Our live coverage of the war in Ukraine has moved here.
After weeks of worry and fear, Tina Hauser and John Quinn finally got the call they were
waiting for on Friday evening: their son, Tyler Jacob, had been freed from Russian detention after 10 days.
Jacob, an American from Minnesota, had been living in Ukraine and was detained while trying to leave the country. Since then, US officials including Sen. Amy Klobuchar have been working to secure his release.
When they were notified Jacob had landed in an unnamed NATO member country, "I was ecstatic," Hauser said. They called him on Facetime, and "he looks really tired, but he looks really good, too,” she said. "You could hear the relief in his voice."
"It sounded like angels singing in my ear, hearing his voice," she added.
Jacob’s father, Quinn, told CNN his son was not mistreated in Russian custody, but they are still very relieved he will be coming home. “It was a roller coaster,” Quinn said. “It was up and down, the hurdles that we had to get over to get him to safety.”
Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of the Russian punk band and activist group Pussy Riot, expressed her support for Ukraine on Friday, telling CNN she was terrified for her loved ones' safety.
In 2012, Tolokonnikova and another Pussy Riot member were imprisoned in Russia for two years after they performed an anti-Putin protest song called “Punk Prayer” in a Moscow cathedral.
Hearing Russian President Vladimir Putin make false claims about the war "makes me want to puke," she said. "I never watch Russian television because it's just too hard to see how they lie to their own people. My own family members back in Russia believe there are no civilians targeted by the Russian military."
But "there is not much you can do," she said — when she tries to show her family members photos of the destruction in besieged Ukrainian cities like Mariupol and Kharkiv, "they just say it's fake news and propaganda from the West."
With the amount of disinformation, censorship and Putin's crackdown on dissent in Moscow, it's even more remarkable that Russian protesters have taken to the streets to call for an end to the war, she said.
"I'm full of love for Russian people and really grateful for those who actually separate ... Russians from the Russian government," she said. "I see protesters, I see the future for my country ... What you need to understand about Russian protesters, there are so many more people that want to protest but they cannot just because they are not ready to go to jail for 15 years."
Referring to Putin, she added: "I can’t comprehend how just one person can cause so much pain to the whole humanity and I’m deeply sorry that we’re not able to get him out of power earlier."
The war has already hit home for Tolokonnikova. One of her friends, an anti-corruption activist, was killed by shelling in Kyiv. Her ex-husband and father of her child is also in Kyiv right now. "Me and my daughter are terrified," she said.
Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Friday his government does not have information about any Russian agents based in the country, following comments from a US general.
On Thursday, Gen. Glen VanHerck told a Senate hearing that "the largest portion of the GRU members in the world is in Mexico right now, those are Russian intelligence personnel and they keep an eye very closely on their opportunities to have an influence on US opportunities and access."
Lopez Obrador responded: "We have no information about that, and we do not prevent any foreigner who wants to carry out legal activities in the country from doing so.
"It's a declaration, we are not going to question anything, we are respectful of the free expression of ideas, Mexico is a free, independent, and sovereign country, it should be known because sometimes it seems that it's not understood enough. We must send them telegrams informing them that Mexico is not a colony of any foreign country.
"We have a policy of non-intervention, we are not going to Moscow to spy on anyone, nor to Beijing, nor Washington, not even Los Angeles, we do not get involved in that."
CNN has requested comment from Russia's Embassy in Mexico but has not yet received a response.
Some context: Russia's GRU spy agency — formally known as Main Directorate of the General Staff — has long been accused by the West of orchestrating brazen and high-profile attacks, including the hacking of Democratic Party email accounts during the 2016 US presidential election and the 2018 nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England.
Tyler Jacob, an American living in Ukraine, was freed from detention in Russia on Friday, according to the office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
“I am relieved that Tyler is safely reunited with his wife and daughter,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Over the last two weeks, my team and I have been in close contact with his family, the State Department, and the US embassy in Moscow working towards this outcome, and I am grateful that we were able to help bring him to safety.”
Klobuchar’s office said Jacob, who is originally from Winona, Minnesota, was taken by Russian forces about two weeks ago while trying to leave Ukraine. He was held in Russia for 10 days.
“I am grateful that Tyler, his wife, and their daughter are in a safe place,” said Jacob’s father, John Quinn, in the statement by Klobuchar’s office.
A State Department spokesman told CNN the department was aware of the reports but had no further comment due to privacy considerations.
A senior adviser to the Ukrainian Minister of Defense told CNN the notorious Russian private military group Wagner was involved in an alleged assassination plot against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
“They wanted to assassinate the leadership of Ukraine: our President and Prime Minister. That was the goal and a couple of them were sent to Ukraine without any success,” Markian Lubkivskyi, an advisor to Ukraine's defense minister said.
Lubkivskyi said the plot was confirmed by Ukraine’s intelligence service and special forces in charge of protecting Zelensky.
“All these documents and the necessary proof will be presented to the International Court,” he said, adding that he couldn’t reveal more due to operational reasons.
CNN was unable to independently confirm the claims.
The Wagner group first came to prominence during Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014. Since then, independent research and CNN investigations have found that the private military contractor has operated in Syria and multiple countries in Africa. They have been accused by US officials and human rights watchdogs of sustained human rights abuses.
The group is thought to be connected to — and financed by — Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch so close to the Kremlin that he is known as Putin's "chef."
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any links to the group. Prigozhin denies any involvement in Wagner.
On Thursday, the United Kingdom became the latest country to sanction Wagner.
Lubkivskyi says that Ukrainian intelligence has tracked the group inside and outside of Ukraine and that several Wagner operatives have been killed inside the country, identified by their unique ID tags.
Zelensky has repeatedly committed to staying in Ukraine to marshal the country’s defense during the war, now in its second month.
“The morale of the army is very high because our President is in Kyiv, our Prime Minister and parliament is here. This is very important to support people on the ground, to support the Ukrainian army and this is a very good signal to the international community,” Lubkivsyi said.
Ukrainian refugees hoping to settle in the UK say they are facing a host of obstacles in the process, including long lines at UK immigration centers, weeks spent paying for temporary housing and forms that require them to put their trust in strangers with sensitive personal documents.
So far, the British government says it has issued 20,000 visas to Ukrainian refugees hoping to reunite with relatives through the Ukraine Family Scheme, which allows those fleeing Ukraine to apply for a special visa that would allow them to live and work in the UK for up to three years. But there are still thousands of applications waiting to be processed.
While the UK government schemes are “certainly more generous” than previous re-settlement programs, it remains a complicated procedure, said Laura Kyrke-Smith, UK Executive Director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
“A far better system would be for visas to be waived altogether,” Kyrke-Smith told CNN. “Every human being has the right to seek asylum under international law.”
Ukrainian refugees and their families who spoke to CNN described the process as frustrating and difficult to understand, while others said they feared they would struggle to meet the UK’s document requirements like having copies of their passports and birth certificates given their current circumstances — they’ve fled a war.
Victoria and Andriy, a Ukrainian-British couple who have lived in the UK for more than a decade, told CNN the process to bring Victoria’s elderly parents – who had fled their hometown of Berdyansk – was complicated.
“I was their only source of information. There were no clear instructions,” Victoria told CNN. Meanwhile, her husband’s family is still waiting in Poland.
A separate scheme aims to connect Ukrainians with sponsors in the UK who are willing to host refugees. But would-be hosts say it’s riddled with red tape. The fine print says host applicants need to identify a refugee to sponsor on their own.
Host Elsa De Jager took to Facebook and connected with Yana, a 32-year-old teacher who hopes to make it out of Ukraine with her 4-year-old.
The two are strangers, but they have been required to share sensitive personal documents as part of the application process.
De Jager told CNN she believes the British government has intentionally made the process difficult to deter Ukrainians from attempting to settle in the UK.
“There shouldn't be this kind of red tape when people are getting bombed every day,” she said. “It’s a PR stunt … It’s lovely on paper, but when you go through the process, it's nigh on impossible to actually do it."
The British government says Ukrainian refugees are welcome, and according to the Home Office, Britain’s visa application process has been “streamlined” in order to help refugees through the process “as quickly as possible.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia has lost more than 16,000 troops so far.
“The number of the Russian losses has exceeded 16,000 casualties,” Zelensky said in a video message posted to social media on Friday. “Among them are the high-ranking commanders. So far no reports of killed Russian general colonels or admirals. However, in that number we have a commander of one of the occupiers' armies and a second in command of the Black Sea Navy.”
CNN cannot independently verify Zelensky’s claims.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said in a briefing Friday that 1,351 military personnel had been killed in Ukraine and 3,825 had been wounded, during the first major casualty update since March 2.
Meanwhile, two senior NATO military officials on Wednesday estimated the number of Russian soldiers killed in action in Ukraine to be between 7,000 and 15,000. Other US officials have put Russian losses in a similar range — between 7,000 and 14,000 Russian soldiers killed — but they have expressed “low confidence” in those estimates.
The Ukrainian president on Friday also said authorities were able to ensure 18 humanitarian corridors over the past week and managed to rescue 37,606 people including 26,477 from the besieged city of Mariupol who were taken to Zaporizhzhia.
“All of these war crimes against the civilians in Mariupol and other cities of Ukraine will continue informing nations of the world,” Zelensky said.
The city of Kherson remains under total Russian control, four residents of the city told CNN, contrary to number of reports from other media outlets, citing a senior US defense official.
"Today [I] saw them with their guns at the market, possibly searching vegetables for buying," one resident said to CNN on Friday evening. "They lose only couple of villages, not towns."
CNN is not naming the resident over concerns for their security.
The US official told the outlets, including CNN, that "we’ve seen reports of resistance there in areas that were previously reported to be in Russian control."
"We can’t corroborate exactly who is in control of Kherson, but the point is, it doesn’t appear to be as solidly in Russian control as it was before," the official said. "We would argue that Kherson is actually contested territory again."
The assessment that the city of Kherson was contested was based in part on images and media reports from the city showing the Ukrainian flag draped from city hall, according to two other defense officials.
Previous CNN reporting confirmed that the Ukrainian military counteroffensive has reached the Kherson region's northernmost villages. A CNN crew in one of the northernmost villages in the Kherson region, earlier this week, witnessed the Ukrainian counteroffensive there.
Despite that, in the city of Kherson, the situation is unchanged.
Ukrainian forces have been able to launch attacks from the Mykolaiv region just to the north, into Kherson region, for over a week. While the residents of the city continue to hold large protests, the Russians remain firmly in control of it and much of the region at this time.
For example, residents in town draped a large Ukrainian flag on Thursday down the side of city hall.