June 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Jack Guy, Hafsa Khalil, Aditi Sangal, Laura Smith-Spark and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 2:04 a.m. ET, June 30, 2022
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10:25 a.m. ET, June 29, 2022

Syria formally recognizes independence of 2 pro-Russian separatist-held regions in Ukraine's Donbas

From CNN's Eyad Kourdi in Gaziantep

Syria has decided to formally recognize the "independence and sovereignty of the Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics," according to Syrian state news agency SANA on Wednesday.

"In an expression of the common will and the desire to establish relations in all sectors, the Syrian Arab Republic has decided to recognize the independence and sovereignty of both the Luhansk People's Republic [LPR] and the Donetsk People's Republic [DPR]," SANA reported, citing an official source in Syria's foreign ministry.

"Communication with both countries will be established to agree on a framework for strengthening the relationships between our countries including initiating diplomatic relationships based on the established (diplomatic) rules," the foreign ministry source added, according to SANA.

This makes Syria the only other country aside from Russia, to formally recognize the independence of the breakaway regions.

Read more about the two regions here.

10:18 a.m. ET, June 29, 2022

UN report documents 10,000 civilian casualties in Ukraine, with toll likely "considerably higher"

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London 

A hospital nurse pushes a wheelchair carrying a woman wounded by the Russian rocket attack at a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, on June 28.
A hospital nurse pushes a wheelchair carrying a woman wounded by the Russian rocket attack at a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, on June 28. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

The United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has published an alarming report Wednesday about the human rights situation in Ukraine in the context of the ongoing Russian invasion.

The UN documented 10,000 civilian casualties since the conflict began on Feb. 24, “among them, 4,731 people were killed,” Matilda Bogner, head of Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, told journalists in Kyiv as she presented the report’s findings.

She warned the casualty numbers are “considerably higher” as the report only highlights the figures the mission was able to independently verify. 

“The armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine has had a devastating impact on the human rights across the country. We documented violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including war crimes. These violations highlight the heavy toll the conflict is having day in and day out,” Bogner said.

The report is based on information gathered during 11 field visits, three visits to places of detention and 517 interviews with victims and witnesses between Feb. 24 and May 15, 2022. The evidence also draws from court documents, official records and open sources.

The report documents violations of international human rights and humanitarian law “to varying degrees, by both parties,” according to Bogner.  

“The high number of civilian casualties and the extent of destruction and damaged caused to civilian infrastructure raised significant concerns that attacks conducted by Russian Armed Forces did not comply with international humanitarian law. While on a much lower scale, it also appears that Ukrainian armed forces did not comply with international humanitarian law in Eastern parts of the country," Bogner added.

The report also raised “serious concerns” about the allegations of torture of prisoners of war by both sides on the conflict, including testimonies of 44 prisoners of war interviewed by the UN mission.

Bogner stressed the mission encountered evidence of widespread use of extrajudicial punishment against those alleged to be looters, thieves and curfew violators in Ukraine. 

“OHCHR has documented and verified allegations of unlawful killings, including summary executions of civilians in more than 30 settlements in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, committed while these territories were under the control of Russian armed forces. In Bucha alone (Kyiv region), OHCHR documented the unlawful killings, including summary executions, of at least 50 civilians,” the report outlined, adding the full scale of the problem "is yet to be fully assessed.”

The UN document also outlined “concern about the arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance” of representatives of local authorities, journalists, civil society activists and other civilians by Russian troops and affiliated armed groups.

OHCHR documented 248 cases of arbitrary detention, with six of those resulting in deaths. 

The OHCHR report includes “reasonable grounds to believe” that both Russian and Ukrainian armed forces have been using weapons equipped with cluster munitions, including Tochka-U missiles that resulted in civilian casualties. The use of such weapons in populated areas contradicts international law. 

Concluding the report, OHCHR recommended all parties of the conflict “respect and ensure respect at all times and in all circumstances” for international human right and humanitarian laws. The report also urged Russia “to immediately cease the armed attack” and comply with its obligations under international law. 

The Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine maintains its presence in Donetsk, Dnipro, Odesa and Uzhhorod. 

9:56 a.m. ET, June 29, 2022

NATO's Stoltenberg says alliance inviting Finland and Sweden to become members is "historic"

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London 

From left to right background: Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, and Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde pose for a picture after signing a memorandum in which Turkey agrees to Finland and Sweden's membership of the defense alliance in Madrid, Spain, on June 28
From left to right background: Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, and Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde pose for a picture after signing a memorandum in which Turkey agrees to Finland and Sweden's membership of the defense alliance in Madrid, Spain, on June 28 (Bernat Armangue/AP)

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called the formal invitation from the alliance to Sweden and Finland to join the defense bloc "a historic decision."  

"Today, NATO leaders took a historic decision to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO. The agreement concluded last night by Turkey, Finland and Sweden paved the way for this decision," Secretary General Stoltenberg said during a press conference held as part of the NATO summit in Madrid on Wednesday.  

He pinned the success of this agreement on "hard work" carried out "at many different levels" over "many weeks."  

He recounted how two rounds of talks were held by senior officials in Brussels under his auspices in the advance of Monday's consequential meeting between Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey agreed on Tuesday to drop its objections to the Nordic nations' membership bids, removing a major hurdle to them joining NATO. 

"This is a good agreement for Turkey, it is a good agreement for Finland and Sweden, and it is a good agreement for NATO," Stoltenberg said.  

"I would like to thank Turkey, Finland and Sweden, for accepting my invitation to engage in negotiations to find a united way forward," he said. 

Watch the moment here:

9:06 a.m. ET, June 29, 2022

Turkey will renew extradition requests to Finland and Sweden after signing memorandum at NATO summit

From CNN’s Isil Sariyuce in Istanbul

Turkey will follow up on its extradition requests for its 33 terror suspects in Sweden and Finland after it signed a trilateral memorandum with the two countries in Madrid on Tuesday, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said.

“We will ask them to fulfill the requirements of our applications after this memorandum of understanding. We have already applied for extradition. The files of six PKK and six FETO terrorists in Finland and 10 FETO and 11 PKK terrorists in Sweden,” Bozdag said when replying to reporter’s questions in Ankara on Wednesday. “Our ministry will write about their return and remind them again ... Once again, we ask them to fulfill their promises."

Bozdağ said Turkey believes it is important to establish a monitoring board with security, justice and intelligence units to monitor the implementation of the memorandum. 

“We do not find it sufficient to write; we will also supervise its implementation one by one in practice,” he said. 

The foreign affairs ministers of Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed a memorandum on Tuesday in Madrid that addressed Turkey's concerns, including around arms exports and the fight against terrorism, for Turkey to drop its objections for the two longtime neutral Nordic countries to seek to join NATO.

9:45 a.m. ET, June 29, 2022

NATO formally invites Finland and Sweden to become members of the alliance

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Sharon Braithwaite in London 

NATO has formally invited Sweden and Finland to join the US-led military alliance, according to a statement from NATO Heads of State and Government on Wednesday. 

"Today, we have decided to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO, and agreed to sign the Accession Protocols," the statement said. 

“The accession of Finland and Sweden will make them safer, NATO stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure. The security of Finland and Sweden is of direct importance to the Alliance, including during the accession process,” the statement added.

Earlier today, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that following the invitation, "we need a ratification process in 30 parliaments; that always takes some time, but I expect also that to go rather quickly because allies are ready to try to make that ratification process happen as quickly as possible." 

9:15 a.m. ET, June 29, 2022

“Has Ukraine not paid enough?”: Zelensky urges NATO to admit his country to the alliance

From CNN's Seb Shukla and Niamh Kennedy in London

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a giant screen as he delivers a statement at the start of the first plenary session of the NATO summit at the Ifema congress centre in Madrid, on June 29.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a giant screen as he delivers a statement at the start of the first plenary session of the NATO summit at the Ifema congress centre in Madrid, on June 29. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

“Has Ukraine not paid enough (to join NATO)?” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked leaders of the military alliance as they met Wednesday.

Addressing the NATO summit in Madrid via video link from Kyiv, Zelensky added: “Is our contribution to the defense of both Europe and the whole civilization still insufficient? What else is needed then?”

In a dig at the lack of a clear pathway to join the alliance, Zelensky used the analogy of the Kyiv metro system turnstiles, which are always open until you approach them and then they ask you to pay.

“We need security guarantees, and you need to find a place for Ukraine in the common security space," he added.

The president, dressed in his now famous military fatigues, also called for NATO to “revise” how it views its eastern flank.

“It is possible to get rid of the 'gray' zone, to guarantee security only together with Ukraine," he said.

"Just think about one fact now: today, a country that is not a member of NATO, albeit with your support, has been holding back a state for more than four months, which you all officially identify as the main threat to yourself. And we are holding back Russia from destroying us and from destroying you,” Zelensky said.

“Is it a coincidence that all Allies in the east, all our neighbors, are in favor of Ukraine's membership in NATO? No, this is not a coincidence. This is logic. This is the knowledge of life in our region,” he said.

Later on Wednesday, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine can "count" on NATO allies for support "for as long as it needs."

Addressing a press conference in Madrid, the secretary general said he was "pleased" that Zelensky could virtually address the NATO summit and commended the president's "leadership and courage," calling him "an inspiration to us all."

8:31 a.m. ET, June 29, 2022

Norway says it will send long-range rocket artillery to Ukraine

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

Norway announced on Wednesday that it would donate three multiple-launch rocket systems to Ukraine, following similar decision made by the United States.

The donation is made possible by a close cooperation between Norway and the United Kingdom, Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram said in a statement.

"We must continue our support so the Ukrainians can continue their fight for freedom and independence," the minister added.

US President Joe Biden announced recently that the US would provide Ukraine with "more advanced rocket systems and munitions" as its war with Russia grinds on.

8:26 a.m. ET, June 29, 2022

Russian troops are scattering anti-personnel mines in Lysychansk, Ukrainian regional military head says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Russian soldiers in the Luhansk city of Lysychansk are planting anti-personnel mines, according to the head of the region's military administration, Serhiy Hayday.

The mines – nicknamed "petals" — are extremely dangerous as “they lie anywhere and any child or civilian who has gone out for humanitarian aid may step on them and die or lose a limb," he told CNN in a phone interview.

The bombardment of the city is now “constantly” happening night and day, Hayday added. 

On the humanitarian front, his team is trying to deliver “as much” aid as possible, he said, adding that one humanitarian aid kit per person is designed to last for two weeks, but in reality, the supplies only last for a week. 

About 15,000 people are currently left in the city, and the majority of them are those “who refused to leave, despite us constantly urging them to leave,” the regional military head said. 

Hayday said it was hard to give a damage report on the city due to the shelling on multiple fronts by Russian troops.

He reiterated that Lysychansk is the last outpost of the Luhansk region. He added that “in the military sense, the loss of one city is like losing a battle, it is not a lost war.”

But he remained upbeat about the possibility of Ukrainian forces inflicting as many losses on the Russian troops as possible.

"It is possible that during the assault of Lysychansk, they will lose so much equipment and troops that they will no longer be able to fully conduct offensive operations, during which we will get more Western weapons which will defeat our enemy. And we will not only stop, we will start the de-occupation," he told CNN.

1:15 p.m. ET, June 29, 2022

Ukrainian mayor of Kherson detained as Russian-run region prepares for referendum

From CNN's Tim Lister and Sanyo Fylyppov

The elected Ukrainian mayor of Kherson, Ihor Kolykhaiev, was arrested Tuesday, according to pro-Russian officials in the city, hours before the region's Russian-backed administration announced plans for a referendum. 

Kolykhaiev's arrest came amid growing efforts by the Russian-appointed authorities in the region to strip it of Ukrainian associations. 

An official in the interim administration of the Kherson region, Kateryna Gubareva, confirmed that Kolykhaiev had been detained. Kolykhaiev has remained in the city throughout the occupation, though the Russian-backed authorities removed him from office.  

Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-backed deputy head of the military-civilian administration of the Kherson region, said Kolykhaiev had "posed as a benefactor" but "made every effort to ensure that some people continued to believe in the return of neo-Nazism," repeating claims echoing Russian President Vladimir Putin's baseless justification for the war. Stremousov also claimed without offering evidence that Kolykhaiev "stole millions, and gave people a penny."

First word of Kolykhaiev's detention came from his adviser, Halyna Liashevska, who posted on Facebook on Tuesday that he had arrived "at one of the municipal institutions where the remaining employees of the city executive committee worked. As soon as he got out of the car, he was immediately detained by armed Russian guards."

"They seized hard drives from computers, opened all safes, searched for documents," Liashevska said. "All this time, Kolykhaiev was kept in a separate room in handcuffs under armed guard. After the search, Kolykhaiev was put into bus Z and taken away." Z is the letter on many Russian vehicles in occupied parts of Ukraine.

Liashevska added: "I am sure that the arrest of Kolykhaiev is connected with his refusal to cooperate with the occupying authorities. A few days ago, Kolykhaiev received a letter from the 'newly-appointed' mayor, inviting him to discuss the future 'organization of interaction.' For refusing to meet, he was threatened with arrest."

On June 13, Kolykhaiev said that he and the heads of different city departments were still in the city and continued to work for it, after the man appointed by the Russians as regional governor, Hennadii Lahuta, said that Kolykhaiev had made the wrong choice by remaining in Kherson.

Serhii Khlan, an adviser to the head of the Kherson civil military administration, told CNN that Kolykhaiev had an ambivalent relationship with the Russian occupation.

"For a while, the Russians even allowed him to sit under Ukrainian flags," he said.

Khlan said the occupying authorities had then insisted that officials enter into contracts with the Russians and be paid in rubles. "Kolykhaiev had a choice: either sign the betrayal of Ukraine and finally openly work with the occupiers, or refuse to cooperate," he said.

Kolykhaiev had continued in office for more than two months after the Russian invasion. In April, he told Ukrainian television: "I have no information about the so-called Kherson People's Republic. Representatives of local authorities in Kherson are at their workplaces in the city administration."

Kolykhaiev's arrest followed a visit on Monday to Kherson by a member of the Russian parliament, Alexandr Boroday, a former prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic.

Boroday said he had left "with an ambivalent impression, because we understand that somewhere, of course, the city is ours, and somewhere not quite ours."

"There is our mayor in Kherson, and there is also the pro-Ukrainian mayor. Kyiv's mayor makes meetings, and our mayor makes meetings," he said, adding, "It seems there is our administration with Vladimir Saldo [the Russian-appointed mayor], but at the same time Kherson lives a very double life."

Boroday said the city was peaceful, "but it is not entirely clear whether our power is there or not. And this needs to be done as quickly as possible," he said.

Within 36 hours of Boroday's visit, the pro-Russian authorities announced plans for a referendum for the Kherson region to join the Russian Federation.

Some officials in Kherson previously detained have been released. On Wednesday, a nongovernmental organization, the Association of Cities of Ukraine, said the heads of two communities of Kherson — Oleksandr Babych of Hola Prystan and Ivan Samoilenko of Stanislav — were released from captivity.

Ukrainian authorities said earlier this month that "more and more people [in Kherson] refuse to cooperate with the occupiers and local collaborators."

Read more here.