August 4, 2022 Brittney Griner verdict and Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Ivana Kottasová and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 3:33 a.m. ET, August 5, 2022
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10:07 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Amnesty International says Ukrainian Armed Forces violating humanitarian law

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton

Ukrainian forces have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, as they try to repel the Russian invasion that began in February, Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday.

It said that such tactics violate international humanitarian law and endanger civilians, as they turn civilian objects into military targets. 

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

Not every Russian attack documented by Amnesty International followed this pattern, the statement added, saying:

In certain other locations in which Amnesty International concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military. Between April and July, Amnesty International researchers spent several weeks investigating Russian strikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak criticized the Amnesty report, accusing Moscow of trying to "discredit the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the eyes of Western societies." It was, he added in a tweet, "a shame that the organization like Amnesty is participating in this disinformation and propaganda campaign."

"The only thing that poses a threat to Ukrainians is (Russian) army of executioners and rapists coming to (Ukraine) to commit genocide," he said in the tweet.

Amnesty said that throughout the investigations, researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions.

Most residential areas where soldiers located themselves were kilometers away from front lines, according to the statement.

Amnesty International said viable alternatives were available that would not endanger civilians -- such as military bases or densely wooded areas nearby, or other structures further away from residential areas.

It also said that on the cases it documented, Amnesty International was not aware that the Ukrainian military who located themselves in civilian structures in residential areas asked or assisted civilians to evacuate nearby buildings which amounts to a failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians.

Podolyak said protecting civilians is the priority of Ukrainian forces. "Our defenders protect their nation and families. People's lives are the priority for Ukraine, that is why we are evacuating residents of front-line cities," he said.

“Ukraine strictly adheres to all laws of warfare and international humanitarian law,” Podolyak also said in a statement. “The absolute priority for the Armed Forces of Ukraine is to preserve the life and health of every citizen under condition of Russian barbaric aggression. Therefore, we are consistently taking all measures to help Ukrainians move from the zone of active hostilities to safer areas.”

Podolyak said Russia is the main offender. Experts have found that patterns of violent acts by Russian forces in Ukraine meet the qualification of crimes against humanity.

“Russia adheres to the tactics of total terror and ignores any rules and laws, trying to destroy civilian infrastructure and civilians as much as possible. There is no and cannot be any justification for this,” he said. “We regularly see how the Russian army shells residential areas 500+ km from the front, deliberately killing civilians and children.”

CNN's Olga Voitovych contributed reporting to this post.

5:03 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Millions of displaced Ukrainians are fearing the winter months

From CNN's Ivana Kottasova

A passenger sits on an evacuation train waiting to depart from Pokrovsk in eastern Ukraine, heading west to a safer part of the country, on August 2.
A passenger sits on an evacuation train waiting to depart from Pokrovsk in eastern Ukraine, heading west to a safer part of the country, on August 2. (David Goldman/AP)

Over 6.6 million people have been internally displaced in Ukraine because of the hostilities, the International Organization for Migration said Wednesday.

A survey conducted by the IOM last month showed that 15% of Ukraine’s population has been displaced.

At the same time, 5.5 million people who were previously displaced have returned home, most to Kyiv city and region, as well as Kharkiv, Odesa and Chernihiv regions.

The organization said many of the people who have been displaced are facing economic hardship. It said that 60% of those who were employed before displacement have lost their jobs and as many as 9% have had no income since the outbreak of the full-scale war in late February.

With the approaching colder months, many are worried about their living conditions, the IOM said. As many as 44% said they needed help with repairs and more than one fourth feared needing to leave their current accommodation due to insufficient heating ahead of winter.

4:34 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Russian attacks launched from Belarus cause heartbreak for local residents

From CNN’s Jason Carroll, Jo Shelley and Daria Tarasova in Kyiv

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, greets Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, left, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on December 20, 2019.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, greets Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, left, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on December 20, 2019. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Residents of the tiny village of Dniprovske near Ukraine’s border with Belarus feel betrayed by their neighbors.

Belarus, a key Russian ally, continues to allow Moscow to launch missile and rocket attacks on Ukraine from its territory. 

“We expected such an attack from Putin ... but we did not expect this from the Belarusians,” 40-year-old Svitlana Slyvka told CNN.

“This is treason. We are relatives, we are neighbors. ... It's a stab in the back that no one expected. They are worse than Russia.”  

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko remains one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies and has played a significant role in the invasion of Ukraine. 

He allowed Russian troops to cross the Belarusian border into Ukraine at the start of the conflict.

Ukrainian border guard Andrii Kazatskiy said the local residents can hear the missiles coming from Belarus. "[They] can hear not only how the missiles were launched, but also how they flew by,” he told CNN.


3:35 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Russia says it repelled Ukrainian missile strikes at critical Antonovsky bridge in Kherson

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

Russian officials say their air defense systems repelled another attempt by the Ukrainian military to strike the Antonovsky bridge, a key structure that crosses the Dnieper river into the occupied city of Kherson.

“There were no strikes on the bridge. There were attempts, but everything was repelled by the air defense system. Nothing flew on the bridge at all, these are all fakes,” Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the region’s civil military administration, told Russian state news agency TASS. 

Ukraine has been conducting strikes on bridges in the area for several weeks now, hoping to cut off supplies to Russian troops in Kherson ahead of an announced counteroffensive. 

Traffic across the Antonovsky bridge was stopped altogether on July 27, according to TASS.

Over the past week, Russian state media and social media footage showed Moscow’s forces transporting people across the Dnieper river in makeshift pontoon ferries, circumventing the disabled bridges. 

4:07 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Ukrainian military says Russian offensive in the east ongoing but largely unsuccessful

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian servicemen fire with a BM21 Grad multiple launch rocket system at the frontline in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on August 2.
Ukrainian servicemen fire with a BM21 Grad multiple launch rocket system at the frontline in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on August 2. (Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters)

The Ukrainian military says Russian forces are maintaining their offensive in the country's east — but that Ukraine has been able to repel their advance. 

“The enemy used barrel and rocket artillery in the areas of Yakovlivka, Travneve, Kodema, Pokrovske, Rozdolivka, Kurdiumivka, Zaitseve, Bakhmut and Soledar settlements. There were airstrikes near Yakovlivka, Soledar and Kodema,” the military’s General Staff said in a morning update on Thursday.

It said Russian forces "tried to improve the tactical position" in a number of directions, but "had no success ... and retreated."

Russia continues to conduct "offensive operations in the direction of Novoluhanske - Kodema, hostilities continue," the General Staff added.

Eastern front line: Ukrainian authorities reported intense shelling across most of the eastern battlefield. 

Near Kharkiv, Russian forces tried to make a push towards Bairak–Husarivka, the Ukrainian military said.

Russian forces had largely abandoned Kharkiv as a target, as they focused on the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, it added.

Fighting in the south: Meanwhile In Ukraine’s southern flank, Russian forces relied mostly on artillery, shelling more than 25 settlements in and around Mykolaiv. The city has faced intense shelling throughout the week, with a Ukrainian grain mogul and his wife killed last Saturday in an attack.

Residents there told CNN it was the heaviest shelling in the city since the start of the war.

Ukraine has been trying to mount a counteroffensive in this area, and Ukrainian officials have said Moscow is using artillery to defend and hold onto the territory it controls. 

3:10 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Nearly 6,000 Ukrainians stuck trying to leave occupied territories due to flooding

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych

Nearly 6,000 people trying to leave Russian-occupied territories for the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia have become stuck due to flooding on the route, according to Ukrainian officials.

“There are more than 1,200 cars at the checkpoint in Vasylivka, that's almost 6,000 of our citizens waiting in line to leave to the city of Zaporizhzhia,” Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov told Ukrainian television on Thursday.
“The waiting time there is up to seven days. But the situation has become more complicated in the last few days, because there is heavy rain in the Zaporizhzhia region, and the dirt road, which is in the gray zone, is now impassable.”

The route to Zaporizhzhia through Vasylivka is one of the few "green corridors," which allow civilians to escape Russian-occupied territories to safer, Ukrainian-controlled parts of the country. The route has been flooded for the past few days.

“The enemy is deliberately blocking this path now, because they are deliberately releasing our citizens, who will then get stuck on this dirt road,” Fedorov added. “Therefore, evacuation is possible as of today, but it is very painful and takes quite a lot of time.”

On Wednesday, officials said the number of Ukrainian refugees trying to travel through the road had increased because of Ukraine’s counteroffensive toward the occupied city of Kherson. 

3:03 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

No grain shipments to leave Ukraine on Thursday

No grain shipments are expected to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Thursday, according to the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul.

On Monday, the M/V Razoni carried the first shipment of grain from Ukraine since Russia began its invasion. After being delayed due to bad weather, it arrived in Istanbul Tuesday evening, and is heading to the port of Tripoli in Lebanon next.

The shipment was finally allowed to leave the port of Odesa under a UN-brokered export deal, after Russia's months-long blockade of Ukrainian ports worsened a global food supply crisis.

An additional 17 vessels are loaded and awaiting permission to leave Ukraine, according to Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.

7:04 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Closing arguments expected in WNBA star Brittney Griner's drug-smuggling trial in Russia

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Eric Levenson

WNBA star Brittney Griner stands in a holding cell before her court hearing on Tuesday August 2.
WNBA star Brittney Griner stands in a holding cell before her court hearing on Tuesday August 2. (Evgenia Movozhenina/AFP/Getty Images)

Closing arguments are expected Thursday in WNBA star Brittney Griner's drug-smuggling trial in Russia, amid concerns that she is being used as a political pawn in the country's war on Ukraine.

The court hearing in the Khimki city courthouse comes six months after Griner, 31, was arrested at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist, who also plays for a Russian team in the WNBA offseason, pleaded guilty to drug charges last month in what her lawyers say was an attempt to take responsibility and receive leniency if she is ultimately convicted and sentenced.

"Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and (Griner's) personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence," her legal team said last month.

Prisoner swap: The US State Department maintains Griner is wrongfully detained, and her supporters have called for her release and asked the US to take further steps to try to free her from the country, perhaps as part of a proposed prisoner swap.

"She's still focused, and she's still nervous. And she still knows that the end is near, and of course she heard the news so she's hoping that sometime she could be coming home, and we hope, too," said Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin & Partners law firm and a member of Griner's defense team.

She added the verdict in the case will come "very soon," potentially Thursday.

Read more here.

1:00 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

US Senate votes to ratify NATO membership for Sweden and Finland

From CNN's Clare Foran and Ali Zaslav

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., flanked by Paivi Nevala, minister counselor of the Finnish Embassy, left, and Karin Olofsdotter, Sweden's ambassador to the US, before the Senate vote at the Capitol on Wednesday, Aug. 3.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., flanked by Paivi Nevala, minister counselor of the Finnish Embassy, left, and Karin Olofsdotter, Sweden's ambassador to the US, before the Senate vote at the Capitol on Wednesday, Aug. 3. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The US Senate voted on Wednesday to approve a resolution to ratify membership for Sweden and Finland in NATO, a historic vote aimed at strengthening the defense bloc amid Russia's war in Ukraine.

NATO formalized its invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the alliance at the end of June and the decision must go to the 30 member states' parliaments and legislatures for final ratification.

President Joe Biden sent the protocols for ratification to the Senate in July, paving the way for the vote, which needed to be approved by two-thirds of the Senate to succeed. The final tally of the Senate vote was 95 to 1, with GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri voting in opposition and GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky voting present.

Read more here.