June 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Kathleen Magramo and Hafsa Khalil, CNN

Updated 2:07 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022
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4:16 p.m. ET, June 15, 2022

2 American fighters missing in Ukraine and feared captured

From CNN's Mick Krever and DJ Judd

Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huyn, right.
Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huyn, right. (Courtesy Bunny Drueke & Joy Black)

Two Americans fighting alongside Ukrainian forces north of Kharkiv in Ukraine have been missing for nearly a week and there are fears that they may have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and a fellow fighter.

The men are Alexander John-Robert Drueke, age 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, age 27, from Hartselle, Alabama.

A man who wished to remain nameless for security reasons, who is acting as the team’s sergeant, provided CNN with photos of both men’s passports and their entry stamps into Ukraine.

The man said that their unit was fighting under the command of Ukraine’s 92nd mechanized brigade on June 9, near the town of Izbytske.

He said that Drueke and Huynh went missing during the battle, and subsequent search missions failed to find any remains. A post the following day on a Russian propaganda channel on Telegram claimed that two Americans had been captured near Kharkiv.

“It was absolute chaos,” he told CNN. “There was about a hundred plus infantry advancing on our positions. We had a T72 firing on people from 30, 40 meters away.”

Bunny Drueke, Alex’s mother, told CNN that “they are presumed to be prisoners of war, but that has not been confirmed.” She said that the US Embassy to Ukraine has not been able to verify whether her son has been captured.

“They have not been able to verify that he’s with the Russians. All that they can verify is that he is missing at this point,” she said. “They stay in close touch with me, and I have every confidence that they are working on the situation.”

Joy Black, Huynh’s fiancé, age 21, told CNN: “We don’t want to make assumptions about what might have happened at this time. Obviously, they’re looking at several scenarios. And one of them is that they might have been captured. But we don’t have absolute confirmation of that at this time.”

Both Bunny Drueke and Black told CNN that their last communication with their loved ones was June 8, when the men told them that they would be going offline for a few days, for a mission.

“It was a pretty normal conversation actually: I told him I was getting food with my friends at our favorite restaurant,” Black said. “And he said, ‘I love you very much.’ And then I said, ‘I’ll be unavailable for two to three days.’ Which I found out was for the operation they were doing.”

They got engaged in March, not long before he left for Ukraine, she said.

“We didn’t know if we wanted to get married or get engaged before he left. And we decided on just getting engaged so that when he came back we could get married and enjoy it and not be apart right after we got married.”

Now, she said, she is “very fragile.”

“Even though not great stuff has happened, I’m still very proud of Andy for being strong.”

Black, too, said that she has “ups and downs.”

“I’m trying to stay calm and brave, because losing everything will not help Alex in the least. So I’m just trying to stay calm.”

What the US is saying: A State Department spokesperson Wednesday said that they “are aware of unconfirmed reports of two US citizens captured in Ukraine.”

“We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with Ukrainian authorities,” the spokesperson said. “Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”

The White House said it cannot confirm reports regarding the two, National Security Council coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told CNN Wednesday, adding that “if it's true, we'll do everything we can to get them safely back home.”

Pressed by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins during Wednesday’s White House briefing, Kirby said the administration will “do the best we can to monitor this and see what we can learn about it,” adding, “that this is an important point in time to remind that we discourage Americans from going to Ukraine and fighting in Ukraine.”

“It is a war zone. It's combat,” Kirby said. “And if you feel passionate about supporting Ukraine, there's any number of other ways to do that, that are safer and just as effective. We just — Ukraine is not the place for Americans to be traveling.”

Kirby was unable to say if US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the reports.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler contributed reporting to this post.

1:58 p.m. ET, June 15, 2022

Top US general downplays criticism of weapons sent to Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley downplayed criticisms that the United States is not providing Ukraine with all of the weapons it is requesting, saying that "in warfare, no weapons system is a silver bullet, ever."

"So no weapons system, singular weapons system ever, quote unquote turns the balance," Milley said at a news conference in Brussels alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. 

Milley said that if the Ukrainians use the weapons systems the US and other allies are providing properly, "they ought to be able to take out a significant amount of targets."

He also complimented them as "top-notch gunners" on the Triple 7 Howitzers, and he expected them to also be very good on the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, known as HIMARS, a lighter wheeled system capable of firing many of the same types of ammunition as MLRS.

Milley said he believes Ukraine will be able to sustain the fight, despite media reports that say around 100 Ukrainian forces are killed and another 100 to 300 people are wounded each day.

“Your ability to endure suffering, your ability to endure casualties, is directly proportional to the object to be attained. And if the object to be attained is survival of your country, then you’re going to sustain it,” Milley said.

He said that he believed Ukraine would continue to fight “as long as they have leadership, and they have the means by which to fight,” such as “ammunition, artillery tubes, et cetera.”

1:42 p.m. ET, June 15, 2022

Top US general: Russian control of eastern Ukraine not "an inevitability"

From CNN's Michael Conte

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks during a news conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks during a news conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that despite Russian forces outnumbering and outgunning the Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region, Russian consolidation of their control in eastern Ukraine was “not a done deal.” 

“There are no inevitabilities in war. War takes many, many turns. So I wouldn’t say it’s an inevitability,” said Milley, before granting that “the numbers clearly favor the Russians.”

Milley said that the Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk “is probably three quarters taken or so by Russian forces,” but that “the Ukrainians are fighting them street by street, house by house.”

He also characterized the current phase of the war as a “very severe battle of attrition, almost World War I-like,” noting how Russian progress in the region has been “very slow, a very tough slog.”

“The Russians have run into a lot of problems. They’ve got command and control issues, logistics issues. They’ve got morale issues, leadership issues and a wide variety of other issues,” said Milley. “And the Russians have suffered tremendous amounts of casualties.”


1:24 p.m. ET, June 15, 2022

Here's what is in the new US security assistance package for Ukraine 

From CNN's Michael Conte and Oren Liebermann

The US Defense Department has detailed the latest security assistance package the US is sending to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion — totaling approximately $1 billion. It includes a number of additional howitzers, ammunition, as well as Harpoon coastal defense systems.

“The United States has now committed approximately $6.3 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration, including approximately $5.6 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked invasion on February 24,” Pentagon spokesperson J. Todd Breasseale said in a statement.

As part of the 12th “presidential drawdown” worth approximately $350 million, the US is sending 18 additional howitzers with tactical vehicles to tow them, 36,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition for the howitzers, as well as spare parts and other equipment for the artillery.

The drawdown also includes ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HMARS, and tactical vehicles “to recover equipment.”

As part of a $650 million package under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), the US is sending two Harpoon coastal defense systems, as well as thousands of “secure radios” and thousands of night vision devices, thermal sights, and “other optics.”

The USAI package also includes funding “for training, maintenance, sustainment, transportation, and administrative costs.”

Here's the full breakdown from the Pentagon of what is in the package:

The presidential drawdown authority (PDA) authorization is the twelfth drawdown of equipment from Department of Defense inventories for Ukraine since August 2021. Capabilities in this package include:

  • 18 155mm howitzers
  • 36,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition
  • 18 Tactical Vehicles to tow 155mm howitzers
  • Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems;
  • Four Tactical Vehicles to recover equipment
  • Spare parts and other equipment

Under USAI, the Department of Defense will provide Ukraine with near-term priority capabilities to defend against Russian aggression. Included in this package are:

  • Two Harpoon coastal defense systems
  • Thousands of secure radios
  • Thousands of Night Vision devices, thermal sights, and other optics
  • Funding for training, maintenance, sustainment, transportation, and administrative costs. 

1:12 p.m. ET, June 15, 2022

US secretary of state spoke to Ukrainian foreign minister about upcoming aid package to Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on June 10.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on June 10. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Wednesday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba "to share updates on U.S. assistance to Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war."

Their conversation came ahead of US President Joe Biden's public announcement of an additional $1 billion in US security assistance to Ukraine.

Blinken and Kuleba "discussed steps to expedite the delivery of heavy weaponry to Ukraine and bolster the Ukrainian economy, including efforts to ensure that Ukrainian agricultural products reach international markets," according to a readout from State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

"The Secretary underscored the United States’ diplomatic efforts to solve the global food security crisis caused by President Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine and previewed U.S. objectives for the upcoming G7 and NATO Summits," Price said.

12:46 p.m. ET, June 15, 2022

Biden spoke with Zelensky ahead of announcement of $1 billion in security assistance

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Joe Biden walks to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, on Tuesday, June 14.
President Joe Biden walks to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, on Tuesday, June 14. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

US President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Wednesday ahead of an announcement of $1 billion in security assistance and other humanitarian assistance for Ukraine amid Russia’s ongoing invasion.  

“I reaffirmed my commitment that the United States will stand by Ukraine as it defends its democracy and support its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression,” Biden said in a statement. 

He continued: “I informed President Zelenskyy that the United States is providing another $1 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, including additional artillery and coastal defense weapons, as well as ammunition for the artillery and advanced rocket systems that the Ukrainians need to support their defensive operations in the Donbas. We also discussed Secretary Austin’s efforts in Brussels today to coordinate additional international support for the Ukrainian armed forces.”

The US will also provide $225 million in humanitarian assistance, which Biden said will go toward “supplying safe drinking water, critical medical supplies and health care, food, shelter, and cash for families to purchase essential items.”

The two last spoke by phone in April.


12:29 p.m. ET, June 15, 2022

Macron says EU expansion cannot be the only solution to stability of its neighbors

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu and Camille Knight in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near Constanta, Romania, on Wednesday, June 15.
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near Constanta, Romania, on Wednesday, June 15. (Yoan Valat/Pool/AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron said that joining the European Union "can’t be the only answer to the stability" of neighboring countries such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

"First of all, because it is a process that is rightly demanding, and because we must also continue to simplify our Europe so that it is more efficient,” Macron said during a joint news conference with Moldovan President Maia Sandu on Wednesday in Moldova's capital of Chișinău.

He stressed the importance of building a broader European political community to cooperate over key issues such as defense and security, which would not be a substitute for adhesion.

EU leaders will gather at the end of June in Brussels to discuss the candidacy applications of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. This will be the last EU summit held under the French presidency.

“My role is to build consensus,” Macron said.

France has also taken the initiative to lead the European Moldova Support Platform, which promises the eastern European country 650 million euros ($675 million) of aid, according to Macron.


12:42 p.m. ET, June 15, 2022

Biden administration expected to announce additional $1 billion in new military aid for Ukraine

From CNN's Barbara Starr

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attends the Ukraine Defence Contact group meeting ahead of a NATO defence ministers' meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 15.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attends the Ukraine Defence Contact group meeting ahead of a NATO defence ministers' meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 15. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

The Biden administration Wednesday is expected to announce an additional $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine, according to a US official.

The package is expected to include shipments of additional howitzers, ammunition and coastal defense systems among the first items to be shipped.

Speaking in Brussels, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US and Ukraine are “working in lockstep to meet Ukraine's requests for new capabilities, especially its need for long-range fires, armor and coastal defense.”

The package is expected to include weapons and supplies that can be quickly shipped from existing US stockpiles as well as issuing new contracts for long-term supplies for Ukraine.

The same US official told CNN the new aid package for Ukraine includes:

  • 18 howitzers
  • 36K rounds of howitzer ammo
  • 2 Harpoon coastal defense systems

10:17 a.m. ET, June 15, 2022

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

Ukrainian forces are suffering heavy losses amid intense fighting in the east of the country, while Western leaders have promised to answer the country's call for more heavy weapons.

Here's the latest on the Russian invasion:

Situation in eastern Ukraine worsening: The Ukrainian military’s defense in the eastern region of Luhansk is growing more difficult, the head of Luhansk’s military administration said Wednesday morning. “It is getting harder, but our military is holding back the enemy from three directions at once,” Serhiy Hayday said via Telegram. 

Conflict at pivotal point: Western intelligence and military officials believe Russia's war in Ukraine is in a critical stage that could determine the long-term outcome of the conflict, according to multiple sources familiar with US and other Western intelligence. Ukraine's military is burning through Soviet-era ammunition that fits older systems as the country pleads with the West to send more heavy weaponry and Russia amasses a significant artillery advantage around two strategically important cities in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine suffering "painful" losses: Fierce fighting continues in Severodonetsk and the Kharkiv region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a video address on Tuesday. In Severodonetsk “the losses, unfortunately, are painful,” Zelensky said. “But we have to hold on.” He went on to say how it is vital for the Ukrainian military to stay in Donbas.

Russia claims NATO weapons destroyed: The Russian Ministry of Defense says it destroyed a warehouse of weapons provided by NATO nations in the western Ukrainian Lviv region on Tuesday. “High-precision long-range Kalibr missiles near Zolochev, Lvov region, have destroyed a warehouse of ammunition for foreign weapons transferred to Ukraine by NATO countries, including 155-mm M777 howitzers,” the Russian MOD said Wednesday.

NATO promises more weapons: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday the alliance will continue to support Ukraine, supplying them with a military support package that would help the Ukrainian army transition from Soviet-era artillery to more modern weapons. "We are extremely focused on stepping up, providing more support, more advanced weapons ... because we support them in their just fight against the brutal Russian invasion," Stoltenberg said in Brussels ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers.

Ukrainian children suffering widespread displacement: Nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children have been forced to leave their homes, according to Afshan Khan, regional director at UNICEF.

Macron predicts negotiations with Russia: “It is the reality of things” that Ukraine and Europe “will have to negotiate” with Russia over the Ukrainian war at some point, French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday. “The only desirable end to the conflict is either a Ukrainian military victory or talks at some point because fighting has stopped, so at some point we must talk,” he said while visiting French troops in eastern Romania.  

Pope Francis keeps attention on Ukraine: The Pontiff made an appeal for people not to forget about the Ukraine war as the conflict rages on. "Let’s not get used to living as if war were a distant thing,” he said. 

Russian plan to reopen bombed Mariupol theater: Russia is planning to reopen Mariupol’s Drama Theater this fall -- the location where hundreds of people are believed to have died after a Russian bombing on March 16 -- according to an adviser to the Ukrainian mayor of the city. "Dances on the bones, a performance at the cemetery,” he said. “There is no such depth of the inhumanity bottom that the occupiers have not hit.”