September 30, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Thom Poole and Joshua Berlinger, CNN

Updated 1946 GMT (0346 HKT) September 30, 2023
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5:17 a.m. ET, September 30, 2023

It's been a year since Vladimir Putin announced millions of Ukrainians would be Russian citizens "forever"

A man walks with his bicycle past election billboards in Russian-controlled Melitopol on September 26, 2022.
A man walks with his bicycle past election billboards in Russian-controlled Melitopol on September 26, 2022. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

In Russia, Friday was a call for celebration. In Ukraine, it was a worrying reminder of the dangers civilians face on the front lines.

It has now been one year since Russia said it would annex the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The regions together account for 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) of Ukrainian territory, a fifth of the country's land mass. It marked the largest forcible annexation of land in Europe since 1945.

The Kremlin's decision to seize the territories in violation of international law came after referendums widely panned as a sham, as people were voting both figuratively and, in some cases literally, at gunpoint.

That did not stop Russian leader Vladimir Putin from declaring the millions of people living there would be Russian citizens "forever."

One year later, Putin took to the airwaves to celebrate the move, falsely claiming the vote was conducted in compliance with international law. Hundreds gathered in Moscow's Red Square for a celebratory concert to mark the occasion.

The anniversary saw the Kremlin take further steps toward achieving that goal as well. A decree that took effect Friday allowed Ukrainians to enter the country without visas, even if their documents have expired, and makes it easier for them and other citizens of former Soviet states to obtain Russian citizenship.

First fighting, now conscription: Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia have been home to some of the war's fiercest fighting. Donetsk and Luhansk make up the Donbas -- a rural part of Ukraine dotted with factories and coal fields where Russian-backed breakaway republics have been fighting Kyiv since 2014 -- while Kherson and Zaporizhzhia were occupied by Russian forces at the outset of the invasion.

Ukraine intends to recapture all four regions, with Kyiv's troops battling since the summer to push Russia's troops back.

Civilians have been caught in the crossfire, but now those in Russian-controlled territory face a new danger: conscription.

Putin on Friday also approved a decree which will see 130,000 people called up for military service -- including, for the first time, people living in the four illegally annexed regions of Ukraine. Conscriptions in Russia happen twice per year.

More sanctions: Western powers responded to Russia's attempt at annexation last year with sanctions. The United Kingdom announced a new set of punitive measures on Friday to mark the anniversary and punish Russia for a round of regional elections arranged earlier this month. 11 new designations were announced, including measures targeting Russia's Central Election Commission.

"Russia’s sham elections are a transparent, futile attempt to legitimize its illegal control of sovereign Ukrainian territory. You can’t hold ‘elections’ in someone else’s country," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.
5:13 a.m. ET, September 30, 2023

Why Slovakia's parliamentary elections matter for Ukraine

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová

Slovaks are voting in a parliamentary election on Saturday, a knife-edge vote that could radically reshape Slovakia’s approach to Ukraine and create deep rifts within NATO and the European Union.

The frontrunner, former Prime Minister Robert Fico, has made no secret of his affinity for the Kremlin during the election campaign. He has criticized the West for supporting Ukraine and adopted a strong anti-US message, even accusing Slovakia’s President Zuzana Čaputová of being an “American agent.” He has said that if elected, he would stop sending weapons to Ukraine and block Ukraine’s NATO ambitions.

Fico’s left-wing populist SMER party has been leading for months, although opinion polls published earlier this week showed SMER neck-and-neck with the Progressive Slovakia (PS) party.

The liberal PS party, led by the EU Parliament Vice-President Michal Šimečka, is pushing for a completely different future for Slovakia – one that includes a continued strong support for Kyiv and strong links with the West.

Experts said that misinformation and Russian propaganda have become prominent during the election campaign, with social media companies criticized for not doing enough to stop it.

“Slovakia has been chosen (by Russia) as the country where there is fertile soil for success of the Russian pro-Kremlin, pro-war narratives,” Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s top digital affairs official, told a news conference Tuesday.

She said the election was a “test case” on the power of social media and misinformation. “The approach to Russian war in Ukraine is a divisive line (in the election),” she said.

Read more about Fico and the vote here:

4:38 a.m. ET, September 30, 2023

EU to extend temporary protection for Ukrainian refugees until March 2025 

From CNN’s Mariya Knight in Atlanta 

People sit at the registration as they arrive at the accommodation center for refugees from Ukraine in Berlin on May 17.
People sit at the registration as they arrive at the accommodation center for refugees from Ukraine in Berlin on May 17. Michele Tantussi/Reuters/FILE

The European Union is extending temporary protections for Ukrainian refugees until March 2025, the European Council said.

The temporary protection provides refugees with residence, access to the labor market and housing, medical and social welfare assistance and access to education for children. It is granted to displaced Ukrainian refugees who “are not in a position to return to their country of origin."

There are more than 4 million Ukrainian refugees currently living in the EU, the bloc said in a statement on Thursday.

The temporary protection mechanism was activated on March 4, 2022, shortly after Russian invasion of Ukraine started in February of 2022. 

4:38 a.m. ET, September 30, 2023

More than 100 settlements came under Russian fire on Friday, Ukraine's military says

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych and Pierre Meilhan

Russian forces attacked more than 100 settlements in eastern Ukraine on Friday, Kyiv said, targeting both troops and civilians.

The assault involved six missiles, 56 air strikes and 40 multiple launch rocket systems attacks, the Ukrainian military said on Saturday.

In the south: Overnight Saturday, Kremlin forces launched at least 50 drones to attack on targets in southern Ukraine.

Of those, 30 drones were destroyed in the Vinnytsia, Odesa and Mykolaiv regions, the Defense Forces of Southern Ukraine said on the social media app telegram.

The head of the Vinnytsia region's military administration, Serhii Borzov, said a piece of infrastructure was hit in the community of Kalynivka, prompting local authorities to take "preparatory measures for evacuation."

Some background: Russia has stepped up attacks on southern Ukrainian grain infrastructure following the collapse of a UN-brokered deal allowing the safe package of grain. There are also signs Russia is again targeting the Ukrainian power grid as it did during last winter.

6:36 a.m. ET, September 30, 2023

Ukraine's occupied regions to be included for first time in new round of Russian conscriptions 

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Darya Tarasova 

Russian conscripts line up before their departure for garrisons at a recruitment center in Simferopol, Crimea, on April 25, 2023.
Russian conscripts line up before their departure for garrisons at a recruitment center in Simferopol, Crimea, on April 25, 2023. Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters

Fall conscription will begin from October 1 in all parts of the Russian Federation, including in the illegally annexed regions of Ukraine, Russia's defense ministry announced Friday.  

In some regions of the Far North, the conscription will begin on November 1 due to the climate differences, Rear Admiral Vladimir Tsimlyansky, deputy chief of the Main Organizational and Mobilization Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, said during a briefing.  

“The autumn conscription will take place from October 1 in all constituent entities of the Russian Federation," Tsimlyansky said.
"The exception is certain regions of the Far North and certain areas equated to regions of the Far North, where citizens living in these territories are conscripted for military service from November 1 to December 31. This is primarily due to the climatic characteristics of these territories."

The departure of conscripts from collection points is scheduled to begin on October 16, he said. “The term of conscription military service, as before, will be 12 months,” Tsimlyansky said.

The conscription for military service in what Moscow claims are Russia's the new regions is regulated by a so-called constitutional law on admission to the Russian Federation, according to state news agency TASS.  

According to the law, the autumn 2023 conscription will include the annexed territories – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – for the first time. There was no conscription for military service last year and in the spring of 2023 in these regions, according to TASS. 

While regular conscriptions will be carried out, Russia has no plans for further mobilizations, Tsimlyansky, said.

Some context: Conscriptions in Russia happen twice per year. Last fall’s conscription began a month later than usual due to bottlenecks at conscription offices amid a partial mobilization, according to TASS. 

4:42 a.m. ET, September 30, 2023

UK announces new sanctions in response to Russian sham elections in occupied Ukrainian regions

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London 

The British government announced on Friday new sanctions in response to Russian sham elections in occupied parts of Ukraine. 

The UK imposed asset freezes and travel bans on Russian officials involved in the recent sham elections in the Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk, and in illegally annexed Crimea, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said in a statement. 

In addition to the specific individuals, which include the secretary of the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) Natalya Budarina, sanctions were also imposed on the commission as an entity as well. 

"Russia’s sham elections are a transparent, futile attempt to legitimize its illegal control of sovereign Ukrainian territory. You can’t hold ‘elections’ in someone else’s country," UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said. "The UK will never recognize Russia’s claims to Ukrainian territory."

"Russia has sought to destroy Ukrainian culture and identity in a bid to strengthen its illegitimate claim to Ukrainian territory, including by forcible issue of Russian passports, and imposition of Russian law, media, education, and currency," the FCDO added. "These elections are another violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and of the UN Charter."