July 4, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Andrew Raine, Amy Woodyatt, Hafsa Khalil and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 8:45 a.m. ET, July 5, 2022
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6:23 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022

Russia says weekend strike on Belgorod was aimed to provoke Moscow

From Anna Chernova and CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

The aftermath of shelling in the city of Belgorod, Russia, on July 3.
The aftermath of shelling in the city of Belgorod, Russia, on July 3. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Moscow says the alleged missile strike carried out by Ukrainian forces on the city of Belgorod aimed to provoke Russia, according to the spokeswoman for the country’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova.

“The goal of the Kyiv regime is to strike with unguided weapons at residential areas of cities. We understand that these actions of the Kyiv regime were not just coordinated with its Western curators, but most likely prompted by them,” Zakharova said in a video statement on Sunday. “This is being done in order to push us to launch retaliatory strikes of this kind, and then further spin the anti-Russian hysteria.”

“We have so far refrained from taking such steps, but we will be following developments very closely,” she added.

Some background: The Russian Ministry of Defense accused Ukraine of targeting the city of Belgorod with three Tochka-U missiles and of using drones laden with explosives to hit the Russian city of Kursk on Sunday.

Ukraine has not acknowledged the strikes.

5:33 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022

As Russia creeps closer, a group of volunteers awaits them in the forests of eastern Ukraine

From CNN's Mick Krever, Phil Black, Kostyantin Gak, and Richard Harlow in Sloviansk

For just over a month, Maxym and his comrades have been sleeping in earthen dugouts, eating from cans warmed over campfires, and following news of the Russian military advancing just kilometers away.

Of course they are coming," Maxym says. "There are far more of them than us."

They're dug deep into this dense eastern Ukrainian forest, not far from Sloviansk, and are part of Ukraine's territorial defense -- non-professional soldiers, most of whom signed up in the opening days of Russia's February invasion.

So far, they have avoided contact with the enemy, whiling away the days beneath camouflage nets, next to giant pyramids of bottled water. But every moment of every day they live with the thud of artillery. Their wooded encampment is regularly showered with cluster munitions. Soon after CNN's visit, a cluster strike heavily wounded some of the soldiers.

Donbas is where the conflict with Russia started in 2014. And after Ukraine routed Russia's attempt to decapitate the government in Kyiv earlier this year, Donbas is once again the center of the war.

Their enemy is advancing, albeit slowly. Further east, Russian forces captured the industrial city of Severodonetsk, and have now taken neighboring Lysychansk -- the last Ukrainian-controlled city in the separatist Luhansk region.

That puts pressure on Ukraine's most important remaining population centers in the Donbas -- Bakhmut, Sloviansk and especially Kramatorsk. The territorial defense unit is just one in a network of corks that the Ukrainian military is using to plug gaps in its defense.

Sloviansk bears the brunt of Russia's advance from the north. To the south, Bakhmut has been paying an even heavier toll.

Read more here.

5:45 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022

Hockey player detained in Russia for allegedly evading military service, per reports

From CNN's Homero De la Fuente

Russian goalkeeper Ivan Fedotov leaves the rink after defeating Team Denmark 3-1 in the men’s ice hockey quarterfinal match between Team ROC and Team Denmark at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on February 16, in Beijing, China.
Russian goalkeeper Ivan Fedotov leaves the rink after defeating Team Denmark 3-1 in the men’s ice hockey quarterfinal match between Team ROC and Team Denmark at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on February 16, in Beijing, China. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Russian goalkeeper Ivan Fedotov was detained in St. Petersburg on the request of the military prosecutor's office on Friday for evading military service, according to reports from Russian media outlets.

According to Russian news outlet Fontanka, the military prosecutor's office believes that there are grounds to "consider Fedotov an army evader."

Speaking to Russian state media RIA Novosti, his lawyer Alexey Ponomarev denied that Fedotov had evaded military service.

The 25-year-old Finnish-born Russian signed a one year entry level contract with the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers on May 7, after the conclusion of Russian and Chinese hockey league KHL's season, where he led CSKA Moscow to win the Gagarin Cup.

Fedotov was detained outside the Ice Arena Kupchino in St. Petersburg and was transported to the military registration and enlistment office, where he became ill and had to be transported to the hospital, Fontanka reported.

"We're aware of the reports and are investigating the situation. We have no further comment at this time," Chuck Fletcher, Flyers President of Hockey Operations, said in a statement sent to CNN.

Read the full story here.

5:27 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022

School destroyed in attack on Kharkiv

From Oleksandra Ochman

People stand where a school was destroyed by early morning shelling in Kharkiv, on Monday.
People stand where a school was destroyed by early morning shelling in Kharkiv, on Monday. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

A secondary school in Ukraine’s second largest city was destroyed after it was hit by a Russian missile around 4 a.m. local time, the head of the regional administration, Oleh Synehubov said in a Telegram post on Monday.

“Today at 4 in the morning, the Russian occupiers launched an insidious missile attack on the Shevchenkovsky district of Kharkiv,” Synehubov wrote.

The terrorists chose a secondary school as their target. Now the rescuers are clearing the debris."

Synehubov added that there were no injuries.

According to Synehubov, there were strikes in other areas of the Kharkiv oblast, with at least three dead and six injured in the village of Bezruky, Dergachi community in Kharkiv region.

8:15 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022

Withdrawing from Lysychansk was "difficult" but right decision, says local Ukrainian official

From Yulia Kesaieva and CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

Ukrainian firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a damaged residential building in Lysychansk, on Sunday.
Ukrainian firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a damaged residential building in Lysychansk, on Sunday. (Luhansk region military administration/AP)

The decision to withdraw from Lysychansk was “very difficult” but it was the right one, considering the losses Ukrainian forces would have incurred if they tried to hold on for additional time, according to the head of the Luhansk region military administration, Serhiy Hayday.

Russia has now taken control of Lysychansk, the last city in the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine that was still under Ukrainian control. Ukraine's military announced Sunday that it had been "forced to withdraw" from the critical city.

“There was a chance to hold Lysychansk for longer, but at what cost? To hold out there for another two weeks? Then Russian troops would have made a breakthrough from the Bilohorivka, Popasna and Komyshuvakha side and encircled our troops in Lysychansk, and we would have lost the whole group,” Hayday told CNN on Monday.

It is clear that it is very painful, very difficult, but now the boys are alive, the equipment is intact, everyone is able to continue fighting the Russian army,” he added.

Hayday called for more support from the West, conceding Russia had the advantage in the amount of equipment they were able to field in the area.

“They deployed an incredible amount of military equipment for the assault, there was daily shelling from morning till night and thousands of pieces of equipment, and thousands of new and new cannon fodder brought to their positions,” he said. “Our defenders will continue to fight and we will wait until we receive a sufficient number of foreign weapons to be able to stop the enemy, because, unfortunately, at the moment, the advantage in artillery is simply enormous with the Russians.”

Area held for almost five months: Hayday still commended the bravery and skill of the Ukrainian forces who were able to hold territory in the Donbas for a significant amount of time.

“30% of the oblast was already occupied [before the war], so our military had 70% left to build up a line of defense,” he said. “And it was the right decision -- we’ve been holding it since February 24th, March, April, May, June, now July - for almost five months in a relatively small area.” 

Donbas' remaining cities next target: Hayday went on to say Russia is likely to move towards the remaining cities in the Donetsk oblast still under Ukrainian control, to try and secure the entire Donbas.

“They are eager to reach the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In order to reach this goal they are incurring incredible, insane losses,” he explained. “They also need some kind of break there in order to catch their breath and raise their reserves somewhere again.”

“And as soon as we leave, they will immediately announce that they are part of the Russian Federation,” he added. “So that when we get enough weapons and start to take our territories back, they will be screaming that Ukraine has attacked Russia.”

Hayday concluded by saying Ukraine would go on to recover any lost territory. “I am absolutely sure we will get Luhansk oblast back,” he said.

8:15 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022

Ukraine says after Luhansk, Russia preparing for assault on Donetsk region

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva

The General Staff of the Ukrainian military said that after taking over the last remaining Ukrainian-controlled city in the Luhansk oblast, Russian forces are preparing to continue their move toward cities in Donetsk still controlled by Kyiv. 

“In the Sloviansk direction, enemy units are trying to establish control over the settlements of Bohorodychne, Mazanivka, and Dolyna through assault operations,” the Ukrainian military said in a status update early on Monday. 

The focus now shifts to the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the two largest population centres in the area. 

“The enemy is regrouping troops to resume the offensive. For this purpose, a battalion tactical group was moved from the district of the city of Izium in the direction of the settlement of Snizhkivka, and additional units of barrel artillery were deployed,” the statement added. 

After taking the city of Lysychansk, Russian forces now control nearly the entirety of the Luhansk oblast, barring a few pockets of resistance. 

The general staff said the Russians were "getting entrenched in the areas of the settlements of Lysychansk and Bilohorivka.”
“In the Bakhmut direction, the enemy intensified shelling of the positions of our troops with barrel and rocket artillery along the contact line," it said.
4:35 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022

Russian, US diplomats go head-to-head in rare Beijing forum 

From CNN's Simone McCarthy

US Ambassador Nicholas Burns attends the 10th World Peace Forum in Beijing, China, on Monday.
US Ambassador Nicholas Burns attends the 10th World Peace Forum in Beijing, China, on Monday. (VCG/Getty Images)

Russia’s war in Ukraine is the “greatest threat to the world order,” US Ambassador Nicholas Burns said at a forum in Beijing on Monday — a rare event that saw Burns seated on a panel alongside his Russian counterpart for a diplomatic debate.

“The fact that Russia crossed the border with an armed force, unprovoked, and has started this war with so much human suffering, so many innocent civilians dead in Ukraine — this is a direct violation of the United Nations charter, it is a direct violation of what the Russian Federation signed up to when it became a member state,” Burns said at the discussion, which was hosted by Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University and the World Peace Forum.

Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov hit back: “I totally disagree and I can oppose each and every sentence of that intervention,” he said.

Denisov then paused for a “diplomatic courtesy” to wish Burns and other Americans a happy Fourth of July, before accusing NATO of provoking Russia's action with “five waves of expansion.”

Denisov painted the current world order as being on the edge of an abyss due to “sabotage” of the United Nations. 

Rare showing of diplomatic debate: The event, which also included the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to China Caroline Wilson and French Ambassador Laurent Bili, was a rare diplomatic debate in the wake of the Russian invasion, which Western democracies have staunchly condemned.

"The prime responsibility for the war is with Russia,” Wilson said. “NATO is a purely defensive alliance. NATO has acted with extraordinary restraint regarding Russia."

It was also notable that such condemnations of Russia’s war were being voiced in China. The Chinese Communist Party has neither condemned Russia's war nor even labeled it as an invasion. Meanwhile, China's state media has presented a carefully censored version of the war to its citizens and parroted Kremlin talking points on NATO.

8:15 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022

Fall of Lysychansk takes Russia closer to goal of taking over Donbas

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová, Yulia Kesaieva, Hannah Ritchie, Mariya Knight, Radina Gigova and Jonny Hallam

Damaged residential buildings in Lysychansk, on Sunday.
Damaged residential buildings in Lysychansk, on Sunday. (Luhansk region military administration/AP)

Luhansk is one of the two regions that form Donbas, the eastern part of Ukraine where a conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists started in 2014.

The area has became the centerpiece of Russian President Vladimir Putin's military ambition in Ukraine after his troops failed to take over Kyiv earlier this year.

The fall of Lysychansk takes Russia closer to achieving its goal of taking over Donbas.

"After heavy fighting for Lysychansk, the Defense Forces of Ukraine were forced to withdraw from their occupied positions and lines," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Sunday on Twitter.

Pro-Russia separatists in the area had already claimed a victory in the battle over Lysychansk. Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, declared the Luhansk region "liberated."

Only Russia and Syria recognize the Luhansk People's Republic as independent. Ukraine and its western allies consider it part of Ukrainian territory, currently under Russian occupation.

Video shared by Russian state news outlet Ria Novosti on Saturday purports to show residents installing the old Soviet Union flag at the Memorial to the Fallen in Lysychansk.

Fate of Luhansk: The Institute for the Study of War said Russia will likely establish control over the rest of the Luhansk region in the coming days. After that, the institute said in its latest update, Russian troops will likely focus on Ukrainian positions in Siversk, west of Lysychansk, before turning inland to Sloviansk and Bakhmut.

Read the full story here.

1:16 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022

It's 8 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Russia has taken control of Lysychansk, the last city in the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine that was still under Ukrainian control. Ukraine's military announced on Sunday that it had been "forced to withdraw" from the critical city.

  • Lysychansk in Russian control: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin that the military had taken over Lysychansk and a number of nearby settlements on Sunday, according to the country's Ministry of Defense. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the city, saying the retreat was meant to save the lives of troops facing an onslaught of thousands of Russian artillery shells. Zelensky vowed Ukraine's armed forces would retake Lysychansk and Donbas.
  • Sloviansk hit by heavy shelling: At least six people were killed and 15 injured during shelling on the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk on Sunday, according to local authorities. The city's mayor said Sloviansk was experiencing its heaviest shelling in recent days. The nearby city of Kramatorsk was also hit with three missile strikes on Sunday morning but there were no casualties, according to Ukraine's Donetsk regional military administration. 
  • Russia accuses Ukraine of striking Belgorod: The Ukrainian military launched "a deliberate strike" with Tochka-U ballistic missiles with cluster munitions and drones on residential areas of the Russian cities of Belgorod and Kursk, the Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson claimed on Sunday. Earlier, the local governor said at least three people were killed and dozens of residential buildings were damaged by explosions in the Belgorod region. The Ukrainian military has not yet commented on the strikes. 
  • Australia announces aid package: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited the Kyiv region on Sunday, traveling to Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, before meeting President Zelensky. He announced a $100 million aid package to Ukraine, which includes military equipment and security assistance. Australia will also prohibit imports of Russian gold and impose targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on 16 additional Russian ministers and oligarchs.
  • Belarus accuses Ukraine of missile attack: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has accused Ukraine of firing missiles at military facilities on his country’s territory. He said the missiles were intercepted by Belarusian air defense systems earlier this week. Without providing any evidence of the alleged attack, Lukashenko – a close ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin – called the act a “provocation." The Ukrainian military did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comment on Lukashenko’s claims.