June 15, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Christian Edwards, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Elise Hammond and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 12:04 a.m. ET, June 16, 2023
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9:30 p.m. ET, June 15, 2023

Russia-installed governor in southern Ukraine claims he was targeted in assassination attempt

From CNN’s Josh Pennington

Vladimir Saldo attends a meeting in Moscow on December 22, 2022.
Vladimir Saldo attends a meeting in Moscow on December 22, 2022. Stringer/Getty Images

Vladimir Saldo, the Moscow-installed governor of the Russian-occupied Kherson region, claims Ukraine tried to assassinate him last week.

Ukrainian forces launched more than 10 "high precision" missiles at his "supposed location" in the southern region, Saldo claimed in a post on his official Telegram channel.

The June 9 strike on Arabat Spit ended up badly damaging a temporary accommodation center and left one person dead, Saldo told Russian state news agency TASS.

CNN cannot independently confirm the veracity of Saldo's accusation. The Ukrainian military has not yet commented on the report.

Other attacks in southern Ukraine: Russia-backed officials have accused Ukraine of making several recent assassination attempts in southern Ukraine.

In May, a Moscow-appointed court chairman was targeted in an attack, according to the Russian-installed governor of the occupied Zaporizhzhia region. That attack was one in a string of alleged assassination attempts in the occupied city of Melitopol.

And earlier this month, a deadly car bombing targeted “Kremlin collaborators” in a town just outside Melitopol, according to the city's Ukrainian mayor.

6:37 p.m. ET, June 15, 2023

Russia says its forces are resisting the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Here's what to know on Thursday

From CNN staff

Ukraine's deputy defense minister says Russia is "putting up a strong resistance" to Kyiv's counteroffensive efforts — but Ukrainian officials are claiming successes in places like Bakhmut and Zaporizhzhia.

A Ukraine commander said his soldiers successfully intercepted six of Russia's toughest weapons using the United States Patriot air defense system last month. Now, the US and other countries are announcing a new shipment of air defense equipment.

Here's what else to know:

  • Ukrainian counteroffensive:  Ukraine’s military offensive is continuing in “several directions” and Kyiv’s troops are “gradually but surely advancing” in the south of the country, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said. A clandestine Ukrainian unit has also claimed successes against Russian forces in Bakhmut.
  • Zaporizhzhia offensive: More than 100 square kilometers of territory have been liberated "in the Zaporizhzhia direction" over the last week in southeast Ukraine, a senior figure in Kyiv's military has claimed. Meantime, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed to have repelled Ukrainian offensive operations in the region on Thursday.
  • Russia pushes back: Russia is attempting to advance in other areas, with assault operations in the Kharkiv region and along parts of the Donetsk front, according to Oleksii Hromov, deputy chief of the Ukrainian general staff. Russian attacks in the first two weeks of June were focused on "targets related to logistics, industrial facilities, as well as oil and gas supply," he added.

Here's a closer look at the front lines:

  • New military aid for Ukraine: The United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Denmark will deliver "high priority" air defense equipment to Ukraine, the nations said in a joint statement. Delivery of the equipment has begun and "should be complete within several weeks," it said. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also pointed out Kyiv has the ability to recover and repair its damaged equipment and get it "back into the fight."
  • Ukraine's appeal to Switzerland: President Volodymyr Zelensky asked Swiss lawmakers to export weapons to Ukraine. At the beginning of the month, the lower house of the Swiss Parliament rejected a bill known as "Lex Ukraine" that would have allowed third-party countries to transfer Swiss-made arms to Ukraine. Switzerland is a neutral country with a legal framework ensuring it does not send weapons directly or indirectly to belligerent states.
  • Use of US Patriot system: Ukraine said its defenses successfully intercepted six Russian Kinzhal missiles, Russia's toughest weapons using the United States Patriot air defense system last month. Commander Serhii Yaremenko said soldiers in his brigade realized the missiles were moving directly toward them and the Patriot system, but "did not panic for a second." Later they learned there were six Kinzhals among the assault. Russian President Vladimir Putin claims the Kh-47's hypersonic speed makes it extremely difficult to intercept.
  • Watchdog visits nuclear power plant: Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, visited the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to assess the situation after the Nova Kakhovka dam collapse. Grossi said it is essential that the water stays at the same level for the plant’s safety.
6:23 p.m. ET, June 15, 2023

Zelensky appeals to Swiss parliament as it debates whether to re-export weapons to Ukraine 

From CNN's Sarah Dean and Yulia Kesaieva

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen on screens addressing Swiss parliament via video in Bern, Switzerland, on June 15.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen on screens addressing Swiss parliament via video in Bern, Switzerland, on June 15. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to Swiss lawmakers to export weapons to Ukraine Thursday to make the country “a territory of peace again."

Switzerland has been a neutral country since 1815, with its legal framework ensuring it does not send weapons directly or indirectly to belligerent states.

Since Russia’s war in Ukraine began, the country has faced increasing pressure from its European neighbors to approve the re-exportation of weapons to Ukraine.

“I know that Switzerland is having a discussion about permits to re-export weapons to protect Ukraine,” Zelensky said via video, urging that his request for weapons is only to restore peace to Ukraine, “exactly as envisaged by international law.”

Zelensky told Swiss parliament that Ukraine is “not a source of aggression, not a territory of war, and not some kind of conflict zone.”

“We are a country that has always valued and will always value peace. Our peace can only withstand such aggression by force of arms,” he added. 

More background: On June 1, the lower house of the Swiss Parliament — the National Council — rejected a bill known as "Lex Ukraine" that would have allowed third-party countries to transfer Swiss-made arms to Ukraine. 

A plan to allow buyers of Swiss arms to re-export them to third countries under certain conditions was backed by the upper house of Switzerland’s parliament — the Council of States — on June 7. However, that plan has further legislative hurdles to take.

During his video address to parliament, Zelensky said: “Any unbiased view will show one thing, if (the) war had not been brought from Russia to our peaceful Ukrainian land, there would have been no war. The source of evil and death is beyond our borders. By supporting us, the world supports protection from war.”

He appealed to lawmakers to imagine what it is like to fall asleep checking to see if there are warnings of Russian bombers “on the verge of launching missiles” or to imagine living in communities that border Russia.

In April, Switzerland’s President Alain Berset said Switzerland "cannot be asked to break our own laws," when discussing whether Swiss weapons could be re-exported to Ukraine. Berset was addressing the issue of neutrality at a joint press conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. 

Berset said that, while discussions are ongoing regarding whether the country "should, must or could develop" its stance on re-exporting weapons to Ukraine, it is currently out of the question, with Swiss law "clear on that."

So far, for example, Switzerland has prohibited Germany from transferring Swiss-made ammunition for the Gepard anti-aircraft systems Berlin provided to Ukraine.  

Switzerland did, however, break its neutrality status quo shortly after the war began by adopting European Union sanctions in March 2022. Berset said Switzerland is taking the implementation of these sanctions seriously and is "doing everything that can be done in order to enforce them."

2:51 p.m. ET, June 15, 2023

It is essential that water at Zaporizhzhia plant remain at same level, chief of UN nuclear watchdog says

From CNN’s Claudia Rebaza in London

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, visits the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on June 15.
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, visits the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on June 15. Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant on Thursday to assess the situation after the Nova Kakhovka dam collapse.

In a statement published on social media, Rafael Grossi said it is essential that the water stays at the same level for the plant’s safety.

“There is evaporation, there can be some leak, but it has to be maintained at that level. With the water that is here the plant can be safe for some time,” the chief of the UN nuclear watchdog explained.

“The plant is going to be working to replenish the water so that the safety functions can continue normally,” Grossi said, adding they will be monitoring it closely.

The plant is held by Russian forces and not far from where a Ukrainian offensive in the south is evolving. This is Grossi's third visit to the nuclear power plant since last September. 

Watch the official's update from the plant:

4:37 p.m. ET, June 15, 2023

Evacuated residents of Russian border village in Belgorod region allege looting by Moscow's troops

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Smoke over the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka in the Belgorod region of Russia on June 4.
Smoke over the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka in the Belgorod region of Russia on June 4. Anatoliy Zhdanov/Kommersant/Sipa USA/AP

Two residents evacuated from a Russian village that borders Ukraine in the Belgorod region have alleged to authorities that Russian soldiers looted their homes.

In public comments to regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov, the two residents said that the Russian military sent to guard their village of Novaya Tavolzhanka had instead robbed their houses.

Several thousand people were evacuated from the area when Russian volunteers opposed to the rule of President Vladimir Putin launched cross-border raids late in May.

One of the residents, Natalya Chemerchenko, told the governor in a post Thursday on the VK social media site: "Military personnel of the Russian Federation break into many houses (although the state of emergency has not been introduced and they do not have the right to enter private homes)." 

"They live in our homes, lead an ugly lifestyle, alcohol and other things remain in the form of garbage and dirt, toilets and houses are polluted, personal belongings and property are stolen," she wrote.

"We do not want our houses, which have already suffered from the actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, to be now still a haven for the outrages of our defenders!" she added.

Vladimir Zhdanov, the head of the administration of the Shebekino district, told Chemerchenko in a reply that her "appeal has been forwarded to the Security Council."

Another comment, which was written Wednesday, claimed that Russian soldiers were living in a home that a family had fled.

“Two houses were broken into, one door was broken with a crowbar, windows were broken," according to a comment from local resident Danil Bilych.

"All things were turned over, they were looking for small precious things, some of them were stolen, there were acts of vandalism in one of the houses, TVs were broken, furniture was ripped up. Soldiers obviously live in the house," he added.

Other comments in response to the governor have focused on an alleged lack of social support that had been pledged to residents who were evacuated.

"We are located outside the Belgorod region, in the city of Zelenograd. For a week I have been trying to get answers, how can we receive the payment? We have two children, we do not live, we survive! Thanks to the volunteers from Moscow, at least they bring food!" according to one comment.

CNN has reached out to Russia's Ministry of Defense for comment.

1:00 p.m. ET, June 15, 2023

Ukraine can recover damaged equipment and get it "back into the fight," US defense secretary says

From CNN's Michael Conte

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin gives a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 15.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin gives a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 15. Simon Wolfahrt/AFP/Getty Images

As Ukraine's counteroffensive begins, Kyiv has the ability to recover and repair its damaged equipment and get it "back into the fight," US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Thursday after a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Brussels, Belgium.

The top US general, Mark Milley, said Kyiv is "making steady progress" in its counteroffensive, but outlined some of the difficulties in the effort.

"This is a very difficult fight. It is a very violent fight. And it will likely take a considerable amount of time and at high cost," Milley, who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in the news conference alongside Austin.

The US defense secretary note that “there will continue to be battle damage” but that the Ukrainian forces “still have a lot of combat capability, combat power.” 

More background: Earlier this week CNN reported that Ukraine has lost 16 US-supplied armored vehicles in the past several days, according to open-source intelligence analysis, as the country’s military announced its forces had captured three villages from Russia in an offensive in the eastern Donetsk region.

The 16 US Bradley infantry fighting vehicles either destroyed or damaged and abandoned in recent days represent almost 15% of the 109 that Washington has given Kyiv, according to Jakub Janovsky of the Dutch open-source intelligence website Oryx, which has been collecting visual evidence of military equipment losses in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began on February 24, 2022.

11:24 a.m. ET, June 15, 2023

Ukrainian commander details destroying Russian Kinzhal missiles with US Patriot system

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Sarah Dean

A Ukrainian military commander has detailed how he says his brigade shot down one of Russia’s most modern ballistic missiles using a US Patriot air defense system.

Ukraine says its defenses successfully intercepted six of the Russian Kinzhal missiles on May 16.

Commander Serhii Yaremenko and his 96th Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Air Command Center were at the heart of the defense, though they didn't realize until later they had defeated one of Russia's toughest weapons, he said in an interview Thursday.

“Frankly speaking, I realized that we had shot down the Kinzhal only after expert analysts examined the wreckage," Yaremenko told Army Inform, a Ukrainian defense ministry website.

When Russia launched its assault, "Sixteen ballistic targets flew from different directions, most of them aimed at the Patriot system,” the commander said, referring to the powerful US-provided missile defense system.

“I'm always proud of my subordinates, but this time even I was shocked by their endurance. People realized that ballistic missiles were moving directly toward them," he continued.

“They did not panic for a second, acted in a coordinated and organized manner, shared targets across sectors, and ensured their destruction at a minimum range, high enough to reduce the likelihood of damage to infrastructure."

Yaremenko said the Ukrainian fighters were emotional when all the targets had finally been destroyed and the airspace declared clear. Later they learned there were six Kinzhals among the assault.

The grueling defense proves the Patriot system's value to Ukraine, holding its own even against weapons Moscow has positioned as impossible to combat, Yaremenko said.

More on the Russian missiles: The Kinzhal, or Kh-47, has been touted by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military as an example of Moscow’s modernized missile arsenal, claiming that its hypersonic speed makes it extremely difficult to intercept. An air-launched ballistic missile, the Kh-47 has a range of some 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), so it can be fired far from the battlefield.

It travels at about 10 times the speed of sound and is derived from the shorter-range Iskander ballistic missile, which is ground-launched. It carries a warhead of nearly 500 kilograms (about 1,100 pounds).

Attack on the Patriot: The Russian Ministry of Defense claims it destroyed a US-made Patriot air defense system in Kyiv during the May 16 assault, despite Ukraine saying it destroyed all Russian missiles in the early morning attack.

US officials inspected the system and said damage was “minimal,” CNN reported. It was not clear whether the system was damaged by an actual missile strike or falling debris. 

The Patriot has a powerful radar to detect incoming targets at long range, making it a potent air defense platform capable of intercepting ballistic missiles and more. But the radar emission necessary to spot threats at a distance also makes it possible for the enemy to detect the Patriot battery and figure out its location.

CNN's Tim Lister, Natasha Bertrand, Oren Liebermann and Jim Sciutto contributed to this report.

10:38 a.m. ET, June 15, 2023

US, UK, Netherlands and Denmark to deliver "high priority" air defense equipment to Ukraine

From CNN’s Sarah Dean

The United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Denmark will deliver "high priority" air defense equipment to Ukraine, the nations announced in a joint statement on Thursday.

Hundreds of short- and medium-range air defense missiles and associated systems are included in the initiative, according to the statement. 

Delivery of the equipment has begun and "should be complete within several weeks," it added.

The aid was announced ahead of the meeting of the US-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Brussels, Belgium.