Russia's war in Ukraine

By Aditi Sangal, Rhea Mogul, Lianne Kolirin and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 6:49 p.m. ET, June 24, 2022
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9:47 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

Russia is on the verge of taking a key Ukrainian city, but bigger battles await

Analysis from CNN's Tim Lister

It was more a question of when, rather than if, the remaining Ukrainian units in the eastern city of Severodonetsk would be withdrawn.

For the last several weeks, Russian forces have simply destroyed every defensive position the Ukrainians have adopted, pushing them into a few square blocks in and around the city’s Azot chemical plant.

Ukrainian forces in Severodonetsk held on much longer than many observers anticipated, forcing the Russians and their allies to devote resources to the city that might have been used to press the offensive elsewhere.

But the Ukrainian military has clearly made the decision that there was nothing more to defend -- and that hundreds of civilians sheltering at the plant were in greater danger with every passing day.

According to the Institute for War, a US think tank that follows the campaign closely, "The loss of Severodonetsk is a loss for Ukraine in the sense that any terrain captured by Russian forces is a loss -- but the battle of Severodonetsk will not be a decisive Russian victory."

Now the battle moves across the Siverskiy Donets river to Lysychansk, the last city in Luhansk held by Ukrainian forces. And there are already signs that the Russians will use the same merciless tactic of area bombardment to grind down Ukrainian forces, deploying combat planes, multiple launch rocket systems and even short-range ballistic missiles such as the Tochka-U. 

Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, noted Friday: "There is a lot of military equipment. According to our information, at least six Tochka-U left in the direction of Lysychansk from Starobilsk only. One is enough destructive power -- six is a total disaster."

The loss of Severodonetsk – and, potentially, Lysychansk in the coming days -- may have been priced into Ukrainian calculations, given the overwhelming firepower of Russian forces and the apparent improvement in Russian logistics since the campaign against Kyiv was abandoned. But every town and city defended provides an opportunity to degrade the enemy.

There are still large areas of the neighboring Donetsk region under Ukrainian control. The regional military administration says about 45% of Donetsk is held by Ukrainian forces, including the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

There are not many obvious defensive positions west of Lysychansk, in an area of open countryside. Ukrainian commanders will have to decide whether the whole pocket -- courageously defended for weeks -- is better abandoned for a more consolidated defense of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka, the industrial belt of Donetsk.

The question is whether the losses inflicted on Russian forces in recent weeks will impair their ability and desire to gobble up more territory, especially as Ukraine deploys more accurate western weapons such as the HIMARS rocket systems.  

Equally, it's unclear whether the punishment endured by Ukrainian units in the Donbas region over the last two months has left them with enough resources to launch counter-attacks against Russian flanks (as they have attempted against Russian forces advancing from Kharkiv region in the north.)

The Kremlin has not veered from its ultimate objective of taking all of Donetsk and Luhansk. It now has almost all the latter. Completing the "special military operation" will still take weeks, and more likely months, if at all. It has become a classic war of attrition.

5:10 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

Ukraine's President Zelensky "grateful" to US for additional $450m in military aid

From CNN's Victoria Butenko

U.S. Marine Corps High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems with 3d Battalion, 12th Marines, pictured in Okinawa, Japan, on September 30.
U.S. Marine Corps High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems with 3d Battalion, 12th Marines, pictured in Okinawa, Japan, on September 30. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ujian Gosun/ABACA/Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his country is “grateful” to US President Biden and the American people for the latest package of $450 million in military aid.

The Biden administration on Thursday announced the additional military aid for Ukraine, with the United States giving the war-stricken country four more multiple launch rocket systems and artillery ammunition for other systems.

The package, which will be drawn from existing Defense Department stocks, also includes 18 patrol boats for monitoring coasts and rivers, and small arms.

The most significant part of the package is the four additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), wheeled vehicles capable of launching barrages of guided rockets at targets up to approximately 40 miles away.

Zelensky tweeted on Friday: "We're grateful to [US President Joe Biden] and the American people for the decision to provide another $450 million defense aid package to Ukraine. This support, including additional HIMARS, is now more important than ever.

By joint efforts we will free Ukrainian land from the Russian aggressor!” he concluded.
4:53 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

Russia has destroyed roads leading into Lysychansk, says local official

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

A Ukrainian armored personnel carrier (APC) rides on the road while smoke rises over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk, Ukraine, on June 23.
A Ukrainian armored personnel carrier (APC) rides on the road while smoke rises over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk, Ukraine, on June 23. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian forces have targeted and destroyed some of the roads leading into the encircled Ukrainian city of Lysychansk, according to the head of the Luhansk regional military administration.

The Russians destroy with helicopters the roads and bridges leading to Lysychansk,” Serhiy Hayday wrote on his official Telegram account on Friday.

The post, which included video of one of the targeted bridges, continued: “The bridge is damaged, only cars will be able to pass it now, the truck will not pass into the city.”

Russian forces have been attempting to cut off supply lines into Lysychansk and Severodonetsk for weeks as they closed in on the two population centers.

3:55 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

Pro-Russian politician killed in occupied Kherson, state media says

From CNN's Oleksandra Ochman

A Russian-installed politician in the occupied southern Ukrainian city of Kherson was killed on Friday, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Dmitry Savluchenko, head of the Department of Youth and Sports for the region, was killed "as a result of a terrorist attack," according to RIA.

Ukrainian officials claimed responsibility for Savluchenko's death.

“Our partisans have another victory,” Serhii Khlan, adviser to the head of the Kherson Civil Military Administration said in a Facebook post on Friday. “A pro-Russian activist and traitor was blown up in a car in one of Kherson's yards in the morning.”
9:47 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

Russian forces make gains in Donbas, south of Lysychansk

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych

Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside Lysychansk, Ukraine, on June 23.
Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside Lysychansk, Ukraine, on June 23. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian forces have made some gains in the past 24 hours, claiming two villages to the south of the neighboring Donbas cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.

Forces from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) said on Friday they had captured the villages of Hirske and Zolote. 

“The Ukrainian group, located in the Gorskoye-Zolotoye cauldron, has been liquidated. All settlements are under our control,” Andriy Marochko, an officer with the self-proclaimed LPR militia said in Telegram remarks carried by Russian state news agency TASS on Friday.

The head of the Luhansk regional military administration, Serhiy Hayday, conceded that Russian forces had made gains south of Lysychansk. 

“The enemy is advancing towards Lysychansk from the side of Zolote and Toshkivka,” he said. “They really succeed in some settlements.”

9:47 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

Ukrainian forces to withdraw from Severodonetsk, regional military chief says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian soldiers ride a tank on a road in the eastern Luhansk region, Ukraine, on June 23.
Ukrainian soldiers ride a tank on a road in the eastern Luhansk region, Ukraine, on June 23. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian forces will have to withdraw from Severodonetsk, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, Serhiy Hayday, said Friday, accusing Russia of destroying most of the city’s infrastructure.

“Unfortunately, we will have to withdraw our military [from Severodonetsk]. It makes no sense to stay in positions broken after many months [of hostilities], because the number of dead in unfortified territories may grow every day,” Hayday said in a televised address.
“Our defenders, who are there, have already received a command to withdraw to new positions, and to fully conduct hostilities from there.”

Hayday said the situation in Severodonetsk was unsustainable after round the clock shelling by Russian forces over several months. 

“All the infrastructure of the city is completely destroyed,” he said. “More than 90% of houses were fired on, about 80% of houses were critically destroyed. These are the ones that can no longer be restored, they must be demolished.”

Hayday went on to say Russia was now targeting neighboring Lysychansk from Zolote and Toshkivka, around 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) to the south.

“They really succeed in some settlements,” he said. “Lysychansk is logistically stretched, the landscape is complex. Therefore, it is difficult to take it immediately.”

According to Hayday, Russian attempts to infiltrate the city with sabotage and reconnaissance groups had been repelled. He added that evacuations and deliveries of military and humanitarian aid to the city were ongoing. 

3:02 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

4 killed in Russian military transport plane crash, state media reports

From CNN’s Teele Rebane and Josh Pennington

Four people died when a Il-76 military transport plane crashed in the city of Ryazan, western Russia, during a training flight on Friday, state-run news agency TASS reported, citing the Russian Defense Ministry.

Ten people were aboard the jet, according to TASS. 

According to the Defense Ministry, the plane crashed due to an engine malfunction; there was no cargo on board.

9:01 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Russian forces under orders to blockade two major Ukrainian ports and are mining the Black Sea, US says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The United States has information that the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy "is under orders to effectively blockade the Ukrainian ports of Odesa and Ochakiv," a US official told CNN, citing what was described as recently declassified intelligence.

According to this official, that intelligence also revealed indications that Russian forces are deploying mines in the Black Sea and have previously mined the Dnipro River.

Western officials have accused Moscow of "weaponizing" food supplies as leaders and experts warn of a looming food crisis with millions of tons of Ukrainian grain unable to reach to global market due to the war. 

"We can confirm that despite Russia’s public claims that it is not mining the northwestern Black Sea, Russia actually is deploying mines in the Black Sea near Ochakiv," the US official told CNN Thursday.

The Guardian first reported on the findings of the newly declassified intelligence. 

Moscow has claimed it is not impeding agricultural shipments from Ukraine and has said Kyiv must de-mine the waters for the ships to transit.

"The Russian Federation is not creating any obstacles for the passage of ships or vessels. We are not preventing anything," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in early June.

On a call with reporters Thursday, hosted by the US State Department's Africa Regional Media Hub, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, "We shouldn’t be buying the argument that it’s Ukraine who blocked the sea with its mines in order not to allow the shipment or the vessels to come in and out."

"Russia was mining the sea. We were mining the sea to defend ourselves. The Russians were mining it to — not to allow — to destroy our ships," he said. "The real issue is what happens when the harbor is demined.  Who will ensure and how it can be ensured that Russia will not abuse open harbor and attack Odesa from the sea?  This is the question that everyone is rattling their minds on: how to make sure that Russia doesn’t attack Odessa from the sea."
2:29 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

EU says it will "swiftly work on a further increase of military support" to Ukraine

From CNN's Chris Liakos

The European Union says it will “swiftly” work on increasing military support to Ukraine and will work on further financial assistance.

In a news release following the first day of the two-day EU Summit, the European Council said, “The European Union remains strongly committed to providing further military support to help Ukraine exercise its inherent right of self-defence against the Russian aggression and defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty. To this end, the European Council calls on the Council to swiftly work on a further increase of military support.”

Leaders of the European Union (EU) attend day one of the EU leaders summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23.
Leaders of the European Union (EU) attend day one of the EU leaders summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23. (Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The European Council also urged Russia to “immediately stop targeting agricultural facilities and removing cereals, and to unblock the Black Sea, in particular the port of Odesa, so as to allow the export of grain and commercial shipping operations,” blaming Russia for the global food security crisis.

“Russia, by weaponising food in its war against Ukraine, is solely responsible for the global food security crisis it has provoked,” it said.

The European Council also condemned “Russia’s indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure,” adding that “international humanitarian law, including on the treatment of prisoners of war, must be respected.”

“Russia, Belarus and all those responsible for war crimes and the other most serious crimes will be held to account for their actions, in accordance with international law,” it said.