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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11:23 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

What some Russians are saying about the plane crash

From CNN Staff

Nearly 24 hours after the plane crash that is believed to have killed Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, some Russians are unsure of what to make of the news.

CNN spoke to several individuals about the crash. All agreed to be identified only by their first name so they could speak freely without fear of retribution.

No one CNN spoke to believed Ukraine was responsible for the crash. Many openly speculated about its cause, including whether Russian President Vladimir Putin brought down the jet as retribution for Prigozhin's failed mutiny in June

"He was killed by Putin, who does not forgive betrayal. The first video shot shows a clear trace of a missile. Putin was behind it or it could have been his Politburo but Putin knew and approved," said Alexey from Moscow.

No evidence has been presented that points to the Kremlin's or Russian security services' involvement in the crash. The cause of the incident is unknown and Russian authorities have launched a criminal investigation. 

Despite the lack of proof, Evgeniy from St. Petersburg also believes the Putin regime was behind the incident, but he does not think that the plane was shot out of the sky.

"It was definitely Putin. But it wasn’t a missile. Explosives were planted on board," he said

Others, like Dimitry from Moscow, believed the longtime mercenary group leader had faked his own death.

"He had doubles. And it fits his creative personality to orchestrate such an exit. He’s probably happily enjoying a gin and tonic somewhere in Cabo Verde," said Dimitry.

11:35 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

UN allocates more than $14 million to finance 120 organizations in Ukraine to support women

From CNN's Hande Atay Alam

Rosemary Anne DiCarlo, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, speaks during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York on August 24.
Rosemary Anne DiCarlo, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, speaks during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York on August 24. John Minchillo/AP

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) announced it has allocated $14.6 million to support women in Ukraine. 

"UN Women has allocated through its peace and humanitarian fund, over 14.6 million US dollars to finance our 120 civil society organizations that support women and girls inside Ukraine and those displaced in Moldova," United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary Anne DiCarlo said during the UN Security Council briefing on Thursday.  

According to DiCarlo, the United Nations has verified "173 cases of conflict-related sexual violence against 112 Men, 57 women, and four girls."

"The numbers alone tell a horrific story," DiCarlo said, adding that since the Russian Federation launched its full-scale invasion 18 months ago, "OHCHR has confirmed at least 9,444 civilians, including 545 children, killed nearly 17,000 others; among them, 1,156 children have been injured." 

DiCarlo also said that the real figures are likely much higher. 

More context: Since the Russian invasion began, Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Moscow’s forces of sexually abusing women and children, claiming they are using rape and other sexual acts as weapons of war.

Nearly half of Ukrainians held in detention centers in Kherson by Russian forces were subjected to widespread torture including sexual violence, according to a report published earlier this month.

10:49 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Here's what witnesses told Russian media after Wednesday's plane crash

From CNN's Katharina Krebs and Lauren Said-Moorhouse in London

Several residents who lived near the crash site have been speaking to Russian media about what they saw.

One man told RIA Novosti he heard two bangs in the sky before the plane started to fall. A woman from the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver region told RIA Novosti that around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, she heard the sound of an airplane near her house, which is located 300 meters (984 feet) from the place where the tail part of the Embraer is now lying.

“Then came something like a bang, like a shot. Then suddenly an explosion, I look up and heard a sound above me - it was like pops, like several explosions,” she said. “The plane started to swerve. Then a plume of smoke emerged and the plane began to descend, to dive."

Lyudmila Osypova, another Kuzhenkino resident, said she did not see the moment the plane hit the ground, but saw the black cloud of smoke after being told of the incident by her neighbor.

Osypova said her neighbor called the ordeal "terrifying."

"There was a loud bang, then she (Osypova's neighbor) turned her head to look and the whole plane was in sparkles of fire, it was all lit up. Said they saw it caught fire and began to fall,” Osypova said her neighbor recounted.

10:46 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Ukraine claims at least 30 Russians were killed in pre-dawn Crimea raid

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

The Ukrainian military says that at least 30 Russians were killed in a seaborne raid by Ukrainian special forces against facilities on the western Crimean coast in the early hours of Thursday.

Andriy Yusov, spokesperson for Ukraine's Defense Intelligence, told Ukrainian media outlet Suspilne Crimea that as a result of a special operation of Defense Intelligence and Ukrainian Navy near the village of Mayak in Crimea, four speedboats were damaged and at least 30 Russians were killed.

In an interview Wednesday, the head of Ukrainian Defense Intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, said that "now we have the ability to hit any part of the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea — we can reach the enemy absolutely anywhere."

Budanov told Radio Liberty that "there are many options for de-occupying Crimea, but it is impossible without military action."

The attack appears to be one of the Ukrainian armed forces' most complex and ambitious operations to date against Russian military facilities on the Crimean Peninsula.

While there has been no word from Russian-appointed authorities in Crimea on the latest attack, Russian military bloggers have raised questions about the inability of coastal defenses to detect and repel such operations.

The prominent Telegram channel Rybar noted that "during the night, two to four speedboats landed in the Olenivka area on Cape Tarkhankut, conducted demonstrative firing of grenade launchers on camera and departed."

Rybar continued: "This is the second incident in the area of the cape in the last few days. Only recently (Ukrainian forces) conducted a combined attack, which resulted in the destruction of a S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system, and this time they have landed on the shore."

"The activity of the AFU (Armed Forces of Ukraine) near the Crimean peninsula is getting higher and higher. ... The AFU has been probing the ground near Crimea for several weeks now, looking for loopholes for an amphibious operation," it said.

Referring to other unofficial claims on Russian outlets that up to 20 Ukrainian troops had been killed, Rybar added that "instead of rosy reports, it would be more expedient to do everything possible to suppress such activity. Especially in places where there is a large concentration of civilians."

There is a campsite close to where the Ukrainians are reported to have come ashore.

9:52 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Satellite imagery indicates that the fuselage was largely intact when Prigozhin plane crashed

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

The plane crash site is shown in this satellite image.
The plane crash site is shown in this satellite image. SAR data © 2023 Umbra Lab, Inc.

The fuselage of the plane believed to be carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin was largely intact when the aircraft crashed into the ground on Wednesday, according to new imagery shared exclusively with CNN.

Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) image taken by Umbra Lab, Inc., showed that crash site is in the shape of an oblong oval – containing mostly the fuselage -- and is confined to a specific area. 

That conclusion is supported by video geolocated and authenticated by CNN that shows the plane's fuselage and engines, with a wing apparently missing, falling out of the sky. 

Although the majority of the debris appears at the fuselage-shaped site at the edge of a forest clearing, smaller chunks of the plane did fall elsewhere. Just over a mile – or nearly two kilometers -- southeast of the main debris site, CNN geolocated images and video that showed part of the plane's tail sitting in a clearing, near a row of homes. 

What is SAR imagery: SAR imagery is unlike normal satellite imagery. It is created by transmitting radar beams that are able to pass through clouds. The beams bounce off objects on the ground and echo back to the satellite; what they bounce off of is then mapped out by the satellite and the SAR image is created.  

9:36 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Zelensky says no casualties in Ukrainian special forces raid on Crimean coast

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva in Kyiv, Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says there were no casualties reported among special forces that carried out a raid against Russian facilities in Crimea early Thursday morning.

There were no casualties on our side, which is good news," Zelensky said.

The attack appears to be one of the Ukrainian armed forces' most complex and ambitious operations to date against Russian military facilities on the Crimean Peninsula.

Zelensky added that he would receive a report on the assault later.

9:27 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

EU says it’s “hard to verify” reports Wagner chief killed in plane crash

From CNN’s James Frater and Niamh Kennedy

The European Union has said it is “hard to verify” reports that Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin is presumed to have been killed in a plane crash on Wednesday evening.

“We have seen the report about the plane crash which allegedly killed Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner group, alongside members of his entourage and crew members,” said Peter Stano, the bloc’s lead spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, at a press briefing on Thursday.

“But again, like so many other things in Russia, this is very hard to verify for us, and therefore not for us to comment,” Stano added.

Stano said the “negative actions” of Prigozhin and the Wagner group are widely known, pointing towards its involvement in the Ukraine war and its operations in African countries.

“Everywhere they [the Wagner group] have been present, were present or are present they left a trail of violation of human rights, [and] international humanitarian law. There is a lot of unaccountability, there are unclear rules under which they operate,” Stano said.

The group’s future operations will not only be affected by the “alleged death of Prigozhin” but also by “events in June” when the group decided to march on Moscow in a short-lived rebellion, he added.

Stano said that although the EU hopes that the “negative impact” of Wagner’s operations will cease, the bloc is mindful that the mercenary group is “not linked only to the name of its leader.”

He said that the group’s affiliation with the Kremlin is one of several “complex issues,” while also emphasizing that it is not for the EU to “speculate whether the alleged killing or death of Prigozhin in a plane crash will have any specific consequences on Wagner's activities.”

8:40 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Kremlin silent on Prigozhin plane crash

From CNN's Tim Lister and Anna Chernova

Russian servicemen inspect a part of the crashed private jet in Tver region, Russia, on August 24.
Russian servicemen inspect a part of the crashed private jet in Tver region, Russia, on August 24. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Nearly 24 hours after the crash of an aircraft that Russian authorities say was carrying Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and two of his top lieutenants, the Kremlin has said nothing about the incident.

No other senior Russian official has commented either.

President Vladimir Putin was at an event in Kursk on Wednesday when news emerged of the crash, but offered no comment there nor on his return to Moscow. 

There was no conference call with Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov on Thursday for media. The last call held by Peskov was on August 4.

Putin met with Prigozhin and Wagner commanders several days after their short-lived mutiny in Russia at the end of June, despite previously describing the event as an act of treason.

Prigozhin was subsequently able to move freely and even appeared on the sidelines of the Africa summit organized by the Kremlin in St Petersburg last month. 

8:46 a.m. ET, August 24, 2023

Zelensky said Ukraine had nothing to do with the plane crash that may have killed Yevgeny Prigozhin

From CNN"s Olga Voitovych 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference on August 24, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference on August 24, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Alexey Furman/Getty Images

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine had nothing to do with the plane crash that is presumed to have killed Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin on Wednesday, Ukrainian state media reported.

Speaking at a news conference alongside Portugal President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who is visiting Kyiv, Zelensky said: "We have nothing to do with this situation. That's for sure. But I think everyone realizes who has."

Zelensky did not elaborate further.