April 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Travis Caldwell, Andrew Raine, George Ramsay, Lianne Kolirin, Ivana Kottasová, Adrienne Vogt and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, April 22, 2022
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5:37 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

What we know about the situation in Mariupol

Service members of pro-Russian troops sit atop of an armoured vehicle en route to the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 17.
Service members of pro-Russian troops sit atop of an armoured vehicle en route to the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 17. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Putin has declared that Russian forces have “liberated” Mariupol, but the situation in the besieged port city remains confusing as Ukrainian officials have denied that the city has fallen to Russia.

As the barrage of Mariupol continues, the Azovstal steel plant has become one of the last significant holdouts of Ukrainian forces.

The sprawling industrial complex is sheltering hundreds of soldiers and civilians.

Evacuations: After numerous failed attempts to establish safe corridors, four evacuation buses managed to leave Mariupol on Wednesday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Thursday.

"They spent the night in Berdiansk and are now heading to Vasylivka," Vereshchuk said in a statement on Telegram. 

However, officials say tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in Mariupol.

The co-commander of one of the Ukrainian units encircled in the port said the city remains under heavy bombardment. 

Maksym Zhorin, co-commander of Ukraine's Azov regiment, said in televised remarks that Russian forces "have not stopped shelling areas of Mariupol" amid negotiations on so-called "green corridors" for evacuation from the city, limiting the number of people who can be evacuated. 

Call for weapons for Ukraine: The vast majority of the southern city has been either destroyed or badly damaged. Photos and drone footage show there is hardly a street left untouched by the war, while the relentless bombing has made it uninhabitable.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday that the country's forces don’t have enough "serious and heavy" weapons to defeat the Russian army in 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.” 

He added:

“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 fate of the “few thousand” Ukrainian civilians who fled the besieged city of Mariupol through evacuation corridors to territories under Russian occupation is not currently known. 

Two top Ukrainian officials said they are ready to head to Mariupol to negotiate the evacuation of soldiers and civilians, according to a captain with Ukraine's Azov Regiment.

5:06 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Putin orders blockade of Azovstal "so a fly cannot get through"

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Nathan Hodge

The Azovstal Iron and Steel Works dominates the skyline above ruined apartment buildings in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 19.
The Azovstal Iron and Steel Works dominates the skyline above ruined apartment buildings in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 19. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the effort by Russian forces to capture Mariupol a "success," but ordered Russian forces to halt outside the city's besieged Azovstal steel factory and blockade it "so that a fly can't get through."

In a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin said: "Completing the military task of liberating Mariupol is a great achievement, I congratulate you."

Ukrainian forces still hold the Azovstal plant in the southeastern port city and Shoigu told Putin that Russian forces would need three or four days to take over the factory.

Putin then said the Russian forces "must think ... about preserving the life and health of our soldiers and officers," adding:

There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities. Block off this industrial area so a fly cannot get through."

"Yes sir," Shoigu replied.

Putin said that Russia would offer the Ukrainian defenders still in the plant to lay down arms.

"The Russian side guarantees their lives and decent treatment in accordance with the relevant international legal acts," he said. "All those who are injured will receive qualified medical assistance."

Ukrainian commanders on the ground have said Russian forces have not honored agreements to open humanitarian corridors or enforce ceasefires and have continued to bombard the city. 

The port city has been nearly completely destroyed by weeks of Russian bombardment, and tens of thousands of civilians still await evacuation, according to Ukrainian officials.

In a statement on Thursday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk urged the Russian side to open an evacuation corridor from Azovstal. "There are about 1,000 civilians and 500 wounded servicemen there now," she said.

"They all need to be evacuated out of Azovstal today! I call on world leaders and the international community to focus their efforts on Azovstal now. It is a key point and a key moment for the humanitarian efforts now!"
5:36 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

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

Efforts to evacuate Mariupol continue, but the besieged southeastern port city remains under Russian bombardment, according to the Ukrainians.

Here are the latest developments on Russia's war in Ukraine:

  • Azovstal steel plant: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that there is no need to storm the industrial area around the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and that those who choose to surrender should be treated in accordance with international conventions. Earlier Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin Russian forces would need three to four days to take over the plant.
  • Mariupol: Four evacuation buses managed to leave the besieged city of Mariupol on Wednesday through an evacuation corridor, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Thursday. However, the co-commander of one of the Ukrainian units encircled in the port said Thursday that Russian forces continued their bombardment of the city amid negotiations to evacuate civilians. 
  • Eastern offensive: Serhii Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional military administration, told CNN on Wednesday that 80% of Luhansk's territory is under Russian control amid a major battle for the control of the Donbas region.
  • Heavy weapons shortage: The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his forces don’t have enough "serious and heavy" weapons to defeat the Russian army in Mariupol.
  • Russians take central Rubizhne: Videos on social media and verified by CNN show Russian forces in Ukraine's Luhansk region have taken central Rubizhne and the nearby village of Kreminna. The videos come after the regional military administrator said 80% of the Luhansk region is under Russian control.
  • Air force extra parts: 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. Without specifying which country provided the parts, the official said the US and other countries worked "to get them the parts they need to get them in the air."
  • More US help on way for Ukraine: The US will announce a new round of security assistance to Ukraine “in very short order,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. CNN previously reported the US is prepping another $800 million military assistance package.
  • Russia tests intercontinental ballistic missile: The Russian defense ministry said it had conducted a test launch of its Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile. The missile was fired from the Arkhangelsk region of northern Russia toward the Kura test site in Russia's far east. The US was notified ahead of the missile test and tracked it closely. “Such testing is routine,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.
  • G20 walkout: Finance ministers from multiple nations walked out of a closed-door G20 session in Washington, DC, when the Russian delegate began his prepared remarks, a person familiar with the session said. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen took part in the walkout, as did Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau along with other Western and European officials.
9:18 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Putin scraps plan to storm steel plant in Mariupol

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that there is no need to storm the industrial area around the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and those who choose to surrender should be treated in accordance with international conventions. 

"I believe the proposed storming of the industrial zone is no longer necessary," Putin told Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at a meeting at the Kremlin, according to state media. 

The industrial area, Putin told Shoigu, should be sealed and those remaining at the plant should once again be offered to surrender in exchange for their lives and a "dignified treatment." 

Putin also congratulated Shougu and the Russian military on taking control of the city of Mariupol. 

"Completing the military task of liberating Mariupol is a great achievement, I congratulate you," Putin said.

Ukrainian officials have denied that Mariupol has fallen to Russia.

3:58 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Russian defense minister tells Putin the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol could be taken in 3-4 days

From CNN's Radina Gigova

A satellite image shows an overview of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 9.
A satellite image shows an overview of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 9. (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that Russian forces would need 3-4 days to take over the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

At a meeting with Putin at the Kremlin, per Russian media, Shoigu said "the remaining nationalists and foreign battalions are securely blocked" at the Azovstal plant.

Some context: As the barrage of Mariupol continues, the plant is among the last significant holdouts of Ukrainian forces in the city and is sheltering hundreds of soldiers and civilians.

Two top Ukrainian officials said they are ready to head to Mariupol to negotiate the evacuation of soldiers and civilians, according to a captain with Ukraine's Azov Regiment.

3:55 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Analysis: How Putin rattles his "Satan II" nuclear saber to hide Russian failures in Ukraine war

Analysis from CNN's Brad Lendon

In this handout photo released by the Roscosmos Space Agency Press Service on April 20, the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile is launched from Plesetsk in Russia's northwest.
In this handout photo released by the Roscosmos Space Agency Press Service on April 20, the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile is launched from Plesetsk in Russia's northwest. (Roscosmos Space Agency Press Service/AP)

Vladimir Putin did his best to put a menacing spin on Russia's testing of a new intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday.

The Russian President said the successful launch of the "Sarmat" ICBM -- nicknamed the "Satan II" in the West and capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads as far as the continental United States -- would "give thought to those who are trying to threaten Russia."

But Western experts portrayed the test as "nuclear saber-rattling," saying the threat to the US or its allies was "extremely low" and suggesting Putin's real motivation was to distract his domestic audience from Russia's recent military failures, such as the sinking of its Black Sea flagship, the Moskva.

Read the full analysis:

3:15 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Russian shelling continues in Mariupol amid evacuation effort, military commander says

From CNN's Julia Presniakova and Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Smoke rises above the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works company in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 20.
Smoke rises above the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works company in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 20. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The co-commander of one of the Ukrainian units encircled in the port of Mariupol said Thursday that Russian forces continued their bombardment of the city amid negotiations to evacuate civilians. 

Maksym Zhorin, co-commander of Ukraine's Azov regiment, said in televised remarks that Russian forces "have not stopped shelling areas of Mariupol" amid negotiations on so-called "green corridors" for evacuation from the city, limiting the number of people who can be evacuated. 

"Think about it, there are more than 100,000 people in the city, some of them under rubble, some in basements," he said.
"Many of them are in the territory of Azovstal [steel factory], there are a lot of children, a lot of women, the elderly. And today, while agreeing on a green corridor, the Russians simply cynically fired on fortifications, on shelters where civilians were. So, of course, the Russians cannot be trusted in any case."

Two senior Ukrainian officials said Wednesday they were ready to meet their Russian counterparts to negotiate safe passage for civilians and Ukrainian troops holding out in the city. Zhorin expressed the hope that a third country could act as a guarantor for an evacuation agreement.

Ukrainian officials said they hoped they would be able to resume evacuations Thursday. 

"Today, indeed, a number of people were still able to find and get on buses, but they are still in uncontrolled territory," Zhorin said. "And we can consider this evacuation at least a little successful when Ukrainians, civilians, will be in the territory controlled by Ukraine. This has not happened so far."
2:39 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

4 buses departed Mariupol through evacuation corridor, Ukraine deputy PM says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Lviv

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk speaks with reporters in Kyiv on April 11.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk speaks with reporters in Kyiv on April 11. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Four evacuation buses managed to leave the besieged city of Mariupol on Wednesday through an evacuation corridor, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Thursday.

"They spent the night in Berdiansk and are now heading to Vasylivka," Vereshchuk said in a statement on Telegram. "We are waiting for them in Zaporizhzhia soon."

Some context: Early on Wednesday, Vereshchuk said an evacuation corridor had been agreed upon with the Russians for women, children and the elderly. And people were asked to gather departure on Shevchenko Boulevard near the Port City shopping mall at 2:00 p.m. local time.

However, officials said it did not proceed as hoped.

"Due to the lack of control over their own military on the ground, the occupiers were unable to ensure a proper ceasefire," Vereshchuk said Wednesday. "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."

According to officials, tens of thousands of civilians remain in Mariupol, which is encircled by Russian forces and has endured weeks of intense bombardment.

2:23 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Russia presses offensive in eastern Ukraine, regional military governor says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Lviv

Russian forces continued to press an offensive in eastern Ukraine, according to Serhii Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional military administration.

Haidai told CNN on Wednesday that 80% of Luhansk's territory is under Russian control amid a major battle for the control of the Donbas region.

"The enemy tried to entrench in the western and northwestern parts of Rubizhne, but failed," he said. "They carried out unsuccessful assaults in the direction of Novotoshkivske, the assault on Popasna continues.
"

Residential buildings in the towns of Rubizhne and Novodruzhesk were destroyed by Russian fire and that no food warehouses remained in Severodonetsk, he said. CNN is unable to confirm the details of the destruction described by Haidai.

"Much of the destruction caused by the Russian invasion in the last 24 hours is in Rubizhne and Novodruzhesk," he said. "People are receiving food only from humanitarian supplies."

"Six fires broke out in residential buildings in the region," he said, adding that they have been extinguished and five people were rescued.