July 18, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Andrew Raine, Kathleen Magramo, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, July 19, 2022
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2:20 a.m. ET, July 18, 2022

Ukrainians say Russia bolstering troop presence in south

From CNN's Tim Lister, Julia Kesaieva and Julia Presniakova 

A Russian serviceman guards a grain elevator in Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on July 14.
A Russian serviceman guards a grain elevator in Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on July 14. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian officials say a steady flow of Russian military equipment continues to move westward from Mariupol toward other parts of southern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces are on the offensive.

The assertion is supported by recently geolocated video of Russian armor moving through parts of southern Ukraine.

We continue to record the movement of military equipment through Mariupol," Petro Andriushenko, an adviser to the mayor of occupied Mariupol, said Sunday.

Andriushenko, who is not in Mariupol, said "a large convoy of up to 100 units of military equipment passed through the city in the direction of the Zaporizhzhia region" on Saturday. The column included infantry fighting vehicles.

"In addition, a large number of Russian soldiers, brought in by KAMAZ trucks, settled in the villages of the Nikolske and Manhush districts" – two districts west of Mariupol.

Last week, CNN geolocated a large Russian military convoy heading west near the city of Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Photographs posted in a Mariupol local community group on July 15 also appeared to show Russian military vehicles on the move through the city on the way to Berdiansk.

Some independent analysts believe the Russians are moving forces westward potentially to support Russian forces that are on the defensive in Kherson after coming under attack by Ukrainian long-range weapons.

On Sunday, Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol, said there had been a number of explosions south of the city (in Yakymivka – where Ukrainian saboteurs blew up a railroad bridge in April.) He gave no explanation, but Russian bases in the region have been struck by long-range Ukrainian artillery at least three times this month.

Fedorov said Russian forces were increasing the pressure on the civilian population in Melitopol, sealing off neighborhoods and conducting questionnaires.

People in the temporarily occupied territories live in such a hell today. And of course, the [Russians] will use the data they collect for their fake statistics and pseudo-referendums," Federov said.

Fedorov added some 500 people were stranded at the Russian-controlled checkpoint in Vasylivka, the last remaining crossing-point for civilians to reach Ukrainian-controlled territory.

In Kherson, where Russian command posts and ammunition dumps have come under attack in recent weeks, Ukraine's Operational Command South said "units of the Russian occupying forces (have) massively changed their deployment points, trying to hide behind the civilian population."

It claimed that Russian forces have abandoned some bases for fear of further strikes and chosen "new deployment locations in densely populated residential areas, hoping that the defense forces of Ukraine will not carry out strikes that could be a threat to local residents."

12:58 a.m. ET, July 18, 2022

Russian advance on Siversk in Donetsk region foiled, Ukrainian military says

From CNN's Tim Lister and Mariya Knight

The Ukrainian military says Russian forces are continuing their efforts to eliminate its defensive positions in Donetsk, with the town of Siversk their immediate priority.

The enemy continues to focus its main efforts on attempts to establish control over the city of Siversk and advance in the direction of the city of Bakhmut," the General Staff of the armed forces said Sunday.

After withdrawing from the city of Lysychansk last month, the Ukrainians appear to be defending terrain further west with tenacity – despite superior Russian firepower.

Last week, the leadership of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic claimed that Siversk had been taken, but western intelligence assessments are that it is still held by the Ukrainians. The General Staff said Sunday that another attempt by the Russians to break through towards Siversk had been foiled near Hryhorivka.

The General Staff said several settlements south of Bakhmut had been shelled, while towns further from the front lines had been hit by missile and airstrikes. 

After what some observers regarded as an operational pause by Russian forces to re-equip, it appears they are now trying to advance on the ground again, but are meeting stiff resistance.

"The occupiers tried to storm and advance near Berestove, Bilohorivka, Yakovlivka, and Novoluhanske," all settlements within the pocket of Donetsk that the Ukrainians are trying to defend, the General Staff said.

"The actions of the enemy again ended in failure and loss of personnel," it added

The General Staff also said there had been shelling of more than ten districts north of the city of Sloviansk, but did not say whether any territory had been lost in the area.

9:06 a.m. ET, July 18, 2022

Zelensky suspends prosecutor general and security service chief, accusing staff of treason

From CNN's Tim Lister and Mariya Knight

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers an address from his Kyiv office, Ukraine, on July 17.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers an address from his Kyiv office, Ukraine, on July 17. (President of Ukraine)

Two important figures in the Ukrainian government have been suspended after their leadership qualities came into question.

In his nightly video address on Sunday, Zelensky appeared to suggest that the pair had been fired. "Today I made a decision to remove the Prosecutor General from office and to dismiss the Head of the Security Service of Ukraine," Zelensky said, adding that many officials within both departments were suspected of treason.

But Andrii Smyrnov, the deputy dead of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said Monday that the pair have been suspended to ensure they did not interfere with the investigations.

Zelensky will decide whether or not to submit a motion to dismiss them to Ukraine's parliament, depending on the results of the probe.

The two suspended high-ranking officials are Iryna Venediktova — the Prosecutor General — and Ivan Bakanov — head of the powerful SBU or State Security Service, and a long-time associate of the Ukrainian president.

Zelensky said many officials within both departments are suspected of treason.

"As of today, 651 criminal proceedings have been registered regarding treason and collaboration activities of employees of prosecutor's offices, pretrial investigation bodies, and other law enforcement agencies," he said.

"In particular, more than 60 employees of the prosecutor's office and the Security Service of Ukraine remained in the occupied territory and are working against our state."

Explaining his decision, Zelensky said, "Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state and the connections detected between the employees of the security forces of Ukraine and the special services of Russia pose very serious questions to the relevant leadership. Each of these questions will receive a proper answer."

Zelensky said the former head of the Main Directorate of the Security Service in Crimea had been detained on suspicion of treason.

"Everyone who together with him was part of a criminal group that worked in the interests of the Russian Federation will also be held accountable. It is about the transfer of secret information to the enemy and other facts of cooperation with the Russian special services."

Senior officials in the SBU in southern Ukraine have been blamed for the ease with which Russian forces were able to capture large areas of the south within a week of the invasion.

Zelensky indicated there would be further action.

"The specific actions and any inaction of each official in the security sector and in law enforcement agencies will be evaluated. The corresponding inspection of law enforcement agencies has already yielded the first results and will be continued."

Zelensky also said the prime minister would be tasked with intensifying the search for a new head of the National Anticorruption Bureau.

Editor's note: This post has been updated with the presidential adviser's comments clarifying that the two staffers were suspended.

2:24 a.m. ET, July 18, 2022

Funeral held for 4-year-old girl who died in Vinnytsia missile strike

From CNN's Mariya Knight

A funeral was held on Sunday for a 4-year-old girl who died during Russian strikes on the central Ukrainian town of Vinnytsia. 

Ukrainian broadcaster Suspilne aired video of Sunday’s funeral for the girl, Liza. Mourners were shown gathering around her casket. There was a crown of flowers on her head and stuffed animals surrounding her.  

Suspilne said that several dozen people attended the funeral and Liza was buried in the city cemetery in Sabarov. 

Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko posted a photo on Twitter of Liza’s casket and wrote, “Today was 4-year-old Liza’s funeral. She was far from the frontline. Farther than Kyiv. She was killed by Russia. It’s to avoid pictures like this that I sent my own children away. And it’s why I urge Ukrainian mothers with kids to temporarily seek safety abroad whenever possible.”