April 18, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury, Travis Caldwell, Helen Regan, Jack Guy and George Ramsay, CNN

Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT) April 19, 2022
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5:16 p.m. ET, April 18, 2022

US State Department looking at possibly labeling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

US State Department officials are looking at every tool available to them to hold Russia accountable for the war in Ukraine, including the possibility of labeling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, according to a senior administration official. The process could take weeks before a determination is made, the official said.

“We're taking a close look at the facts. We're taking a close look at the law,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price on CNN Monday when asked about the possibility of designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism on Monday. “Whether it is this authority, whether it's any other authority available to us under the law, we will apply it if it's effective and appropriate.” 

The definition of a state sponsor of terrorism is a country that has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” according to the State Department. There are only four countries that are currently labeled state sponsors of terrorism by the US: North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Syria.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked US President Biden in one of their recent phone conversations to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, CNN reported last week. 

The US has already rolled out severe sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine war, but adding Russia to the list would be a symbolic move that would also inflict an even greater cost on Russia’s economy. It would lead to actions such as prohibiting Russia from buying certain items that can be used commercial or militarily, and sanctions on other people and countries still engaged in certain trade with Russia.

5:17 p.m. ET, April 18, 2022

Russian forces have started the battle for Donbas, Zelensky says

From CNN Staff

(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)
(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)

Russian forces have started the battle for Donbas, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address on Monday.

“Russian forces have started the battle for Donbas for which they've been preparing for a long time and a considerable amount of the Russian forces are concentrated and focused on that offensive,” Zelensky said. 

The president underscored that Ukrainian forces will continue to fight against a Russian incursion in the region.

“No matter how many Russian servicemen they're bringing into that area, we will keep on fighting and defending and we will be doing this daily. We will not give up anything that is Ukrainian but we don't need anything that is not ours,” Zelensky said. 

“I’m thankful to all of our warriors, our soldiers, our heroic towns and towns in the region who are resisting and standing firm,” he added.

5:08 p.m. ET, April 18, 2022

Ukrainian national security official: Russians launched an effort to breakthrough front lines Monday

From CNN's Julia Presniakova in Lviv 

In frame taken from a video posted to social media, a long column of Russian military vehicles is seen heading from the Russian border toward the city of Izium, where Russian forces have been gathering.  The vehicles are seen moving through the city of Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region. 
In frame taken from a video posted to social media, a long column of Russian military vehicles is seen heading from the Russian border toward the city of Izium, where Russian forces have been gathering.  The vehicles are seen moving through the city of Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region.  From Twitter

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, said Monday that Russian forces had launched an effort to break through Ukrainian front lines in three regions.  

"Today, almost along the entire front line of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv regions, the occupiers tried to break through our defenses," he said in remarks on television.

"Fortunately, our military is holding on, and only in two cities they [the Russians] have passed: Kreminna and another small town. But the fighting continues, we are not surrendering our territories and the attempt to start an active phase has begun this morning," he said.

4:39 p.m. ET, April 18, 2022

White House says there are still no plans for Biden to visit Ukraine

From CNN's DJ Judd

White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated Monday that there are no plans in place for US President Joe Biden to travel to Ukraine, following comments from Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky encouraging him to do so.

“That has not changed — what our focus continues to be on is providing Ukraine, the Ukrainian government, Ukrainian leaders — a historic amount of security assistance,” Psaki told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins adding that while “there's no plans for the President to go” at this time, “if anyone were to go…we would not outline from here or anywhere from the government, who, if, and when, for security reasons, so we wouldn't have any details to preview regardless.”

Some context: In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper that aired Sunday, Zelensky said he wants Biden to come to Ukraine. The US President suggested last week that he wanted to go, though he said US officials are still “in discussions” on whether a high-level US official will visit Ukraine.

“I think he will,” Zelensky said of Biden when asked if there were any plans for the US President to visit. “I mean, his decision, of course. And as well, the safety situation depends – I mean that – but I think he’s the leader of the United States, and that’s why he should come here to see.”

4:31 p.m. ET, April 18, 2022

Ukrainian official: "Second phase of the war has begun" in Donbas

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv and Kostan Nechyporenko in Vasylkiv

Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said Monday the "second phase of the war" had begun in Ukraine's Donbas region, amid clear signs of a stepped-up Russian offensive. 

"Donbas. The second phase of the war has begun, but I will tell you to believe in the Armed Forces," Yermak said.
3:37 p.m. ET, April 18, 2022

UN: At least 73 people have been killed in 136 attacks on health care facilities since Ukraine invasion began

From CNN's Laura Ly

A medical worker walks through the damaged maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 9, after a Russian attack severely damaged the hospital.
A medical worker walks through the damaged maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 9, after a Russian attack severely damaged the hospital. (Evgeniy Maloletka/FILE/AP)

There have been at least 73 people killed and 52 people injured in 136 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine since the invasion began, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said Monday during a news briefing.  

Dujarric said he was citing the latest numbers from the World Health Organization, a UN agency responsible for international public health.

He added that the attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine currently account for more than 68% of all attacks on health care facilities worldwide since the beginning of the year. 

Additionally, more than one out of four people in Ukraine (comprising around 12 million people) have been displaced due to the war, including around 4.9 million refugees and 7.1 million people internally displaced within Ukraine, Dujarric said. 

The UN now has more than 1,300 staff on the ground in Ukraine, working in eight operational hubs across the country, the spokesperson said. Dujarric added that Secretary General Guterres continues to be “deeply concerned” about the ongoing attacks in Ukraine, resulting in civilian casualties and infrastructure damage.

3:42 p.m. ET, April 18, 2022

About 1,000 civilians are sheltering in Mariupol's besieged Azovstal plant, patrol police chief estimates 

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant is home to among the last pockets of Ukrainian resistance.
Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant is home to among the last pockets of Ukrainian resistance. (Maximilian Clarke/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/AP/FILE)

Civilians, including women, children, and the elderly, are sheltering inside the Azovstal iron and steel plant in the besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol, according to Myhailo Vershynin, the chief of the Mariupol patrol police.

Vershynin told CNN he was at the Azovstal plant, one of the city’s last bastions still under Ukrainian control which has been the focal point of heavy Russian bombardment following weeks of grinding warfare in the city that has leveled much of its infrastructure. 

According to Vershynin, civilians sheltering in Azovstal include women with infants, the elderly, as well as small children. He estimated that there were about 1,000 people in total. He said Azovstal had "quite large reserves" of food and water, but supplies were running out fast.

"Azovstal is ready for fierce resistance," Vershynin said. "Here they [defenders] are aware what their fate may be, but no one is going to give up. Yesterday they [Russians] offered us a 'corridor,' they wanted us to leave without weapons, through the filtration points, and then surrender."

"They were sent the same direction as the Russian warship. Nobody agreed to this. No one will leave without a weapon," Vershynin added.

Communications in the city are limited, and CNN reached Vershynin through voice and text message. Vershynin described the situation in the Azovstal plant, where civilians have taken refuge from heavy shelling, as very serious.

"They [civilians] have established their life there, provided themselves with food and water," he said. "The military helped sometimes. These people did not want and still do not want to go out. ... They were aware they had more chances to stay alive here. But this was until the moment when the Russian Federation began to threaten to use airstrikes."

Vershinyn confirmed the city is closed by the Russians, but added the entrance to the city may be open on the left bank to the east of the city. But he added that the road that links Mariupol from with Zaporizhzhia and Berdiansk were blocked because of very serious fighting.

2:43 p.m. ET, April 18, 2022

US State Department: Russia's recent attacks in Ukraine show a "campaign of terror"

From CNN's Kyle Atwood and Christian Sierra

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that Russia’s attacks in Ukraine in recent days further illustrate that the country is “undertaking a campaign of terror” against the people of Ukraine when responding to a question about Russia’s recent strikes in Lviv, Ukraine.

“The fact is that Russia, more than just launching an invasion, more than just launching a war, has launched, is undertaking a campaign of terror, a campaign of brutality, a campaign of despicable aggression against the people of Ukraine. And so when it comes to what we've seen in recent hours, and in terms of the strikes against Lviv, in terms of the strikes in the outskirts of Kyiv, or what we've seen in towns like Mariupol, towns like Kharkiv, what we've witnessed in Bucha, this, these are clear indications, they are a clear testament to the campaign of brutality, the campaign of terror that the Russians are waging against the people of Ukraine,” Price said. 

Price also noted that the Pentagon said earlier in the day that Russian strikes in recent days “have targeted military instillations, military adjacent instillations.” 

3:11 p.m. ET, April 18, 2022

UN official: Ceasefires in Ukraine are "not on the horizon right now"

From CNN's Laura Ly

An interior ministry sapper collects unexploded ordnance in Hostomel, Ukraine, on April 18.
An interior ministry sapper collects unexploded ordnance in Hostomel, Ukraine, on April 18. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

A ceasefire in Ukraine is not on the horizon, but may come in the coming weeks depending on how the war and ongoing negotiations continue, according to Martin Griffiths, UN under secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“Ceasefires … they’re not on the horizon right now, but they may be in a couple of weeks. They may be a little bit longer than that,” Griffiths said in his remarks Monday to reporters at the UN headquarters in New York City.

Griffiths said he plans to go to Turkey later this week to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to identify ways that the UN can help support the peacekeeping and negotiations process between Ukraine and Russia. He added that he was “really impressed” by the role that Turkey is playing in the conflict, calling the country “an important aspect” of the situation.

“We need to watch the talks very, very carefully, hence the trip to Turkey this week,” Griffiths said. 

Griffiths said he also hopes that Turkey can host a “humanitarian contact group” through which negotiations about humanitarian aid can be discussed. He said that Ukrainian officials have already agreed to this and that he hopes Russian officials will too.

Griffiths added that Ukrainian officials have agreed to most proposals made by the United Nations regarding humanitarian aid and ceasefires, but Russia has not yet given a similar response.

“Obviously we have not yet got humanitarian ceasefires in place. On the Russian side, I went into a lot of detail on this, and they continued to promise to get back to me on the details of those proposals,” Griffiths said. “In Ukraine, it was a very welcome meeting with their leadership. They agreed to most of the proposals we are making, we have yet to get the same response from the Russian Federation.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres charged Griffiths on March 28 with meeting with officials from both Ukraine and Russia about arrangements for a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine.

Griffiths said he recently met with the Ukrainian prime minister, two deputy prime ministers, the Ukrainian minister of defense, and the deputy foreign minister for this reason. He has said previously that he met with Russian officials on April 4. 

The aim of the discussions with both parties is to make sure authorities are aware of United Nations aspirations for humanitarian aid and to discuss ways in which the UN might improve its humanitarian notification system, Griffiths said. 

Griffiths said Ukrainian officials agreed to the idea of a common humanitarian contact group and to the idea of local ceasefires for the purpose of delivering humanitarian aid, but said the Russians “are not putting local ceasefires at the top of their agenda, not yet."

“On the humanitarian side, we need to have much more willing acceptance, primarily of the Russian Federation, to allow convoys in and convoys out,” Griffiths said.  

When asked whether he believed Russia would, in good faith, implement a durable ceasefire, Griffiths said he would keep trying to facilitate and mediate one, despite a current lack of action from the Russian side. 

“Hope is the currency of the mediator,” Griffiths said. “In every war that I’ve had anything to do with, you always, always begin from a basis of no hope because it looks so appalling, the atrocities are so terrible…you keep on doing it, because frankly, what’s the alternative? He added that “not to keep at it [negotiations], that would be irresponsible.”