September 16, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Andrew Raine, Lianne Kolirin, Ed Upright and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 7:55 PM ET, Fri September 16, 2022
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8:29 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Russian shelling of liberated areas of Ukraine injures several people, Ukrainian military says

From CNN's Tim Lister

Women stand near a residential building destroyed by a military strike in the town of Izium recently liberated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces on September 15.
Women stand near a residential building destroyed by a military strike in the town of Izium recently liberated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces on September 15. (Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Reuters)

Much of Ukraine's Kharkiv region has been retaken by Ukrainian forces, but the military said liberated areas are now being heavily shelled by Russian artillery.

The Kharkiv regional civil military administration said Friday that "during the past day, the enemy massively shelled the recently liberated settlements of the Kharkiv region in the Kharkiv, Kupyansk, and Izium districts. Residential buildings were destroyed; there are injured."

The administration said 10 people were injured in the Kupiansk district, including two children. One more person was wounded in the Izium district, and one was injured in the Kharkiv district, it said.

Areas of Kharkiv near the Russian border also came under attack, it said, adding that there had been rocket attacks on the village of Zolochiv north of the city of Kharkiv.

Elsewhere, in Luhansk: The administration in the eastern Luhansk region said battles continue along the line of contact but there had been no further change in territory held by Ukraine. It said long-range artillery strikes by Ukrainian forces had inflicted heavy casualties on Russian units in the Perevalsk area, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) behind the front lines.

Donetsk: In Donetsk, regional authorities said Russian forces continued to shell settlements around Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Toretsk, killing five civilians. Despite a mandatory evacuation from the region, thousands of civilians have not left their homes.

Dnipropetrovsk: Further south, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, the cities of Kryvyi Rih and Nikopol have come under fire. Local authorities reported widespread damage in Nikopol from Russian rocket attacks. "The Russians aimed their missiles at critical infrastructure. There is severe destruction of hydraulic structures," Valentyn Reznichenko, head of Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration, said about Kryvyi Rih.

Earlier this week, missile attacks on water infrastructure caused flooding along the Inhulets river, which runs south from Kryvyi Rih. 

Kherson: The regional military administration in the southern Kherson region implied there had been little further progress for Ukrainian forces there, saying "the situation in the region remains difficult."

It said Russian forces had tried to conduct an assault toward the town of Ivanivka but retreated with losses. It also said Ukrainian rocket and artillery units performed 140 fire missions.

10:29 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Pro-Russian official in occupied city of Berdiansk murdered, according to Russian-backed administration

From CNN's Tim Lister

Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russia-installed head of the Zaporizhzhia region, holds a media briefing in Melitopol on July 14.
Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russia-installed head of the Zaporizhzhia region, holds a media briefing in Melitopol on July 14. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

The head of the Russian-backed administration in occupied areas of the Zaporizhzhia region said a senior official there has been killed.

Yevgeniy Balitsky, head of the Russian-appointed administration, said that Oleg Boyko — a senior official in the city of Berdiansk — and his wife had been killed.

"A tragic event happened last night. The deputy head of the administration of Berdiansk Oleg Boyko and his wife Lyudmila, who worked as the chairman of the Berdiansk election commission, were vilely killed," Balitsky said.

The circumstances of their deaths are unknown. 

7:55 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

German armed forces must become Europe's "best equipped," says Chancellor Scholz

From CNN’s Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses a conference of the German Armed Forces Bundeswehr in Berlin on Friday.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses a conference of the German Armed Forces Bundeswehr in Berlin on Friday. (Jens Schlueter/AFP/Getty Images)

German armed forces must become Europe’s “best equipped,” with the country ready to take on a “leading responsibility” in guaranteeing Europe's security, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Friday.

"As the most populous country with the greatest economic power and as a country in the middle of the continent, our army must become the cornerstone of conventional defense in Europe, the best equipped force in Europe," Scholz told reporters at a German armed forces conference in Berlin.

"We are making it convincingly clear: Germany is ready to take on leading responsibility for the security of our continent," Scholz went on to say.

Scholz said Russian President Vladimir Putin currently poses ''the biggest threat'' to the NATO alliance.

The German Chancellor said that the German armed forces had for too long taken on other roles like "drilling wells, ensuring humanitarian help, stemming floods, also helping with vaccinations during the pandemic."

"But that is not your core mission," he said, adding "the core task of the Bundeswehr [the German armed forces] is the defense of freedom in Europe."

Scholz also said that Europe must take on a lot more responsibility within NATO, amid Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

"We, Europeans, must however assume significantly more responsibility within NATO," Scholz said.

We will have to get used to the fact that Putin's Russia will define itself as an adversary to the US, to NATO and the EU for the foreseeable future,'' he added.

"NATO remains responsible for the collective defense of the entire alliance with a focus on Europe. Credible deterrence remains the core element,'' Scholz concluded.

12:03 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

UN to send team to site of mass burials in Izium, source says

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Kharkiv

Forensic technicians dig near a cross in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum, eastern Ukraine on Friday.
Forensic technicians dig near a cross in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum, eastern Ukraine on Friday. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

A United Nations source told CNN that a team from the UN’s human rights monitoring agency, the OHCHR, would be going to Izium and areas around it as soon as possible.

The war crimes investigation team may follow after that, the source said. Their specific destination remains unclear at this time.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that a mass burial site had been discovered in Izium, in the country's Kharkiv region, after the area was recaptured last weekend from Russian forces. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said that at least 440 graves had been found.

7:30 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

China’s Xi calls for international order “in a more just and rational direction” at SCO summit

From CNN’s Beijing bureau and Martin Goillandeau

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders' summit in Samarkand on Friday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders' summit in Samarkand on Friday. (Sergei Bobylyov/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

A day after meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to “promote the development of the international order in a more just and rational direction,” in remarks given at a summit of the organization in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Friday. 

The regional countries “must firmly uphold the international system with the United Nations at its core and the international order based on international law, promote the common values of all mankind, abandon zero-sum games and bloc politics,” Xi said at the summit in televised remarks. 

Created in 2001, SCO includes China, Russia, four Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), India and Pakistan.

Xi said countries should “support each other’s efforts to safeguard security and development interests, prevent foreign forces from staging color revolutions, and jointly oppose interference in the internal affairs of other countries under any pretext.”

Xi also invited SCO members to join a Chinese-led global security initiative, aimed at “effectively responding to non-traditional security challenges,” adding “We need to crack down on the three forces.” Beijing has previously referred to “three forces of evil” as religious extremism, ethnic separatism and international terrorism, in diplomatic statements on military cooperation in Central Asia.

He added China is willing to train 2,000 law enforcement officers for member states over the next five years and establish a training base for Chinese SCO counter-terrorism professionals.

7:24 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Prosecutor in Russian-backed separatist region killed in "terrorist act"

From CNN's Tim Lister

The leader of the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) says its prosecutor general has been killed in "terrorist act."

Leonid Pasechnik, head of the so-called LPR, said on his Telegram channel Friday: "Today, as a result of a terrorist act, the Prosecutor General of the LPR Sergei Gorenko and his deputy Yekaterina Steglenko were killed."

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation says it will start a criminal investigation into the attack.

Such attacks in the city of Luhansk are very rare.

It's unclear how the victims were killed; video from Luhansk shows only smoke rising from a building in the center of the city.

7:22 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Some US officials express disappointment over effect of sanctions on Russian economy

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Katie Bo Lillis

Senior US officials tell CNN they are disappointed US-led sanctions haven’t had a bigger impact so far on the Russian economy and are now predicting that the harshest effects probably won’t materialize until early next year at the earliest.

The hope had been that the sanctions would quickly choke off Russia’s war machine in Ukraine, making it difficult for the Kremlin to sustain its efforts on the battlefield — and perhaps even turn public opinion against the invasion when day-to-day life in Russian society became uncomfortable.

But the Russian economy has proven far more resilient than many top Biden administration officials had expected when they set out to punish the country in February, thanks largely to record-setting revenues it has reaped in the spring and summer from soaring energy prices. In the first 100 days of the war, Russia earned a record 93 billion euros in revenue by exporting oil, gas and coal, according to the Finnish Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Russia’s economy still shrunk by about 4% between April and June as compared to the same period last year. But that’s nowhere near the 15% decline that some had expected earlier in the year.

“We were expecting that things like SWIFT and all the blocking sanctions on Russia’s banks would totally crater the Russian economy and that basically, by now going into September, we’d be dealing with an economically much more weakened Russia than the one that we are dealing with,” said one senior US official, referring to the US and European decision to cut some Russian banks off from the SWIFT international banking system.

Another senior US official echoed that, telling CNN that many in the administration had hoped to see the Russian economy suffering more by now, given the unprecedented severity of the coordinated Western sanctions.

A separate senior administration official cautioned CNN, however, that the officials crafting the sanctions in the months leading up to the war always believed that the steepest impacts would not necessarily be immediate.

“I think we’ve had, from the beginning, a view that when Russia invaded Ukraine and we imposed the sanctions, they were going to be, in all likelihood, a mid-to-long-term sanctions regime,” the official said. “That is because we wanted to keep pressure on Russia over the long term as it waged war on Ukraine, and we wanted to degrade Russia’s economic and industrial capabilities. So we’ve always seen this as a long-term game.”

Read more:

CNN's Phil Mattingly contributed reporting to this post.

6:50 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

‘We survived, thank God, we survived!’ There's relief, but little joy, in one liberated Ukrainian town

From CNN's Saskya Vandoorne, Melissa Bell and Olga Voitovych

A car is driving past a building damaged by Russian shelling in the village of Shevchenkove in August.
A car is driving past a building damaged by Russian shelling in the village of Shevchenkove in August. (Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Shevchenkove may have been liberated after more than six months of Russian occupation, but in the run-down streets of this small town in northeastern Ukraine, there are no scenes of joy.

Its streets were practically deserted Tuesday, five days after Ukrainian forces swept through. Their trucks and a heavy police presence were the only signs of the dramatic events of the past few days, and a strong reminder of who is now in charge.

Civilians were few and far between. A few, huddled anxiously outside the police station, waited to have their phones checked for any sign of collaboration with the occupier.

Kharkiv police declined to tell CNN what would happen to anyone who was accused.

Ukrainian officials have vowed that anyone who collaborated with occupation forces will face criminal sanctions.

Other civilians hurried in and out of their homes, heads down and eyes downcast, to a food truck manned by Ukrainian military personnel, where bottles of water and plastic bags full of food were handed out.

Few were willing to speak to the media and CNN’s cameras were turned away from the police station by Kharkiv police each time someone handcuffed and blindfolded was taken away in a police car.

Only a pair of elderly women taking a walk in a nearby park agreed to talk – at first reluctantly and then with all the bottled-up emotion of those who’ve been silent too long.

We didn’t have any choice,” said Maria, who declined to give her last name for security reasons, bursting into tears. “They just came and occupied us."

5:01 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Ukraine war exposes divisions in Central Asia, causes unease in former Soviet territories

From CNN's Nectar Gan and Rhea Mogul

China's President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and other participants attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders' summit in Samarkand on September 16.
China's President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and other participants attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders' summit in Samarkand on September 16. (Sergei Bobylyov/Pool/AFP/Sputnik/Getty Images)

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit could have provided a chance for Beijing and Moscow to make a case for a "multipolar world order," but Russia's invasion of Ukraine may have sowed divisions within the grouping and alienated some countries.

Having watched Russian tanks roll into Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, Central Asian leaders of former Soviet territories are worried that Russia could encroach on their land too. 

Kazakhstan, in particular, has refused to toe Moscow's line. It has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and its President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has publicly refused to recognize Russia-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, enraging some Kremlin officials.

China's refusal to condemn Russia has also caused unease among Central Asian countries, experts say. That risks hampering China's efforts to build stronger ties with its Central Asian neighbors, an endeavor China has invested heavily in for two decades.

During Xi Jinping's state visit to Kazakhstan on Wednesday -- his first foreign trip in nearly 1,000 days -- the Chinese leader sought to allay such concerns.

China will always support Kazakhstan in maintaining national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity," Xi told Tokayev, according to Chinese state media.

Also complicating the picture is India, which occupies a unique role in the SCO.

Delhi, which like Beijing has not condemned Russia's invasion, has strong ties with Moscow dating back to the Cold War. According to some estimates, India gets more than 50% of its military equipment from Russia.

In recent months, India has significantly increased its purchase of Russian oil, coal and fertilizer, despite Western pressure to cut economic ties with the Kremlin following its aggression in Ukraine.

But Delhi has also seen relations with Beijing nosedive due to conflicts along their border, and has moved closer to Washington and its allies in the Indo-Pacific. India is a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue alongside the United States, Japan and Australia, a grouping driven closer together by China's threats.

Modi, who arrived in Samarkand in the early hours of Friday, is expected to have one-on-one meetings with his Russian, Uzbekistan and Iranian counterparts, a source from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs told CNN.

But based on his tentative schedule, Modi doesn't have a meeting scheduled with Xi. The two leaders haven't met since the start of the China-India border conflict more than two years ago. 

Last week, Delhi and Beijing began disengaging from the Gogra-Hotsprings border area in the western Himalayas.

In addition to their territorial disputes, Delhi is also wary of Beijing's growing economic influence over its smaller neighbors.

"Ever since Modi came to power, we have seen relations (between India and China) steadily deteriorate," said Manoj Kewalramani, a fellow of China studies at the Takshashila Institution in India.

But Kewalramani said the SCO could provide a "space (for India) to engage with China and Russia."

"Particularly, being on the table while China and Russia are together, because the closer that relationship gets, the trickier it gets for India," he said.