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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10:05 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Evacuation from Azot plant in Severodonetsk now "impossible," according to regional leader

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Mick Krever

Smoke and dirt rise from the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine, during fighting on June 14.
Smoke and dirt rise from the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine, during fighting on June 14. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Hundreds of civilians sheltering at the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk are no longer able to evacuate because of the sustained Russian artillery barrages, the Luhansk regional military governor told CNN in a telephone interview on Thursday. 

“It is impossible to get out of there now,” Serhiy Hayday said. “I mean, it is physically possible, but it is very dangerous due to constant shelling and fighting.”

“If someone went out, they would have a 99% chance of dying," he added.

Hayday told CNN that 568 people, including 38 children, were currently taking refuge in the eastern Ukrainian plant.

The civilians sheltering at Azot have stocks of food, but they have not been resupplied in two weeks, head of the Severodonetsk district military administration Roman Vlasenko told CNN via text message on Wednesday. Most of those sheltering there are employees of the chemical plant, their families and some local residents, he said.

“They have been hiding there from the very beginning,” he told CNN. “There are real bomb shelters there.”

The Azot plant is a massive chemical manufacturer that before the war was one of the largest producers of ammonium nitrate, which is used as a fertilizer, in the country. Group DF, a conglomerate run by the Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, said that the plant had an annual capacity of over two million tons and also produced products such as ammonia.

Those compounds, of course, are highly explosive and harmful to human health. But Group DF said in March that it acted quickly to secure the plant when war broke out at the end of February and that it “poses no danger” to the surroundings and its residents.

“Following the outbreak of the war, the production was completely suspended,” the company said on its website. “The remainders of the finished products (fertilizers) and chemicals were completely removed from the territory of the enterprise beyond the Luhansk region.”  

Hayday told CNN that authorities had tried to convince the civilians sheltering there to leave the plant last month, before major bridges were destroyed, but that many were convinced that they would be safer to stay in place.

“They didn't want to go,” Hayday said. “They thought it was safer there for some reason. The last time we offered to evacuate them was a day or two before the first bridge was destroyed [on May 21]. My first deputy came to talk to them, but unfortunately they did not want to leave.”

He said that there have been several cases of civilians leaving shelter — for example, to cook — and then being injured or killed by incoming fire.

As of this this week, all three main bridges between Severodonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk are impassable. Hayday said that routes still existed between the cities, but they require more travel along the Siverskyi Donets river — and more exposure to incoming fire.

The fact that those routes exist at all, though, distinguish the Azot plant from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, where civilians and fighters sheltered for weeks earlier this year. In that case, the Ukrainians were surrounded by Russian forces on three sides and the Sea of Azov on the fourth side.

Russia earlier this week said that it would open a “humanitarian corridor” for civilians at the plant to evacuate, but only to Russian-controlled territory to the north, not to Ukrainian-held Lysychansk to the west.

Hayday said that an evacuation would be possible only if there were a complete ceasefire, but he was highly skeptical of any promises made by Russia.

At repeated points during the war, Ukrainian officials said, Russian forces have broken promises to open evacuation corridors, driven civilian evacuees onto their territory and failed to observe ceasefire agreements.

“I hear a lot of what they say, but 99% of it is just nonsense or a lie,” Hayday said. “If there is a complete ceasefire, then we can take people out. But I do not believe the Russians — as much as they lie, as much as they gave their word and did not keep it. There is a lot of such evidence.”

8:49 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Italy's Draghi after Irpin visit: "We will rebuild everything"

From CNN’s Hada Messia in Rome 

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, center, visits in Irpin, Ukraine, on June 16.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, center, visits in Irpin, Ukraine, on June 16. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi vowed to “rebuild everything” after visiting Ukraine’s war-torn city of Irpin on Thursday.

“We will rebuild everything. They destroyed the kindergartens, they destroyed the children's gardens. Everything will be rebuilt. They have already started,” Draghi said. 

“They know exactly where the sites that need to be rebuilt are. Each family has an app where they describe what happened, and they are already in a very advanced state,” he added. 

During his visit to the Kyiv suburb, locals spoke to him “about rebuilding. Words of pain, of hope but also of what they will want to do in the future,” the Italian leader said.

8:30 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

It's 3:30 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know.

From CNN staff

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy have arrived in Kyiv for a high profile trip to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's defense minister said the number of Ukrainians who have died since Russia invaded the country in February likely stands in the tens of thousands.

Here are the latest developments:

European leaders meet Zelensky: French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi are meeting with Zelensky, during a visit to Kyiv designed to smooth out tensions over what Ukrainian officials perceive as lukewarm support in their fight against Russia. Speaking to reporters on the platform as he arrived at Kyiv train station, Macron told reporters he had a "message of European unity addressed to Ukrainian men and women." 

US aid bolsters Ukrainian military: US weapons will help Ukraine recapture Russian-occupied territory, including Crimea and Donbas, the Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told CNN's Matthew Chance in an exclusive interview in Brussels. The defense minister said the first step would be stabilization of the situation on the ground to prevent further losses against Russian forces. He said the second stage is to push Russian forces back to their positions before the invasion on February 24, adding the military "will move step by step." 

Fighting in the east intensifies: The Russia-backed leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine said on Thursday that his fighters will push beyond the borders of the Donetsk region. “The West's supplies of new weapons to Ukraine are forcing DPR troops not to stop at the borders of the Donetsk Republic,” Denis Pushilin told Russian State Media RIA Novosti. He added that he wants to see a "referendum" held for his region to join Russia. Huge parts of the Donetsk region are still controlled by Ukraine, most notably the population centers of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.

UK increases sanctions on Russia: Britain on Thursday sanctioned the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, for his "prominent support of Russian military aggression in Ukraine," the UK Foreign Office said in a statement. Patriarch Kirill has been sanctioned alongside several of Russian President Vladimir Putin's allies and military commanders. The announcement came two days after Russia published an updated “stop list” banning a total of 49 British citizens from entering the country, including journalists, UK military officials, defense contractors and members of parliament.

China reaffirms support for Russia: Chinese leader Xi Jinping reiterated his support for Moscow on "sovereignty and security" matters in a call with counterpart Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, upholding his backing for the countries' partnership despite the global backlash against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Speaking on his 69th birthday, Xi also pledged to deepen strategic coordination between the two countries, according to China's Foreign Ministry.

8:25 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Federal prosecutors move to seize $5.3 million from US bank account belonging to Russian oligarch

From CNN's Rob Frehse

Russian tycoon Konstantin Malofeyev pictured in Moscow, Russia, on August 11, 2020.
Russian tycoon Konstantin Malofeyev pictured in Moscow, Russia, on August 11, 2020. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Federal prosecutors in New York announced on Wednesday they were moving to seize more than $5.3 million from a United States bank account belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, according to court documents.

Malofeyev was recently targeted by the US in a round of sanctions imposed on Russia over the war on Ukraine. On April 20, the US unveiled sanctions targeting a key commercial bank and "a global network of more than 40 individuals and entities led by US-designated Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev."

The reasons given for these sanctions were "for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly," the government of Russia.

The US previously sanctioned Malofeyev in December 2014 for funding "separatist activities in eastern Ukraine" and for his close links to "Aleksandr Borodai, Igor Girkin (a.k.a. Igot Strelkov), and the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, which have all been previously sanctioned as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs)," according to a Treasury release at the time.

8:00 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Irpin is a symbol of "unimaginable cruelty" of Russian war, Germany's Scholz says after visit  

From Inke Kappeler in Berlin

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks to the media in front of destroyed buildings in Irpin, Ukraine, on June 16.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks to the media in front of destroyed buildings in Irpin, Ukraine, on June 16. (Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Ukraine’s Irpin and Bucha have “become a symbol of the unimaginable cruelty of the Russian war,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Thursday after visiting Irpin, a suburb outside Kyiv.

This is Scholz's first trip to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion.   

“The brutal destruction in this city is a memorial — this war must end," Scholz demanded in a tweet.  

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who is also visiting Kyiv, tweeted that Romania wants “all Russian perpetrators to be held responsible by the international criminal justice.” 

“No words to describe the unimaginable human tragedy and horrible destructions we saw today in Irpin,“ Iohannis wrote

8:07 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Zelensky meets with European leaders in Kyiv

From CNN's Mick Krever, Vica Butenko and Yulia Kesaieva

From left, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis meet for a working session in Mariinsky Palace, Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 16.
From left, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis meet for a working session in Mariinsky Palace, Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 16. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is meeting in Kyiv with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, according to a photos and video distributed by Zelensky’s office.

“Busy day. Important meetings,” Zelensky said via his official Telegram channel, adding that he is pleased to meet these leaders.

8:14 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

UK sanctions head of Russian Orthodox Church for "prominent support" of military aggression in Ukraine

From CNN's Benjamin Brown in London and Fred Pleitgen in Moscow  

Russian Patriarch Kirill celebrates a Christmas service at the Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow, Russia, on January 6.
Russian Patriarch Kirill celebrates a Christmas service at the Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow, Russia, on January 6. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

Britain on Thursday sanctioned the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, for his "prominent support of Russian military aggression in Ukraine," the UK Foreign Office said in a statement. 

Patriarch Kirill has been sanctioned alongside several of Russian President Vladimir Putin's allies and military commanders, in UK's latest round of sanctions against Russia.

In May, a branch of Ukraine's Orthodox church broke ties with Russia's Patriarch Kirill over the Russian spiritual leader's support for the war in Ukraine, deepening a rift between the Moscow church and other Orthodox believers.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that the sanction is another example of "Russophobia."

“This is craziness. It just shows how inadequate some countries are in their Russophobia,” Peskov told CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen. 

Targeting those responsible for "the barbaric treatment of children in Ukraine," the UK also announced sanctions against Russian Children's Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for her alleged involvement in the "forced transfer and adoption of Ukrainian children."

In the statement, the Foreign Office said Lvova-Belova stood accused of enabling the "violent" transfer of 2,00 children from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and orchestrating a policy allowing for their forced adoptions in Russia.

The UK's latest sanctions list also includes four Military Colonels from the 64th Separate Motorised Rifle Brigade -- the unit is allegedly responsible for the murder and torture of civilians in Bucha.

7:28 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Our fighters will not stop at Donetsk’s border, says separatist leader

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Mick Krever

Denis Pushilin, leader of the Donetsk People's Republic, left, and Leonid Pasechnik, acting leader of self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic talk with journalists on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St.Petersburg, Russia, on June 16.
Denis Pushilin, leader of the Donetsk People's Republic, left, and Leonid Pasechnik, acting leader of self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic talk with journalists on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St.Petersburg, Russia, on June 16. (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

The Russia-backed leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine said on Thursday that his fighters will push beyond the borders of the Donetsk region.

“The West's supplies of new weapons to Ukraine are forcing DPR troops not to stop at the borders of the Donetsk Republic,” Denis Pushilin told Russian State Media RIA Novosti.

Huge parts of the Donetsk region are still controlled by Ukraine, most notably the population centers of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.

Last week, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations insisted that conquering the Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk) remained his country’s objective.

“The liberation of Donbas was the primary goal, which is being implemented at the moment,” Vasily Nebenzya told the BBC.

In a press conference with Danish journalists on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was "sure that if Ukraine is not strong enough, they will go further" beyond the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. 

6:53 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Russia and US must discuss extension of START nuclear arms treaty, says Kremlin spokesperson

From CNN’s Yong Xiong and Anna Chernova

Deputies attend a session at the State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament in Moscow, Russia, on January 27, 2021. Both houses of parliament voted unanimously to extend a new START treaty for five years, a fast-track move that comes days before the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control pact is due to expire.
Deputies attend a session at the State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament in Moscow, Russia, on January 27, 2021. Both houses of parliament voted unanimously to extend a new START treaty for five years, a fast-track move that comes days before the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control pact is due to expire. (The State Duma/The Federal Assembly of The Russian Federation/AP)

Russia and the United States must discuss the extension of the START nuclear arms reduction treaty, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov said extension discussions should have already started because the matter is important for global security. Talks of any kind between the US and Russia have been strained following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

“This is a topic that cannot be avoided,” Peskov told the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti in an interview on Thursday.

“This discussion is important not only for the peoples of our two countries, but also for the whole world, for global security," he added.

Some background: The US and Russia previously agreed to extend the landmark New START treaty, which limits the number of strategic offensive weapons both countries can have, until February 4, 2026.

The historic agreement was first signed for a period of 10 years by former US President Barack Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010.

It is the last treaty between the US and Russia placing limits on the growth of the world's two largest nuclear arsenals after the US pulled out of a separate nuclear arms control agreement with Russia, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), under the Trump administration in 2019.