June 16, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Ivana Kottasová, Sana Noor Haq, Hafsa Khalil, Adrienne Vogt and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 2:56 a.m. ET, June 17, 2022
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8:47 p.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Family confirms identity of third American volunteer fighter missing in action in Ukraine 

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

The third American who the US State Department identified as missing in action in Ukraine is a US Marine veteran, Grady Kurpasi, his wife, Heeson Kim, confirmed to CNN.

The last time Kim and other close friends heard from Kurpasi was between April 23 and 24, George Heath, a family friend of Kurpasi’s told CNN.

Kurpasi served in the US Marine Corps for 20 years, retiring in November 2021. He chose to volunteer alongside Ukrainians in Ukraine but initially did not envision himself fighting on the frontlines of the war, Heath said. 

“For him personally, he has a skillset that he feels he can give back,” Heath said. “He wanted to go and help the Ukrainian people. He wasn’t really planning on fighting.”

The State Department said they were aware of reports of a third American who traveled to Ukraine to fight against Russia who has been identified “in recent weeks” as missing, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a press briefing on Thursday.

Price did not give the name of the third reportedly missing American, but said the State Department was in touch with the family. 

Kurpasi arrived in Ukraine on March 7 and made it to Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv on March 21, Heath said. Kurpasi and other members of the foreign legion were tasked to man an observation post at the end of April near Kherson, around the time Kurpasi stopped communicating with his wife and friends back in the US, Heath said.

The foreign legion is a group of foreign fighters who have volunteered to fight alongside Ukrainians against Russia’s invasion of the country. It is not clear if Kurpasi was a member of the foreign legion, but he was a volunteer fighting alongside Ukrainians, Heath said.

Kurpasi and foreign legion troops manning the post at the time started “receiving small arms fire” on April 26, Heath said, meaning they were getting shot at. Kurpasi and the other soldier “went to go investigate what was happening,” so they left the observation post, Heath said. Grady then radioed to Ukrainian military to start firing back and “that was the last time anyone heard from him,” Heath said. 

Heath has reconstructed this account from other foreign legion members he’s spoken with in the weeks since Kurpasi has gone missing, he said. 

The State Department told Kim that Kurpasi was missing in action on April 28, Heath said. The reason he has been identified as missing in action is because his body has not been found or identified, he added. 

Kurpasi’s “goal was not to be in firefights doing stuff like that,” when he went to Ukraine, Heath said. “It just ended up being that way in the end,” he added. 

Kurpasi joined the US Marines after September 11 and had four deployments in total during his service, including three to Iraq. He was a decorated service member who won the Good Conduct Medal three times, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal three times, the Purple Heart medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, among other awards, according to his military service record.

Heath described Kurpasi as a “great leader.” Kurpasi was Heath’s platoon commander in the US Marines from 2012 to 2014, Heath said. 

“He always led from the front. He always took care of his Marines,” Heath said.

After retiring from the Marines last fall, Kurpasi applied to a PhD program at Stanford University. He did not get into the program but was applying to other doctorate programs while he was in Ukraine, Heath said. 

Kurpasi’s last post in the military was at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He was living in Wilmington, North Carolina before he left for Ukraine, another family friend, Jason Tokushige told CNN.

Read more here.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler, Clarissa Ward and Barbara Starr contributed reporting to this post.

9:31 p.m. ET, June 16, 2022

State Department working to verify photo in Russian media of reportedly captured Americans, mother tells CNN

From CNN's Daniella Mora, Mick Krever, Jonny Hallam and Michael Conte

(From Telegram)
(From Telegram)

A photo emerged on Thursday of two American fighters in the back of a Russian military truck apparently confirming they had been captured by Russian forces north of Kharkiv, Ukraine, last week.

The men are Alexander John-Robert Drueke, age 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, age 27, from Hartselle, Alabama. The photo shows the two men looking up at the camera with hands behind their backs as if bound.

The undated photo was posted on Telegram on Thursday by a Russian blogger, The V, whose full name is Timofey Vasilyev, from Moscow. CNN cannot verify when it was taken.

Bunny Drueke, the mother of one of the Americans reportedly captured, said in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper that the US State Department told her that they are working to verify the alleged photo.

“They said that there is a photograph that is being circulated on the Russian media. And they’re working hard to verify it,” said Bunny Drueke. “We’re very hopeful.”

 Drueke said her son went to Ukraine to train soldiers there to fight against Russia because “he felt that if Putin wasn’t stopped now, he would just become bolder with every success, and that eventually he might end up on American shores.”

More background: The 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.

There is very little to identify the location of the vehicle but a white box of food with tin cans falling out has been identified by CNN's Russia desk as being "mackerel with vegetables" made by Russian food producer Fregat.

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

5:13 p.m. ET, June 16, 2022

EU is working on exporting grain from Ukraine through Romania, Macron says

From CNN's Dalal Mawad in Paris

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands after a press conference on Thursday in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands after a press conference on Thursday in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that the European Union is working on an alternate export route for Ukrainian grain and cereals through Romania.

“Odesa is a few tens of kilometers from Romania,” said Macron in an exclusive interview from Kyiv to French TV channel TF1.

He added that grain would be exported from Romania through the Danube River and into the railway system.

Earlier in a press conference from Kyiv, Macron said that the current global food crisis was a “direct consequence of the war waged by Russia.”

He called on Russia “to accept that the United Nations organize the export of cereals, which requires the lifting of the Russian blockade on Ukrainian ports and provide all security guarantees for Ukraine to allow the exit of these cereals.”

5:13 p.m. ET, June 16, 2022

French president says he will not visit Russia without "gestures" from Putin

From Dalal Mawad in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference on Thursday in Kyiv, Ukraine. 
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference on Thursday in Kyiv, Ukraine.  (Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that he will not go to Russia without “preconditions,” such as “gestures” from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I will not just go like this,” said Macron in an exclusive interview with French TV channel TF1 from Kyiv.

The French president said he would keep engaging with Putin on humanitarian issues, including prisoners and food security.

“And so I do not exclude anything, but I will always do it in transparency with the Ukrainian president,” Macron said.

Macron said he believes his relationship with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has not changed because of his dialogue with Putin.

“I don’t think we can say that our relationship got cold. France has maintained the same position. I was transparent about my dialogue with Putin and sometimes did it at the request of President Zelensky,” he said.

5:07 p.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Putin asks government to propose measures to support Russian car industry, which has been hit by sanctions

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova and Chris Liakos

A used car dealership is seen in Moscow, Russia on June 5. French automobile manufacturer Renault sold its plant in Moscow and completely left the country as Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Volkswagen and General Motors suspended their delivery of cars to Russia due to the western sanctions.
A used car dealership is seen in Moscow, Russia on June 5. French automobile manufacturer Renault sold its plant in Moscow and completely left the country as Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Volkswagen and General Motors suspended their delivery of cars to Russia due to the western sanctions. (Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday asked his government to come up with measures to support the domestic car industry, which has been badly hit following Western sanctions.

During a meeting to discuss Russia’s auto industry and a slump in sales, Putin said that the situation “is not easy” after “partners of Russian car factories, despite their long-term commitments, either suspended deliveries or announced their withdrawal from our market.”

“I ask the government to tell us in more detail what prompt measures are being proposed to support the auto industry and stabilize the domestic market,” he added.

Putin said that the volume of output is already affected, having sharply dropped compared to last year.

“I see two tasks as the most important now: The first is to ensure the work of automobile plants in Russia, their supply with the necessary components, to maintain employment, teams of qualified specialists,” he said. “The second task, the Russian auto industry must ensure a sufficient supply of cars, primarily passenger vehicles, prices for which have risen sharply this year.”

Car sales in Russia have collapsed since the invasion of Ukraine.

5:12 p.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Kyiv mayor tells German chancellor that Ukraine "needs help today"

From CNN's Jonny Hallam in Atlanta

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko (M) and his brother Vladimir Klitschko (L) talk with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko (M) and his brother Vladimir Klitschko (L) talk with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the Ukrainian capital on Thursday. 

Klitschko said they discussed Ukraine's urgent need for "weapons, economic, and financial assistance," and called on Europe to impose "stronger and more effective sanctions against the Russian aggressor."

"It is important that world leaders visit Ukraine and see the consequences of Russia's barbaric actions, which are destroying our cities and brutally killing peaceful Ukrainians," said Klitschko in a post on his Telegram.

He warned that appeasing Russian aggression "will only whet his appetite, and the war will spread to EU countries."

Klitschko emphasized Ukraine's need for immediate assistance to defeat Russia's invasion. "That is why Ukraine, which has taken on the blow of imperial evil and is heroically defending itself, needs help today and now!" he said.

3:01 p.m. ET, June 16, 2022

US State Department says 3rd American is reportedly missing in Ukraine

From CNN's Michael Conte and Jennifer Hansler

The US State Department said it knows of reports of a third American who traveled to Ukraine to fight against Russia who has been identified “in recent weeks” as missing, but was unable to give further details. This is in addition to the two Americans reported missing on Wednesday.

“There are reports of one additional American whose whereabouts are unknown. I can’t speak to the specifics of that case. Unfortunately, we don’t know the full details of that case,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a press briefing.

Price said the department is in contact with the families of the two other US citizens reportedly captured in Ukraine, as well as Ukrainian authorities and the International Committee of the Red Cross, but that they similarly could not confirm reports that these two citizens were captured.

“We continue to urge in every way we can American citizens not to travel to Ukraine because of the attendant dangers that is posed by Russia’s ongoing aggression,” Price said.

Price also said that the US is not in contact with Russia about the missing American citizens because they do not yet have “credible reason” to believe the Russians have captured them and also because Russia has not claimed to have captured them.

“If we feel that such outreach through our embassy in Moscow or otherwise would be productive in terms of finding out more information on the whereabouts of these individuals, we won’t hesitate to do that,” said Price.

Price also said the US is in contact with “other partners,” including the UK.

12:57 p.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Zelensky says Ukraine is ready to work to join EU, but needs more powerful weapons to defeat Russians

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Jonny Hallam in Atlanta

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, speaks with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on June 16, 2022 in Kyiv.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, speaks with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on June 16, 2022 in Kyiv. (Jesco Denzel/German Government Press Office/Getty Images)

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday said Russia's invasion has a goal "to break Ukraine and to break the whole of Europe through Ukraine."

During a joint press conference in Kyiv with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Zelensky told his counterparts that Russia's attack on Ukraine amounted to an attack on all of Europe:

"Russia wants to demonstrate that united Europe is unable to be effective and that European values do not work for protecting freedom. We can and we should break this scenario and prove them that Europe will continue to be free, democratic and ... united," he said.  

Zelensky said the best way to demonstrate "our common and strong position" is by supporting Ukrainian integration into the European Union, adding that Ukraine's status as candidate for EU membership "can amplify freedom in Europe historically and become one of the key European decisions of the first third of the 21st century."

Zelensky said Ukraine is ready to work to become a full EU member.

"We understand that that the path to the European Union is really a path and it is not one step. But this path must begin, and we are ready to work so that our state is transformed into a full member of the European Union, and Ukrainians have already earned the right to embark on this path," he said.

The Ukrainian president has called on EU leaders to give his country fast-track membership to the bloc through a shortened procedure to counter Russian aggression. 

Zelensky said the total number of Russian missiles used against the civilian population in Ukraine has "already reached 3,000 this month," adding that the sooner Ukraine receives more powerful weapons from the West, the faster it will be able to end the Russian attacks.

"Each batch of such supplies equals rescued Ukrainians. And every day of delaying or postponing decisions is a chance for the Russian military to kill Ukrainians or a chance to destroy our cities. There is a direct connection: The more powerful weapons we get, the faster we can liberate our people and liberate our land," Zelensky said.

12:26 p.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Russia plans to withstand Western sanctions and complete its mission in Donbas, Kremlin spokesperson says

From CNN’s Fred Pleitgen in St. Petersburg

Russia plans to withstand the Western sanctions and complete its goal in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told CNN Thursday.

Asked by about Russia’s intention to occupy parts of Ukrainian territories in Odesa, Kharkiv, and Kherson, Peskov said that the decision would depend on the "will of local people."   

"The number one goal is to protect the people of Donbas and Luhansk from those who are shelling Donetsk, for example, right now, and killing civilians there. And have been doing that for the last eight to nine years," he said.  

“As for other territories and regions of Ukraine, you know, the more our military is cleaning up the territory from those nationalistic regiments, the more people are welcoming them and the more people declaring their desire to discontinue their future life with the modern regime in Kyiv,” he claimed. 

Peskov said Russia poses no threat to the Baltic states and Finland, which announced its intention join NATO last month, breaking the decades-long military non-alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.   

“We are sure that the membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO, it won’t bring any additional benefits to the security of the European continent. On the opposite, it will bring additional tension,” he said.   

The spokesperson admitted that Moscow is not in a “comfortable position” following the “unprecedented” economic sanctions by the West against Russia but claimed that “the crucial effect” of the sanctions that the West had hoped for “didn’t happen.”   

“We are now even feeling a little bit better than one would think,” Peskov said, adding, “Of course, we understand our problems, we understand that in a very short time we will have to compensate the quite a significant decrease in more than 40%-45% in imports."

He said Russia is planning on a “very serious boost” to its domestic production and infrastructure.   

“In order to reorganize imports, we have to reorganize the direction of imports. To compensate for the western direction, by increasing imports from the eastern direction,” Peskov said hinting towards increasing imports from Asian countries. "All of this is quite possible because our world is so big and so rich."