September 12, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Sana Noor Haq, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 7:20 p.m. ET, September 13, 2022
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8:21 a.m. ET, September 12, 2022

Kharkiv and Donetsk regions are without electricity following Russian strikes: Ukraine’s President Zelensky

From CNN’s Mariya Knight and Pierre Meilhan

A street is dark in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday, September 11.
A street is dark in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday, September 11. (Leo Correa/AP)

Large parts of eastern Ukraine, including the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, are without electricity following Russian missile strikes, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday.

“Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy have problems with the power supply,” as well, the Ukrainian leader said via Twitter.

“Even through the impenetrable darkness, Ukraine and the civilized world clearly see these terrorist acts. Deliberate and cynical missile strikes on critical civilian infrastructure. No military facilities,” Zelensky said via Telegram.

The power blackouts were also confirmed by local officials, including the Kharkiv mayor, earlier in the day.

1:31 a.m. ET, September 12, 2022

Analysis: On the eastern front, a stunning week of Ukrainian success and Russian failures

From CNN's Tim Lister and Darya Tarasova

Humanitarian aid is distributed to citizens after Ukrainian military liberated the town of Balakliya in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on September 11.
Humanitarian aid is distributed to citizens after Ukrainian military liberated the town of Balakliya in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on September 11. (Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The last week has seen a stunning transformation of the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, as a swift armored offensive by Ukrainian forces rolled through lines of Russian defenses and recaptured more than 3,000 square kilometers of territory. 

That is more territory than Russian forces have captured in all their operations in Ukraine since April.

As much as the offensive was brilliantly conceived and executed, it also succeeded because of Russian inadequacies. Throughout swathes of the Kharkiv region, Russian units were poorly organized and equipped -- and many offered little resistance.

Their failures, and their disorderly retreat to the east, has made the goal of President Vladimir Putin's special military operation to take all of Luhansk and Donetsk regions considerably harder to attain.

Over the weekend, the Russian retreat continued from border areas that had been occupied since March. Villages within five kilometers of the border were raising the Ukrainian flag.

The collapse of Russian defenses has ignited recriminations among influential Russian military bloggers and personalities in Russian state media.

As the Ukrainian flag was raised in one community after another over the last several days, one question came into focus: how does the Kremlin respond?

A lightning operation

Ukrainian officials had telegraphed that an offensive was imminent -- but not where it actually happened. There was plenty of noise about a counter-attack in the south, and even US officials talked about Ukrainian operations to "shape the battlefield" in Kherson. Russian reinforcements -- perhaps as many as 10,000 -- streamed into the region over a period of weeks.

There was indeed a Ukrainian assault in Kherson, but one whose intention appears to have been to fix Russian forces, while the real effort came hundreds of miles to the north. It was a disinformation operation the Russians might have been proud of. 

Kateryna Stepanenko at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based analytical group, says the deception worked.

"Ukrainian military officials reported that (Russian) Eastern Military District elements that had previously supported offensive operations towards Sloviansk had redeployed to the Southern Axis," she told CNN.

Their replacements were clearly not up to the job -- a mixed bag, Stepanenko said, of "Cossack volunteers, volunteer units, DNR/LNR militia units, and the Russian Rosgvardia (National Guard). Such forces were not sufficient to defend a vast and complex front line."

The Ukrainians picked the weakest spot in Russian defenses for their initial thrust -- an area controlled by the Luhansk militia with Russian National Guard units further back. They were no match for a highly mobile armored assault that quickly rendered artillery irrelevant.

Igor Strelkov, formerly the head of the Donetsk People's Republic militia and now a caustic critic of Russian military shortcomings, noted the poor training of these units and "the exceptional caution of the actions of Russian aviation." In short, Russian front-line units were hung out to dry without sufficient air support.

Multiple videos geolocated and analyzed by CNN, as well as local accounts, depict a chaotic withdrawal of Russian units, with large amounts of ammunition and hardware left behind.

The poor quality of Russian defenses along a critical north-south axis sustaining the Donetsk offensive is hard to fathom. Once underway, the intent of the Ukrainian offensive was crystal clear -- to destroy that artery of resupply. Within three days, they had done so -- not least because Russian reinforcements were slow to be mobilized.

Read more:

8:25 a.m. ET, September 12, 2022

French president calls for Russia to withdraw from Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant during phone call with Putin

From CNN’s Pierre Meilhan and Xiaofei Xu

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at a conference in Paris, on September 5.
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at a conference in Paris, on September 5. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his demand for a ceasefire in Ukraine and Russian withdrawal from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Elysee Palace said Sunday.

Macron “condemned the continuation of Russian military operations in Ukraine and reiterated his demand that they cease as soon as possible, that negotiations begin and that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine be restored,” his office said in a statement.

The French President “also stressed the need to ensure the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. He recalled that the Russian occupation was the cause of the current risks to the integrity of Zaporizhzhia. He called for Russian forces to withdraw their heavy and light weapons from the plant and that the IAEA's recommendations be closely followed to ensure the safety of the site be restored,” the Elysee said.

Some more context: Zaporizhzhia is the site of the largest nuclear plant in Europe, and the facility sits on the fire line between the Russian occupiers and Ukrainian forces.

The Elysee added that Macron “will speak again to President Putin in the next few days in order to reach an agreement that guarantees the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.” 

On the issue of global food security, Macron told Putin that European sanctions against Russia do not apply to agricultural products. He also asked the Russian leader to ensure that the Ukraine grain export agreement between Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, under the supervision of the United Nations "to ensure that the exported grain goes to those who need it most.”

8:21 a.m. ET, September 12, 2022

Ukrainian military: Russians flee strategic town in Luhansk

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko and Victoria Butenko 

In a statement Sunday, the Ukrainian military's general staff said that Russian forces had abandoned the town of Svatove in Luhansk region, a town that until Saturday was still 40 kilometers (25 miles) beyond the known front line of the Ukrainian advance.

Svatove has been an important hub on Russian resupply routes to the front lines further south -- along the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

"The occupiers have abandoned Svatove in Luhansk region," the general staff's office said in a Facebook post. "They rushed away in four Kamaz trucks, twenty Tigr AVs [armored vehicles] and stole over 20 cars of local residents."

CNN cannot independently verify the Ukrainian account.

The general staff's office also claimed that "as a result of the successful counteroffensive of our troops in the Kharkiv direction, the Russian troops frantically leave their positions and flee with the loot deep into the temporarily occupied territories or into the territory of the Russian Federation."

It referred to one alleged episode in which, it said "150 service members of the armed forces of the Russian Federation left in a convoy from Borshchova and Artemivka of the Kharkiv region on two buses, one truck and 19 stolen cars."

Borshchova is to the north of Kharkiv city, just a few kilometers from Ukraine's border with Russia.


8:22 a.m. ET, September 12, 2022

Ukrainian official: More than 40 settlements in the Kharkiv region liberated

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

A Ukrainian flag waves after the Ukrainian army liberated the town of Balakliya in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on September 11.
A Ukrainian flag waves after the Ukrainian army liberated the town of Balakliya in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on September 11. (Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

As the Russian retreat in the Kharkiv region continues, a senior Ukrainian official has said that more than 40 settlements have now been liberated.

Roman Semenukha, Deputy Head of the Kharkiv region military administration, told Ukrainian television: "We can officially announce the liberation of more than 40 settlements. The situation is changing incredibly quickly and there are many, many more such [de-occupied] settlements."

Semenukha said the 40 referred only to those places where the situation was completely under control, and there were more where the Ukrainian flag had been raised.

"The situation is dynamically positive. And indeed the situation is changing," he said.

Semenukha said it was wrong to suggest the Russians were simply leaving. "There are fierce, fierce battles in many areas of the front and everything is very, very difficult. If we are talking about the military component, then you just have to be patient," he said.


8:24 a.m. ET, September 12, 2022

IAEA: Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant's back-up power line is restored

From CNN’s Maija Ehlinger

A view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant on September 11. 
A view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant on September 11.  (Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A back-up power line to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) has been restored, according to a tweet put out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Sunday morning. 

The back-up line will provide the plant with the "external electricity it needs for reactor cooling and other safety functions." 

The last operating reactor at ZNPP, which is Europe's largest nuclear complex of its kind, was shut down earlier on Saturday after the transmission line was restored.