July 26, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Chris Lau, Sophie Tanno, Hannah Strange, Adrienne Vogt, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:43 a.m. ET, July 27, 2023
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5:38 p.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Belarus minister says presence of Wagner provides "unique opportunity" for security forces

From CNN's Josh Pennington

Belarus’ Deputy Interior Minister Nikolay Karpenkov said the newly arrived Wagner fighters provide Belarus’ armed forces with a “unique opportunity” to become battle-ready.

Karpenkov told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that Wagner was “the kind of modern army that came to us here.”

He said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told law enforcement that the country's army, which has not fought for 40 years, is not combat-ready. 

“[Lukashenko] said, ‘Take this as a unique opportunity. Meet them, get to know them, work together on battle formations,’” Karpenkov said.

Commanders of all special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs have been tasked with interacting [with Wagner], Karpenkov said, so that “we could already go into battle shoulder-to-shoulder tomorrow, even here.”

“So here we will be given the unique experience that the Wagner PMC has, those fighters, those heroes. There is no other way to put it," he told the Belarusian state-run STB agency, as reported by RIA Novosti. "The use of artillery. And we will train our own specialists. And our groups will be joint in this situation. They have artillery, they have everything, let's say, to use it. And here they will help us.”

It’s not clear what, if any, heavy weaponry Wagner fighters were allowed to bring into Belarus. It was previously reported that they had to transfer such weapons to Russian regular units before leaving in convoys of cars and trucks for Belarus.

A man identified as a Wagner commander in Belarus told the agency: “We will share some experience, of course, we will show people what we can do from our side. But in general, I think that the work will be interesting, very productive.”

“Here the military guys are disciplined, very high level guys who communicate with us about what we are seeing … We both understand what's at stake and are ready to get to work," the commander said.

The number of Wagner personnel currently in Belarus isn’t clear. Over the weekend, Andrii Demchenko, a spokesperson for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, said the number of Wagner fighters in Belarus “may reach about 5,000.” He said initially there were hundreds, but that mercenaries kept arriving.

5:05 p.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Ukraine intercepts 40 Russian missiles, Ukrainian air force says

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Svitlana Vlasova

The Ukrainian Air Force says it intercepted 40 Russian missiles Wednesday.

“A total of 36 missiles were launched from eight Tu-95MS strategic bombers,” the Ukrainian air force said, adding that all 36 were destroyed.

The destroyed targets included three Kalibr cruise missiles and 33 X-101/X-555 cruise missiles, it said.

“The missiles entered Ukrainian airspace from the southeast and headed west, constantly changing direction,” the statement said. 

In addition, four Kh-47 Kinzhal missiles were fired from MiG-31K fighter jets toward the Khmelnytskyi region, according to the air force. 

Serhii Tiurin, first deputy head of the Khmelnytskyi regional military administration, said the attack was repelled and debris from the missiles fell on settlements of the Khmelnytskyi district. 

“According to the available information, there are no casualties at the moment,” Tiurin said.
2:31 p.m. ET, July 26, 2023

US and allies working with Ukraine on alternative routes to deliver grain, according to White House

From CNN's Sam Fossum

A container filled with wheat is seen aboard a cargo ship in a sea port in Ukraine's Odesa region on March 24.
A container filled with wheat is seen aboard a cargo ship in a sea port in Ukraine's Odesa region on March 24. Reuters

The United States and its allies are working with Kyiv on alternative land routes to deliver critical grain to the world after Russia pulled out of the grain deal that had permitted Ukrainian grain to travel through the Black Sea, the White House said Wednesday. 

“We are working with our EU partners, we’re working with Ukraine and other European partners to see if there’s other ways to get grain to market over land. But that’s not as efficient,” John Kirby, a spokesperson for the US National Security Council, told reporters at the White House Wednesday. 

“The best way for this grain to get to market is through maritime lanes,” he said. “But we’re working to see what we can do.”

Some background: The US has previously warned that Russia could target civilian ships in the Black Sea and blame Ukraine after the Kremlin withdrew participation from the Black Sea grain deal earlier this month. The deal was originally brokered by Turkey and the United Nations last year to ensure the safe passage of grain from Ukrainian ports. 

Ukrainian grain is critical to global food supplies, especially for developing countries. Grain prices have risen sharply since the deal collapsed and as Moscow targets Ukrainian port infrastructure.

2:59 p.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Explosions reported in western Ukraine after Air Force warns of Russian missiles approaching

From CNN's Tim Lister, Josh Pennington, Svitlana Vlasova and Mariya Knight

The Ukrainian Air Force has issued a warning that powerful Russian Kinzhal missiles have been fired toward the Khmelnytskyi and Kirovohrad regions in western Ukraine, as well as at the capital of Kyiv.

Yurii Ihnat, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force, said the latest volley involved a variety of types of missiles launched from different areas and changing direction.

Explosions have been reported in the western Khmelnytskyi region in Ukraine, hours after the Ukrainian Air Force had warned that Russian strategic bombers were airborne.

The air force said “a group of missiles is moving along the border with Moldova in the direction of Khmelnytskyi region.”

The missiles had been launched from the Caspian Sea, but had changed course and were eventually targeted at infrastructure in western Ukraine.

Ihnat said that at least some cruise missiles had been intercepted in the Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, as well as in Kharkiv.

The Khmelnytskyi regional military administration said on its Telegram channel: “Sounds of explosions are heard in Khmelnytskyi region. Air defense is working.”

It’s unclear whether all the explosions were caused by air defenses in action or the impact of missiles. There are no reports of damage or casualties so far.

Threats in neighboring regions: In the Ternopil region, the regional military administration warned people to remain in shelters, saying on Telegram that there were missiles in its airspace.

The Ukrainian Air Force also said rockets have entered the western Lviv region, urging residents to head to shelters.

About the missiles: Kinzhals travel at hypersonic speeds and cannot be intercepted by most air defense systems, but they have previously been brought down by US Patriot systems donated to Ukraine.

2:11 p.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Ukrainians claim gradual progress in south amid fierce fighting

From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova and Daria Tarasova 

Heavy fighting continues in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, especially around the village of Robotyne, where Ukrainian forces have been trying to break through heavily mined Russian defensive lines, according to Ukrainian and Russian accounts.

“We came close to Robotyne. Have not yet entered the settlement itself. Fighting continues in trench positions in front of Robotyne,” Ukraine’s 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade, which is involved in the offensive, told CNN.

Ukrainian forces are also "gradually advancing" in the Melitopol and Berdiansk directions, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said. Farther east, Ukraine is "making progress" and consolidating its positions in the area of Staromaiorske, she added.

Ukrainian forces have made only modest territorial advances in the south since the counteroffensive began at the end of May.

Russia attempted to attack Ukrainian forces in the Kupyansk and Lyman directions, but Ukraine has "stabilized the situation," Maliar added, saying it was Russia's attempt to divert Kyiv's troops from the Bakhmut area. The Ukrainian military’s General Staff also said Wednesday that Russia attempted an assault in the Lyman direction, but it was foiled.

In the eastern Donetsk region, Maliar said Russians suffered "huge losses in equipment and personnel" in an attempt to go around the town of Avdiivka.

"They want to surround the city, but they are afraid to enter it, because they will get bogged down in urban battles with our defenders, so they have been trying to bypass Avdiivka for several months now. This morning they tried to bypass Avdiivka again, but suffered huge losses in equipment and personnel," she said.

5:59 p.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Ukraine investing heavily in drone technology for war, prime minister says

From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv

Ukrainian servicemen prepare for a flight of a Leleka reconnaissance UAV in Ukraine's Donetsk region on June 27.
Ukrainian servicemen prepare for a flight of a Leleka reconnaissance UAV in Ukraine's Donetsk region on June 27. Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

More than 40 Ukrainian companies have contracts to develop drones for use in the war against Russia, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

Shmyhal appeared at a forum marking the first anniversary of the "Army of Drones" project that brought together Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicle manufacturers. The prime minister said the production of UAVs has since increased tenfold.

Both surveillance and attack drones have played a critical role for both sides in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, assisting with targeting enemy weapons, tracking the movement of units and taking out armor.

Shmyhal said the Ukrainian government has allocated about $1 billion this year for investing in Ukrainian UAV manufacturers.

“We have eliminated customs barriers for importing spare parts and complete sets. The profit share of UAV manufacturers has been raised to 25%, and a decision has been made that will facilitate the mass production of ammunition for drones," he said.

Mykhailo Fedorov, the Ukrainian minister of digital transformation, displayed some 1,700 UAVs at the forum that are being sent to the front lines.

The program has so far trained 10,000 operators at 26 training centers, and another 10,000 are slated to be trained in the future.

However, some Ukrainian military officials have recently noted that Russia’s advantage in electronic warfare has blunted the effectiveness of drone operations, as Moscow is able to jam the UAVs.

12:23 p.m. ET, July 26, 2023

It's evening in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know.

From CNN staff

Russian-installed officials and military bloggers have claimed Ukrainian forces have launched a major offensive in the Zaporizhzhia region, to the south of Orikhiv, though Kyiv has remained silent on the reports. Meanwhile, Ukraine's security service has acknowledged that it was responsible for an October attack on a key bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia.

Here are the latest headlines:

  • Ukrainian offensive in the south: Kyiv's forces have been able to wedge themselves in Russia’s first line of defense, with heavy and fierce fighting ongoing amid a large offensive along the southern front in the Zaporizhzhia region, a Russian official has claimed. 
  • SBU says it carried out October attack on Crimea bridge: The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has acknowledged its involvement in the attack on the Crimean bridge in October last year. “SBU officers have been destroying the enemy in the hottest spots and doing everything to liberate our land as soon as possible. The destruction of the Crimean bridge is one of our achievements," said SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk.
  • Kyiv denies losses in northeast: The Ukrainian military has denied the loss of three settlements in the northeastern part of the country, near Kupyansk. The denial came after Russian officials and Ukrainian sources reported Moscow’s troops had forced Kyiv’s forces to retreat several kilometers, abandoning three small settlements in the process. 
  • Russia blames West for lower summit turnout: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has accused Western governments of trying to sabotage the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg. “There is overt brazen interference by the US, France and other states through their diplomatic missions in African countries and attempts to put pressure on the leadership of these countries in order to prevent their active participation in the forum," said Peskov.
11:20 a.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Ukrainian security service says it carried out October attack on Crimea bridge

From CNN's Tim Lister

Smoke rises above the Kerch Bridge after an explosion on October 8, 2022 in Crimea.
Smoke rises above the Kerch Bridge after an explosion on October 8, 2022 in Crimea. Vera Katkova/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

After months of silence, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has acknowledged its involvement in the attack on the Crimean bridge in October last year.

“SBU officers have been destroying the enemy in the hottest spots and doing everything to liberate our land as soon as possible. The destruction of the Crimean bridge is one of our achievements," said SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk at a ceremony in Kyiv to mark the issuing of a postage stamp celebrating the security services.

Earlier this month Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar became the first Ukrainian official to acknowledge directly that Ukraine was responsible for the attack, which involved a powerful explosion on the bridge, apparently caused by a bomb concealed in a shipping container.

Some context: The Crimean bridge links the annexed peninsula to mainland Russia.

The crossing is a vital artery for supplying Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine, allowing people and goods to flow into the Ukrainian territories that Moscow has occupied in the south and east of the country.

Also known as the Kerch Bridge, it holds personal value for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the Kremlin narrative it marks the “reunification” of Crimea with the Russian mainland.

The bridge was also hit by two strikes on July 17, which a Ukrainian security official told CNN that Kyiv was responsible for.

10:31 a.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Two Russian cruise missiles shot down, says Ukrainian air force

From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv

The Ukrainian air force says two Russian cruise missiles fired from the Black Sea have been brought down, but more are expected.

“The enemy launched a Kalibr cruise missile attack from the Black Sea. The missiles were allegedly launched from a Russian submarine," it said, adding that the launch happened around 1 p.m. local time on Wednesday (6 a.m. ET)

The missiles were shot down in the Vinnytsia region of central Ukraine, the air force said.

It also warned that Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers were still airborne, and enemy aircraft were moving towards airspace over the Caspian Sea, from where cruise missiles against Ukraine are frequently launched.