Putin praises Russian forces for taking Luhansk region
From CNN’s Anna Chernova and Radina Gigova
Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated Russian troops for "achieving victory" in Ukraine's Luhansk region.
In a meeting televised by Russian state media on Monday, defense minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin the Russian advances in the area.
“Starting June 19, [Russian] formations and military units ... in cooperation with units of the second corps of the people's militia of the [self-proclaimed] Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) and with the support of the southern group of troops ... successfully carried out an offensive operation to liberate the territory of the Luhansk People's Republic,” Shoigu said.
Shoigu added that the "Gorsky cauldron" area, Lysychansk and Severodonetsk were surrounded within two weeks, and the Ukrainian army allegedly lost 5,469 soldiers in the battles.
Putin told Shoigu that the military personnel who contributed to fighting in LPR, will be rewarded for their "bravery," and that they should now "rest."
"Other military units, including the East and West military groups, they have to fulfil their tasks, according to the previously suggested plan," Putin said. "I hope everything will be successful as it happened in the [Luhansk] area," he added.
Putin also praised the LPR's militia for showing "heroism." "My congratulations and my words of gratitude," Putin said. "I congratulate you all and wish you all the best."
8:11 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022
Here's the latest on Russia's war in Ukraine
From CNN staff
Russia has taken control of Lysychansk, the last city in the Luhansk region of 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.
Here are today's main developments:
Russia preparing for assault on Donetsk region, says Ukraine: The General Staff of the Ukrainian military said that after taking over Lysychansk, 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 Monday.
The focus now shifts to the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the two largest population centers in the area.
School destroyed in attack on Kharkiv: 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 Monday.
There were no injuries at the school, but strikes in other areas of the Kharkiv region left at least three dead and six injured in the village of Bezruky, Synehubov added.
Hockey player detained in Russia for allegedly evading military service, per reports: 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." 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.
Russia says weekend strike on Belgorod was aimed to provoke Moscow: 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 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.
Ukraine asks Turkey to "detain" Russian-flagged ship carrying Ukrainian grain: Ukraine has requested that Turkish authorities detain a Russian-flagged ship carrying Ukrainian grain, the country's ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar told CNN Saturday.
The Zhibek Zholy vessel is currently at anchor near the Turkish port of Karasu as "it was in fact detained by Turkish customs authorities and it is not allowed to enter the port," Bondar said. "Now we are waiting for the decision of the relevant authorities of Turkey regarding the actions that the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine insist on," he added.
Ukraine says it has raised its flag over Snake Island: The Ukrainian Armed Forces have raised the country’s flag over Snake Island, after forcing a Russian withdrawal from the strategically important territory, a spokeswoman for the military’s Southern Command, 1st Captain Natalia Humeniuk said a briefing on Monday.
The small but strategic territory 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."
7:14 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022
Key railway bridge outside Melitopol destroyed, says exiled mayor
From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London
A key railway bridge connecting Russian-occupied Melitopol and Tokmak was blown up at the weekend, the southern city’s exiled mayor Ivan Fedorov said in a video address Monday.
Speaking live on Ukrainian Rada TV, Fedorov said railway traffic from Melitopol to Berdiansk was “completely paralyzed” on Sunday. Local media reports confirm the bridge was destroyed, but it is not clear who is responsible.
An explosion blasted the Russian-occupied village of Lyubimivka, Ukrainian news outlet Ria-Melitopol reported on Telegram, adding Russian troops have been using the bridge to transport military equipment. Ria-Melitopol also reported large amounts of Russian military equipment has been seen moving through Melitopol, including tank and armoured vehicle convoys, towards Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
Ukrainian forces destroyed Melitopol airfield early Sunday, according to Fedorov. He added that a fire at the Russian base located there continues on Monday.
Russian troops have occupied Melitopol since early March, using the city for ongoing assaults on Ukraine’s southern territories.
6:44 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022
Olympic chief visits Kyiv to meet Ukrainian athletes and President Zelensky
From CNN’s Matthew Foster in London
Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), visited Kyiv on Sunday, where he met with Ukrainian athletes before holding talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The visit was announced in a press release emailed to CNN on Monday.
Bach was invited by the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Ukraine, and was accompanied by the federation’s head Sergey Bubka and Ukrainian sports minister Vadym Guttsait.
Bach met with around 100 Ukrainian athletes in the country’s Olympic Training Centre, and emphasized the IOC’s support for Ukraine in a speech afterwards.
“We want to show the solidarity of the Olympic Movement with our friends here in the Ukrainian Olympic Community because we know that you are living very difficult moments, and we want not only to tell you, we want to show you, we want to reassure you that you are never alone with the Olympic Community,” Bach said.
“We are with you with our hearts, with our thoughts every day, and we want to support you to make your Olympic dreams come true.”
Following that speech, Bach met with Zelensky and thanked him for inviting him to the country and restated the IOC’s support for Ukrainian athletes, saying, “I want to thank you for holding such a meeting addressing sport at such a difficult time for your country. This is further confirmation of your commitment to sport and the Olympic values.”
“We want to show solidarity in particular with the Ukrainian Olympic Community, and to demonstrate to the athletes and coaches that they are not alone and that we stand by their side.”
Zelensky in turn thanked Bach and the IOC for their “support for our athletes and the Ukrainian Olympic Community.”
6:41 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022
Pope Francis says he still aims to visit Russia and Ukraine
From CNN's Livia Borghese and John Allen in Rome
Pope Francis has said he still plans to visit Russia and Ukraine.
“I would like to go, it is possible that I manage to go to Ukraine. The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help, but I would like to go to both capitals," said Pope Francis in an exclusive interview with Reuters, which was recorded on Saturday.
In the interview released Monday, he firmly denied rumors of a possible resignation due to health issues.
The pontiff, whose trip to Africa scheduled for July 2-7 was canceled due to problems with his knee, said he is planning to travel to Canada at the end of July, and after that, he is willing to visit both Moscow and Kyiv.
6:28 a.m. ET, July 4, 2022
Putin will not congratulate Biden on Independence Day
From CNN’s Anna Chernova
Russian President Vladimir Putin will not send his congratulations to US counterpart Joe Biden on Independence Day this year due to the country’s “unfriendly” policy towards Russia, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.
This year the congratulatory telegram will not be sent,” Peskov said on a call with journalists.
“This has to do with the fact that this year marked the culmination of an unfriendly policy towards our country by the United States,” Peskov added, saying that “it can hardly be considered appropriate” to send congratulations in these conditions.
Putin and Biden had not spoken since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Peskov confirmed during a conference call last Thursday.
8:45 a.m. ET, July 5, 2022
Ukraine asks Turkey to "detain" Russian-flagged ship carrying Ukrainian grain
From CNN's Olga Voitovych, Radina Gigova, Yong Xiong and Sanyo Fylyppov
Ukraine has requested that Turkish authorities detain a Russian-flagged ship carrying Ukrainian grain, the country's ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar told CNN Saturday.
The Zhibek Zholy vessel is currently at anchor near the Turkish port of Karasu as "it was in fact detained by Turkish customs authorities and it is not allowed to enter the port," Bondar said. "Now we are waiting for the decision of the relevant authorities of Turkey regarding the actions that the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine insist on," he said.
The Turkish trade ministry has not yet responded to CNN’s request for confirmation that the ship has been detained.
Bodnar said Ukraine initially addressed the Turkish foreign ministry regarding the ship on Thursday, and on Friday the Ukrainian embassy in Turkey received an appeal from Ukrainian authorities "to ensure its detention and inspection."
"Maybe, we will demand its arrest as well," Bodnar said. "We have sent appeals to the Turkish authorities, have organized several communications with senior officials." CNN has reached out to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry about Bodnar’s claim.
Ukraine has repeatedly said Russia has stolen hundreds of thousands of tons of grain since the start of the war.
According to the ship tracking website Marine Traffic, the cargo ship left the Russian port Novorossiysk on June 22 and spent nearly a week at sea between Ukraine and Russia.
The cargo ship turned its tracker on when it left the Sea of Azov for Karasu, Turkey, on June 29, and arrived at the Turkish port on Friday, according to Marine Traffic.
Although it's possible the grain came from neighboring areas, Bodnar said the ship's loading point was "definitely" Berdiansk -- "occupied territory," without elaborating on why he is certain of this. Bodnar added that he doesn't have the name of the company or the district where grain was taken from.
Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration, now partially under Russian control, said on Telegram Thursday the first merchant ship had left the Berdiansk port on the Azov sea, and reiterated claims by Russia that the waters surrounding the port have been de-mined by the engineering units of Russia’s Novorossiysk naval base.
Bodnar said Ukraine sent the second appeal to Turkey on Friday "when we had just learned that the ship was coming" after the initial appeal was made on Thursday "when we received information from open sources that such a vessel was loading and apparently intended to enter the port."
Friday's appeal has "a legal" component and has been sent "to all authorities of Turkey responsible for making decisions," he said.
According to Bodnar, Turkey's Ministry of Trade responded to the initial appeal saying the ship will remain anchorednear the port of Karasu without being allowed to be unloaded or go back, while Turkey evaluates Ukraine's requests.
"I have an impression that the Russian side tried to set a precedent and tried to start transporting everything from the occupied ports -- this is Berdiansk, it may be Mariupol," Bodnar said.
"Moreover, this is probably one of the attempts to drive a wedge between Turkey and Ukraine. As well as an attempt to legalize its occupation of ports that belong to Ukraine."
In response to media reports that Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office has submitted a request to Turkey to detain and arrest the cargo ship, the ship's owner, the Kazakhstan national railway company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ), said in a statement Saturday that "KTZ requested confirmation from the Ukrainian authorities regarding such request.
"Active consultations are underway with the ambassadors of both countries [Turkey and Ukraine]," the statement said.
"The seller, which is a company registered in Europe, insists that the transaction is legal. In order to clarify the situation and exclude violations of international law, KTZ sent a letter to the lessee of the vessel with a request to provide, as a matter of urgency, a detailed explanation of the situation and submission of all supporting documents (contracts, certificates, etc.)," the company said.
"KTZ assures of its commitment to compliance with international law," it added.
Ukraine accuses Russia of blocking its ports and trying to "steal" Ukrainian grain. The United Nations has said Russia's blockade of Ukrainian ports has already raised global food prices and threatens to cause a catastrophic food shortage in parts of the world.
Russia has repeatedly denied it is blocking the ports and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has called allegations Russia was stealing grain from its neighbor "fake news."
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the date when Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey made an initial appeal to investigate the ship, which was on Thursday.
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
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.