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April 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

The Donbas region is at the heart of Russia's war on Ukraine. Here's why it's so important
03:52

What we covered

  • The Ukrainian Air Force has added about 20 operational aircraft to its fleet because of an influx of spare parts, a senior US defense official said, adding they have more aircraft now than they did three weeks ago.
  • Ukrainian forces are continuing to resist Russian attacks in the southeastern port city of Mariupol. A Ukrainian commander told CNN the situation at a steel plant, one of the last sites still under Ukrainian control in the city, is “critical,” as hundreds of civilians take shelter inside. 
  • The Russian defense ministry said Wednesday that it had conducted a test launch of its intercontinental ballistic missile, the Sarmat, adding that it landed in the “designated area in Kamchatka.”
  • Meanwhile in the east, Ukrainian forces have repelled numerous Russian attempted advances in the crucial Donbas region amid Moscow’s increased shelling and attacks in the area, UK defense intelligence said.
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World War II Soviet victory flag begins to appear across parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine

The Soviet victory flag from World War II is beginning to appear across occupied parts of Ukraine ahead of Russia’s May 9 WWII Victory Day celebration. 

The red flag — flown over Berlin’s Reichstag on May 9, 1945, when the Nazis surrendered to the Soviets — bears the Soviet hammer and sickle insignia with the inscription, “150th Rifle, Order of Kutuzov Second Class, Idritz Division, 79th Rifle Corps, 3rd Shock Army, 1st Belorussian Front.” 

May 9 has since become a revered holiday in Russia and the flag an important icon.

Russian troops raised a large flag as part of a staged propaganda stunt in occupied Kherson, videos published on Tuesday show. Propaganda videos published on Wednesday by Russian-backed separatists in Kreminna showed troops fixing the victory flag to a Ukrainian government building.

Kreminna fell under Russian and Russian-backed separatist control earlier this week, Ukrainian officials said.

The flag was also placed atop the regional council building in the Russian-occupied town of Henichesk in Kherson province. A statue of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin was reinstalled in front of the council building earlier this week, CNN has previously reported.

Two European officials told CNN that Russian forces are feeling “self-imposed pressure” to achieve any semblance of a victory ahead of Russia’s May 9 Victory Day celebration. Russia generally marks the holiday with a military parade through Red Square and a speech from President Vladimir Putin.

Russians take control of central Rubizhne in Luhansk, videos show

Russian forces in Ukraine’s Luhansk region have taken central Rubizhne and the nearby village of Kreminna, videos circulating on social media show.

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the videos. CNN is not airing the propaganda videos, which were published on Wednesday, as they were produced and released by Russian-backed separatist forces and pro-Russian media outlets. 

In the videos from Rubizhne, significant destruction is seen in the city’s center and northern districts. Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists appear to be moving freely in Rubizhne. 

On Tuesday, Luhansk regional military administrator Serhii Haidai pushed back against reports that Rubizhne had fallen, instead saying that Russian and Russian-backed separatist forces controlled only parts of the city. However, he did tell CNN that 80% of the Luhansk region is under Russian control.

In Kreminna, a town roughly 7 miles (11 kilometers) west of Rubizhne, Russian-backed separatist forces were seen in the video installing Russian and separatist flags on government buildings.

Some context: Rubizhne is part of a cluster of small towns and villages that were in Ukrainian hands but lie close to two breakaway pro-Russian statelets inside eastern Ukraine.

Kreminna was earlier taken by Russian forces, Haidai said Tuesday, adding that Ukrainian troops had withdrawn from the city and taken up new positions.

More US security assistance for Ukraine coming "in very short order," White House says

The US will announce a new round of security assistance to Ukraine “in very short order,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday evening, as Russia’s brutal invasion continues.

Psaki told CNN that Russia’s test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile would not change the White House’s posture in aiding Ukraine, vowing that the US would proceed in providing both military and security assistance.

US President Joe Biden, she said, will “have more to announce on the next round of security assistance in very short order. You’ll hear more soon.”

CNN previously reported that the US is prepping another $800 million military assistance package for Ukraine, according to three senior administration officials and two sources familiar with the planning.

Read more here:

psaki wallace intv cnn+

More US security assistance for Ukraine coming 'in very short order,' Psaki says

A "lawyer by day and a boot smuggler by night," this Ukrainian American is helping funnel supplies to Ukrainian soldiers

Tetiana Poudel’s father, a deputy commander in Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, needed combat boots.

Russia had just invaded Ukraine, and his unit was desperately lacking basic protective gear and medical supplies.

So Poudel, a 31-year-old Ukrainian American citizen – who’s on leave from her California day job as an attorney for the music-streaming service Spotify – packed up her life in Silicon Valley, moved to Poland and raised $13,000 for around 100 pairs of boots for her dad and members of his unit.

A photo she shared with CNN shows her father and another soldier beaming next to new boots stacked on top of cardboard boxes.

Poudel’s initiative is a microcosm of a much larger network of private citizens, many of them veterans, from around the world who are working to provide Ukrainian soldiers with additional equipment they say they need to continue effectively fighting off the Russians.

Read the full story:

Poudel stands with her father, Volodymyr Danyliuk, in Ukraine. He is wearing the boots she helped to supply.

This Ukrainian American helps funnel supplies to Ukrainian soldiers

US defense official: Ukrainian Air Force adds about 20 more operational aircraft due to influx of spare parts

A Ukrainian Air Force Mig-29 takes off from Mykolaiv Air Base for a training mission in Ukraine in 2016. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly asked other countries for Soviet-era Mig-29 Fulcrum fighter jets, which Ukrainian pilots already know how to fly.

The Ukrainian Air Force has added about 20 more operational aircraft to its fleet because of an influx of spare parts, according to a senior US defense official.

Though the official wouldn’t specify which country provided the aircraft parts, the official said Wednesday that the US and other countries worked “to get them the parts they need to get them in the air.”

The flow of spare parts has allowed Ukraine to expand its fleet of operational military aircraft, despite Russia’s ongoing invasion. They have more aircraft now than they did three weeks ago, the official said.

One day earlier, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Ukraine had received additional fighter aircraft to add to their existing numbers. 

But on Wednesday, the senior defense official walked that back, saying that Ukraine had not received more aircraft, but had in fact received aircraft parts to make more of their existing aircraft functional.  

Still, the official intimated that at least one country was considering sending Ukraine more aircraft.

“I was given to understand that an offer made by another country had actually been effected,” the official said. “That offer has not been effected, so I was ahead of where things actually were.” It is not known which country has made such an offer.

The US has committed to sending Ukraine 16 Mi-17 helicopters, but the administration has declined to get involved in a transfer of Mig-29s from another country to Ukraine via the United States.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly asked other countries for Soviet-era Mig-29 Fulcrum fighter jets, which Ukrainian pilots already know how to fly.

Zelensky has asked other eastern European countries with the fourth-generation airframes to send them to Ukraine, but no country has yet agreed to do so. 

On Wednesday, the official Twitter account of Ukraine’s Air Force said, “Ukraine did not receive new aircraft from partners! With the assistance of the US Government, @KpsZSU received spare parts and components for the restoration and repair of the fleet of aircraft in the Armed Forces, which will allow to put into service more equipment.” 

Ukraine’s Air Force has been part of its aerial defense network, which also includes S-300 surface-to-air missiles and portable anti-aircraft missiles. The combination of platforms has prevented Russia from establishing air superiority over Ukraine and controlling the skies. 

Despite the constant bombardment from Russian missiles and artillery, as well as the strikes on military bases, Ukraine’s Air Force has remained largely intact, though it has suffered some losses. 

In early March, approximately two weeks into the war, the defense official said Ukraine has 56 fighter aircraft, which comprised about 80% of their fixed-wing fighters. But the Ukrainians weren’t using their aircraft much, flying only 5 to 10 missions per day, the official said.

CNN’s Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.

US unveils latest sanctions targeting Russia

The United States on Wednesday unveiled its latest round of sanctions going after Russia over its war on Ukraine, this time targeting a key commercial bank and “a global network of more than 40 individuals and entities led by US-designated Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev.”

In a news release, the US Treasury Department said it was also targeting “companies operating in Russia’s virtual currency mining industry, reportedly the third largest in the world,” noting it was the first time it has “designated a virtual currency mining company.”

In addition, the State Department is imposing a slew of visa restrictions in response to the Russian war and for “undermining democracy in Belarus.”

Wednesday’s actions are the latest by the Biden administration meant to punish the Kremlin and its enablers for invading Ukraine at the end of February. The war has taken the lives of hundreds of service members and civilians, and US and European officials say it could last months. Experts who spoke with CNN have said that sanctions are unlikely to immediately deter Russian President Vladimir Putin against pursuing aggression in Ukraine.

Wednesday’s sanctions: The US previously sanctioned Malofeyev in December 2014 for funding “separatist activities in eastern Ukraine” and for his close links to “Aleksandr Borodai, Igor Girkin (a.k.a. Igot Strelkov), and the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, which have all been previously sanctioned as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs),” according to a Treasury release from the time.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Justice unveiled its first criminal charges since Russia’s war in Ukraine began against Malofeyev, indicting him for sanctions evasion attempts.

Malofeyev was again sanctioned by the US on Wednesday “for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly,” the government of Russia.

The Treasury Department also sanctioned members of Malofeyev’s “vast global network of cut-outs and proxies to attempt to evade sanctions and conduct malign influence activities,” including those involved in pro-Kremlin propaganda. Those sanctioned include entities in Russia, Moldova, Singapore, and a number of Russian individuals, including Malofeyev’s son.

The Treasury Department also went after “Public Joint Stock Company Transkapitalbank (TKB)” for being “at the heart of sanctions evasion” and its subsidiary, as well as companies in Russia’s virtual currency mining industry.

“The United States is committed to ensuring that no asset, no matter how complex, becomes a mechanism for the Putin regime to offset the impact of sanctions,” the release issued Wednesday said.

In a separate statement Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the State Department is imposing visa restrictions on 635 Russian individuals, including members of the Russian Duma and “ten purported ‘authorities’ of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.” 

It is also imposing visa restrictions on Russian officials Khusein Merlovich Khutaev, Nurid Denilbekovich Salamov, and Dzhabrail Alkhazurovich Akhmatov, “for their involvement in a gross violation of human rights perpetrated against human rights defender Oyub Titiev.”

Additionally, the State Department is targeting “17 individuals responsible for undermining democracy in Belarus” with visa restrictions, Blinken said.

“We will use every tool to promote accountability for human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Ukraine,” Blinken said.

Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center, said Wednesday said these sanctions “are really meaningful,” noting the US keeps “adding different Russian oligarchs, different Russian banks that perhaps weren’t in the first few rounds of sanctions.”

“They’ll continue to cripple the Russian economy even though Putin continues to paint a rosy picture of what the Russian economy looks like,” she said. “There’s no doubt that it should see a major contraction in the next year.”

Read more about the latest round of sanctions.

Top Ukrainian officials ready to head to Mariupol to negotiate evacuation of civilians and soldiers

Local civilians walk past a tank destroyed during heavy fighting in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Tuesday, April 19.

Two top Ukrainian officials are ready to head to the besieged city of Mariupol to negotiate the evacuation of soldiers and civilians trapped in the city, Captain Svyatoslav Palamar of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment said on Wednesday in a video statement.

The two officials are Ukrainian Parliamentary Majority Leader David Arakhamia and Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to the President’s Chief of Staff. 

“Yes. Without any conditions. We’re ready to hold a ‘special round of negotiations’ right in Mariupol. One on one. Two on two. To save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living & the wounded. Everyone. Because they are ours. Because they are in my heart. Forever,” Podolyak tweeted on Wednesday.

Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol are ready to evacuate with their small arms with the assistance of a third party “to rescue personnel, to evacuate our wounded and take the bodies of the dead and bury them with honors in the territory not controlled by the Russian Federation,” Palamar said.

Palamar added that the Ukrainian negotiators were ready to negotiate with their Russian opposite numbers, presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky and parliamentarian Leonid Slutsky. 

Zelensky says discussions with European Council president were “substantive”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his discussions with European Council President Charles Michel on Wednesday were “substantive” regarding the EU’s support of Ukraine.

During his nightly address posted to social media Wednesday night, Zelensky said he and Michel discussed specific ways the EU can help Ukraine, regarding providing aid —particularly defense, finances and sanctions.

“Another great topic of our discussion is our advancement toward integration,” Zelensky said.

“We have already proved that Ukrainian state and civic institutions are effective enough to withstand a war ordeal,” Zelensky added, “We have already been doing for the defense of freedom on the European continent so much that it hasn’t been the other nations’ lot to do.”

Michel and Zelensky also discussed specific steps to restore Ukraine after the war, and how the EU and Ukraine can work together to diminish threats from Russia regarding food, energy and safety in Europe and the rest of the world.

“To resume export of Ukrainian agrarian products and to disable Russia’s blackmailing with energy resources — those are top priorities for everyone on the continent,” Zelensky said.

Zelensky said after Michel and his team visited Borodianka in the Kyiv region, they “made a very correct conclusion: there cannot be peace without justice.”

The Ukrainian president said he also discussed strengthening sanctions with Michel.

“At present European Union is working on the sixth package of sanctions,” Zelensky said, “We discussed this matter with Charles Michel today. We are making sure that it is truly painful for the Russian war machine and the Russian state in general.”

He added that in all negotiations, he has emphasized that sanctions are not needed as an end in itself, but as an “instrument to make Russia seek peace.”

Biden is processing horrific images out of Ukraine "with sadness" and "fear for the people," White House says

Responding to pleas for help from Ukrainian forces besieged in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House continues to urge Russian forces to “guarantee safe passage” for civilians.  

“We have certainly seen these cries for help, and these asks for help. We will we certainly urge the Russian government to do the right thing, guarantee safe passage for any civilians or others who wish to leave the city,” Psaki told CNN’s MJ Lee. 

Asked about how US President Joe Biden is processing the horrific images coming out of Ukraine, Psaki said he is doing so in a way similar to many other America

“The President is processing these images as many Americans are with or with sadness with, you know, fear for the people of Ukraine, for the families, for the children for innocent civilians who are at risk,” Psaki said.  

She added: “This conflict is consuming a great deal of his time as, as much as he is working on a range of other priorities here.”

It's Wednesday night in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Evacuees wait to board a bus to leave Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday, April 20.

Ukrainian forces are continuing to resist Russian attacks in the southeastern port city of Mariupol. A Ukrainian commander told CNN the situation at a steel plant, one of the last sites still under Ukrainian control in the city, is “critical,” as hundreds of civilians take shelter inside. 

Mariupol’s mayor called on residents of the besieged city to evacuate along a corridor as the city faces heavy Russian bombardment.

Some 120,000 people remain trapped in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday. 

“According to our information, they are keeping 120,000 people in besieged Mariupol. Crimes that are happening there are far more scary and large scale than in Borodyanka,” Zelensky said while speaking alongside European Council President Charles Michel in Kyiv. 

Here are more of the latest headlines from the Russia-Ukraine war:

  • Mariupol evacuation corridor “did not work as planned”: Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said an evacuation corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol “did not work as planned” Wednesday, providing few details but promising to resume efforts Thursday. “Due to the lack of control over their own military on the ground, the occupiers were unable to ensure a proper ceasefire. Also, due to the inherent disorganization and negligence, the occupiers were unable to provide timely transportation of people to the point where dozens of our buses and ambulances were waiting,” she said. The mayor of Mariupol had called on residents of the city to evacuate along a corridor announced earlier in the day by Vereshchuk, including three assembly points.
  • Zelensky says Ukrainian forces don’t have enough “serious and heavy” weapons to defeat Russia in Mariupol: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday that the country’s forces don’t have enough “serious and heavy” weapons to defeat the Russian army in the southeastern port city of Mariupol. He outlined two potential ways to end the standoff in the city: “First, it involves serious and heavy weapons […] at the moment we don’t have enough of these weapons to free Mariupol. The second path is diplomatic. So far Russia hasn’t agreed to this.” 
  • US unveils new round of sanctions against Russia: The United States on Wednesday unveiled its latest round of sanctions against Russia over its war on Ukraine, this time targeting a key commercial bank and “a global network of more than 40 individuals and entities led by U.S.-designated Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev.” In a news release, the US Treasury Department said it was also targeting “companies operating in Russia’s virtual currency mining industry, reportedly the third largest in the world,” noting it was the first time they have “designated a virtual currency mining company.”
  • US Treasury and other finance ministers walked out of G20 meeting with Russia: Finance ministers from multiple nations walked out of a closed-door G20 session in Washington, DC, on Wednesday when the Russian delegate began his prepared remarks, a person familiar with the session said. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen participated in the walkout, as did Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau along with other European and Western officials who were participating in the meeting, the source said. Ahead of the meeting, US officials had said Yellen would not participate in certain sessions of the gathering that included Russia.
  • Russia has added 17 battalion groups in Ukraine in the last week: Russian forces have added 17 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in Ukraine over the past week, with four more BTGs in just the last 24 hours, a senior US defense official said Wednesday.  Altogether, the US assesses that there are now 82 BTGs inside of Ukraine. Out of the four BTGs added in the last 24 hours, three of them have “gone into the east” into the Donbas area, the official added. 
  • European Council president after visiting Ukraine: There are “no words” to explain what I feel: European Council President Charles Michel said that there were “no words” to explain what he feels after visiting Ukraine on Wednesday, adding that Russia “must be punished” for the events unfolding in the country. “There are no words in order to explain what I feel, not as the President of the European Council, but as father, as a human being. These are atrocities. These are war crimes. It must be punished. It will be punished. They must pay for what they have done, there and in many other cities and other locations in Ukraine,” Michel said in a news conference in Kyiv. 
  • IMF says Ukraine estimates it needs $5 billion per month to keep economy functioning: Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance has estimated it will take $5 billion a month to keep the economy functioning, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Wednesday. “We have been engaged very closely with the Ministry of Finance on the estimates they have provided or what would be necessary to retain the functioning of the economy over the next three months and they came up with the number of $5 billion a month,” she said.
  • Germany will phase out Russian oil imports “by the end of the year”: Germany will phase out Russian oil imports “by the end of the year,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Wednesday. “Germany will completely phase out Russian energy imports,” Baerbock said. Oil imports “will be halved by the summer” and phased out entirely and “at 0 by the end of the year,” she added. Speaking at a news conference in Riga with Baltic Foreign Ministers, Baerbock reiterated that coal imports would be phased out by the end of the summer. Gas imports would be phased out over a longer timeframe, she added.
  • 80% of Luhansk territory is under Russian control: Serhii Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said 80% of his region’s territory is under Russian control. If Ukraine doesn’t resist, the official said, “Russia is certainly not going to stop here and will push further on.” Speaking to CNN’s Becky Anderson from an undisclosed location, Haidai concurred with the Russian characterization that the second phase of the war has begun, but cautioned that it is not yet a “complete and total invasion.” 
  • Russian military carries out intercontinental ballistic missile test: The Russian defense ministry announced Wednesday that it had conducted a test launch of its intercontinental ballistic missile, the Sarmat. The missile was fired from a silo launcher at 3:12 p.m. Moscow time at the Plesetsk State Test Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk Region of northern Russia toward the Kura test site on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s far east. The US was notified ahead of the missile test and tracked it closely. “Such testing is routine, and it was not a surprise,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.

Norway sends air defense system along with 100 anti-air missiles to Ukraine

Norway has donated a Mistral air defense system to Ukraine, Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram said Wednesday. 

The air defense system is “an effective weapon” and “will be of great benefit to Ukraine,” the minister said. 

Norway is providing Kyiv with around 100 Mistral missiles and a small number of launch units, according to the defense ministry.

The Mistral system was being phased out by the Norwegian military, “but it is still a modern and effective weapon that will be of great benefit to Ukraine,” Gram said. 

The weapons had already been sent out of Norway, the ministry said. 

Norway had previously donated a total of 4,000 anti-tank missiles and several types of protective equipment as well as other military equipment, according to the ministry. 

Woman who escaped Mariupol recounts being trapped in city for 45 days: "It was like living in a nightmare" 

Tatyana Burak survived 45 days in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol before escaping to safety in Lviv with her husband.

Both Burak, who is an English teacher, and her husband were injured. She said her home was bombed and destroyed.

Burak described her experience in Mariupol to CNN’s Ana Cabrera, saying “it was like living in a nightmare.”

“It was a horrible dream which thousands of people were dreaming at the same time and it had no end. So, we spent a lot of time in the hospital because we were wounded right at the beginning of this Russian onslaught and we were taken by our military doctors to the hospital and so we felt every single bomb, every single shell which was going to our city,” Burak said.

Burak noted that early on in the war, she knew Mariupol was “doomed’ and that Russian troops invaded the city with the notion that they were there to “liberate” Ukrainians.

“We understood there is nothing to be expected, that our city was doomed because these people came, as they said, to ‘liberate us.’ They didn’t know what they were going to liberate us from, but they said that we were suffering and they came to liberate us. They liberated us from our homes, from our jobs, from the possessions of all our lives, from our family history. They liberated many thousands of people from their lives. They just — I don’t know. They seem to be just crazy and insane,” she said.

Burak said that soldiers asked her if she was “glad” they came, and that they were “surprised” that people were not expressing “signs of ultimate joy that they came.”

She said that when they tried to tell them “our homes were destroyed by your shells, by your tanks, by your bombs, they just look at us and said, ‘Okay. That’s okay. We’ll restore everything in two months. And your city will be even much better.’”

“So they just didn’t understand what they were doing, or they were deliberately doing it just because they wanted to kill everybody,” Burak continued.

Watch the interview:

10:59

Mariupol evacuation corridor "did not work as planned," Ukrainian deputy prime minister says

Evacuees walk toward buses to leave Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 20.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said an evacuation corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol “did not work as planned” Wednesday, providing few details but promising to resume efforts Thursday. 

“Due to the lack of control over their own military on the ground, the occupiers were unable to ensure a proper ceasefire. Also, due to the inherent disorganization and negligence, the occupiers were unable to provide timely transportation of people to the point where dozens of our buses and ambulances were waiting,” she said.

The mayor of Mariupol had called on residents of the city to evacuate along a corridor announced earlier in the day by Vereshchuk, including three assembly points.

Vereshchuk gave no specifics about how many people assembled, but said, “tomorrow morning we will resume our efforts in the Mariupol direction. I appeal to our people in Mariupol: we will fight for each of you!”

Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of Donetsk region military administration, said in remarks on television Wednesday that fewer people than expected boarded buses along the corridor. 

“People gathered at those collection points, but few got on the buses,” he said. “Now some of these buses are going on the route determined by the Russian Federation. As soon as they are in touch, we will immediately inform you which of the residents of Mariupol has reached the territory controlled by Ukraine. And we will understand how we will work according to the specified sequence in the next days.”

Russia has added 17 battalion groups in Ukraine in the last week, senior US defense official says 

Russian forces have added 17 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in Ukraine over the past week, with four more BTGs in just the last 24 hours, a senior US defense official said Wednesday. 

Altogether, the US assesses that there are now 82 BTGs inside of Ukraine.

Out of the four BTGs added in the last 24 hours, three of them have “gone into the east” into the Donbas area, the official added. 

These BTGs are not all necessarily just infantry soldiers. They are “functionally arranged,” the official said.

“It’s also important to remember that some of these battalion tactical groups, we tend to think of them, and I think we all get used to talking about them as if they’re all infantry or something. They’re not, they’re functionally arranged. Some are infantry, some are artillery, some are armor, mechanized, and so, I don’t know what the mix is here,” the official added.

Zelensky says Ukrainian forces don't have enough "serious and heavy" weapons to defeat Russia in Mariupol

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at a news conference with European Council President Charles Michel in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday that the country’s forces don’t have enough “serious and heavy” weapons to defeat the Russian army in the southeastern port city of Mariupol.  

He outlined two potential ways to end the standoff in the city: “First, it involves serious and heavy weapons […] at the moment we don’t have enough of these weapons to free Mariupol. The second path is diplomatic. So far Russia hasn’t agreed to this.” 

“We don’t know when we can unblock Mariupol. And I say this openly, that all the boys in Mariupol want our victory, they want a free city, none of them are going to surrender to the enemy. This is their internal feeling, this is what they are,” he added, speaking alongside European Council President Charles Michel in Kyiv.

Zelensky also said that the “few thousand” Ukrainian civilians who fled the besieged city of Mariupol through evacuation corridors to Russian occupied territories is not currently known. 

Thousands of civilians have successfully left Mariupol through corridors agreed upon with Russia, but “unfortunately a few thousand civilians went to Russian occupied territories, and we don’t know the fate of these thousands of people,” he added.  

Ukraine is “ready for any format of swaps of our people for the Russian troops that they left behind, the bodies and the wounded that they abandoned here,” he said. 

US unveils new round of sanctions targeting Russia for war in Ukraine 

The United States on Wednesday unveiled its latest round of sanctions against Russia over its war on Ukraine, this time targeting a key commercial bank and “a global network of more than 40 individuals and entities led by U.S.-designated Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev.”

In a news release, the US Treasury Department said it was also targeting “companies operating in Russia’s virtual currency mining industry, reportedly the third largest in the world,” noting it was the first time they have “designated a virtual currency mining company.”

In addition, the State Department is imposing visa restrictions on 635 Russian nationals who are “involved in suppressing dissent in Russia and abroad, who have been involved in activities that threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and who have been involved in human rights abuses in prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in Russia-controlled areas of the Donbas region of Ukraine,” according to the US Treasury. 

Three Russian officials will also face visa restrictions “for involvement in gross violations of human rights, and on 17 individuals responsible for undermining democracy in Belarus,” the US Treasury continued.

UN secretary-general requests meetings with Putin and Zelensky separately

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference at the United Nations in New York in February.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is requesting audiences with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine to discuss the urgent need to bring about peace, according to a UN spokesperson.

Guterres would like “to discuss urgent steps to bring about peace in Ukraine and the future of multilateralism based on the Charter of the United Nations and international law,” according to a statement from UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

Separate letters were handed over to the Russia and Ukrainian missions Tuesday, Dujarric said. The spokesperson noted that Guterres is awaiting responses from the Russian and Ukrainian governments on a request for a meeting, taking it “one step at a time.”

Dujarric said he would be accompanying the secretary-general if he were to travel but couldn’t elaborate on who else would go.

“We will share with you information on the delegation when we reach that step,” he said.

He also wouldn’t elaborate on whether Guterres would travel to one country and not the other if only a single country accepted the request.

“We’re going to wait to see responses and then we’ll make decisions … based on the responses we receive,” he said.

Asked whether the secretary-general regretted not requesting meetings sooner, he said Guterres “has been doing what he thinks is the most practical and the best way forward for him to deploy his good offices and the work of the UN.”

“We are moving on a path that the secretary-general has established. The regret is that this conflict keeps going and that the people keep suffering,” he later said.

He noted that Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin crossed paths briefly in Beijing for the Winter Olympics, but Putin had left before they could meet. 

“We have been in verbal contact with the permanent mission of Russia a number of times, to try to get at least contact, direct contact, between the secretary-general and the president,” he said.

European Council president after visiting Ukraine: There are "no words" to explain what I feel 

European Council President Charles Michel, center, looks at destroyed vehicles as he is given a tour of devastation in Borodianka, Ukraine, on April 20, in this image provided by the European Council. 2022.

European Council President Charles Michel said that there were “no words” to explain what he feels after visiting Ukraine on Wednesday, adding that Russia “must be punished” for the events unfolding in the country.

“There are no words in order to explain what I feel, not as the President of the European Council, but as father, as a human being. These are atrocities. These are war crimes. It must be punished. It will be punished. They must pay for what they have done, there and in many other cities and other locations in Ukraine,” Michel said in a news conference in Kyiv. 

Speaking alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Michel said that earlier in the day he had visited the town of Borodianka, where mass graves full of hundreds of murdered civilians were discovered following the withdrawal of Russian forces from Kyiv region. 

Michel said the European Union is rooting for a Ukrainian victory against Russia and will do everything it can to support Ukraine.

“Right now, like you, I think to the people, to the civilians in the Donbas, in Mariupol, in other cities, who are fighting for their lives. Who are fighting for the sovereignty of Ukraine,” said Michel. “This is why we will use all the possible tools in our hands.”   

He added that the European Union is working closely with international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to ensure Ukraine can get the funds it needs to pay for short, medium and long-term social expenditures. 

“But also, this is very important, in order to start as soon as possible the rebuilding program for the country,” he said. 

Ukraine’s finance ministry has estimated it will need $5 billion a month in financial assistance to keep the country’s economy functioning, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said on Wednesday. 

US Treasury Secretary Yellen and other finance ministers walked out of G20 meeting with Russia

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks to the Atlantic Council on April 13.

Finance ministers from multiple nations walked out of a closed-door G20 session in Washington, DC, on Wednesday when the Russian delegate began his prepared remarks, a person familiar with the session said. 

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen participated in the walkout, as did Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau along with other European and Western officials who were participating in the meeting, the source said.

Ahead of the meeting, US officials had said Yellen would not participate in certain sessions of the gathering that included Russia.

Ukrainian officials also spoke at the session as invited guests, and also walked out during Russia’s presentation. Yellen and other officials attended the session during those remarks, but departed when Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov began speaking virtually.

A separate official said finance ministers had discussed plans to boycott Russia’s participation ahead of time. 

Yellen said earlier this month she had informed Indonesia — this year’s G20 host — that she wouldn’t participate in sessions that included Russia. The G20 finance ministers are gathered in Washington this week to coincide with the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF.