December 11, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Matt Meyer, Maureen Chowdhury and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 1:39 a.m. ET, December 12, 2022
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1:24 p.m. ET, December 11, 2022

Ukrainian official claims that an explosion rocked mercenary group's headquarters in Luhansk region

From CNN's Mariya Knight

An explosion rocked the Wagner mercenary group's headquarters in the eastern Luhansk region of Ukraine on Saturday, according to a regional official.

“They had a 'pop' (explosion), where the headquarters of Wagner were. And photos have already appeared online, and they don't even hide that there are huge losses there," Serhiy Hayday, head of the region's military administration, said in an interview with Ukrainian media Sunday.

Hayday said the headquarters was established at a building in the Russian-occupied city of Kadiivka. The city is located in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Reports out of Russia: The Russian state news agency TASS reported that an explosion occurred on Saturday in a "private hotel" building in Kadiivka, but did not specify Wagner's presence there.

CNN has not independently verified whether Wagner operated at the hotel.

“The hotel building was destroyed in the city of Stakhanov in the LPR due to the strike by the Armed Forces of Ukraine using HIMAR (rocket launchers), the blow shook the central part of the city,” TASS reported Saturday.

"The strike was at the private hotel, that is in the area of ​​the central market. The hotel wasn’t operating at the moment,” TASS' report continued. “Rescuers are already working on the scene, they are clearing the rubble.”

What is the Wagner Group?

The Wagner Group is a mercenary firm that has been heavily involved in the fighting in Ukraine. The group is often described as President Vladimir Putin’s off-the-books troops. It has expanded its footprint globally since its creation in 2014. The group has been accused of war crimes in Africa, Syria and Ukraine.

The group was founded by a Russian oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin, which he admitted earlier this year. Prigozhin is so close to the Kremlin that he is known as Putin’s “chef.”

CNN's Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.

12:25 p.m. ET, December 11, 2022

Ukrainian prime minister says 40% of the country's high-voltage network facilities are damaged

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Facebook that after eight waves of missile attacks on the country, all thermal and hydroelectric power stations have been damaged to some degree.

Shmyhal also said that 40% of all high-voltage network facilities have been damaged “to varying degrees.”

"Each of us must realize that this winter we will have to live through with significant restrictions on electricity consumption,” he said. 
12:08 p.m. ET, December 11, 2022

National security official: US continues to work on securing Paul Whelan's release

From CNN's Sam Fossum

Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on January 22, 2019.
Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on January 22, 2019. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)

John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesperson, said Sunday that the US is working to release American Paul Whelan from Russia.

Kirby said the deal that secured WNBA star Brittney Griner's release left the administration "more informed" on the Russians' view of Paul's case.

Remember: Russian authorities allege the former Marine was involved in an intelligence operation in Moscow. In 2020, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison in a trial US officials denounced as unfair.

Here's what Kirby said on "ABC This Week":

"They hold Mr. Whelan differently because of these espionage charges. And so, we're working through that now. We are now more informed. Clearly, having gone through this process over the last few months, we're more informed. We have a better sense of the context here, where the Russians expectations are, and we're just going to keep working at it."

Kirby also reiterated how the negotiations evolved this summer, adding that it was not until the last week when the Griner deal was finalized that they lost hope of securing the release of both Griner and Whelan together.

"There was a very serious, specific proposal made to the Russians to try to get both of them out together," Kirby said. "And it just didn't land anywhere. It didn't go anywhere with the Russians."

As negotiations progressed through summer and into the fall, Kirby said it was clear "that they were treating Paul very separately, very distinctly because of these sham espionage charges they levied against them."

Kirby acknowledged bipartisan criticism of the deal that secured Griner's release, but pushed back. 

"I understand the criticism. They weren't in the room. They weren't on the phone. They weren't watching the incredible effort and determination ... to try to get both Paul and (Griner) out together," he said. "I mean, in a negotiation you do what you can, you do as much as you can. You push and you push and you push, and we did. And this deal we got last week — that was the deal that was possible."

11:31 a.m. ET, December 11, 2022

Situation in Odesa is "controlled, although not easy" amid power outage, mayor says

From CNN's Mia Alberti

A power outage is seen in Odesa on Saturday.
A power outage is seen in Odesa on Saturday. (Gian Marco Benedetto/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Power and water supplies are gradually being restored around the key port of Odesa after the region was hit by drone strikes, Odesa Mayor Hennadii Trukhanov said in a statement on Telegram.

The number of people without power in the region decreased from 1.5 million on Saturday to 300,000 on Sunday.

"The situation is quite controlled, although not easy," he said.

Trukhanov said his administration is re-launching pumping stations and delivering water by truck to zones where shortages continue. Regarding power supply and heating, the official said 43 out of 140 boiler houses are still not working. 

"Power engineers are working to ensure that the electricity returns to the homes of Odesa residents as soon as possible," the mayor said.

The head of Odesa regional state administration, Maksym Marchenko, said in a statement that "power is gradually returning to Odesa".

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that the damage was done by Iranian-made drones, which Russia launched overnight Friday into Saturday.

Why Odesa's stability is so important: The port of Odesa is Ukraine's key to exporting vital food products, including through its "Grain from Ukraine" initiative, which is aimed at addressing the global hunger crisis.

10:52 a.m. ET, December 11, 2022

Macron and Zelensky speak ahead of international aid conferences 

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron said he spoke with his counterpart in Kyiv Sunday to prepare two conferences in support of Ukraine this week in Paris. 

“With President Zelensky, we have prepared the conferences that France is hosting on Tuesday: the first, international, to meet Ukraine's needs to get through the winter, and a second with French companies that are involved in the reconstruction of the country,” Macron tweeted Sunday. 

This is the 43rd meeting or call between the two men since Dec. 2021, according to the Elysee Presidential Palace. 

Nearly 70 state and international NGO actors are expected to attend the morning conference on support for Ukraine in the winter, with some 500 French companies due to attend the afternoon conference on reconstruction, per the Elysee Palace.

Several agreements on critical infrastructure are also expected to be signed.

Ukraine’s prime minister and first lady are expected to attend the conferences in Paris Tuesday, with President Volodymyr Zelensky to give a virtual address. 

10:26 a.m. ET, December 11, 2022

Eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut is "holding on" as fighting rages all around it, military says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian service members rest in their shelter in Bakhmut on Friday.
Ukrainian service members rest in their shelter in Bakhmut on Friday. Yevhan Titoy/Reuters

Ukraine's forces are clinging to the eastern town of Bakhmut as fighting rages all around it, the military said. 

“Bakhmut is Ukraine. Bakhmut is standing, Bakhmut is holding on,” a spokesperson for the Armed Forces of Ukraine wrote on Telegram. 

Speaking about Russian troops, the Ukrainian military said: “You have not entered anywhere, you will not enter anywhere. You will never take Bakhmut.” 

The military added: “No matter what they say, no matter what they write, Bakhmut was, is and will be Ukraine.” 

Some context: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said earlier this week that the situation is very difficult for his troops along the frontline in the country's Donbas region.

Bakhmut is located in Donetsk, which is part of the Donbas and was among the four territories of Ukraine annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in violation of international law.

10:21 a.m. ET, December 11, 2022

Multiple explosions reported around Crimea Saturday evening

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

Several blasts shook the Crimean city of Simferopol around 9 p.m. local time Saturday, according to social media video and local reports.

There were also reports of explosions in Sevastopol, the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea fleet; at a Russian military barracks in Sovietske; and in the settlements of Hvardiiske, Dzhankoi and Nyzhniohirskyi.

The blasts come after Moscow ramped up its missile assaults on Ukraine last week, and around the same time, Ukraine launched attacks on occupied Melitopol and Donetsk, which is controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

The exact circumstances surrounding the explosions are unclear:

Sergey Aksenov, the Russian-appointed head of Crimea, indicated the region had activated its air defenses but didn't specifically outline details of a potential attack.

“The air defense system worked over Simferopol," he wrote on Telegram. "All services are working as usual."

The unofficial Crimean media portal Krymskyi Veter said the explosion at a Russian military barracks in Sovietske had set the building on fire, killing some people and leaving others wounded.

A pro-Russian Crimean channel claimed the fire at the barracks had been caused by “careless handling of fire.”

“Two people died. Now all the servicemen, about two hundred people, are accommodated in another premises,” it said.

And Mikhail Razvozhaev, governor of Sevastopol, said the explosions in his area were due to firing exercises.

Ukrainian officials have made no comment about the reported Crimea explosions. CNN is unable to verify what caused the blasts, nor the extent of damage and casualties.

11:13 a.m. ET, December 11, 2022

Zelensky: 1.5M without power after Russian drones strike key port city of Odesa

From CNN's Mariya Knight

More than 1.5 million people in the region surrounding Odesa, a key Ukrainian port city, are without power following a strike by Russian drones early Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

“In total, Russian terrorists used 15 (Iranian-made) Shahed drones against Odesa,” Zelensky said during his daily address that evening. "Only critical infrastructure is connected, and to the extent where it is possible to supply electricity."

"This is the true attitude of Russia towards Odesa, towards Odesa residents – deliberate bullying, deliberate attempt to bring disaster to the city," he continued. 

Zelensky added that “Ukrainian sky defenders managed to shoot down 10 drones out of 15.” 

The Ukrainian president called the drone hits “critical” and suggested it will take a few days to restore the electricity supply in the region.

“In general, both emergency and stabilization power outages continue in various regions,” Zelensky said. “The power system is now, to put it mildly, very far from a normal state.”

Why Odesa's stability is so important: The port of Odesa is Ukraine's key to exporting vital food products, including through its "Grain from Ukraine" initiative, which is aimed at addressing the global hunger crisis.

A long winter sets in: With strikes on energy infrastructure, Russia is repeatedly casting Ukrainian cities into the dark and cold as a long winter sets in.

The result is a grinding battle of attrition: Barrages of Russian missiles fly across Ukraine, and Ukrainian power engineers work for days in freezing temperatures to restore power.

9:20 a.m. ET, December 11, 2022

Ukraine launches attacks on self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic: Russia state media

From CNN's Josh Pennington

Ukraine launched a missile attack on the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) early Sunday morning, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Ukraine launched 20 Grad missiles around 5:54 a.m. local time Sunday, said Alexei Kulemzin, head of the Russian-backed city administration. The strikes were made in the direction of the Voroshilovsky and Kalininsky districts. 

Shells hit several apartment buildings and landed near the opera, ballet theater and the Kalinin Hospital, RIA reported, adding that one strike left an apartment building ablaze.

Kulemzin said Ukraine also shelled the city's Kyivskyi district late Saturday night, around 11 p.m. local time. 

The Ukrainian military has not yet confirmed or commented on the attack, and CNN cannot independently verify the reports.

Some background: Donetsk is a region in eastern Ukraine that has been held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.

During that time, the region has been operated under the name Donetsk People's Republic. Russia recognizes the DPR as a sovereign state, and Donetsk was among the four Ukrainian regions annexed by Russia in violation of international law.

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.