April 25, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Maureen Chowdhury, Rhea Mogul, Andrew Raine, Jack Guy, Ben Morse and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN

Updated 12:11 a.m. ET, April 26, 2022
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2:53 a.m. ET, April 25, 2022

"Russia has made minor advances": UK Ministry of Defence

Russia has made "minor advances" since shifting its focus to taking control over the eastern Donbas region, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Monday.

"Without sufficient logistical and combat support enablers in place, Russia has yet to achieve a significant breakthrough. Ukraine’s defence of Mariupol has also exhausted many Russian units and reduced their combat effectiveness," the MoD said on Twitter in an intelligence update.
"Russia’s Ministry of Defence has proposed compensation payments for the families of deceased service personnel be overseen by military rather than civilian officials. This likely reflects a desire to hide the true scale of Russia’s losses from the domestic population."

8:44 a.m. ET, April 25, 2022

US diplomats to return to Ukraine, Blinken tells Zelensky: senior State Department official

From CNN's Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler 

In this file photo from April 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during his meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Washington, DC.
In this file photo from April 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during his meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Washington, DC. (Susan Walsh/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

US diplomats will return to Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during their meeting in Kyiv Sunday, a senior State Department official said.

The diplomats will “start with day trips into Lviv" and "graduate to potentially other parts of the country and ultimately, resume (their) presence in Kyiv,” the State Department official said.

Blinken, who traveled to Kyiv alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, also said US President Joe Biden will nominate Bridget Brink as the US Ambassador to Ukraine, according to the State Department official.

The post has been without a confirmed ambassador since Marie Yovanovitch was recalled in May 2019. Brink is the current US ambassador to Slovakia.

12:55 a.m. ET, April 25, 2022

Russia says a fire has broken out at an oil depot in its Bryansk region

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie and Isa Soares 

A fire has broken out at an oil depot in the Bryansk region of Russia, state news agency TASS reported Monday citing government sources. 

“The Emergency Situations Ministry has confirmed there’s a fire. There’s also a confirmation that it’s the fuel tanks," TASS reported, citing the government’s press office, which also said first responders were on their way to the scene. 

Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry in Bryansk received reports of the fire at 2am Moscow time, according to TASS. The ministry sent rescue teams to the scene and these confirmed the fire was at an oil depot, it said. 

The cause of the fire remains unclear. 

Some context: On April 14, Russia’s top law enforcement body said it was investigating an alleged Ukrainian helicopter strike in the Bryansk region, just days after the Kremlin accused Ukraine of mounting a helicopter attack on a fuel depot in the neighboring Belgorod region. 

12:16 a.m. ET, April 25, 2022

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

 A view of the destruction in Mariupol, including the Azovstal steel plant, on April 22.
 A view of the destruction in Mariupol, including the Azovstal steel plant, on April 22. (Leon Klein/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This weekend, in the shadows of a devastating war, Ukrainians attempted to celebrate one of their most important holidays of the year, Orthodox Easter.

Here's the latest on Russia's invasion into Ukraine if you're just joining us:

  • US visit: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Sunday, making them the highest-level US officials to have traveled to the country since the Russian invasion began. Blinken said during the meeting that US diplomats would return to Ukraine this week.
  • Mariupol under attack: Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Russian forces were "continuously attacking" the encircled Azovstal steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol on Orthodox 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, the last major bastion of Ukrainian defense in the city. 
  • Kherson: The military head of the south-central city of Kryvyi Rih said Sunday that Ukraine had observed preparations for a possible offensive by Russian forces from the Kherson region, adding defenses were being bolstered in the area. In televised remarks, Oleksandr Vilkul said Russian forces were "forming an offensive strike formation in our direction in the Kherson region." Vilkul said the Kryvyi Rih garrison was in a state of readiness and had defenses prepared.
  • UN visit: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “will be received by President Vladimir Putin” on Tuesday in Moscow, after having a working meeting and lunch with the foreign minister of Russia, the UN said. He is also expected to meet President Zelensky on Thursday in Ukraine, according to a UN spokesperson.
  • Forcible deportation: Russia has forcibly deported Mariupol citizens to Primorsky Krai in Russia's Far East region, according to the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights. Lyudmyla Denisova said volunteers told her a train arrived in the city of Nakhodka on April 21 with 308 Ukrainians from Mariupol, including mothers with young children, people with disabilities and students.
  • Russia's onslaught: An adviser to President Zelensky's administration said Sunday that Russia was "trying to depopulate the east of Ukraine," amid heavy fighting there. Earlier this week, Russia revealed that the goal of its invasion of Ukraine is to take "full control" over southern Ukraine as well as the eastern Donbas region, which has been the front line of the country's conflict with Russia since 2014.
12:28 a.m. ET, April 25, 2022

US Secretaries Blinken and Austin make unannounced trip to Ukraine to meet Zelensky 

From CNN's Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards a plane for departure, Saturday, April 23, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards a plane for departure, Saturday, April 23, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (Alex Brandon/Pool/AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced trip to Kyiv on Sunday where they met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials, making them the highest-level US officials to have traveled to the country since the Russian invasion began. 

Though Zelensky announced the visit in a press conference Saturday, US officials had declined to comment. 

While in Kyiv, Blinken and Austin met Zelensky, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, and Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky for an extended, roughly 90-minute bilateral meeting, a senior State Department official said.

Blinken said US diplomats would return to Ukraine this week, the senior State Department official said, in a strong message of solidarity from the United States. 

Blinken also relayed that US President Joe Biden would nominate Bridget Brink as US Ambassador to Ukraine, according to the senior State Department official. The post that has been without a confirmed ambassador since Marie Yovanovitch was recalled in May 2019. Brink is the current US ambassador to Slovakia.

In addition, Blinken and Austin discussed the deliveries of recent US military assistance to Ukraine, the ongoing training for Ukrainian soldiers, and the Biden administration’s intention to provide $713 million in additional foreign military financing to help Ukraine transition to NATO-capable systems, according to the senior State Department official and a senior Defense Department official. 

Both officials briefed press who traveled to the region shortly before Blinken and Austin were due to arrive in Kyiv; the traveling US press corps did not travel with the secretaries to the Ukrainian capital.

In the background briefing, the officials made clear that the US military would still not be involved directly in the war. “The President has been very clear there will be no US troops fighting in Ukraine and that includes the skies over Ukraine,” the defense official said.

 “This visit does not portend actual involvement by US forces,” they added.

11:23 p.m. ET, April 24, 2022

What we know about the situation in Mariupol

A woman walks out of the Svyato-Troitsky church during the Orthodox Easter service, amid Ukraine-Russia conflict, in Mariupol, on April 24.
A woman walks out of the Svyato-Troitsky church during the Orthodox Easter service, amid Ukraine-Russia conflict, in Mariupol, on April 24. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Russian forces were "continuously attacking" the encircled Azovstal steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol on Orthodox Easter Sunday. The site has become one of the last significant holdouts of Ukrainian forces in the city, and is sheltering hundreds of soldiers and civilians.

Here's what we know about the situation:

  • Sunday bombardment: Russian forces continued to attack the city on Sunday, Ukrainian Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar said in an Easter message. "The enemy continues to drop aerial bombs, ships fire artillery, cannons fire, enemy tanks continue to hit, infantry tries to assault," he said.
  • Who is still fighting there: Troops of Azov — originally formed as a nationalist volunteer battalion but subsequently folded into the Ukrainian military — continue to hold out in the besieged Azovstal plant, along with other Ukrainian forces. The situation at the plant is “close to a catastrophe," Yuriy Ryzhenkov, the CEO of the company that owns the plant, told CNN on Thursday
  • What about civilians: Ukrainian officials estimate that 100,000 civilians require evacuation from the devastated city. In the plant civilians have sheltered for weeks 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."
  • "I want to see the sun": For women and children stuck in the bunker of the Azovstal steelworks, daylight is a rarity. "I want to get out of here and see the sun. We’ve been here for two months now and I want to see the sun," said one boy.
  • Red Cross: The International Committee of the Red Cross said that "immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access" to Mariupol is "urgently needed." The ICRC said on Sunday it is “deeply alarmed by the situation in Mariupol, where the population is in dire need of assistance.” The ICRC has made several attempts to evacuate civilians from the city, saying "each hour that passes has a terrible human cost."
  • Forcible deportation: Russia has forcibly deported Mariupol citizens to Primorsky Krai in Russia's Far East region, according to the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights. Lyudmyla Denisova said volunteers told her a train arrived in the city of Nakhodka on April 21 with 308 Ukrainians from Mariupol, including mothers with young children, people with disabilities and students.
  • Who controls Mariupol? Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed earlier this week that Russian forces had achieved the "liberation" of Mariupol, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has denied that the city is in Russian control, saying Ukrainian defenders continue to resist there.
  • Zelensky warns Putin: Zelensky said Saturday that if Ukrainians in the besieged city of Mariupol are killed by Russian forces, and if Russia organizes "pseudo" referendums in occupied territories, Ukraine will stop negotiations with the Russian side. 
11:23 p.m. ET, April 24, 2022

Russian forces forming for "offensive" in Kherson region, Kryvyi Rih military chief says

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv and Nathan Hodge in Lviv

The military head of the south-central city of Kryvyi Rih said Sunday that Ukraine had observed preparations for a possible offensive by Russian forces from the Kherson region, adding defenses were being bolstered in the area.

In televised remarks, Oleksandr Vilkul said Russian forces were "forming an offensive strike formation in our direction in the Kherson region. We are waiting for their possible transition to the offensive in the coming days. But we know more about them than they think; we understand all their plans; and we are fully prepared for any development in the situation."

Vilkul said the Krivyi Rih garrison was in a state of readiness and had defenses prepared.

"A lot of work continues to help in evacuating people from the frontline zone," he said. "Kryvyi Rih is providing buses and ambulances. We have provided medical assistance and social workers. But people are going out on bicycles and taking old people and children out in wheelbarrows."

Earlier this week, a top Russian general said Moscow plans to establish "full control" over southern Ukraine in the second phase of its invasion of Ukraine.

8:44 a.m. ET, April 25, 2022

Kremenchuk hit by 9 missiles, Ukrainian regional military governor says

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Dmytro Lunin, head of the Poltava Regional Military Administration, said Sunday nine Russian missiles struck the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk. 

"Already nine Russian missiles have hit Kremenchuk's infrastructure this evening," Lunin said. "The enemy has no regard, even on such a holy day."

Most Ukrainians observed Easter celebrations on Sunday. Lunin gave no further details about the consequences of the strikes.

11:23 p.m. ET, April 24, 2022

Zelensky says Blinken and Austin will visit Ukraine on Sunday, as diplomacy returns to Kyiv

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pose for a photograph at the State Department in Washington, on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pose for a photograph at the State Department in Washington, on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Kyiv on Sunday, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in what would be the first visit of high-level US officials to the embattled country since the war broke out. 

The potential visit, which has not been confirmed by Washington, would come on the heels of several high-profile visits from European leaders to the capital and moves to reopen evacuated embassies.

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson toured parts of the capital on foot alongside Zelensky on April 9, and European Union leaders visited the previous day.

The British government is expected to re-open its embassy next week, “dependent on the security situation,” its government confirmed, following an announcement from Johnson Friday. The European Union earlier this month said it too was restoring its diplomatic presence in the capital. 

"I'm heading back. Looking forward to working in Kyiv #Ukraine️ again," UK Ambassador to Ukraine Melinda Simmons wrote on Twitter on Friday.

The shift comes after Moscow rerouted its focus away from the capital and to Ukraine's south and east, following intense Ukrainian defense in the areas surrounding Kyiv and Russian supply issues. Kyiv had for weeks braced for an attack of Russian forces, pushing embassies to close their operations there.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, speaking at a press conference in Washington on Friday, also called on ambassadors from all countries, including the United States, to return to their embassies in Kyiv.

The White House and State Department declined to comment Saturday potential visit from top US officials Blinken and Austin. CNN has reached out to the US Department of Defense for comment.

Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that if an administration official were to visit Ukraine, the White House would not publicly disclose that information ahead of the time, citing security concerns.