September 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Andrew Raine, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 9:41 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022
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1:54 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Hundreds arrested in protests across Russia after announcement of partial mobilization, monitoring group says

From CNN's Tim Lister, Anna Chernova, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London 

Police officers are deployed in central Novosibirsk, Russia on Wednesday.
Police officers are deployed in central Novosibirsk, Russia on Wednesday. (Rostislav Netisov/AFP via Getty Images)

More than 500 people have been detained across Russia in a crackdown on anti-war protests across two dozen cities in Russia, according to the independent monitoring group OVD-Info. 

About 100 arrests were made at protests in St. Petersburg after President Vladimir Putin's announcement of a partial mobilization to increase the availability of troops for the war in Ukraine.

Photos released on OVD-Info's Telegram channel showed police in Saint Petersburg using batons against protesters. Videos show police attempting to contain a crowd gathering at Isakiivskiy Cathedral behind barriers, amid chants of “no mobilization."

Social media video geolocated by CNN showed protests in several cities, each involving what appear to have been a few dozen people.

Videos from Moscow showed protestors being carried away by the police at a demonstration in the center of the city.

One video posted by a journalist from the Moscow web publication The Village includes dozens of people in Arbatskaya street chanting “let him go” as one man is carried away.

There was also video from the city of Yekaterinburg of a struggle between police officers and protesters.

As of 8 p.m. Moscow time, 535 people had been detained in 30 cities across Russia, according to OVD-Info.

Arrests took place in Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, Ulan-Ude, Tomsk, Ufa, Perm, Belgorod and Moscow, according to the OVD-info tally.

Moscow prosecutor's office published a statement Wednesday warning citizens against participation in protests, threatening those with up to 15 years in jail.

Russian police officers detain a person during a protest in Moscow on Wednesday.
Russian police officers detain a person during a protest in Moscow on Wednesday. (Reuters)

1:49 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

2 Americans freed after being captured by Russia while fighting for Ukraine in June, families say 

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, right.
Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, right. (courtesy Bunny Drueke/Joy Black)

Two American veterans who have been held by Russian forces for months have been released as part of a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine, their family members confirmed to CNN. 

The men are Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama. They were captured while fighting for Ukraine north of Kharkiv in June.

"We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free. They are safely in the custody of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and debriefing they will return to the States. We deeply appreciate everyone's prayers and especially the close communication and support of our elected officials, Ukrainian Ambassador Markarova, and our members of the US embassies in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia and the US Department of State,” said Diana Shaw, a spokesperson for both families and Dreuke’s aunt.  

The families did not know that the prisoner exchange was in the works. 

“It kind of knocked us off our feet but this is the best outcome we could have asked for,” said Darla Black, the mother of Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, told CNN. “The only thing confirmed for us is that they are at the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia and that they are free.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the release of 10 prisoners, who are Moroccan, US, UK, Swedish and Croatian nationals.

Joy Black got a call from Saudi Arabia this morning, less than an hour ago, to let her know that Drueke and Huynh were at the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and going to get medical checks. Then Huynh called her, she said.

Huynh never spoke with his family while he was being held as a prisoner of war. It was the first time his fiancée spoke to him in over 100 days. Drueke spoke with his family a handful of times. 

Darla Black said she also got a call from the State Department letting her know that Huynh was in Saudi Arabia. 

The families do now know many details about the trade or how they got to Saudi Arabia. 

The families also do not know exactly where the two Americans were being held, but the assumption was that they were in the Donetsk region.

1:24 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Russian-appointed head of Crimea says work on mobilization has begun amid "tough times"

From Yulia Kesaieva

Sergey Aksenov, the Russian-appointed head of Crimea, said an office has been established to assist with the partial mobilization declared by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Aksenov said that "the republic's government, ministries and departments are working in direct contact with the command of the Russian armed forces."

"We understand these are tough times; however, the independence and future of our country depends on the special military operation development, where we are opposed to the whole NATO," he said, referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"All tasks in regards to the mobilization readiness, according to the President's decree, will implemented in full in Crimea. All contacts and addresses of those who will potentially fulfill the military tasks are well-known," Aksenov told Russian state television.

Another Crimean official claimed that the government in Kyiv is "barbaric" and the West is trying to "divide" Russia. This claim comes after Ukraine's counteroffensive in southern and eastern regions revealed a mass burial site in Izium.

Mikhail Razvozhaev, governor of the city of Sevastopol in Crimea, said that the "Kyiv regime's policy of intimidation and terror is taking more and more terrible and barbaric forms. The goal of the West is to weaken, divide, and destroy Russia."

"The heads of the regions were instructed to provide all-round support to the military registration and enlistment offices. We have begun to carry out this order," Razvozhaev said.

12:53 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Putin says it is "dangerous" for Russia to "weaken its sovereignty" in speech marking Russian statehood

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova and Amy Cassidy  

Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a speech Wednesday at an event to mark the 1,160th anniversary of the birth of Russian statehood, said that it’s “dangerous” for Russia to “weaken its sovereignty" and that it won't make the "same mistake" again. 

"In the 1,160 years, we have learned that it is dangerous for Russia to weaken its sovereignty even for a moment. In these periods the very existence of Russia was at risk. Nobody will see us make the same mistake again," he said, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine nears its seven-month mark.

"We will not give in to blackmail and intimidation and we will never lose our self-sovereignty. We will strengthen it and develop our country. Sovereignty is a guarantee of each person's freedom and our tradition. People cannot feel free, genuinely free, if the motherland Russia is not free," he continued.

Putin also spoke about unity "in the face of a common threat."

"Respect for the family, love for the children — this is the strong foundation of our values, such as compassion and the desire to seek well-being, not only for yourself, but for all of Russia, country and to rise together in the face of a common threat for our friends, for our motherland,” Putin added. 

"Now in the course of the special military operation, our heroes, soldiers and officers, our volunteers show these highest human values. They fight valiantly as brothers for the sake of the people of Donbas," he said, referring to the war in Ukraine. 

"To be a patriot is the very nature of Russia," he said.

Earlier, Putin announced an immediate partial mobilization of Russian citizens and hinted at use of nuclear weapons.

12:39 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

"Russia's invasion is failing," EU chief and UK prime minister say in a rare joint statement 

From CNN's Sugam Pokharel in London  

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, left, and British Prime Minister Liz Truss, right, pose for photos during a bilateral meeting during the 77th UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday.
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, left, and British Prime Minister Liz Truss, right, pose for photos during a bilateral meeting during the 77th UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday. (Stefan Rousseau/Pool Photo via AP)

In a joint statement, British Prime Minister Liz Truss and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday that both agree Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of an immediate partial mobilization of Russian citizens is a sign of “weakness.” 

It’s also a sign that “Russia's invasion is failing,” the two leaders said in the statement after meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.  

It was the first time Truss and von der Leyen had met in person since the British prime minister took office earlier this month. 

"They recognised the courage and bravery of the Ukrainian people and underscored their joint commitment to sustaining support for Ukraine in its struggle as long as it takes,” according to the statement.  

11:42 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Biden says Russia's war in Ukraine is leading to hunger around the world

(Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters)
(Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters)

US President Joe Biden squarely pinned the blame for the global food crisis on Russia, accusing the country of "pumping out lies" about Western sanctions amid its war in Ukraine.

"Russia ... is pumping out lies, trying to pin the blame for the crisis — the food crisis — on the sanctions imposed by many in the world for the aggression against Ukraine. So let me be perfectly clear about something: Our sanctions explicitly allow, explicitly allow, Russia the ability to export food and fertilizer. No limitation," he said at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

"It's Russia's war that is worsening food insecurity, and only Russia can end it," Biden added. 

Biden lauded the UN for helping to broker a grain export deal with Ukraine and Russia, and he encouraged its extension.

Biden said as many as 193 million people around the world are experiencing acute food insecurity, "a jump of 40 million in a year."

He also announced $2.9 billion in US support for humanitarian and food assistance.

11:32 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Russia's war to extinguish Ukraine "should make your blood run cold," Biden tells world leaders

(Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
(Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden told world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly that Russia's ongoing war on Ukraine "should make your blood run cold."

Biden discussed how Russian President Vladimir Putin had denied Ukraine's statehood, adding that "now we see attacks on schools, railway stations, hospitals, on centers of Ukrainian history and culture."

Referencing discoveries of a mass burial site, Biden said, "This war is about extinguishing Ukraine's right to exist as a state — plain and simple — and Ukraine's right to exist as a people."

"Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe — that should make your blood run cold. That's why 141 nations in the General Assembly came together to unequivocally condemn Russia's war against Ukraine," Biden continued.

The President argued that if nations, like Russia, "can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, then we put at risk everything that this very institution stands for."

11:32 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Biden says "no one threatened Russia" and "no one other than Russia sought conflict" in Ukraine 

(Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
(Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden said during remarks to the United Nations General Assembly in New York Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed he had "to act" and invade Ukraine "because Russia was threatened."

Biden added, "no one threatened Russia, and no one other than Russia sought conflict." 

Speaking directly to the leaders present at the assembly, the President continued: "In fact, we warned it was coming, and many of you tried to avert it." 

11:30 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Biden pledges US will continue to stand in solidarity with Ukraine

(Evan Vucci/AP)
(Evan Vucci/AP)

US President Joe Biden vowed to stand with Ukraine and against Russian aggression during remarks to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

"This past year the world was tested as well, and we did not hesitate. We chose liberty. We chose sovereignty. We chose principles to which every party to the United Nations charter is beholding. We stood with Ukraine," Biden said Wednesday.

Biden said that members of the UN must be united against Russia's war.

"Like you, the United States wants this war to end on just terms, on terms we all signed up for, that you cannot seize a nation's territory by force. The only country standing in the way of that is Russia, so we, each of us in this body, we determine to uphold the principles and beliefs we pledge to defend as members of the United Nations, must be clear, firm and unwavering in our resolve," he said. 

"Ukraine has the same rights that belong to every sovereign nation. We will stand in solidarity with Ukraine, we will stand in solidarity against Russia's aggression, period," Biden added.