NATO allies could be involved in safe passage of civilians from Mariupol, US official tells CNN
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
There “was some hope that the Russians might allow” safe passage for civilians and wounded soldiers from Mariupol, a top US State Department official said Wednesday, adding that her understanding is “there will be NATO allies involved in that if it happens.”
However, such an arrangement “has fallen apart a number of times before,” and ultimately, it is up to the Russians to allow safe passage, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland cautioned.
The siege of Mariupol speaks “to the brutality of this war” and the war crimes Vladimir Putin is committing, Nuland added.
9:14 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
US assesses there have been no major territorial gains so far for Russia in new offense
From CNN's Jim Sciutto
Early in Russia’s expanded offensive in the Donbas, the US assesses there have been no major territorial gains for Russia so far since the start of the new push, according to two senior US officials with direct knowledge of the assessment.
The US has observed some new attacks by Russian forces, which appear to be probing attacks to test Ukrainian defenses, one of the officials said. However, the frontlines remain static with no major territory changing hands as of yet.
To help prepare Ukrainian forces for the battles to come, a new $800 million weapons package will be focused on artillery, specifically 155mm howitzers and ammunition, according to a senior US official and a congressional source with knowledge of the draft plan. The US has asked “many” NATO allies to help contribute artillery to this new planned weapons shipment, a senior US official told CNN.
8:38 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
Luhansk regional official urges Ukrainians to attend virtual Easter services, says churches are destroyed
From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv
The head of the Luhansk regional military administration in eastern Ukraine, Serhii Haidai, warned Wednesday of possible Russian "provocations" during upcoming Easter services and called for religious observations online.
"The Russians will be staging provocations on Easter Sunday," he said. "Save your life, stay at home! I appeal to the residents of Luhansk region remain in the region and who have already been evacuated. There are almost no surviving churches left in Luhansk region; they were destroyed by Russia. Churches that were subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate [of the Orthodox Church] were attacked by the 'Russian World.'"
Many Ukrainians celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar, with Easter Sunday falling this year on April 24. Haidai recommended Easter celebrations be attended online.
"The Russians can take advantage of our customs and stage terror during one of the most important Christian holidays," he said. "If they are ordered to attack churches on Easter, they will not stop. The Russians will try to do so, I’m sure. So it is better to stay at home, do not risk your life. Let's celebrate Easter online. People can join the Easter services remotely through TV and online broadcasts."
The head of the Sumy regional military administration in northern Ukraine earlier this week urged local residents to attend virtual Easter services amid similar warnings.
8:59 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
Former MSNBC analyst fighting in Ukraine explains why he's willing to die in the country
Malcolm Nance, a former national security analyst for MSNBC who is now volunteering to defend Ukraine against Russia, says he would be willing to die in the country during the war.
"I spent my entire life willing to die for all the democratic values that we espouse in the United States. Our constitution is the bedrock of many other countries striving for democracy. So, yes, I'm here to put my body between the innocent people of Ukraine and the Russian aggression that we're seeing here," he told CNN.
With his own career and his family's spent in the armed forces, he says he believes in defending democracy and sees it being threatened in Ukraine "on a strategic scale."
"Ukraine is now involved with a nation that has sworn they would eliminate it as a culture, as a language, as a people," the former Naval intelligence officer said Wednesday. "This isn't a joke to the people here in the international legion."
The international legion is a group made up of thousands of foreign nationals who have volunteered to fight with Ukraine and defend its territory as Russia invades. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other US officials have warned Americans not to travel to the Ukraine to fight in the war, encouraging them instead to help support NGOs that are working to provide humanitarian assistance.
From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Nathan Hodge in Lviv
The mayor of Mariupol on Wednesday called on residents of the besieged city to evacuate along a corridor announced earlier in the day by Ukraine's deputy prime minister.
Evacuation would begin at 2 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) at a designated central meeting point, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said in a statement released by the city council. Additional boarding locations would be available near the Azovstal steel factory — a bastion of Ukrainian military defense — and a shopping mall.
The evacuation column, he said, would proceed west from Mariupol toward the Russian-held city of Berdiansk and then onward through the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia via Tokmak.
“Dear people of Mariupol, during these long and incredibly difficult days you survived in inhumane conditions," he said. "You were in an information vacuum without access to any information. You may have heard different things. But I want you to know the main thing — they are waiting for you in Zaporizhzhia. It's safe there."
Boichenko said 200,000 Mariupol residents had been able to leave the city and were now safe. The city had a prewar population of over 400,000, and Ukrainian authorities have accused Russia of forcing thousands of other residents into separatist-held and Russian territory. He urged citizens with relatives in Mariupol to spread the word about evacuation points.
8:33 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
US defense secretary being regularly briefed on any potential Russian nuclear moves, officials say
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is being briefed two or three times a week by the top US general who oversees US nuclear weapons and defenses, according to multiple defense officials.
The US has not seen any indication Russia has made any moves to prepare nuclear weapons for use during the war, but two sources familiar with recent intelligence assessments told CNN that US officials are more concerned about the threat of Russia using them than at any time since the Cold War.
The sources stressed, however, that it is still unlikely Russian President Vladimir Putin would use any kind of nuclear weapon and one of the sources put the chances of use at around 1%.
Adm. Charles Richard, head of the US Strategic Command, is providing Austin and other top Pentagon leaders with a highly classified operation and intelligence update on the status of Russia's arsenal and any moves that might cause concern, according to the defense officials.
It includes input from the intelligence community which closely monitors statements from Putin and other senior Russian leaders. The officials emphasized that if there are any sudden developments in between scheduled meetings, Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley would be quickly briefed before updating the White House.
Monitoring any possible nuclear activity has always been a high priority for the Pentagon but the urgency of efforts increased shortly after Russia launched its invasion in February when Putin put the country's deterrence forces, including Moscow's nuclear weapons, onto the highest state of alert.
On Tuesday, Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pushed back on a warning from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a CNN interview last week that Russia could be prepared to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, stressing that Russia historically has been against the use of such weapons.
The escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine remains a central focus, as Russian forces continue their siege of Mariupol.
A port city said to be of critical strategic importance, Mariupol's fate rests on its Azovstal iron and steel plant, which remains under the control of Ukrainian forces despite relentless Russian attacks.
Officials say hundreds of civilians are sheltering in the basements of the plant, and a Mariupol police official told CNN that food and water supplies were dwindling amid the heavy bombardment.
A corridor has been agreed on with Russia for evacuation of women, children and the elderly from Mariupol, according to the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister, but Russian forces are reported to be attempting an advance towards a city that forms part of the route.
Here are the latest developments in the Russia-Ukraine conflict:
Siege of Mariupol continues: Despite weeks of heavy attacks as Russia attempts to "close the circle" around Mariupol, Ukrainians continue to defend the city. However conditions may soon worsen, with a Ukrainian military commander telling CNN from one of the remaining holdouts that they may have "only a few days or even hours left."
Steel plant "completely surrounded": Ukrainian troops and civilians remain trapped in Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant under heavy Russian bombardment. An estimated 1,000 civilians, including women, children and the elderly were sheltering inside the plant, Myhailo Vershynin, chief of the Mariupol patrol police, told CNN earlier this week. The commander of Ukraine's 36th Separate Marine Brigade, Maj. Serhii Volyna, told CNN by phone Tuesday evening that the plant was "completely surrounded" and requested international assistance in evacuating hundreds of troops and civilians.
Evacuation corridor for Mariupol agreed: Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Wednesday that a corridor had been agreed on with Russia for the evacuation of women, children and the elderly from Mariupol. She said the convoy was set to move from the besieged city toward Manhush and then onward through the Russian-held city of Berdyansk, then north toward the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia.
Russian forces attempt advance on corridor city: Zaporizhzhia, part of the evacuation corridor, is in the direction of an attempted advance by Russian forces, the city's Regional Council said Wednesday. As fighting intensifies across the country's east, the council said that the Russian military was trying to advance "in the direction" of Zaporizhzhia "but suffers losses and focuses its main efforts on maintaining the occupied frontiers."
European officials highlight alleged war crimes: Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Tuesday that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is “comparable to the darkest pages in our European history” adding "that there can be no impunity for war crimes." On Wednesday, President of the European Council Charles Michel said that "history will not forget the war crimes" committed in Ukraine.
Russian billionaire blasts war: Russian billionaire Oleg Tinkov has blasted Russia's war in Ukraine, calling on the West to do more to "stop this massacre" in an Instagram post Tuesday. "I don't see a single beneficiary of this insane war," the founder of Tinkoff Bank wrote. Tinkov was among the 65 individuals and entities sanctioned by the United Kingdom for “supporting Russia's illegal invasion."
7:58 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
Germany will provide training and maintenance to Ukrainian military, foreign minister says
From CNN’s Benjamin Brown in London
Germany will provide training and maintenance to the Ukrainian military, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in Latvia Wednesday.
Baerbock said that while “other partners are now providing artillery,” Germany would “help with training and maintenance.” Baerbock said that Germany could not provide further weaponry as the country had no weapons it could “deliver quickly and without delay right now.”
Speaking at a news conference in Riga with her Latvian counterpart Edgars Rinkevics, Baerbock added that Germany had chosen not to make public all the weapons it had previously sent to Ukraine.
“We have supplied anti-tank weapons, Stingers [air defense systems] and many other weapons that we haven’t spoken about in public,” the foreign minister said.
9:38 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine, says UN refugee agency
From CNN‘s Benjamin Brown
More than five million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion in late February, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Wednesday.
In addition to the 5,012,708 registered refugees, at least seven million people have been internally displaced in Ukraine having been forced to flee their homes, according to the latest International Organization for Migration (IOM) report from early April.
The majority of those fleeing Ukraine have traveled to neighboring Poland, while others have arrived in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova, Russia and Belarus.
According to the UNHCR, 90% are women or children.