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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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. 

2:08 a.m. ET, June 20, 2022

German Chancellor Scholz says it is "absolutely necessary" to continue speaking to Putin

From CNN’s Inke Kappeler and Arnaud Siad

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gives an interview in Berlin, Germany, on June 17
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gives an interview in Berlin, Germany, on June 17 (Michael Kappeler/picture alliance/Getty Images)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Friday that it is "absolutely necessary" to continue speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In an interview with dpa news agency, Scholz said: "It is absolutely necessary to speak to Putin. And I will continue to do so, as the French President will also.”

“And there are some countries needed, and some leaders needed, that speak with him. And it is necessary that they are clear because when I speak to Putin, I say, for instance, the same things I said to you: Please understand that there will be not dictate(d) peace,” Scholz said.

“And if you really believe that you will rob some land and then hope that the times will change and all the things will become normal again, this is a mistake. You have to withdraw your troops and you have to find an agreement with Ukraine which is acceptable and right for the people of Ukraine,” Scholz added.