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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5:51 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Zelensky calls for the creation of a special tribunal to punish Russia

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday called for the creation of a special tribunal to punish Russia for invading Ukraine.

"A special tribunal should be created to punish Russia," Zelensky said during his pre-recorded speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

Zelensky said: "This will become a signal to all would-be aggressors, that they must value peace or be brought to responsibility by the world."

5:50 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Zelensky says he held 88 rounds of talks with Russia to prevent the war  

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he held 88 rounds of talks with Russia to prevent war since the start of his presidency.

"88 rounds of talks in various formats to prevent these wars just from the beginning of my presidency until Feb. 24 of this year," Zelensky said during his pre-recorded address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.

Russia launched its war in Ukraine on Feb. 24.

He added, "but Russia, instead of stopping the crime of aggression," it's started a full-scale invasion. 

And we have no choice but to defend ourselves," Zelensky said.
5:53 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Ukraine can recapture its territory but it will take time, Zelensky says

(Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Imagers)
(Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Imagers)

President Volodymyr Zelensky said he believes Ukraine will continue to liberate territory as the military mounts its counteroffensive against Russian aggression.

“We can return the Ukraine flag to our entire territory. We can do it with the force of arms, but we need time," he told the UN General Assembly in a pre-recorded address.

He said Ukraine tried ending the war at the negotiating table, but concluded, “This is a war for life."

Zelensky reiterated his country needed support in the form of weapons and military assistance in order to be successful on the battlefield.

“How can we allow the Russian army somewhere on Ukraine soil knowing that they’re committing such mass murders everywhere? We cannot," he said.

We must protect life and the world must protect life," Zelensky added.
5:47 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Zelensky demands punishment for Russia over crimes committed in Ukraine


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded "just punishment" for the crimes Russia has committed since the invasion of Ukraine.

"A crime has been committed against Ukraine and we demand just punishment. The crime was committed against our state borders. The crime was committed against the lives of our people," Zelensky told the UN General Assembly in his pre-recorded address.

Ukraine wanted Russia punished for trying to steal territory and for the murder of thousands of people, he said.

In addition:

"Punishment for tortures and humiliation of women and men. Punishment for the catastrophic turbulence that Russia provoked with its illegal war and not only for us, Ukrainians, but for the whole world."
5:35 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

The entire world, with the exception of Russia, wants peace in Ukraine, Zelensky tells UN

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday that the entire world wanted peace in his country, with the exception of Russia.

“Ukraine wants peace. Europe wants peace. The world wants peace,” he said in a pre-recorded speech.

There is “only one entity” among all UN member states that was happy with “his” war, Zelensky said, alluding to Russian President Vladimir Putin without saying his name, adding, "We will not let this entity” prevail over us.

The president said Ukraine had shown strength on the battlefield by using its right to self-defense.

5:19 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Lithuania FM says Putin's saber-rattling is a bluff

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Wednesday that Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization announcement is “a sign of desperation," but downplayed the Russian President’s nuclear saber-rattling.

“They are losing, the front has been breached by the successful consequences from Ukraine and this is Putin’s answer: more escalation,” Landsbergis told CNN on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. “I think it has to be met with, first of all, with calm and resolve. He expects us to be afraid, but we have to be prepared.”

In remarks overnight, Putin threatened to use “all means” at his disposal to respond to the West, saying, “I’d like to remind them that our country has also various similar weapons and in some cases more modern weapons than NATO. In order to protect our people and in order to protect Russia, we will definitely use all means.”

Landsbergis said he believes the Russian leader is bluffing.

“I'm more worried about the people who are worried about this than about actual saber-rattling,” he said.

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Putin is an aggressive actor, that Russia is an aggressive country. We should not have expected him just to have a limited conflict with Ukraine, limited war,” Landsbergis added.

3:54 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Sweden and Croatia confirm their citizens captured by Russian-backed forces were released

From CNN’s Sugam Pokharel in London  

The Swedish and Croatian governments confirmed Wednesday their citizens were among the 10 foreign prisoners of war held by Russian-backed forces released as part of the prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine that was brokered by Saudi Arabia.

“The Swedish citizen detained in Donetsk has now been exchanged and is well,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in a tweet, without disclosing the person's name. 

Linde said she had worked closely with her Ukrainian counterpart, to whom she extended her “deepest gratitude.” 

“A warm thank you also goes to Saudi Arabia,” the foreign minister added. 

Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said he spoke on the phone with the released Croatian prisoner Vjekoslav Prebeg. 

Prebeg would be returning to Croatia on Thursday, the prime minister said. 

The Croatian leader also thanked authorities in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia for their cooperation and help that led to Prebeg's release.  

3:46 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Ukraine's deputy prime minister urges people in occupied areas to not take part in referendums

From CNN's Tim Lister

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has urged people in occupied areas not to participate in the referendums planned by pro-Russian authorities.

"Please tell your friends and relatives who remain on the temporarily occupied territories: not to take the passports, not to take part in any pseudo-referenda, and definitely not to collaborate with the occupiers," Vereshchuk said on Ukrainian television.

She also outlined who would face criminal charges:

  • Those who took Russian passports in order to get a position in the occupation authorities
  • Those who encouraged others to change their passport
  • Those who deprived people without a Russian passport of humanitarian aid or services.

"For example, we know of cases when people were refused treatment or necessary medications where they did not carry a Russian passport," she said.

Vereshchuk said those who organized and conducted a referendum would face penalties — but not those who had provided their personal data in order to receive pensions or humanitarian aid.

"In any case, every effort should be made not to participate in the so-called referendum. In any case, you should not be among those who organize or conduct the so-called referendum, that is, the supervisory commission or anything else of a kind."

3:40 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Moroccan citizen held by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine released and flown to Saudi Arabia

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton

Moroccan citizen Brahim Saadoun, who had been held by Russian-backed forces for months, has been released as part of the prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine that was brokered by Saudi Arabia, his sister Imane Saadoune tells CNN. 

Imane Saadoune says her family has still not been contacted by Moroccan or Saudi officials regarding her brother’s release, but she identified her brother in a picture and video released by the Saudi Press Agency showing him in Saudi Arabia.