June 4, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Eliza Mackintosh, Joshua Berlinger and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, June 5, 2023
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5:49 p.m. ET, June 4, 2023

Zelensky's plea to thank individual soldiers portends tough battle ahead

Ukrainian service members fire a howitzer near Avdiivka, Ukraine, on May 31.
Ukrainian service members fire a howitzer near Avdiivka, Ukraine, on May 31. Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky used his daily address Saturday to thank troops on the front lines or battling to control the skies above them — the fighters that would be particularly key in the counteroffensive that Kyiv is expected to soon launch.

Zelensky typically thanks specific units in his speeches, but yesterday he name-checked more than a dozen individuals, among them commanders, gunners, marines and infantrymen.

"We should all remember that our defense, our active actions, and the independence of Ukraine are not something abstract. These are very particular people, particular actions of particular heroes, thanks to which Ukraine exists and Ukraine will exist," Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian president ended his speech by calling upon all Ukrainians to personally thank servicemen and servicewomen.

Concerns over aerial superiority: Zelensky's address comes amid continuing speculation that Ukraine's much-anticipated counteroffensive, which has seemed imminent for weeks, could be launched in the coming days. The Ukrainian President said Kyiv is ready to carry out the operation in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Saturday.

“I think that, as of today, we are ready to do it. We would like to have certain things, but we can't wait for it for months,” Zelensky said.

Last month, Zelensky said that Ukraine needed a "bit more time" — likely to allow for the delivery of more Western military aid, including much-needed air defense systems.

Zelensky has spent months lobbying Western powers to provide Ukraine with fighter jets and weapons to help control the skies, as they would help limit the number of casualties to Ukrainian fighters during any potential counteroffensive.

In his interview with the Journal, Zelensky acknowledged that Russia retains aerial superiority on the front lines. He said that a lack of protection from Russian air power meant “a large number of soldiers will die."

“Everyone knows perfectly well that any counteroffensive in the world without control in the skies is very dangerous," Zelensky said.
4:49 p.m. ET, June 4, 2023

Dissident Russian military units say they'll hand over captured soldiers to Ukraine

From CNN's Mariya Knight in Atlanta 

Two dissident Russian military units that claim they have captured Russian soldiers say they'll transfer the prisoners to Ukraine's military.

The Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom for Russia Legion had demanded a meeting with the governor of Belgorod, the Russian border region where they said they captured the fighters. But, despite appearing to express openness to the meeting, the groups claim Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov was a no-show for a parley.

According to a video update from the Russian Volunteer Corps, the groups have now decided to hand the captured soldiers over “to the Ukrainian side for the exchange procedure.” 

The Russian Volunteer Corps claimed they have “more captured soldiers now,” without mentioning how many.

CNN cannot independently verify the dissident groups' claims.

About the anti-Kremlin Russian fighters: The Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom for Russia Legion are not officially part of Ukraine's military but fight under Ukrainian command. They have made several recent incursions in Belgorod that have helped bring the war to Russian soil.

3:57 p.m. ET, June 4, 2023

Russian-appointed official says forces repelled a Ukrainian attack in Zaporizhzhia

From CNN's Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Russian forces have repelled an attack in occupied southern Ukraine, Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in the Zaporizhzhia region, claimed Sunday.

Rogov said the attack came around midnight as part of a "combat reconnaissance" attempt by Ukraine's military to break through the front line in the southern region.

The bulk of the fight took place in a series of areas east of Zaporizhzhia city in the neighboring Donetsk region, Rogov said.

According to the Russia-backed official, Ukrainian forces managed to advance up to 400 meters (around a quarter-mile), but were then pushed back. He reported “active hostilities” in the area and said Ukrainians “don’t stop their assault attempts.” 

Numerous pro-Russian military bloggers also reported clashes in the area.

The Ukrainian military's General Staff did not refer to any fighting in the Zaporizhzhia area in their daily update Sunday. 

Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of the Ukrainian city of Melitopol, told CNN on Sunday that he “couldn’t comment” on the string of recent attacks in the Zaporizhzhia region, implying that it could “cause harm” to a much-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive

3:48 p.m. ET, June 4, 2023

Ukrainian tennis player says Russian opponent was brave for commenting on Moscow's war

From CNN's Jacob Lev

Elina Svitolina of Ukraine is pictured during her match against Daria Kasatkina in Paris on on June 4.
Elina Svitolina of Ukraine is pictured during her match against Daria Kasatkina in Paris on on June 4. Robert Prange/Getty Images

Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina called her opponent Sunday, Russian Daria Kasatkina, a "brave one" for her public comments on Moscow's war in Ukraine.

Svitolina has proclaimed she will not shake hands with Russian and Belarusian opponents out of respect for the men and women defending Ukraine on the front lines. But she told reporters she "acknowledged" Kasatkina after the Ukrainian's upset win Sunday to advance to the quarterfinals of the French Open.

Last month, Kasatkina, Russia’s top-ranked women's tennis player, expressed her sympathy for Ukrainian players who refuse to shake her hand after matches.

“Well, the saddest part is the war still going on,” Kasatkina said at the time. “So of course, players from Ukraine have got a lot of reasons to not shake our hands. I accept it and it is how it is. It’s a very sad situation and I understand."

"She's really brave person to say it publicly, that not so many players did," Svitolina said Sunday. "She's a brave one."

Svitolina will next face a Belarusian player, Aryna Sabalenka, if Sabalenka defeats American Sloane Stephens on Tuesday. 

Russia's Daria Kasatkina serves to Elina Svitolina during their match in Paris on June 4.
Russia's Daria Kasatkina serves to Elina Svitolina during their match in Paris on June 4. Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

2:58 p.m. ET, June 4, 2023

Sweden has taken steps to address Turkey's concerns about its NATO accession, secretary-general says

From CNN's Gabby Gretener in London

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 4.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 4. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Reuters

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Sunday as they continue to work toward finding a path for Sweden to join the alliance.

Russia's war in Ukraine prompted both Sweden and Finland to abandon decades of neutrality and seek to join the alliance, in what was viewed as a significant blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has sought to undermine NATO. But Turkey has held up Sweden's accession for several reasons, mainly accusing Stockholm of allowing terrorist organizations to stay in the country.

Stoltenberg confirmed officials from Sweden, Turkey and Finland will meet the week of June 12 to discuss Sweden's NATO membership bid. 

On Thursday, Sweden passed new anti-terrorism legislation amending its constitution, ending its arms embargo and stepping up its counter-terrorism operations including against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). In response to this new legislation, Stoltenberg said, "Sweden has taken significant concrete steps to meet Turkey's concerns," and that it has "fulfilled its obligations." 

Stoltenberg said he believes there is still time for Sweden to become a member by this year's NATO summit in Vilnius on July 11-12, a goal set at last year's summit in Madrid.

Read more here:

2:35 p.m. ET, June 4, 2023

Dissident military groups claim they've captured two Russian soldiers in the Belgorod region

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov talks to the media on June 2.
Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov talks to the media on June 2. Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images

Two dissident Russian military units said Sunday that they had captured two Russian soldiers in the Belgorod region and demanded a meeting with the local governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.

The Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom for Russia Legion, which are not officially part of Ukraine's military but fight under Ukrainian command, have made several recent incursions in Belgorod that have helped bring the war to Russian soil.

Gladkov responded to the groups' demand in a video message on his Telegram channel Sunday, saying he is prepared to talk to the units if the two soldiers they claim to have captured are still alive. 

“The only thing that stops me from negotiating with them is our guys who are in their hands. Most likely they killed them, as hard as it is for me to say. But if they are alive, from 17:00 to 18:00 Shebekino International Automobile Checkpoint. I guarantee safety. That's it,” Gladkov said, apparently offering a meeting.

The head of the Wagner private military company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed in a Telegram post Sunday that “he is ready to send one of his high-ranking deputies” to pick up captured Russian soldiers if no one comes to their rescue.

Prigozhin, who frequently needles the Kremlin establishment, challenged Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov to come to the soldiers' rescue as well. 

Read more about the Russian fighters who have aligned with Ukraine here.

2:59 p.m. ET, June 4, 2023

It's past 7 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you should know

From CNN staff

Ukrainian soldiers prepare to fire on Russian positions in Donetsk, Ukraine, on June 2.
Ukrainian soldiers prepare to fire on Russian positions in Donetsk, Ukraine, on June 2. Muhammed Enes/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Ukrainian forces achieved two small victories in the country's east, the commander of the Ukraine's Land Forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, wrote on an official army website.

One of those included an advance of 400 meters (1,300 feet) toward the town of Svatove in Donetsk. Svatove sits along key Russian supply routes, so its capture would have important strategic implications.

Here are other top headlines from Ukraine:

  • Zelensky gives thanks: In his daily address on Saturday, the Ukrainian President thanked more than a dozen troops by name and asked that Ukrainians take time to do the same with individual soldiers. Among those Zelensky name-checked were troops on the front lines or battling to control the skies above them — the fighters that would be particularly key in the counteroffensive that Kyiv is expected to launch.
  • A deadly strike in Pidhorodne: Rescue workers have recovered the body of a 2-year-old girl from the rubble of a building hit by a Russian strike Saturday on the small riverfront town of Pidhorodne in the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region, a Ukrainian military official said. Twenty-two people were wounded in the attack, including five children.
  • The battle comes to Belgorod: The western Russian province, which borders Ukraine, continues to see violence as the war spills over the border. Belgorod's governer said in a video posted Sunday that shelling had been reported as Russian dissident groups fighting under Ukrainian command ramp up pressure there.

12:33 p.m. ET, June 4, 2023

Ukraine reports two advances along the front line in the east

From CNN's Maria Kostenko and Andrew Carey in Kyiv, Ukraine

The head of Ukraine's Land Forces said the country's troops achieved two small victories along the front line of the battlefield with Russia in the contested provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The commander, Oleksandr Syrskyi, wrote on an official army website that Ukrainian forces had advanced 400 meters (1,300 feet) closer to the town of Svatove in Luhansk region. Svatove is situated along key Russian supply routes, so any eventual re-capture of the town would have important strategic implications.

While the front line has been static for months, hostilities in northern Donetsk and several parts of Luhansk "continue almost around the clock," Syrskyi said.

Syrskyi said Russia had launched fresh offensives in several locations in Luhansk region and the northern part of the Donetsk region partially using former prisoners who had been specifically trained for assault operations.

While Russian troop reinforcements have given their forces a numerical advantage, Syrskyi suggested that Ukraine’s superior agility gives Kyiv the edge on the battlefield.

“Not even superiority in numbers helps the enemy,” he said.

Luhansk and Donetsk make up Ukraine’s Donbas region, an industrial heartland when Russian-backed separatists seized control of two territories and declared breakaway republics in 2014. Shortly before the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the two separatist territories as independent states, ordering the deployment of Russian troops there in defiance of international law.

The latest from Bakhmut: Syrskyi also said that Ukrainian troops had successfully liberated some territory to the south of Bakhmut, the city in Donetsk where some of the war's fiercest fighting has taken place.

Another Ukrainian official, army spokesman Serhii Cherevatyi, said Kyiv's forces were mostly engaged in “preparatory activities" and "reconnaissance."

"We are trying to preserve our personnel and counterattack only when we believe there are opportunities to achieve success,” Cherevatyi said.

12:59 p.m. ET, June 4, 2023

The US believes Ukraine's counteroffensive will see Kyiv take back "strategically significant territory"

From CNN's Sam Fossum

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. CNN

The United States believes the highly anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive will result in Kyiv taking back “strategically significant territory," Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden's national security adviser, told CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

“Exactly how much, in what places, that will be up to developments on the ground as the Ukrainians get this counteroffensive underway,” Sullivan said. “But we believe that the Ukrainians will meet with success in this counteroffensive.”

Asked if this meant he expected some form of negotiations by the end of this year, Sullivan wouldn’t provide any sort of timetable but said that developments on the battlefield will have a “major impact” on any future negotiation.

“But what I will say is this: President Zelensky himself has said that this war will end ultimately through diplomacy,” Sullivan said.

Read more from Sullivan's interview here: