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Ukrainian forces have advanced in the south, while Russian forces are focusing on the east, according to Hanna Maliar, Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister.
“Our troops in the south have broken through the first line of defense in some places and moved to the intermediate line,” Maliar said in a conversation with Ukrainian media on Friday.
CNN is not able to verify the Ukrainian claims of battlefield gains.
According to Maliar, Russians have built “concrete engineering fortifications” in the south which “complicates the movement” of Ukrainian troops.
“The majority of Russian resources are currently concentrated near Kupiansk, in the Kharkiv region, as Moscow seeks to take over the territories liberated by Ukrainian forces last fall,” Maliar said.
Maliar noted that in the south and the east, Russians are deploying their reserves which mainly consist of professional units. “We are seeing airborne assault units being thrown into battle both here and there,” she added.
Ukrainian troops are "slowly but persistently" moving forward on Bakhmut’s southern flank, while Russia is attacking the city's northern flank, trying to take over Ukrainian positions, according to Maliar.
Fierce fighting continues in Avdiivka and Marinka in eastern Ukraine, she said.
Ukrainian sea drones attacked a major naval base in Russia on Friday, leaving a damaged Russian warship tilting in the Black Sea in a brazen strike carried out hundreds of miles from Ukrainian-held territory.
A Ukrainian source told CNN that a sea drone carrying nearly 1,000 pounds of TNT hit the vessel – and claimed there were about 100 Russian service members aboard.
The incident comes against the backdrop of rising tensions in the Black Sea and stepped-up Ukrainian strikes against targets across Russia after President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged to “return” the war to Russian territory.
Early Saturday, Russian media reported that a tanker was attacked in the Kerch Strait and that tugboats were at the scene to tow the vessel. Ukraine has not yet commented, and CNN has not been able to independently verify the claims.
Here are more developments:
Navalny sentencing: Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was sentenced to 19 years in prison after being found guilty on extremism charges, a court within the high-security prison where he is being held, said on Friday, according to Russian state media TASS. This latest verdict is a fresh blow to a fierce critic of Russia's President Putin that comes amid a worsening climate triggered by the Ukraine war. According to the UN rights chief, Volker Türk, the prison sentence raises “serious concerns” about judicial harassment in Russia.
Wagner threat: Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński said “the threat is very real” from Belarus, arguing that Wagner Group soldiers have made attempts to infiltrate Polish territory. He told CNN that the government was weighing whether to close the border with Belarus, a close Russian ally.
Zaporizhzhia developments: The International Atomic Energy Agency said it has found no evidence of mines or explosives on the rooftops of reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, as had been speculated after the publication of satellite images of the plant. Russian forces have occupied the plant and the surrounding area since the early days of the invasion.
Official meetings: Saudi Arabia is set to host peace talks on Ukraine this weekend that will include the US as well as a number of Western and developing countries. Meanwhile, US Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie met with Zelensky during a trip to Ukraine on Friday. The former New Jersey governor also visited battle-torn areas of Moshchun and Bucha.
At least 200 civilians have been killed and 533 others injured by Russian cluster munitions in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said in a statement on Friday.
According to the statement, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and Kherson were the most affected parts of Ukraine.
The office highlighted the April 2022 attack on a railway station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk as one of the worst cluster munitions cases.
"On that day at least 53 people were killed and 135 injured. It was later confirmed that it was a ballistic missile fired by the Russian troops from the Tochka-U system, that hit the train station on that day, where civilians gathered with the intent to evacuate to a safer place," the office said in a statement.
The statement reiterated that the use of cluster munitions against civilians is "a gross violation of international humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions, and a number of other international treaties, as cluster munitions have an indiscriminate effect and significant destructive power."
Some background: Ukrainian troops have started firing the cluster munitions provided by the US as part of their counteroffensive against Russia, two US officials and another person briefed on the matter told CNN last month.
Cluster munitions scatter “bomblets” across large areas, which would allow Ukrainian forces to target larger concentrations of Russian forces and equipment with fewer rounds of ammunition.
But the bomblets can also fail to explode on impact and can pose a long-term risk to anyone who encounters them, similar to landmines. The UK, France, Germany and other key US allies have outlawed the munitions under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, but the US and Ukraine are not signatories to the ban.
President Vladimir Putin said Russia has a stockpile and will consider using them against Ukraine “if they are used against us.” But Russia has already used the munitions several times in Ukraine, CNN has previously reported, including in densely populated areas.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said China's participation in the Ukraine peace meeting in Saudi Arabia this weekend is “a super breakthrough and a historic victory.”
"We want China to participate in the Peace Formula Summit,” Kuleba said in an interview with Interfax-Ukraine on Friday. “The news that China is delegating Li Hui to Jeddah is a super breakthrough."
Li is China's special representative on Eurasian affairs and is a former ambassador to Russia. He met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian officials during a visit in May, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.
China still has close economic ties with Russia.
Kuleba emphasized that Saudi Arabia played an important role in China’s decision to send representation to the peace talks, as well as a phone conversation between Zelensky and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
"Saudi Arabia has attracted China, and this is a historic victory," Kuleba said.
What else to know: The United States as well as a number of Western and developing countries are also expected to be in attendance.
While Russia will not be at the table, the question of what Russian President Vladimir Putin is willing to do — and whether he would even abide by a ceasefire or peace agreement — will be top of mind, officials said.
The talks are the second in a series of meetings organized by the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak. The first talks took place earlier this year in Copenhagen.
A Russian tanker in the Kerch Strait was damaged in a Ukrainian attack, according to a Russian-appointed official and a maritime rescue center cited by the Russian state news agency TASS.
Two tugboats were working to tow the vessel, TASS reported.
Vladimir Rogov, a senior Russian-appointed official with the Zaporizhzhia military-civilian administration, claimed Ukraine used marine drones in the Kerch Strait, the narrow sea passage between Russia and occupied Crimea, and that a civilian Russian tanker SIG was damaged.
Several tanker crew members were injured but no one was killed, he said in a post on Telegram.
Ukraine has not yet commented, and CNN has not been able to independently verify the claims.
Three drones were destroyed over the Kerch Strait, the narrow sea passage between Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea, according to an official with the Zaporizhzhia military-civilian administration.
The Crimean Bridge, also known as the Kerch Bridge, connects the two sides and is a vital artery for supplying Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine. In July, the bridge was struck in a drone attack claimed by Ukraine.
Senior Russian-appointed official, Vladimir Rogov, claimed on Telegram that Ukraine was again attacking the bridge with drones – but CNN has not seen images of this and was not able to verify the claims.
“Three sea drones have already been destroyed in the area of the Kerch Strait and the area leading to the Crimean Bridge,” Rogov said.
However, Oleg Kryuchkov, an advisor to the Moscow-appointed head of Crimea, said there were no attacks on the bridge and "no explosions in its area.”
He said that the bridge was “closed due to the threat of attack for the second or third time” on Friday.
“All Crimean special services and ministries are working around the clock,” he added.
Early Saturday, traffic was again moving on the bridge, the state news agency TASS reported.
Russian and Ukrainian social media reported a series of explosions were heard in the area of the bridge, but there was no video evidence showing the blasts.
Ukrainian officials haven’t commented on the incident so far.
Daniel Kholodny, the former tech director of Alexey Navalny's YouTube channel, has been sentenced to eight years in a penal colony, according to the Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper.
His lawyer, Svetlana Davydova, shared a letter on the Navalny team's Telegram channel Friday:
"Hi everyone, this is Danya Kholodny. I was sentenced to 8 years. You may ask what for? Turns out, connecting to a YouTube channel at the office is extremism ... But that's not all! 8 years isn't long enough to be acquitted, so the court ordered that my property and money be confiscated. That's what the prosecution asked for," he wrote.
"It is important to understand: they condemned me not for being an extremist, because it is clear to a fool that there was no extremism, but so that you, horrified by my fate, would not think of fighting [back]," he added.
Earlier on Friday, Russian media reported that Navalny was sentenced to 19 years in prison on extremism charges, a fresh blow to a fierce critic of Russia’s President Putin that comes amid an intensifying crackdown on dissent.
Navalny is already serving sentences totaling 11-and-a-half years in a maximum security facility on fraud and other charges that he says were trumped up.
Explosive devices dropped from a Ukrainian drone hit buildings in western Russia on Friday, according to the governor of the Kursk region.
The explosives fell in the city of Rylsk and no one was hurt, Roman Starovoyt said on Telegram.
"Windows were damaged in two administrative buildings, glass was broken in the Church of the Intercession. Representatives of the investigative bodies are working on the spot," the governor said.