June 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Jeevan Ravindran, Hafsa Khalil, Ed Upright, Adrienne Vogt and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 2:31 a.m. ET, June 22, 2022
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12:08 p.m. ET, June 21, 2022

US attorney general announces team to prosecute war crimes in Ukraine

From CNN's Hannah Rabinowitz

US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Ukrainian Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova today in Krakovets, at the Ukraine border with Poland.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Ukrainian Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova today in Krakovets, at the Ukraine border with Poland. (Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a War Crimes Accountability team during an unannounced trip to Ukraine on Tuesday that will work to identify and prosecute anyone who committed war crimes in Ukraine.  

The team, Garland said, will be led by the department's best-known Nazi Hunter Eli Rosenbaum, and will be made up of experts in investigations involving human rights abuses and war crimes. Rosenbaum, a 36-year veteran of the Justice Department, previously served as the Director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy, helped the department over 100 cases to strip citizenship from or deport accused Nazis, according to the Justice Department.

The announcement is a strong signal from the Justice Department that it is interested in investigating war crimes in the ongoing war in Ukraine and follows a previous effort by the Justice Department to lock down the assets of Russian oligarchs.

“There is no hiding place for war criminals. The US Justice Department will pursue every avenue of accountability for those who commit war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine,” Garland said in Ukraine. “Working alongside our domestic and international partners, the Justice Department will be relentless in our efforts to hold accountable every person complicit in the commission of war crimes, torture, and other grave violations during the unprovoked conflict in Ukraine.”

Garland also said that the Justice Department will send three prosecutors to advise Ukraine, as well as countries in Europe and the Middle East, in fighting Russian efforts to evade global sanctions.

12:20 p.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Ukraine says it has attacked Snake Island with "aimed strikes"

From CNN's Sebastian Shukla

The Ukrainian Army said Tuesday that it had launched some airstrikes on Zmiinyi Island, which is also known as Snake Island. 

The Southern Operational Command of the Ukrainian Army said it had used “aimed strikes with the use of various forces” on the island. 

The military operation is still on going and that “information silence” was required until the end of the operation, the command added.

Zmiinyi Island was the scene of one of the opening salvos of the war in Ukraine and is of strategic importance to both sides. During the opening days of the war, it was the site of a demand from a Russian war ship to Ukrainian defenders to surrender. They replied, infamously, with "Russian warship, go f**k yourself” – a phrase that become a motif of Ukrainian resistance.

10:20 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

US attorney general makes unannounced visit to Ukraine and pledges "unwavering support"

From CNN's Hannah Rabinowitz

US Attorney General Merrick Garland, left, made an unannounced trip to Ukraine on Tuesday, June 21, where he met Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland, left, made an unannounced trip to Ukraine on Tuesday, June 21, where he met Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova. (CNN)

US Attorney General Merrick Garland made an unannounced trip to Ukraine on Tuesday, where he met Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.

The two will discuss efforts by the United States and other countries to help Ukraine "identify, apprehend, and prosecute those individuals involved in war crimes" in Ukraine, according to a statement from a Justice Department official.  

Garland had previously announced a trip to Europe scheduled for this week to meet with European leaders and discuss their joint efforts to combat Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Garland is the most recent top-ranking US official to travel to Ukraine. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv in April, and a congressional delegation led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell traveled to Kyiv just a few weeks later

Appearing alongside Venediktova inside Ukraine, Garland said he was there to “express the unwavering support of the United States for the people of Ukraine in the midst of the unprovoked and unjust Russian invasion.”

Garland also said he wanted to discuss actions the United States “is taking to assist the Ukrainian authorities in holding accountable those responsible for the atrocities, for the war crimes that the entire world has seen.” 

“The United States is sending an unmistakable message – there is no place to hide. We and our partners will pursue every avenue available to make sure that those responsible for these atrocities are held accountable,” Garland said.

9:29 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Land transit between Kaliningrad and Russia has not been banned, European Commission says

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell talks to the press during a Foreign Affairs Council meeting at the EU Council building in Luxembourg on June 20.
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell talks to the press during a Foreign Affairs Council meeting at the EU Council building in Luxembourg on June 20. (John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)

The land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia has not been banned, the High Representative of the European Commission Josep Borrell said on Monday.

“The land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia has not been stopped nor banned. There is no blockade,” Borrell said in published remarks. “Transit of passengers and goods that are not sanctioned continues.”

Why is the European Commission making this clarification? It comes after Lithuanian Railways, the state-owned railway company, had notified Russia that starting midnight on June 18, transit trains with goods subject to EU sanctions would no longer be allowed to pass through.

The list of the banned goods includes construction material, cement, metals and "a number of other goods important both for construction and for production," according to the governor of the Kaliningrad region Anton Alikhanov. Kaliningrad is Russia’s exclave in the European Union.

Russia called this decision "unprecedented" and "illegal," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday.

Borrell said Lithuania had not taken any unilateral national restrictions and only applied the European Union sanctions. 

"The accusation that 'Lithuania is implementing Lithuanian sanctions' is false. Pure propaganda," he said.

Separately, a European Commission press officer confirmed that European Union representative to Moscow Markus Ederer had been meeting with representatives of the Russian ministry regarding the subject Tuesday.

“We can also confirm that our head of delegation to Russia had a meeting in the Russian ministry where he explained our position and implementation of EU sanctions,” the official said.

9:41 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Second known American killed while fighting in Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

U.S. citizen Stephen Zabielski has died while fighting in Ukraine.
U.S. citizen Stephen Zabielski has died while fighting in Ukraine. (The Recorder)

The US State Department on Tuesday confirmed the death of an American citizen in Ukraine whose obituary said he died in mid-May while fighting in the war.

"We can confirm the death of U.S. citizen Stephen Zabielski in Ukraine," a State Department spokesperson said. 

“We have been in touch with the family and have provided all possible consular assistance. Out of respect to the family during this difficult time, we have nothing further," the spokesperson said.

According to his obituary, published on June 1 in "The Recorder,"  a newspaper in New York, said Zabielski "died on Sunday, May 15, 2022, while fighting the war in Village of Dorozhniank, Ukraine."

He was 52 years old and is survived by his wife and five stepchildren, according to the obituary. 

Zabielski is the second known American to be killed in combat in Ukraine. Marine Corps veteran Willy Cancel was killed in April fighting alongside Ukrainian forces.

8:43 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

End to the war "depends on the world's attention," Zelensky says

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London

President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, speaks on stage during the Creativity Under Bombs talk at the Lumiere Theatre, Cannes Lions 2022 on June 20, in Cannes, France.
President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, speaks on stage during the Creativity Under Bombs talk at the Lumiere Theatre, Cannes Lions 2022 on June 20, in Cannes, France. (Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images/Cannes Lions)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged creative film professionals to do more to “promote Ukrainian bravery,” in an address the Cannes Lions International Festival for creative industry. 

“The end of this war and its circumstances depend on the world's attention. And that's why I need allies. We need people like you,” Zelensky said in a video statement on Tuesday. 

“I believe that the power of human creativity is greater than the power of a nuclear state that is stuck in the past,” Zelensky said. “Speak of Ukraine. Don't let the world switch to something else."

In 117 days of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Zelensky has made more than 70 speeches around the world, including at parliaments, international institutions and business forums. 

8:38 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Russian forces capture frontline village on outskirts of Severodonetsk

From Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

Toshkivka, Ukraine, which is now under Russian control.
Toshkivka, Ukraine, which is now under Russian control. (Twitter)

Russian troops have captured the frontline village of Toshkivka in the Donbas region as they keep trying to seize the strategic city of Severodonetsk.

The head of the Severodonetsk district military administration, Roman Vlasenko, told CNN on Tuesday that the village had not been under Ukrainian control since Monday.

Toshkivka is located south of Severodonetsk, where Ukrainian forces have mounted fierce resistance to Moscow’s armies. 

8:13 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

In the embattled city of Severodonetsk, in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, attacking Russian forces have enough reserves to launch a large-scale offensive, according to the head of the region's military Serhiy Hayday.

Here are the latest developments on Russia's war in Ukraine:

  • Possible onslaught on key city: Hayday said dozens of pieces of Russian heavy military equipment had been brought into the Severodonetsk region and were already deployed on the battlefield. Hayday added that “most of the city is under control [of the Russian army]." Only the industrial zone and Azot plant remain in Ukrainian hands.
  • Overnight shelling in Kharkiv: Ukrainian officials have reported an uptick in Russian shelling around the northeastern city of Kharkiv in the past 24 hours, as the evacuation of people from the territories occupied by Russian forces continued.
  • Fate of American detainees uncertain: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Geneva Convention does not apply to two detained US citizens, adding that the death penalty could not be ruled out. He said the Kremlin did not know where the two men were being held.
  • Harvest down and less farmland sown: Ukrainian farmers have sown about 25% less land than was in cultivation in 2021, according to officials and independent estimates, with sharp declines in in the sowing of corn and sunflowers. The expected harvest of grain and oilseed is just over half of last year's quantity.
  • Africa "taken hostage": Addressing the African Union Commission via video link, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Africa has been “taken hostage" by Russia's invasion. He warned the global food crisis will continue “as long as this colonizing war goes on,” affecting the lives of as many as 400 million people all over the world who depend on Ukrainian exports.
  • Biden visit not on the cards: US President Joe Biden said he is “not likely” to visit Ukraine when he travels to Germany and Spain this weekend for the G7 and NATO summits. Biden, who has not visited Ukraine since the country was invaded, said he doesn’t want to “cause more difficulty for Ukrainians.”
8:07 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Russian official calls Lithuanian actions "hostile" and warns of consequences

From CNN's Tim Lister, Anastasia Graham-Yooll, Teele Rabane and Stephanie Halasz

Russia's Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev attends a military parade in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia, on May 9.
Russia's Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev attends a military parade in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia, on May 9. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

A top Russian official has described Lithuania’s announcement to ban the transit of European Union-sanctioned materials to Russia through Kaliningrad -- Russia’s enclave in the EU -- as “hostile” and promised retaliation.

As reported by the Ria Novosti state-owned news agency, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, said: “Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions. Measures are being worked out in an interdepartmental format and will be taken in the near future."

Their consequences will have a serious negative impact on the Lithuanian population," he added.

Patrushev arrived in Kaliningrad, which is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic coast, on Tuesday to meet with its governor, Anton Alikhanov.

Lithuanian Railways, the state-owned railway company, had notified Russia that starting midnight on June 18, transit trains with goods subject to EU sanctions would no longer be allowed to pass through, Alikhanov said on his telegram channel Friday.

Included on the list of banned goods published by Kaliningrad's Ministry of Economic Development are industrial equipment, machine tools, and machines for production and building materials, as well as various luxury goods, works of art and antiques and golf equipment, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted that the transit of passengers and non-sanctioned goods continues uninterrupted, that the country has not imposed any unilateral, individual or additional restrictions, and that it is acting fully in accordance with EU law.