October 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Matt Meyer and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 5:57 p.m. ET, October 15, 2022
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5:41 p.m. ET, October 15, 2022

Our live coverage has ended for the day. You can scroll through the updates below or click here for more on Russia's war in Ukraine.

4:46 p.m. ET, October 15, 2022

Gunmen kill at least 11 people in attack on Russian military recruits, Russia's state media reports

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Two gunmen opened fire on Russian military recruits at a training ground in Russia’s Belgorod region, killing at least 11 people and wounding another 15, Russia's state news agency TASS reports.

The attack happened Saturday during a training session at the Western Military District, according to TASS, which cited the Russian Defense Ministry. The gunmen were said to be from former Soviet states. Russian officials have branded the attack an act of terrorism.

“As a result of a terrorist attack at a military training ground in the Belgorod region, 11 people were killed, 15 were injured and are receiving medical assistance,” TASS reported.

“The incident occurred during a shooting training session with volunteers preparing for a special operation. The terrorists attacked the personnel of the unit with small-arms fire."

According to TASS, two individuals who committed the “terrorist act” were killed in retaliatory fire at the training ground.

The Belgorod region is in western Russia on the border with Ukraine.

4:12 p.m. ET, October 15, 2022

Zelensky notes eastern regions with the fiercest fighting in evening address

 From CNN's Mariya Knight

Very fierce battles are taking place around the eastern Donetsk region, and the Ukrainian military is holding its position there, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Saturday.

“Active operations continue in various areas of the front. A very difficult situation persists in Donetsk region and Luhansk," Zelensky said, referring to another eastern region that has been occupied by Russian troops for months. "The most difficult is the Bakhmut direction, as in the previous days. We hold our positions."

Bakhmut is located in the northern portion of Donetsk region.

Work still to do on recaptured land: Zelensky also gave an update on the efforts to reconnect services to regions of Ukraine recently liberated from Russian forces.

He said homes in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Izium, which was under Russian occupation for six months before being liberated in September, are having their supply of natural gas restored.

“The first 500 families of the city already have gas in their homes again,” he said. “Just yesterday, more than 3,000 houses in the Izium, Kupiansk, Chuhuiv and Kharkiv districts of Kharkiv region were connected to the gas supply. Work is ongoing in other directions as well.”

4:58 p.m. ET, October 15, 2022

“The hell with it … we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free,” Elon Musk tweets

From CNN's Tim Lister

Weeks after SpaceX said the company could not keep funding the Ukrainian military's use of its satellite services, US billionaire Elon Musk seemed to reverse course on Twitter today — though it wasn't clear if the issue was actually settled.

“The hell with it … even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free,” a tweet from Musk’s verified account read Saturday.

If you haven't been following this: Starlink is the name of a satellite system, made by Musk's SpaceX, which has been a vital source of communication for Ukraine’s military. The company's internet terminals have allowed troops to stay connected even as cellular phone and internet networks have been destroyed in the war with Russia.

SpaceX has warned the Pentagon it may stop funding the service in Ukraine unless the US military kicks in tens of millions of dollars per month. The company also requested the Pentagon take over funding for Ukraine’s government and military use of Starlink, which SpaceX claims would cost more than $120 million for the rest of the year and could cost close to $400 million for the next 12 months.

A Pentagon spokesperson said Friday it had been in communication with SpaceX over the funding of the Starlink satellite communication product. 

“No good deed goes unpunished,” Musk said in response to a follower who replied to his tweet Saturday. “Even so, we should still do good deeds.”

Ukrainian officials voice support: The situation involving Musk's Starlink was complicated further when he publicly shared a Russia-Ukraine peace proposal this month. He faced withering criticism in Ukraine for the plan because it would see Kyiv surrender Crimea and agree to neutrality status.

However, some Ukrainian officials have since extended an olive branch.

Yegor “George” Dubynskyi, Ukraine’s deputy minister of digital transformation, told CNN Saturday that Starlink is crucial in newly liberated territories so that Ukrainian officials can communicate.

Ukraine continues to talk with donors such as the Polish and US governments on how to continue funding Starlink, Dubynskyi said. He had no immediate response to Musk’s tweet.

CNN's Sean Lyngaas contributed to this report.

2:52 p.m. ET, October 15, 2022

Analysis: The next few weeks of the war in Ukraine are critical. Here’s why

Analysis by CNN's Rob Picheta

The war in Ukraine, which for months appeared to be descending into a slow and painful grind, has erupted once again as winter nears. The conflict is teetering toward an unpredictable new phase.

“This is now the third, fourth, possibly fifth different war that we’ve been observing,” said Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia Programme.

An onslaught of Russian missile attacks this week was followed by steady Ukrainian ground gains and a huge explosion on the Kerch bridge, the only crossing between the annexed Crimean peninsula and Russia. That blast bruised the Russian psyche and handed Ukraine a significant strategic boost.

With the cold months nearing and likely bringing a slowdown in ground combat, experts say the next weeks of the war will be vital.

“What seemed a distant prospect for anything that could be convincingly described as a Ukraine victory is now very much more plausible,” Giles said. “The response from Russia is likely to escalate further.”

"Playing for the whistle": Russia said Thursday its forces would help evacuate residents of occupied Kherson as Ukraine makes more gains in the region.

The successful offensive has shifted the momentum of the war and disproved a suggestion, built up in the West and in Russia last summer, that while Ukraine could stoutly defend territory, it lacked the ability to seize ground.

“The Russians are playing for the whistle – (hoping to) avoid a collapse in their frontline before the winter sets in,” Samir Puri, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the author of “Russia’s Road to War with Ukraine,” told CNN.

“If they can get to Christmas with the frontline looking roughly as it is, that’s a huge success for the Russians given how botched this has been since February.”

You can read Rob Picheta's complete analysis here.

12:57 p.m. ET, October 15, 2022

What are the "kamikaze drones" used by Russia in Ukraine?

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová

Ukrainian officials say Russia has been deploying an increasingly familiar weapon in its attacks: "kamikaze drones."

Most recently, the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia was hit with four strikes by kamikaze drones overnight Saturday. Authorities said Moscow has also used them in assaults against Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Odesa and other cities across Ukraine in recent weeks.

Ukrainian officials have pleaded with Western countries to step up their assistance in the face of the new challenge, in addition to developing its own technology to counter the strikes.

Kamikaze drones, or suicide drones, are a type of aerial weapon system. They are known as a "loitering munition" because they are capable of waiting in an area identified as a potential target and only strike once an enemy asset is identified.

The drones are capable of carrying precision-guided missiles and have a payload of approximately 50 kilograms (110 pounds). They are small, portable and can be easily launched — but their main advantage is that they are hard to detect and can be fired from a distance.

The name “kamikaze” refers to the fact the drones are disposable. They are designed to hit behind the enemy lines and are destroyed in the attack – unlike the more traditional, larger and faster military drones that return home after dropping missiles.

Ties to Iran: The Ukrainian military and US intelligence say Russia is using Iranian-made attack drones. US officials told CNN in July that Iran had begun showcasing Shahed series drones to Russia the previous month.

US officials later said Russia bought the drones and was training its forces how to use them. According to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russia has ordered 2,400 Shahed-136 drones from Iran.

CNN's Josh Pennington contributed to this report.

12:12 p.m. ET, October 15, 2022

Russia’s new top commander in Ukraine carries reputation for brutality

From CNN's Sarah Dean

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Russian Armed Forces service personnel who took part in operations in Syria, including Sergey Surovikin, at the Kremlin on December 28, 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Russian Armed Forces service personnel who took part in operations in Syria, including Sergey Surovikin, at the Kremlin on December 28, 2017. Russian Presidency

There’s a new general in charge of Russian President Vladimir Putin's devastating war on Ukraine — and he has a reputation for brutality.

After Ukraine made gains in its counteroffensive in recent weeks, Russia’s Ministry of Defense named Sergey Surovikin its new overall commander for operations in the war.

Notably, he previously played an instrumental role in Russia’s operations in Syria as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces. During these operations Russian combat aircraft caused widespread devastation in rebel-held area.

CNN spoke to a former Russian air force lieutenant, Gleb Irisov, who served under him in Syria.

He said Surovikin was “very close to Putin’s regime” and “never had any political ambitions, so always executed a plan exactly as ​the government wanted.”

Analysts say that while Surovikin’s appointment is highly unlikely to change how Russian forces are carrying out the war, it does speak to Putin’s dissatisfaction with previous command operations. It is also, in part, likely meant to placate the nationalist and pro-war base within Russia itself, according to Mason Clark, a Russia expert at the Institute for the Study of War think tank.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has called for Russia to “take more drastic measures" including the use of “low-yield nuclear weapons” in Ukraine following recent setbacks, welcomed the appointment of Surovikin.

Praise from Kadyrov, who is ​a key Putin ally, is significant, perhaps, as he himself is notorious for crushing all forms of dissent.

"They hated him": As the commander's one-time subordinate in Syria, Irisov said he saw Surovikin several times during some missions and spoke to high-ranking officers under him.

“He made a lot of people very angry – they hated him,” Irisov said, describing how the “direct” and “straight” general was disliked at headquarters because of the way he tried to implement his infantry experience into the air force.

Just two days after Surovikin’s appointment last Saturday, Russia launched its heaviest bombardment of Ukraine since the early days of the war.

Surovikin is “more familiar with cruise missiles, maybe he used his connections and experience to organize this chain of devastating attacks,” Irisov said​, referencing reports that cruise missiles have been among the weapons deployed by Russia.

But Clark, from the Study of War think tank, suggests the general’s promotion is “more of a framing thing to inject new blood into the Russian command system” and “put on this tough nationalist face.”

You can read Sarah Dean's full report here.

12:11 p.m. ET, October 15, 2022

Biden approves another $725 million in military aid for Ukraine

From CNN's Katharina Krebs

President Joe Biden speaks in Hagerstown, Maryland, on October 7.
President Joe Biden speaks in Hagerstown, Maryland, on October 7. Craig Hudson/Bloomberg/Getty Images

US President Joe Biden has approved an additional $725 million in security aid for Ukraine, according to a statement from the State Department.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Biden on Twitter Saturday morning.

"Sincerely grateful to POTUS, the people from United States for providing another $725 million security aid package. We will receive, in particular, much-needed rounds for HIMARS and artillery," the message reads. "A wonderful gift for Ukraine's Defenders' Day! The Russian aggressor will be defeated, Ukraine will be free!"

The Biden administration authorized the additional presidential drawdown — a form of military spending that allows for speedy approval — for Ukraine Friday. 

The $725 million package includes ammunition for HIMARS, HARMs (air-to-surface missiles), anti-tank weapons, Humvees, 155mm artillery rounds, small arms and small arms ammunition, precision-guided artillery rounds and medical supplies.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

10:30 a.m. ET, October 15, 2022

Russian official: Ukrainian shelling caused fire at oil depot in Russia’s Belgorod region

From CNN’s Katharina Krebs

Telegram/ Underground Belgorod
Telegram/ Underground Belgorod

A missile from Ukraine hit an oil depot in the Russian region of Belgorod Saturday afternoon, causing a fire at the facility, according to a local official.

"I am at the scene. The Ministry of Emergency Situations is already fighting the fire. There is no threat of the fire spreading," Vyacheslav Gladkov, Belgorod's governor, said in a statement on Telegram.

Belgorod is near the border with Ukraine’s Kharkiv.

Emergency services said one of 10 tanks at the depot was damaged due to the shelling, according to Russian state media. 

Last week the Russian secret service said Ukrainian forces have significantly increased shelling of Russian territory in the Bryansk, Kursk and Belgorod regions since the beginning of October.