September 19, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Tara Subramaniam and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 7:56 PM ET, Mon September 19, 2022
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12:57 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Russian human rights group asks government why prisoners are being sent to war 

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

A group of human rights defenders has issued an appeal to the Russian prosecutor general to investigate reports of prisoners being sent to war in Ukraine. 

“Information was widely disseminated (in the show ‘Besogon TV,' [and] in the show ‘Vesti’ on the ‘Russia-1’ channel " on Sunday, August 7, 2022) that now throughout Russia there are thousands of prisoners with unserved terms for [committing] various -- including serious crimes -- who are sent to Ukraine to participate in a special military operation,“ the activists stated in the letter addressed to Russian Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.

"In connection with the above, we ask you to clarify, on what basis are these persons released from prison, if this information is true?” the appeal asked. 

The appeal also stated that prisoners should only be released before finishing their sentence under certain terms: a pardon from the President, amnesty from the State Duma, or parole by a court decision.

The activists that signed the appeal are associated with the Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg, a Russian NGO which monitors human rights violations.

Some context: CNN has done prior investigative reporting on the increasing evidence that prisoners across Russia have been recruited by the Russian military in exchange for contracts reducing their prison sentence.

12:57 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Zelensky says no "lull" on the frontline, just "a preparation for the liberation of more cities"

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his nightly address on Sunday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his nightly address on Sunday. (Telegram/Zelensky)

In his nightly address on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called any perceived slowing of his military's progress “a preparation for the liberation of more cities.”

“Perhaps it seems to someone now that after a series of victories we have a certain lull. But this is not a lull. This is preparation for the next sequence," Zelensky said.

"For the next sequence of words that are very important to us all and that definitely must be heard.” 

“The words that must be heard” are the names of liberated cities, according to Zelensky. 

“Izium, Balakliya, Kupyansk and the Kharkiv region in general are the cities and communities that we have liberated. These words are heard now. They are heard everywhere, “he said. 

“Mariupol, Melitopol and Kherson are also heard, but they will sound even more often and louder when we liberate them,” he continued. 

Donetsk, Horlivka and Luhansk -- they will be heard as well. Dzhankoy, Yevpatoriya, Yalta -- and they will, too. Definitely,” the President concluded.

1:15 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Analysis: Winter is fast approaching in Ukraine. Here's what comes next for the conflict

From CNN's Tim Lister and Vasco Cotovio

Until a few weeks ago, it looked as though the conflict in Ukraine would head into the bitter winter months frozen in place -- with neither side making appreciable progress. 

That prognosis has changed with the sudden and successful Ukrainian offensive through most of occupied Kharkiv, which has galvanized Ukraine's Western backers as much as it has led to recriminations in Moscow. 

The Russian military must now ask itself what sort of force, and where exactly they are deployed, can regain the initiative after Ukraine captured more territory in one week than Russian forces had in five months. 

Ukraine's stunning counteroffensive across Kharkiv, combined with more attritional advances in the south, has presented the Kremlin and Russia's much-criticized Defense Ministry with a range of bad options. 

As winter approaches, they must choose which front to prioritize, and whether to double down on efforts to fulfill Putin's stated objective: the seizure of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Russians currently hold about 20% of Ukrainian land, including Crimea and parts of the south.

There are important political dynamics involved too. The Kremlin faces tough choices: whether to declare a general mobilization to reinvigorate its increasingly ragged units in Ukraine and how to manage a budget deficit -- even though it's sitting on historically high foreign reserves. 

Far beyond the theater of war, Russia must choose how far to weaponize its influence over Europe's gas supply, as governments prepare to spend big to mitigate the effects of exceptionally tight supply. 

Another potential dilemma: the first signs that Chinese support for the Russian invasion, never whole-hearted, may be waning.

Read more

12:58 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Ukraine consolidating liberated territories as tense fighting continues in the south

From CNN’s Pierre Meilhan

Ukrainian defenses continue to consolidate liberated territories in the eastern part of the country as Russian forces regroup, the Ukrainian military said Sunday.

“The enemy is regrouping troops in separate directions, looking for ways to pull up reserves, and conducting aerial reconnaissance. Inspections are being intensified in the occupied settlements,” the military's Operational South Command said via Facebook.

Officials describe the situation in the southern Kherson region as “tense,” and a regional military official said the humanitarian situation in liberated settlements is difficult.

“The Ukrainian police, humanitarian aid (water, food) enter the de-occupied settlements. The primary tasks are providing people with water, electricity, firewood and building materials,” Serhii Khlan, a Ukrainian military advisor, said on national TV Sunday.

A clash in Kherson: Russian security forces clashed with "a group of armed men" in occupied Kherson Saturday, the Russian state news agency TASS reported.

TASS did not provide details about the identity of the "armed men" or how many of them were in the group.

Ukraine’s South Operational Command described the shooting as a provocation by the Russians, saying “they pass it off as counter-subversive measures, trying to accuse the Armed Forces of Ukraine of mindless street fighting among the civilian population.” 

The operational command also claimed that Russian forces “are shelling the houses of civilians, objects of civil and critical infrastructure,” in the Kherson region.

Elsewhere in the southern part of the country, explosions were heard in Melitopol, according to the city’s mayor.

“For the third day, explosions are heard in the city. Yesterday morning and afternoon, warehouses with ammunition and enemy military equipment, located on the shore of the Molochny estuary, exploded. Some time ago, the Russians removed their equipment from the city of Melitopol and placed it right on the shore of the estuary,” Mayor Ivan Fedorov said on Ukraine’s national TV.

12:58 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

165 ships have left Ukrainian ports under UN-brokered grain deal

From CNN’s Pierre Meilhan

A Panama-flagged bulk carrier Ikaria Angel leaves the sea port in Chornomorsk with wheat for Ethiopia on Saturday.
A Panama-flagged bulk carrier Ikaria Angel leaves the sea port in Chornomorsk with wheat for Ethiopia on Saturday. (Igor Tkachenko/Reuters)

A total of 165 ships have left Ukrainian ports since the implementation of the Ukraine grain deal, the country’s Infrastructure Ministry said Sunday via Facebook.

“On September 18, ten ships with 169.3 thousand tons of agricultural products for the countries of Africa, Asia and Europe are scheduled to depart from the ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhnyi," the ministry said.

The deal, adopted by Ukraine and Russia in July, allowed the resumption of vital grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports.

This major diplomatic breakthrough, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, was aimed at easing a global food crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine.

12:58 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Exhumation of bodies in Izium will continue for another two weeks, the mayor says

From CNN’s Pierre Meilhan and Darya Tarasova

Military and police investigators started the exhumation of a mass grave site in Izium, on Friday.
Military and police investigators started the exhumation of a mass grave site in Izium, on Friday. (Wojciech Grzedzinski/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

The exhumation of bodies from a mass burial site in the eastern Ukrainian city of Izium will continue for another two weeks, Mayor Valerii Marchenko said in a video posted on Ukraine’s Parliament broadcaster, Rada TV, on Sunday. 

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said at least 440 "unmarked" graves were found in the city in recent days. The country's President, Volodymyr Zelensky, said Friday that some of the bodies found in Izium showed "signs of torture," blaming Russia for what he called "cruelty and terrorism."

“The exhumation of the bodies will continue for another two weeks. No new burial sites have yet been found in Izium, but there is information that they exist. The search is ongoing,” Mayor Valerii Marchenko said in the video.

The city, which sits near the border between the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, was under Russian occupation for over five months and became an important hub for the invading military. Moscow was using Izium as a launching pad for attacks southward into the Donetsk region and Kupyansk, some 30 miles to the north of Izium, as a rail hub to resupply its forces.

“Many people who have left the city are now reporting missing relatives. As of today, Izium has 11,000 to 15,000 residents. People are beginning to return to the city. I think that in a month or so there will be up to 30,000 residents. Not everyone will return because many houses have been destroyed. Currently, there is no power or gas supply in the city. The electricity will be provided no earlier than in two weeks. Gas supply restoration in multi-apartment buildings is a problem because gas networks have been affected. We will probably be able to restore the gas supply in private houses only,” Marchenko said.

12:58 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

More than 10 "torture rooms" found in reclaimed areas of northeast Ukraine, Zelensky says

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Michelle Velez

Troops found so-called "torture rooms" and devices used by Russian forces in reclaimed portions of the northeastern Kharkiv region, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky claimed in his nightly address Saturday. 

"More than 10 torture rooms have already been found in the liberated areas of Kharkiv region -- in various cities and towns," Zelensky said. "As the occupiers fled, they also dropped the torture devices."  
"Even at the regular Kozacha Lopan railway station, they found a room for torture, found tools for electric torture," he added. 

Earlier on Saturday, the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor's Office made similar claims.

"The Russian army tortured people in the cellar of the so-called 'people's militia' in the town of Kozacha Lopan when it was under siege," the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor's Office stated in a social media post.

"Representatives of the Russian Federation created a pseudo-law enforcement agency, in the basement of which a torture chamber was set up, where civilians were subjected to inhuman torture," the post continued. "During the inspection, documents confirming the functioning of the pseudo-police department and the device with which the occupiers tortured civilians with electric shock were seized." 

CNN has reached out to the Russian government and Russian Foreign Ministry for comment, and they have yet to respond. 

Horrors of war: The reports from Kharkiv follow the discovery of a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izium last week. Zelensky said Friday that some of the bodies showed "signs of torture."