August 24, 2023 Russia-Ukraine, Prigozhin news

By Helen Regan, Peter Wilkinson, Josh Berlinger, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, August 25, 2023
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5:37 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

The bodies of those killed in Wednesday's plane crash have arrived at a nearby forensic center

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Tim Lister 

Vans said to be carrying the bodies of those who were on board the plane that crashed Wednesday were seen on Russian media arriving at the Tver Regional Bureau of Forensic Medical Examination.

The same black vans had been seen at the crash site earlier on Thursday.

Eight bodies were found at the crash site, Russian media reported on Wednesday. Wagner chief Yevegeny Prigozhin was listed as one of the passengers on board the downed plane.

Russian authorities have said efforts will be made to confirm the identity of the victims at the Tver morgue. 

6:21 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

A Russian ultra-nationalist described Prigozhin as a hero after his presumed death

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Tim Lister

Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin leaves the headquarters of the Southern Military District amid the group's pullout from the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24.
Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin leaves the headquarters of the Southern Military District amid the group's pullout from the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

A prominent figure among Russia's ultra-nationalist community, Alexander Dugin, spoke of Yevgeny Prigozhin as a "hero" following reports of the Wagner chief's presumed death.

Dugin shared an anecdote in which his daughter Darya -- who was killed in a bomb explosion in Moscow last summer -- described Prigozhin in glowing terms at the outset of the war.

"Prigozhin is so strong and confident, bold, sharp, that, for sure, no one prays for him. It doesn't even cross anyone's mind. Let's start praying for him...," Dugin recounted his daughter saying.

Dugin added on his Telegram channel: "If the diabolical enemy kills our heroes with precision, it means that we have heroes."

The Russian security services said that Dugina's assassination was the work of Ukrainian intelligence. A Ukrainian defense intelligence official told CNN shortly after her death that Kyiv had nothing to do with it, though the US intelligence community believes that the bombing was authorized by elements within the Ukrainian government, sources briefed on the information told CNN in October.

4:46 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

France says conditions under which Prigozhin plane crash occurred “remain unknown"

From Claudia Colliva in Paris

French government spokesperson Olivier Veran speaks at a news conference in Paris on July 26.
French government spokesperson Olivier Veran speaks at a news conference in Paris on July 26. Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

A French government spokesman said many details about the plane crash that is presumed to have killed Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin "remain unknown."

When asked by French television station France 2 if he was surprised by the news of the crash, Olivier Veran said:

“We still don't know the conditions under which this crash took place. We can have reasonable doubts.”

Veran added that Prigozhin was the man behind “Putin’s dirty work” and, if he is indeed dead, he would leave behind “a terrible mess” in large parts of the world. Veran said that Prigozhin's actions are “inseparable” from President Vladimir Putin’s politics. 

Veran also agreed with US President Joe Biden’s statement that “little happens in Russia that Putin is not behind,” saying that “on principle that is a truth we can establish.”

4:13 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Ukraine's military claims further gains on southern front

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

The Ukrainian military said its units have extended gains on the southern front in the Zaporizhzhia region and remain on the offensive around the eastern city of Bakhmut.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces said Thursday that units had succeeded "in the direction of Novodanylivka and Novoprokopivka, consolidating their positions, inflicting artillery fire on the identified enemy targets, and conducting counter-battery operations."

Novoprokopivka is south of the village of Robotyne, which the Ukrainians said Wednesday they fully controlled. 

Meanwhile, the General Staff said "in the Bakhmut sector, the Defense Forces continue to conduct offensive actions south of the city of Bakhmut, consolidating their positions."

Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukrainian Land Forces, said he had been working with commanders north and northeast of Bakhmut.

The General Staff also claimed the Russians had continued to conduct "unsuccessful offensives" in the areas of Avdiivka, Mariinka and Novomykhailivka in the Donetsk region. 

"The enemy is suffering significant losses in personnel, weapons and equipment, is moving units and troops and actively using reserves," it said.

In the northeast: Ukrainian forces were also holding back Russian attempts to advance further north around Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region, as well as efforts to break through west of Svatove in neighboring Luhansk. In this area, the Ukrainians say the Russians have poured more forces into the battlefield. 

Altogether, the Russians launched 10 missile strikes and 57 airstrikes Wednesday, the General Staff said.

3:38 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Zelensky congratulates Ukrainians on country's Independence Day 

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Akanksha Sharma

Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on August 23.
Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on August 23. Oleg Petrasyuk/Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky congratulated Ukrainians on Thursday as the war-torn country marks its 32nd Independence Day.

“A holiday of strong people. A holiday of people with dignity,” Zelensky said, according to a press release from the Presidential Office of Ukraine.

Calling “an independent Ukraine” what “we are fighting for,” Zelensky lauded the contributions from every citizen saying, “in a big war, there are no small deeds.”

He thanked all Ukrainians on the front lines along with the volunteers and families behind them. He also mourned the fallen soldiers, calling them “heroes who prevented us from losing Ukraine.”

Zelensky celebrated the “thousands of Ukrainian medics who save thousands of lives,” and the journalists, among others, who spread “the truth about Ukraine and this war in different languages.”

The president also assured Ukrainians “under occupation” who have “waited and will witness the return of Ukraine.”

August 24 marks the anniversary of Ukraine's 1991 declaration that it would break with the Soviet Union.

4:36 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Moscow court extends WSJ reporter's pre-trial detention, state media reports

From CNN's Sarah Dean and Anna Chernova

Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, on June 22.
Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, on June 22. Dmitry Serebryakov/AP

A Moscow court has extended the pre-trial detention of Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich by three months, the press service of the Lefortovo Court said Thursday.

Gershkovich's pretrial detention was due to end on August 30 but was extended until November 30.

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in jail on espionage charges, which he and his employer vehemently contest

The US citizen was arrested in Russia in March in a sign of the Kremlin’s crackdown on foreign media news outlets since it invaded Ukraine last year.

Read more about Gershkovich's case here:

2:39 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Prigozhin plane crash wreckage scattered across a 2-kilometer debris field, Russian state media says

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Clare Sebastian

Wreckage is seen near the crash site in the Tver region, Russia, on August 24.
Wreckage is seen near the crash site in the Tver region, Russia, on August 24. Marina Lystseva/Reuters

Wreckage of the plane crash northwest of Moscow is scattered across a 2-kilometer debris field, Russian state media reported Thursday.

“Upon freefall the Embraer plane wreckage broke apart across a 2 kilometer area away from the village [Kuzhenkino] where most of the fuselage wreckage was found,” state-run outlet Russia 24 said. “The majority of the wreckage fell near agricultural enterprises.”

State-run news agency RIA Novosti also reported that one of the fragments of the plane is lying on the entry road into the village of Kuzhenkino, which is approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the crash site. 

According to RIA, police officers cordoned off the fragment and several special services cars are parked nearby. 

Fatal journey: Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was on board the plane that crashed with no survivors, according to Russian authorities, just months after he launched a mutiny against Russia’s military leadership.

The Kremlin is yet to comment on the crash. The Russian Investigative Committee said earlier it had initiated "a criminal case" following the crash, while state aviation authority Rosaviation said a specially created commission "has begun investigating the circumstances and causes of the accident."

2:22 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Russian missile attack wounds 7 in Dnipropetrovsk

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

At least seven people have been injured following Russian missile strikes on Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk region, a Ukrainian military official said Thursday.

"There were powerful explosions in Dnipro in the middle of the night. The enemy hit the city with missiles. One of them was shot down," said Serhii Lysak, head of the Dnipropetrovsk region military administration.

A transport facility was destroyed in the airstrikes, and about a dozen buildings were damaged including a bank, a gas station, a hotel, and an agricultural company. Two residential buildings and water and gas pipelines were also damaged, Lysak added.

Among those injured by shrapnel are three men and four women, ages 32 to 55. Six of them were hospitalized and are in a "moderate condition," Lysak said.

The attacks also caused a fire that was later contained by the authorities, according to Mykola Lukashuk, head of the Dnipropetrovsk region council.

1:51 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Analysis: What could have caused the plane crash that reportedly killed Prigozhin?

Analysis from CNN's Jessie Yeung

The crash site in Russia's northwestern Tver region on August 23.
The crash site in Russia's northwestern Tver region on August 23. Wagner Telegram Account/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The plane that crashed reportedly carrying Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, was a private Embraer jet carrying seven passengers and three crew members, according to Russia’s emergency services ministry. 

It’s not yet clear what caused the plane to crash. Russian authorities said they are investigating and conducting search operations.

Here's what we know:

  • The plane departed from Moscow and was en route to St. Petersburg when it crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino, in Russia’s western Tver region, Russian officials said.
  • Flight data shows the plane reached an altitude of some 28,000 feet before it suddenly stopped transmitting tracking details.
  • Official news agency TASS reported the plane “burned up” on impact. It had been in the air for about half an hour.
  • Video published by Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti showed a plane plummeting with one wing missing. CNN is unable to confirm the authenticity of the video, but RIA claimed it was the moment that an Embraer jet fell from the sky over the Tver region.

Expert points to possible explosion: “It’s coming down quickly in a spin, and it’s trailing a lot of smoke. So, this is an aircraft that was on fire. And it looks like some structural pieces, aerodynamic surfaces, were missing,” veteran science and aerospace reporter Miles O’Brien told CNN after reviewing footage of the plane’s fall.

“An aircraft like this … they just don’t catastrophically drop out of the sky without something very unusual happening,” he added. 

It could be caused by an explosion either inside or outside the aircraft, O’Brien added — like an explosive going off on board, or the aircraft being hit by a missile. 

Read the full analysis here.