July 27, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Brad Lendon, Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Leinz Vales, Aditi Sangal, Matt Meyer and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 3:56 a.m. ET, July 28, 2023
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6:55 p.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Ukrainian fencer speaks out after disqualification for refusing to shake hands with Russian opponent

From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv and Amy Cassidy

Ukraine's Olga Kharlan, left, leaves the fencing strip after she refused to shake hands with Russia's Anna Smirnova during the Fencing World Championships in Milan, on Thursday, July 27, 2023.
Ukraine's Olga Kharlan, left, leaves the fencing strip after she refused to shake hands with Russia's Anna Smirnova during the Fencing World Championships in Milan, on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

The leader of Ukraine's national fencing team, Olga Kharlan, has spoken out after her disqualification from the world championships for refusing to shake hands with her Russian opponent, saying "I acted with my heart." 

The four-time individual world champion and four-time Olympic medalist took to Instagram late Thursday to defend her actions and thank her supporters, particularly the Ukrainian military. 

"What happened today is what should have happened," she said in the Instagram video.
"I did not want to shake hands with that athlete and I acted with my heart. So when I heard that they were going to remove me from the competition, disqualify me and give me a black card, of course it killed me. It killed me so much that I was screaming in pain," she continued. 

Kharlan said that she came "back to life" thanks to messages of support from the public, "especially the support from our fighters who are defending us." 

"When I hear that I motivated them, or this act motivated them it's impossible to put into words how it makes me feel. It is impossible to convey, I thank each and every one of you, I thank every soldier who defends us," Kharlan said. 

Ukrainians can never "be forced into peace […] by any handshake," she added. 

The International Fencing Federation has not offered any account of the decision on its website or social media accounts. But the refusal to shake hands after contest results in a black card and expulsion, according to federation rules. 

The Ukrainian athlete approached the end of her video message by saying "the rules have to change because the world is changing." 

"Thank you all, I feel everything, you are in my heart and glory to Ukraine," she concluded.
6:22 p.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Video shows Ukrainian counteroffensive reaching a critical Russian defensive line for the first time

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

Ukrainian forces in southern Ukraine can be seen for the first time at one of Russia's long-stretching "dragon's teeth" defensive lines in a new video circulating on Russian social media. 

CNN has geolocated the video to an area just east of the small villages of Nove and Kharkove in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia oblast. 

The video was taken from a Russian military position and shows a Ukrainian military vehicle moving in a field, heading toward a ditch in front of a large row of "dragon's teeth" — concrete and rebar pyramids that can serve as barriers against tanks. The apparent driver of the vehicle appears and begins running back toward a tree line. 

For months, satellite images have shown that the Russians have installed the "dragon's teeth" lines across the territory they control in Ukraine. The "teeth" are laid out in three-deep rows that stretch for hundreds of miles; on either side of the concrete lines, Russian forces have also dug massive anti-tank trenches.

When the vehicle hits the trench, a big puff of dirt and smoke is seen. A second later, the front end of the vehicle appears to be stuck, with its front end sitting on top of the trench. 

It's unclear what exactly is happening in the video. Pro-Ukrainian channels claim it's their forces testing the ability for a vehicle to make it over the trench and the "dragon teeth," while pro-Russian channels claim it's a casualty of one of their military strikes. 

What is clear, however, is the Ukrainian counteroffensive in southern part of the country has made notable gains in the last several days. 

While the ability of the Ukrainians to push Russian forces back behind their "dragon teeth" line is a clear indicator, the counteroffensive has been successful so far. 

The defensive line also poses a significant obstacle that the counteroffensive will need to find ways to overcome in the days, weeks, and months to come. 

5:46 p.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Zelensky visits Odesa church badly damaged in Russian attack

From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova and Mohammed Tawfeeq

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said architecture experts are "working to assess the possibility of restoring" the Transfiguration Cathedral — a UNESCO World Heritage site in the southern port city of Odesa that was badly damaged by a Russian missile attack over the weekend.

"A Russian missile hit the altar – it was completely destroyed, and the entire structure of the building was damaged," Zelensky tweeted.

He added that he is "grateful to our partners in Europe for their willingness to join the reconstruction."

Zelensky also published a video of himself speaking in Ukrainian (with English subtitles) from inside the historic church on Thursday, according to Zelensky's office.

The Ukrainian leader said he "listened to the report on the liquidation of the consequences of Russian strikes on Odesa and the region."

"We are looking for air defense systems to protect Odesa and our entire south. And I am grateful to everyone in the world who has already joined us in this endeavor!" Zelensky said.
5:22 p.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Russian shelling wounds 5 people in Kharkiv region

From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova and Mohammed Tawfeeq

Russia shelled the northeastern Ukrainian Kupyansk district in the Kharkiv region Tuesday, wounding five people, according to the Kharkiv regional military administration.

"Around 21:15, 5 civilians were injured as a result of shelling in Novoosynove village: 3 women and 2 men," Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the region's military administration, said in a Telegram post.
"One of the women was hospitalized with multiple shrapnel wounds, while the other injured were treated by medics on the spot," he added.

Syniehubov said Russians struck "a private residential building."

"The details of the occupiers' crime are being established by law enforcement officers working at the scene," he said.

5:33 p.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Ukraine is "gradually advancing" south of Bakhmut, defense minister says

From CNN's Tim Lister, Svitlana Vlasova and Josh Pennington

A Ukrainian serviceman prepares to fire a mortar at Russian positions on the front line near the city of Bakhmut on July 13.
A Ukrainian serviceman prepares to fire a mortar at Russian positions on the front line near the city of Bakhmut on July 13. Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters

Ukraine's military is waging attritional battles south of Bakhmut with the ultimate aim of cutting Russian supply routes into the devastated eastern city, which Moscow's forces captured in the spring, according to officials.

Ukraine is "gradually advancing" south of Bakhmut and fighting persists in Klishchiivka, Kurdiumivka and Andriivka — three villages south of the city, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said.

"The fighting is quite fierce," Maliar said. "The enemy is firing intensively.”

The Ukraine military also said Ukrainian units repelled a Russian counter-attack south of Bakhmut.

Serhii Cherevatyi, the spokesperson for the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian military, said there had been 11 combat engagements in the area over the past day.

Along the border of the Kharkiv and Luhansk regions, the Russians were continuing efforts to push Ukrainian units back, Maliar said.

“In the Kupyansk sector, the enemy is attacking, trying to drive us from our dominant heights," she said. "Today, our defenders repelled several attacks without losing positions,” she said.

However, Cherevatyi noted that the number of enemy assaults around Lyman was lower than average. Compared to a recent peak of 10 to 15, he said there were three enemy attacks in areas within the Serebryansky forest and Bilohorivka.

3:25 p.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Ukraine says it captured a village near the southern front line as military ramps up counteroffensive

From CNN's Tim Lister, Svitlana Vlasova and Josh Pennington

Ukrainian soldiers are seen in the Ukrainian village of Staromaiorske, in this screen grab from video posted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday.
Ukrainian soldiers are seen in the Ukrainian village of Staromaiorske, in this screen grab from video posted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday. From Volodymyr Zelesnky/Telegram/Reuters

Both Russian and Ukrainian sources report intense fighting along the front lines in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia, where Ukrainian forces are stepping up efforts to break through entrenched Russian defenses.

Late Thursday, video emerged of a Ukrainian unit claiming to be in the village of Staromaiorske – a target for several weeks, located east of Zaporizhzhia city.

A group of soldiers posted the video, with one saying Ukrainian fighters have "fulfilled the task and liberated the village."

The video was reposted on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Telegram account, with the caption: “Our South! Our guys!”

Earlier Thursday, the commander of a Russian-backed battalion from the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic acknowledged the loss of Staromaiorske.

Kyiv's troops "methodically" took the village over the course of several days, "knocking personnel out of their shelters and turning those shelters into piles of broken bricks," said the commander, Alexander Khodakovsky. He acknowledged that losing the area was "a blow to our military ego." 

Fighting intensifies in the south: Besides committing additional brigades to the fight in the south, the Ukrainian military has kept up a campaign to degrade Russian logistical hubs, with Russian-appointed officials in occupied areas reporting several rocket strikes against the town of Tokmak, a critical resupply site.

“Tokmak has essentially become a frontline city, because the intensity of hostilities directly on the Zaporizhzhia frontline toward Tokmak is increasing every day,” the Ukrainian mayor of nearby Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, told CNN. 

Fedorov claimed Moscow's troops are "constantly suffering losses" in villages around Tokmak.

Few frontline accounts have emerged, but a member of the Freedom for Russia Legion — a militant group of Russian dissidents that fights against Moscow — said the battles are unceasing.

“In a word, it's hell,” the fighter, Kostyantyn Denysov, told RFE/Radio Liberty. “There are small arms battles along the entire contact line, counter-battery fighting.”
But, he claimed, Ukrainian troops are “stubbornly pressing the occupiers, pushing them out, mopping up and gaining ground.”

Denysov said Russia has responded with artillery barrages and aviation. Their priority is preventing the Ukrainian advance toward Tokmak and other towns near Zaporizhzhia city, including Vasylivka to the south and Polohy, further east of the city.

Denysov claimed some Russian units have suffered "such losses that they are now waiting for replenishment."

Two weeks ago, a senior Russian commander in the area was dismissed for demanding that the defense ministry rotate units out of frontline positions.

1:44 p.m. ET, July 27, 2023

US intel report details increasing importance of Chinese technology in Russia's war in Ukraine     

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

China is providing technology and equipment to Russia that is increasingly important to Moscow's war in Ukraine, according to a newly released report compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 

The report is unclassified and largely cites open-source data and western press reporting to support its claims. But it includes the US intelligence community assessment that China "has become an increasingly important buttress for Russia in its war effort."  

The report — mandated by the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 passed by Congress, and released by House Intelligence Committee Democrats — says that as of March, China "had shipped more than $12 million in drones and drone parts" to Russia, citing a "third-party analysis" of Russian customs data. 

Chinese state-owned defense companies have also been providing sanctioned Russian government-owned defense companies with other dual-use technology "that Moscow's military uses to continue the war in Ukraine," the report says, including "navigation equipment, jamming technology, and fighter-jet parts."  

Semiconductor exports from China to Russia have also jumped considerably since 2021, it adds, with "hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of US-made or US-branded semiconductors flowing into Russia" despite heavy western sanctions and export controls. 

The report says Chinese firms are "probably" helping Moscow to evade these sanctions — though it is "difficult to ascertain the extent" of that help. The report says the intelligence community cannot be sure whether Beijing is deliberately interfering with the US' ability to conduct export control checks, via interviews and investigations, inside China. 

The report does say, however, that China "has become an even more critical economic partner for Russia since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022."

CNN has asked the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, for comment on the report.

What the US has said: The Biden administration has repeatedly raised concerns with China about evidence it has suggesting that Chinese companies have sold non-lethal equipment to Russia for use in Ukraine, but US officials say they have seen no signs so far that China has provided weapons or lethal military aid to Russia. 

The US believes that at the outset of the war, China intended to sell Russia lethal weapons for use in Ukraine, a US official previously told CNN. But China significantly scaled back on those plans as the war progressed, this person said — something the Biden administration has considered a victory.

What China has said: China has claimed neutrality over the war in Ukraine and called for peace in the conflict. But Beijing has also avoided publicly criticizing Russia's war efforts and the two countries have repeatedly emphasized their cooperation, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu declaring a "boundless" military partnership after a meeting in April.

12:49 p.m. ET, July 27, 2023

"Handful of donations" will not counter the impact of Russian grain deal withdrawal, UN chief says

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy in London

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that a “handful of donations” will not counter the “dramatic” impact of Russia’s move to withdraw from the Black Sea grain deal. 

Speaking to journalists in New York on Thursday, the UN Secretary General stressed that the UN will continue to engage with Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, and other relevant countries to “re-establish the Black Sea initiative” which helped export nearly 33 million tons of grain from Ukrainian ports. 

“It is clear that when taking out of the market millions and millions of tons of grain, it is clear based on economic laws that will lead to higher prices than ones that would exist with the normal access of Ukrainian grain to international markets,” Guterres said. 

He added that these price increases will be “paid by everybody everywhere,” and will hit developing countries hardest. 

“So, it’s not with a handful of donations to some countries that we correct this dramatic impact that affects everybody everywhere,” Guterres added. 

Putin's attempt to help global food insecurity: The UN chief’s comments come after Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier on Thursday that Russia has sent nearly 10 million tons of grain to Africa, accusing Western sanctions of making it harder for Russia to send grain to the African continent.

Putin reiterated that Russia remained a "reliable" supplier of food to Africa, despite pulling out of a key Ukraine grain deal and continued attacks against port infrastructure in the city of Odesa.

On Monday, wheat prices rose sharply following a strike by a Russian drone on a Ukrainian port on the Danube River.

CNN's Anna Cooban and Tim Lister contributed reporting to this post.