September 19, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Tara Subramaniam and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 2356 GMT (0756 HKT) September 19, 2022
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1:42 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Russia’s presence in Syria has become "more aggressive" since invasion of Ukraine, US Air Force official says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Russia’s presence in Syria has become “more aggressive” both in the air and on the ground since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Lt. Gen Alex Grynkewich, Commander of US Air Force Central Command which oversees the US Air Force presence in the Middle East, said during a panel at the Air & Space Forces Association's 2022 Air, Space & Cyber Conference in Maryland on Monday.

“The Russian presence in Syria has become I would argue more aggressive since the Ukrainian invasion,” Grynkewich said.

US forces are seeing this “increased pressure both in the air and on the ground from the Russians,” Grynkewich added. 

“Frankly, it’s a bit concerning, where we have forces on the ground and armed Russian aircraft that fly over them,” Grynkewich said. “Your airmen and guardians are in close contact with those Russians every single day, intercepting them, escorting them and making sure our forces on the ground remain safe in Syria and Iraq as they continue the fight against ISIS.”

Grynkewich said he believes this Russian activity is driven by “some of the personalities of the Russian leadership that is in Syria right now.”

“Some of those Russian general officers frankly failed in Ukraine for all the reasons that Gen. Hecker outlined upfront, and now they’re in Syria, and my assessment is they’re trying to make a name for themselves again, and regain a favorable standing within the Russian federation armed forces. I don’t think they’ll succeed, but that’s what they’re trying to do,” Grynkewich added.

3:54 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Video shows centuries-old Ukrainian monastery damaged by Russian shelling in June in liberated town

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London and Victoria Butenko in Kyiv

(Ukrainian defense ministry)
(Ukrainian defense ministry)

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense released video on Monday showing extensive damage and destruction in the town of Sviatohirsk after the area was liberated from Russian forces last week.

The video shows the pockmarked exterior walls of the Sviatohirsk Lavra, a 16th century monastery in the northern part of Ukraine's Donetsk region, that was damaged by "Russian shelling" in June 2022 according to President Volodymyr Zelensky who spoke at the time.

An unnamed Ukrainian military reporter speaking at the start of the video accuses Russian forces of "burning the relics and killing people seeking shelter inside the monastery compound."

CNN cannot independently verify the claims made by Ukrainian forces. 

The monastery tower, with a partially demolished corner is shown, as well as military equipment, tanks and armored vehicles abandoned and littering the streets nearby.

Residential buildings were also impacted.

“All of the windows in my house, from top to bottom have been shattered,” an elderly woman says on the verge of tears.

(Ukrainian defense ministry)
(Ukrainian defense ministry)

Commercial buildings are also shown as having been substantially damaged in the fighting.

Another resident of the town says his water, electricity and internet were cut off as the Russian troops entered the area. 

3:43 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Ukrainian forces liberate village in Luhansk region, military official says

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

A CNN team travelled to Bilohorivka where they saw destroyed Russian tanks and armed personnel carriers, shattered Russian armor. 
A CNN team travelled to Bilohorivka where they saw destroyed Russian tanks and armed personnel carriers, shattered Russian armor.  CNN

The village of Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region is now entirely under Ukrainian control according to a Telegram post from Sehiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional military administration on Monday.

Haydai asked Ukrainians to be patient with their operation to free towns and villages in the Luhansk region, saying it is proving to be a “much more difficult” operation than the liberation of Kharkiv. 

“There will be a hard fight for every centimeter of Luhansk land,” Haidai said. 

Earlier in the year, Ukrainian forces stopped Russian advances in Bilohorivka. In May, the Ukrainian military blew up two pontoon bridges near Bilohorivka, stopping Russian efforts to cross the Siverskyi Donets River in the Luhansk region.

A CNN team travelled to Bilohorivka where they saw destroyed Russian tanks and armed personnel carriers, shattered Russian armor.

In July, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Ukrainian soldiers “competently repelled another combat reconnaissance attempt near Berestove and Bilohorivka” and that Russian soldiers suffered losses and withdrew.

11:12 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

US senators expected to get a classified briefing tonight on Ukraine

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman and Daniella Diaz

There will be an all-member classified briefing for United States senators on Ukraine Monday night, according to two Senate aides.

The briefing comes as Ukraine has had some success in its counter-offensive efforts last week against Russia, and the Biden administration announced another $600 million package of military assistance for Ukraine on Friday.

8:21 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Moscow dismisses accusations of war crimes in northeast Ukraine as a "lie"

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov is seen during a news conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September16.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov is seen during a news conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September16. (Sergei Bobylev/TASS/ZUMA Press)

Moscow dismissed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s statement about Russia’s war crimes in the liberated territories in northeast Ukraine as a “lie” accusing Kyiv of using “the same scenario” in Kyiv’s suburb of Bucha.

“This is the same scenario as in Bucha,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday. “This is a lie. Of course, we will defend the truth in this whole story.”

After Russia’s hasty retreat from the Kharkiv region, a mass burial of people was found on the territory of the liberated Izium last week with Ukraine's Defense Ministry saying at least 440 "unmarked" graves were found in the city in recent days.

Some of the bodies found in Izium showed "signs of torture," blaming Russia for what he called "cruelty and terrorism," Zelensky said Friday.

"Bucha, Mariupol and now, unfortunately, Izium ... Russia leaves death everywhere," Zelensky said, issuing a call to hold Russia responsible.

There have been numerous allegations of atrocities committed against civilians since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. In Ukraine’s town of Bucha, investigators and journalists revealed what appeared to be the aftermath left by Russian forces after their retreat. 

Russia dismissed the allegations of killings of civilians in Bucha as a staged provocation. A brigade accused of committing war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha had been awarded an honorary title by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

8:01 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

It's 3 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

Russian missile attacks across southern and northeastern Ukraine have damaged a power complex and left multiple people injured, amid an onslaught of shelling from Moscow targeting civilian infrastructure.

The Kremlin has accused the US of engaging in "media madness" after President Joe Biden personally met with the families of two American detainees last week.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Moscow escalates attacks on critical facilities: Russian shelling injured at least two people, including an 11-year-old boy, and damaged infrastructure in the northeastern region of Kharkiv over the past day, according to a local official. Further south in Mykolaiv, a Russian missile attack hit the industrial site of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, nuclear operator Energoatom said on Monday. The attack shut down one of the hydropower units and three high-voltage power lines, but all three nuclear reactors were not damaged, Energoatom added.
  • Zelensky says Kyiv is "preparing for liberation of more cities": Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky insisted there is no "lull" on the frontline, saying that Kyiv's sweeping counteroffensive is rolling on in "preparation for the next sequence." Ukrainian forces are working to recapture territories in the south and the east, Zelensky said during his nightly address on Sunday.
  • Russia lashes out at US: Moscow accused the US of engaging in "media madness," pointing to videos and photos posted by the US embassy criticizing Russia and after President Joe Biden personally met with the families of two American detainees last week. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said "relatives were unable to get a clear explanation" from Biden about Russia's demands for a prisoner exchange, but said Russia was ready to negotiate.
  • Russian pop legend speaks out against war: Musical legend Alla Pugacheva criticized the country as having “illusory aims” in Ukraine on Sunday. She posted her comments on Instagram while expressing support for her husband, Maxim Galkin, a comedian who was designated a “foreign agent” by Russia’s Justice Ministry on Friday under a draconian law to rid the country of foreign influence and funding.
  • Moscow rebuffs accusations of war crimes: Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed Zelensky’s statement about Russian war crimes in recaptured territories in northeast Ukraine as a “lie." The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said least 440 "unmarked" graves were found in newly liberated Izium in recent days, following Russia's hasty retreat from the city. Zelensky said that some of the bodies showed "signs of torture," and blamed Russia for what he called "cruelty and terrorism."
7:01 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Russia accuses US of "media madness" after Biden meets with families of jailed Americans

From CNN's Anna Chernova

President Joe Biden met with Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, at the White House on September 16.
President Joe Biden met with Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, at the White House on September 16. (White House)

Moscow says it is ready to negotiate the fate of American prisoners in Russia, but has accused the US of engaging in "media madness" after President Joe Biden personally met with the families of two American detainees last week.

Biden held separate meetings with the relatives of professional basketballer Brittney Griner and ex-marine Paul Whelan at the White House on Friday, marking the first time he personally convened them since the two were detained.

“Instead of fulfilling its direct official duties -- maintaining contacts with the diplomats of the host country -- the US Embassy in Moscow is engaged in some kind of media madness,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement on Telegram on Monday, pointing to videos and "funny pictures" posted by the US embassy in Moscow, as well as Biden's meeting.

"Relatives were unable to get a clear explanation from the President of the United States about Russia's demands for a prisoner exchange," she said, adding that she learned of the details of the meeting through a CNN report citing Cherelle Griner, Brittney's wife.

She added that she would have to turn to Whelan and Griner's relatives herself.

“We have stated many times that we are ready for negotiations to resolve the fate of convicted US citizens in Russia and Russian citizens convicted in the United States."

“If the US Embassy in Moscow has a minute of free time they will tell President Biden about it, and he, in turn, will tell the relatives of Whelan and Griner,” Zakharova said.

Following Griner's sentencing in August, the US and Russia indicated they were ready to hold talks over a prisoner swap.

Griner was detained in February, accused of carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges and said she accidentally packed the drugs while in a hurry. She has been sentenced to nine years, along with a fine of around $16,400. Her legal team in Russia has appealed the sentence.

Whelan has been imprisoned in Russia for more than three years after being convicted on espionage charges that he denies. He was sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison in a trial US officials denounced as unfair.

In the meetings, Biden reiterated "his continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement on Friday. “The President appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and acknowledged that every minute they are being held is a minute too long."

6:37 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Russian pop legend speaks out against war

From CNN's Darya Tarasova

Russian pop legend Alla Pugacheva criticized the country as having “illusory aims” in Ukraine on Sunday, becoming the latest high-profile Russian figure to voice opposition to the war.

Her comments came in an Instagram post in which she expressed support for her husband, Maxim Galkin, a comedian who was designated a “foreign agent” by Russia’s Justice Ministry on Friday under a draconian law to rid the country of foreign influence and funding.

In her post, Pugacheva said her husband wished for an end to the death of Russian soldiers, who were “dying for illusory aims that make our country a pariah.”

She said Galkin was a “good real and incorruptible patriot of Russia” who wished for “prosperity” and “freedom of speech,” while she appealed to the ministry to label her a foreign agent as well.

In a call with reporters on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on Pugacheva’s post.

Read the full story:

6:07 a.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Russian shelling injures at least two people, including a child, in Kharkiv region

Damaged residential buildings are seen in Saltivka, northern district of Kharkiv on September 18.
Damaged residential buildings are seen in Saltivka, northern district of Kharkiv on September 18. (Sergei Chuzavkov/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Russian shelling has injured at least two people, including a child, in the northeastern region of Kharkiv over the past day, according to a local official.

An 11-year-old boy was injured in Kupiansk and one person was hospitalized with injuries in the Chuhuiv district, the head of the Kharkiv region military administration, Oleh Syniehubov, said on Monday.

Residential buildings, commercial buildings and infrastructure facilities were also damaged by the bombardment, he added.

Six civilians were “blown up” by mines in Kharkiv over the past day, and all of them were hospitalized with injuries, according to Syniehubov.

“In the liberated territories of Kharkiv region, mine danger is very high,” Syniehubov said. “Move only where demining has already been carried out.” 

Some background: Russian forces have escalated attacks on civilian infrastructure in recent weeks amid Kyiv's sweeping counteroffensive in the eastern and southern regions of the country.

Russian troops carried out a missile attack on the industrial site of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant in the southern Mykolaiv region, nuclear operator Energoatom said on Monday. However, all three power units were operating normally.

On Saturday, a thermal power plant located in the eastern Donetsk region came under heavy Russian, damaging equipment on the property and interrupting local water supplies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenky said last week that large swathes of eastern Ukraine, including the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, were without electricity following "deliberate and cynical missile strikes" from Moscow.