August 29, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sana Noor Haq, Caolán Magee, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, August 30, 2023
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9:15 p.m. ET, August 29, 2023

Russian defense ministry says 4 Ukrainian military boats destroyed and several drones intercepted

From CNN’s Mariya Knight and Josh Pennington

The Russian defense ministry claimed that four Ukrainian military high-speed boats were destroyed in the Black Sea with personnel on board. It also said several drones were intercepted over various Russian regions in the early hours of Wednesday.

“On August 30, at about 00.00 Moscow time, a naval aviation aircraft of the Black Sea Fleet in the Black Sea destroyed four high-speed military boats with landing groups of Ukrainian special operations forces with a total number of up to 50 people,” the Russian defense ministry claimed in a Telegram post. 

CNN has reached out to Ukrainian officials for a comment on this claim. 

The defense ministry also said three Ukrainian drones were intercepted over Bryansk region, one over Oryol region and one over Kaluga region in the early hours of Wednesday.

Sevastopol Gov. Mikhail Razvozhaev reported Russian air defense forces repelling Ukrainian drone attacks in the area of Sevastopol Bay in occupied Crimea in the early hours of Wednesday.

8:29 p.m. ET, August 29, 2023

Ukraine blasts Pope Francis’ address to Russian youth as "imperialist propaganda"  

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer from his window at the Vatican, on Sunday, August 27, 2023.
Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer from his window at the Vatican, on Sunday, August 27, 2023. Vatican Media/Reuters

Ukrainian officials have criticized Pope Francis’ address to Russian youth, calling it “imperialist propaganda.” 

The pontiff made a video address to the 10th All-Russian Catholic Youth Assembly in St. Petersburg on Friday during which he urged them to view themselves as descendants of the Russian empire.

“Never forget your heritage. You are the descendants of great Russia: the great Russia of saints, rulers, the great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that empire — educated, great culture and great humanity. Never give up on this heritage,” the pope said. 
“You are descendants of the great Mother Russia, step forward with it. And thank you — thank you for your way of being, for your way of being Russian.”

On Monday, Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko called the pope’s speech “imperialist propaganda.”

“This is the kind of imperialist propaganda, ‘spiritual bonds’ and the ‘need’ to save ‘Great Mother Russia’ which the Kremlin uses to justify the murder of thousands of Ukrainians and the destruction of hundreds of Ukrainian towns and villages,” Nikolenko said in a Facebook post.

The pope’s mission should be “precisely to open the eyes of Russian youth to the devastating course of the current Russian leadership” and instead he is promoting “Russian great-power ideas, that are, in fact, the reason for Russia's chronic aggression,” Nikolenko said.

Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared himself to Peter the Great during an exhibition dedicated to the first Russian emperor, using the comparison to justify Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, said in a statement that Peter the Great and Catherine the Great are the "worst examples of imperialism and extreme Russian nationalism," warning that the pope's words "could be perceived as support for the nationalism and imperialism that has caused the war in Ukraine today.” 

“As a Church, we want to state that in the context of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, such statements inspire the neocolonial ambitions of the aggressor country,” Shevchuk said. 

On Tuesday, the Vatican rejected the interpretation of the pope's words as praise of imperialism. 

"The Pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote all that is positive in the great cultural and Russian spirituality, and certainly not to exalt imperialist logic and government personalities, cited to indicate some historical periods of reference,” the Vatican statement said.  

7:10 p.m. ET, August 29, 2023

"We just hope that he hangs in there": Elizabeth Whelan reacts to video of her brother from prison

From CNN's Louise McLoughlin and Mohammed Tawfeeq 

Russian state-controlled media released a video of Paul Whelan inside a prison. 
Russian state-controlled media released a video of Paul Whelan inside a prison.  RT

The sister of Paul Whelan, an American detained in Russia, spoke to CNN’s Isa Soares Tuesday, after a video of her brother inside prison was released.  

“I was so proud of him, so courageous," Elizabeth Whelan told Soares. "He had not wanted to do this interview with this particular broadcast company. He knew they were a propaganda channel, and he didn’t want his words used against him. But the prison had insisted."
“You can tell he felt a certain amount of contempt for what he was being put through,” she added.

Her comments came after a video showed Whelan inside prison for the first time in more than three years that was released by the Russian state-controlled news agency Russia Today (RT).

The video includes Paul telling a reporter, "You understand when I say that I can't do an interview, which means I can't answer any questions."

When asked about her personal reaction to the video, Elizabeth said it “has reinforced our determination to fight for him and to bring him home. And we just hope that he hangs in there with the strength and courage he’s been showing until we can make that happen.”

She said her brother "looks like himself" and "sounds like himself" in the video and told CNN that he had a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken a couple of weeks ago during which he received “reassurance that everything is being done that is possible at this time" to release him.

“We're hoping that something is going to break and that somehow some kind of negotiation can go on with Russia," Whelan said. 
8:57 p.m. ET, August 29, 2023

Russian military intercepted drone attack on airport in Pskov, regional governor says

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Josh Pennington

A plume of smoke is seen over Pskov after a reported drone attacks at the Pskov airport.
A plume of smoke is seen over Pskov after a reported drone attacks at the Pskov airport. From MV_007_Pskov/Telegram

The airport in the Russian western city of Pskov — which is used for both civilian and military aircraft — came under drone attacks on Tuesday, according to Mikhail Vedernikov, Russian Pskov regional governor.   

"The Ministry of Defense at the Pskov airport intercepts the attack of drones," Vedernikov said, adding that he is on the scene. "According to preliminary information, there are no victims. The scale of destruction is specified."

No victims have been reported following the drone attacks, Vedernikov said.

Vedernikov posted a video showing what appears to be a large plume of smoke coming from behind the buildings that look like a residential area. In a video posted to Telegram in the early hours of Wednesday, a firefighter standing next to the Russian official said that the fire that broke out has been extinguished.

Russian state news agency TASS reported that "as a result of drone attacks four Il-76 aircraft were damaged" in Pskov. The news agency also said — citing emergency services — a fire broke out and two aircraft were engulfed in flames. 

Flights over Pskov and the region have been restricted, TASS added. Vedernikov said all flights in the airport are canceled until Thursday, “to clarify the nature of the possible damage to the runway.”

5:52 p.m. ET, August 29, 2023

Ukrainian military claims gains in southern front amid chaotic combat. Here's the latest

From CNN staff

Yurii Malashko, head of Zaporizhzhia region military administration, said the mandatory evacuation of children from several settlements close to the front lines is underway.

In the last few weeks, CNN has reported on signs that Ukrainian forces have penetrated Russian defenses along part of the southern front lines in Zaporizhzhia region and are expanding a wedge toward the strategic town of Tokmak, while stepping up attacks on Russian-occupied Crimea.

The Ukrainian military's General Staff said there had been success in two areas — toward the village of Novoprokopivka and further east in the direction of another small settlement, Ocheretuvate.

Meanwhile, the governor of the Russian region of Bryansk said a Ukrainian cross-border rocket fire has left an unspecified number of people dead, including a child.

Gov. Alexander Bogomaz said on Telegram that the Ukrainian military had fired at the village of Klimovo with the multiple launch rockets (MLRS).

"According to preliminary information, unfortunately, there are dead, including one child. As a result of the shelling, five civilians, including children, were injured," he said, adding school buildings and several administrative buildings were damaged, and residential premises destroyed.

Here are the latest developments:

  • The Ukrainian military is losing about 40 drones a day, official says: Ukraine's defense and security forces lose about 40 to 45 reconnaissance drones per day on average, according to a senior official. Yurii Shchyhol, head of the State Special Communications Service, said on Ukrainian television Tuesday the number includes the "most basic Mavic, Matrice and large professional drones of Ukrainian and foreign production."
  • Ukrainian soldiers speak of chaos amid combat on the southern front: Ukrainian and Russian accounts speak of heavy fighting along part of the southern front, as Kyiv's forces try to push further toward the strategic hub of Tokmak. Much of the combat is taking place south and east of the village of Robotyne, which the Ukrainians claimed to have secured last week. One unofficial Ukrainian Telegram channel used by soldiers of the 46th separate airmobile brigade said the Russians were trying to counterattack and were testing Ukrainian lines.
  • US announces additional $250 million security assistance package for Ukraine: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the assistance package includes air defense missiles, artillery ammunition, Javelin systems and rockets, and mine-clearing equipment. The US will also be supplying ambulances "spare parts, services, training, and transportation," Blinken said.
  • Prighozhin funeral and impact: Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin's funeral took place "in a closed format," according to Concord Management, the company Prigozhin owned. The company did not specify when the funeral took place. "Those wishing to say goodbye can visit the Porokhovskoe cemetery" in St. Petersburg, Concord's press service added. According to Russian media outlet MSK1, Prigozhin was buried at the cemetery at about 4 p.m. local time Tuesday. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Tuesday the fate of Prigozhin proves the futility of possible peace negotiations with Russia.
3:14 p.m. ET, August 29, 2023

Well-known Ukrainian pilot killed in plane crash honored in ceremony in Kyiv, defense ministry says

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Yulia Kesaieva

Prominent Ukrainian pilot Andrii Pilshchikov, also known by the call sign "Juice,” was laid to rest in Kyiv on Tuesday, Ukraine's defense ministry said in a post on social media. 

"Today, loved ones, combat brothers and sisters, and Kyivans bid farewell to a legendary pilot of the 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade, Major (posthumously) Andrii Pilshchykov," the ministry said. 

"He was among those who helped Ukraine survive the first terrible days of the invasion. He made significant strides in ensuring that F-16s join the defense of Ukraine’s skies. Unfortunately, he didn't live to see the fulfillment of his dream," the ministry said. 

Pilshchikov died in a plane crash in the Zhytomyr region along with two other pilots on Friday.

The farewell ceremony took place Tuesday in the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) in Kyiv. Ukrainian Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk was among the attendees.  

"Rest in peace, Juice. You started this journey; your brothers and sisters will finish it. Ukraine will be free. Ukraine will join NATO. Ukraine’s skies will be safeguarded by the most modern jets," the ministry said. 

"Juice" was a MiG-29 pilot and part of a unit known as “Ghost of Kyiv” that defended central and northern Ukraine during the first days of the war.

In an interview last year with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, "Juice" said 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 asking for juice instead.

Tuesday is also the "Day of Remembrance of the Fallen Defenders of Ukraine" for soldiers who have died since 2014, according to the ministry. 

"Thousands have given their lives so that millions could live and continue their struggle. Never forget them," the ministry said. 

2:17 p.m. ET, August 29, 2023

United States announces additional $250 million security assistance package for Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference at the State Department on August 15, 2023 in Washington, DC.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference at the State Department on August 15, 2023 in Washington, DC. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The United States is providing an additional $250 million security assistance package to Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Tuesday.

Blinken said the assistance package includes air defense missiles, artillery ammunition, Javelin systems and rockets, and mine-clearing equipment

The US will also be supplying ambulances "spare parts, services, training, and transportation," Blinken said.

"This package of weapons and equipment, which are valued at $250 million, is being executed under drawdowns previously directed for Ukraine," he said.

"Russia started this war and could end it at any time by withdrawing its forces from Ukraine and stopping its brutal attacks," Blinken said. "Until it does, the United States and our allies and partners will stand united with Ukraine, for as long as it takes."
1:10 p.m. ET, August 29, 2023

Russian internet trolls blame the West and defend Putin over Prigozhin's death, researchers say

From CNN's Katharina Krebs

A Russian network of internet trolls has begun to spread messages online blaming “enemies from the West” for the plane crash that killed Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin last week, according to two experts who monitor the activity of the trolls.

Prigozhin had previously turbo-charged the use of trolls to push messages designed to disrupt and polarize Western societies. His St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency created hundreds of fake accounts on social networks aiming to meddle in other countries’ politics, leading the United States in 2018 to sanction Prigozhin for election meddling.

It’s unclear whether the Internet Research Agency still exists, especially in the light of US sanctions and the short-lived mutiny led by Prigozhin at the end of June. But two groups of independent analysts – Bot Blocker and Chef’s Trap – have been analyzing several dozen Russian troll accounts on the social networks Vkontakte and X, formerly known as Twitter.

The creator of Bot Blocker, who does not reveal his identity for security reasons, told CNN he was “extremely convinced” that Prigozhin and his structures had remained in charge of the troll accounts up until his death.

CNN has checked the accounts from a list shared by Bot Blocker. They were united in spreading two themes: that Putin had no motive to kill Prigozhin, as the two had allegedly already resolved the issues related to Prigozhin’s rebellion, and that his presumed death was the work of the West, which opposes the Wagner mercenary group's influence in Africa.

According to Bot Blocker, the messages carrying these narratives started to appear on August 23 around 8 p.m. Moscow time, which coincides with the time pro-Wagner Telegram channels started sharing reports of Prigozhin’s death.

Public posts available show these narratives are still being actively spread.

Read more.