September 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 9:51 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022
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10:13 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

EU approves macro-financial package to provide additional 5 billion dollars to Ukraine

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in London 

Czech Finance Minister Zbynek Stanjura takes part in a meeting in Brussels on July 12.
Czech Finance Minister Zbynek Stanjura takes part in a meeting in Brussels on July 12. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

The EU Council on Tuesday cemented an additional 5 billion euros (nearly $5 billion) in macro-financial assistance for Ukraine by formally adopting the move agreed by the bloc's finance ministers earlier this month, according to the Council's website.

This marks the second stage of the EU's mobilization of up to 9 billion euros (nearly $9 billion) to support Ukraine’s macro-financial stabilization, "strengthen the immediate resilience of the country and sustain its capacity towards recovery," the statement reads.

It follows the 1 billion euros (about $1 billion) package adopted by the EU Council in July.

While the total macro-financial assistance package is made up of both loans and grants, the latest 5 billion euros is purely in loans, to be repaid by Ukraine within 25 years with guarantees, an EU spokesperson told CNN.

The "new loan of €5 billion will be used for the day-to-day running of the state and to ensure the operation of the country's critical infrastructure, such as offices, schools and hospitals," according to Zbyněk Stanjura, the finance minister of the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU Council presidency.

Some background: EU finance ministers had agreed on a statement on Sept. 9 in support of the additional 5 billion euros in assistance for Ukraine. Today, this additional assistance was formally adopted, according to the press release.

8:47 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Russian-backed administration in Kherson plans immediate referendum on joining Russia 

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

The Russian-backed head of the Kherson regional administration, Vladimir Saldo, has announced that a referendum on the region joining Russia will be held between Sept. 23 and 27, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reports.

Those are the same dates as announced by the self-declared republics of Luhansk and Donetsk.

"As head of the Administration of the Kherson region, I signed a decree on the referendum on the entry of the Kherson region into the Russian Federation as a full subject of the unified state," Saldo wrote on his Telegram channel. 

"The decree establishes the procedure for organizing voting and conducting the referendum on the territory of Kherson region, and also establishes measures of administrative and criminal liability for violation of these rules," he added.

Parts of Kherson are on the front lines between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

"Considering the difficult situation in Kherson region and understanding its responsibility for life and peace of mind of the region's residents, the Administration of Kherson region will do everything necessary to ensure safety for all residents of the region," Saldo said.

Earlier: One week into Ukraine's counteroffensive in September, senior US officials and Ukrainian officials told CNN that Ukrainian forces were making gains in the south, with the ambitious goal of taking back most of the Russian-occupied region of Kherson by the end of the year.

Saldo said the referendum will "secure" the territory in the backdrop of this counteroffensive.

"I am sure that the incorporation of Kherson region into the Russian Federation will secure our territory and restore historical justice. This is a necessary decision in the context of constant acts of terror on the part of armed formations of Ukraine and NATO member countries, which supply weapons to kill civilians on our land," he said.

8:36 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Pro-Russia leader asks Putin to move quickly on accepting Donetsk as part of Russia after referendum

From CNN's Anna Chernova 

Denis Pushilin, Head of the Donetsk People's Republic speaks to the media in Olenivka on August 10.(Photo by Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Denis Pushilin, Head of the Donetsk People's Republic speaks to the media in Olenivka on August 10.(Photo by Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The leader of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin, has written to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking for the rapid accession of the republic to the Russian federation once a referendum is held.

Here's his letter to Putin, as released on his Telegram channel: 

"Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich,
In the event of a positive decision following the referendum, which we have no doubts about, I ask you to consider the issue of the Donetsk People's Republic joining the Russian Federation as soon as possible. The long-suffering people of Donbas deserved to be part of the great country, which they always considered their Motherland.
This event will be the restoration of historical justice, the approach of which millions of Russian people crave."

US officials have warned that Moscow officials might use such strategies to "falsely claim that the Ukrainian people want to join Russia."

The self-declared republic has not been recognized by any governments, other than Russia and its close ally Syria.

8:36 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Lavrov claims referendums show self-declared Donbas republics want to be "masters of their own destiny"

From CNN's Anna Chernova

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivers his speech in Moscow on September 19.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivers his speech in Moscow on September 19. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Reuters)

In comments shortly after both the self-declared Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics announced they would hold referendums on joining the Russian Federation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed "it is the people of those territories who should decide their fate."

According to Lavrov, the current situation shows that citizens of Donbas want to be "masters of their own destiny."

“From the very beginning of the special military operation and in the period preceding it, we have been saying that it is the people of those territories who should decide their fate," Lavrov is quoted as saying by state news agency RIA Novosti. "And the whole current situation confirms that they want to be masters of their own destiny.”

Russian officials continue to call the invasion of Ukraine a "special military operation."

8:15 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics decide to hold referendums this week on joining Russia

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Tim Lister

Russian news agency TASS reported that the People's Council in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic has agreed to hold a "referendum on the entry of the DPR into the Russian Federation" starting later this week. 

The leader of the DPR, Denis Pushilin, said that the voting will be in "a mixed format - face-to-face and remote - taking into account security issues. One day will be allotted for in-person voting," he said, according to TASS.

The council is an unelected body. 

The leader of the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, also signed a law on a referendum "on the entry of the Republic into the Russian Federation," according to the Luhansk Media Center.

Pasechnik's move was announced by the chair of the People's Council of the LPR, Denis Miroshnichenko, soon after the council unanimously proposed the referendum. 

"The head of the LPR has signed the law on a referendum on the issue of joining the Russian Federation as a constituent entity of the Russian Federation," Miroshnichenko said.

Miroshnichenko said the referendum would be held from Sept. 23 to Sept. 27, according to the local media portal Lug-Info. It quoted him as saying the question on the ballot would be: "Are you in favor of the LPR joining the Russian Federation as a constituent entity of the Russian Federation?"

Lug-Info said that according to the text of the law, "the Central Election Commission of the LPR will determine the results of the referendum on the Republic's entry into the LPR no later than five days after the last voting day."

This week has seen sudden moves in Donetsk, Luhansk and occupied parts of Kherson to hold referendums on joining Russia. Those moves have received swift support from Russian politicians. 

7:25 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

An unelected council in Luhansk approves proposal for referendum on joining Russia

From CNN's Tim Lister

The People's Council of the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic has unanimously supported a proposal for a referendum on joining Russia.

According to the Telegram account of the LPR, members of the People's Council passed the law approving "the referendum of the Luhansk People's Republic on the issue of joining the Russian Federation as a subject of the Russian Federation." 

Forty-two deputies participating in the meeting supported the law unanimously, it said.

The council is an unelected body. 

It's unclear when the vote might take place. Ukraine holds a small part of Luhansk region, and fighting continues around the city of Lysychansk. 

7:28 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Several Kremlin-backed authorities in Ukraine have requested referenda on joining Russia, weeks after top US officials warned of such strategies by Moscow officials to "falsely claim that the Ukrainian people want to join Russia."

The Ukrainian military confirmed strikes on Russian positions in the eastern Luhansk region, amid Kyiv’s rolling offensive to recapture occupied territories.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Russian leaders call for referenda: The leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic called on his fellow separatist leader of the Luhansk region to "synchronize" efforts aimed at preparing a referendum on joining Russia, a move that was publicly endorsed by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Further south, the Kremlin-backed administration in Kherson is scheduled to hold a referendum on joining the region to the Russian Federation, according to a top official.
  • Fighting ramps up in the east: The Ukrainian military said it is striking areas of Luhansk region where Russian forces are redeploying after their recent retreat from neighboring Kharkiv, confirming Russian losses in a strike on the town of Novoaidar. Russia’s offensive around the city of Bakhmut, which Moscow has been trying to capture for three months, has stepped up with a recent airstrike, according to a military official in Donetsk.
  • US one step closer to sending Ukraine more aid: Republican senators signaled tentative support for additional Ukraine aid that the Biden administration has requested following a classified briefing on Monday night. The deliberations come as Kyiv gathers momentum in the war, which US officials broadly view as evidence that the types of weapons and intelligence that the West has been providing to Ukraine in recent months have been effective.
  • Germany replenishes gas reserves before winter: Gas reserves in Germany are filled at 90.07% capacity, the European Storage provider GIE AGSI+ said on its website. In an attempt to wean itself off Russian energy supplies, Europe’s biggest economy is currently receiving gas from pipelines from the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. Robert Habeck, Germany’s minister for economic affairs and climate action, said that the country could "get through winter well" without Russian gas, but warned of "really empty" supply levels in the time period after winter.
  • Mass graves shed light on war atrocities: More bodies of mostly civilians, including two children, were found in Izium, officials said on Monday. In the city in eastern Ukraine, 146 bodies of mostly civilians were exhumed from a mass burial site, according to Oleh Synehubov, head of the Kharkiv region civil-military administration. Separately, two more bodies were discovered in Bucha, the town on the outskirts of Kyiv that was the scene of mass atrocities at the start of the war, authorities said.
6:44 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Resistance to Ukrainian forces continues around Lyman, Donetsk leader says

From Josh Pennington and CNN’s Tim Lister

Black smoke is seen over the city of Lyman on June 14.
Black smoke is seen over the city of Lyman on June 14. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian forces have suffered "substantial losses" in their attempt to advance on a pocket of Russian-held territory in Donetsk, according to the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).

The area surrounding the town of Lyman has become nearly encircled by Ukrainian forces since their rapid progress through the northeastern Kharkiv region earlier this month.

The territory is now surrounded on three sides, while its defenders are mainly from the so-called Donetsk People's Militia.

The Ukrainian military tried to move toward Lyman from the north "with the help of two assault battalions from the 95th Brigade," although "the attack was beaten back, leaving the enemy with quite substantial losses," Denis Pushilin said.

He told Russian television that Kyiv’s efforts to advance on Lyman from the south had also been repelled.

Ukrainian forces have been trying to mop up continuing resistance in the area as they try to consolidate their hold on areas along the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

8:51 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Kremlin-backed council in Kherson to hold vote on joining Russia

From Olga Voitovych and CNN's Tim Lister

The Kremlin-backed administration in Kherson is scheduled to hold a referendum on joining the southern region to the Russian Federation, according to a top official.

"I am sure that the leadership of the Russian Federation will accept the results of the referendum and the Kherson region will become part of Russia, becoming a full-fledged subject of a single state," the head of the administration, Vladimir Saldo, said on his Telegram channel.

Saldo gave no details on when such a vote might take place, but said it was also necessary for Kherson to form volunteer battalions to support Russian forces.

Saldo’s announcement came after the Public Council in Kherson urged local authorities to hold a referendum "immediately," in another sign that local Kremlin-backed officials in occupied Ukraine are trying to push integration with Russia.

The council said in a statement quoted by the Russian news agency TASS that it was "sure that the residents of the Kherson region will fully support the initiative to join Russia."

"We consider it more timely than ever to make a strong-willed decision on the immediate holding of a referendum on joining of the Kherson region the Russian Federation," the council’s chairman, Vladimir Ovcharenko, said in the statement.

"We are sure that the initiative will be fully supported by the residents of the Kherson region, and joining Russia will not only be a triumph of historical justice, but will also secure the territory of the region, open new opportunities on the way to the revival and restoration of the power of our land and the return to a full-fledged peaceful life."

Some context: Previous plans for such a vote have been delayed. Ukrainian forces have retaken some parts of Kherson in their current offensive, but the major population centers are still under Russian control. The council's statement follows similar moves by the leadership of the self-declared republics in the eastern Donbas region.

Last month, top US officials cited such strategies by Russian officials as "sham referenda."

"We expect Russia to manipulate the results of these referenda in order to falsely claim that the Ukrainian people want to join Russia," US State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said at the time.