June 22, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Rob Picheta, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 1:02 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022
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9:39 a.m. ET, June 22, 2022

German government warns Russia against retaliatory measures over Kaliningrad dispute

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Freight train cars from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad are seen at the border railway station in Kybartai, some 200 kms (124 miles) west of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, on June 22.
Freight train cars from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad are seen at the border railway station in Kybartai, some 200 kms (124 miles) west of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, on June 22. (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

The German government has warned Russia not to take countermeasures over the dispute of freight traffic to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad

"We call on Russia not to take any measures that violate international law," German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said. 

He said that Lithuania had taken these actions within the European Union framework of sanctions on Russia. Only certain goods are affected by the sanctions, and no people have been sanctioned. 

“We therefore clearly reject countermeasures announced by Russia,” Hebestreit said during a regularly scheduled government news conference in Berlin.  

Some background: The Kremlin has said Lithuania's transit ban on European Union-sanctioned goods to Russia through Kaliningrad is "unacceptable."

“We are convinced that the sanctions adopted by the EU are absolutely unacceptable. Applying these sanctions regarding transit to Kaliningrad and back simply contradicts fundamental agreements,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday, adding that retaliatory measures are being discussed.

Peskov refused to elaborate what those measures could entail and said there was no exact timeline for Moscow’s response, but that it will announce them when they are ready.

“(Response) measures are being prepared. After we carefully weigh everything, we will talk about it,” he said.

9:08 a.m. ET, June 22, 2022

Ukraine says city of Mykolaiv struck with 7 missiles

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

The city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine was struck by seven missiles on Wednesday, the head of the regional military administration, Vitaly Kim, said on his Telegram channel. 

Kim was inspecting local harvests when the alleged attack occurred. 

“I have interrupted the inspection in the district. I return to the city. The city was hit with seven missiles,” he wrote. 

One person was killed and two were injured as missiles struck, the city’s mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych said Wednesday.

“As of now we know about two private enterprises affected. Some fuel and lubricant materials were on the premises of these enterprises,” Sienkevych said. “Due to the missile hit into one of the enterprises the fuel and lubricant materials set on fire and now the whole city is covered with the black smoke. The firefighters are working on spot.”

According to the mayor, a school and a five-story building were also affected by the blasts and have had their windows shattered. The school also suffered damaged to the roof. 

“We also received the information about four private houses which were damaged,” he added.

Russian authorities and Russian media did not immediately report on the incident and CNN could not independently verify Kim’s claim that seven missiles had struck the city.

Mykolaiv was the site of a fierce battle in the early weeks of Russia's invasion, but it was successfully defended by Ukrainian forces.

8:27 a.m. ET, June 22, 2022

Turkish and Russian defense ministers discuss grain exports from Ukrainian ports

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

A Russian soldier guards a pier with grain storage in the background at an area of the Mariupol Sea Port, eastern Ukraine, on June 12.
A Russian soldier guards a pier with grain storage in the background at an area of the Mariupol Sea Port, eastern Ukraine, on June 12. (AP)

Russia's defense ministry said it discussed grain exports from Ukrainian ports with a Turkish delegation, during a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday. 

“On June 21, negotiations were held in Moscow between the delegations of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of Turkey,” the Russian defense ministry said in press statement on Wednesday. 

“The parties discussed the safe exit of Turkish merchant ships and the export of grain from Ukrainian ports, as well as approaches to ensuring safe navigation in the Black Sea,” it added.

Grain shipments from Ukraine have stalled due to ongoing hostilities in the region since the start of Russia’s invasion. 

More background: Ukrainian and world leaders have denounced Russia's blockade of Ukraine's ports, with the United Nations saying it could push nearly 50 million people into famine or famine-like conditions around the globe. Satellite images also show that Russian ships have been loading up with what is believed to be stolen Ukrainian grain in Crimea on their way to Middle Eastern ports.

Meanwhile, Moscow accuses the Ukrainian side of not de-mining the ports. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly blamed Western sanctions on the impending food crises, but European Union officials say he is blaming them for a crisis that he created.

9:37 a.m. ET, June 22, 2022

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

Russian forces are targeting a key city in Ukraine’s east, while missile strikes have been reported around the country and European leaders are meeting to discuss Kyiv’s EU status.

Here are the latest headlines.

  • Battle for Lysychansk: Russia has advanced into several villages south of Lysychansk, the last city in the Luhansk region still held by Ukraine. It comes after a bruising week for Kyiv’s forces, which has seen several villages to the city’s south fall. "It is not easy for our soldiers to keep the defense," a regional official admitted.
  • Fighting across Ukraine’s south: Heavy fighting is taking place in southern Ukraine along the borders of Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, according to Ukrainian officials. Russians were shelling many districts of Mykolaiv, the government said Wednesday. For the second day in a row, the town of Bereznehuvate came under fire Tuesday, according to regional authorities.

  • Kaliningrad tensions: The Kremlin has again expressed its fury after Lithuania blocked sanctioned goods from crossing its territory into Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave surrounded by EU territory. The region could become a new flashpoint in the war after days of frosty exchanges with Lithuania, which says it is merely upholding EU sanctions.
  • EU talks: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for a "seventh package of European Union sanctions,” as the bloc meets to make a final decision on formally giving Ukraine candidate status. There is broad support for Ukraine’s application to join, but France said Wednesday that it won’t get a VIP pass.
  • Snake Island strikes: Large burn marks and a damaged tower have appeared on the island after the Ukrainian Army said it conducted "aimed strikes," a new satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows. In the past two months, Ukrainian forces have repeatedly hit Russian forces and infrastructure stationed on the island.
  • War crimes team: US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a war crimes accountability team during a trip to Ukraine, which will work to identify and prosecute anyone who committed war crimes in the country. The team will be led by the department's best-known Nazi Hunter, Eli Rosenbaum.

7:25 a.m. ET, June 22, 2022

Kremlin says Lithuania's ban on sanctioned goods passing through Russian exclave is "unacceptable"

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

A Russian railway locomotive moves past freight train wagons at the border railway station in Kybartai, Lithuania, on June 21.
A Russian railway locomotive moves past freight train wagons at the border railway station in Kybartai, Lithuania, on June 21. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

The Kremlin has said Lithuania's transit ban on European Union-sanctioned goods to Russia through Kaliningrad -- Russia's exclave in the EU -- is "unacceptable."

Moscow is considering measures in response to Vilnius’s “unfriendly steps," according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

“We are convinced that the sanctions adopted by the EU are absolutely unacceptable. Applying these sanctions regarding transit to Kaliningrad and back simply contradicts fundamental agreements,” Peskov said Wednesday, adding that retaliatory measures are being discussed.

Peskov refused to elaborate what those measures could entail and said there was no exact timeline for Moscow’s response, but that it will announce them when they are ready.

“(Response) measures are being prepared. After we carefully weigh everything, we will talk about it,” he said.

Some background: Russia has reacted furiously after Lithuania prohibited the passage of sanctioned goods across its territory into Kaliningrad last week.

Peskov said the move was "unprecedented" on Monday. “We also consider it illegal," he said, adding that the Kremlin will need to analyze the situation carefully. “It is part of a blockade, of course,” he said.

However, Lithuania said it is merely upholding European Union sanctions and the European bloc has backed the country's decision.

The row threatens to escalate tensions between Moscow and the EU, which has unveiled several packages of sanctions on Russian goods -- including last month agreeing to ban 90% of Russian oil imports by the end of 2022.

6:44 a.m. ET, June 22, 2022

Ukraine won't get a VIP pass to join the EU, France says

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris

French Junior Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune arrives at the French National Assembly in Paris, France, on June 20.
French Junior Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune arrives at the French National Assembly in Paris, France, on June 20. (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA/AP)

France has said Ukraine's passage to join the European Union could take years to complete, reiterating its position that the country won't be fast-tracked into the bloc despite widespread support among leaders for its efforts to join.

Ukraine will have to comply with strict rules as with any applicant, a French minister said, ahead of a Brussels summit in which leaders will discuss Ukraine's candidacy.

“There is no expedited procedure, there is no King’s Pass,” French Minister Delegate for Europe Clément Beaune said in an interview with French radio Europe 1, using a term for preferential treatment. 

“They need to finish the war first, to rebuild the country, to meet all the democratic and economic requirements. This will take time. But we are giving this signal of openness,” Beaune added.

EU leaders will gather on Thursday and Friday to discuss whether or not to grant EU candidacy status to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

The European Commission last week backed Ukraine's candidacy.

Speaking in Brussels, its President Ursula von der Leyen said the Commission recommends "that Ukraine is given candidate status. This is of course on the understanding that the country will carry out a number of further reforms."

6:32 a.m. ET, June 22, 2022

Russian forces use kamikaze drones to attack towns in northeastern Ukraine

From CNN's Tim Lister

Russian forces are using kamikaze drones for cross-border attacks into the northeastern Sumy region of Ukraine, according to a military official.

The portable so-called kamikaze drones carry warheads and detonate on impact. They are small and disposable devices equipped with cameras and GPS that when launched, locate nearby enemy assets and dive on command.

The town of Krasnopillya was shelled with mortars four times and bombarded with "kamikaze drones," Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said Tuesday.

Four people were wounded, he added.

"In general the situation is quite tense. Yesterday the communities and territories along the border were shelled with different kinds of armament with self-propelled artillery units, mortars, MLRS," Zhyvytskyy said.

Shostka, another border town, was shelled with mortars and heavy artillery on Wednesday morning, Zhyvytskyy added.

5:36 a.m. ET, June 22, 2022

Heavy fighting rages in several areas of southern Ukraine

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

Heavy fighting is taking place in southern Ukraine along the borders of Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, according to Ukrainian officials.

Russians were shelling many districts of Mykolaiv, the government said Wednesday. For the second day in a row, the town of Bereznehuvate came under fire Tuesday, according to regional authorities. Shelling in adjacent rural areas set fire to crops, they added. 

The government said heavy fighting was raging in several villages along the regional border.

In Kherson, which has been under Russian control since March, more activists, politicians and journalists are reported to have been abducted.

"There is no Ukrainian media in the region," Ukrainian authorities said. 

"The occupiers and local collaborators are making more and more loud statements about Kherson region joining Russia," the government said, but added that "every day more and more Ukrainian flags and inscriptions appear in the city (of Kherson)."

Some background: The extent of dissent and resistance in Kherson is difficult to gauge, but several attacks have been made on Ukrainian officials who chose to collaborate with the Russians, as well as poster campaigns against the occupation.

Earlier this week, Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister, urged civilians in Kherson region to leave if they could.

She said that if necessary they should travel through Russian-annexed Crimea and added that it "is almost the only" evacuation corridor available to those wanting to flee.

Russian occupying forces have made it increasingly difficult for civilians to leave Kherson for Ukrainian-held territory.

Anecdotal evidence suggests hundreds of Ukrainians have left Kherson through Crimea, taking buses through Turkey or Russia and Georgia in a long trek to reach parts of Ukraine not under Russian control. 

"According to our calculations, up to 50% of the region's population, which is half a million people have already left Kherson and Kherson region," Hennadii Lahuta, head of Kherson regional military administration, said Tuesday.

Routes out to Kryvyi Rih and Mykolaiv, which Kherson region residents previously used for evacuation, "do not work now, the occupiers do not let people out. There are columns which are being let out, but people are forced to spend weeks in the fields and go through occupied Melitopol and Vasylivka to Zaporizhzhia," he added.

More than 1,400 people had left occupied territories in the previous 24 hours, of whom about 400 had come from Kherson region and reached Zaporizhzhia, Oleksandr Starukh, head of that region's military administration, said Tuesday.

5:28 a.m. ET, June 22, 2022

Ukraine may have endured its worst week since the fall of Mariupol

Analysis from CNN's Tim Lister

A Ukrainian serviceman looks on after a strike on a warehouse on the outskirts of Lysychansk, in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, on June 17.
A Ukrainian serviceman looks on after a strike on a warehouse on the outskirts of Lysychansk, in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, on June 17. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine's defense of Lysychansk -- the last city in the Luhansk region it still holds -- just became a lot more tenuous.

For weeks, Russian forces have been trying to obliterate Ukrainian defensive positions to the south and east of the city, in an effort to encircle it and cut off Ukrainian troops tasked with holding it. 

In the last couple of days, the Russians have advanced into several villages south of Lysychansk, though not without sustaining losses from Ukrainian artillery fire. Indeed, the Ukrainian military claims that some Russian battalion tactical groups are being consolidated or withdrawn to restore their combat capabilities.

The Institute for the Study of War, in its latest daily analysis of the battlefield, says the Russian breakthrough from the south means they "may be able to threaten Lysychansk in the coming days while avoiding a difficult opposed crossing of the Siverskyi Donets River."

The settlements that Ukrainian officials confirmed as lost Wednesday are all on the western Siverskyi Donets Riverbank, within 10 kilometers of the southern outskirts of Lysychansk.

Ukrainian forces continue to fight on the fringes of the city of Severodonetsk, and in adjacent communities -- and they benefit from higher ground in Lysychansk.

But their already-compromised supply lines are becoming more tenuous, and the sheer magnitude of Russian firepower is grinding down defensible positions.

The reverses suffered in the past few days, after weeks of determined resistance, probably mark the most difficult week for the Ukrainian military since the surrender of the last defenders in Mariupol.

The attacks near Lysychansk are being carried out in tandem with renewed Russian efforts to cut the highway that runs west to Bakhmut, a critical line of communication for the Ukrainians. In some places, Russian forces are within a few kilometers of the highway.

The Ukrainian defense of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk has consumed the firepower of many Russian units and blunted their efforts to make progress in the neighboring Donetsk region, but the Russians can still call on reserves holding in nearby areas of southwest Russia -- while some of Ukraine's best units are seriously depleted by months of missile, rocket, artillery and air attacks.