April 19, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Helen Regan, Sana Noor Haq, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, April 20, 2023
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8:32 p.m. ET, April 19, 2023

Surveillance law that's about to expire is vital to holding Russia accountable, US Justice official says

From CNN's Hannah Rabinowitz

US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, DC on Wednesday.
US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, DC on Wednesday. (Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The United States government has gained "vitally important" intelligence about the war in Ukraine from a surveillance law that allows the government to collect foreign communications without a warrant, US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Wednesday.

The law, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, enables the US government to obtain intelligence by targeting non-Americans overseas who are using US-based communications services.

"When it comes to this conflict and what Russia is doing in Ukraine, it has proved vitally important," Monaco said to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Section 702 "has helped us uncover gruesome atrocities in Ukraine, including the murder of noncombatants, the forced relocation of children from Russian-occupied Ukraine to Russia, and the detention of refugees fleeing violence by Russian personnel."

Monaco's comments come amid an ongoing battle over whether to reauthorize the law, which is set to sunset at the end of 2023. The law has previously garnered bipartisan backing, although that support has frayed over the past several years over scrutiny for alleged misuse.

The searches are governed by a set of internal rules and procedures designed to protect Americans' privacy and civil liberties, but critics say loopholes allow the program to look through the emails and other communications of American citizens — as opposed to foreign adversaries — without proper justification. 

Reauthorization imperative: However, Monaco said losing Section 702 would hamper the department's efforts to hold Russia accountable because the information the department has uncovered from the law "has helped us as a country and as a national security community galvanize accountability efforts regarding Ukraine by allowing us to confidently and accurately speak with the international community about Russian atrocities."

Monaco also raised concerns that there are other areas where the Justice Department lacks the resources or the authority to take stronger action against Russia.

She emphasized that while the department has "active investigations" into crimes perpetrated in the war and those cases "are moving just as fast as we can possibly move them," the department is hoping to work with Congress to give federal prosecutors criminal jurisdiction over "crimes against humanity" and "expanding the department's authority to prosecute acts of torture committed against US nationals abroad."

"We cannot — and we will not — let war criminals escape accountability for the aggression and atrocities they have committed in Ukraine," she added.

Monaco also told the Judiciary Committee that the US government is "leaving money on the table" to support Ukraine that the Justice Department has seized from Russian oligarchs.

According to Monaco, the department has seized more than half a billion dollars in assets from Russian oligarchs and people who support the Russian government and have evaded US sanctions. But the department is only able to seize and transfer Russian assets that came from certain types of sanctions evasion, Monaco said.

That means "millions" of dollars can't be transferred to the Ukrainian government for humanitarian efforts like repairing damage from the war, she said.

"We are leaving money on the table if we don't expand our ability to use the forfeited access that we gain from enforcement of our export control violations," Monaco said, adding that the DOJ wants "Congress to give us that authority so we can make the oligarchs pay for rebuilding Ukraine."

4:04 p.m. ET, April 19, 2023

Ukraine holds ground in Bakhmut and elsewhere in eastern Donetsk region as it gets more Western equipment 

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

Ukrainian soldiers fire towards Russian positions near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on April 18.
Ukrainian soldiers fire towards Russian positions near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on April 18. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

The Ukrainian military says its units are standing firm in the eastern city of Bakhmut and elsewhere in the Donetsk region amid heavy fighting.

Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov has welcomed the arrival of more foreign weaponry – amid growing speculation about when and where Ukraine might launch a counter-offensive.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the Ukrainian Land Forces, said Russia “is concentrating the largest number of its forces in Bakhmut and wants to take full control of the city. However, the Defense Forces are holding back the enemy's offensive in dynamic battles, inflicting significant losses on them.”

Besides Bakhmut, fighting is heaviest along the Donetsk front in Lyman, Avdiivka and Mariinka, according to the Ukrainian military's General Staff.

In the Lyman sector, to the northeast of Bakhmut, the enemy “conducted unsuccessful offensives near the southern outskirts of Kreminna,” the Ukranian military said. And the Russians, it claimed, made no progress in the Avdiivka area, which President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Tuesday.

“In the Mariinka sector, our defenders repelled numerous enemy attacks in the areas of Mariinka and Pobieda,” the Ukrainian military said.

Further south in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson sectors, it reported Russian shelling of more than 30 settlements. But unlike in Donetsk, Russian forces in these areas are in defensive mode.

The Ukrainian military asserted that Russian occupation “authorities” continue to set up military hospitals behind the front lines – the latest being in the Luhansk village of Kabychivka.

More US, French and German hardware arrives

While Ukrainian units hold their ground, Ukraine continues to receive Western equipment for both offensive and defensive units, including French armored vehicles (AMX-10 RC) and US Patriot missile defense systems.

Defense Minister Reznikov said that “building a multi-level air and missile defense system as soon as possible is our priority. This is to protect peaceful cities, critical infrastructure, and our people in the rear and at the front. Patriot systems create a capability that did not exist before — to defeat ballistic targets.”

Recently leaked US military documents indicate the Ukrainians were rapidly depleting or had exhausted some categories of anti-air munitions.

Reznikov also welcomed another IRIS-T from Germany – a highly effective system for combatting cruise missiles. 

But, he said, “We need more platforms of various levels and ammunition for them. We need more man-portable air defense systems.”

Reznikov’s deputy — Oleksandr Pavliuk — later confirmed that “Patriot air defense systems from the United States, the Netherlands and Germany arrived to Ukraine.”

4:01 p.m. ET, April 19, 2023

US State Department announces $325 million in new assistance for Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference on April 18.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference on April 18. (The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images)

The United States is pledging an additional $325 million security assistance package to Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday.

The package “includes more ammunition for U.S.-provided HIMARS and artillery rounds, as well as anti-armor systems, small arms, logistics support vehicles, and maintenance support essential to strengthening Ukraine’s defenders on the battlefield," Blinken said in a statement.

The aid will help Ukraine defend itself against Russia, he said.

"Russia could end its war today. Until Russia does, the United States and our allies and partners will stand united with Ukraine for as long as it takes," the statement said.

3:42 p.m. ET, April 19, 2023

Ukraine's prosecutor general says his office has registered about 80,000 incidents of potential war crimes

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin testifies before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington, DC, on April 19.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin testifies before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington, DC, on April 19. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin told US lawmakers Wednesday that his office has registered around 80,000 incidents of potential war crimes, and to date has convicted 31 Russians for war crimes in Ukrainian courts.

Kostin told lawmakers in the House Foreign Affairs Committee that his office has also identified 310 potential perpetrators of the crimes, and has “finished cases against 152 potential war criminals."

He said some of the cases “are held in absentia because we have identified the perpetrators, we have full set of evidences, but we can't wait if we someday will capture them, but the procedure of cases in absentia is a little bit longer because of procedural limitations.”

Kostin urged the international community to share intelligence information to help aid his office’s work in convicting alleged war criminals, noting that they have identified thousands more but they do not have complete evidence to convict those alleged criminals.

1:21 p.m. ET, April 19, 2023

Biden administration to announce additional Ukraine security assistance, including ammunition

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House on April 19.
Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House on April 19. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Biden administration is set to announce additional security assistance for Ukraine, marking the 36th drawdown of aid amid Russia’s ongoing war. 

The package is expected to be announced by the Pentagon and the State Department on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

The security assistance is "part of our ongoing efforts to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia's brutal invasion,” Jean-Pierre said.

 “The package will include more ammunition for US-provided HIMARS rocket systems and anti-armor systems, as well as additional artillery rounds. The United States will continue to work with our allies and partners to help Ukraine defend itself to defend its democracy and protect its people,” she added. 

Jean-Pierre did not say how much the assistance will cost.

12:29 p.m. ET, April 19, 2023

Ukrainian teen forcibly sent to Russia and issued new birth certificate, according to his representative

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

A 16-year-old Ukrainian was forcibly sent to Russia "for vacation" and was placed with a family who attempted to indoctrinate him with pro-Russian propaganda, a representative for the teen told the US House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee.

Last month, the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and another top Russian official, Maria Lvova-Belova, for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the representative told lawmakers that 16-year-old Roman, who is an orphan, left his school after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and walked 60 kilometers (about 37 miles), all while allegedly being threatened by Russian soldiers along the way. After he reached his destination — a village in Donetsk — Russians occupied that village as well, and Roman was put in a local hospital with other children, the representative said.

"At that hospital, he was notified that he will now have a different family," his representative said via a translator. "The occupation authorities ignored the fact and his words that he wanted his brother or sister to be his legal representatives because he had them there."

The representative said he was then sent to another hospital in Donetsk, issued a new birth certificate on behalf of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, and then was sent to Russia "for a vacation." Once there, Roman and other Ukrainian children were visited by Lvova-Belova, who told them they would be adopted, which the children protested. They were instead sent to a boarding school, the representative said.

"Eventually, they found a new family for Roman," the representative said. "They tried to reshape his mind. … They made him watch propaganda programs on TV."

His communication with his peers was restricted, his movements were tracked through his cell phone, and they "forced him to say that he liked his new family and his new life," she said. 

"He was forced to obtain a passport of the Russian Federation, but then immediately they took it away from him, saying that they will process papers for adoption," she said.

Roman was able to make his way back to Ukraine with the help of volunteers from the country, the representative said.

More background: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said there have been 16,000 forced deportations of Ukrainian children, but that number could be higher.

The Russian government doesn’t deny taking Ukrainian children and has made their adoption by Russian families a centerpiece of propaganda. According to Lvova-Belova’s office, Ukrainian children have been sent to live in institutions and with foster families in 19 different Russian regions.

12:13 p.m. ET, April 19, 2023

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

From CNN staff

Moscow battered parts of eastern Ukraine with a fresh round of strikes on Wednesday, in a region that has been the site of some of the most intense fighting since the war began.

Catch up on the latest developments in the war:

  • Shelling in Bakhmut: Russia launched 60 air strikes in the past 24 hours, especially in and around the beleaguered eastern city of Bakhmut, according to the Ukrainian military. Further south, Moscow bombarded the southern city of Odesa with Iranian-made "Shahed" drones.
  • Russian troop losses in Bakhmut are high, Ukrainian official says: Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar says Russian losses in the battered eastern city are several times higher than Ukrainian ones, while conceding that Moscow’s troops have been advancing in some areas of the city. She added: "For them [the Russians], this is probably one of the most expensive operations because it has already cost a lot of equipment and weapons."
  • Weapons in transit: Germany dispatched a Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine. And in southern Spain, six Leopard 2 tanks arrived at a port for shipping to Ukraine, as the US and Western allies send weaponry to bolster Kyiv's forces.
  • South Korea-Russia relations: The Kremlin says South Korea has taken an “unfriendly position” toward Russia over the war, after the country's leader signaled it could send military aid to Kyiv in a major shift that would see Seoul changing its stance against arming Ukraine for the first time.
  • Testing defenses in Zaporizhzhia: Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian-installed council in Zaporizhzhia, said a group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces "tried to probe" Russian defenses in the area, adding that it is unusual for Kyiv to do so during the night.
  • Ukrainian grain imports: The European Union is preparing an additional $109.3 million package to help farmers combat increased imports of Ukrainian grain, which had sparked widespread protests from workers suffering financial blows.
  • Kremlin critic loses appeal: Ilya Yashin lost his appeal on Wednesday, with Moscow’s city court ruling to uphold his 8-and-a-half year sentence in jail for discrediting the Russian army. Speaking in court, Yashin said he was guilty of "fulfilling [his] duty of a Russian politician and patriot, of speaking the truth about this war, in particular, about the crimes committed by Putin’s troops in the city of Bucha."
  • Russian regions cancel Victory Day celebrations: Several Russian regions have canceled their May 9 Victory Day parades and other celebrations, citing security concerns over organizing large gatherings. The Kremlin said the main parade at the Red Square in Moscow is still due to go ahead, with enhanced security measures in place.
  • Ukrainian woman recounts horrors to US Congress: A Ukrainian woman from Kherson recounted to US House of Representatives lawmakers on Wednesday how she was beaten at the hands of Russian forces earlier this year. Lyubov, 57, whose last name was withheld and face was not shown, said she was taken to what she called a "torture chamber" and held for five days, where she was beaten, forced to undress, cut with a knife, threatened with rape and murder, and "forced ... to dig my own grave."
  • US defense secretary confident Sweden will join NATO soon: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday that he is “confident” Sweden will be welcomed as a new member of NATO by July.  “I join the other 30 ministers of defense in the alliance and I know that they feel the same way,” Austin said, speaking alongside Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson in Stockholm.
1:11 p.m. ET, April 19, 2023

Russian soldiers "forced me to dig my own grave": Ukrainian woman tells US lawmakers about torture

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Lyubov speaks to US House of Representatives lawmakers on Wednesday, April 19.
Lyubov speaks to US House of Representatives lawmakers on Wednesday, April 19. (Pool)

A Ukrainian woman from Kherson recounted to US House of Representatives lawmakers on Wednesday how she was beaten at the hands of Russian forces earlier this year. 

Lyubov, 57, whose last name was withheld and face was not shown, worked as an accountant and lived under Russian occupation for more than a year. 

“In January of this year, they came for me,” she told the House Foreign Affairs Committee via a translator. Lyubov said that Russian soldiers forced their way into her house, claiming they were looking for weapons, and confiscated "a map of Ukraine, the flag of Ukraine, souvenir magnets with Ukraine images, and a token with blue and yellow ribbon symbolizing victims of World War II."

“Those were their evidence against me,” she said.

She was taken to what she called a "torture chamber" and held for five days, where she was beaten, forced to undress, cut with a knife, and threatened with rape and murder.

"I also was taken out into the field and they beat me again and they were putting a handgun next to my head and shooting as if, as if executing me," she recounted. "Also forced me to dig my own grave."

She said she saw other people being tortured, "taken out with black plastic bags on their heads."

"I worry so much for them. I would love to find them one day but I am not sure if they’re still alive," she said.

Lyubov said the soldiers let her go, “but they said they will come back.”

When she returned to her house, it had been looted, and they had taken away medals that belonged to her father.

She was able to flee Kherson and made her way to the United States to be with her daughter, but she hopes be able to return to Ukraine.

"I'm telling you my story, and there are other people who are getting robbed and raped and beaten in those territories now," she said. "These terrible crimes need to be stopped."

Documenting atrocities: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights catalogued thousands of cases of civilian casualties along with cases of torture, rape and arbitrary detention in the Ukraine conflict over six months, from August 2022 to January 2023, calling the situation "dire."

State of control: Russia currently occupies areas of the southern Kherson region, while Moscow's troops were pushed out of the city of Kherson and the western part of the region in November 2022.

10:59 a.m. ET, April 19, 2023

Ukrainian official warns civilians in occupied areas of heavier surveillance by Russian forces

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

A pedestrian crosses a street in the city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, on November 24.
A pedestrian crosses a street in the city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, on November 24. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

As speculation intensifies about where and when a Ukrainian counteroffensive may take place, the mayor of one town in occupied Zaporizhzhia has warned residents to be aware of tougher scrutiny by Russian forces.

“Russian military are increasingly conducting tough checks on the streets. They also enter apartments. They are particularly interested in people with Ukrainian passports,” which was most of the inhabitants, Enerhodar Mayor Dmytro Orlov claimed on Telegram.

The town is adjacent to the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power plant (ZNPP). Orlov himself is not in Enerhodar, and his remarks cannot be verified. 

Russian forces check phones for "Ukrainian channels, patriotic photos," call the Ukrainian currency hryvnia a "foreign currency" and suspect everyone of "illegal currency transactions,” Orlov added.

Additionally, Ukrainian officials and Western analysts have said that Russian forces have strengthened their defenses in the Zaporizhzhia region with extensive use of minefields.

Last week, a Russian mine exploded near the engine room of a reactor at ZNPP, according to Ukraine’s state nuclear energy company Energoatom. Orlov also claimed that the minefields are also near Enerhodar.

Over the weekend Oleksii Dmytrashkivskyi, a military spokesman in the east, said the Russians were “trying to take children out from the occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia region."

According to posts on an unofficial Enerhodar telegram group in recent days, the evacuation of children has already begun.

One post said: “Information about forcible evacuation is being spread in local schools and kindergartens in Enerhodar. The evacuations has already begun and will last until April 20. They plan to take children to Crimea using ZNPP buses, thus allegedly authorising the theft of ZNPP vehicles used for the staff transfer to work.”

CNN is unable to verify the claim.

The Russian-backed local authorities in Zaporizhzhia denied that there are plans to organize the evacuation of children from the town of Enerhodar.

In a Telegram post on Wednesday, authorities said the town’s civil military administration had reported “false information about the evacuation of children.”

“We inform you that: there is no evacuation. Do not succumb to provocations.”

The Russian-backed local government was responding to the circulation on social media of a poster advising that children in Enerhodar would be evacuated.

It said the text referred to a Department of Education and Youth, which does not exist.