April 24, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Joe Ruiz, Maureen Chowdhury, Mike Hayes, Simone McCarthy, Amy Woodyatt, Amir Vera, Helen Regan and Andrew Raine, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, April 25, 2022
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6:44 a.m. ET, April 24, 2022

Russian forces continued heavy shelling of Ukrainian cities on eve of Orthodox Easter celebrations, says ombudsman

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Russian forces continued heavy shelling of Ukrainian cities on the eve of Orthodox Easter celebrations, Liudmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian parliament's human rights ombudsman, said Sunday.

On the eve of one of the biggest Orthodox holidays, the Russian army continued to actively shell peaceful cities in Ukraine and kill civilians," she said.

Among the strikes Denisova reported were the shelling of the city of Kharkiv, which injured three policemen and one woman, and the shelling of a house in the village of Slatine in Kharkiv region, which killed two men.

Denisova said Russian strikes killed four civilians in the Donetsk region, and a further eight people in the Luhansk region. Three people working in a garden in Zaporizhzhia were killed by Russian artillery on Saturday, she said.

In Kherson region, where Ukrainian officials have warned of Russian preparations to stage a sham independence referendum, Denisova said the situation was "tense."

Russian forces "are shelling the settlements of the region and in the direction of neighboring regions," she said, adding: "Kherson region is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe."

6:31 a.m. ET, April 24, 2022

Russia is "trying to depopulate the east of Ukraine," says Zelensky administration adviser

From CNN’s Maddie Araujo and Isa Soares in Lviv, Ukraine

An adviser to President Zelensky's administration said Sunday that Russia was "trying to depopulate the east of Ukraine," amid heavy fighting there.

"I think the message they're sending is very clear," Tymofiy Mylovanov told CNN's Isa Soares in Lviv. "If you surrender, like Crimea in 2014, nothing is going to happen to you.
"If you resist, like Donbas, like the east of Ukraine, you'll be destroyed. (It) doesn’t matter if you're military or civilians. So the message Russia is sending is, 'surrender or be erased.'"

When asked about the hope Ukraine is still holding out for a visit by US President Joe Biden, Mylovanov said Biden should go to Kyiv since that would help demoralize Russian troops and further isolate Moscow.

Russia has revealed that the goal of its invasion is to take "full control" of southern Ukraine as well as the eastern Donbas region and to establish a land corridor connecting Russia to Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014.

Ukraine has "repelled numerous Russian assaults along the line of contact in the Donbas this week," according to an intelligence update from the UK's Ministry of Defence Sunday. 

Mylovanov, who is also president of the Kyiv School of Economics, said Ukraine needs long-range artillery from the U.S. to fight Russia.

He explained that "the terrain is different" in Donbas, so "the tactics of Russian forces (are) different." He added that financial assistance and military training is also needed.

6:14 a.m. ET, April 24, 2022

OSCE says several staff have been detained in eastern Ukraine

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is working to "facilitate the release" of several of its Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) members who have been "deprived of their liberty in Donetsk and Luhansk," it said Sunday.

"The OSCE is extremely concerned that a number of SMM national mission members have been deprived of their liberty in Donetsk and Luhansk," it said in a statement posted to Twitter. "The OSCE is using all available channels to facilitate the release of its staff."

Some context: The SMM is an unarmed civilian division of the OSCE, which is tasked with observing and reporting on conflict zones.

The mission has maintained a presence in Ukraine since 2014 -- at the request of the government -- following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of conflict in the Donbas region.

On March 31, the OSCE SMM’s mandate in Ukraine expired after Russia, which is one of the organization’s 57 participating states, blocked its extension.

The SMM has been operating in an administrative capacity in Ukraine to ensure the security and safety of its staff since April 1, but the OSCE has continued to report on violations of international law by Russian forces in Ukraine.

6:06 a.m. ET, April 24, 2022

It's just after 1 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he will meet top US officials in Kyiv on Sunday, as heavy fighting continues in the east and south of the country over Ukraine’s Easter weekend. 

The White House has not confirmed the visit, which Zelensky said Saturday would include US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Meanwhile, many Ukrainians are attempting to celebrate one of their most important holidays of the year, Orthodox Easter, two months after the country was thrust into a devastating war

Here’s what you need to know.

Expected visit: Zelensky said he was "expecting specific things and specific weapons" from world leaders who come to the country, after announcing that he would meet Blinken and Austin in Kyiv on Sunday.

The White House has declined to comment on the potential trip, which would be the first visit to Ukraine by top US officials since the war broke out.

Steel plant under attack: Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Russian forces were "continuously attacking" the encircled Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Easter Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed earlier this week that Russia forces had achieved the "liberation" of Mariupol, but ordered his forces to stop short of taking the Azovstal plant, which is the last major bastion of Ukrainian defense in the city. 

Podolyak said the Russian Federation "should think about the remnants of its reputation," urging Russia to announce an Easter truce in Mariupol, open an evacuation corridor and agree on a "special round of negotiations" for exchanging military forces in the city.

Ukraine successfully "repelled" numerous Russian assaults in Donbas: Ukraine has "repelled numerous Russian assaults along the line of contact in the Donbas this week," the UK Defense Ministry said in its latest intelligence update on Sunday. 

"Despite Russia making some territorial gains, Ukrainian resistance has been strong across all axes and inflicted significant cost on Russian forces," the assessment continued, without clarifying whether the resistance was being led by Ukrainian armed forces or civilian groups. 

Moscow’s plan: Russia revealed the goal of its invasion is to take "full control" of southern Ukraine as well as the eastern Donbas region and to establish a land corridor connecting Russia to Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014.

Humanitarian crisis: An evacuation corridor from the besieged southern city of Mariupol was "thwarted" by Russian forces on Saturday, according to a Ukrainian official. Ukrainian officials have said more than 100,000 people remain in the bombarded city, which the Russian government claims to control. Ukrainian fighters continue to hold out in the city's massive Azovstal steelworks, where civilians have sheltered for weeks and supplies are running low.

Forced deportations: Ukraine officials claimed on Saturday that Russia was forcibly deporting some Mariupol citizens to Primorsky Krai in Russia's Far East region, some 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) from Ukraine. In early April, Ukraine's deputy prime minister Iryna Vereschuk estimated that some 45,000 Ukrainian citizens had been forcibly deported to Russia since the war began.

Civilian conscription: Ukrainian intelligence has also accused Russia of planning to conscript Ukrainian civilians from the occupied regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, according to a Saturday UK military intelligence update. This would be in violation of international law, the UK Ministry of Defense statement said.

5:36 a.m. ET, April 24, 2022

Two children killed in Donetsk as home destroyed, regional governor says

From CNN's Chandler Thornton

Two children were killed in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk amid Russian fighting, according to the region's governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.

In a tweet posted on Sunday Kyrylenko said two girls, aged 5 and 14, died after their family home was destroyed "by Russian occupiers."

Russia has stepped up its offensive in the Donbas region in recent weeks, according to Ukrainian officials, with heavy fighting reported almost daily throughout the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

At least 184 children have been killed and 286 injured since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, according to the latest report from the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which recorded casualties up to 21 April.

5:54 a.m. ET, April 24, 2022

Russian forces "continuously attacking" Mariupol's encircled Azovstal steel plant, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Nathan Hodge in Lviv

The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine is seen on April 22.
The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine is seen on April 22. (Leon Klein/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Sunday that Russian forces were "continuously attacking" the encircled Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Easter Sunday.

"Orthodox Easter 2022. But right now, RF (the Russian Federation) is continuously attacking the Mariupol Azovstal," he said on Twitter.
"The place where our civilians and military are located is shelled with heavy air bombs and artillery. RF accumulates forces and equipment for the assault. Who gave the order 'not to storm'?"

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed earlier this week that Russia forces had achieved the "liberation" of Mariupol, but ordered his forces to stop short of taking the Azovstal plant, the last major bastion of Ukrainian defense in the city. 

"RF should think about the remnants of its reputation," Podolyak said, urging Russia to announce an Easter truce in Mariupol, open an evacuation corridor for civilians and agree on a "special round of negotiations" for exchanging military forces encircled in the city.

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

The industrial complex is sheltering hundreds of soldiers and civilians -- and supplies are running low.

On Thursday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said there were "about 1,000 civilians and 500 wounded servicemen there."

Yuriy Ryzhenkov, the CEO of the company that owns the plant, told CNN on Thursday that the situation there was "close to a catastrophe."

3:06 a.m. ET, April 24, 2022

Ukraine successfully “repelled” numerous Russian assaults in Donbas: UK Defense Ministry 

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie in Hong Kong

Ukraine has “repelled numerous Russian assaults along the line of contact in the Donbas this week,” the UK Defense Ministry said in its latest intelligence update on Sunday. 

“Despite Russia making some territorial gains, Ukrainian resistance has been strong across all axes and inflicted significant cost on Russian forces,” the assessment continued, without clarifying whether the resistance was being led by the Ukrainian Armed forces of civilian groups. 

The Defense Ministry also cited “poor Russian morale and limited time to reconstitute, re-equip and reorganize forces from prior offensives” as the likely causes for Russia’s hindered “combat effectiveness.” 

On Friday, Russia declared that the primary goal of its invasion in Ukraine is to take "full control" over southern Ukraine and the eastern Donbas region. The announcement, which came from a top military official, marked the first time since the conflict started that Russia admitted it was fighting to establish a land corridor through Ukrainian territory connecting Russia to Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014.

Some context: Russia has stepped up its offensive in the Donbas region in recent weeks according to Ukrainian officials, with heavy fighting reported almost daily throughout the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. 

2:37 a.m. ET, April 24, 2022

Ukrainians celebrate Easter in the shadow of war

From CNN's Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Isa Soares, Madalena Araujo, Sofiya Harbuziuk, Oleksandra Ochman and Marc Seeman, in Lviv

Worshippers attend a service marking Orthodox Easter at Saints Peter and Paul Garrison Church, in Lviv, Ukraine, on April 23.
Worshippers attend a service marking Orthodox Easter at Saints Peter and Paul Garrison Church, in Lviv, Ukraine, on April 23. (Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP/Getty Images)

They've endured intense battles, brutal airstrikes and unimaginable loss, but this weekend many Ukrainians will attempt to celebrate one of their most important holidays of the year: Orthodox Easter.

Traditionally a time of reflection and rebirth, this Sunday will also mark exactly two months since the country was thrust into a devastating war after Russian forces invaded on February 24.

In his nightly address Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ruminated on the significance of the date. "Today was Holy Saturday for Christians of the Eastern Rite. The day between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. It seems that Russia is stuck on such a day," he said.

"On the day when death triumphs and God is supposedly gone. But there will be a Resurrection. Life will defeat death. The truth will defeat any lies. And evil will be punished," added Zelensky.

As fighting escalates in the south and east, many in Ukraine are leaning into their faith in search of solace, while others are opting to journey home from neighboring Poland to be among loved ones for Easter commemorations.

"I've never been this happy in my life. When I finally saw my husband again, on my first night here, I still felt like this was a dream," Anna-Mariia Nykyforchyn, 25, tells CNN from Lviv, a western city largely spared from the Russian assault.

Nine months pregnant when the war broke out, Nykyforchyn was one of more than five million who have made the difficult call to leave. She returned two days ago with her baby Marharyta.

"For me, it was extremely important to come back home before Easter," she says, before sharing her joy over the prospect of the couple's grandparents meeting the new addition to the family. "I really wanted us to be together. It's such a ray of hope that everything is going to be okay."

Read the full story here.

2:37 a.m. ET, April 24, 2022

It’s 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here’s what you need to know.

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire on a warehouse amid Russian bombardments in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, April 23.
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire on a warehouse amid Russian bombardments in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, April 23. (Felipe Dana/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he will be meeting with top US officials on Sunday in Kyiv, as heavy fighting continues in the east and south of the country over Ukraine’s Easter weekend. 

The White House has yet to confirm the visit, which Zelensky said would include US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

As a new day breaks in the capital, here’s what you need to know.

Expected visit: Zelensky said he was “expecting specific things and specific weapons” from world leaders who visit the country, after announcing that he would meet with Blinken and Austin in Kyiv on Sunday. The potential visit would be the first from top US officials since the war broke out. The White House declined to comment on the potential trip.

Odesa toll: At least eight people are dead, including a three-month-old baby, following Russian missile strikes on the southwestern port city of Odesa, Zelensky said Saturday, condemning the attack which took place a day ahead of when many Ukrainians celebrate the Easter holiday.

Humanitarian crisis: An evacuation corridor from the besieged southern city of Mariupol was "thwarted" by Russian forces on Saturday, according to a Ukrainian official. Ukrainian officials have said more than 100,000 people still remain in the bombarded city, which the Russian government claims to control. Ukrainian fighters continue to hold out in the city's massive Azovstal steelworks, where civilians have sheltered for weeks and supplies are running low.

Moscow’s plan: Russia revealed the goal of its invasion is to take "full control" of southern Ukraine as well as the eastern Donbas region and to establish a land corridor connecting Russia to Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014. A British Ministry of Defense briefing on Saturday said Russian forces had made no major gains in the past 24 hours, in the face of Ukrainian counterattacks.  

Forced deportations: Ukraine officials claimed on Saturday Russia was forcibly deporting some Mariupol citizens to Primorsky Krai in Russia's Far East region, some 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) from Ukraine. In early April, Ukraine's deputy prime minister Iryna Vereschuk estimated some 45,000 Ukrainian citizens had been forcibly deported to Russia since the war began.

Civilian conscription: Ukrainian intelligence has also accused Russia of planning to conscript Ukrainian civilians from the occupied regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, according to a Saturday UK military intelligence update. This would be in violation of international law, the UK Ministry of Defense statement said.