September 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine News

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Her city was recently liberated from Russian control. Hear why she still doesn't feel safe
02:53 - Source: CNN

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Our coverage for the day has ended. Follow the latest Ukraine news here or read through the updates below.

Gaining ground in Donetsk is Ukraine's top objective, Zelensky says

Ukraine’s president says gaining ground in the strategic Donetsk region is his number one priority because it is Russia’s top priority.  

President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking in his nightly address on Monday, said the “situation is particularly severe in the Donetsk region. We are doing everything to thwart enemy activity. This is our number one objective now, since Donbas is still the number one objective for the occupiers.”

Donetsk, which is a part of Donbas, is partially occupied by the Russian military.

As Russian forces continue to advance through the Donbas region, pro-Russian leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk are holding referendums on joining Russia.

Some context: Authorities in Kyiv and other Western countries say that the referendums are a “sham” whose outcome has been preordained, and which are carried out often literally at the barrel of a gun. International observers and the Ukrainian government expressed similar concerns in 2014 when Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea after a referendum carried out in the presence of Russian troops. 

US officials are closely watching referendums in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine and preparing to act

A man casts his ballot during a referendum on the secession of Zaporizhzhia region from Ukraine in the Russian-controlled city of Melitopol on September 26.

White House officials are watching closely and preparing their potential response Monday as four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine continued to vote in referendums that are being effectively carried out at gunpoint and have been dismissed by the West as a “sham.”

With the results of the Russian-organized voting expected to be announced as soon as tomorrow, US officials anticipate Russia could move quickly to annex the four areas, potentially within days.

If and when they do, it would prompt a swift response from the US, which has pledged not to recognize the results, one official said. 

The US is not currently expected to respond until Russia has moved to annex the regions, the official said, and when Russia ultimately attempts to do so remains to be seen.  

British foreign secretary James Cleverly said in recent days that Russia has already decided in advance what will happen after these referendums are finished, stating that by “the end of the month, Russia’s intention will be to formalize the annexation of the four regions into the Russian Federation.”

As they monitor the referendums, top Biden administration officials have become more vocal in recent days about warnings they have delivered in private to Russian officials about the potential use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

“Russia understands very well what the US would do in response to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine because we have spelled it out for them,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a television interview Sunday, though he declined to characterize who received those warnings or what the consequences would be.  

While officials have still not seen indications that Russia is planning to use nuclear weapons in the near term, they are more concerned about the possibility now than they were six or seven months ago, one official confirmed to CNN, though they still maintain that the likelihood of Russia doing so is low. 

US State Department: No indication China is preparing to support Russia's invasion of Ukraine

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price during a news conference in Washington, DC on March 10.

The US State Department said they have not seen any indication that China is preparing to assist Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine or assist Russia in evading sanctions.

“We are looking at every single bit of information we have,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. “We have seen nothing as of yet at least to indicate that the PRC is taking a different approach when it comes to security assistance, when it comes to efforts to systematically help Russia evade sanctions,” he said.

Price said the US is “continuing to watch” what China does on Ukraine, and said that remarks by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi indicate that China has “a degree of unease with what Russia is doing in Ukraine.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Yi on Friday at the United Nations and “highlighted the implications if the PRC [People’s Republic of China] were to provide support to Moscow’s invasion of a sovereign state,” according to the State Department readout of the meeting.

Ukraine says it captured a Russian soldier allegedly linked to atrocity in Bucha

The Ukrainian security service says that a Russian soldier captured during combat in Kherson region this month has been linked to an atrocity carried out in Bucha near Kyiv back in March.

In a statement Monday, the agency claimed that the captured soldier, together with other Russian troops, “shot a car with a machine gun on the highway near Zdvizhivka village, Bucha district” in early March.

“The driver died on the spot,” the statement said, claiming that the group then buried the victim’s body in the forest.

The security service also said the driver’s corpse was exhumed and submitted for forensic examination.

At the time Russian forces had just occupied Bucha.

When the Russian soldier was detained in September during combat in the Kherson region, the agency said its investigators proved the soldier’s involvement in the crime.

White House: US prepared to impose "severe economic costs" on Russia if they move forward with annexation 

A military vehicle drives along a street with a billboard that reads: "With Russia forever, September 27" prior to a referendum in Luhansk, controlled by Russia-backed separatists on September 22, 2022.

The United States will “never recognize” Russian-occupied territory as “anything other than… part of Ukraine,” the White House said, as separatist leaders in four regions of Ukraine say that referendums are underway on whether to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at a Monday press briefing that the “sham referendum” was a “flagrant violation of international law.”

“We will continue to work with our allies and partners to hold Russia accountable and support Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Jean-Pierre said.

“As far as what we are doing, we are prepared to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia, along with our allies and partners, in response to these actions that we’re seeing currently if they move forward with annexation,” she said.

She added, “you will hear more from us in the coming days on this.”

Polling station in Luhansk hit by Ukrainian shelling, Russian media reports

The Russian state news agency TASS reported that a school in Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine that was being used as a polling station in the so-called referendum on joining Russia has been hit by Ukrainian shelling.

Remember: Authorities in Kyiv and other Western countries say that the referendums are a “sham” whose outcome has been preordained, and which are carried out often literally at the barrel of a gun. International observers and the Ukrainian government expressed similar concerns in 2014, when Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea after a referendum carried out in the presence of Russian troops. 

TASS reported that six shells hit the school in Rubizhne. 

CNN is unable to verify what caused the extensive damage to the school.

The last day of the referendum process in four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine is Tuesday.

At least 1 dead after Russian missile and artillery attacks in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian officials say

Russian artillery and missile attacks have left at least one person dead and several injured in Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, according to Ukrainian officials. 

Oleg Synehubov, head of the regional military administration in Kharkiv, said a missile attack on the city of Pervomaiske had killed a teenage girl and injured others. Two houses were destroyed.

Mykola Baksheev, the mayor of Pervomaiske, said there were several victims in the attack, and some Ukrainian media are reporting a higher number of fatalities.

In Donetsk, the middle of the city of Kramatorsk was hit, causing damage to an apartment block, according to images from the city council. 

The city of Sloviansk was also struck, according to the mayor Vadym Lyakh.

Despite recent progress by Ukrainian forces in the east, many cities and towns in those parts of Donetsk and Kharkiv under Ukrainian control are still within reach of Russian weapons. 

Large lines of traffic wait to cross from Russia into Georgia, satellite images show

A satellite image shows traffic queuing approximately 16 kilometers (nearly 10 miles) north of the Georgian border crossing.

Satellite images from Sunday provided by Maxar Technologies show long lines of traffic on the Russian side of the border with Georgia.

Maxar says the northernmost image shows traffic queuing about 16 kilometers (nearly 10 miles) north of the border crossing, and adds that “the traffic jam likely continued further to the north of the imaged area.”

CNN reported earlier Monday, that images and social media video from the border crossing between Russia and Georgia have shown long lines of stationary traffic through a mountain pass. Drone video uploaded from the area Monday suggests there are hundreds of vehicles gathered on the Russian side, with witnesses saying that people are waiting up to 48 hours to cross into Georgia.

Several videos show additional Russian security forces arriving at the border in an armored personnel carrier.

Queues have built up at the Verkhnii Lars crossing from North Ossetia into Georgia and other border crossings since the announcement last week by President Vladimir Putin of a partial mobilization.

Videos show some families and many men on their own among those waiting to cross at Verknii Lars Hundreds of people are approaching the crossing on foot, pulling suitcases. 

Amid the sudden influx, “we have been pushing government to introduce visas and/or close the borders,” an opposition politician in Georgia, Nona Mamulashvili, told CNN.

At the moment, the border appears still to be open.

Putin grants Edward Snowden Russian citizenship

Edward Snowden speaks remotely during a news conference in New York City on September 14, 2016.

President Vladimir Putin has granted former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden Russian citizenship, according to an official decree published on the Russian government portal Monday. 

Snowden, who admitted to leaking information about US surveillance programs to the press, has been in Russia since 2013. He is facing espionage charges in the US and up to 30 years in prison.

In November 2020, Snowden and his wife applied for Russian citizenship. He had been already given permanent residency in Russia. 

What the US is saying: US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said their position on Snowden “has not changed” in light of this development. 

“Perhaps the only thing that has changed is that as a result of his Russian citizenship, apparently now he may well be conscripted to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine,” Price said at a State Department briefing Monday. “Mr. Snowden should return to the United States where he should face justice as any other American citizen would.” 

Price said he was not aware of any change in Snowden’s American citizenship.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed reporting to this post.

Protests continue for second day in Russia's Dagestan region over Putin's mobilization order

Multiple social media videos show hundreds of civilians taking part in a second day of protests against military mobilization in the Russian region of Dagestan. 

The videos show scuffles in the main square in the Dagestan capital of Makhachkala involving dozens of young men. They also show police making a number of arrests.

In an apparent effort to assuage the protestors, the head of the Republic, Sergey Melikov, said that mobilization should take place “strictly according to criteria set out by the President.”

In a message on his Telegram channel, Melikov said that if “those who are not included in the list were mobilized, including students, fathers with many children with young children, guys who have never held a machine gun in their hands, [this] should be immediately corrected.”

“I know that at the very beginning of the mobilization such mistakes took place, among other things, because some citizens did not notify the military enlistment offices in a timely manner about the circumstances giving them a respite from mobilization,” he continued.

“If on the ground you are faced with a violation of your rights in the process of partial mobilization, be sure to report this to the republican military registration and enlistment office. In each case, we will understand and make an objective decision,” he added.

Melikov also suggested that there were “fake stories on social networks that our enemies diligently spread through public pages created abroad” about mobilization. He asserted that the protests were “prepared and controlled from abroad.”

He said he was in regular contact with the military commissar of Dagestan about the mobilization process. 

More than 100 people were detained during the protests on Sunday in Makhachkala, according to an independent human right monitor OVD-Info.

More background: The protests come after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared last Wednesday that 300,000 reservists would be drafted under an immediate “partial mobilization,” in a bid to reinforce his faltering invasion of Ukraine.

Though Russian authorities have said it would only affect Russians with previous military experience, the decree itself gives much broader terms, sowing fear among Russians of a wider draft in the future – and the implications for ethnic minorities.

Anti-mobilization protests have spread across the country, with more than 2,350 people arrested since the announcement, according to OVD-Info.

CNN’s Josh Pennington and Jessie Yeung contributed reporting to this post. 

Ukraine looks for ways to combat Russian attacks with Iran-made drones

A part of an unmanned aerial vehicle, that Ukrainian authorities consider to be an Iranian made suicide drone Shahed-136, is seen after it was shot down in Odesa, Ukraine, on September 25.

Ukrainian officials say there have been five attacks on the port city of Odesa in recent days by Russian forces using recently acquired Iranian drones.

Russia had launched Iran-made Shahid-136 kamikaze drones against the city “for several days in a row,” Serhii Bratchuk, spokesperson for Odesa region civil military administration, said. “The enemy is trying to save its cruise missiles, missiles of different calibers, because these drones are much cheaper … And they work not alone, but sometimes in pairs. We even note that the enemy may launch several such kamikaze drones during one attack.”

In the latest drone attacks, “there were two hits, one kamikaze drone was destroyed, but a detonation took place on the territory of this military object [installation]….There were no casualties,” he added.

Separately, Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for Operational Command South, said samples of the drones were being studied to develop ways to destroy them.

Record number of Russians entered Finland by land over the weekend, Finnish border guard says

Vehicles queue to cross the border from Russia to Finland at the Nuijamaa border checkpoint in Lappeenranta, Finland, on September 22.

The number of Russians who entered Finland via its land border with Russia on Sunday was double that of the previous Sunday, the Finnish border guard said. 

On Sunday, 8,314 Russians entered Finland via the Finnish-Russian land border — double the number than (the) week before, tweeted Matti Pitkäniitty, the border guard’s head of international affairs. 

Including Saturday’s numbers,16,886 Russians arrived in total, with “many in transit to other countries,” he added. 

Following the Kremlin’s announcement of “partial mobilization,” Russia saw nationwide protests and an exodus of citizens fleeing the country.

Last Wednesday, Finnish Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen said the country was closely monitoring the situation.

Finland and Russia share a land border that stretches for 1,340 kilometers (about 830 miles), and there are several border crossing points available.

Ukraine declares 4 organizers of "pseudo referendum" as criminal suspects

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said on Monday that it had notified four Russian-backed officials in occupied Ukraine that they are criminal suspects for their role in organizing so-called secession referendums in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

“The Ukrainian special service established that these individuals played key roles in the organization and holding of a fake plebiscite in eastern Ukraine,” the SBU said.

Remember: Authorities in Kyiv and other Western countries say that the so-called referendums are a “sham” whose outcome has been preordained, and which are carried out often literally at the barrel of a gun. International observers and the Ukrainian government expressed similar concerns in 2014, when Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea after a referendum carried out in the presence of Russian troops. 

The individuals are suspected of violating Ukraine’s criminal code on “collaboration” and “encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability” of Ukraine.

The SBU said that the four men, “in collusion with other persons,” appealed to the self-declared Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics “with the initiative of holding a fake referendum on the territories temporarily occupied by the enemy, and also proposed immediate separation from Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation.”

The SBUT named the men as Volodymyr Vysotsky, “head of the Central Election Commission of the DPR”; Olena Kravchenko, “head of the Central Election Commission of the LPR”; Oleksandr Kofman, “head of the Public Chamber of the DPR”; and Maryna Filipova, “adviser to the head of the Luhansk People’s Republic”.

The SBU said that the men would be “declared wanted in the near future.”

CNN could not immediately reach any of the individuals named by the SBU.

US announces $457.5 million in additional security assistance for Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks with journalists at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Jasionka, Poland, on September 9.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Monday the United States committed an additional $457.5 million in civilian security assistance for Ukraine.

This package is “to enhance the efforts of Ukrainian law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to improve their operational capacity and save lives as they continue to help defend the Ukrainian people, their freedom, and their democracy from the Kremlin’s brutal war of aggression,” the statement released on Monday said.

In addition to that, Blinken’s statement said that the assistance can contribute American support “for the Ukrainian government’s efforts to document, investigate, and prosecute atrocities perpetrated by Russia’s forces, drawing on our long-standing relationship with Ukrainian criminal justice agencies, including the Ukrainian Office of the Prosecutor General and the NPU’s war crimes unit.”

Kazakhstan says it supports "territorial integrity" as Russian-backed referendums occur

Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic and one of Moscow’s close partners, said it “adheres to the principle of territorial integrity of the states,” as four Russian-occupied areas vote in referendums on joining Russia.

The referendums are illegal under international law and have been dismissed as “a sham” by Western governments and Kyiv. 

“As for the referendums on joining the Russian Federation being held in self-declared states of LPR and DPR, and military administrations of Zaporozhzhia and Kherson regions, Kazakhstan adheres to the principle of territorial integrity of the states, their sovereign equality and peaceful coexistence,” the official spokesperson of the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs Aibek Smadyarov said on Monday, as quoted by Kazakhstan’s state news agency Kazinform.

“Our President has repeatedly stated, including in his recent speech from the UN tribune, the importance of constant observance of the international law principles, based on the Charter of this global universal organization. The Charter stipulates the responsibility of the UN member-states in maintaining peace and adherence to territorial integrity of the countries,” Smadyarov added.

Smadyarov reaffirmed the government’s readiness to provide assistance to the promotion of political dialogue, adding that “Kazakhstan believes that maintaining stability at the regional and global levels is of paramount importance.”

Moscow-backed authorities claim massive turnout for referendums they held in Russian-occupied regions

Resident cast a ballot into a mobile ballot box carried by members of an electoral commission on the second day of a referendum on the joining of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) to Russia, in Mariupol, Ukraine, on September 24.

Russian-backed authorities in occupied portions of four Ukrainian regions holding ongoing so-called referendums on accession to the Russian Federation claim that voter turnout has been massive.

Authorities in Kyiv and the West say that the so-called referendums are a “sham” whose outcome has been preordained, and which are carried out often literally at the barrel of a gun. International observers and the Ukrainian government expressed similar concerns in 2014, when Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea after a referendum carried out in the presence of Russian troops. 

In the Kherson region, the deputy head of the Russian-backed administration said Monday that there is already enough of a margin to say that that region has approved seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia.

“The current votes cast are enough for a positive outcome of the referendum,” Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-backed head of the Kherson region administration, said on Telegram on Sunday. “However, voting will continue for two more days, not counting today, so that those voters who, for various reasons, have not voted yet, can express their will.”

The Russian-backed authorities in Ukraine’s Donetsk region – much of which is still controlled by Ukraine – claimed Monday that turnout so far has been 77%. Russian-backed authorities in the Luhansk region said that it is already 76.09%.

Ukrainian officials scoffed at those numbers.

Serhii Hayday, the Ukrainian head of the Luhansk region military administration, said that authorities were going door to door, trailed by armed guards, to collect votes. 

“If someone checked ‘against’ joining Russia, the data is recorded in some notebooks,” Hayday said on Telegram. “Rumors are being spread that people who vote against are being taken away somewhere. This is deliberately done to intimidate the local population.”

US Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter on Monday said the “sham” referendums are “merely propaganda stunts” to try to legitimize their seizure of territory and said that residents remaining in these regions were being forced, sometimes at gunpoint, to vote for annexation. 

This is “not a real vote,” Carpenter said on a briefing call, and reiterated that the United States would not recognize the results. 

It's 3 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what we know.

A registration commissar is reportedly “fighting for his life” after being shot at Siberian enlistment office today, amid a backlash in Russia following President Vladimir Putin’s order of increased military conscription for his war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, after Putin raised the specter of nuclear retaliation in the conflict during his address last week, his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky warned: “I don’t think he’s bluffing.”

Here are the latest developments:

  • Shooting at Siberian mobilization center: A military official was injured after a man opened fire at the facility in the Russian city of Ust-Ilimsk in the Irkutsk region, the regional governor Igor Ivanovich Kobzev said on his Telegram channel. Kobzev said the shooter “will definitely be punished” following his arrest. It followed defense minister Sergei Shoigu’s confirmation last Wednesday that the government will call up 300,000 reservists to revive Moscow’s faltering military campaign in Ukraine.
  • Zelensky assesses nuclear fears: Putin’s threat of using nuclear weapons in the war “could be a reality,” according to Zelensky. Following the Russian president’s comments last week, Zelensky told CBS News that Russia was trying to leverage its occupation of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southern Ukraine “to scare the whole world.”
  • Russian-backed “sham” referendums spike tension: Ukrainian officials say that Russia is using the so-called secession referendums in occupied portions of four Ukrainian regions as a pretense to draft Ukrainians into the Russian military. “The main purpose of the fake referendum is to mobilize our residents and use them as cannon fodder,” a Ukrainian official said on Telegram. The referendums are illegal under international law and have been dismissed as “a sham” by Western governments and Kyiv.
  • Protests flare in Russia: At least 2,352 people have been detained in various cities across Russia from September 21 to September 25 since Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilization, according to the independent protest monitoring group OVD-Info. Demonstrations have broken out in some ethnic minority regions in Russia, with reports that these communities are being disproportionately targeted for conscription.
  • Russian drone attacks in southern Ukraine: Two drones launched by Russian forces into the Odesa region in Ukraine hit a military infrastructure facility, causing a fire and the detonation of ammunition, Ukrainian military officials said on Monday. One drone was destroyed by the Ukrainian air defense forces, they said. No casualties have been reported, and firefighting and rescue operations continue, the command added.

Russia has "sporadic" contact with the US on nuclear weapons, Kremlin says

Russia is in contact with the United States on nuclear weapons, but that communication is “sporadic,” the Kremlin’s spokesman said Monday. 

“[Contacts] are being carried out at the proper level. There are channels for dialogue, but they are very sporadic,” Dmitry Peskov said, adding that those channels allow the two sides to inform each other on their position and bring across “emergency messages.”

This comes after American officials said the US has privately communicated to Russia for the past several months that there will be consequences if Moscow chooses to use a nuclear weapon in the Ukraine war.

Asked to comment on statement that the US will “respond decisively” if Russia crosses the line, Peskov said, “I am leaving it without any comment.”

Russia aims to draft Ukrainians in occupied territories, Ukrainian officials say

People cast their votes at a hospital in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on September 24. The referendums on joining Russia are illegal under international law and dismissed as “a sham” by Western governments and Kyiv.

Ukrainian officials say that Russia is using so-called secession referendums in occupied portions of four Ukrainian regions as a pretense to draft Ukrainians into the Russian military.

“The main purpose of the fake referendum is to mobilize our residents and use them as cannon fodder,” Ivan Fedorov, the Ukrainian mayor-in-exile of Russian-occupied Melitopol, said on Telegram.

Ukrainian officials also say that travel for young men out of occupied Ukraine has become much more difficult since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization. Such travel in Ukraine’s south has been difficult but possible, through arranged corridors.

In recent days, however, CNN understands from Ukrainian government sources that travel to Ukrainian-held territory has become much more difficult, and that those official corridors have now been effectively closed.

Ukraine’s National Resistance Center, a division of the defense ministry, said last week that the Russian military plans to enforce mobilization as soon as the “referendums” on joining the Russian Federation are approved, as is widely expected. 

The Ukrainian government says that Russian occupying administrations, together with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), are drawing up lists of thousands of people to be mobilized in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions.

In Ukraine’s Luhansk region, which is almost entirely occupied by Russia and Russian-backed forces, Ukrainian officials say that the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic is already implementing widespread conscription.

“Unlike in the Russian Federation where mobilization is partial, in the so-called LPR everyone is taken,” Serhii Hayday, the Ukrainian head of the Luhansk region military administration, said on Telegram

“In Svatove, for example, call-up orders are handed out to every male aged 18 and over,” Hayday said. “Some individuals, such as lorry drivers, are dispatched to military units immediately, without training, because there are no reinforcements left to send to the front line.” 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said over the weekend that in occupied Crimea, which was annexed in 2014, Russia is specifically targeting ethnic Tatars, forcing them to flee the peninsula.

“Russia is trying to destroy the gene pool of the Crimean Tatars,” he said. “Males are taken from the age of 18.” 

“They’re forcing people to fight, people from the temporarily occupied territories,” Zelensky told CBS in an interview broadcast on Sunday. “A lot of people will be forced to do this.”

Crimean Tatars – who were deported en masse from the peninsula by Soviet ruler Josef Stalin in 1944 – have faced severe discrimination following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, rights groups say.

Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol urged people in his occupied city to leave for Crimea. He said that travel has been only sporadically possible between Russian-occupied southern Ukraine and Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia since it was annexed in 2014.

“They are now being let through, but before departure they provide all personal data, the place of residence of all relatives,” Fedorov said. “We urge our residents to leave through the temporarily occupied Crimea to Georgia or the European Union. We clearly understand that very soon a full-fledged hunt for our men will begin, in order to use them as cannon fodder.”

Zelensky meets with military commanders and discusses "further de-occupation"

President Volodymyr Zelensky met with his top security and military staff on Monday and discussed plans for “further de-occupation” of Ukrainian territory.

“The participants heard information about the operational situation on the frontline,” the president’s office said in a statement.

“Decisions were made regarding the active actions of the defense forces with the aim of further de-occupation of the territory of Ukraine.”

Among those in attendance were Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Gen. Valery Zaluzhny.

Some context: Momentum swung in Kyiv’s favor earlier this month, after the Ukrainian military drove back Russian forces in the northeastern Kharkiv region and liberated huge swathes of territory.

Ukraine’s successful offensive marked an unwelcome collapse for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has since been the subject of pointed criticism by Kremlin loyalists.

Putin subsequently announced increased military conscription to boost Moscow’s invasion, a strategy that has prompted fierce backlash in parts of Russia in the form of protests.

Lavrov says "formalized" Russian territories would have Kremlin's "full protection"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds a news conference on the sidelines of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 24.

Any territory that is formally incorporated into the Russian Federation will “benefit from full protection,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday.

“The entire state territory of Russia that has already been or can additionally be formalized in the constitution of our country will certainly benefit from full protection,” Lavrov said during a press conference in New York.

“How can it be otherwise? All the laws, doctrines, concepts, and strategies of the Russian Federation are applicable throughout its territory.”

Lavrov’s comments came a day after four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine started voting in referendums on joining Russia, according to their separatist leaders – a process that continues Monday. The referendums are illegal under international law and dismissed as “a sham” by Western governments and Kyiv.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced immediate ramped-up military measures in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, adding: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.”