July 7, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Sana Noor Haq, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 3:58 a.m. ET, July 8, 2022
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7:40 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Russian missile strikes tanker that has been drifting for months in the Black Sea

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

A tanker drifting in the Black Sea has been hit by a Russian cruise missile, according to the Ukrainian military.

Two KH-31 missiles were fired and one hit the Moldovan-flagged "Millennial Spirit," which was first struck soon after the Russian invasion began in waters off Odesa several months ago, according to the Operational Command South.

Since then the ship has been drifting without a crew and with the remnants of diesel fuel on board.

"At the time of the first hit, the ship was carrying more than 500 tons of diesel fuel. Because of the blockade of the shipping lanes, the tanker has been drifting in the sea without a crew for 4 months, like an environmental time bomb," the Command said.

It is unclear whether the ship sunk after the latest missile strike. 

A second missile self-destructed over the sea, the Command added.

7:11 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Ukraine angered by release of ship carrying allegedly stolen grain

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

The Russian-flagged cargo ship "Zhibek Zholy" lies anchored off the Black Sea coast, Turkey, on July 5.
The Russian-flagged cargo ship "Zhibek Zholy" lies anchored off the Black Sea coast, Turkey, on July 5. (Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images)

The release of a Russian ship allegedly carrying stolen Ukrainian grain from Turkish waters is "unacceptable," the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.

Turkey ignored a request to arrest the vessel and cargo and the ship was released on July 6, according to a ministry statement on Thursday.

It expressed "deep disappointment and appeals to the Turkish side with an urgent request to conduct an investigation ... and provide a full response to the requests of the relevant authorities of Ukraine."

The Russian merchant ship, Zhibek Zholy, had carried the grain from the occupied port of Berdiansk to the Turkish port of Karasu.

"In relation to the unacceptable situation, the ambassador of Turkey in Kyiv was invited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," the ministry added.

CNN has reached out to the Turkish government for comment. 

The Russian news agency TASS said Thursday that the Zhibek Zholy, "which is anchored in Turkey, plans to leave due to idle time and ship grain to a storage vessel."

"It is planned to go to the accumulative (storage) vessel and trans-ship," TASS said, citing one of the ship's crew members. "Then, when the large vessel is loaded, (it) goes to ports and unloads."

Shipping monitoring data Thursday shows the transponder of the Zhibek Zholy no longer active at its recent anchorage outside Karasu.  

Satellite imagery shows that Russian ships frequently offload their cargoes to other vessels in the Black Sea.

Ukraine's Ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar previously told CNN the Zhibek Zholy was at anchor near Karasu as "it was in fact detained by Turkish customs authorities and it is not allowed to enter the port."

"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.

Some background: For months, Ukraine and allied countries have been trying to mitigate a growing food crisis caused by Russia’s months-long blockade of Ukrainian ports, with Moscow being accused of using food as a weapon of war.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said up to 60 million tons of grain could be stuck in the country by the fall if it continues to face blocked exports.

The UN has said Russia's blockade of Ukrainian ports has already raised global food prices and threatens to cause a catastrophic food shortage in some parts of the world. 

Russia has repeatedly denied it is blocking the ports or stealing grain.

5:58 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Russian plane strikes Snake Island as Ukrainians raise flag

From CNN's Tim Lister and Oleksandra Ochman 

A Russian aircraft attacked Snake Island Thursday, according to both the Russian Defense Ministry and the Ukrainian armed forces.

"At dawn, during an aerial overflight and reconnaissance of Zmiiny (Snake) island, it was attacked by 2 air-launched missiles. The dock was significantly damaged," the Ukrainian military said.

Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Defense stated, according to the state news agency RIA Novosti: "Against the backdrop of military failures and a massive retreat of Ukrainian troops in the Donbas, the Kyiv regime made an attempt to symbolically deliver the flag to Snake Island tonight.

"A Russian Air Forces aircraft immediately launched a missile attack on the island, as a result, some of the Ukrainian military personnel were destroyed, the rest fled."

The Ukrainian military made no mention of casualties.

Serhii Bratchuk, spokesman of the Odesa military administration, said earlier that the Ukrainian flag had been installed on Snake Island.

Russian forces left the island last week after occupying it since the beginning of the invasion in February. Russian positions had sustained repeated strikes by Ukrainian forces in the previous weeks. 

5:42 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

"For five days I had no food": Released Ukrainian medic accuses captors of torture

From CNN's Alex Marquardt and Pierre Bairin

A well-known Ukrainian paramedic who was held prisoner by Russian and separatist forces for three months after being captured in the southeastern city of Mariupol has accused her guards of psychological and physical torture during her time in captivity.

Yulia Paievska, 53, widely known in Ukraine by her nickname Taira, has reached folk hero notoriety. She said the abuse started immediately after she was recognized at a checkpoint near Mariupol and taken prisoner, along with her driver, on March 16.

"For five days I had no food and practically did not drink," Paievska told CNN on Tuesday, almost three weeks after she was released in a prisoner exchange on June 17. The abuse, including beatings, she said, was "extreme" and "did not stop for a minute all these three months."

From mid-March until mid-June, the pair were held in occupied territory in the Donetsk pre-trial detention center by a combination of forces from Russia and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, she said.

Constantly you are told that you are a fascist, a Nazi," she said, comparing the conditions to a gulag. She said she was told it "would be better if you were dead than see what will happen next."

Read the full story here.

5:11 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Shelling spikes across southern Ukraine sparking "fires in forests, fields and villages"

From CNN's Tim Lister, Olga Voitovych and Julia Kesaieva

Firefighters battle a blaze following a missile strike on a building in Mykolaiv, Ukraine on July 5.
Firefighters battle a blaze following a missile strike on a building in Mykolaiv, Ukraine on July 5. (State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Reuters)

Fighting has spiked in several areas of southern Ukraine, with Russian forces shelling Ukrainian positions to defend their current lines.

Russian forces shelled areas along the border of Mykolaiv and Kherson regions, Ukrainian officials said. There was also an attempt to penetrate Ukrainian lines that the military said had been repelled. 

"There was shelling of villages along the contact line in the Bereznehuvate community," the regional military administration said. Bereznehuvate, in Ukraine's Mykolaiv region, has been shelled frequently by Russian forces for more than a month. 

The two coastal communities of Ochakiv and Kutsurub also came under fire, according to the administration. Russian targets in recent days have included several towns and villages around the estuary of the Dnipro river. 

The fighting has set off fires in multiple areas, burning fields of crops as they are ready for harvest. Video shows combine harvesters trying to collect grain as fields around them burn.

Shelling in the Pervomaisk community on Wednesday set grain fields on fire and residential buildings were damaged, according to Ukrainian authorities. In the Kherson region there were "fires in forests, fields and villages," they added.

"The occupiers do not allow to put out fires, so farmers try to do it on their own. There is no water or electricity for the fifth month in many settlements, so it becomes difficult to put out fires."

A village on the Dnipro river in Mykolaiv was also bombarded, damaging several buildings. 

Separately, there was an air battle over Odesa region on Wednesday and a Russian Su-35 combat plane had been forced to leave Ukraine's "air zone," the military's Operational Command South said.

The Ukrainians said they had shelled Russian positions in Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, taking out ammunition depots and military equipment. 

The Command also said that Russian Black Sea fleet had increased its strike force. "Now it is 5 missile ships and 2 submarines, carrying a total of 48 Calibers (cruise missiles)."

4:58 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Ukrainian flag raised again on Snake island

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

The Ukrainian flag is hoisted on Snake Island on July 4 following the withdrawal of Russian troops last week.
The Ukrainian flag is hoisted on Snake Island on July 4 following the withdrawal of Russian troops last week. (Andriy Yermak/Office of the President of Ukraine)

The Ukrainian flag is flying again on Snake Island in the Black Sea, days after Russian troops left, according to Serhii Bratchuk, spokesman of the Odesa military administration.

The text on the flag says: "Remember the Russian warship ... Zmiiny [Snake] Island — this is Ukraine!"

It was signed by the head of Odesa Military Administration Maksym Marchenko, Bratchuk said. 

Russian forces left Snake Island last week after it was heavily bombarded and its air defenses destroyed. 

Some context: Known as Zmiinyi Ostriv in Ukrainian, 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.”

8:14 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Russians bombard areas of Donetsk as they prepare for next stage of offensive

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

As Russian forces consolidate their hold on the Luhansk region, they are also stepping up artillery and other forms of bombardment in neighboring Donetsk, with the area around Sloviansk a major target.

Here's a summary of the fighting around Ukraine:

  • Sloviansk: The Ukrainian military's General Staff said the Russians are trying to conduct an assault on areas north and northeast of the city, with several settlements coming under fire from artillery and multiple rocket launchers. But Sloviansk itself was said to be quiet Wednesday night.
  • Bakhmut: The General Staff said there was also shelling south of the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, another Russian target. Russian forces are within 6 or 7 kilometers (3-4 miles) of Bakhmut, which they would have to take in order to launch a concerted offensive against the roughly 45% of Donetsk region that is still in Ukrainian hands. The General Staff also reported tank and artillery fire along other parts of the front line in Donetsk and southern Zaporizhzhia regions, but no territorial losses to the Russians. 
  • Kharkiv: In the north, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces continue to shell settlements around the city of Kharkiv. Local authorities said a boarding school was hit by shells overnight but reported no casualties. 
  • Kherson: Fighting also continues in the southern Kherson region, where Ukrainian forces are trying to protect recent gains. The General Staff said in the Dobryanks region "our soldiers almost completely destroyed the enemy's sabotage and reconnaissance group and successfully repelled the enemy assault that followed it." And on the border of Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, the General Staff said the Russians were shelling several areas in an effort to prevent Ukrainian forces from advancing.
  • Odesa: The Odesa military regional administration said two missiles had been fired overnight at Ukrainian infrastructure, destroying two agricultural storage sites. "There is a clear trend that the enemy is trying to destroy our grain ... agricultural hangars, the future harvest, grain storage. As it was in Mykolaiv. Now we see it in Odesa region," said Serhii Bratchuk, spokesman of the military administration.
3:35 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Analysis: Biden is caught in a storm between Russia and its US prisoners

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

Supporters hold up signs reading "Bring Brittney Home" during a rally to support the release of detained basketball star Brittney Griner at Footprint Center on July 6, in Phoenix, Arizona.
Supporters hold up signs reading "Bring Brittney Home" during a rally to support the release of detained basketball star Brittney Griner at Footprint Center on July 6, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden is in a tightening vise between increasingly fretful families of Americans imprisoned in Russia and Vladimir Putin — a leader who has few scruples about using civilians to grind out his political goals.

Biden is facing rising pressure from relatives of WNBA star Brittney Griner and ex-US Marine Paul Whelan, who are frustrated at his failure to bring them home and have questioned whether their fates have his personal attention.

Former US Marine Paul Whelan, detained in Russia on espionage charges, holds a message before a hearing at the Lefortovo Court in Moscow, on October 24, 2019.
Former US Marine Paul Whelan, detained in Russia on espionage charges, holds a message before a hearing at the Lefortovo Court in Moscow, on October 24, 2019. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

But the White House's response is only deepening his political discomfort. After Biden on Wednesday phoned Griner's wife Cherelle and responded to a letter from the basketball player, Whelan's sister said she was "astonished" her brother did not get similar treatment.

The situation has become yet another crisis bearing down on the White House and testing its sometimes faltering public messaging machine ahead of midterm elections that are likely to be, in part, a referendum on Biden's presidency.

As the political heat rises on the President, US leverage needed to free the pair is compromised by antagonistic relations between Moscow and Washington, leaving them essentially political pawns caught in a wider geopolitical trap. Given the aftershocks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the relentless US campaign to isolate and punish the Kremlin, there may never have been a worse time to be an American imprisoned in Russia.

Read Collinson's full analysis here.

3:00 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Ukrainian medic released in prisoner exchange accuses captors of torture

From CNN's Alex Marquardt and Pierre Bairin in Avdeeva, Ukraine

A well-known Ukrainian paramedic who was held prisoner by Russian and separatist forces for three months after being captured in the southeastern city of Mariupol has accused her guards of psychological and physical torture during her time in captivity.

Yulia Paievska, 53, widely known in Ukraine by her nickname Taira, said the abuse started immediately after she was recognized at a checkpoint near Mariupol and taken prisoner, along with her driver, on March 16.

“For five days I had no food and practically did not drink,” Paievska told CNN on Tuesday, almost three weeks after she was released in a prisoner exchange on June 17.

The abuse, including beatings, she said, was “extreme” and “did not stop for a minute all these three months.”

From mid-March until mid-June, the pair were held in occupied territory in the Donetsk pre-trial detention center by a combination of forces from Russia and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, she said.

“Constantly you are told that you are a fascist, a Nazi,” she said, comparing the conditions to a gulag. She said she was told it “would be better if you were dead than see what will happen next.”

Frustrated that Paievska wouldn’t give her Russian and pro-Russian separatist captors an on-camera confession of supposed neo-Nazi connections, she said, they “threw me into solitary confinement, into a dungeon without a mattress, on a metal bunk.”

Read Paievska's story here.