August 28, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Mike Hayes and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, August 29, 2023
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3:24 p.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Russian Defense Ministry says it intercepted US drones near Crimea

From CNN’s Josh Pennington and Oren Liebermann

The Russian Ministry of Defense says it deployed two fighter jets to intercept a United States Air Force MQ-9 "Reaper" and RQ-4 "Global Hawk" unmanned aerial vehicles near the Crimean peninsula.

The drones were detected by Russian forces that were monitoring equipment flying over the southwestern part of the Black Sea, the Russian defense ministry said on Telegram. 

Two Russian fighter jets were deployed to avert a “possible violation of the state border” and to “counter any radio-technical reconnaissance,” the defense ministry said.

“As a result of the actions of on-duty air defense forces, the United States Air Force reconnaissance UAVs changed their flight path and left the areas where air reconnaissance was being conducted,” the defense ministry said.

Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Garron Garn told CNN the US "will continue to fly routine missions over the Black Sea as permitted by international law to ensure freedom of navigation and maneuver in the region."

12:59 p.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Ukrainian authorities order more mandatory evacuations of children from front line communities

From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv

People walk near a temporary accommodation centre for evacuees and relocatees, who left their permanent places of residence in the Zaporizhzhia region in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict, in the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, on May 10, 2023.
People walk near a temporary accommodation centre for evacuees and relocatees, who left their permanent places of residence in the Zaporizhzhia region in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict, in the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, on May 10, 2023. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Ukrainian authorities have ordered a mandatory evacuation of children from two districts of the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region that are under persistent shelling by the Russians.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told Ukrainian television that the evacuation of children from the Vasylivskyi and Pologivskyi districts is now mandatory. Altogether more than 50 children are still thought to live in the districts.

There was also a compulsory evacuation of a community in the Kupiansk district of Kharkiv region, which has seen intense Russian bombardments in recent weeks.

And in Donetsk region, "89 children from 11 settlements are being evacuated, and today the process is underway," Vereshchuk said.

3:42 p.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Ukrainian intelligence says a Russian police base in Enerhodar was bombed in a resistance operation

From Maria Kostenko and Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv

A still from a video posted by the Department of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine on Telegram. The post claims an explosion occurred at riot police headquarters in Enerhodar on August 28, 2023.
A still from a video posted by the Department of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine on Telegram. The post claims an explosion occurred at riot police headquarters in Enerhodar on August 28, 2023. Department of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine/Telegram

There was an explosion at a Russian base in the occupied city of Enerhodar, close to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as a result of a resistance operation, according to Ukrainian Defense Intelligence.

Defense intelligence said on its Telegram channel that the explosion occurred Monday morning at the headquarters of Russia's special riot police force, known as the OMON unit.

“As a result of the operation of the local resistance movement coordinated by the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, an improvised 'barracks' of the Russian Guard unit 'Akhmat-1' was 'damaged.'"

Akhmat-1 is a Chechen unit. Defense intelligence said that after the city was occupied, Chechen fighters had seized and converted a building on the site of a Ukrainian bank branch. 

It said the explosion “resulted in injuries to the occupiers' personnel and cars parked in the courtyard. A fire broke out in the building. Fire crews and ambulances arrived at the scene. Information on the number of killed and wounded Kadyrovites is currently being clarified.”

Ukrainian Defense Intelligence also posted video of the explosion that showed a drone flying towards the front entrance of the building, which CNN has geolocated as in Enerhodar. There were no civilian casualties or injuries, defense intelligence said.

A Russian-appointed official in occupied Zaporizhzhia acknowledged that the military-civilian administration building in Enerhodar was hit by a drone Monday. However, the official disputed Ukraine's claim that personnel casualties occurred as a result of the bombing.

Vladimir Rogov said that "preliminarily, there are no dead or injured. Employees of the administration have already been evacuated."

Emergency services are working on the spot, Rogov said on Telegram.

More background: Ukrainian Defense intelligence has previously claimed sabotage attacks earlier this month in Enerhodar. It said there had been an explosion at a meeting of the chiefs of the occupation police on August 18, and last week another at the local headquarters of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).  

10:43 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Ukrainian commander stresses need to prevent Russians from developing defenses around Bakhmut

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar towards Russian positions near Bakhmut on August 12.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar towards Russian positions near Bakhmut on August 12. Libkos/AP/FILE

A Ukrainian commander in the Bakhmut area has said it is critical to prevent the Russians from establishing proper defenses in the area.

Maksym Zhorin, deputy commander of the 3rd Assault Brigade, said on his Telegram channel that “one of the most important tasks in the Bakhmut sector is to keep up the momentum of advance in order to prevent the enemy from taking measures to create its own defense system. The kind of efforts the enemy has already made, for example, in the Zaporizhzhia sector,” where Ukrainian forces are struggling to break down layers of Russian fortifications and minefields.

“Naturally, there are mines in our sector, and we hit them almost every time during assault operations. There are also fortifications that they have time to construct,” Zhorin said. “However, we still do not allow them to build a strong system here, as we constantly either knock them out of their positions or inflict damage, preventing them from taking the required actions.”

“It will be a significant problem if we provide the enemy with time and opportunity to dig in and plant mines,” he added.

Ukrainian forces have made slight progress to the south and north-west of Bakhmut in recent weeks, but are yet to threaten Russian supply lines into the ruined city. 

More on Bakhmut: On Sunday, Ukrainian officials said its military is still on the offensive in the Bakhmut direction, and continues to advance "meter by meter," Illya Yevlash, head of the press service of the Eastern Military Grouping said. Over the past day, Russian forces shelled Ukrainian positions 590 times, using multiple rocket launchers and cannon artillery of various calibers, he said. 

A total of 14 combat engagements took place on Saturday, Yevlash said. "The enemy is resorting to counterattacks, trying in vain to regain lost ground."

"Enemy tactics remain virtually unchanged" in the Bakhmut area, he said. "First come the assault units, consisting of convicts who try to storm the positions, sometimes even without the cover of heavy equipment; followed by regular army soldiers, who are taken better care of by the Russian army."

CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Radina Gigova contributed to the reporting in this post.

11:19 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Poland and Baltic states pledge to shut Belarus border if "critical incident" occurs

From CNN’s Antonia Mortensen and Niamh Kennedy

Poland's Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński speaks to reporters in Warsaw on Monday.
Poland's Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński speaks to reporters in Warsaw on Monday. Czarek Sokolowski/AP

Poland and the Baltic states have pledged to shut their borders with Belarus if a “critical incident” occurs, Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński said Monday.

“This situation is escalating. For many weeks, for several months, we have been dealing with the return of migratory pressure on our border. The same applies to the borders of our partners,” Kamiński told a news conference in Warsaw after a meeting with his Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian counterparts.

The stationing of “several thousand mercenaries” from the Wagner Group in Belarus has added a “new element” to the situation along the border, Kamiński added.

“We are determined to act together, if there is a critical situation, regardless of whether it is a Polish, Lithuanian or Latvian border, we will apply immediate retaliation. All border crossings that have been open so far, both passenger and goods, will be closed,” Kamiński warned in a post on “X” after the news conference.

Russian investigators have confirmed that Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was among the 10 people killed when their plane crashed near Moscow on Wednesday, after carrying out genetic tests.

Prigozhin turned the Wagner Group from a shadowy band of mercenaries into a feared military powerhouse operating across multiple countries on three continents. Now that he is gone, the future of the group is uncertain.

Earlier in August, Poland announced its plans to move roughly 10,000 troops to its eastern flank amid heightened fears about the growing presence of Wagner mercenaries in Belarus.

Kamiński stressed that two things are needed “stabilize the situation on our border with Belarus."

He called firstly on the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko to order Wagner troops to “immediately leave” Belarus and ensure that the migrants that have been gathering along the Belarusian border are returned to their countries of origin.

Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki has previously warned that Wagner fighters stationed in Belarus could disguise themselves as migrants in an attempt to cross the border.

8:19 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Zelensky hopes Ukraine will get Israel-style security guarantee from US

From CNN's Maria Kostenko

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he hopes that Ukraine will get security guarantees from the US that are similar to those enjoyed by Israel.

In an interview with Ukrainian media, Zelensky said that security guarantees include both a shield and a sword.

Such guarantees would come through the process of Ukraine's accession to NATO, he said, but would be reinforced through a bilateral agreement with the United States.

"We will probably have a similar model with the United States, like the Israeli model, where we have weapons, technology, training, finances, etc. Something like Israel has, but we have a different enemy," Zelensky said.

Such an agreement would not depend on who was in the White House, Zelensky said, since it would be approved by Congress.

Some background: The US and Israel have signed multiple security agreements since the founding of the state of Israel, and the US guarantees what is called a Qualitative Military Edge to Israel compared to other forces in the region.

8:16 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

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

From CNN staff

Ukraine has been under martial law for more than 18 months. The decree – passed by the country's president Volodymyr Zelenksy on the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion last February – dictates whole swathes of life in Ukraine, from who can leave the country, to when and how elections can be held.

Under the current state of martial law in Ukraine, elections have not been deemed possible. But Zelensky suggested Monday that Ukraine may hold a presidential ballot next year as scheduled – but stressed that the country would need support for such a complex undertaking during wartime.

Here are the latest developments:

  • 2024 Ukrainian elections: In an interview with local media, Zelensky signaled that Ukraine may hold presidential elections next year, despite currently being under martial law. “We are defending democracy and our land,” Zelensky said. “That’s why people are talking [about elections]. There is a political process. It cannot be banned.”
  • Moldova's president speaks to CNN: Maia Sandu told Christiane Amanpour that Ukraine needs more support or Russia will not relent in its invasion. In an exclusive interview, Sandu drew parallels between Ukraine and her country, which has also experienced serious tensions with Russia, concentrated in the eastern pro-Russian breakaway territory of Transnistria, where Russian troops are stationed. The full interview airs on Amanpour at 1 p.m. ET.
  • Crimea drones intercepted: Russia’s defense ministry said it intercepted two Ukrainian drones over Russian-occupied Crimea on Monday morning. The west coast of Crimea has seen an uptick in Ukrainian attacks this month, with drones targeting Russian air defenses and hitting other Russian military facilities.
  • Military exercise canceled: The UK’s Ministry of Defense said it is “highly likely” that Russia canceled a major joint strategic exercise “because too few troops and equipment are available.” ZAPAD, a joint military exercise between Russia and Belarus, was due to be held in September.
  • Heavy fighting in south: Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar claimed that Ukrainian forces had claimed further advances along the southern frontline, near the recently liberated village of Robotyne. However, Maliar added that “the enemy is throwing all its forces at these areas in order not to surrender the occupied positions.” Her comments come as Ukrainian soldiers detailed the challenges in trying to push further south.
7:31 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Ukrainian soldiers acknowledge more tough challenges as they try to push south

From CNN’s Tim Lister and Maria Kostenko

 Soldiers line up during celebrations for Ukrainian Independence Day in Kyiv on August 24.
Soldiers line up during celebrations for Ukrainian Independence Day in Kyiv on August 24. Alexey Furman/Getty Images

Even as Ukrainian units have breached the first line of Russian defenses on part of the southern front, soldiers have been describing just how difficult it is to make more than incremental gains in the face of complex and multi-layered fortifications.

Ukrainian forces say they have taken one village -- Robotyne -- in Zaporizhzhia region, and are moving towards several others in a bid to bring the strategic hub of Tokmak within range of artillery.

One soldier, a communications specialist named Oleksandr Solonko, has written in detail about the challenges of making progress in the area, with his account supported by others.

The lay of the land: First, he said, the topography of the region has left many Ukrainian troops exposed.

"Whoever you are, an assault group ... an evac[uation mission], an airborne or ground reconnaissance, your movement is visible from afar. The enemy has been preparing to meet you for a long time," he said.

"There are a limited number of access roads and logistics routes. Everything has been shot at and shelled repeatedly every day. You are almost certainly being spotted. It is basically impossible to do the job while remaining completely invisible to the enemy."

On Friday, a Ukrainian officer with a front line unit also told CNN that the open terrain was a challenge, with drones from both sides overhead.

"It is impossible to hide any movement of equipment, any maneuver immediately becomes known to the enemy and shelling begins either with artillery or drones."

The officer added that, unlike in Bakhmut, there were no basements in which to shelter.

Trenches and minefields: Solonko also said that Russian fortifications were elaborate. "There is an entire system of trenches, dugouts, actual tunnels in some places ... Automatic grenade launchers, machine guns, anti-tank missile systems. Anti-tank ditches and minefields stretch across the fields."

"What is not dug up is mined. We need to go through all this to move forward."

Multiple accounts in recent weeks speak of Ukrainian sappers - soldiers tasked with clearing minefields - making slow progress, with some of the weapons set off by tripwires that were intensively laid as a first line of defense by the Russians.

"Our positions on the retaken territory are surrounded by mines and tripwires. Paths are being made to enter, sappers are gradually clearing the territory."

Air power: Solonko also acknowledged the loss of Ukrainian armor in the region "because of the enemy's superiority in the air." 

"Guided aerial bombs are one of the biggest fears. The Russians use them on a massive scale. I can't judge the accuracy, but the weapon is formidable in power."

The Russians are extensively using drones for surveillance and targeting Ukrainian positions, according to Solonko. "They identify targets and launch Lancets in swarms as well as guided bombs."

But he says that US-donated vehicles are saving lives, with one soldier he'd spoken to revealing he'd survived a direct attack twice in Bradley (fighting vehicles).

Defenses run deep: Analysts have said there are deeply entrenched defenses further ahead. OSINT analyst Emil Kastehelmi notes that "the Russians have built 100-350m long communication trenches, which helps them both reinforce or retreat from the fighting positions."

"Heavy fortifications are built in order to block any potential advance on the main road towards Tokmak," Kastehelmi wrote Sunday in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

The Institute for the Study of War commented in its latest front line assessment that "Ukrainian forces are now within striking distance of the next series of Russian defensive positions, which appears to be comprised of a relatively more contiguous array of anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth anti-tank obstacles, with Russian fighting positions behind these obstacles similar to the previous layer of Russian defenses."

ISW added: "The highly interconnected systems of trenches and dugouts that the Ukrainian soldier described is the result of months of Russian preparation. It is unclear if Russian forces extended that system throughout subsequent series of defensive positions further south."

6:37 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Ukraine needs more support or Russia won’t stop, Moldovan president tells CNN in exclusive interview

From CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Claire Calzonetti and Ben Kirby

Maia Sandu speaks with CNN on Sunday.
Maia Sandu speaks with CNN on Sunday. CNN

Moldova’s President Maia Sandu has told CNN that “Ukraine needs to get more support… and everybody should understand that if Ukraine is not helped, then Russia will not stop in Ukraine or Moldova.”

In an exclusive interview in Chisinau with CNN’s chief international anchor, the president added that she hoped “more support will be coming soon, so that Ukraine could recover its territories and we will see an end to this crazy war.”

Amanpour spoke with President Sandu on Sunday as Moldova marked its 32nd independence day. The country borders Ukraine and has experienced serious tensions with Russia, in particular over the eastern pro-Russian breakaway territory of Transnistria, where Russian troops are stationed.

In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin revoked a 2012 foreign policy decree that in part recognized Moldova’s independence, according to Reuters.

Sandu told Amanpour that in Transnistria “there is a regime which is supported by Russia.”

“There are the Russian troops which are stationed illegally in the Transnistrian region. And of course, this is how the Russian authorities are trying to influence things in the Republic of Moldova.”

Tensions have been further heightened since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Moldova, and of Moldovans from Russia.

“When people from Russia try to overthrow a democratically elected government, this is a very clear sign that there is no respect for this country,” Sandu told Amanpour, referring to the expulsion of Russian diplomats.

Moldova is not currently a member of the European Union, but applied for membership shortly after Russia launched its invasion, and was then granted candidate status in June 2022.

President Sandu noted that “it’s a long process” and acknowledged “we still have corrupt judges and corrupt prosecutors who do not want our reforms to succeed,” but she emphasized that “Moldova’s democracy will be preserved when Moldova becomes [an] EU member state.”

When asked about the death of Yevgeniy Prigozhin, Sandu noted that “this just reconfirms the risks which come from Russia, a country which does not have justice… Unfortunately this does not limit to Russia’s borders. Unfortunately this is the way Russia acts with respect to its neighbors.”

Watch the full interview on Amanpour on Monday, 1 p.m. ET.