Russia's war in Ukraine

By Hafsa Khalil, Matt Meyer and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 5:42 p.m. ET, February 5, 2023
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4:29 p.m. ET, February 5, 2023

Ukraine is auditing its military amid anti-corruption push, defense minister says

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko and Stephanie Halasz

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov attends a meeting of the Ukraine Defense contact group in Brussels on October 12.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov attends a meeting of the Ukraine Defense contact group in Brussels on October 12. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian officials will conduct a complete internal audit of procurements made by the country's armed forces, Ukraine's defense minister said, after a recent string of anti-corruption raids.

“We have launched an internal audit that checks all procurement systems. It is still in progress," Minister of Defence Oleksii Reznikov said. "And I think that within a week, they should officially complete the audit of all of the procedures for February. Then they will audit everything. And then, it will be 'put on the table' for appropriate decisions." 

Some context: President Volodymyr Zelensky's recent anti-corruption push is viewed as a key step toward Ukraine’s possible admission into the European Union.

Rooting out corruption is “an important dimension of the EU accession process,” said Ana Pisonero, a spokesperson for the European Commission, on Jan. 24.

Ukrainian authorities uncovered stashes of cash, as well as luxury watches and cars, during raids carried out across the country last month.

Among those caught up in the investigations is the acting head of the Kyiv tax authority, who was allegedly part of a scheme to overlook $1.2 billion worth of Ukrainian hryvnia in unpaid taxes.

2:28 p.m. ET, February 5, 2023

Analysis: Ukrainian military leaders are bracing for a brutal spring

Analysis by CNN's Tim Lister

Ukrainian military leaders appear to be bracing themselves for a brutal spring offensive.

Veteran CNN producer Tim Lister has just returned from the Ukrainian eastern front with reporter Fred Pleitgen and photographer Matthias Somm. He told CNN’s Fredericka Whitfield that one military commander said the real war has not even started yet.

“There are signs we saw on the front lines that (it) is beginning to happen already. It is the prologue to the big offensive,” Lister said.

“We were quite struck by the amount of artillery and rocket fire that was flying in when we were on the front lines. It’s a big worry for the Ukrainians because they are running short of ammunition of all descriptions," he said. "It is very difficult to keep those supply lines open and keep their forces fully equipped on the front lines.”

“And you have the winter weather to deal with as well. So they are up against it, but I have to say, the determination, the confidence and the sheer professionalism of many of the units we were with was very impressive,” Lister added.

12:53 p.m. ET, February 5, 2023

Russian forces allegedly seize and burn Ukrainian books in occupied Luhansk region  

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London

Russian forces allegedly seized and burned Ukrainian books in public and school libraries in the Luhansk region, the Ukrainian National Resistance Centre said.  

Luhansk was one of four regions annexed last autumn by Russia, in a process that is illegal under international law. The region is currently run by Russian-backed separatists who have claimed it as the "Luhansk People's Republic."

In a statement posted on its website Sunday, the National Resistance Center which is run by Ukraine's Special Forces said books have been "seized from the collections of public and school libraries" in the eastern Ukrainian region. 

"In Rovenky (Luhansk region), cases of mass burning of Ukrainian literature in local boiler rooms have been recorded," the statement continued. 

The Education Ministry of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic sent a 365-item list to the heads of city and district administrations and educational organizations. They were advised to remove the listed books from their libraries, the statement added.  

Ukrainian officials have spoken out about the pressure placed on educators in occupied areas to adapt school programs to align with pro-Russian rhetoric. 

Nina, a 48-year-old school principal, recounted to CNN last May how Russian forces arrived at her school in northeastern Ukraine and forced her to hand over all history textbooks and quizzed her on the school's curriculum. She did not give her last name.

CNN's Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Oleksandra Ochman contributed to this report

11:44 a.m. ET, February 5, 2023

Bakhmut remains a stronghold, says Ukraine's defense minister

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

A woman lights a candle in the basement of the Church of All Saints as sounds and vibrations of shelling continue in Bakhmut, on Sunday.
A woman lights a candle in the basement of the Church of All Saints as sounds and vibrations of shelling continue in Bakhmut, on Sunday. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

The embattled eastern city of Bakhmut is “still a stronghold,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Sunday.

"It’s still a symbol,” Reznikov said during a press conference in Kyiv.

Ukraine's continuing hold over the city is perceived as a symbol of the country's resistance. In a trip to Washington DC in December, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told US lawmakers that the "fight for Bakhmut will change the tragic story of our war for independence and of freedom.”

Intense bombardment has left the city nearly completely destroyed, with Zelensky saying “every inch of that land is soaked in blood." 

Head of Russia's private military group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin also said via Telegram on Sunday that Ukraine's defense of the city was still holding strong with "fierce battles for every street, every house, every stairwell.”

Reznikov added that Russian troops had tried to take control of the area in the Donbas region since the summer, alleging that they lose around 500 people daily while storming it. CNN cannot independently verify that number.

For nearly six months, Ukrainian forces have been battling Russian encroachment to keep control of the besieged territory which lies between the separatist-held cities Donetsk and Luhansk.

10:30 a.m. ET, February 5, 2023

Ukrainian military to start training on Leopard tanks on Monday, defense minister says

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko and Stephanie Halasz

Ukrainian troops will begin training with the Leopard tanks from Monday, Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov announced.

Speaking to reporters during a news conference in Kyiv, he said: “We are accumulating reserves and working on training more personnel, getting the Western weapons.”

Reznikov also warned of an upcoming Russian offensive. “We expect an offensive. It's February, and Russians love symbolism. We expect this pressure from them, and we are ready,” he said.

But tanks are not the only weapons Ukraine needs to defend itself from enemy bombardment. According to Reznikov, it needs long-range weapons reaching 150 kilometers that must be "more effective and active." The maximum range of the current artillery provided by the West is 144 km.

On Thursday, US officials said the US was expected to announce a new Ukraine security package worth approximately $2.2 billion that will include longer-range missiles in a first for the country.

But these will not reach the distance Ukraine is asking for out of fear longer-ranging weapons -- like the sought after ATACMS missile -- will be used to hit targets in Russia, which Reznikov refuted.

“I want to emphasize that we promise our partners not to use long-range systems to hit targets on Russian territory, only on the Ukrainian territory which Russians occupied,” he assured.

Speaking of the military aid Ukraine has received, Reznikov said they had been given "almost everything" in terms of weapons except for fighter jets, which he is certain they will get.

Ukraine is not a NATO member, but in this war has become a "NATO country de facto," he said, receiving weapons, standards and digital systems. "The only thing left to do is to be accepted in the alliance de jure,” Reznikov added.

9:35 a.m. ET, February 5, 2023

One person injured by Russian shelling in Kherson

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz and Dennis Lapin

A village in Kherson took “massive fire” early Sunday morning, according to the region's military administration.

The northwestern village of Chornobaivka was hit by Russian shells that damaged six residential buildings, the administration said on Telegram on Sunday.

One person was injured and hospitalized.

Some context: Kherson was liberated from Russian control last November, but the Ukrainian victory has been short-lived as enemy attacks on the region have been relentless. In just the last few days, it has weathered over 130 strikes by rockets, artillery, mortars and tank fire across the Dnieper River from Russian forces.

12:29 p.m. ET, February 5, 2023

West is giving battle tanks so Ukraine can defend itself, says German chancellor

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

A Leopard 2 tank is seen at the training ground in Augustdorf, western Germany on Wednesday.
A Leopard 2 tank is seen at the training ground in Augustdorf, western Germany on Wednesday. (Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has insisted that Western battle tanks will only be deployed on Ukrainian territory, brushing off accusations from the Kremlin that the decision to send advanced weapons was escalating the war.

In an interview with Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag published online, Scholz said “there is consensus” the Western tanks will not be deployed on Russian territory.

Kremlin officials have sought to cast the sending of tanks as an act of aggression against Moscow, fueling their bogus narrative that their so-called military operation is required to defend Russian interests rather than to capture Ukraine.

Scholz said he had repeatedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin that “Russia is solely responsible for the war. Russia has unprovokedly invaded its neighbouring country in order to take over parts of Ukraine or the whole country.”

“It fundamentally violates the European peace order…(which) is why we support Ukraine financially, humanitarianly and with weapons,” Scholz added, defending his country’s position to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.

"We (and our allies) are giving battle tanks to Ukraine so that it can defend itself," he said.

Scholz assured Germany and its allies were “carefully” working together weighing arms deliveries in a “joint approach” to prevent an escalation of the war.

It took weeks of geopolitical squabbling before Germany bowed to mounting pressure from allies to supply its own Leopards. Last month, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said they had needed more time before coming to a decision as the tanks are heavy armored weapons that can be used for offensive purposes.

Ukrainian officials have been relentless in pleading with their allies for modern battle tanks to replace their Soviet-era tanks, and are now set to receive more than 300 tanks from Western countries.

6:25 a.m. ET, February 5, 2023

No sign of Ukraine retreating from Bakhmut, Wagner chief says

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

Ukraine's armed forces show no signs of backing down in their dogged defense of the eastern city of Bakhmut, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia's private military group Wagner said Sunday.

“The AFU (Armed Forces Ukraine) is not retreating anywhere. AFU fight to the last,” the oligarch's press service said on Telegram. This came in response to media reports that Ukrainian forces were retreating from northern parts of the city. 

Prigozhin said the north of Bakhmut, where Wagner fighters have been heavily involved in brutal fighting for months against Ukrainian defenders, were seeing "fierce battles for every street, every house, every stairwell.”

“Of course, it’s nice that the media wants the armed forces to retreat, but this does not happen in the northern quarters, or in the south, or in the east,” he added.

One Ukrainian soldier likened fighting Wagner to scenes from a "zombie movie" with the group's mercenaries coming in repeated waves. Last month, a former Wagner commander defected, fleeing to Norway to seek asylum, citing the group's brutality.

US and Western officials have been urging Ukraine to shift its focus from Bakhmut and prioritize instead a potential offensive in the south, using a different style of fighting that takes advantage of the billions of dollars in new military hardware recently committed by Western allies, US and Ukrainian officials told CNN last month.

5:55 a.m. ET, February 5, 2023

Four killed, 11 injured in Russian attacks on Donetsk region

From CNN's Dennis Lapin and Alex Stambaugh 

Two Ukrainian officials investigate the site of Russian shelling on Sunday.
Two Ukrainian officials investigate the site of Russian shelling on Sunday. (Donetsk Region Prosecutor's Office)

Four people have been killed after Russian missile strikes and shelling on the eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, and 11 more injured, the head of the region's military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said Sunday.

Emergency services rescued nine people from a five-story building that was destroyed by the strike, Ukraine's State Emergency Service posted on Telegram.

Four high-rise buildings and a kindergarten were damaged after two missile attacks on the city of Druzhkivka, Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram, adding in an update Sunday, that several homes and buildings were destroyed by shelling elsewhere in the region.

Some context: Missiles targeting densely populated areas in the region are familiar. On Thursday, two were launched at the city of Kramatorsk less than 100 meters from a CNN team. Before that, a missile strike to the same area killed four people and hospitalized several more.

Kyrylenko has urged residents to leave the area, calling it a "matter of life and death."