June 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

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

Updated 2:43 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022
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9:30 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Russian forces learning from mistakes earlier in war as they pummel eastern Ukraine, US officials say

From CNN's Jim Sciutto

Russian forces are gaining an advantage in eastern Ukraine as they learn from mistakes made during the earlier stages of their invasion of the country, including better coordinating air and ground attacks and improving logistics and supply lines, two US officials with direct knowledge of US intelligence assessments told CNN.

The US does not expect new weapons systems recently supplied to Ukrainian forces, including the HIMARS multiple rocket launch system, to immediately change the situation on the battlefield in part because those systems are so far being sent with both a limited range and a limited number of rockets to ensure they are not fired into Russian territory. Additionally, Russian forces have been able to destroy some of the new Western-supplied weapons, including M777 howitzers, in targeted attacks.

The US assessments, which increasingly envision a long and punishing battle in eastern Ukraine, come as the months-long war there has reached a pivotal moment in recent days. Ukraine’s military has been burning through Soviet-era ammunition that fits older systems, and Western governments are facing a tough decision on whether they want to continue increasing their assistance to the country.

The US assessments paint a dismal image of the future of the war, with high personnel and equipment losses on both sides. US officials believe that Russian forces plan to maintain intense attacks in the east, characterized by heavy artillery and missile strikes, with the intention of wearing down Ukrainian forces and NATO resolve over time.

Russia’s advancements were brought into plain view in recent days after Ukraine’s defense of Lysychansk – the last city in the Luhansk region it still holds – became a lot more tenuous. In the last couple of days, Russians have advanced into several villages south of Lysychansk, though not without sustaining losses from Ukrainian artillery fire.

Read the full story here.

9:35 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Celebrity chef Rachael Ray: Keep Ukraine in mind because they are defending "democracy for all of us"

Celebrity chef Rachael Ray is helping deliver aid in Lviv, Ukraine, because she said she felt it was a "moral imperative."

"They're defending democracy. They're defending the free world," she told CNN. "I was possessed with coming here. I thought it was a moral imperative."

She described going around different parts of Ukraine.

"I've been to the bus terminals and train stations and seen the faces of people that walk up to 11 days with dogs and their children and get on buses with what's left of their lives — professionals that had full beautiful lives, and all they wanted to be was free, and their lives are in bags," she said while sitting in a classroom at an orphanage in Lviv.

Ray said she brought necessary first aid, thousands of toys for kids and treats for dogs and cats in shelters.

Her hope, she told CNN, is to keep the conversation about Ukraine alive.

"We have so much going on in our country now, in the US, that is distracting us and tearing us apart. We have to keep [Ukraine] at the forefront. Because these folks are giving up everything in their lives to defend democracy for all of us. And we can be mindful and donate a little or a lot, our time or just share the work that they are doing," she said.

9:04 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

More than half of cities in Ukraine's Donetsk region are under Russian control

From CNN's Yulia Kesavia

People clean up outside a damaged residential building located in in Donetsk, Ukraine, on June 20.
People clean up outside a damaged residential building located in in Donetsk, Ukraine, on June 20. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Just 45% of the region of Donetsk are under the control of Ukrainian forces, leaving the other 55% under Russian control.

“It is very difficult to say the rest [of the cities/territories in Donetsk] are controlled by the enemy, because these cities are being destroyed by the enemy — they are just territories,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk region military administration, said Thursday.

Kyrylenko also spoke about a concentration of battalion tactical groups in the Sloviansk and Lyman. 

Ukrainian forces have “serious battles ahead," he said, adding that a continuation of shelling along the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway is underway to “cut off” Severodonetsk and Lysychansk from supplies. 

8:30 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

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

A two-day summit is underway in Brussels with European Union leaders meeting to decide whether to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine. The question of whether or not Ukraine should join the bloc, and how Russia would react has been a contentious issue for years. 

Here are the latest headlines on Russia's war on Ukraine:

  • The EU question: The heads of the 27 existing members are now debating Ukraine's bid to join the EU. Earlier today, the European Parliament adopted a resolution by 529 votes to 45 calling on the leaders to approve Ukraine's candidate status "without delay." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also said Thursday that EU membership is his country's “choice of our future vision.” 
  • Russian gas cuts: Twelve EU countries have now been affected by Russian gas disruptions since the invasion of Ukraine. Speaking in European Parliament on Thursday, EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said “Russia has weaponized energy,” although Russia blames technical issues. The affected countries are: Lithuania, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia. German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said today that "gas is from now on in short supply in Germany," and the country is currently “in an economic confrontation with Russia."

  • Battle for Luhansk: Russian forces have captured ground around Lysychansk, the last city in the eastern Luhansk region still controlled by Ukraine, as they step up their bombardment of the area. Adviser to the Ukrainian President's Office Oleksiy Arestovych said on national television that "the fight for Lysychansk and Severodonetsk has entered its climax."
  • Attack on multiple fronts: Ukrainian defense forces are under heavy munition attacks across various regions, which are also causing civilian casualties and deaths. In the north-eastern Sumy region at least four districts were hit Thursday by cross-border shelling. In Donetsk to the east, where Ukraine controls less than half the region, several areas came under fire including the cities of Sloviansk and Bakhmut. In the south of Ukraine, Mykolaiv and Odesa were hit by cruise missiles, while villages along the Kherson-Mykolaiv border in the south have faced constant bombardment.

  • Kaliningrad tensions: Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said Russian claims of a rail blockade of its territorial outpost in Kaliningrad are a "lie." Lithuania, she said, "is complying with the sanctions imposed by the [European Union] on Russia," adding that necessary goods like food and medicine are still being transported to the exclave. Read more on Kaliningrad here.

9:25 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Rocket launch system from US arrives in Ukraine

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Vasco Cotovio in London

High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) from the United States have arrived in Ukraine, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Thursday.

"HIMARS have arrived to Ukraine. Thank you to my 🇺🇲 colleague and friend @SecDef Lloyd J. Austin III for these powerful tools," Reznikov tweeted.

CNN could not independently verify if or when the HIMARS had entered the country or if they were already being used in the battlefield.

The HIMARS is a Multiple Launch Rocket System developed for the US Army in the 1970s. It carries a preloaded pod of six 227mm guided missiles, or one pod loaded with a tactical missile.

Both Russia and Ukraine already operate MLRS systems but the six-rocket HIMARS version being sent to help Kyiv is more advanced, with superior range and precision.

Ukraine has asked for around 300 of these systems. To date, the US has only donated four HIMARS to Ukraine, but hasn’t ruled out providing more in the future.

Separately, Germany will send three such systems to Ukraine, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said Wednesday.

7:53 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Russian cruise missiles strike southern cities, says Ukrainian military

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva

Russian cruise missiles targeted southern Ukraine on Thursday, according to the Ukrainian military’s operational command for that part of the country.

In Mykolaiv, three surface-to-air cruise missiles launched from occupied Kherson struck targets in the city.

The industrial and social infrastructure of the city was hit, one civilian was injured, details are being clarified,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces said.

The port city of Odesa was also targeted by two cruise missiles, the Ukrainian military said, adding that those missiles were shot down by the country’s air defenses.

8:35 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

European Parliament urges EU leaders to grant candidate status to Ukraine "without delay"

From CNN’s James Frater at the European Council in Brussels

Western Balkans countries leaders and EU leaders pose for a picture at a European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23.
Western Balkans countries leaders and EU leaders pose for a picture at a European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution by 529 votes to 45 calling on European Union leaders to approve Ukraine’s status as an EU candidate country “without delay.”

The vote -- held at a European Council meeting taking place in Brussels on Thursday and Friday -- also called on leaders to grant candidate status to Moldova and the same to Georgia “once its government has delivered” on a set of political and social reforms established by the European Commission.

The non-binding resolution says that granting Ukraine candidate status would “send a clear political message, affirming that the countries concerned have made the irrevocable choice of a European path.”

In the resolution, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) said granting candidate status would also allow the EU to remain a “reliable partner and a credible geopolitical player, which lives up to its principles and values,” and would show “solidarity with those who defend the same ideals.”

MEPs said there was “no ‘fast-track’ for EU membership” and accession to becoming a full EU country “remains a merit-based and structured process which requires the fulfilment of the EU membership criteria and is dependent on the effective implementation of reforms” as well as transposing all EU law -- the acquis -- into domestic law.

Lawmakers also called on the Ukrainian and Moldovan governments to “unambiguously demonstrate their political determination to implement the European ambitions of their people,” and to “significantly enhancing progress with substantial reforms in order to effectively fulfil the criteria for EU membership as soon as possible.”

7:34 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Moscow says there's "no hidden agenda" in cuts to gas supplies

From CNN's Anna Chernova

A worker walks underneath a raised section of pipework at the compressor station in Ihtiman, Bulgaria, on June 15.
A worker walks underneath a raised section of pipework at the compressor station in Ihtiman, Bulgaria, on June 15. (Hristo Rusev/Getty Images)

Cuts in Russian gas supplies to Europe are explained by technical issues with turbines, rather than political reasons, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday, adding there was “no hidden agenda.”

Russia remains a reliable gas supplier and strictly fulfils all its obligations, Peskov told reporters on a regular conference call.

However, issues with the maintenance of Gazprom turbines in Europe have caused lower supplies, he added. “It's strange to drag politics into everything,” Peskov also said.

Russia's state energy giant Gazprom cut flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany by 60% last week, blaming the move on Europe decision to withhold vital turbines due to sanctions. 

Europe has been widely affected by Russia limiting its gas deliveries. On Thursday, Germany declared the second phase of its three-stage emergency plan for natural gas supplies. German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said "gas is from now on in short supply in Germany," and the country is currently “in an economic confrontation with Russia."

7:25 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Armored vehicles donated by Australia are now en-route to Ukraine

From Yulia Kesaieva

The first batch of 14 Australian M113AS4 armoured personnel carriers donated to Ukraine is already en-route, the country’s ambassador to Kyiv said Thursday.

“Australia has committed over [Australian] $285 million ($196 million) in military assistance to Ukraine to support [the Ukrainian military] counter Russia's illegal invasion,” Ambassador Bruce Edwards tweeted on Thursday. “The first batch of M113AS4 armoured personnel carriers departed Australia last week.”

The Australian government’s military assistance package consists of Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles, M777 Howitzers, anti-armor weapons, ammunition, unmanned aerial systems and a range of personal equipment.