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
23 Posts
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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.

7:25 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Germany will send arms to Ukraine as long as is necessary, says Chancellor Scholz

From CNN's Inke Kappeler in Berlin

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech at the two-day TDI 22 Day of Industry conference held by the BDI, the Federation of German Industries, in Berlin, Germany, on June 21.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech at the two-day TDI 22 Day of Industry conference held by the BDI, the Federation of German Industries, in Berlin, Germany, on June 21. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany will continue to support Ukraine with weapons "as long as needed," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during a speech at the Annual meeting of the Federation of German Industries on Tuesday.

Scholz also reaffirmed Germany's commitment to stand with Lithuania and other eastern allies.

"Europe and the Western democracies do not accept the violent attack on Ukraine," Scholz said. Therefore Ukraine was supplied "extensively with weapons" and "unprecedentedly tough sanctions" were imposed on Russia.

"These sanctions do work. Yes, these sanctions are hurting ourselves as well. They hurt our companies, but they are right," Scholz said.

Freedom has its price. Democracy has its price. Solidarity with friends and partners has its price. And we are prepared to pay this price," Scholz said.

Scholz said his trip to Irpin near Kyiv last Thursday made clear to him that Ukraine belonged to the European family. "I will never forget the images of horror I saw there," he said. Scholz emphasized that he will push for a positive decision on Ukraine as an EU accession candidate.

7:11 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Overnight shelling increases in Kharkiv as evacuations from occupied territories continue

From Olga Voytovich in London and Sam Kiley in Kharkiv

Ukrainian firefighters extinguish a fire at Kharkiv Housing and Communal College in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on June 21.
Ukrainian firefighters extinguish a fire at Kharkiv Housing and Communal College in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on June 21. (Sofia Bobok/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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.

“Within 24 hours, the occupiers fired on Kyivsky, Industrial, Saltivsky and Nemyshlyansky districts of Kharkiv,” the head of the Kharkiv region military administration Oleh Syniehubov said in his official Telegram channel.

As a result of Russian strikes at night the building of one of the educational institutions in the Kyivsky district of Kharkiv was significantly damaged, the premises were destroyed by 40%.” 

A CNN team in the Kharkiv area heard explosions in the distance around 11 p.m. local time (4 a.m. ET), later confirming they were coming from the educational institution mentioned by Syniehubov -- a university -- as it was struck.   

According to Syniehubov, three civilians were killed and seven have been injured in the past 24 hours. 

On the line of contact, Ukrainian forces have repelled attacks in the area around Izium while Russia continued to maintain a defensive stance around Kharkiv, trying to prevent a Ukrainian advance, Syniehubov added.

Fighting ensued as 993 people, including 254 children, were evacuated from the temporarily occupied territories in the Kharkiv region, according to Syniehubov. More than 30 buses to Chuhuiv and Kharkiv were used for the evacuation.

Some background: As of June 7, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported around 7.3 million border crossings from Ukraine, with at least 4.8 million refugees in Europe.

In May, Russian officials said almost 1.1 million people had been evacuated from Ukraine to Russia since the February 24 invasion. Of that figure, around 200,000 were children.

7:01 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

The Kremlin says Geneva Convention doesn't apply to American detainees

From CNN's Anna Chernova

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Geneva Convention -- the charter which sets out how soldiers and civilians are treated in wartime -- does not apply to two detained US citizens.

Two American volunteers fighting for Ukraine -- Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama -- were taken into detention by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk after being captured last week, according to Russian state media.

Peskov, during a regular call with journalists Tuesday, said the Geneva Convenction does not apply to the two US citizens. Peskov said the death penalty cannot be ruled out but this is a decision for a court. The Kremlin -- Peskov said -- does not have a right to interfere.

6:45 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Ukrainian farmland sown about 25% less than last year, with corn and sunflowers sharply down

From CNN's Tim Lister

A farmer uses an agricultural machine in a wheat farm in Odesa, Ukraine, on June 17.
A farmer uses an agricultural machine in a wheat farm in Odesa, Ukraine, on June 17. (Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Ukrainian farmers have sown about 25% less land than was in cultivation in 2021, according to officials and independent estimates.

According to Markiyan Dmytrasevych, deputy minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine, a total of 13.5 million hectares had been sown with a variety of crops -- 80% of the territory that was sown last year.

Obviously we couldn't sow in Luhansk, Donetsk regions, partially in Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions," Dmytrasevych said.

In addition, rich agricultural land in southern Ukraine is now under Russian control. This area also produced much of Ukraine's vegetables.

Another senior official at the Agrarian Policy Ministry, Taras Vysotskyi, said more spring wheat had been sown this year that last, but there had been sharp declines in in the sowing of corn and sunflowers.

As for the expected harvest, Vysotskyi said "there may be about 48-50 million tons of grain. It is less than previous years, when it reached 85 million." Dmytrasevych gave a similar forecast, saying "We hope to harvest approximately 60 million tons of grain and oilseed crops -- a little over a half of what we harvested last year."

Separately, Maxar Technologies examined satellite imagery of agricultural areas in Ukraine and concluded that Ukrainian farmers planted 30% less spring acreage in 2022.

Maxar predicted that 2022 production of corn will be down 54% and production of sunflowers down 40%��when compared with the 2021 growing season.

The conflict has destroyed dozens of grain storage facilities at ports and in rural areas, with around 10 million tonnes now under Russian control while others have been destroyed in missile and artillery attacks. In May, multiple sources also told CNN Russian forces were stealing farm equipment and thousands of tons of grain from Ukrainian farmers in areas they had occupied.

Some Ukrainian officials say that storage difficulties have led farmers to switch crops.  Marchuk additionally cautioned that shortages of fuel could hamper the harvest. And he said farmers faced a financial crisis, with interest on loans rising by up to 35%.

"A compromise needs to be reached to reduce the interest rate. In conditions when there are no exports, when there is no working capital, it is very difficult to repay credit with very high interest, as opposed to the rates that existed before."

Exporting grain and oilseed crops has been complicated by the blockade of Odessa and other Black Sea ports.

Dmytrasevych said that since the Russian invasion, Ukraine had exported 4 million tons of grain and oilseed crops, compared to a pre-war forecast of between 5 and 6 million tons. Various options for road and rail transport have been developed, with grain traveling by rail to the Romanian port of Constanta, and across the land border into Poland. But the alternatives are more cumbersome than shipping to world markets through the Black Sea.

6:02 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Ukrainian refugees find help in a Russian priest

From CNN's Zahra Ullah and Frederik Pleitgen

Vladimir Shishkin and Victoria Shishkina.
Vladimir Shishkin and Victoria Shishkina. (Claudia Otto/CNN)

Four months ago, Viktoria Shishkina and her husband Vladimir were preparing for the birth of their first child. Now, they sit in an unassuming apartment turned hostel in the center of St. Petersburg, Russia, where they are refugees. They escaped from Mariupol, the Black Sea port city now under Russian control, but are permanently scarred by all they have lost.

When Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Shishkina was in a maternity hospital in Mariupol, resting. She remembers being in a ward full of women approaching their due dates when the bomb struck the hospital.

On March 9, Mariupol’s Maternity Hospital No. 3 was bombed killing four and wounded scores more. For Shishkina, everything changed.

"Whoever caused that explosion, I took a direct hit in the belly -- right to my baby -- and they weren't able to save him," she told CNN, keeping her voice strong even as tears welled in her eyes.

Vladimir had been injured the day before the hospital bombing, and was being treated nearly 70 miles away (112 km) in the separatist-run city of Donetsk.

It was there that Shishkina finally caught up with him and where help came from Reverend Mikhnov-Vaytenko, Archbishop of the Apostolic Orthodox Church, in St. Petersburg, who arranged their passage to St. Petersburg and paid for their shelter, medical care and needs.

Mikhnov-Vaytenko estimates he and his network of volunteers have helped thousands of Ukrainian refugees since the conflict began, from paying for travel and housing for refugees to medical care or information about where they can go and what they are entitled to in Russia, all often with a kind word or prayer.

Read the full story here.

6:14 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

The Kremlin says it doesn't know where the detained American fighters are being held

From CNN’s Fred Pleitgen in Moscow

Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huyn, right.
Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huyn, right. (CNN)

Russia does not know where the two American volunteers fighting for Ukraine are being held or who will be judging on their case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN on Tuesday.

“I don’t know where they are being held and who is going to judge them. But the only thing that goes without saying is that they are going to be prosecuted and they will be able to stand in court,” Peskov said in a voice message.

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

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 June 17, according to a report published on RT.

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.

5:19 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Explosions in southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

There have been several explosions in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, according to the regional administration. Details on casualties and locations have not been released.

Witnesses reported hearing three large blasts and images from the city showed at least one large column of black smoke.

The explosions follow missile attacks on the area around Mykolaiv on Monday.

The area along Mykolaiv's border with the Kherson region continues to see shelling by Russian forces defending the territory they have seized, according to the Ukrainian military. 

The regional administration said the town of Shyroke, 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of Mykolaiv, was shelled Monday night and Tuesday morning.

"According to preliminary information, there are no victims," it said.

The front lines in the Mykolaiv-Kherson regions have changed little in the past month, although Ukrainian forces made some modest gains in a counter-offensive that began early in June.

2:41 a.m. ET, June 21, 2022

Intense combat in Luhansk as Ukraine resists Russian offensives, Ukrainian military says

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

In the Luhansk region, the Ukrainian General Staff said Russian units were focused on preventing Ukrainian attacks against "the rear of the Russian group of troops operating in the Sloviansk direction," and were using artillery against civilian infrastructure in the area. 

Izium: This area, to the west and southwest of Izium, has seen more intense combat in recent days as Ukrainian troops try to carry out a counter-attack against Russian supply lines. 

Sloviansk: Ukrainian forces along the Siverskyi Donets river, north of Sloviansk, continue to resist Russian efforts to break through (around Bohorodychne and Dolyna), according to the General Staff.

Bakhmut: The Ukrainian military also reported Russian offensive operations in several areas south of the town of Bakhmut, a critical supply node for Ukrainian defenses. The Russians appear to have made incremental gains south of Bakhmut recently.

Kherson: In southern Ukraine, the General Staff said Russian units were trying to contain Ukrainian forces that have gone on the offensive along the border of the Kherson region, and had carried out numerous artillery and rocket attacks on settlements behind the front lines.