April 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Maureen Chowdhury, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Jessie Yeung, Andrew Raine, Ben Morse and Jack Guy, CNN

Updated 8:21 a.m. ET, April 27, 2022
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6:28 a.m. ET, April 26, 2022

Mariupol mayor says three mass graves around city, claims locals forced to work at sites

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

A satellite image shows the expansion of new graves at a cemetery in Vynohradne, near Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 29.
A satellite image shows the expansion of new graves at a cemetery in Vynohradne, near Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 29. (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)

A third mass grave has been found near Mariupol, the mayor of the besieged southeastern city told Ukrainian television Tuesday.

In addition to mass graves uncovered in the villages of Mangush and Vynohradne, "now we see there is another one," said Vadym Boichenko.

New satellite imagery has shown a mass grave at the village of Staryi Krym, according to the Telegram channel of the city authorities.

The images showed excavated trenches on the territory of the Old Crimean cemetery, the city council said on Telegram.

They appeared on March 24, after the village was occupied by the Russians, and were about 60 to 70 meters long, the council said.

By April 7, according to new imagery, part of the trenches had been covered, the council said, and the burial area had grown. 

"New trenches were recorded on April 24. The length of the mass grave has increased to more than 200 meters," it said.

Boichenko accused Russian forces of involving the local population in mass burials in exchange for food.

"They [the locals] told us that you have to work 'hours' to have food and water. Now there is not enough humanitarian aid in Mariupol so people are forced to do it," he said on Telegram. 

CNN is unable to confirm the city's account of the mass graves. The images, from Planet Labs, were first reported by Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL) on Monday.

CNN has reviewed satellite imagery purportedly showing mass graves at Vynohradne, but it is unclear beyond the disturbance of the ground what may have transpired there.

Last week, Ukrainian officials identified the location of mass graves at Manhush near Mariupol after the publication of satellite images collected by and analyzed by Maxar Technologies. 

Petro Andriushchenko, an advisor to the mayor Mariupol, posted about the mass grave at Manhush on Telegram on Thursday.

"As a result of a long search and identification of places of mass burial of dead Mariupol residents, we established the fact of arrangement and mass burial of the dead Mariupol residents in the village of Manhush," he wrote.

Andriushchenko -- who is not in Mariupol but has served as a clearinghouse for information from inside the besieged city -- said Russian forces had dug several mass graves, each measuring about 30 meters (around 100 feet), in Manhush, a town around 12 miles (20 kilometers) to the west of Mariupol. 

On Tuesday Boichenko repeated that some 20,000 residents of Mariupol had died since the beginning of the invasion.

"The situation in Mariupol remains extremely difficult," he said. "Enemy artillery shells our fortress Azovstal," the steel plant where Ukrainian troops and civilians are holed up.

"There are women and children inside. Ceasefire is needed to begin the evacuation. Unfortunately, there is no ceasefire," Boichenko said. "People are running out of food, there is almost no drinking water. This is a humanitarian catastrophe."

6:08 a.m. ET, April 26, 2022

UN expects 8.3 million refugees to flee Ukraine

 From CNN's Benjamin Brown in London

Refugees fleeing conflict make their way to the Krakovets border crossing with Poland on March 9, in Krakovets, Ukraine.
Refugees fleeing conflict make their way to the Krakovets border crossing with Poland on March 9, in Krakovets, Ukraine. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

A projected 8.3 million refugees are expected to flee Ukraine, according to the latest assessment by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Around 5.2 million refugees had left Ukraine as of Monday, the latest UNHCR data shows.

The UNHCR and partner organizations are seeking $1.85 billion to support Ukrainian refugees in neighboring countries, UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said Tuesday.

Speaking in Geneva at the launch of an updated regional refugee response plan to support Ukrainian refugees, Mantoo said the plan "aims to ensure timely and life-saving humanitarian assistance to refugees fleeing Ukraine and third-country nationals, of whom a sizeable number would need international protection."

The plan will also focus on "solutions through the promotion of social and economic opportunities," Mantoo added.

In addition to those fleeing the country, more than 7.7 million people are internally displaced in Ukraine, according to the latest International Organization for Migration report, bringing the total number of those forced to flee their homes to 12.9 million.

There were also almost 13 million people estimated to be stranded in affected areas or unable to leave due to security risks, Mantoo said.

7:11 a.m. ET, April 26, 2022

Russia's invasion and atrocities in Ukraine are "indefensible," says US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin 

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Ben Morse

U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, delivers a speech as he hosts the meeting of the Ukraine Security Consultative Group at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, on April 26.
U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, delivers a speech as he hosts the meeting of the Ukraine Security Consultative Group at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, on April 26. (Michael Probst/AP)

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that Russia's invasion and atrocities in Ukraine are "indefensible" as Russia has bombed hospitals and left children "traumatized."

"Russia's invasion is indefensible and so are Russian atrocities," Austin said, speaking from Ramstein US Air Base in Germany, where the US is hosting Ukraine-focused defense talks.

"We all start today from a position of moral clarity -- Russia is waging a war of choice to indulge the ambitions of one man.
"Ukraine is fighting a war of necessity to defend its democracy, its sovereignty and its citizens."

Austin explained that the "stakes" of the war reach "beyond Ukraine and even beyond Europe," before calling Russia's invasion "baseless, reckless and lawless."

"It is an affront to the rules-based international order, it is a challenge to free people everywhere. As we see this morning, nations of good will from around the world stand united in our resolve to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s imperial aggression. And that’s the way it should be."

Austin was speaking as part of his visit to Europe alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Austin said his recent trip to Kyiv "reinforced" his "admiration" for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

"Ukraine clearly believes that it can win. And so does everyone here," he said. "Ukraine needs our help to win today and they will still need our help when the war is over."

He added: "My Ukrainian friends, we know the burden that you all carry. And we know, and you should know, that all of us have your back. And that's why we are here today -- to strengthen the arsenal of Ukrainian democracy.

"We are all here because of Ukraine's courage, because of the innocent civilians that have been killed, and because of the suffering that your people still endure. Your country has been ravaged, your hospitals have been bombed, your citizens have been executed, your children have been traumatized." 

Some background: Austin and Blinken traveled to Kyiv over the weekend, where they met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pledge US support in the war and announce that US diplomats would be returning to Ukraine.

On Monday, speaking at a news conference at an undisclosed location in Poland near the Ukrainian border, the top US officials insisted that Russia was failing in its Ukraine incursion, with Austin explicitly saying that the US wants to see Russia's military capabilities weakened.

5:38 a.m. ET, April 26, 2022

Germany to supply Ukraine with anti-aircraft tanks

German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht arrives for the meeting of the Ukraine Security Consultative Group at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, on April 26.
German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht arrives for the meeting of the Ukraine Security Consultative Group at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, on April 26. (Michael Probst/AP)

Germany will deliver Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine, the German Ministry of Defence announced on Tuesday.

The move was announced by German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht at Ramstein US Airforce base, the ministry tweeted.

5:11 a.m. ET, April 26, 2022

Two missiles hit Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, says military administration

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Two guided missiles hit the city of Zaporizhzhia in central Ukraine Tuesday, according to the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration.

The missiles hit one of the city's businesses, killing one person and injuring another, the administration said.

"Infrastructure facilities of the enterprise were damaged and destroyed," it said, adding that a third missile exploded in the air.

Earlier Tuesday, the Ukrainian state nuclear energy company, Enerhatom, claimed that two cruise missiles had flown over the nuclear power plant near the city of Zaporizhzhia.

"The flight of missiles at low altitudes directly above the ZNPP site, where 7 nuclear facilities with a huge amount of nuclear material are located, poses huge risks," said Petro Kotin, head of Enerhoatom. "After all, missiles can hit one or more nuclear facilities, and this threatens a nuclear and radiation catastrophe around the world."

The Zaporizhzhia plant was captured by the Russians on March 4 and is still under their control.

7:29 a.m. ET, April 26, 2022

As Russian rockets rain down on Kharkiv, its paramedics are risking their lives to save others

From CNN's Clarissa Ward, Brent Swails and Scott McWhinnie

Vladimir Ventsel in Kharkiv.
Vladimir Ventsel in Kharkiv. (Scott McWhinnie/CNN)

Just before the start of Alexandra Rudkovskaya's shift on Saturday, her mom gave her a big, long hug. The kind mothers give their kids when they don't know when -- or even if -- they'll see them again.

Rudkovskaya, 24, works as a paramedic in Kharkiv -- a choice she says leaves her mother "worried to the point of hysteria."

"She says you need to leave this town, you need to go to some place safe. Why do you need to do this? I have only one child, stop doing this," Rudkovskaya told CNN.

Just hours after their hug goodbye, the stuff of her mother's nightmares came true when Rudkovskaya and her partner Vladimir Venzel put their lives on the line to reach an injured patient. CNN was there to witness their bravery.

Read the full story here:

4:44 a.m. ET, April 26, 2022

Explosions damage two radio towers in Moldova’s breakaway region Transnistria

From CNN's Teele Rebane and Hannah Ritchie 

Explosions in Transnistria, Moldova, on April 26.
Explosions in Transnistria, Moldova, on April 26. (Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic)

Two radio towers in Moldova's unrecognized breakaway territory of Transnistria were damaged by explosions in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Transnistrian Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a statement.

"In the early morning of April 26, two explosions occurred in the village of Mayak, Grigoriopol district: the first at 6:40 and the second at 7:05," the statement said.

"Law enforcers and Transnistrian emergency services were immediately dispatched to the scene…As of 9 am (local) the two most powerful [radio] antennas are known to be out of order,” it continued, adding that a bomb squad from the Ministry of Defense was undertaking an "investigation."

No radio tower staff or local residents were hurt, according to the ministry.

The site where the explosions occurred is known as the Transnistrian radio and television center, which was built in the 1960s and is one of 14 Soviet-era radio transmitting centers, the statement said.

No information was given about the cause of the explosions.

On Monday, a series of explosions were heard near the Ministry of State Security building in Transnistria’s capital Tiraspol, Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti reported.

Ukraine described those blasts as a planned provocation by the Russian security services. 

Some background: Transnistria is a breakaway republic in eastern Moldova that borders Ukraine. It has a population of nearly 500,000 and is internationally recognized as part of Moldova.

Russia has maintained a military presence in Transnistria since the early 1990s.

Last week, a top Russian general said Russia intended to establish "full control" over southern Ukraine during the second phase of its invasion, adding that doing so would give its forces access to Transnistria. 

3:04 a.m. ET, April 26, 2022

What is Transnistria and why is it important to Russia?

A view of the city council of Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, Moldova on November 25, 2021.
A view of the city council of Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, Moldova on November 25, 2021. (Alexander Hassenstein/UEFA/Getty Images)

The self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria — which has its own constitution, military, currency and flag but has never been recognized by the international community — could be pulled into Russia's war in Ukraine.

A top Russian general said last week that the military is aiming for "full control" over the eastern Donbas region and southern Ukraine -- and to gain access to Transnistria, the breakaway territory in the neighboring country of Moldova.

TASS quoted the acting commander of Russia's Central Military District Maj. Gen. Rustam Minnekaev as saying the goal was to create a land corridor between Donbas and Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

On Monday, there were explosions in Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, which Ukraine's Defense Ministry called a "planned provocation" by the Russian secret services.

Here's what you need to know about Transnistria, and why it's important to Russia.

A separatist statelet: Transnistria is a narrow sliver of land about 1,350 square miles in size, sandwiched between Ukraine and the rest of Moldova -- only a little larger than Rhode Island, the smallest state in the US.

It is home to about half a million people, most of whom are Russian-speaking.

Some history: Transnistria declared independence from the former Soviet republic of Moldova following a two-year war (1990-1992) that erupted during the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Russians stepped in to back Transnistria but never recognized it as an independent state. The conflict between the Moldovan government and the separatists ended in a ceasefire in 1992 -- but about 1,500 Russian troops have remained in Transnistria since then.

Russia eyeing Transnistria: The statement by Maj. Gen. Minnekaev, laying out Russia's strategy for the "second phase" of the war, prompted immediate alarm from Moldovan authorities, who summoned the Russian ambassador.

The statements about Transnistria are “unfounded and contradict the position of the Russian Federation supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, within its internationally recognized borders," said the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration.

It added that during the meeting with the Russian ambassador, Moldovan officials reiterated that the country was a "neutral state and this principle must be respected by all international actors, including the Russian Federation."

Role in the war: Some military analysts suspect Russia plans to lean on Transnistria for logistical support -- and to take advantage of its strategic position, to establish a land corridor along the Black Sea to capture the port city of Odesa.

Watch more here:

1:51 a.m. ET, April 26, 2022

Ukraine says Russia escalating offensive in south and east, but facing stiff resistance in areas

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Russian forces have stepped up their offensive in both the south and east of the country -- but resistance has been able to push back in some locations, Ukrainian officials said Tuesday.

"Russian troops have launched an offensive in all directions," said Alexei Arestovych, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky, on Ukrainian television.

Russian forces are focusing particularly on the Kramatorsk and Sloviansk towns in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, and on Kryvyi Rih in the southern Kherson region, he said.

The Russians have held Kherson since the early days of the invasion, and have been trying to push northward from there.  

Russia is also continuing to build up troops in the northeast, intended to partially blockade the heavily hit city of Kharkiv, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said on Tuesday.

It added that Russian forces had tried unsuccessfully to launch attacks elsewhere in the Donetsk region.  

"Over the past 24 hours, six enemy attacks have been repulsed in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, four tanks, five artillery systems, thirteen units of armored vehicles, fifteen units of motor vehicles, two tankers and one anti-aircraft gun have been destroyed," the General Staff said.

Russian troops are also conducting an offensive to the south, in the region of Zaporizhzhia, the General Staff said. Ukrainian forces have struck back, destroying a Russian ammunition depot, the military leadership said, claiming that some 70 Russian soldiers had been killed and that the Russians also suffered losses in two settlements south of Kryvyi Rih. 

CNN cannot independently verify these figures.

In the same region, the Southern Command of the Ukrainian Infantry said Russian forces had again tried to advance toward the city of Mykolaiv with increased shelling and artillery but two attacks "were repelled by our units, including the destruction of tanks and an APC (military vehicle)," it said. "The rest of the forces retreated under our fire to the previous positions."