April 11, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Matias Grez, Amy Woodyatt, Travis Caldwell, Jessie Yeung, Ivana Kottasová, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury and Jason Kurtz, CNN

Updated 8:06 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022
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5:27 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

Ukraine's top commander: "Defense of Mariupol continues"

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv and Cameron Hubbard

Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said Monday that the "defense of Mariupol continues" amid heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces inside the besieged city and Russian troops and pro-Russian separatists. 

"The connection with the units of the defense forces that heroically hold the city is stable and maintained," Zaluzhny said. "I emphasize that conducting defense operations is not a topic for public discussion. We are doing the possible and impossible to win and save the lives of personnel and civilians in all directions."

Denis Pushilin, the head of the Russian-backed Donetsk People's Republic, said Monday the city's port had fallen to Russian and Russian-backed forces, Russian state news agencies reported. Those reports could not be immediately verified. 

Ukrainian officials have said around 100,000 civilians remain in the city, which has come under heavy bombardment. Ukraine's defense of Mariupol has tied down Russian units and hampered their efforts to solidify a land corridor from the Russian border to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

The Institute for the Study of War, a defense think tank that tracks military operations in Ukraine, assessed Sunday that “Russian forces bisected Mariupol from the city center to the coast on April 10, isolating the remaining Ukrainian defenders in the southwestern port and eastern Azovstal Steel Plant.”

The defense of Mariupol has been a national rallying point for Ukrainians, and the destruction of the city has become a symbol of Russia's indiscriminate use of firepower.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed "tens of thousands" of people had died in Mariupol, a claim that could not be immediately verified. 

8:17 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

Ukraine's prosecutor general: We are seeing crimes against humanity

Forensic scientists and police inspect the bodies of local residents after removing them from a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 11.
Forensic scientists and police inspect the bodies of local residents after removing them from a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 11. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Iryna Venediktova, the prosecutor general of Ukraine, discussed her office's war crimes investigation during a CNN interview Monday. Venediktova said that they are currently building "more than 5,800 cases" and every day are starting "more and more such proceedings."

Venediktova said that she has made multiple visits to the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, where images of mass graves have been observed, and plans to return again tomorrow.

"We are still exhuming the dead bodies from the mass grave. Actually, what we see, now, we see horrors of war, a lot of war crimes, actually, it is not only war crimes. Now we can say... a lot of crimes against humanity," she told CNN's Jake Tapper during an interview on "The Lead."

Venediktova was asked on CNN about her office's report earlier today that found 183 children had been killed and 342 had been wounded since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine. That report cited preliminary figures from juvenile prosecutors.  

"As of April 11, 2022, according to official data from juvenile prosecutors, more than 525 children were casualties in Ukraine as a result of the armed invasion of our country by the Russian Federation," the statement from the prosecutor general read. "183 children died and more than 342 were injured. These figures are not final, as work is underway in places of active hostilities in the temporarily occupied and liberated territories."

With regards to the figures, Venediktova described them as "not correct" because they don't account for the dead in places like Mariupol that are occupied by the Russians. 

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday, "tens of thousands" of people had been killed in the besieged city of Mariupol, a figure that could not be immediately verified. 

The prosecutor general explained how they are proceeding with probing events in Mariupol since the area is still under Russian control, including how they are getting information from individuals who have been able to evacuate.

"We started to proceed the common case. We don't know concrete facts. But common case, for example, as a bomb in maternity hospital in Mariupol, drama theater in Mariupol, and all the cases, we started. Because we have some refugees, you know, that people could evacuate from Mariupol. We knew some facts from the witnesses," she said.

Asked about suspects and potential war crimes prosecutions, Venediktova said that they "want to prosecute these war criminals in our Ukrainian courts, named by Ukraine." 

"But, of course, for us... it is a lane of international criminal court," she added, acknowledging the role the International Criminal Court (ICC) plays in these cases.

Venediktova said they are therefore doing their investigations under international law and currently have more than 500 suspects, including top politicians, top military officers and top Russian propaganda agents who they suspect started and continue this war.

The prosecutor general said that they understand that three people in the Russian Federation are now under functional immunity — the president, when he is still president, the minister of foreign affairs and the prime minister. "This is rule," she noted.

"But from the other side, absolutely possible to take them to responsibility by instruments of international criminal courts," she told CNN, noting that is why they are documenting all the evidence for "all the big fish" to learn about "who wanted this war, who started this war and who continued this war."

The International Criminal Court formally opened an investigation into the situation in Ukraine last month. The top war crimes prosecutor for the ICC has traveled to Ukraine to investigate, and the US Embassy in Kyiv argued in the war's opening days that specific Russian attacks constituted war crimes. Read more about how war crimes prosecutions work here.

Watch CNN's interview with Ukraine's prosecutor general:

4:56 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

Italy signs deal to boost natural gas imports from Algeria and reduce reliance on Russia 

From CNN's Livia Borghese in Rome and Jorge Engels in London

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced Monday an initial deal to increase energy imports from Algeria after a meeting with the country’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in Algiers. 

“Our governments have signed a declaration of intent on the bilateral cooperation in the energy sector,” Draghi said in during a news conference. 

“Immediately after the invasion of Ukraine I announced that Italy would act swiftly to reduce the need for Russian gas. Today’s agreement is an important response to this strategic goal,” he added. 

Additionally, Draghi said an agreement was signed between Italian energy company Eni and Algeria’s national state-owned energy company to implement the export of natural gas to Italy. 

Italy imports about 40% of its total gas consumption from Russia, according to Reuters. 

4:30 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

Ukrainian official: More than 4,000 people evacuated from cities under fire Monday

From CNN's Julia Presniakova in Lviv

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 4,354 people have been evacuated Monday from areas where fighting continues, including a few hundred from Mariupol, where Russian forces are tightening their stranglehold. 

Vereshchuk said 556 people had been evacuated from Mariupol and a further 3,298 people from other cities in southern Ukraine, including Melitopol and Berdiansk, which are both occupied by Russian forces.

The evacuees had been taken to the city of Zaporizhzhia, she said.

Vereshchuk said more than 500 people had been evacuated from towns and cities in the Donbas region which have seen near constant shelling in recent days. They include; Lysychansk, Severodonetsk, Rubizhne, Kreminna and Popasna in the Luhansk region, she said. All of the towns have experienced widespread destruction as the focus of the Russian offensive has shifted to the Donbas.

The official said that "for the third day in a row, the occupiers are violating agreements to ensure the passage of a convoy of buses from Zaporizhzhia to evacuate people from Berdiansk (some 80 kilometres from Mariupol), Tokmak and Enerhodar. They keep them at the checkpoint in Vasylivka."
4:23 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

Ukrainian boy's letter to dead mother read at UN meeting: "Thank you for the best nine years of my life"

From CNN's Laura Ly 

During a United Nations Security Council meeting on Monday, Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya read aloud a letter from a Ukrainian child written to his dead mother.

Kyslytsya told the council that the letter was made public in Ukraine “several days ago” and was written by a nine-year-old boy after his mother was killed by Russian soldiers. 

Kyslytsya, who spoke to the Security Council in English, read the letter as follows:

“Mama, this letter is my gift to you on the Women’s Day on the 8th of March. Thank you for the best nine years of my life. Many thanks for my childhood. You are the best mama in the world. I will never forget you. I wish you good luck in the heavens. I wish you to get to paradise. I will try to behave well to get to paradise too.”

Kyslytsya said the boy’s mother was killed by Russian soldiers when they tried to escape from their Russian-occupied town by car. The boy stayed in the vehicle until local residents were able to rescue him and take him to a shelter, the Ukrainian ambassador said.

“Such letters should not have to be written. If they are, it means that something has gone terribly wrong, including here at the United Nations,” Kyslytsya said.

“It would mean its mechanism of maintaining international peace and security aren’t working properly and should be fixed. But could they be fixed while Russia is allowed to use the rights of a permanent member? If we are not able to stop the Kremlin, more and more children will become orphans. More and more mothers will lose their children," the ambassador read.

3:33 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

France expels 6 suspected Russian spies operating "under diplomatic cover"

From CNN's Dalal Mawad in Paris 

France is expelling six Russian agents suspected of working as spies “under diplomatic cover” in the country, according to a French foreign ministry statement released on Monday.  

“Following a very long investigation, the General Directorate of Internal Security (DGSI) revealed on Sunday, April 10 a clandestine operation carried out by the Russian intelligence services on our territory,” it said in the statement, adding that the activities of the six Russians, who have now been designated as "persona non grata," were “contrary to our national interests.” 

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin congratulated in a tweet the French security agents involved who “hindered a network of Russian clandestine agents working against our interests."

The French foreign ministry said that in the absence of the Russian ambassador, “the number two in the embassy was summoned to the ministry this evening to be informed of this decision.” 

3:24 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

Here's what we know about Russia's new general for Ukraine

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Army Gen. Alexander Dvornikov (center) is seen in this file photo in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on January 18, 2021.
Army Gen. Alexander Dvornikov (center) is seen in this file photo in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on January 18, 2021. (Vasily Deryugin/Kommersant/Sipa USA/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a new general overseeing his war in Ukraine.

Army General Alexander Dvornikov, the commander of Russia's Southern Military District, has been named as theater commander of Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, according to a US official and a European official.

Dvornikov, 60, was the first commander of Russia's military operations in Syria, after Putin sent troops there in September 2015 to back the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

During Dvornikov's command in Syria from September 2015 to June 2016, Russian aircraft backed the Assad regime and its allies as they laid siege to rebel-held eastern Aleppo, bombarding densely populated neighborhoods and causing major civilian casualties. The city fell to Syrian government forces in December 2016.

From 2000 to 2003 Dvornikov served in Russia's lengthy pacification campaign in the north Caucasus, including the Second Chechen War, which left the regional capital of Chechnya, Grozny, in ruins.

Russian forces have used a similarly heavy-handed approach in parts of Ukraine, striking residential buildings in major cities and demolishing much of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

Dvornikov was awarded the title of "Hero the Russian Federation" by the Kremlin in March 2016 for his services.

The appointment of a new overall commander to lead Russia's war in Ukraine appears to be an effort to remedy another problem that has hampered Russian forces: lack of coordination.

Read more about the general here and watch retired Lt. Gen. James Marks, a CNN military analyst, explain the next phase of the war:

4:35 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

EU's top diplomat calls Ukraine war a "big failure" for Russia 

From CNN’s James Frater in Brussels and Jorge Engels in London 

Workers load a destroyed Russian tank onto a platform in the village of Andriyivka, near Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 11.
Workers load a destroyed Russian tank onto a platform in the village of Andriyivka, near Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 11. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

The European Union’s top diplomat said Monday that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a “big failure of the Russian army.”  

“They tried to conquer Kyiv, and they have been rejected. Now they have abandoned Kyiv, they see that it's impossible for them to take the capital,” EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at a news conference in Luxembourg.  

“They are regrouping their troops in the east and Ukrainians are very much convinced that they are going to launch a big offensive in the Donbas nearby their logistic bases,” he said. 

Borrell also characterized the invasion as a “horror.”  

“What the Russian army left behind is civilians killed, cities destroyed, indiscriminate bombing, like the one that we see on the railway station [in Kramatorsk]. We are very much worried by the human consequences of this war," he added.   

Borrell also said “nothing is off the table” when it came to new sanctions against Russia, including oil and gas, but that no decision had been taken Monday. 

“It's easy for some member states that are not using Russian gas to say that they are ready to not use Russian gas, but for others which are heavily dependent is not so easy,” said Borrell. 

He added that EU member states continue discussing how to implement the sanctions and how to avoid “loopholes.” 

Borrell also spoke about the growing issue of global food security and said the Kremlin was “actively shifting the blame.” 

“Russians are making the sanctions responsible for the food scarcity and rising prices when it is not sanctions. It is Russia sowing bombs on Ukraine fields, and Russian warships blockading ... ships full of wheat that cannot go out of the Ukrainian harbors,” said Borrell. 

“They are bombing Ukrainian cities and provoking hunger in the world,” he added. 

 

2:45 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

US planning latest Ukrainian security package tailored to war's new front, defense officials say

From CNN's Barbara Starr

The US and Ukraine are in intensive discussions about a new round of security assistance tailored to combat a stepped-up Russian campaign in eastern and southern Ukraine, where the terrain is different than the war's earlier main front, according to multiple US defense officials. 

The package being put together may center around more drones and Javelin anti-tank weapons — which the US has previously provided to Ukraine. This is in part because Ukraine already has these kinds of weapons in its inventory and can use them quickly, one official said. 

The US is also talking to partners and allies in Europe to see what additional long range air defense systems, tanks, armor, and artillery they might be able to provide Ukraine from their own inventories.

Those discussions are particularly urgent because the terrain in the south and eastern portions of Ukraine is different than the initial phase, which took place to some extent in wooded areas north of Kyiv where Ukraine's forces succeeded with ambush tactics.

Now, along the new eastern and southern fronts, the Ukrainians need is for heavier weapons, such as armor and artillery, the officials said. 

"It is much more open and lends itself to armor mechanized offensive operations on both sides," Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel last week. 

US systems are not in the Ukrainian inventory, so finding partners and allies willing to contribute is a key priority. Part of the negotiations include discussion of the US replacing the partners' provisions with possibly more advanced systems. 

Ukraine still wants to get fighter jets, the officials said, but the US remains opposed to facilitating any such transfer. 

The Defense Department has said that Russia’s refocus to the Donbas region has not affected the ability to get security assistance from the US to Ukraine.

“Eight to 10 flights a day are coming into the region, not just from the United States but from other nations as well,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a briefing Monday.

“In some cases, stuff coming from the United States takes no more than four to six days from the time the president authorizes drawdown authority to it gets into the hands of the Ukrainians," he said.

CNN's Michael Conte contributed reporting to this post.