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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12:45 p.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Zelensky says he is confident that UK policy towards Ukraine will not change after PM Boris Johnson resigns

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian in New York and Anastasia Graham-Yooll and Lauren Kent in London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meet in Kyiv, Ukraine on June 17.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meet in Kyiv, Ukraine on June 17. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “a true friend of Ukraine,” adding that he is confident that the UK’s policy toward Ukraine won’t be changing any time soon despite Johnson's resignation.

Ukraine gained a lot from their relationship with the prime minister, including first and foremost military support, Zelensky told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview on Thursday when asked about his comments on Johnson’s resignation.

Johnson resigned following a revolt within his Conservative Party, saying in an address to the nation that the process of choosing a new prime minister "should begin now." Johnson is not planning to leave office immediately, however. He will stay until a new leader is in place, he said, in a televised speech outside 10 Downing Street.

In his resignation speech, Johnson addressed Britain's role in supporting Ukraine in its war and said the UK will fight for freedom as long as it takes.

"Let me say now to the people of Ukraine. I know that we in the UK will continue to back your fight for freedom for as long as it takes," he said.

The two leaders spoke on the phone later on Thursday, and Johnson assured Zelensky of the UK’s continued support and called the Ukrainian president a “hero.”

Johnson called Zelensky a “hero,” and said “everybody loves you,”according to an official read out of the call. 

Zelensky’s office said he thanked Johnson for his “decisive” action on Ukraine and told the outgoing prime minister that news of his resignation was received "with sadness" by him and the "entire Ukrainian society."

“We have no doubt that Great Britain's support will be preserved, but your personal leadership and charisma made it special," Zelensky added.

Johnson reportedly pledged to continue to work “at pace” towards “ending the grain blockade in the coming weeks.”

8:54 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Missile strike hits Kramatorsk in Donbas region

From CNN's Tim Lister and Oleksandra Ochman

Ukrainian soldiers run after a strike hit a residential area in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on Thursday, July 7.
Ukrainian soldiers run after a strike hit a residential area in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on Thursday, July 7. (Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

A missile has struck the center of Kramatorsk in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, according to a regional official.

"There are victims" after the attack on the city, according to the mayor of Kramatorsk.

"We are investigating the consequences, rescue services are working," Oleksandr Honcharenko said on Telegram.

Stay in shelter, the danger is not over," he added.
Firefighters hose down a burning car in Kramatorsk on July 7.
Firefighters hose down a burning car in Kramatorsk on July 7. (Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

Some background: As the battle for control in the east intensifies and Russian forces prepare for a renewed assault in Donetsk, hundreds and thousands of people have been urged by Ukrainian officials to evacuate the region.

“Russia has turned the entire Donetsk region into a hot spot where it is dangerous to remain for civilians,” the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko said, commenting on a missile strike in Toretsk on Wednesday.

“I call on everyone to evacuate. Evacuation saves lives,” he added.

CNN's Olga Voitovich, Yulia Kesaieva and Vasco Cotovio contributed reporting to this post.

8:59 a.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Russian minister says it is "difficult" to discuss possible Brittney Griner exchange

From CNN's Anna Chernova

Brittney Griner is escorted to a court hearing in Khimki, Russia on July 7.
Brittney Griner is escorted to a court hearing in Khimki, Russia on July 7. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

A Russian government official said Thursday it is “difficult” to hold substantive negotiations with the United States on a possible prisoner exchange of WNBA star Brittney Griner.

“The tenacity with which the US administration … call those who got sentenced by us under serious articles, and those who are waiting for the completion of the investigation, 'detainees,' reflects Washington's unwillingness to perceive the world around us adequately," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, according to the state news agency TASS.

Washington is trying to make it seem “as if the legal system functions only in the United States” while deliberately denying the result of a “normal judicial process” in other countries, Ryabkov added.

“Against this background, it is quite difficult to engage in a substantive discussion of various kinds of exchanges," Ryabkov said when asked about possible exchange for Russia’s Viktor Bout, who is currently detained in a US prison.

Some background: Earlier this month, Griner wrote in a handwritten letter to US President Joe Biden that she is "terrified" she will be detained in Russia "forever." She pleaded him not to forget about her and other American detainees.

In response Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke by phone Wednesday with Cherelle Griner, Griner's wife, according to the White House. The President also wrote a letter in response to Griner's letter, which he shared with her wife during his call.

The 31-year-old Griner, who has played in Russia during the WNBA's offseason, was arrested February 17 at a Moscow airport, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Russian authorities claimed she had cannabis oil in her luggage and accused her of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. She went on trial in a court near Moscow on Friday on drug smuggling charges.

Griner's supporters and US officials say she has been wrongfully detained and have called for her release as fears mount that she is being used as a political pawn amid rising tensions between Russia and the US.

A court in the Moscow region will continue considering Griner’s case Thursday.

CNN's Rosa Flores, Jacqueline Rose, Alexa Miranda, Betsy Klein and Jennifer Hansler contributed reporting to this post.

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.”