September 22, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Lauren Kent, Hannah Strange, Aditi Sangal and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 0711 GMT (1511 HKT) September 23, 2023
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6:41 p.m. ET, September 22, 2023

Lead US inspector general selected to monitor Ukraine aid

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

Department of Defense Inspector General Robert Storch attends a House Armed Services Committee hearing on oversight of US military support to Ukraine in Washington, DC, on February 28.
Department of Defense Inspector General Robert Storch attends a House Armed Services Committee hearing on oversight of US military support to Ukraine in Washington, DC, on February 28. Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

The Defense Department Inspector General has been selected as the lead watchdog for aid flowing to Ukraine.

Robert Storch will begin the new role on October 18, according to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. He will work with the State Department and watchdogs from the US Agency for International Development to monitor approximately $113 billion in aid that has been sent to Ukraine and other countries since the start of the war last year. 

Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, along with several of his colleagues, welcomed the announcement of a lead inspector general.

"Appointing a lead Inspector General will help ensure that Congress supports Ukraine's defense in the most responsible and effective way possible," said Wicker in a statement Friday.

As the Biden administration has continued to send billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, some members of Congress, particularly Republicans, have called for more oversight to prevent fraud and abuse. 

Last week, the Pentagon's inspector general established a new team in Ukraine to better monitor US security assistance to Kyiv. The organization said a senior US representative began work in Ukraine in late-August, and additional personnel are expected to arrive by the end of September.

It marked the first time the Defense inspector general will have personnel based in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, said spokesperson Megan Reed.

6:13 p.m. ET, September 22, 2023

Top Ukrainian General says Wagner fighters still pop up “here and there” in Ukraine

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen, Daniel Hodge, Yulia Kesaieva and Kostyantin Gak

Wagner fighters continue to pop up “here and there” on the frontlines in Ukraine, said the general leading the country's counteroffensive along the southern frontline.

“In some directions, I can’t say whether it's the Kherson region, or our direction, or somewhere else they do pop up,” Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavsky said when asked about reports that Wagner fighters had been redeployed to Kherson. “The fact is that their badges appear here and there — that’s been constant.”

Tarnavsky went on to say that his men usually speculated about the presence of Wagner whenever their enemy started behaving more competently.

“We suspect the presence of Wagner if we see the deterrence of our offensive forces with the involvement of a category of military personnel who perform these tasks in a more interesting (more non-standard) way,” he explained. “This makes one think: 'Maybe it's Wagner has showed up?'”

“But there is no such unit in my area of the front today,” he said. “Regarding Kherson direction — I can’t say.”

6:05 p.m. ET, September 22, 2023

Irish leader warns of new nuclear arms race following Russia’s threats on Ukraine

From CNN's Karen Smith and Niamh Kennedy

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Friday.
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Friday. Craig Ruttle/AP

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons on Ukraine “outrageous” and warned of a second nuclear arms race.

“Among the many horrors of the situation in Ukraine has been the threat and indeed multiple threats to use nuclear weapons. Such threats are in themselves outrageous. Russia knows, as we all do, that their use would result in devastating humanitarian and environmental disaster,” the Irish leader said. Taoiseach is Gaelic for prime minister.

Ireland has been a vocal critic of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, providing more than $224 million (or about 210 million euros) in humanitarian aid to Ukraine since the war broke out. 

The country, which is militarily neutral, has “long been committed to building a world free of nuclear threats,” according to Varadkar. 

“But we see a world in which their place in security doctrines is growing rather than diminishing. This must be reversed. The stark alternative is a new nuclear arms race that must not pass. The devastation on innocent civilians of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas cannot continue to echo down generations. We must never witness that again,” Varadkar stressed.

9:50 p.m. ET, September 22, 2023

Top Ukrainian general says Ukrainian forces have broken through in Verbove

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen, Daniel Hodge, Yulia Kesaieva and Kostyantin Gak

Ukrainian forces have made a breakthrough in Verbove as they continue to advance, said Oleksandr Tarnavsky, the general leading Ukraine’s counteroffensive along the southern frontline.

“On the left flank [near Verbove] we have a breakthrough and we continue to advance further,” Tarnavsky told CNN's Frederik Pleitgen during an exclusive interview Friday.

Tarnavsky conceded they were moving slower than anticipated.  

“The main thing is not to lose this initiative (that we have). And, well, not to lose it in practice, with actions,” he said.

One of the reasons for the slow advance, Tarnavsky said, was the fact that Russia had been able to learn some lessons from other Ukrainian offensives. 

“The Russians are learning quite fast, as they don’t have any other choice. If they don’t learn, they will be defeated sooner,” he explained. “I wouldn’t say they are adapting to our actions, as we also change our tactics.”

Tarnavsky added that Ukraine had also been adapting to using Western equipment, as well as Western tactics. 

“The attention was paid to the basics, to the application of the equipment itself, adjustment and maneuver skills, ability to use the weapon that is available at the certain object,” Tarnavsky said of the training that Ukrainian troops received from US and NATO allies.
“But during combat it’s a totally different story, it's a complex combination of an infantryman and an infantryman on equipment and an infantryman with equipment, in combination with an armored vehicle, more specifically, tanks and even when using artillery.”

Tarnavsky went on to say the war would not truly come to an end, while Russian President Vladimir Putin remained in power.

“For me the end to the war is not just reaching the state border and defeat or eliminating the enemy, who is on our land. The end of war for me is when the Russians of the territory of Russia realize that they have made, and continue making a mistake of supporting their state’s leadership,” he explained. “[The war] may end with success for us but for the whole society there will still be a threat.”

5:08 p.m. ET, September 22, 2023

1 person dead and 31 injured in Russian missile strike on Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Yulia Kesaieva

A person has died and at least 31 others were injured, including three children, after a Russian missile struck the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk on Friday, according to the head of the Poltava regional military administration.

According to Dmytro Lunin, the search and rescue operations have been completed, and "a specialized commission will work in the city to inspect the facilities and record all the damage" on Saturday. 

 The attack also damaged surrounding buildings, he said.

4:18 p.m. ET, September 22, 2023

Zelensky on Russia's war in Ukraine: "It is genocide"

From CNN's Sahar Akbarzai 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers an address to Canada's Parliament in Ottawa on Friday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers an address to Canada's Parliament in Ottawa on Friday. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/AP

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called Russia's war in Ukraine a genocide during his address to Canada's Parliament in Ottawa Friday.

"It is genocide," Zelensky said, adding that Russian aggression "must end with our victory" so Russia can never "bring back genocide to Ukraine."

The president thanked Canada for its political support and said he was grateful for Canada's leadership in supporting the "Ukrainian movement to NATO." Ukraine has been trying to obtain membership for the international organization. 

Zelensky said he and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed a Canadian initiative for "G7 efforts" to confiscate Russian assets on Friday. 

"Those funds that Russian and its henchmen use to pay for their war," Zelensky said, should be used to "compensate for the damage caused by war and terror." 

He went on to say that Canada's support, specifically through weapons, has saved thousands of lives.

The Ukrainian president also said that Russia was trying to break the sovereignty of other nations through "its manipulation of energy resources." 

"The more nations are free from Russian energy resources, the sooner energy in the world will once again become just an energy resource," and "not a weapon," Zelensky explained. 

"Freedom and justice will will, Zelensky said, "not the Kremlin." 

3:28 p.m. ET, September 22, 2023

Top Ukrainian general: Winter won’t halt Kyiv's offensive and the biggest breakthrough is yet to come

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen, Daniel Hodge and Konstyantyn Gak

Oleksandr Tarnavsky is pictured during an interview with CNN.
Oleksandr Tarnavsky is pictured during an interview with CNN. Vasco Cotovio/CNN

Winter won't slow down Ukraine's counteroffensive and Kyiv’s biggest breakthrough is still to come, the general leading the country's fight along the southern front line told CNN.

“The weather can be a serious obstacle during advance, but considering how we move forward, mostly without vehicles, I don’t think [the weather] will heavily influence the counteroffensive,” Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavsky told CNN’s senior international Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen during an exclusive interview Friday.

Intense rains in the fall can make the ground in Ukraine soggy and make movement with heavy machinery, like tanks, more difficult, but Tarnavsky says Ukraine’s forces move in small groups, mostly on foot. 

The general also said he believes Ukraine’s big breakthrough — the biggest of this counteroffensive — is yet to come. 

“I think it will happen after Tokmak," Tarnavsky said of the breakthrough. "At the moment they are relying on the depth of their defensive line there.”

Rather than the "Surovikin line," which is a defensive line built on the orders of former Gen. Sergey Surovikin, Tarnavsky says the bigger issues are the “crossroads, tree lines and minefields between the tree lines.” 

“[There’s] a combination of small harmful enemy defense groups that currently are planted very precisely and competently,” he said. “But the actions of our fighters force them to slowly pull back when they face our assault squads.”

Positive about the ultimate outcome, the general conceded that for the counteroffensive to be a success, Ukrainian forces need to at least reach the city of Tokmak. 

“Tokmak is the minimum goal,” he said. “The overall objective is to get to our state borders.”

When asked about rising resistance to continuing weapons supplies to Ukraine, especially in the US, where some have voiced doubt about Kyiv’s chances of success, Tarnavsky said he respected their view. 

He also thanked Ukraine’s Western allies for their continuous support, especially for the tanks and other armored vehicles they’ve been providing, and promised Kyiv was treating them with great care. 

3:09 a.m. ET, September 23, 2023

Top Ukrainian general says strikes on Crimea important for success of counteroffensive

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen, Daniel Hodge and Kostyantyn Gak

Strikes on Crimea, like the one on Friday, are important for the success of Kyiv’s counteroffensive, according to the general leading Ukraine’s military efforts along the southern front line, Oleksandr Tarnavsky.

“The success of offensive operations is not only about destroying the enemy in front of you, it’s also about destroying places of concentration of equipment, personnel and especially destroying the command centers,” Tarnavsky told CNN in an exclusive interview on Friday.

“Disorganizing their forces by destroying their command centers at a higher level leads to a mess on the battlefield,” Tarnavsky explained. “A destroyed commander means a destroyed command link and without it, there are no coordinated actions.”

Crimea, the general elaborated, is especially important on that front because it houses a high concentration of Russian military equipment. “We know where they strike from, both their air assets, as well as the ground ones,” he said.

Striking the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters helps Ukraine and also "gives us hope for the future,” Tarnavsky said.

“I mean we have capabilities to hit them not only in front of us but also in the rear,” he said. “And when you realize that the enemy feels hot in the rear, it brings up the morale of our soldiers.”
1:29 p.m. ET, September 22, 2023

Russian missile strike kills 1 and injures at least 15 in central Ukrainian city 

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London and Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

At least one person was killed and 15 people, including one child, were injured by a missile strike on the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk on Friday, according to a local official.

Russian forces carried out strikes on Friday on civilian infrastructure in the industrial city, according to Dmytro Lunin, the head of the Poltava regional military administration.

Ukrainian air defenses managed to shoot down one Russian missile, Lunin added in his post on Telegram Friday.

Kremenchuk is located in Ukraine's Poltava region.