August 26, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Amy Woodyatt, Thom Poole, Adrienne Vogt and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 5:40 p.m. ET, August 26, 2023
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5:28 p.m. ET, August 26, 2023

We've wrapped up our live coverage for the day. You can read more about Russia's war in Ukraine here, or scroll through the posts below.

5:17 p.m. ET, August 26, 2023

Well-known Ukrainian pilot among 3 killed when planes crash over western region

From CNN's Olga Voitovych 

A Ukrainian pilot known by the call sign "Juice" speaks with CNN in 2023. 
A Ukrainian pilot known by the call sign "Juice" speaks with CNN in 2023.  CNN

Three Ukrainian pilots, including one known by the call sign "Juice," have died in a plane crash in the country's western Zhytomyr region, the Ukrainian Air Force said Saturday.

The pilots were killed Friday when two L-39 combat trainer aircraft collided in the sky near Zhytomyr city, west of Kyiv, according to military officials. The Air Force said the pilots had been performing a combat mission.

The military branch expressed condolences to the families of the deceased, saying "this is a painful and irreparable loss for all of us."

Last year, "Juice" told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he got his nickname during a trip to the United States. He said his friends came up with the nickname, because he doesn't drink alcohol and was always requesting juice.

"Juice" was a MiG-29 pilot and had urged Western allies to provide Ukraine with US fighter jets. As part of a unit known as "Ghost of Kyiv," he

defended the skies over the capital, and the central and northern regions of Ukraine, in the first hours after Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.

Investigation underway: The State Bureau of Investigation of Ukraine (SBI) is probing the circumstances of the crash. In a statement Saturday, the agency said special attention will be paid to the technical condition of the aircraft and whether the rules for preparing for flights had been complied with. Specialists will also conduct a thorough diagnosis of the black boxes, SBI said. 

"The loss of each soldier is a huge loss for the whole country," SBI said.
4:50 p.m. ET, August 26, 2023

This map shows key areas from the past week of fighting in Ukraine

From CNN staff

Battlefield updates in the past several days have often focused on the key southern region of Zaporizhzhia, where Ukraine has long sought to cut off the land route between the Russian-controlled peninsula of Crimea and the front lines in eastern Ukraine.

Now signs are growing that Ukrainian forces have penetrated Russian defenses along part of the southern front outside Zaporizhzhia. The troops appear to be expanding a wedge toward the strategic town of Tokmak.

Here's what is happening in some of the other key areas seen on the map below:

  • Robotyne: Ukraine has claimed “partial success” around this village east of Zaporizhzhia, where troops have been engaged in fierce fighting. On Friday, social media video and images showed Ukrainian troops had entered the village. Almost no buildings are still standing there, Kyiv's forces say.
  • Belgorod: The western border region has been a repeated target in the growing number of attacks on Russian soil. On Saturday alone, shelling wounded six civilians there and a drone attack left a man dead, while the region's air defenses shot down another, according to the Belgorod governor.
  • Kharkiv: Russian shelling on this northeastern region in Ukraine killed two people and left another wounded, the regional military administration said Friday.

4:06 p.m. ET, August 26, 2023

Man killed by shrapnel in Russia's Belgorod region, governor says

From CNN's Mariya Knight

A man was killed after Ukraine dropped an explosive device from a drone in Russia's western Belgorod region Saturday, according to regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov. 

Gladkov said the attack came "when the man was in his garden mowing grass."

"Shrapnel wounds received as a result of the explosion caused him to die," the governor wrote in a Telegram post Saturday.

Ukraine has not yet commented on the claim, and often declines to directly acknowledge attacks on Russian soil.

Earlier Saturday, Gladkov said six civilians had been wounded by Ukrainian shelling in Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, and that the region's air defenses shot down another attack drone.

10:13 a.m. ET, August 26, 2023

WSJ journalist to appeal decision by Moscow court to extend pre-trial detention, Russian state media says

From CNN’s Darya Tarasova and Niamh Kennedy

Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich appears in court in Moscow, Russia, on June 22.
Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich appears in court in Moscow, Russia, on June 22. Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich will appeal a decision by a Moscow court Thursday to extend his pre-trial detention by three months, Russian state media outlet TASS reported Saturday.

Gershkovich’s lawyers have filed an appeal against the decision to extend his pre-trial detention until November 30, TASS reported, citing Moscow’s Lefortovo Court.

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in jail on espionage charges, which he, his employer and the US government vehemently contest. The journalist's detention has further ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Moscow during Russia's war in Ukraine.

11:02 a.m. ET, August 26, 2023

It's late afternoon in Kyiv. Here's the latest on Russia's war in Ukraine

From CNN staff

Ukrainian servicemen ride a tank near the village of Robotyne, Ukraine, on August 25.
Ukrainian servicemen ride a tank near the village of Robotyne, Ukraine, on August 25. Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters

As Ukraine presses forward in a grinding counteroffensive against Russia, shelling left people wounded in both countries Saturday.

Kyiv's troops say they are seeing some gradual progress along a key section of the southern front in the Zaporizhzhia region, but they are doing so under heavy shelling and constant air raids.

Russia has fired on the territory 85 times over the past day, targeting some two dozen different communities, according to the head of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration. The shelling has killed one person and wounded another.

Elsewhere in the country, Russian shelling on the northeastern Kharkiv region left two people dead and another wounded, the regional military administration said Friday. The attacks happened in a frontline area where officials have been helping civilians evacuate.

Shelling wounds Russian civilians: Meanwhile, in Russia, six civilians were hurt by Ukrainian shelling in the border region of Belgorod this morning, according to Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov. The victims suffered shrapnel wounds, he said.

Drone attacks thwarted: Russia says it has thwarted two more drone attacks: one over the Belgorod region and another in Moscow region. A string of drone strikes have peppered Russian cities throughout the summer.

Mystery surrounds Prigozhin crash: The wreckage of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Embraer private jet has been cleared from the crash site and the flight recorders have been recovered, but the metaphorical smoke has yet to clear in Moscow after the presumed death of the Wagner mercenary boss. It is not clear what caused his plane to crash, but CNN analysis suggests an onboard explosion was likely responsible.

Uncertain future: If Prigozhin indeed is gone, how will the Russian landscape change after the exit of a man who presented the most serious challenge to Putin’s rule in over two decades? And will the Wagner Group continue to operate in the absence of its leader?

Belarusian president says he warned the Wagner chief: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he warned Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin twice to watch out for threats to his life. Prigozhin led a failed uprising against the Kremlin, and US intelligence officials said this week that he was likely intentionally targeted in the attack.

9:02 a.m. ET, August 26, 2023

Ukraine detains more military recruitment officials amid ongoing corruption purge 

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Radina Gigova

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has detained four more employees of military enlistment offices as part of an ongoing crackdown on corruption, the agency said in a statement Saturday. 

Those detained are employees in military enlistment offices and heads of military medical commissions "who 'helped' evaders to avoid conscription and escape abroad," the SBU said. 

"In exchange for money, the officials offered conscripts to evade mobilization on the basis of fictitious documents on their medical unfitness for military service," SBU said. 

The cost of such "services" was up to $10,000 per person, the SBU said, adding "the amount depended on the timeframe for 'resolving the issues' and the financial capabilities of the 'clients.'"

In Kyiv: The head of the district military enlistment office and the head of one of the capital's military medical commissions were detained "for selling fake medical certificates about the presence of severe diagnoses," the SBU said. 

"The evaders used the purchased fake documents to avoid conscription and further travel outside Ukraine," it added. 

In the Kharkiv region: The head of a district military enlistment office in the northeastern Kharkiv region was detained after illegally gaining around $300,000 from potential conscripts. He also involved three officials of a local hospital in illegal activities, according to the SBU.

"In exchange for bribes, they 'found' 'health problems' in conscripts, which became a formal basis for deregistration," it said.

In Odesa: SBU cyber specialists also shut down a corruption scheme in Odesa involving the secretary of the local military medical commission.

"Together with a Kyiv lawyer and two accomplices, they set up a large-scale sale of falsified documents on unfitness for military service," the SBU said.

The suspects searched for their clients all over Ukraine and then registered them with the Odesa military enlistment office "to 'write them off' from military service," according to the agency. 

"Currently, the secretary of this military medical commission and her accomplices have been detained red-handed. They have already been notified of suspicion and the issue of choosing a preventive measure is being decided," it said. 

Probes ongoing: Investigations involving all the cases are still active, the SBU said. The operation was conducted jointly with the National Police under the supervision of the Prosecutor's Office.

The offenders face up to 10 years in prison as well as confiscation of property, according to the agency. 

Remember: Earlier in August, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he has dismissed all officials in charge of regional military recruitment centers amid a widespread corruption scandal. On August 11, he said there were 112 criminal proceedings against officials at military registration and enlistment offices.  

At the beginning of the year, Zelensky also fired a number of senior officials over involvement in a scandal linked to the procurement of wartime supplies. 

The investigations are part of a major government shakeup aimed at eradicating corruption. Tackling corruption has been a key condition for Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union. 

9:25 a.m. ET, August 26, 2023

Analysis: After Prigozhin, who will stick their head above the parapet in Putin’s Russia?

Analysis from CNN's Nathan Hodge

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference on July 29, in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference on July 29, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Contributor/Getty Images

The wreckage of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Embraer private jet has been cleared from the crash site, and the flight recorders have been recovered, but the metaphorical smoke has yet to clear in Moscow after the presumed death of the Wagner mercenary boss.

We still do not know what brought down Prigozhin’s Embraer Legacy 600 – expert analysis points to the possibility of an explosion – and we may never know. To use an inexact term, the biggest black box in this aviation catastrophe is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s apparatus of state, which is not known for its transparency.

That in turn points to a much bigger question: How will the Russian landscape change after the exit of the man who presented the most serious challenge to Putin’s rule in over two decades?

Putin has offered his own hot take, obliquely referencing Prigozhin’s contributions to the war on Ukraine.

“I knew Prigozhin for a very long time, since the early ’90s,” Putin said Thursday. “He was a man of difficult fate, and he made serious mistakes in life, and he achieved the results needed both for himself and when I asked him about it — for a common cause, as in these last months. He was a talented man, a talented businessman.”

But the real message Putin was sending, after waiting a full day after the crash, appeared directed toward Russia’s elite: mistakes can be fatal.

Read the full story:

9:07 a.m. ET, August 26, 2023

2 people killed in Russian attack on Ukraine's Kharkiv region, official says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

At least two people have died and another was wounded in Russian shelling on Ukraine's eastern Kharkiv region, according to Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv region military administration.

Syniehubov said the attacks happened in the frontline Kupiansk district, an area that has seen significant shelling and the first major Ukrainian evacuation in months. In recent weeks, Russia has been attacking near Kupiansk.

According to preliminary information, the two people died in the village of Podoly, Syniehubov said in a post on Telegram Friday.

The attacks hit a café where residents were, he said, adding law enforcement and emergency services are working at the scene.