September 24, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Sophie Tanno, Maureen Chowdhury and Thom Poole, CNN

Updated 12:08 a.m. ET, September 25, 2023
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12:41 p.m. ET, September 24, 2023

State media: Russia-backed separatist leaders impose curfew and censors communications

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London 

Denis Pushilin, Head of the Donetsk People's Republic, DNR, during a press conference at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2022 on June 16, 2022.
Denis Pushilin, Head of the Donetsk People's Republic, DNR, during a press conference at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2022 on June 16, 2022. Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

A curfew and a communications censorship took effect Sunday in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, according to Russian state media.

Curfew: The curfew will last from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. local time on weekdays, starting on Monday, according to a decree signed by the region’s Russia-backed leader, Denis Pushilin, state news agency TASS reported. 

Some officials and public employees will be exempt from the order, including repair workers and those overseeing the supplies of food and other essential items. Police, security personnel and people with special passes will also have permission to move during the curfew hours. 

Pushilin signed the decree on September 18, but it went into effect on Sunday when it was published, according to TASS.

Censorship: An additional decree imposes a military censorship on mail, internet communications and phone conversations, according to TASS. 

Under the order, the Russian Federal Security Service and the DPR's so-called "Information Ministry" will develop and enforce censorship measures, according to TASS.

Local officials characterized the move as an effort to combat enemy saboteurs and reconnaissance officers, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.

Key context: War broke out in 2014 after Russian-backed rebels seized government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine. Intense fighting left portions of the Ukrainian Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the hands of Russian-backed separatists.

The separatist-controlled areas became known as the Luhansk and the Donetsk People’s Republics. The Ukrainian government in Kyiv asserts the two regions are, in effect, temporarily Russian-occupied. They have not been recognized by any governments other than Russia and its close allies Syria and North Korea.

The Ukrainian government has steadfastly refused to talk directly with the leaders of either self-proclaimed government, and has set its sights on reclaiming control of the territories in its fight against Russia's full-scale invasion.

CNN's Rob Picheta contributed to this report.

12:33 p.m. ET, September 24, 2023

More people wounded in second Russian attack on Kherson region, authorities say

From CNN'a Svitlana Vlasova and Radina Gigova

Russian attacks killed two people and wounded at least seven others in Ukraine's southern Kherson region on Sunday, according to an update from Ukrainian authorities.

Moscow's forces launched airstrikes this morning at a "number of settlements" in Kherson's Beryslav district, which borders the Dnipro River in southeastern Ukraine, according to a statement from Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office. Officials said earlier Sunday that the attack left at least two people dead.

Around 12 p.m. local time (5 a.m. ET), Russian forces launched another attack on the region with artillery, the prosecutor's office said in an update.

Four civilians were injured in the second attack, and two of them were hospitalized, officials said. Private houses, apartments and a kindergarten were damaged.

Authorities have launched an investigation into the attacks, the prosecutor's office said.

9:39 a.m. ET, September 24, 2023

UK "will stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine" regardless of US election outcome, defense secretary says

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau in London

Britain's newly appointed Defense Secretary Grant Shapps leaves Number 10 Downing Street in London on August 31, 2023.
Britain's newly appointed Defense Secretary Grant Shapps leaves Number 10 Downing Street in London on August 31, 2023. Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images

The United Kingdom will continue to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with Ukraine regardless of the results of next year's US election, the country’s newly appointed defense secretary, Grant Shapps, said on Sunday.

Republicans have been divided in their support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, with recent polling to suggest that the majority of Republicans agree that the US should be doing less to help Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.

A CNN poll in August found now a majority of Americans are opposed to authorizing more funding for Ukraine — and among Republicans, the number opposed soars to 71%.

Shapps was asked Sunday what the UK would do if a Republican president was elected and decided to pull US support for Ukraine. He said London’s support to Kyiv was “watertight,” and called the question “speculative.”

“That’s a while down the line before we see what happens in the Republican election, but we will carry on standing shoulder to shoulder with our friends in Ukraine,” Shapps said in an interview on BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.

“I genuinely believe, as President Zelensky of Ukraine said this week, that actually the Americans see it in their interest, in the world's interest to ensure that Ukraine remains a democratic nation,” he added. “We know what happens when we allow a tyrant to invade a neighbor and then continue westward. And it's absolutely essential that Putin is unable to walk into a democratic neighbor without consequences. And that is why Britain has stood firm and we will continue to do so,” the secretary concluded.
9:45 a.m. ET, September 24, 2023

3 killed in strikes across southern Ukraine overnight

From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova and Alex Stambaugh 

Three people have been killed in the latest Russian strikes on the southern Ukrainian regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, local authorities said Sunday.

A 53-year-old man died as a result of an artillery strike on Zaporizhzhia, according to Yurii Malashko, the head of the region's military administration.

Russia fired at 25 locations across Zaporizhzhia, Malashko said, damaging houses and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in Kherson region, two civilians have died as a result of Russian shelling over the past day, according to the Kherson city military administration. 

Damage was recorded in Kherson and five other settlements in the region, it said. 

Elsewhere in southern Ukraine: Russia launched several artillery attacks on Nikopol region, wounding a 25-year-old man, who has been hospitalized with shrapnel wounds and is in serious condition, Serhii Lysak, head of Dnipropetrovsk region military administration, said on Telegram Sunday. 

A department store building and a kindergarten were damaged in Nikopol, Lysak said. 

In northeastern Ukraine: A 67-year-old was wounded in Russian attacks on Kharkiv, Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv region military administration, said Sunday. 

Russia also attacked the Sumy region overnight, firing three times at two communities, the regional military administration said. There were no reports of injuries.  

9:48 a.m. ET, September 24, 2023

Withholding weapons is turning Ukrainians into martyrs, Pope says

From CNN's Antonia Mortensen in Rome

Pope Francis on Saturday told journalists that the withholding of weapons to Ukraine is turning the Ukrainian people into "martyrs."

The Pope made the comments during a news conference on a flight back to Rome's Fiumicino airport following a two-day trip to Marseille. 

The Pope told journalists: "Now we are seeing that some countries are pulling back, they're not giving weapons. A process is starting where the martyrs will be the Ukrainian people, and this is an ugly thing."

Pope Francis also spoke of the "paradox" of countries supplying Ukraine with weapons before taking them away, which was keeping Ukrainians a "martyred people."

"Those who traffic in arms never have to pay the consequences of their choices, but leave them to be paid by martyred peoples, such as the Ukrainian people," he said. 

Some context: The pontiff was possibly referring to the recent decision by Poland to stop providing weapons to Ukraine, amid a growing dispute between the two countries over a temporary ban on Ukrainian grain imports. 

When asked for clarification, Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said the Pope was not taking a stand on whether countries should continue to send weapons to Ukraine or stop sending them, according to Reuters. 

Rather, his comments were a "reflection on the consequences of the arms industry: the Pope, with a paradox, was saying that those who traffic in weapons never pay the consequences of their choices but leave them to be paid by people, like the Ukrainians, who have been martyred," Bruni said.

8:59 a.m. ET, September 24, 2023

What we know about the attack on Russia's Black Sea Fleet headquarters

From CNN staff

A satellite image shows smoke billowing from the Russian Black Sea Navy HQ after a missile strike in Sevastopol on Friday.
A satellite image shows smoke billowing from the Russian Black Sea Navy HQ after a missile strike in Sevastopol on Friday. Planet Labs PBC/Reuters

Ukraine launched one of its most ambitious attacks yet on Crimea Friday, targeting Russia's Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol. The Crimean peninsula was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, and Ukraine has vowed to reclaim it. Here's what we know:

  • What happened? Ukraine said its forces carried out a “successful” missile attack on the naval HQ. A fire broke out in the aftermath of the attack, which also left debris scattered hundreds of meters away. Plumes of smoke could be seen pouring from the building, while officials also said shrapnel landed in a nearby theater.
  • What has Ukraine said? The country’s Special Operations Forces said Saturday that the strike was timed for when senior members of Russia's navy were convening and has left dozens dead and wounded, “including senior leadership.” Ukrainian officials have commented on the strike, with the chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People in Ukraine, Refat Chubarov, thanking those involved in the operation to "liberate" Crimea. Another Ukrainian official said that Russia's Black Sea Fleet could be "sliced up like a salami."
  • What has Russia said? Russia’s Ministry of Defense has said so far only one soldier is missing following the attack. “As a result of the attack, the historical headquarters building of the Black Sea Fleet was damaged,” the defense ministry stated, adding that five missiles were also shot down by their air defense systems. CNN has not been able to verify Ukraine's claim it killed Russian naval leaders.
  • What does it mean for the war? Hitting Russian facilities on occupied Crimea is a display of Ukraine's confidence — and the vulnerability of said vital infrastructure.There are plenty of reasons for Ukraine to target Crimea. It’s a sign that despite the slow progress on the front lines in its counteroffensive, Ukraine can still inflict serious damage on the Russian military. Targets such as the Crimea bridge have considerable symbolic value as well as strategic purpose. Ukrainian Defense Intelligence spokesperson Andrii Yusov said “the ultimate goal, of course, is the de-occupation of Ukrainian Crimea.”
5:29 a.m. ET, September 24, 2023

Lavrov talks grain deal and says US is "directly at war" with Moscow at UN General Assembly

From CNN's Sahar Akbarzai, Darya Tarasova, Sahar Akbarzai and AnneClaire Stapleton

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses the UN General Assembly in New York City on Saturday.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses the UN General Assembly in New York City on Saturday. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blamed the collapse of the Black Sea grain deal on what he described as broken promises by Ukraine and the United Nations, in remarks made after his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Saturday.

He also said that the United States and other allies of Ukraine are "directly at war" with Moscow, and told a news conference that Ukraine's blueprint for peace is not “feasible” or “realistic."

  • Black Sea grain deal: Lavrov shut down the possibility of Russia returning to the Black Sea grain deal, saying the Kremlin felt it had been deceived. Lavrov said the agreement — which was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022, but fell apart a year later — rested on guarantees to both Kyiv and Moscow. "If the Ukrainian part of the package was carried out quite efficiently and quickly, then the Russian part was not carried out at all," Lavrov said.
  • "Direct" war with US: When asked by a journalist at what point the US becomes directly involved in war against Russia, as opposed to engaged in a proxy conflict, Lavrov said “You can call this whatever you want to call this, but they are directly at war with us. We can call this a hybrid war, but that doesn’t change the reality." He added; “They are effectively engaged in hostilities with us, using the Ukrainians as fodder."
  • Peace plan: Lavrov also told the news conference in New York that Ukraine's blueprint for peace is not “feasible” or “realistic." The Russian Foreign Minister said everyone understands that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s peace formula — which he has said cannot include ceding any territory to Russia — is not feasible. But “at the same time, everyone says this is only conditions for negotiation,” Lavrov said.

Read more on Lavrov's comments at the UN General Assembly here.

9:07 a.m. ET, September 24, 2023

Here's what Ukraine's troops are focused on accomplishing along the southern front, according to top general

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

The general leading Ukraine's fight along the southern front line spoke this week about his focus in the fiercely contested Zaporizhzhia region.

Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavsky believes Ukraine’s big breakthrough — the biggest of its ongoing counteroffensive — is yet to come, he told CNN’s senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen during an exclusive interview Friday.

"I think it will happen after Tokmak," Tarnavsky said, referring to a city that serves as a southern strategic hub for Russia, located about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the positions where Ukrainian troops are currently fighting. "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 Tokmak. 

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

Tarnavsky said Friday that his forces had made a breakthrough near the village of Verbove, located northeast of Tokmak in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhia region.

4:18 a.m. ET, September 24, 2023

3 more ships pass through designated Black Sea corridors to load at Ukrainian ports

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton

Three more ships passed through humanitarian corridors in the Black Sea to load at Ukrainian ports this week, US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink said Saturday.

“Two outbound ships carrying grain destined for ports in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are now on their way to the Bosphorus," Brink added in a post on X, formally known as Twitter. "Despite Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Ukraine continues its efforts to feed the world."

Some context: Russia pulled out of a UN and Turkish brokered deal in July that had allowed Ukraine to export grain via Black Sea shipments. Moscow warned that any ships headed to Ukraine would be treated as potentially carrying weapons. 

Last month, the Ukrainian navy issued an order declaring "temporary corridors" for merchant ships sailing to and from Ukrainian ports, though it admitted there was still a threat of encountering mines or attacks by Russia along all routes.