September 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Andrew Raine, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 9:41 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022
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3:01 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

EU foreign ministers to hold emergency meeting on Ukraine, bloc's top diplomat says 

From CNN's Caitlin Hu and Nicki Brown

Foreign ministers of European Union member states, currently in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly, will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the recent developments related to Russia's war in Ukraine, the EU's top diplomat announced at a press briefing. 

High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said the meeting was called after a speech from Russian President Vladimir Putin, which Borrell described as the Russian leader's implicit threat to use nuclear weapons. 

"Tonight, immediately after knowing the words of Mr. Putin, I am convening an extraordinary and ad hoc informal meting of the EU foreign ministers with the purpose to agree on a common line. And the common line I'm sure can be summarized as saying, 'We will not be intimidated and will continue full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty,'" he said.

Borrell said Putin looked "like he [was] speaking with ... panic and desperation" in his announcement of an immediate partial mobilization of Russian citizens.

"He is doubling [down] on a failing strategy. By the threat of using nuclear weapons, he is trying to intimidate Ukraine and all countries that support. But he will fail," Borrell said.

In response to a question about what will happen at tonight's emergency meeting, he said:

"I think ministers have to discuss this threat to reiterate continuous support for Ukraine and to alert the international community about the unacceptable situation in which Putin is putting all of us. The ministers will discuss how to continue military support to Ukraine, how to continue putting pressure on Russia."  

He also said that new EU sanctions against Russia would be "on the table." 

"I will start proposing what to do with sanctions. And we will reinforce our reach out to all states in the world in order to share with them our strong concern for this situation," Borrell said. 

Borrell said he does not have plans to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is also in New York to attend the UN meeting.

2:52 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Ukrainian army commander says Russian mobilization plans won't affect military's resolve

From CNN's Tim Lister

Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander in chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces, said that Russia's partial mobilization won't frighten Ukraine.

In a Facebook post, Zaluzhnyi said that the military had been "deterring the armed aggression of the Russian Federation for 8 years and 7 months," since the spring of 2014, when pro-Russian militia appeared in eastern Ukraine.

"The full-scale offensive of the enemy did not frighten us. Moreover, we united and met the enemy with dignity. The announcement of mobilization in Russia is a confirmation of this," he said.  

"No statements of the military and political leadership of the aggressor country will affect our readiness to fight for our freedom. We will destroy everyone who comes to our land with weapons — whether voluntarily or under mobilization," Zaluzhnyi said.

3:13 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Mobilization announcement shows Putin's army is "overwhelmed" by Ukrainian forces, Latvian president says

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

(Mary Altaffer/AP)
(Mary Altaffer/AP)

Latvia's President Egils Levits said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a partial mobilization because Russia's "once-mighty army is overwhelmed" by the Ukrainian forces.

"The heroic defense mounted by the people of Ukraine is bringing success ... The blitzkrieg envisaged by President Putin has turned into a long nightmare," Levits told the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. 

He also dismissed the recent announcement of "illegal referenda" on the annexation of the occupied territories in Ukraine to the Russian Federation as another sign of desperation.

"This is a blatant contravention of both Ukrainian and international law," he said.

"Latvia will not recognize the legitimacy of these referenda and their results. I call on the international community to do likewise," he added. 

Levits said despite the commencement of legal action against Russia by the International Criminal Court and International Court, a legal gap existed.

"No international court has jurisdiction over as a main issue the starting of a war of aggression, the gravest violation of the charter of United Nations and to international law," Levits said.

To rectify the problem, the Latvian leader called on the international community to form a special tribunal to investigate Russia's invasion.

2:23 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Moldovan president lauds families who opened their homes to Ukrainian refugees

(Mary Altaffer/AP)
(Mary Altaffer/AP)

Maia Sandu, the president of Moldova, spoke directly to families in her country during her speech at the United Nations General Assembly, thanking them for "opening their homes and hearts" to millions of Ukraine refugees.

In remarks at the UN in New York on Wednesday, Sandu said she represents a country that wants peace. She pointed out that Moldovan people speak a diverse range of languages — including Ukrainian and Russian — but “regardless of our ethnicity" or political preferences, “we all want peace.”

Sandu paid tribute to all Moldovan families who showed “unprecedented solidarity with refugees by opening their homes and hearts to those in need" during the war.

“I'm proud of my people," she said.

Moldova, which has about 2.6 million people, sheltered more than half a million refugees fleeing the war. At its peak, Moldova's population grew by 4% as Ukrainians crossed the border, the Moldovan president said. Sandu said about 800,000 refugees chose to stay in the country.

“It is our moral duty as an international community to continue supporting Ukraine," the president said.

Sandu's address comes as Moldova was granted European Union candidate status in June. During her remarks, she said is grateful for the support from member states and for the "recognition and vote of trust in our love for freedom” and democracy.

“By applying to join the European Union, we want the world to know we choose democracy over autocracy, liberty over oppression, peace over war, and prosperity over poverty," Sandu said.

2:01 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Macron says Putin is making a "new mistake" with partial mobilization

From CNN’s Pierre Bairin in Paris and Arnaud Siad in London

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to members of the press at the permanent mission of France at the United Nations on Wednesday.
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to members of the press at the permanent mission of France at the United Nations on Wednesday. (Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron said Russian President Vladimir Putin was making a “new mistake” following his announcement of a partial mobilization of citizens to bolster the war in Ukraine on Wednesday.

“I think the decision taken during the last few hours by President Putin is a new mistake,” Macron said in English.

“I think very clearly what we need is peace and a ceasefire,” he added.

Macron, who is attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, added that the decision of Putin “to increase the level of war … is bad news for Russian people, is bad news for young Russian people and is bad news for Russia because it will increase the isolation of his own country.”

The French president noted that China and India had both expressed concerns about the war. “Today, Russia is more and more isolated and is more and more committed to a war which only [Russia] wants, and which is illegal and illegitimate,” Macron said.

“Everybody is calling for peace. No one understands any longer the choices made by Russia,” he added.

2:00 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

5 Britons held by Russian-backed authorities in Ukraine have been released, UK prime minister says 

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite, Amy Cassidy and Sugam Pokharel in London 

British citizen Aiden Aslin stands behind bars in a courtroom in Donetsk, Ukraine, in June.
British citizen Aiden Aslin stands behind bars in a courtroom in Donetsk, Ukraine, in June. (AP)

Five British nationals held by Russian-backed authorities in eastern Ukraine have been released and are on their way back to Britain, the United Kingdom said Wednesday. 

“Hugely welcome news that five British nationals held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine are being safely returned, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families," British Prime minister Liz Truss said in a tweet

She thanked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for "for his efforts to secure the release of detainees" and Saudi Arabia for their “assistance,” which saw 10 nationals from Morocco, US, UK, Sweden and Croatia released. 

Among them is British national Aiden Aslin, who in June was sentenced to death in a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and accused of being a mercenary for Ukraine.  

“I am delighted that my constituent, Aiden Aslin, and the other British prisoners of war held captive by the Russian authorities have finally been released and are on their way back to the UK,” British lawmaker Robert Jenrick tweeted Wednesday.  

“Aiden’s return brings to an end months of agonizing uncertainty for Aiden’s loving family in Newark who suffered every day of Aiden’s sham trial but never lost hope,” he continued. 

“As they are united as a family once more, they can finally be at peace,” he said. 

1:54 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Hundreds arrested in protests across Russia after announcement of partial mobilization, monitoring group says

From CNN's Tim Lister, Anna Chernova, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London 

Police officers are deployed in central Novosibirsk, Russia on Wednesday.
Police officers are deployed in central Novosibirsk, Russia on Wednesday. (Rostislav Netisov/AFP via Getty Images)

More than 500 people have been detained across Russia in a crackdown on anti-war protests across two dozen cities in Russia, according to the independent monitoring group OVD-Info. 

About 100 arrests were made at protests in St. Petersburg after President Vladimir Putin's announcement of a partial mobilization to increase the availability of troops for the war in Ukraine.

Photos released on OVD-Info's Telegram channel showed police in Saint Petersburg using batons against protesters. Videos show police attempting to contain a crowd gathering at Isakiivskiy Cathedral behind barriers, amid chants of “no mobilization."

Social media video geolocated by CNN showed protests in several cities, each involving what appear to have been a few dozen people.

Videos from Moscow showed protestors being carried away by the police at a demonstration in the center of the city.

One video posted by a journalist from the Moscow web publication The Village includes dozens of people in Arbatskaya street chanting “let him go” as one man is carried away.

There was also video from the city of Yekaterinburg of a struggle between police officers and protesters.

As of 8 p.m. Moscow time, 535 people had been detained in 30 cities across Russia, according to OVD-Info.

Arrests took place in Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, Ulan-Ude, Tomsk, Ufa, Perm, Belgorod and Moscow, according to the OVD-info tally.

Moscow prosecutor's office published a statement Wednesday warning citizens against participation in protests, threatening those with up to 15 years in jail.

Russian police officers detain a person during a protest in Moscow on Wednesday.
Russian police officers detain a person during a protest in Moscow on Wednesday. (Reuters)

1:49 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

2 Americans freed after being captured by Russia while fighting for Ukraine in June, families say 

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, right.
Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, right. (courtesy Bunny Drueke/Joy Black)

Two American veterans who have been held by Russian forces for months have been released as part of a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine, their family members confirmed to CNN. 

The men are Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama. They were captured while fighting for Ukraine north of Kharkiv in June.

"We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free. They are safely in the custody of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and debriefing they will return to the States. We deeply appreciate everyone's prayers and especially the close communication and support of our elected officials, Ukrainian Ambassador Markarova, and our members of the US embassies in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia and the US Department of State,” said Diana Shaw, a spokesperson for both families and Dreuke’s aunt.  

The families did not know that the prisoner exchange was in the works. 

“It kind of knocked us off our feet but this is the best outcome we could have asked for,” said Darla Black, the mother of Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, told CNN. “The only thing confirmed for us is that they are at the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia and that they are free.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the release of 10 prisoners, who are Moroccan, US, UK, Swedish and Croatian nationals.

Joy Black got a call from Saudi Arabia this morning, less than an hour ago, to let her know that Drueke and Huynh were at the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and going to get medical checks. Then Huynh called her, she said.

Huynh never spoke with his family while he was being held as a prisoner of war. It was the first time his fiancée spoke to him in over 100 days. Drueke spoke with his family a handful of times. 

Darla Black said she also got a call from the State Department letting her know that Huynh was in Saudi Arabia. 

The families do now know many details about the trade or how they got to Saudi Arabia. 

The families also do not know exactly where the two Americans were being held, but the assumption was that they were in the Donetsk region.

1:24 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Russian-appointed head of Crimea says work on mobilization has begun amid "tough times"

From Yulia Kesaieva

Sergey Aksenov, the Russian-appointed head of Crimea, said an office has been established to assist with the partial mobilization declared by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Aksenov said that "the republic's government, ministries and departments are working in direct contact with the command of the Russian armed forces."

"We understand these are tough times; however, the independence and future of our country depends on the special military operation development, where we are opposed to the whole NATO," he said, referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"All tasks in regards to the mobilization readiness, according to the President's decree, will implemented in full in Crimea. All contacts and addresses of those who will potentially fulfill the military tasks are well-known," Aksenov told Russian state television.

Another Crimean official claimed that the government in Kyiv is "barbaric" and the West is trying to "divide" Russia. This claim comes after Ukraine's counteroffensive in southern and eastern regions revealed a mass burial site in Izium.

Mikhail Razvozhaev, governor of the city of Sevastopol in Crimea, said that the "Kyiv regime's policy of intimidation and terror is taking more and more terrible and barbaric forms. The goal of the West is to weaken, divide, and destroy Russia."

"The heads of the regions were instructed to provide all-round support to the military registration and enlistment offices. We have begun to carry out this order," Razvozhaev said.