June 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Andrew Raine, Amy Woodyatt, Sana Noor Haq and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022
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4:52 a.m. ET, June 20, 2022

Russia has taken town on outskirts of key city of Severodonetsk, Ukrainian officials say

From CNN's Denis Lapin in Kyiv

Russian forces have been able to seize the town of Metelkine, to the east of the strategic city of Severodonetsk, according to a regional official on Monday.

"Unfortunately, we do not currently control Metelkine near the regional center," said Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military administration.

Russian forces have intensified their use of artillery and air strikes to target Ukrainian positions in and around Severodonetsk as the battle for the strategic city continues to drag on, Hayday added.

"They are working hard on the Severodonetsk industrial zone and the outskirts of the city," Hayday said. "The same is true in the Toshkivka and Ustynivka districts."

"(They) want to make a breakthrough there, and for this purpose they have gathered a large amount of equipment there," he added. "Fighting is taking place in many villages around Severodonetsk and Lysychansk."

Some background: Severodonetsk lies in the heart of Donbas, a large industrial region in eastern Ukraine that has been the site of sporadic fighting since 2014, when Russian-backed separatists took control of two territories there -- the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

Last week, Hayday said that Russian forces control most of Severodonetsk, adding that the "situation remains difficult."

His remarks came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the fight for the city may determine the outcome of the war in the east of the country.

“Severodonetsk remains the epicenter of the confrontation in Donbas,” Zelensky said at the time.

“This is a very fierce battle, very difficult … Probably one of the most difficult throughout this war,” he added. “In many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there.”

8:09 a.m. ET, June 20, 2022

Key things to know about Ukraine's bid to join the EU 

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press conference on the EU membership applications by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 17.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press conference on the EU membership applications by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 17. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

The European Union Commission said Friday that Ukraine should be considered a candidate state. It is now up to the 27 EU member states to decide whether or not they agree.

Here are key things to know about Ukraine's bid to join the EU:

What is the process for becoming a part of the EU? On paper, the process is relatively straightforward. A country applies and the commission gives a verdict on whether or not it should be considered for candidacy.

As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made clear on Friday, Ukraine will still have to meet a series of criteria before proper accession negotiations can begin, even if the EU 27 agree to accept its candidate status this week.

Then, when the leaders of the EU member states have agreed, it must then be ratified in the EU Parliament and by the legislative branches of each member state's government.

How do EU countries feel about Ukraine joining the EU? This is where it starts to get complicated. While the EU and its 27 members have broadly supported Ukraine in its war effort, having a country that's currently at war start the accession process raises all sorts of issues.

There are a number of candidate states that have been in the accession process for years, and have in some cases had their accession slowed down because of domestic political instability. One example of this is Turkey, whose application has been essentially frozen following fears over a backslide over the rule of law and human rights.

How long would it take? It really depends on what state Ukraine is in when the war ends. It seems highly unlikely that Ukraine will be anywhere near meeting the criteria to even start negotiations for a significant period of time after the end of the war. Aside from rebuilding, Ukraine will have to make the transition from a country operating under various degrees of martial law and curfews to a functioning democracy.

The average time for a country to join the EU is four years and 10 months, according to the London think tank UK in a Changing Europe.

Read more about Ukraine's bid here.

2:00 a.m. ET, June 20, 2022

It's 9 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Two American volunteers fighting for Ukraine were taken into detention by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk after being captured last week, according to Russian state media.

Here are the latest headlines on the war in Ukraine:

  • Missing Americans in Donetsk: Alexander John-Robert Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh were interviewed by Russia’s RT channel at a detention center in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) on Friday, according to a report on RT. The location of their detention is a potentially concerning development. Russia has a moratorium on the death penalty, whereas Donetsk uses firing squads to execute condemned prisoners, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti.
  • Prepare for a long war: The West must prepare for a long war in Ukraine as Russia makes incremental gains in a furious battle to control the country's east, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have both said. Stoltenberg and Johnson reiterated that Western governments must continue to support Ukraine to deter future aggression by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The NATO chief said no one knows how long the conflict will last but "we need to prepare for the fact that it could take years."
  • Zelensky: Russian hostility will intensify: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine should expect "greater hostile activity" from Russia as the European Union considers whether the country should be formally considered for candidate status in the wake of Russia’s invasion. Zelensky said Monday marks the start of a "truly historic week" as leaders of the EU's 27 member states will meet this week to discuss the process.
  • Destruction in Lyman: New video of the moment Russian forces took control of Lyman in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region last month surfaced on social media on Sunday. The bodycam video — filmed by a soldier called "Rusak" on May 25 — shows the incredible devastation all around the city as Russian troops move past destroyed buildings and down empty streets. On May 30, the office of the President of Ukraine said in a statement that Lyman had been occupied.
  • Azov Regiment commanders transferred: The deputy commander of Ukraine's Azov Regiment, Svyatoslav Palamar (nicknamed Kalina) and the commander of the 36th Marine Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Serhiy Volynsky (nicknamed Volyna) were transferred to Russian territory for so called "investigative actions," Russia’s state-run news agency TASS reported, citing a source in Russian law enforcement. The commanders, who surrendered during the battle for Mariupol, are in the Lefortovo pre-trial detention center in Moscow, TASS said.
  • UK offers 'major training program': The United Kingdom has offered Ukrainian military forces to take part in a “major training program” that would “fundamentally change the equation of the war,” Downing Street announced Friday in a statement amid Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to Kyiv. According to Downing Street, the program has the potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days.

2:35 a.m. ET, June 20, 2022

Captured American fighters purportedly held by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk, one says he was beaten

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

Captured US citizens Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were interviewed by Russia's RT channel at a detention center in the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) on Friday, June 17, according to a report published on RT.
Captured US citizens Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were interviewed by Russia's RT channel at a detention center in the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) on Friday, June 17, according to a report published on RT. (Bunny Drueke/Joy Black)

Two American volunteer fighters for Ukraine were taken into detention by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk after being captured by Russian forces last week, according to Russian state media.

US citizens Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama, were interviewed by Russia's RT channel at a detention center in the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) on Friday, according to a report published on RT.

Missing near Kharkiv: The two Americans went missing on June 9 during a battle north of Kharkiv and it was feared that they may have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and a fellow fighter. 

Video appearances: On Friday, short video clips surfaced on pro-Russian channels and social media appearing to show the men detained at an unknown location. At the time it was not clear who was holding them.

A State Department spokesperson told CNN Friday they "have seen the photos and videos of these two US citizens reportedly captured by Russia’s military forces in Ukraine." 

"We are closely monitoring the situation and our hearts go out to their families during this difficult time," they said.
"We are in contact with Ukrainian authorities, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and with the families themselves...Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment on these cases."

Separately, a more than 50-minute edited video was published on Saturday of Drueke and Huynh being interviewed by HelmCast, a pro-Russian Serbian nationalist YouTube channel.​

Donetsk: In the interview, a man can be heard behind the camera revealing the location of their interview when he says "here in Donetsk" during a question to Drueke. 

Beaten while in detention: Drueke is also asked in the interview if he has any objections to how he has been treated since his capture and he reveals that he has been beaten a few times.  

Why their location is significant: The location of Drueke and Huynh's detention is a potentially concerning development. Russia has a moratorium on the death penalty, whereas Donetsk uses firing squads to execute condemned prisoners, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti.

Foreign fighters: On June 9, a court in DPR sentenced foreign fighters, two British citizens and a Moroccan national to death after accusing them of being “mercenaries” for Ukraine. The internationally unrecognized court in DPR said the men had a month to appeal. 

Prisoner swap dashed: Hopes that a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists could free any foreign fighters detained in Donetsk were dashed after Denis Pushilin, the self-proclaimed head of DPR, said such exchanges were out of the question.

"The exchange of the British men sentenced to death in the DPR is not under discussion, there are no grounds for pardoning them," Pushilin told independent Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta on Thursday.

The Donetsk People's Republic did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the detention of Drueke and Huynh.

CNN is choosing not to broadcast the videos of US detainees because they show the men speaking under duress.

8:09 a.m. ET, June 20, 2022

Zelensky warns of "greater hostile activity" from Russia ahead of EU status decision

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the nation on June 19 from Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the nation on June 19 from Kyiv, Ukraine. (President of Ukraine)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine should expect "greater hostile activity" from Russia as the European Union considers whether the country should be formally considered for candidate status in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

“We should expect greater hostile activity from Russia. Purposefully — demonstratively. This week exactly,’’ Zelensky said in his nightly address on Sunday. "And not only against Ukraine, but also against other European countries."

Zelensky said Monday marks the start of a "truly historic week."

“A week when we will hear the answer from the European Union on the candidate status for Ukraine. We already have a positive decision from the European Commission, and at the end of the new week there will be a response from the European Council.”

Zelensky called a future response on Ukraine's candidate status “a fateful decision” for his country. He also said he was “convinced that only a positive decision meets the interests of the whole of Europe.”

Read more here.

1:59 a.m. ET, June 20, 2022

2 people killed after Russian forces attack Novomoskovsk, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Two people were killed, and 14 others injured after Russian forces on Saturday fired upon Novomoskovsk, a city in the Dnipropetrovsk region of eastern Ukraine, according to a local official.

Mykola Lukashuk, the head of Dnipropetrovsk regional council, said on Telegram Sunday that eight people are in medical facilities being treated for burns, and four more are receiving outpatient treatment.

On Sunday, Russian occupation forces also shelled the border areas of the nearby Zelenodolsk and Apostolove communities as well as the village of Pershe Travnya in Kryvyi Rih. No casualties or destruction was reported.  

Lukashuk said that on Sunday, there was fighting in the Kherson region near the Kryvyi Rih district. 

The rest of Dnipropetrovsk region had “a quiet day” and is free of Russian forces, according to Lukashuk.  

2:20 a.m. ET, June 20, 2022

Russian soldier's bodycam shows firsthand devastation of Lyman, in eastern Ukraine

From CNN's Jonny Hallam and Mariya Knight

Bodycam footage filmed by a soldier called "Rusak" on May 25 shows the incredible devastation all around the city of Lyman, Ukraine, as Russian troops move past destroyed buildings and down empty streets.
Bodycam footage filmed by a soldier called "Rusak" on May 25 shows the incredible devastation all around the city of Lyman, Ukraine, as Russian troops move past destroyed buildings and down empty streets. (rusvesna. su1945/YouTube)

New video of the moment Russian forces took control of Lyman in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region last month surfaced on social media on Sunday.

The bodycam video — filmed by a soldier called "Rusak" on May 25 — shows the incredible devastation all around the city as Russian troops move past destroyed buildings and down empty streets.

The Russian troops meet no resistance as they enter Lyman's administrative building, its windows shattered from fighting and glass lying all around.  

Making their way up several flights of stairs to the roof of the building, a Russian soldier hesitates for a moment, before waving the Soviet victory banner.  

The waving of the flag is then shown from another vantage point at ground level. "Rusak" radios into his commanders: "I'm going on a lunch break right now. I have done everything according to the plan. No losses. The enemy activity was insignificant."

Some context: On May 30, the office of the President of Ukraine said in a statement that Lyman had been occupied, saying, "The city is temporarily under the control of Russian invaders."

Russians take control: On June 7, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, using Lyman's Soviet era name Krasny Liman, announced the city "was liberated from Ukrainian forces," according to Russian state news agency TASS. The assault was led by General Mikhail Teplinsky, according to Russian state media.

Tactical retreat: Ukrainian forces say they made a tactical retreat from the city. Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk region military administration, said the "Ukrainian military remains in the Lyman direction, but in new fortified positions to deter the enemy."

Lyman, an important rail hub, lays roughly 37 miles (60 kilometers) west of the strategically important Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk.

 

2:13 a.m. ET, June 20, 2022

Odesa Opera and Ballet Theater reopens for the first time since the start of Russia's invasion

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Manveena Suri

Ukrainians sing the national anthem during the first concert since the beginning of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, at the Odesa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, Ukraine, on June 17.
Ukrainians sing the national anthem during the first concert since the beginning of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, at the Odesa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, Ukraine, on June 17. (NurPhoto/Getty Images)

The National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater in the southern port city of Odesa reopened on Friday for the first time since Russia's invasion began, defying months of anguish and deadly shelling. 

"Yesterday Odesa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater opened its doors to the audience," Ukraine's Minister of Culture and Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko said on his official Twitter account Saturday. 
"I’m very glad that we continue to open our theaters in wartime. Our culture is our second front. It’s our weapon, which has to work even in such difficult times."

The first concert began with a solemn performance of the National Anthem of Ukraine, as the audience "rose from the first chords of the orchestra," read a press release from the opera house. 

The night of the reopening featured a performance by the Odesa National Opera orchestra and choir, the opera house said.  

“While the heart of Odesa Opera is beating, Odesa and Ukraine are alive, free, strong, independent and undefeated!” the opera house said. 

The performances at Odesa Opera will be dedicated to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, because thanks to them the public was “able to go to the theatre and artists can share their creativity,” the opera house said. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the city on Saturday, a day after the reopening, and toured the frontlines and a hospital treating wounded soldiers, his office said. Zelensky said Russian shelling in the Odessa region has recently killed at least 55 residents and destroyed several buildings.

1:58 a.m. ET, June 20, 2022

Exclusive: Former US serviceman in Ukraine describes battle where American fighters were reportedly captured 

From CNN's Sam Kile, Sarah El Sirgany and Maija-Liisa Ehlinger 

Speaking exclusively to CNN, a former US serviceman fighting with Ukrainian forces recounted the battle he witnessed on June 9 when American volunteer fighters Alexander John-Robert Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh were reportedly captured by Russian forces. 

The man, who asked to be identified with the code name "Pip," said his team was sent out on a mission east of Kharkiv where a full scale Russian armored assault was underway.

Drueke and Huynh fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) at a BMP vehicle — an infantry fighting vehicle — that was coming through the woods and destroyed it. But the team had to quickly withdraw as more than 100 Russian infantry began advancing and the American fighters found themselves in a village they previously thought was in Ukrainian hands. 

When asked about what happened to Drueke and Huynh, Pip said that "we suspect they were knocked out by either the T-72 tank shooting at them or by the blast of the mine. This is only speculation we don't know what really happened to them." 

A photo of the two men emerged Thursday with their hands tied behind their back and in the back of a Russian truck. 

"I know for a fact that Andy and Alex did not come here for money, they did not come here for glory. They came here with a firm belief that Ukraine as a blossoming democracy needs help," Pip said during the interview.
"As far as I'm aware, we're paid about the same if not exactly the same as a Ukrainian soldier who is on the front... And money is certainly not my motivation for being here. And I know that it's not Andy's and it's not Alex's either."

More background: On Wednesday, CNN reported that Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama, had been missing for nearly a week and there were fears that they may have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and a fellow fighter. Drueke and Huynh had been fighting alongside Ukrainian forces north of Kharkiv.

CNN on Thursday reported a third American whom the State Department had identified as missing in action in Ukraine was US Marine veteran Grady Kurpasi. He served in the US Marine Corps for 20 years, retiring in November 2021.

Read more here.

CNN's Kate Sullivan and Jonny Hallam contributed reporting to this post.