April 22, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Ivana Kottasová, Adrienne Vogt, Tori B. Powell and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 8:14 a.m. ET, April 23, 2023
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12:53 p.m. ET, April 22, 2023

Russia to expel more than 20 German diplomats, foreign ministry says

From CNN’s Alex Hardie and Darya Tarasova

Russia’s foreign ministry said Saturday it has decided to expel German diplomats from Russia in what it called a tit-for-tat move, after the ministry claimed German authorities decided to further expel Russian diplomatic employees in Germany. 

More than 20 German diplomats are being expelled, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in an interview on the Zvezda TV Telegram channel Saturday.

Sources from the German Federal Foreign Office told CNN that in recent weeks they had been "in contact with the Russian side on the presence of our respective missions abroad, with the aim of reducing the Russian intelligence presence in Germany."

"Today's departure of a certain number of Russian embassy staff is related to this," the German foreign ministry sources added. 

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that it would be significantly limiting the maximum number of employees of German diplomatic missions in Russia "as a reaction to Berlin's hostile actions." 

The German ambassador to Russia was notified of the decision on April 5, according to the Russian foreign ministry statement. 

In April 2022, Germany expelled "a significant number" of Russian officials, and Russia expelled 40 German diplomats later that month.

12:20 p.m. ET, April 22, 2023

AP image of pregnant woman after strike hit Mariupol hospital wins photo of the year award

From CNN’s Alex Hardie and Sugam Pokharel in London

Iryna Kalinina is carried from a maternity hospital that was damaged during a Russian airstrike in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 9, 2022.
Iryna Kalinina is carried from a maternity hospital that was damaged during a Russian airstrike in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 9, 2022. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

A photograph of an injured pregnant woman being carried from a maternity hospital damaged by shelling in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol has won the World Press Photo of the Year award.

The photo – taken by Evgeniy Maloletka for the Associated Press on March 9, 2022 – was widely reported around the world, including by CNN, and became emblematic of Russia’s aggression against its neighbor.

The woman in the image – named by World Press Photo as Iryna Kalinina – and her baby both died, a surgeon who treated her confirmed days after the photograph was taken.

Maloletka is a war photographer, journalist and filmmaker from Berdiansk, Ukraine, according to the World Press Photo Contest.

Members of the jury said the image "captures the absurdity and horror of war" and "rises as a deeply painful historical fact."

"By giving the image a platform, the jury hopes that the world will stop and acknowledge the intolerable realities of this war and consider the future of Ukraine," the jury added.

Global jury chair Brent Lewis, a New York Times photo editor and co-founder of Diversify Photo, said:

"The haunting image from the siege of Mariupol was unanimously chosen as the winner of the World Press Photo of the Year. With the vote being decided on the first anniversary of the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the jury mentioned the power of the image and the story behind it, as well as the atrocities it shows."

The attack on the key southeastern Ukrainian city came after it had been besieged by Russian forces, with trapped residents forced to shelter underground, melt snow for water and scavenge for food.

CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych contributed reporting to this post.

11:42 a.m. ET, April 22, 2023

Watch: Missile narrowly misses CNN team in town where Ukrainians have been forced underground

Residents remain sheltered underground in the southeast Ukrainian city of Orikhiv, facing a constant Russian onslaught that makes it too dangerous to return to the surface.

CNN's chief international security correspondent Nick Paton Walsh and his team narrowly escaped a missile strike while reporting in the area this week.

The crew was leaving Orikhiv after receiving a warning of incoming strikes. As they drove, a missile landed between the armored car carrying Paton Walsh and a trailing vehicle with his producer.

After a few tense moments, the two teams were able to communicate via radio and left the area safely.

Escape from Russia's onslaught isn't a practical reality for many Ukrainians, however. Paton Walsh and his team visited an underground shelter where residents had access to the only electricity and running water in town.

Fighting could only intensify near Orikhiv if Ukraine launches an expected counteroffensive this spring. It's a key territory for potentially cutting off Crimea — which Russia has claimed as annexed since 2014 — from the rest of Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly vowed to take back Crimea from Russian rule.

12:57 p.m. ET, April 22, 2023

Russia and Ukraine are trading positions in the grueling fight for Bakhmut, Ukrainian commanders say

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar in the direction of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on April 20.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar in the direction of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on April 20. (Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russia's regular forces and fighters from the Wagner private military company are launching nonstop assaults on the eastern city of Bakhmut, according to Ukrainian commanders on the front lines.

The situation there "remains extremely tense," Yurii Fedorenko, the commander of a company in Ukraine's 92nd Mechanized Brigade, told Ukrainian television.

"The fighting is extremely difficult," Fedorenko said. "The enemy is using all available attack and assault potential, both in terms of equipment and manpower.”

Russian paratroopers and special forces have joined the assault, and they've had some tactical success, according to the commander. Russia uses onslaughts from aircraft to "literally destroy" Ukrainian positions, then moves forward to fill up the vacuum, Fedorenko said.

But, the commander continued, Kyiv's troops are conducting "active defense" and retaking some positions, "both on the outskirts of the town and in the town itself, pushing the enemy away from the communication routes and driving them out of their positions."

Some positions change hands back and forth through the course of battle.

Another officer, Lt. Roman Konon, said Russian forces are pushing ahead with unprecedented force, destroying everything in their path. Each side is suffering casualties, Konon said.

Chipping away at Russia's forces: Fedorenko endorsed the grinding, monthslong efforts to defend Bakhmut, claiming "the enemy suffers much greater losses during the assault than the Ukrainian forces."

And if Ukraine allowed Russia to achieve its objectives in Bakhmut, the commander said it would free up "an extremely large number of forces and means, which are quickly redeployed to other areas of priority and importance to the enemy."

That could include the eastern cities of Marinka or Lyman.

As long as Russia is tied up fighting in Bakhmut, Ukraine is able to "destroy this strike and assault potential of the enemy," Fedorenko said.

"Sooner or later, we will have to regain every centimeter, every meter of Bakhmut — which means everything that we can hold here and now, needs to be held now," the commander said.

This is the current map of control:

10:12 a.m. ET, April 22, 2023

About 3,000 people evacuated after bomb found in Russian city of Belgorod, days after explosion

From CNN’s Darya Tarasova in London

Around 3,000 people in the Russian city of Belgorod were evacuated Saturday after a bomb was found near the area where a Russian warplane dropped an explosive late Thursday, Russian state media TASS reported, citing local emergency services.

The evacuees cleared out of 17 residential buildings as explosives specialists assessed the ammunition found Saturday, according to TASS. Officials eventually said there was no danger of explosion.

Belgorod’s regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on his Telegram channel that the bomb has been removed from the area and people are gradually returning to their apartments.

The explosion on Thursday left a crater about 20 meters (65 feet) across, blowing a car onto a roof and damaging buildings, in what state media called an "accidental" or "emergency" release of air ordnance by a Russian fighter jet.

Belgorod is 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) north of the border with Ukraine. 

9:40 a.m. ET, April 22, 2023

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to meet UN chief on Monday in New York, according to state media

From CNN's Sarah Dean and Uliana Pavlova 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in New York on Monday, Russian state media TASS reports, citing Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya. 

Almost all members of Lavrov’s delegation to the UN Security Council were issued visas to attend, Nebenzya told state television Russia 24, TASS reported Thursday. He said visas had not yet been issued to journalists. 

Earlier this week, Nebenzya said Lavrov is set to discuss the Black Sea grain deal with Guterres during his visit to New York.

Russia took over the presidency of the Security Council on April 1, in what Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called "the world’s worst April Fool’s joke."

8:55 a.m. ET, April 22, 2023

Ukrainian military says it's holding off constant attacks on two eastern cities

From CNN’s Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv and Alex Hardie

The situation in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Avdiivka and Marinka “remains very difficult," with Kyiv's troops holding off constant Russian attacks, a Ukrainian military spokesperson said Saturday.

“Shelling there does not stop around the clock,” the official, Oleksii Dmytrashkivskyi, said on Ukrainian national TV. “Thanks to the good work of our artillery, none of the enemy's attacks were successful.”

Russian forces have “stormed” Ukrainian positions 24 times in the area during the last day, Dmytrashkivskyi said. He claimed the assaults were “not successful” and Moscow's troops have retreated each time.

Russia has launched fewer attacks lately on a third town, Vuhledar, which is located further southwest of Marinka, according to the spokesperson.

Some background: Avdiivka, which is home to a large smelting plant, has been battered by heavy fighting for months. The town is largely destroyed, though about 1,800 civilians still remain in the town despite efforts to persuade them to leave, according to local officials.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Avdiivka during a Tuesday tour of the frontline region.

The town is surrounded by Russian troops from three sides, but Ukrainian forces still control the routes to the west.

8:25 a.m. ET, April 22, 2023

Hundreds of captured Ukrainians have returned from Russian captivity. Some disappeared without a trace

From CNN's Pauline Lockwood

The Ukrainian government is demanding the return of every Ukrainian captured by Russia, a top military official said Saturday.

"If there is at least a small hope that this person is alive, we will demand from (Russia) that this person returns home. The work will not stop until we return everyone, the living and the dead," said Bohdan Okhrimenko, an official from the Coordination Headquarters on the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Speaking at an event in Kyiv, Okhrimenko said some 2,230 Ukrainians have been brought home from Russian captivity since the beginning of its full-scale invasion.

Around 20% of those people had been reported missing, according to Okhrimenko. He said there had been "no confirmation, no evidence” that these people were in captivity, so they were designated missing until they were found.

Oleh Kotenko, the Ukrainian commissioner for missing persons, said Saturday:

In times of war, we have to do everything we can to make sure that families (of missing persons) know that the state cares about them."

The commissioner's office is tasked with searching for people, analyzing information and communicating with relatives of those who are missing, Kotenko said. The office includes a call center as well as several on-the-ground teams that are searching through recently liberated areas.

8:10 a.m. ET, April 22, 2023

Some Ukrainians who fled Russia’s war ended up in Siberia. It’s unclear if or when they’ll return home

From CNN's Scott McLean, Lauren Kent, Roman Tymotsko and Oscar Featherstone

People who fled contested territory in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region disembark at a railway station in the Russian port city of Nakhodka. Many had no other option than to enter Russia.
People who fled contested territory in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region disembark at a railway station in the Russian port city of Nakhodka. Many had no other option than to enter Russia. Photo: Vitaliy Ankov/Sputnik/AP

As Russia’s war on Ukraine grinds into a second year, some Ukrainians who fled the fighting and ended up in far-flung parts of Russia are still unsure if they will ever be able to return home — and whether they would be welcome when they get there.

In the absence of a reliable evacuation corridor to Ukrainian-held territory, going to Russia was the only option for many people.

Natalia was one of them. She fled the fighting in Ukraine’s southeastern city of Mariupol and crossed into Russia with her family.

From there, she and many other Ukrainians were encouraged by Russian authorities to take a 4,000-mile train journey east to the very edge of Siberia, to a coastal town called Nakhodka on the Sea of Japan, a stone’s throw from North Korea. It’s closer to Alaska than to the front lines.

Ukraine describes these refugees as forcibly deported, though Natalia says no one forced her to leave. “It was our decision,” she told CNN by phone from Russia’s far east, where she has resettled since arriving last spring.

Over the course of many months, CNN has managed to reach a handful of Ukrainians like Natalia. Read their story here.