and mentioned that he “witnessed at firsthand the horrific reality of war on the people of Ukraine” while visiting the towns of Borodianka, Irpin and Bucha.

Martin also pointed out that Ireland welcomed 40,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war and said, “They are welcome to stay in Ireland for as long as they need to. Our home is your home.”

12:40 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Ukraine expects to harvest 50 million tons of grain this year

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva

A harvester gathers grain during harvesting in the Zaporizhzhia region in south-eastern Ukraine on July 5.
A harvester gathers grain during harvesting in the Zaporizhzhia region in south-eastern Ukraine on July 5. (Dmytro Smoliyenko/Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

Ukraine expects to harvest at least 50 million tons of grain in 2022 — well below the 85 million tons it produced the previous year but still above expectations, said Taras Vysotskyi, the first deputy minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine.

“Taking into consideration all circumstances and difficulties of the sowing campaign and the logistics during the wartime, we expect the harvest to be not that bad — higher than the average for the last five years,” Vysotskyi said. “At least 50 million tons of grain, maybe more. It depends on corn harvest, the results of which we will see in October."

Vysotskyi went on to say that Ukraine would have to export more than half of that grain.

“We have internal consumption less than 20 million tons, meaning that at least 30 million tons of harvest will have to be exported,” he said.

Vysotskyi added, “350,000 tons of agricultural products were exported in March, 1 million tons in April. Now, in June, it was 2.1 million tons. This means that our alternative logistics ways, excluding the Black Sea Ports, have increased.”

He also said the wheat crop will be of a food consumption quality, meaning it can be used for flour and bread making, as opposed to livestock feed. 

12:45 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Crowdfunded Bayraktar drone will arrive in Ukraine from Lithuania

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio in London

A crowdfunded Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 combat drone is on view during a presentation at the Lithuanian Air Force Base in Siauliai, Lithuania, on July 6.
A crowdfunded Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 combat drone is on view during a presentation at the Lithuanian Air Force Base in Siauliai, Lithuania, on July 6. (Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images)

A Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone, secured by Lithuania for Ukraine after a local crowdfunding campaign, is expected to be shipped to Kyiv in the coming hours. 

The “Vanagas” (which means "Hawk" in Lithuanian), along with ammunition, arrived in the Baltic country on Monday, the country’s Defense Minister, Arvydas Anušauskas, tweeted. After a press introduction on Wednesday, Anušauskas added the drone would be transferred to Ukraine soon.

“Last hours of Bayraktar “Vanagas” in Lithuania. Very soon it will be delivered to Ukraine,” he tweeted.

The crowdfunding campaign was launched by Lithuanian online broadcaster Laisves TV last month and was able to secure about 6 million euros ($6.11 million) to buy the drone. 

The purchase was organized by the Lithuanian Defense Ministry, but it says that after learning it was being bought via a crowdfunding campaign, the manufacturer donated the drone for free. 

“Citizens of Lithuania collected funds for this aircraft, but inspired by the idea, the Turkish company 'Baykar', the manufacturer of 'Bayraktar', decided to donate it,” the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said in a statement. “1.5 million euros of the donated 5.9 million was allocated for arming the unmanned aircraft.”

It is not the first time Baykar has donated some of its drones to the Ukrainian armed forces. Last month, after a Ukrainian crowdfunding campaign secured enough funds to purchase three of the drones, the company said it would be donating them for free.

“We ask that the raised funds be remitted instead to the struggling people of Ukraine,” it said in a statement on June 27.

The Bayraktar TB2 drone has played a key role in Ukraine’s defense against Russia. The country had about 20 of the unmanned aerial vehicles before the start of the war on Feb. 24, but Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on June 28 that his office had been able to secure up to 50 drones since the invasion began.

“In the near future, almost all capacity of the Baykar Makina plant will be focused on meeting the needs of the Armed Forces. It's about ordering dozens more drones,” Reznikov added.