September 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine News

By Aditi Sangal, Tara Subramaniam and Sana Noor Haq, CNN

Updated 0025 GMT (0825 HKT) September 27, 2022
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9:34 a.m. ET, September 26, 2022

US announces $457.5 million in additional security assistance for Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks with journalists at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Jasionka, Poland, on September 9.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks with journalists at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Jasionka, Poland, on September 9. (Jonathan Ernst/AP)

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."

8:16 a.m. ET, September 26, 2022

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

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Tim Lister 

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."

8:07 a.m. ET, September 26, 2022

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

From CNN's Olga Voitovych, Mick Krever and Jennifer Hansler

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.
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. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

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. 

8:07 a.m. ET, September 26, 2022

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

From CNN staff

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.
7:46 a.m. ET, September 26, 2022

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

From CNN's Anna Chernova

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.”

7:25 a.m. ET, September 26, 2022

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

From CNN's Mick Krever, Olga Voitovych and Victoria Butenko. Translation by Irina Morgan.

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.
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. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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. 

It is clear that after the referendum the enemy will announce mobilization on the occupied lands as well because it needs human resources,” the Resistance Center said in a statement.

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.”

6:41 a.m. ET, September 26, 2022

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

From CNN’s Mick Krever

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.

5:45 a.m. ET, September 26, 2022

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

From CNN’s Mick Krever

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.
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. (Jason DeCrow/AP)

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.”

5:59 a.m. ET, September 26, 2022

Former captive of Russian-backed forces says he was "treated worse than a dog"

From CNN’s Mick Krever, Uliana Pavlova and Chris Liakos 

British citizen Aiden Aslin stands behind bars in a courtroom in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on June 9.
British citizen Aiden Aslin stands behind bars in a courtroom in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on June 9. (AP)

A British man released last week after being previously held by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine says he was “treated worse than a dog" by his captors.

In an interview with the UK’s Sun newspaper, Aiden Aslin described being held in a small cell with three other men, being subjected to regular beatings from his captors, and struggling to be given adequate food and water.

“We also had to sing the Russian national anthem every morning,” Aslin recalled. “And if you didn’t sing it, you would get punished for it. You could get beaten, or they would punish you some way or another.”

A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) sentenced Aslin and two other foreign fighters to death on June 9. They were found guilty of being “mercenaries” for Ukraine by a court in the DPR, Russian state media reported at the time.

Aslin told The Sun that when he first revealed that he was a British citizen, one of his captors “beat me pretty good – probably the best I’ve ever been beaten.”

“He got down on his knees and he was smoking his cigarette,” Aslin added. “And he was like, ‘Do you know who I am?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ And he says, ‘I am your death,’ basically, in Russian.”

“He then asked me, ‘Do you want a quick death or do you want a beautiful death.’ I said, ‘A quick death.’ And he says, ‘No. You’re going to have a beautiful death. And I’m going to make sure it’s a beautiful death.’”

Russia is the only country that considers the DPR independent. The international community does not recognize the region and its institutions, and considers the territory to be part of Ukraine. Independent watchdog groups have long accused the separatists of a dismal human-rights track record and ill-treatment of prisoners.