September 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 9:51 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022
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4:45 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Heavy fighting in Bakhmut continues as Russians press offensive in parts of Donetsk

From Olga Voitovych

Drone footage shows heavy shelling from the Russian army in Bakhmut. In recent weeks, Russian forces have advanced to the outskirts of Bakhmut from both the east and the south.
Drone footage shows heavy shelling from the Russian army in Bakhmut. In recent weeks, Russian forces have advanced to the outskirts of Bakhmut from both the east and the south. (Ukraine Armed Forces/Eyepress/Reuters)

Intense fighting continues around the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, which Russian forces have been trying to capture for three months.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of Donetsk region military administration, said that Russian forces carried out an airstrike on Bakhmut overnight and hit a high-rise building.

"Three entrances of the building collapsed. Two people may be under the rubble," he said.

Despite the fighting, some civilians have remained in Bakhmut.

Kyrylenko said there had also been shelling in other parts of Donetsk in Siversk, Vuhledar and Avdiivka.

While Ukrainian forces are on the offensive in parts of Donetsk — especially to the east of Sloviansk —  Russian shelling and airstrikes continue in other areas in the region.

1:11 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

After classified Senate briefing on Ukraine, Republicans signal potential support for additional Ukraine aid

From CNN's Ted Barrett, Ellie Kaufman and Paul LeBlanc

Republican senators signaled tentative support for additional Ukraine aid that the Biden administration has requested following a classified briefing on Monday night, though senators are expected to nix other top White House priorities from the upcoming stop-gap bill to keep the government open.

The Biden administration has asked for $12 billion in aid to Ukraine to be added to the continuing resolution that's needed to keep the government open past September 30. 

Cross-party support is essential because at least 10 Republican votes would be needed to break a filibuster attempt. 

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said Monday evening that negotiators are still discussing the makeup of a package for Ukraine, but that it would be about $11 billion which could include humanitarian, economic and military assistance. 

The deliberations come at a critical time in Russia's war in Ukraine. US officials broadly view Ukraine's recent momentum as evidence that the types of weapons and intelligence that the West has been providing to Ukraine in recent months have been effective. 

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday that he expects Congress to approve Ukraine military aid in the continuing resolution but is worried GOP support for Ukraine could corrode in the future. 

"I think there's going to be long term erosion of Republican support for Ukraine aid. I think President Trump's decision to attack Ukrainian aid -- and attack Republicans who support it -- is going to have an impact," Murphy told CNN. 
"We will have enough to get this aid across the finish line on the continuing. But the long-term trajectory of Republican support for Ukraine is really menacing. What does that mean? It means that if Republicans win a majority in the House and the Senate, I don't think you can count on Congress continuing to support Ukraine."

Some context: Since the beginning of the conflict in February, the Biden administration has taken an incremental approach to providing arms to Ukraine -- in some cases, later agreeing to send weapons that earlier in the conflict would have been deemed far too escalatory. 

Its calculus has largely been based on avoiding systems that might be seen by Russian President Vladimir Putin as too provocative, although those lines have moved over time and been criticized by some former officials as arbitrary.

1:32 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Russians continue to conduct airstrikes "impacting civilian infrastructure" in Ukraine, US military official says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

A hose pumps water out from a house in the town of Kryvyi Rih on Friday, where dozens of homes were flooded after a Russian attack damaged a dam upstream.
A hose pumps water out from a house in the town of Kryvyi Rih on Friday, where dozens of homes were flooded after a Russian attack damaged a dam upstream. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian forces are continuing to conduct airstrikes that are impacting civilian infrastructure, a senior US military official said Monday.

Most recently, Russian forces struck a “dam near Kryvyi Rih,” and they conducted an airstrike “near a power plant in Mykolaiv,” the official said.

“This disturbing pattern which includes strikes that hit power stations last week continues to show Russian forces’ disregard for civilian life,” the official added. 

Ukrainians “continue to make efforts to consolidate their gains” on the battlefield, “holding the border to the southeast,” the official said.

“In the vicinity of Kherson, we continue to see deliberate and calibrated operations by the Ukrainians, and we have observed Ukrainians continuing to liberate villages in this area,” the official said. 

In the Donbas region, “Ukrainians have continued to effectively defend against continued Russian attacks, although” the US has seen Russian forces “make some minor gains in terms of territory.” 

The official specified the Russian gains here were only a “few hundred meters.”

2:30 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

More civilian bodies including 2 children exhumed from Izium mass grave, official says

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

Forensic technicians at the site of a mass grave on the outskirts of Izium on Sunday.
Forensic technicians at the site of a mass grave on the outskirts of Izium on Sunday. (Photo by Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

More bodies of mostly civilians, including two children, were found in the city of Izium in eastern Ukraine, officials said Monday. 

Separately, two more bodies were discovered in Bucha, the town on the outskirts of Kyiv that was the scene of mass atrocities at the start of the war, authorities said.

In Izium, 146 bodies of mostly civilians were exhumed from a mass burial site, according to Oleh Synehubov, head of the Kharkiv region civil-military administration.

“Some of the dead have signs of a violent death, and there are bodies with tied hands and traces of torture. The dead also have mine-explosive injuries, shrapnel and stab wounds,” Synehubov said, adding that all of the bodies have been sent for forensic examination to determine the final cause of death.

On Sunday, Izium Mayor Valerii Marchenko said the exhumation of bodies would continue for another two weeks. 

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said at least 440 "unmarked" graves were found in the city in recent days and on Friday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that some of the bodies showed "signs of torture," blaming Russia for what he called "cruelty and terrorism." Russia has dismissed Ukraine's accusations of war crimes as a “lie."

In Bucha, volunteers found two more “victims of Russian aggression” in civilian clothing, according to a Facebook post on Monday from the Bucha City Council. The bodies were discovered while volunteers were patrolling the forest around the Warsaw Highway near the Vorzel settlement. 

Some background: Bucha's name became a byword for war crimes after accounts of summary executions, brutality and indiscriminate shelling emerged in the wake of Russia's hasty retreat on March 31.

1:02 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Ukrainian forces liberate village in Luhansk region, military official says

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

The village of Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region is now entirely under Ukrainian control according to a Telegram post from Sehiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional military administration on Monday.

Haydai asked Ukrainians to be patient with their operation to free towns and villages in the Luhansk region, saying it is proving to be a “much more difficult” operation than the liberation of Kharkiv. 

“There will be a hard fight for every centimeter of Luhansk land,” Haidai said. 

Some context: Ukrainian forces stopped Russian advances in Bilohorivka earlier this year. In May, the Ukrainian military blew up two pontoon bridges near Bilohorivka, stopping Russian efforts to cross the Siverskyi Donets River in the Luhansk region. 

In July, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Ukrainian soldiers “competently repelled another combat reconnaissance attempt near Berestove and Bilohorivka” and that Russian soldiers suffered losses and withdrew.

A CNN team that travelled to Bilohorivka saw destroyed Russian tanks and armed personnel carriers, shattered Russian armor. 

1:01 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Fears for nuclear safety as another plant hit by Russian shelling, Ukraine says

From CNN’s Sophie Jeong

Russian troops carried out a missile attack on the industrial site of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant in the southern Mykolaiv region, but all three power units are operating normally, nuclear operator Energoatom said on Monday.

A “powerful explosion” occurred just 300 meters (984 feet) from the reactors, and the shock wave damaged the power plant buildings, Energoatom said in a statement.

The attack shut down one of the hydropower units of the Oleksandrivska hydroelectric power station, which is part of the South Ukrainian power complex, according to Energoatom. Three high-voltage power lines were down as well.

Some background: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenky said last week that large swathes of eastern Ukraine, including the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, were without electricity following "deliberate and cynical missile strikes" from Moscow.

12:59 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Liberation has finally come to Ukraine's Kharkiv. But scars of Russia's brutal occupation remain

From CNN's Natalie Gallón, Nick Paton Walsh, Kostyantin Gak and Brice Lâiné

There is little respite in victory for Ukrainian forces in the recently liberated Kupiansk. Russian shells still hit its pockmarked streets, marring the skyline with plumes of black smoke.

Intense damage is visible on nearly every building. A huge billboard with an image of a waving Russian flag stands next to the bridge that crosses the Oskil River in the city center, bearing the words, "We are one people with Russia!"

For now, the Ukrainian army has chased Russian forces over the bridge and appears to be building some momentum pushing across the eastern banks of the river towards Luhansk, a key separatist territory controlled by Moscow. CNN witnessed Ukrainian infantry returning from the eastern side on foot. 

Yet inside this city, one of several in the eastern region of Kharkiv that have been liberated, are the telltale signs of a hellish occupation. A former police building was used as a vast detention center by the Russians, where at one point up to 400 prisoners were held in its cramped and dark cells, with eight or nine prisoners per room, Ukrainian authorities told CNN. A brightly painted mural of a Russian soldier with a "Z" on his armband standing next to an elderly woman waving the flag of the former Soviet empire is still visible on one wall.

As authorities continue investigating and clearing liberated towns in the Kharkiv region, they're finding more and more evidence of detention centers and cells used for torture.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that "more than 10 torture rooms" used by occupying forces have so far been found in the area. "As the occupiers fled, they also dropped the torture devices," he said. 

CNN has reached out to the Russian government for comment but has not received a response.

Kupiansk might be recently liberated but the city is a ghost town, punctuated by destruction and debris.

The very few locals that remain huddle in its empty husk.

Read more

2:41 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Russian pop star condemns “illusory aims” of Putin's Ukraine war

From CNN’s Darya Tarasova

Russian singer Alla Pugacheva during a casting session for "the Factor A" a musical television show in Moscow, Russia on March 22, 2011.
Russian singer Alla Pugacheva during a casting session for "the Factor A" a musical television show in Moscow, Russia on March 22, 2011. (Anton Belitsky/Epsilon/Getty Images)

Beloved Soviet-era Russian pop star Alla Pugacheva has criticized the “illusory aims” of Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine, becoming the latest high-profile celebrity to voice opposition to the war.

Writing on Instagram Sunday, Pugacheva, 73, expressed her support for her outspoken comedian husband, Maxim Galkin, who was recently designated a “foreign agent” by Russia’s Justice Ministry.

Pugacheva said her husband wished for an end to the death of Russian soldiers, who were “dying for illusory aims that make our country a pariah.”

She said Galkin was a “good real and incorruptible patriot of Russia” who wished for “prosperity” and “freedom of speech,” while she appealed to the ministry to label her a foreign agent as well.

Commenting on his designation on Saturday, Galkin said in a separate Instagram post: “The rationale for this decision was that I allegedly received funds from Ukraine, funds for which I carried out political activities. Well, first of all, I’m not involved in politics. From the stage at my concerts, I am engaged in a humorous genre, political satire, and I have been doing this for 28 years.”

Galkin and Pugacheva, who have two children, left Russia for Israel in March of this year, according to multiple Russian and Israeli media reports. A social media post from a Russian fashion designer said Pugacheva returned to Russia in August. But It is not clear where she is now or where their family permanently resides.