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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11:23 a.m. ET, April 18, 2022

Spain will reopen its embassy in Kyiv "in the coming days," prime minister says

From CNN’s Al Goodman in Madrid 

Spain will reopen its embassy in Kyiv “in the coming days,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez  said Monday, becoming the latest country to return its diplomats to the Ukrainian capital.

The reopening will be “a new sign of the commitment of the Spanish government and society to the Ukrainian people,” Sánchez said in an interview with Spanish TV Antena 3.

Spain evacuated its embassy in Kyiv on Feb. 27, soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. It transferred those functions to neighboring Warsaw, Poland, the Spanish Foreign Ministry press office said.  

France announced last week that its embassy in Ukraine would "very soon" return to Kyiv from Lviv, while Italy said Saturday that it intends to reopen its embassy in Kyiv after Easter.

The European Union is also resuming its diplomatic presence in Kyiv, after moving it temporarily to Poland following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the bloc announced Friday.

Slovenia has also reopened its embassy in Kyiv since March 28, according to Slovenia's Foreign Ministry.     

11:12 a.m. ET, April 18, 2022

Ukrainian officials report intense bombardments in east and confirm retreat from town of Kreminna

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Presniakova

Ukrainian officials in the Kharkiv and Luhansk regions have reported heavy bombardments by Russian forces Monday, acknowledging a retreat from one important town but claiming to have successfully repulsed Russian attacks elsewhere.

The mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, said on Ukrainian television that the city was being "constantly bombarded." He accused the Russians of "bombing residential areas, residential buildings, where there are crowds of people. There were hits today in the city. There are wounded and dead. Several hospitals and the city perinatal center were destroyed." 

Terekhov said that 30% of the city's population had left since the invasion began but added that "as a rule people do not want to leave the city."

And striking a defiant note, he added: "Despite the bombing, we started planting flowers today. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow we will try to start the fountains."

In the neighboring Luhansk region, the head of the regional military administration, Serhii Haidai, said: "I think that the battle [for Donbas] has already begun. Multiple intensifications of shelling with all types of weapons, attempts to break into the cities."

He said that because of Russian attacks "the number of settlements without electricity, water and gas is growing."

"There are only the remnants of infrastructure," he said, with 35 settlements without power; 21 completely and 14 partially and 37 were without gas. There is no water supply in the towns of Rubizhne and Popasna, he said. Russian forces are on the edge of both towns. 

"Popasna is shelled massively," Haidai said. "In Zolote, shells hit a five-story building, several people were killed, several people were injured."

Haidai also spoke about the Ukrainian troops' retreat from the town of Kreminna in the Luhansk region Monday amid intense shelling. 

"There was a battle at night; our troops retreated to positions that helped them defend themselves," he said.

"For a long time, our troops held the line of defense in Kreminna," Haidai said. "Freshly mobilized soldiers were thrown at them, reconnaissance was carried out, there were many attempts to attack....The enemy fired from GRAD, aircraft, mortars, artillery, and tanks. It no longer made sense to stay there. Our defenders would simply die, and there would be no use. That's why our defenders moved away from Kreminna."

"Our defenders, first of all, act so as not to harm the citizens. The enemy, on the other hand, strikes at everything in its path," he said. "They no longer tried to make breakthroughs, attacks, but began to level everything to the ground."

Haidai said some evacuations were continuing but that it was like walking a tightrope. Despite the lack of a ceasefire or agreed routes to help civilians escape the fighting, he said that more than 100 people were evacuated from Luhansk region without "humanitarian corridors" Monday.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry reported some successes elsewhere in the east, saying that Russian attempts to advance around Izium had been repelled. 

"The enemy conducted reconnaissance by battle, had no success, and was forced to retreat after suffering losses," said Col. Oleksandr Motuzianyk, spokesperson at the Ministry of Defense.

Russian forces have been arriving in the Izium area after the town fell at the beginning of the month. But they've made little progress since. 

12:42 p.m. ET, April 18, 2022

In video message, Putin ally held in Ukraine suggests prisoner swap for Mariupol forces and civilians

From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Hamdi Alkhshali

h Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) released a video Monday showing the pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky to be handed over to Russia in exchange for the Ukrainian forces and civilians trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol.

“I, Medvedchuk Viktor Vladimirovich, would like to address President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and President of Ukraine, Vladimir Zelensky, with a plea for the Ukrainian side to exchange me for the defenders of Mariupol and its citizens who are there today and have no opportunity for a safe exit through a humanitarian corridor,” Medvedchuk said in his appeal.

Zelensky announced last week that Medvedchuk had been detained in a "special operation."

It is unclear if Medvedchuk — who has faced allegations of treason in Ukraine — was speaking against his will and where he recorded the video.

His wife, Oksana Marchenko, has posted videos appealing for the release of her husband in exchange for British nationals taken captive by Russian forces in Mariupol.

10:35 a.m. ET, April 18, 2022

Why Putin wants the Donbas region

From CNN's Rob Picheta

A satellite image shows trucks with towed artillery at the northern end of a military convoy moving south through the Ukrainian town of Velykyi Burluk, in the direction of the Donbas region, Ukraine, on April 8.
A satellite image shows trucks with towed artillery at the northern end of a military convoy moving south through the Ukrainian town of Velykyi Burluk, in the direction of the Donbas region, Ukraine, on April 8. (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)

Donbas, a sprawling and beleaguered heartland region that blankets much of eastern Ukraine, has been the front line of the country’s conflict with Russia since 2014.

But now its people, already scarred by eight years of fighting, are bracing for an assault even more intense. An impending battle for control of the territory is expected to define Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, after his forces suffered costly failures in Kyiv, and across central and northern Ukraine.

On Monday, both Ukrainian officials and the Russian Ministry of Defense have reported widespread military action in the east of Ukraine over the past 24 hours.

Satellite images meanwhile, have shown Russian military convoys and resupplied units moving towards Donbas for a large-scale offensive, and Ukraine’s foreign minister has warned the world of an impending battle there that will “remind you of the Second World War.”

A Russian victory in the region would appall the West but could salvage Putin’s war aims, while a defeat could cement his invasion as a historic failure. Either way, it is almost certain to devastate yet more of the Donbas region, a historically and culturally significant place whose proximity to Russia has dictated much of its turbulent existence.

Those who have lived in and studied the region describe it as an independent and gritty center of industry that has remained suspicious of outside forces for decades.

But the waves of conflict there since 2014 have reshaped and wounded its cities, and it is along its line of contact that both the Ukrainian and Russian military are most dug in – making for a familiar but unpredictable new phase of war.

Read the full story here.

10:30 a.m. ET, April 18, 2022

Ukrainian deputy prime minister appeals to Russia to open evacuation corridor from Mariupol

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Nathan Hodge in Lviv

People walk near damaged buildings in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 18.
People walk near damaged buildings in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 18. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk appealed directly to Russia's leadership to open an evacuation corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol.

In a statement on Telegram in Russian, Vereshchuk — who is also the Ukrainian minister for the reintegration of temporarily occupied territories — said she was appealing to the military and political leadership of the Russian Federation "in relation to the worsening of the situation in Mariupol." She demanded an opening of a corridor from Mariupol to Berdiansk for civilians and an "urgent" corridor from the territory of the Azovstal plant for "women, children and other civilians."

The Azovstal steel plant has been a bastion of Ukrainian defense inside the port city, which has undergone weeks of bombardment by Russian forces.

Vereshchuk added that Russian refusal to open up corridors for evacuation "will be grounds for holding all involved persons criminally liable for war crimes in the future."

Ukrainian officials have said over 100,000 people require evacuation from the city. Independent estimates of casualties from the relentless Russian bombardment are not available, but the region's military governor has said as many as 22,000 people have died in the city since the Russian assault began. 

9:41 a.m. ET, April 18, 2022

Ukrainian Marine commander sends open letter to Pope Francis: Mariupol is "hell on Earth"

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv

The commander of the Ukrainian Marine unit in the besieged city of Mariupol wrote a letter to Pope Francis appealing for him to save the people remaining in the city under heavy bombardment. 

In the letter, published on the Ukrainska Pravda website, Maj. Serhii Volyna, commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, wrote, "I have not seen your appeals to the world and I have not read all your last statements, I have been fighting for more than 50 days in complete encirclement and all I have time for is a fierce battle for every meter of a city encircled by the enemy."

Volyna said he was ready to "fight to the end," despite constant artillery and rocket fire, lack of water, food and medicine, adding: "You have probably seen a lot in your life. But I am sure that you have never seen what is happening in Mariupol. Because that's what hell on Earth looks like. I have little time to describe all the horrors I see here every day. At the plant [Azovstal], women with children and babies live in bunkers. In hunger and cold. Every day being targeted by the enemy aviation. The wounded die every day because there is no medicine, no water, no food."

The officer alluded to the drama theater in Mariupol that was hit by a Russian strike while being used as a shelter for civilians in March. 

"The time has come when praying is not enough," Volyna said. "Help to save them. After the bombing of the drama theater, no one believes the Russian occupiers. Bring the truth to the world, evacuate people and save their lives from the hands of Satan, who wants to burn all living things."

9:36 a.m. ET, April 18, 2022

Moscow continues diplomatic retaliation and expels Bulgarian embassy employees

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

The Bulgarian embassy in Moscow, Russia, on April 20, 2021.
The Bulgarian embassy in Moscow, Russia, on April 20, 2021. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

Moscow is expelling employees of the Bulgarian embassy, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday.

"Atanas Krastin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Russian Federation, was invited to the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he was presented with a note from the Ministry declaring employees of the Bulgarian Embassy in Moscow as "persona non grata" (unacceptable)," the statement read.

The ministry noted that this measure is a response to Bulgaria's decision taken in March to declare 10 diplomats of the Russian Embassy in Sofia as "persona non grata."

9:41 a.m. ET, April 18, 2022

Key takeaways from Ukrainian President Zelensky’s exclusive interview with CNN

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sat down for an exclusive interview with CNN over the weekend. If you're just joining us, here are the key takeaways you need to know:
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sat down for an exclusive interview with CNN over the weekend. If you're just joining us, here are the key takeaways you need to know: (CNN)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sat down for an exclusive interview with CNN that aired over the weekend. If you're just joining us, here are the key takeaways:

Ukraine is not willing to give up its eastern territory: Zelensky said he will not give up the eastern part of the country to end the war with Russia, and Ukraine's military is prepared to fight Moscow's military in the Donbas region in a battle he says could influence the course of the entire war.

Ukraine has no guarantee that Russia wouldn't try again to seize Kyiv if it is able to capture Donbas, he continued. "This is why it is very important for us to not allow them, to stand our ground, because this battle … it can influence the course of the whole war," Zelensky said.

“Because I don’t trust the Russian military and Russian leadership,” he added. “That is why we understand that the fact that we fought them off and they left, and they were running away from Kyiv – from the north, from Chernihiv and from that direction – it doesn’t mean if they are able to capture Donbas, they won’t come further towards Kyiv.”

Zelensky’s interview with CNN, more than seven weeks into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, comes as Ukraine’s military has seen successes resisting Russia’s offensive that have come as a surprise to US intelligence – and a Kremlin that had planned for a quick and decisive victory.

Asked by Tapper if Ukraine would be victorious in the conflict, Zelensky said, “Yes, of course, and will.”

What happened with Russian warship Moskva: A senior US defense official said Friday that two Ukrainian Neptune missiles had hit the Moskva, and an American official said that the strike and subsequent sinking of the ship was the result of a Ukrainian missile. Zelensky, however, was cagey about whether Ukraine had played a role.

"We know that it does not exist anymore. For us, it is a strong weapon against our country, so its sinking is not a tragedy for us. I want you, the rest of the people, to realize that. The less weapons the Russian Federation that has attacked our country has, the better for us. The less capable they are. This is important," he told CNN.

Zelensky warns that Russia could use nuclear or chemical weapons: "All of the countries have to be worried because it can be not real information, but it can be truth," Zelensky said, switching into English to emphasize his point. "We should think not be afraid, not be afraid but be ready. But that is not a question for Ukraine, not only for Ukraine but for all the world, I think."

More help needed: Zelensky said the $800 million in additional funding Biden approved last week to go to Ukraine for new and more advanced weapons was helpful – but more was still needed. “Of course, we need more. But I am happy that he is helping us now,” Zelensky said. “I feel that right now we are having a cleaner dialogue. It’s been a dialogue that’s had some twists and turns. And not just talk. It’s been very, very difficult because there aren’t many countries that have really helped us.”

Zelensky said the most important factor was speed to get the weapons needed into the hands of Ukrainian forces. He dismissed some concerns the US and other countries have raised that Ukraine’s soldiers are not trained to use some of the weapons the country is asking for.

Zelensky speaks about the horrors of war: "Look what happened in Bucha. It's clear that is not even a war, it's a genocide. They just killed people. Not soldiers, people. They just shot people in the streets. People were riding bicycles, taking the bus or just walking down the street. There were corpses lining the streets," the president said.

Asked about a video released earlier this month showing a Ukrainian woman finding the body of her son in a well, Zelensky said, "This is the most horrifying thing I have seen in my life."

He grew emotional talking about the death that the war has caused in Ukraine, saying it is "a great pain for me" to see the lives lost. Zelensky, who lost family in the Holocaust, was asked what he thought about politicians around the world saying "never again" on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, given what's happening in his country.

"I don't believe the world," he said, speaking in English. "We don't believe the words. After the escalation of Russia, we don't believe our neighbors. We don't believe all of this."

"The only belief there is belief in ourselves, in our people, belief in our Armed Forces, and the belief that countries are going to support us not just with their words but with their actions," Zelensky continued in Ukrainian. "And that's it. Never again. Really, everybody is talking about this and yet, as you can see, not everyone has got the guts."

Read more from the interview here.

CNN's Devan Cole contributed to this report.

9:12 a.m. ET, April 18, 2022

Around 200,000 Russian jobs at risk following exit of foreign companies, Moscow mayor says

From Uliana Pavlova and Chris Liakos

Around 200,000 people are at risk of losing their jobs in the Russian capital following foreign companies leaving the country, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said in a blog post Monday.

Authorities will continue to implement plans in order to support workers at risk of being unemployed, setting aside 3.36 billion rubles ($41 million) for these plans, Sobyanin said.

“We continue to implement the plan to improve the sustainability of the capital's economy. As planned, last week we approved the program to support employees at risk of dismissal. Taking into account subsidies from the federal budget, 3.36 billion rubles will be allocated for its implementation. First of all, the program is addressed to employees of foreign companies that have temporarily suspended their activities or decided to leave Russia. According to our estimates, about 200,000 people are at risk of losing their jobs,” Sobyanin wrote.

The employment assistance plan includes personnel training, employment in temporary and public works and incentives for organizations and firms who employ these workers, he added.