September 16, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Amarachi Orie, Tori B. Powell, Thom Poole and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 5:52 PM ET, Sat September 16, 2023
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5:47 p.m. ET, September 16, 2023

We've wrapped up our live coverage for the day. You can read more about Russia's invasion of Ukraine here, or scroll through the updates below.

5:47 p.m. ET, September 16, 2023

Ukrainian strikes kill 6 people in Donetsk region, Russia-backed official says

From CNN's Josh Pennington

Ukrainian strikes on the eastern Donetsk region left six people dead and another nine wounded Saturday, said Denis Pushilin, the Russia-backed head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.

Ukrainian forces shelled the cities of Donetsk, Svitlodarsk and Horlivka, Pushilin said on Telegram. He identified one of the wounded people as a woman in Svitlodarsk who "suffered a moderate injury." Occupying Donetsk authorities later identified another victim as a child born in 2010.

Several houses and civilian infrastructure facilities were damaged during the strikes, Pushilin added.

Remember: The Donetsk People's Republic is a self-declared, Russian-backed separatist region in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has raged since 2014.

The international community does not recognize the region and its institutions, and considers the territory to be part of Ukraine.

This post has been updated to include the latest death and injury toll reported by Russia-backed authorities in Donetsk.

4:55 p.m. ET, September 16, 2023

More than 80 defense companies will participate in Ukraine weapons forum, Zelensky says

From CNN's Heather Law

Ukraine will host a defense industries forum this fall that President Volodymyr Zelensky hopes will help the country produce more weapons and ammunition, he said during his nightly address Saturday. 

Eighty-six leading defense companies from 21 countries have already confirmed their participation in the forum, Zelensky said, but he did not provide further details.

"Our task is absolutely clear – to provide Ukraine with all the opportunities to produce weapons and ammunition, to provide modern technology to have reliable protection against any form of aggression," he said. 

"This fully reflects Ukraine's strength and potential – our ability to defend ourselves and help other countries preserve freedom and international order," Zelensky added.

The forum will be the first of its kind in Ukraine.

2:29 p.m. ET, September 16, 2023

Stark video from Ukrainian soldiers shows that little remains in liberated village near Bakhmut

From CNN's Maria Kostenko and Andrew Carey in Kyiv

Destroyed buildings are seen in Andriivka, Ukraine, on September 6.
Destroyed buildings are seen in Andriivka, Ukraine, on September 6. Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

One of Ukraine’s brigades has released extraordinary footage of its advance on the tiny settlement of Andriivka, which Kyiv's forces said they recaptured Friday as part of a slow-moving counteroffensive.

The three-minute video, posted to the brigade's Telegram account, was apparently filmed by a camera mounted to a soldier’s helmet. It shows a small group of fighters from the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade making their way through a brutalized landscape of charred trees completely stripped of their branches. Piles of bricks and other rubble dot the land around the advancing fighters — presumably once the houses where Andriivka residents lived.

In one clip, an infantryman braces slightly as an incoming mortar screams past him, landing close by. In another clip, a soldier bends down to pick up an abandoned assault rifle, possibly discarded by a Russian solider. 

Thick smoke hangs everywhere. 

Some background: Andriivka lies southwest of the key city of Bakhmut and has been a focus of Ukraine’s eastern offensive in recent weeks. The 3rd Separate Assault Brigade is mostly involved in fighting around Bakhmut.

Ukraine’s General Staff — made up of its top military leaders — declared it liberated on Friday. But the video, and comments from a brigade spokesperson, make it clear that former residents have nothing to return to.

“There is nothing left of the village of Andriivka. There may be only a few basements. There have been no civilians for more than six months. They were evacuated when Wagner was advancing,” press officer Oleksandr Borodin said on Ukrainian television Saturday morning, referring to the Russian mercenary group which led the assault on the area earlier in the year.

Borodin indicated that Ukraine’s forces will continue their slow advance around Bakhmut.

“Everything is stabilizing. We are consolidating our position, and we are preparing our positions. There is a lot of work that needs to be done. The right flank of Bakhmut is very important. Should the flanks fall, it will be impossible to hold Bakhmut,” he said. 

Russia’s military bloggers describe ongoing fierce fighting Saturday to the north of Avdiivka around the larger village of Klishchiivka.

A top Ukrainian commander said Friday that capturing Andriivka has given Kyiv's troops a key foothold in the area surrounding Bakhmut.

CNN cannot independently verify battlefield claims from either side in the conflict.

2:34 p.m. ET, September 16, 2023

Ukrainian intelligence officials claim pro-Kremlin Chechen leader is gravely ill

From CNN's Tim Lister, Maria Kostenko and Darya Tarasova

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov addresses servicemen in Russia in 2022.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov addresses servicemen in Russia in 2022. Musa Sadulayev/AP

The pro-Kremlin Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is gravely ill, a spokesperson for Ukrainian Defense Intelligence claimed Saturday, citing "various sources in the medical and political circles."

“There is information that the war criminal Kadyrov is in a serious condition and the diseases that were there have worsened and caused such a serious condition," spokesperson Andriy Yusov told Ukrainian media.

His ill health was not due to an injury, Yusov added.

“He has been ill for a long time, and we are talking about systemic health problems,” he said. “For the last few days, he has been in a serious condition.”

CNN cannot independently verify the Ukrainian claim.

Some background: There have been persistent reports, including from some former Chechen officials, that Kadyrov has had liver and kidney problems.

In March, Kadyrov said he had taken a number of medical tests which showed that he was absolutely healthy.

“And if anyone doubts this, then you need to change the eyes that are deceiving you,” he said at the time.

Kadyrov’s Telegram channel has been active, but he’s not been seen in public recently. A video of the Chechen leader attending a meeting was posted to his Telegram channel on September 12, but it’s unknown when it was filmed.

Kadyrov's role in Ukraine: Kadyrov leads sizeable paramilitary forces that — while formally a part of Russian security structures — have personal loyalty to him.

Kadyrov has said he and his fighters are active in Ukraine and will help Moscow “fight to the victorious end.”

He has been accused by international and independent observers of gross human rights violations in his home territory and beyond.

1:14 p.m. ET, September 16, 2023

US gives Ukraine industrial-sized 3D printer for repairing trucks, weapons and equipment

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

Last month, the US provided Ukraine with an industrial-sized 3D printer that can be used to print spare equipment parts that may break down or require maintenance, according to Bill LaPlante, a US under secretary of defense.

The printer is the size of a truck, LaPlante told the Center for New American Security, and “it is changing the ball game” of how quickly Ukraine's military is able to repair trucks, rocket systems and other weaponry or equipment provided by the West over the last 18 months. 

Ukrainian techs are also “remarkable at tele-maintenance,” LaPlante said, which involves US officials helping them repair things remotely — a vital strategy, given the US’ footprint in the country is largely limited to the embassy in Kyiv.

The US official says Ukraine completed training on the printer within the last week.

1:03 p.m. ET, September 16, 2023

Russian attacks kill 2 civilians in Kharkiv region, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Maria Kostenko and Radina Gigova

Russian attacks killed two civilians in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine on Saturday, according to the head of the region's military administration.

A man and a woman died when their car was hit by a Russian missile in the village of Strilecha, Oleh Syniehubov said on Telegram. Another man was wounded and hospitalized in the village, which sits just outside Ukraine's border with Russia.

A separate attack on the village Petropavlivka, southeast of Kharkiv city, wounded a 23-year-old man Saturday, Syniehubov said.

And earlier today, the regional leader said five civilians were wounded by a Russian missile attack on Kharkiv city.

School classes have been moved into shelters set up in the city's metro stations, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said in a television interview. Additional metro stations will also be equipped so that more students can study there, he said.

Kharkiv is Ukraine's second-largest city.

12:48 p.m. ET, September 16, 2023

Pope's peace envoy returns from Ukraine talks in China

From CNN's Barbie Nadeau and Radina Gigova

Pope Francis' Ukraine peace envoy Cardinal Matteo Zuppi returned from a three-day trip to Beijing on Friday, calling on all sides to participate in negotiations that could bring Russia's war to an end.

When it comes to pursuing peace diplomatically, Zuppi said, the "ball is not only in Ukraine’s court."

"Everyone must play," the peace envoy said, according to the Vatican News service. "Ukraine has already engaged and presented its proposals. In reality, everyone must participate in the pursuit of peace."

During a visit to Russia in June, the cardinal met with the Kremlin's foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Maria Llova-Belova, the government official at the center of an alleged scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.

When it comes to pursuing peace diplomatically, the “ball is not only in Ukraine’s court,"

Earlier in June, Zuppi also traveled to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian officials. 

The peace envoy said efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine have received “considerable attention from the Chinese government."

Some context: Ukraine and its Western allies have long expressed hope that China and its leader Xi Jinping, a self-described friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, could play a role in pushing Moscow toward peace.

So far, however, its claims of neutrality and a vaguely-worded 12-point position paper on a "political settlement" for the conflict — which failed to acknowledge Russia invaded Ukraine's territory — have been met with skepticism.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has long expressed concerns about negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and pointed to his past record of reneging on agreements.

“When you want to have a compromise or a dialogue with somebody, you cannot do it with a liar,” Zelensky told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview in Kyiv last week.

Russia has blamed Ukraine for not coming to the negotiating table.

CNN's Nectar Gan and Simone McCarthy contributed reporting to this post.

12:39 p.m. ET, September 16, 2023

Poland, Slovakia and Hungary will defy EU and extend ban on Ukrainian grain imports

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy

Workers harvest a field of wheat in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on July 4.
Workers harvest a field of wheat in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on July 4. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Poland, Hungary and Slovakia will defy the European Union and extend a temporary ban placed on Ukrainian grain imports, in a move likely to anger the bloc’s leadership.

On Friday, the EU announced it was lifting restrictive measures placed on the export of Ukrainian grain to a select number of countries in Eastern Europe.

The temporary measure, adopted May 2, banned the import of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seed to Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia to counter the risk of farmers in these countries being undercut by a bottleneck of cheap Ukrainian grain.

The European Commission said in a statement that it was lifting the ban because Ukraine had committed to export control measures that would prevent any further disruption to neighboring economies.

While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejoiced, his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki did not welcome the EU’s decision.

“We will extend this ban despite the European Union’s disagreement,” Prime Minister Morawiecki said, according to Polish state news agency PAP. “We will do it because it is in the interests of the Polish farmer,” he added.

A Polish government spokesperson formally announced the government’s plan to extend the ban on Ukrainian grain imports later Friday.

Hungary has also opted to retain the ban, with the country’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban announcing his plans on Saturday to “take matters into our own hands.”

"Ukrainian agricultural products destined for Africa are flooding Central European markets," Orban stressed. "The bureaucrats in Brussels are turning a blind eye to the problems ... of European farmers once again, so Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are extending the ban on imports on a national basis."

Slovakia’s Ministry of Agriculture announced its decision to extend the ban in a Facebook post Friday, citing a need to safeguard Slovakia’s “domestic market.”

More context: European officials have tried to keep Ukrainian grain flowing during Russia's war in Ukraine, fearing widespread famine brought on by blocked ports and sea routes to Africa and the Middle East.

The EU took steps to lift duties on grain from Ukraine and ease its distribution to global markets, but those moves sparked protests from farmers elsewhere in Europe, who said the influx of cheap grain hurt them.

The EU convened meetings in search of a compromise before Friday's announcement, and said the decision should satisfy the needs of both sides.

Now the decision by the three countries to apply their own measures is expected to anger EU officials.

Earlier Friday, European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis called on countries to “work along the lines” of the new agreement and “refrain from unilateral measures” on Ukrainian grain imports.