Officials fear more bodies will be found in ruins of Kremenchuk mall
From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv
The dismantling of the Kremenchuk mall and search for survivors in the aftermath of the Russian missile strike continued overnight Wednesday and into Thursday, according to the Mayor of Kremenchuk, Vitalii Maletskyi.
Rescue workers were now dismantling parts of the mall “near the epicenter of the explosion,” he said. Maletskyi added that the missile struck and exploded in a home appliance store and that the rubble in this part of the mall was extensive, so he feared this might be where other bodies may be found.
The number of dead remains at 18, but 21 people are still missing, he said.
The attack targeted a site in central Ukraine far away from the epicenter of Russia's war, which has recently been focused in the east of the country. Ukrainian officials said the attack was conducted by a Russian KH-22 missile, which is capable of carrying an explosive warhead of up to 1 ton.
7:04 a.m. ET, June 30, 2022
Russian forces withdraw from Snake Island
From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Anna Chernova in Dubai
Russian forces have left Snake Island in the Black Sea, the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Thursday, after they carried out what they said was a “successful” operation.
On Monday, the Ukrainian military said it hit a second missile system on the island, as well as multiple Russian personnel in their efforts to keep them at bay.
In a short post on Telegram the Operation Command South on Thursday, the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that “the enemy hastily evacuated the remnants of the garrison in two speedboats and probably left the island.”
Andriy Yermak, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said in a Telegram post that Ukraine's armed forces had "conducted a remarkable operation."
Early on Thursday Ukrainian Armed Forces said the results of an overnight operation were being assessed, but were viewed as a “success” as Russian forces were forced to evacuate using speedboats.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valeriy Zaluzhniy, said on Telegram that the "occupiers" had left after being “unable to withstand the fire of our artillery, missile and air strikes."
He also thanked the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the Odesa region “who took the maximum measures to liberate a strategically important part of our territory,” referring to Snake Island.
However, Russia gave a slightly different narrative of the events on the island.
Lieutenant General of the Russian Armed Forces, and spokesperson of the Russian army, Igor Konashenkov said at a briefing that Russian forces left the island "as a gesture of goodwill."
He added that “the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation finished fulfilling the assigned tasks in Snake Island and withdrew the garrison that had been operating there.”
Konashenkov intimated that the removal of Russian troops should allow an easing for the passage of grain, “this solution will prevent Kyiv from speculating on an impending grocery crisis citing the inability to export grain due to total control of the northwestern part of the Black Sea by Russia.”
Some context: Snake Island is a small but strategic island in the Black Sea. It was the scene of one of the opening salvos of the war in Ukraine, with demands from a Russian warship calling for the Ukrainian defenders to surrender, who boldly replied with “Russian warship go f*** yourself.”
This post has been updated.
4:54 a.m. ET, June 30, 2022
Human Rights Watch demands probe into Kremenchuk bombing as “potential war crime”
From Ingrid Formanek in Kyiv and Seb Shukla in London
In a report published on Thursday, Yulia Gorbunova, a senior Ukraine researcher at HRW added that “if the Russian authorities don’t, the International Criminal Court and other investigative bodies should.”
In a thorough report into the bombing, HRW spoke with 15 people to publish their report, including the injured, doctors, mall staff, other witnesses and local officials.
Gorbunova added “the civilians of Kremenchuk who suffered such an intense loss from June 27 strike, deserve justice. There needs to be a thorough investigation, and those responsible should be held to account.”
2:50 a.m. ET, June 30, 2022
Nervous Lithuanians are signing up for a border militia
From CNN's Nina dos Santos and Lindsay Isaac in Kybartai, Lithuania
Having a neighbor like Russia at the end of the street means 59-year-old Vytas Grudzinskas doesn't get much rest. "I can see the soldiers best at night," he says, pointing to a patch of green behind his neighbor's garden.
"They have a shooting range they use over there behind that field. In the afternoon, you can hear the guns," he said.
Grudzinskas has his own weapon, a machine gun, which he keeps locked in a cupboard, close at hand — although his guard dog, a Maltese terrier, might be less effective in battle.
The small city of Kybartai where Grudzinska lives lies inside both NATO and the European Union but also along one of the world's hottest borders — the Suwalki corridor. This tract of land, about 60 miles wide, is sandwiched between Russia's heavily fortified, nuclear-armed, Baltic bolthole of Kaliningrad and its ally, Belarus.
The pass — viewed by many analysts as a weak point within NATO — is caught in a pincer grip between Kremlin troops. The fear is that if Ukraine fell, Russia would advance through it next, possibly cutting off the Baltic states in days.
The scars of Soviet occupation run deep in this part of Europe. Tens of thousands of Lithuanians were forcibly deported to gulags in Siberia and the far north by the Soviets in the 1940s and 1950s. Almost 30,000 Lithuanian prisoners perished in the forced labor camps.
"My father was sent to Sakhalin in Russia's far west for 15 years," said Grudzinskas. "He ate grass the first year to survive."
So, when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Grudzinskas joined Lithuania's century-old volunteer militia — the Riflemen — and took up arms in his own backyard.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a fresh warning over Finland and Sweden's bids to join NATO, saying while Russia was not bothered if the two countries joined the bloc, it would "respond symmetrically" to any military or infrastructure build up.
Here are the latest headlines.
NATO enlargement: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called the formal invitation from the alliance to Sweden and Finland to join the defense bloc "a historic decision." The invitation sparks a seven-step accession process. Meanwhile, Putin warned Russia would respond in kind to any "threats."
Eastern flank bolstered: NATO's leaders also unveiled a significant strengthening of forces along the bloc's eastern edge, with President Joe Biden announcing the US would bolster its force posture in several European countries. Latvia's Prime Minister called the decision a "very, very clear signal to Moscow."
Putin denies mall attack: The Russian President denied Moscow was behind a strike on a shopping center in central Ukraine that killed at least 18 people with dozens missing and wounded. "The Russian army does not attack any civilian site," he claimed. Russia's Defense Ministry previously said it hit military targets but video from the city of Kremenchuk shows the mall obliterated by a missile.
Mykolaiv missile attacks: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 10 Russian missiles hit "civilian targets" in the southern city on Wednesday, killing at least five people. The assault "proves for absolutely everyone in the world that the pressure on Russia is not enough," Zelensky said in his nightly address.
"Constant shelling" of Lysychansk: Russian forces attempting to storm the eastern Ukrainian city — where some 15,000 people remain — are maintaining "constant shelling," the head of the Luhansk region military administration said. "Now the density of fire is so strong. So much that we can only put 30 people on a bus," the military chief said.
Widodo meets with Zelensky and Putin: Indonesian President Joko Widodo traveled to Kyiv on Wednesday, where he met with Zelensky and extended a personal invitation to the G20 summit in Bali in November. He is expected to travel to Moscow on Thursday to meet Putin and said he hoped to "build dialogue, stop war and build peace."
2:43 a.m. ET, June 30, 2022
10 Russian missiles hit "civilian targets" in Mykolaiv, Zelensky says
From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 10 Russian missiles hit "civilian targets" in the southern city of Mykolaiv on Wednesday, killing at least five people.
The assault "proves for absolutely everyone in the world that the pressure on Russia is not enough," Zelensky said in his nightly address.
"There were also strikes at Ochakiv, Dnipro, the Russian shelling of the Kharkiv region, Sumy region, Donbas."
Zelensky also said the situation in Lysychansk, Avdiivka, and communities in the Bakhmut direction "remains extremely brutal, very difficult."
"We are doing everything we can to provide our military with modern artillery systems to respond properly to the occupiers," he said.
Some context: Mykolaiv mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych on Wednesday said there were "only 18 days" since the start of the invasion that the southern Ukrainian city was not fired upon with missiles or cluster shells.
More than 114 residents had died due to Russian attacks in that time, he said. It was not clear if that number included all casualties cited by Zelensky later that day.
11:15 p.m. ET, June 29, 2022
Russian military will take "years" to recover, raising nuclear risk, says US intelligence chief
From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis
The US intelligence community assesses that it will take “years” for the Russian military to recover from the damage it has sustained in carrying out its war in Ukraine, according to the director for national intelligence Avril Haines.
“Their ground forces have now been degraded so much that we expect it will take years for them to recover in many ways,” she told a conference in Washington, DC on Wednesday.
That could push Russia to become more reliant on "asymmetric tools" such as cyberattacks, efforts to try to control energy, or even nuclear weapons in order to project "power and influence," she said.
Grim assessment: Haines said Russia is beginning to turn its focus to the Donetsk region. The intelligence community believes Russia will struggle to overtake the eastern province — as it is close to achieving in neighboring Luhansk — but that Russian President Vladimir Putin likely believes time is on Moscow's side because he thinks the West will eventually tire of supporting Ukraine.
“The consensus is that the war in Ukraine will go on for an extended period of time,” Haines said, acknowledging the US assessment of the situation is “grim.”
Three scenarios: Haines said the intelligence community sees three likely scenarios that could come into focus in the coming weeks and months.
“The most likely is that the conflict remains a grinding struggle in which the Russians make incremental gains, but no breakthrough,” she said. Under that scenario, the Russian military will have secured Luhansk and much of Donetsk by the fall, as well as solidifying control of southern Ukraine.
The other scenarios are that Russia could achieve a breakthrough and refocus on Kyiv or Odesa; or, finally, that Ukraine could stabilize the front line and begin to make smaller gains, likely in Kherson or elsewhere in southern Ukraine.
9:56 p.m. ET, June 29, 2022
NATO bolstering eastern flank sends "very clear signal to Moscow," Latvian Prime Minister says
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood
Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš hailed the decisions made by NATO leaders in Madrid to bolster its presence on the alliance's eastern flank, calling it a "very, very clear signal to Moscow."
In an interview with CNN Wednesday, the Baltic state leader noted that "in a sense, everything that we've been arguing for has been clearly heard," saying the change in posture is "a change from a tripwire defense to a forward defense."
"Until now, many NATO leaders have repeated and repeated that NATO will be defending and will defend every inch of NATO territory," Kariņš told CNN. "Now ... there's action behind those words."
Kariņš said he would like to see support for Ukraine move even more quickly, because "the faster we in NATO can provide weapons, munitions and training, the sooner the war will come to an end."
"I think a diplomatic solution will be reached once Russia realizes it is losing or has lost the war and then Russia will come to the table," he said.
Some context: Speaking at the NATO summit in Madrid on Wednesday,President Joe Biden said the United States would establish a permanent headquarters for the Fifth Army Corps in Poland and enhance rotational deployments to the Baltic states. Latvia is one of the Baltic states, and shares land borders with both Russia and Belarus.
8:09 a.m. ET, June 30, 2022
Russia not bothered by Sweden and Finland joining NATO, Putin says
From CNN's Masha Angelova
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says Russia is not bothered if Sweden and Finland join NATO but warns they will respond in kind to any “threats.”
“There is nothing that could bother us about Sweden and Finland joining NATO. If they want to join, please. Only we must clearly and precisely understand — while there was no threat before, in the case of military contingents and military infrastructure being deployed there, we will have to respond symmetrically and raise the same threats in those territories from where threats have arisen for us,” Putin said at a news conference following the Caspian Summit in Turkmenistan on Wednesday.
Putin added, however, that the NATO expansion would bring "tensions."
"Everything was good with us, but now there’ll be some tensions — that's obvious; it's impossible to be without," he said.
NATO expansion: Sweden and Finland are set formally to end decades of neutrality and join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in a historic breakthrough for the alliance that deals a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The last major hurdle to the two nations' entry to the bloc was removed when Turkey dropped its opposition on Tuesday.
That breakthrough came during a NATO summit in Madrid that has already become one of the mostconsequential meetings in the history of the military alliance.