August 8, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 11:16 a.m. ET, August 9, 2023
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6:10 p.m. ET, August 8, 2023

Zelensky acknowledges that Ukraine's counteroffensive is "happening probably slower" than some had hoped

From CNN's Victoria Butenko and Radina Gigova

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky holds a press conference during the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 12, 2023.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky holds a press conference during the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 12, 2023. Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

The Ukrainian counteroffensive hasn't been easy and is "happening probably slower" than some had hoped, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video released by his office on Tuesday.

His remarks from a meeting Sunday with Latin American media outlets come amid CNN reporting that Western officials describe increasingly “sobering” assessments about Ukrainian forces’ ability to retake significant territory.

"But all of this is secondary. In some places, there are mines, in some places there are technical difficulties, in some places we have been waiting for long. Or there are other complications. We can be discussing it for a long time," Zelensky said. "The direction of the counteroffensive, what's wrong with it, what we have enough of, what we lack."
"The counteroffensive is when the army is attacking and not when it is retreating. And this is an important and positive moment. And it is Ukraine that has the initiative. It is very difficult to be fighting for such a long time—which is obvious. All this is very difficult when you lack this or that equipment. I know it is difficult for us but I definitely know it is more difficult for the Russians," Zelensky added. 

While there is fatigue in the eyes of Ukrainians, there is fear in Russians' eyes, the president added.

Some more context: The primary challenge for Ukrainian forces is the continued difficulty of breaking through Russia’s multi-layered defensive lines in the eastern and southern parts of the country, which are marked by tens of thousands of mines and vast networks of trenches. Ukrainian forces have incurred staggering losses there, leading Ukrainian commanders to hold back some units to regroup and reduce casualties.

“Russians have a number of defensive lines and they [Ukrainian forces] haven’t really gone through the first line,” a senior Western diplomat told CNN. “Even if they would keep on fighting for the next several weeks, if they haven’t been able to make more breakthroughs throughout these last seven, eight weeks, what is the likelihood that they will suddenly, with more depleted forces, make them? Because the conditions are so hard.”

A senior US official said the US recognizes the difficulties Ukrainian forces are facing, though retains hope for renewed progress.

Correction: An earlier version of the post listed the wrong date for Zelensky's remarks to Latin American media. The remarks were made on Sunday.

3:31 p.m. ET, August 8, 2023

Pokrovsk residents share harrowing accounts of deadly Russian attack

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Radina Gigova

As Ukraine reels from the latest round of Russian missile attacks, residents in the eastern city of Pokrovsk recalled the harrowing experience of a "double-tap" strike Monday that left at least seven people dead and dozens injured.

"I heard a hum. A very, very loud hum. Then the entire building shook and the windows on our balcony blew out. Half an hour later there was a second hit — it was even louder and even scarier," Liudmyla told CNN on Tuesday. 

There were several people in the yard and military personnel were telling them to go to take shelter for a possible second attack. Her husband was on the balcony at the time of the blast, she said.

"I heard this growing rumble and I shouted for him to get out of there. But he didn't manage, he just fell to the floor and covered his head with hands. He was literally covered in glass," she said. 

The explosion threw Liudmyla into the other room. "You're flying and you don't realize where you are," she said. "I just yelled to my husband to see if he was alive. He responded, I crawled to him and shattered the glass," she said.

"I'd like to say to the Russians: Value the lives. Both your own and ours. And enough of all this, enough. Enough," Liudmyla said.

Another resident, Alla, whose home is also close to the area that was hit, said she and her husband went outside after the first explosion. When they returned to their apartment after the unexpected second explosion, "we saw that there were no windows, no balcony, no electricity. "

She added: "Of course, we were very much scared. We got a terrible stress, because it was very loud. We didn't sleep the whole night. How can one sleep here, when there are no windows?"

3:07 p.m. ET, August 8, 2023

Officials are urging vulnerable residents to evacuate eastern city of Kupyansk as Russian shelling escalates

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Yulia Kesaieva

Russian shelling on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kupyansk, located in the Kharkiv region, further escalated recently and authorities are urging residents to evacuate children and those with limited mobility. 

"Starting from the deoccupation in September 2022, the Kupyansk community has been constantly suffering from the shelling. Recently, unfortunately, the number of shelling has escalated, increased and the range of weapon used to shell the community has also broadened," Andrii Besedin, the head of the Kupyansk city military administration, said Tuesday on national television. 

Besedin said that the shelling now includes the use of guided aerial bombs.

Authorities in the city launched a voluntary evacuation plan for the population back in November 2022, but a number of residents have chosen to stay in the area. 

"We are actively urging people to evacuate children from the territory of our community, emphasizing that life is the most important, and it's necessary to get out of the danger zone, especially for children and people with limited mobility," Besedin said. 

Besedin said that authorities are actively communicating with the residents in the city through social media pages and emphasized that while Kupyansk remains free — and is controlled by Ukraine — defense forces are working hard to "not give any chance for the enemy to get through, but the terrorist-country demonstrates that they can be at war with the civilians, critical infrastructure and is terrorizing civilians communities."

Besedin noted how Russian shelling hit the village of Kruhliakivka on Monday.

Two civilians were killed and at least five injured in the Kruhliakivka village, Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian Presidential Office, said. The Russian military shelled the village with four guided aerial bombs and hit private houses, he said. 

Ramped up offensive by Moscow: Russian forces have stepped up their offensive across the region in an effort to reclaim territory. On Monday, Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on YouTube that "the Kupyansk direction was probably the hottest" as Russian forces try to regain positions lost last autumn. "They have such a plan — they want to return the territories they lost in Kharkiv region," she said. 

12:29 p.m. ET, August 8, 2023

Ukraine claims some advances in southern Zaporizhzhia region despite movement being slowed down by mines 

From Yulia Kesaieva

A Ukrainian serviceman launches a drone near a frontline in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine on August 4.
A Ukrainian serviceman launches a drone near a frontline in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine on August 4. Stringer/Reuters/File

Efforts to "eliminate" Russian forces around the southern Ukrainian village of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region are continuing with offensive action from Kyiv's forces, according to Serhii Kuzmin, deputy commander of the Tavria Operational and Strategic Grouping for Strategic Communications.

"There are also some advances of hundreds of meters in this direction. Offensive actions also continue in the Berdiansk sector. There are also advances there, our defense forces are moving forward. We are destroying the enemy," he told Ukrainian national TV Tuesday.

Berdiansk is very densely mined, he explained. "There are a lot of occupiers in this area — probably their number per square meter is the same as the number of mines," the official said.

"We have already reached the first line of defense of the occupiers. The first line is very difficult, but our military are pushing through it and moving forward. This movement is slowed down by minefields and our lack of aviation," he added.

CNN is unable to independently verify these battlefield claims.

For the last few days, the Russian Defense Ministry and unofficial Russian sources have said that Ukrainian attacks on the Robotyne area have been repelled, as CNN reported, with one Russian military blogger saying that trenches in the area that had been occupied by Ukrainian troops were subsequently retaken.

The latest battlefield update comes amid CNN reporting Tuesday that Western officials have described increasingly “sobering” assessments about Ukrainian forces’ ability to retake significant territory, according to four senior US and western officials briefed on the latest intelligence.

The primary challenge for Ukrainian forces is the continued difficulty of breaking through Russia’s multi-layered defensive lines in the eastern and southern parts of the country, which are marked by tens of thousands of mines and vast networks of trenches. Ukrainian forces have incurred staggering losses there, leading Ukrainian commanders to hold back some units to regroup and reduce casualties.

CNN's Jim Sciutto contributed reporting to this post. 

11:07 a.m. ET, August 8, 2023

Police officer injured in double missile attack on eastern Ukrainian city describes moment second strike hit

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Yulia Kesaieva

A police officer injured during a double Russian missile attack on the eastern Ukrainian city of Pokrovsk on Monday has described the moment the second missile hit first responders at the scene. 

Speaking from his hospital bed, Volodymyr, a police officer who previously featured in the documentary film "20 Days in Mariupol," told Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspline he had attended the scene after his working hours were over. 

“I heard that there had been an explosion in the city and realized that police help will be needed. I arrived at the scene. I was helping ambulance workers to put the injured into the vehicles,” he said, describing the moments before the second impact.

“There was information that there might be a second strike. At the time we were there, people needed help. I heard the sound of a missile, tried to fall down, but a fragment hit me in the back and punctured my lung,” he continued.

“The one who sent the missile into the city center realized that there were only civilians there. And the one who hit this place for the second time is a criminal twice over because he realized that people would be getting help,” Volodymyr added.

In an update Tuesday afternoon, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service (SES) said rescue operations are now complete at a five-story residential building that was damaged by the attack on Monday.

The SES have rescued eight people and 122 tons of debris was removed from the site, the update on Telegram said.

More detail on the Pokrovsk attacks: Two Russian strikes hit the city, which is located in Ukraine's Donetsk region, within 30 to 40 minutes of each other on Monday evening, killing seven people and injuring at least 81, according to local officials.

Many of those injured were first responders, who had rushed to the scene after the initial blast, only to be targeted in the second, they said. Russia has used this tactic throughout its invasion of Ukraine, including an attack in Kharkiv witnessed by a CNN team.

6:11 p.m. ET, August 8, 2023

Nearly 80 rescuers killed in Ukraine while responding to missile strikes since war began, officials say

From CNN's Olga Voitovych 

Rescuers carry a wounded person from a damaged building following Russian missile strikes in Pokrovsk, Ukraine.
Rescuers carry a wounded person from a damaged building following Russian missile strikes in Pokrovsk, Ukraine. Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images

At least 78 rescuers have been killed and 280 wounded in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion while responding to missile strikes, according to Col. Oleksandr Khorunzhyi, spokesperson for the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. 

Khorunzhyi spoke Tuesday at a briefing at the Military Media Center following a deadly double missile strike in Pokrovsk, where emergency service workers were injured after rushing to the scene of the first strike. The deputy head of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Donetsk region, Andrii Omelchenko, was killed, Ukraine’s National Police said.

“Russians fire at rescuers, ignoring international conventions,” the center said on Telegram. 

“It is worth noting that rescuers are protected by international conventions, as they do not engage in hostilities, but go to rescue people and provide assistance,” the center added.

9:21 a.m. ET, August 8, 2023

It’s mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Catch up on the latest on Russian strikes in eastern Ukraine and other updates

From CNN staff

A woman sits in her destroyed apartment in a building struck by a Russian missile strike in Pokrovsk, Ukraine, on Tuesday.
A woman sits in her destroyed apartment in a building struck by a Russian missile strike in Pokrovsk, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters

Rescue work is ongoing in the eastern Ukrainian city of Pokrovsk, which officials say was targeted by Russia on Monday in a “double-tap” strike, which aims to kill or injure first responders.

Meanwhile, Russia has issued new history textbooks for high-school students, offering the Kremlin’s account of the reasons for the war in Ukraine, or what it still euphemistically calls a “special military operation.”

Here are the latest developments:

  • Pokrovsk attacks: Two Russian strikes hit the city, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, within 30 to 40 minutes of each other on Monday evening, killing seven people and injuring at least 81, according to local officials. Many of those injured were first responders, who had rushed to the scene after the initial blast, only to be targeted in the second, they said. Russia has used this tactic throughout its invasion of Ukraine, including an attack in Kharkiv witnessed by a CNN team.

  • Textbook history: Russia’s education ministry has revealed new history textbooks to be used in high schools, which will teach students the Kremlin-approved account of the war in Ukraine. The textbooks will include sections on “the reasons for the start of the special military operation, the purpose of the special military operation, denazification, demilitarization,” education minister Sergey Krastov said Monday.

  • China’s impartiality: China’s top diplomat Wang Yi told his Russian counterpart that Beijing remains “impartial” on the war in Ukraine. His comments come shortly after China participated in international talks in Saudi Arabia, to which a delegation from Ukraine was invited but one from Russia was not. Chinese officials said that the talks helped to “build international consensus” on the conflict. This may have come as a snub to Moscow, which has long touted its partnership with Beijing.

  • Zelensky threat: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy has warned that Russia may be left without ships if it continues to attack Ukrainian ports. Moscow has launched a prolonged bombardment of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since pulling out of the grain deal – but Kyiv has recently started to strike back. Last week, Ukrainian sea drones downed a Russian warship near the port of Novorossiysk – and on Sunday, Zelensky warned there may be more to come.
8:04 a.m. ET, August 8, 2023

Western officials: Significant Ukrainian breakthrough is unlikely in face of heavily mined Russian defenses

From CNN's Jim Sciutto

A Ukrainian soldier fires toward Russian troops near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on July 5.
A Ukrainian soldier fires toward Russian troops near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on July 5. Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters

Weeks into Ukraine’s highly anticipated counteroffensive, Western officials describe increasingly “sobering” assessments about Ukrainian forces’ ability to retake significant territory, four senior US and Western officials briefed on the latest intelligence told CNN.

“They’re still going to see, for the next couple of weeks, if there is a chance of making some progress. But for them to really make progress that would change the balance of this conflict, I think, it’s extremely, highly unlikely,” a senior Western diplomat told CNN.

“Our briefings are sobering. We’re reminded of the challenges they face,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat who recently returned from meetings in Europe with US commanders training Ukrainian armored forces.

“This is the most difficult time of the war,” he said.

The primary challenge for Ukrainian forces is the continued difficulty of breaking through Russia’s multi-layered defensive lines in the eastern and southern parts of the country, which are marked by tens of thousands of mines and vast networks of trenches. Ukrainian forces have incurred staggering losses there, leading Ukrainian commanders to hold back some units to regroup and reduce casualties.

“Russians have a number of defensive lines and they (Ukrainian forces) haven’t really gone through the first line,” said a senior Western diplomat. “Even if they would keep on fighting for the next several weeks, if they haven’t been able to make more breakthroughs throughout these last seven, eight weeks, what is the likelihood that they will suddenly, with more depleted forces, make them? Because the conditions are so hard.”

A senior US official said the US recognizes the difficulties Ukrainian forces are facing, though retains hope for renewed progress.

“We all recognize this is going harder and slower than anyone would like – including the Ukrainians – but we still believe there’s time and space for them to be able make progress,” this official said.

Multiple officials said the approach of fall, when weather and fighting conditions are expected to worsen, gives Ukrainian forces a limited window to push forward.

These latest assessments represent a marked change from the optimism at the start of the counteroffensive. These officials say those expectations were “unrealistic” and are now contributing to pressure on Ukraine from some in the West to begin peace negotiations, including considering the possibility of territorial concessions.

“Putin is waiting for this. He can sacrifice bodies and buy time,” Quigley said.

Read more here.

7:48 a.m. ET, August 8, 2023

Russia claims it hit a military command post in eastern Ukrainian city of Pokrovsk 

From Uliana Pavlova

The Russian Ministry of Defense has claimed it hit a military command post in the eastern Ukrainian city of Pokrovsk

In an update shared Tuesday, the Ministry of Defense used the Russian name for the city and said, "In the area of ​​the settlement of Krasnoarmeysk of the Donetsk People's Republic, the advanced command post of the united group of Ukrainian troops Khortitsa was hit."

Local Ukrainian officials have denied there are military units based there.