April 4, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Travis Caldwell, Helen Regan, Ben Church, Jason Kurtz and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 2:01 a.m. ET, April 5, 2022
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11:33 a.m. ET, April 4, 2022

US defense official: About two-thirds of Russian troops who were centered around Kyiv have departed the area

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

About two thirds of Russian troops that were centered around Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, have “departed the area,” a senior US defense official told reporters Monday. 

The troops that have left the area around Kyiv are “heading north,” and “consolidating in Belarus,” the official said. 

“What we continue to believe is that they’re going to be refit, resupplied, perhaps maybe even reinforced with additional manpower, and then sent back into Ukraine to continue fighting elsewhere,” the official added. 

The US “assessment” is that these troops will be “applied in the eastern party of the country, in the Donbas region,” to fight there, the official said. 

“Our best assessment, and it is only an assessment, is that they will be applied in the eastern part of the country in the Donbas region, but that is an assessment only,” the official said.

A “bitter fight” continues over Mariupol, but “there are no indications that the Russians have made any progress” in taking the city, the official said.

Russian forces are now “much more to a defensive posture” around Kherson, the official said.

“We assess that in the Kherson area, as we’ve been talking about for the last few days, the Russians have kind of gotten pinched between Kherson and Mykolaiv. We now assess that they’ve shifted much more to a defensive posture around Kherson,” the official added.

Russian forces are “still flying about more than 200 sorties a day,” and “most of their airstrikes are focusing on the Izyum area,” the official said.

9:07 p.m. ET, April 4, 2022

Mariupol is "on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe," mayor says 

From CNN's Yulia Presniakova in Lviv

A woman walks past a damaged building in Mariupol on April 1.
A woman walks past a damaged building in Mariupol on April 1. (Victor/Xinhua/Getty Images)

The besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol is "on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe," with over 100,000 people still requiring evacuation, Mayor Vadym Boichenko said in a televised press briefing.

"The situation in Mariupol remains very difficult," he said. "We are on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe — no light, no water, no food, no medicine for more than a month. Therefore, we insist that Mariupol must be given a full evacuation and access to the city. But we see that today the Russian Federation is blocking all humanitarian aid moving in the direction of Mariupol. And no cargo reached Mariupol."

Boichenko said no evacuation buses had yet reached the city, despite agreements between Russia and Ukraine to open evacuation corridors. Some residents, he said, had managed to reach the nearby Russian-held city of Berdiansk in private cars, but added that the route was "very difficult and intermittent." 

About 90,000 people have managed evacuation along the corridor between Berdiansk and the Ukrainian government-held city of Zaporizhzhia, he said, but added that more than 100,000 people still trapped in Mariupol.

"Today there are more than 100,000 people in Mariupol, whom we plan to but cannot evacuate. That is why we are asking the international community today to unite for the complete evacuation of the residents of Mariupol," Boichenko said.

12:00 p.m. ET, April 4, 2022

US President Biden calls Bucha atrocities a "war crime"

From CNN's Allie Malloy

US President Joe Biden speaks to reporters upon arrival at Fort McNair in Washington, DC, on April 4.
US President Joe Biden speaks to reporters upon arrival at Fort McNair in Washington, DC, on April 4. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden Monday called the atrocities committed by Russia and President Vladimir Putin in Bucha, Ukraine, a “war crime” but said it was not a genocide, adding that he is looking into more sanctions on Russia.

“You may remember I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal. Well the truth of the matter is you saw what happened in Bucha. This warrants him — he is a war criminal. But we have to gather the information. We have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue the fight and we have to get all the details so this can be an actual — have a war crime trial. This guy is brutal and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous and everyone’s seen it,” Biden told reporters upon landing in Washington, DC.

Asked whether the crimes committed in Bucha warrant the situation a genocide, Biden told reporters,“ No. I think it’s a war crime.”

Biden also said he was “seeking more sanctions” and would be announcing them shortly.

11:09 a.m. ET, April 4, 2022

Ukraine's top prosecutor calls scenes in Kyiv region "evidence of brutal war crimes of Russian Federation"

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

The scenes in the towns of the Kyiv region freed from Russian control were "crucial evidence of brutal war crimes of the Russian Federation," Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said in a statement published on Sunday via her verified Facebook page.

"The tortured Kyiv region is not a route for political tourism, but a crime scene," Venediktova said, urging prosecutions in Ukrainian and international courts. 

Substantial evidence of the massacre of civilians has emerged in recent days in suburbs of Kyiv, such as Bucha and Irpin.

To date, 410 bodies of slain civilians have been removed from Kyiv region and 140 of them have already been examined by prosecutors and other specialists, according to Venediktova.

The Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, together with the pre-trial investigation bodies, the military command, and the Military Law Enforcement Service, are working to document alleged crimes committed by Russian troops, she said.

Here are some more details she provided:

  • Ukrainian authorities have subdivided the region into areas of responsibility in which investigative and operational groups of prosecutors and the National Police are working.
  • Forensic inspectors, explosives technicians, K-9 teams and doctors are involved in site inspections.
  • The State Emergency Service are first on site to clear out unexploded ordnance left behind.
  • In Bucha region alone, there are more than 50 National Police officers and prosecutors currently involved in conducting urgent investigative actions.
  • The Office of the Prosecutor General will further increase the number of investigative task forces to ensure efficient collection of the evidence of war crimes.

Officials have said efforts are underway to search for witnesses, victims and to collect photo and video evidence.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has issued blanket denials in response to intense international outcry, calling claims of alleged war crimes "fake."

2:10 p.m. ET, April 4, 2022

Russian oligarch's luxury yacht is first seizure of new US task force dedicated to sanctions crackdown

From CNN's Whitney Wild

A 255-foot luxury yacht owned by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg was seized by Spanish law enforcement Monday at the request of US officials, according to the US Department of Justice. 

Vekselberg has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his case marks the first seizure of a newly formed US task force, called KleptoCapture, dedicated to cracking down on sanctions violators in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

“It will not be the last,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement Monday. “Together, with our international partners, we will do everything possible to hold accountable any individual whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue its unjust war.”

“The seizure of this luxury yacht demonstrates our determination to hold accountable those who support Vladimir Putin’s unwarranted invasion of another sovereign nation,” said US Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia.

According to the Justice Department, the super yacht, dubbed “Tango,” was seized based on alleged violations of US bank fraud, money laundering, and sanctions statutes. Another $625,000 spread across nine different banks was frozen as part of investigations into sanctions violations by Russian nationals.

Video released by Department of Justice:

10:58 a.m. ET, April 4, 2022

EU attributes atrocities in Ukraine to Russia, saying "no one else" could have committed them 

From CNN's James Frater in Brussels  

The areas of Ukraine where mass graves and murdered civilians were found “have been under the occupation, under the control of the aggressor, of the Russian troops, or they have been bombed out by the aggressor, the Russian troops,” Peter Stano, European Commission spokesperson for foreign affairs, said on Monday.  

“There is no one else who could have committed these atrocities,” he added. 

Russia has denied any involvement in the killings, maintaining it doesn't target civilians and saying the images of bodies on the streets of Bucha are fake. 

Speaking to journalists in Brussels, Stano said that “the perpetrators of all these violations and war crimes will be held accountable,” adding, “government officials and military leaders will be held accountable.” 

Stano said that the European Union will fully support “the investigation which was launched by the International Criminal Court prosecutor, and we also support fully the work of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights Commission of Inquiry.” 

The EU is also “assisting the Ukrainian Prosecutor General and civil society which is focused on collection and preservation of evidence of the war crimes,” he added.  

11:17 a.m. ET, April 4, 2022

Calls for war crime charges against Putin are mounting. Here's how the prosecutions work

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Shocking atrocities in Ukraine, allegedly at the hands of Russian forces, have amplified calls to pursue war crimes charges against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Images of at least 20 bodies strewn across the street in Bucha, Ukraine, emerged over the weekend following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area, prompting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to call for an end to Russian "war crimes." Russia's bombing of hospitals and a theater where children were seeking refuge along with its suspected use of cluster bombs and so-called vacuum bombs in dense areas with many civilians have also been described as war crimes.

Here's a very broad look at war crimes and the international justice movement.

What is a war crime?

The International Criminal Court has specific definitions for war crimes, which you can read in this guide published by the ICC. Specifically, targeting civilian populations, violating the Geneva Conventions, targeting specific groups of people and more could be potential Russian war crimes.

There is a method of gathering evidence from testimony, satellite images and elsewhere to meet a burden of proof.

What is the International Criminal Court?

Located in The Hague, Netherlands, and created by a treaty called the Rome Statute first brought before the United Nations, the International Criminal Court operates independently. Most countries are parties to the treaty, but there are very large and notable exceptions, including Russia and the US. And, for that matter, Ukraine.

Who can be tried by the court?

The court tries people, not countries, and focuses on those who hold the most responsibility: leaders and officials. While Ukraine is not a member of the court, it has previously accepted its jurisdiction. Putin could, therefore, theoretically be indicted by the court for previously ordering war crimes in Crimea.

However, the ICC does not conduct trials in absentia, so he would either have to be handed over by Russia or arrested outside of Russia. That seems unlikely.

How does the ICC bring proceedings?

Court proceedings can be brought in one of two ways: Either a national government or the UN Security Council can refer cases for investigation.

Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has veto power over council actions. It was requests by 39 national governments, most of them European, that sparked this current investigation.

How long do these investigations take?

If justice in general moves slowly, international justice barely moves at all. Investigations at the ICC take many years. Only a handful of convictions have ever been won.

How would an ICC case affect the conflict?

"For better or for worse, the ICC investigation may affect the diplomatic space for negotiations," according to Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University and co-editor-in-chief of Just Security, an online forum.

He argued Putin and other Russians might not want to risk arrest if they travel outside the country.

The investigation could also weaken Putin at home, he added. "Russians may come to realize this is another reason Putin can no longer serve their country."

10:46 a.m. ET, April 4, 2022

Ukraine's Human Rights commissioner says Russia's treatment of prisoners of war violates Geneva Conventions

From CNN’s Alex Hardie in London

Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Liudmyla Denisova holds a briefing on November 4, 2020 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Liudmyla Denisova holds a briefing on November 4, 2020 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Hennadii Minchenko/Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

Ukraine's Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Liudmyla Denisova said Monday that Russia’s treatment of prisoners of war violates the Geneva Conventions.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Denisova said that released Ukrainian soldiers have “told of the inhumane treatment of them by the Russian side: they were kept in a field, in a pit, in a garage. Periodically, one was taken out: beaten with rifle butts, shots fired next to their ear, intimidated.”

“The prisoners of war were taken away in an unknown direction and housed in a tent camp in temperatures of -20 degrees, as a result of which many boys had frostbite. They were treated like convicts, morally oppressed, and a dog was set on them while they were walking in the yard,” Denisova continued.

She added that some had been “starved for several days.”

Article 13 of the Geneva Convention on POWs states that "prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated." 

Denisova called on “the UN Commission for Investigation Human Rights Violations of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine and the expert mission set up by the OSCE participating States under the Moscow Mechanism to take into account these violations of the rights of Ukrainian prisoners of war.”

9:50 a.m. ET, April 4, 2022

Zelensky says Ukraine wants to "show the world" what happened in Bucha

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stands in the town of Bucha, northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, on April 4.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stands in the town of Bucha, northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, on April 4. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine wants to "show the world" what happened in Bucha, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, vowing that the country will "not pause" until it finds those accountable. 

Speaking from Bucha to reporters on Monday, Zelensky said it is "very important to us that the press is here" in the town. 

"We want you to show the world what happened here. What the Russian military did. What the Russian Federation did in peaceful Ukraine. It was important for you to see that these were civilians," the president added. 

Shocking images of civilian bodies found strewn across a street in Bucha have sparked international outrage. The Kremlin questioned the reports regarding Bucha on Monday, rejecting all accusations of Russian military involvement.

The European Union on Monday announced it has established a joint investigation team with Ukraine to probe alleged Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Zelensky told reporters Monday that the present situation a "matter of life and death and torture," stressing Ukraine's commitment for finding those responsible for the atrocities. 

"We are going to put maximum pressure. We shall not pause for one minute to find all the criminals and I think this will benefit civilization," Zelensky continued. 

He warned that "if we don't find a civilized solution," the Ukrainian people "will find a non-civilized solution" to deal with matters.