April 12, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Travis Caldwell, Jessie Yeung, Matias Grez and Jeevan Ravindran, CNN

Updated 4:58 p.m. ET, April 21, 2022
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8:47 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Obama says Putin acting in newly "reckless" manner

From CNN's Shania Shelton

Russian President Vladimir Putin is acting in a newly reckless manner with the invasion of Ukraine, former US President Barack Obama said in an interview that aired Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show.

“Putin has always been ruthless against his own people as well as others. He has always been somebody who's wrapped up in this twisted, distorted sense of grievance and ethnic nationalism,” Obama said. “That part of Putin, I think, has always been there. What we've seen with the invasion of Ukraine is him being reckless in a way that you might not have anticipated eight, 10 years ago, but the danger was always there.”

The former president declined to directly answer a question about what, in hindsight, he would have done differently while in office, including when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Instead, he said it’s important to “not take our own democracy for granted” and to “stand for and align ourselves with those who believe in freedom and independence.”

8:18 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Putin says Russia’s military goals in Ukraine are "noble" and will be achieved, state media reports

From CNN's Zahra Ullah

Maps showing the region and what part of it has been under Russian control since before the invasion.
Maps showing the region and what part of it has been under Russian control since before the invasion. (Henrik Petterson/CNN)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's military goals in Ukraine are "noble" and will be achieved, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Speaking at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia Tuesday, where he was meeting with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, Putin said the "special operation" in Ukraine was the right step as Russia "had no other choice."

Putin said the goals of the "special military operation" was to help the people of Donbas, and "takes measures to ensure the security of Russia itself."

"Obviously, we had no other choice, that's right. And there is no doubt that the goals [of the special operation] will be achieved," Putin said on Tuesday.

"The main goal is to help people in Donbas, the people of Donbas, which we recognized, were forced to do this because the Kyiv authorities, pushed by the West, refused to comply with the Minsk agreements aimed at a peaceful solution to the problems of Donbas," Putin added.

Some background: Putin has framed the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a "special mission" to protect Russian speakers from genocide at the hands of ​"neo-Nazis."

Three days before invading Ukraine, the Russian leader officially recognized the two self-proclaimed "people's republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region as independent.

Ukrainian and Western officials have said in recent days they have observed movement of Russian troops to Donbas following major setbacks for Moscow in a push to take Kyiv.  

According to a senior US defense official, Russia is attempting to resupply and reinforce its forces in eastern Ukraine, as evidenced by a convoy of vehicles approaching the city of Izyum from the north.

CNN also geolocated a video shared to social media on Monday showing a large column of Russian military vehicles facing north-west, in the direction of the Donbas region.

Ukraine is investigating some 5,800 cases of alleged Russian war crimes, according to its prosecutor general.

8:19 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Azov commander in Mariupol says several affected by "poisonous substance of unknown origin"

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Nathan Hodge

The commander of a Ukrainian unit defending the port city of Mariupol posted a video statement Tuesday, saying a handful of people had been affected by a "poisonous substance of unknown origin" amid reports of an alleged Russian chemical attack.

Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov battalion, said in the statement that it was not possible to investigate the scene fully due to Russian shelling.

"The victims of the spread of a poisonous substance of unknown origin in the city of Mariupol are in a relatively satisfactory condition," Prokopenko said.

"Contact of the civilians with the substance was minimal, for the [incident] epicenter was at a certain distance from the location of the civilians. The military were a little bit closer.

However, it is currently impossible to fully investigate the scene due to the enemy fire, because the Russians continue using the tactics of concealing their own crimes."

CNN cannot independently verify that there was any kind of chemical strike, or how many casualties were caused by any such incident.

Prokopenko's post on Telegram shows brief interviews with a soldier and two civilians, including an elderly woman, who were purportedly affected by the substance, and interviews with two medical personnel.

An unnamed military anesthesiologist said main symptoms of the victims are the following: facial hyperemia, high blood pressure, dryness and inflammation in the oropharynx and mucous membranes of the eyes.

Maksym Zhorin, a co-commander of Azov, called the incident a "brazen crime," adding, "Many of us did not believe that they would do it. But, probably out of desperation that they could not seize Mariupol for more than a month, they resorted to such cynical crimes and began to use chemical weapons."

Zhorin said three people had experienced serious symptoms. "All the others were in a shelter at the time and were not affected that much," he said.

In remarks on national television, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar said authorities were still investigating the incident.

"As of now we are checking this information," she said. "We are trying to understand what was used. Based on preliminary data, there's an assumption that these could have been phosphorus munition. But the official information will follow later."

We have to understand there's a very real threat of chemical weapons use."

The Azov battalion, which had its origins as a far-right militia and was folded into Ukraine's armed forces, is one of the units holding out in the besieged port city.

Some background: In response to the reports, Britain’s junior Armed Forces minister said "all options are on the table" for how the West will respond if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine.

"I think it’s useful to maintain some ambiguity [...] over exactly what the response would be, but let’s be clear, if they are used at all, then [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin should know that all possible options are on the table in terms of how the West might respond," James Heappey told Sky News.

According to Human Rights Watch, "white phosphorus can burn people to the bone, smolder inside the body, and reignite when bandages are removed."

The munitions are either banned or circumscribed under international law in populated areas.

8:09 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

World Trade Organization cuts global trade growth forecast amid war in Ukraine

From CNN’s Chris Liakos in London

WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks at a press conference on WTO trade forecast in Geneva on Tuesday.
WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks at a press conference on WTO trade forecast in Geneva on Tuesday. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

The World Trade Organization has sharply cut its outlook for global trade this year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, warning the world "must brace for the fallout."

"The organization now expects merchandise trade volume growth of 3.0% in 2022 -- down from its previous forecast of 4.7% -- and 3.4% 2023, but these estimates are less certain than usual due to the fluid nature of the conflict," WTO said in a press release.

WTO added that, given current GDP assumptions, "merchandise trade volume growth in 2022 could be as low as 0.5% or as high as 5.5%."

WTO said that the biggest impact of the crisis has been a sharp rise in commodity prices as Russia and Ukraine are both key suppliers of essential goods, including food, energy, and fertilizers -- "supplies of which are now threatened by the war."

"The war in Ukraine has created immense human suffering, but it has also damaged the global economy at a critical juncture. Its impact will be felt around the world, particularly in low-income countries, where food accounts for a large fraction of household spending," director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in the press release. 

"Smaller supplies and higher prices for food mean that the world's poor could be forced to do without. This must not be allowed to happen," she added.

Speaking during a press conference, Okonjo-Iweala warned that there is a potential food crisis looming, and 35 African countries that import food from either Ukraine or Russia or both are seriously impacted -- citing Egypt and Tunisia in particular.

"This is why we need to act and act decisively on this issue of food in order to avoid food riots," the WTO director-general said.

Okonjo-Iweala also expressed her concerns about harvest and planting season in Ukraine for this and next year. "We hope there will be some sort of humanitarian cover so farmers can plant," she said.

8:59 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Rape and sexual violence allegations in Ukraine must be investigated, UN says

From CNN's Jeevan Ravindran in London

UN Women Executive Director  Sima Bahous speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Monday.
UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Monday. (UNTV)

There are increasing reports of rape and sexual violence being used against women and children in Ukraine, the executive director of UN Women said Monday, adding the allegations must be investigated.

"The combination of mass displacement with a large presence of conscripts and mercenaries and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians has raised all red flags," Sima Bahous told the UN Security Council.

"The risk of human trafficking is increasing as the situation becomes more desperate," Bahous added. "Young women and unaccompanied teenagers are at a particular risk."

Her remarks followed a visit to Moldova, which she said had welcomed an estimated 95,000 Ukrainian refugees, while "thousands more" have transited through the country. She noted that those arriving were largely women, children and the elderly.

Bahous called for increased resources for police forces at the border between Moldova and Ukraine "so that they can ensure support to victims of gender-based violence and trafficking."

"Gender-sensitive and survivor-centered response must be at the heart of all humanitarian action," Bahous said.

7:35 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

There are unconfirmed reports of a chemical attack in Mariupol on Monday. Here's what we know

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Investigations are ongoing into a possible chemical attack in the besieged southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Monday, CNN has learned. 

CNN cannot independently verify that there was any kind of chemical strike, or how many casualties were caused by any such incident.

Here's what we know:

Who reported the alleged attack? The reports emerged in a Telegram statement on Monday night from the Azov battalion, a Ukrainian unit defending Mariupol. They said Russian forces dropped "a poisonous substance of unknown origin" from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) onto Ukrainian military and civilians in the city.

Victims showed signs of "respiratory failure," and the consequences "were being clarified," the statement added.

Andriy Biletsky, Azov's first commander, said on Telegram that three individuals suffered from the effect of the unknown substance.

What did Mariupol officials say? A chemical attack has not been confirmed, Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, posted on Telegram. He said city officials were awaiting additional information from military forces, and speculated that in one possible scenario, the "discharge of an unknown chemical" could be "a test for the reaction in general." 

How about the Ukrainian government? President Volodymyr Zelensky did not confirm a chemical attack but warned the possibility of one should be taken seriously. In his nightly address Monday, Zelensky said Russia could be preparing a new stage of terror.

"Today, the occupiers issued a new statement, which indicates that they are preparing a new stage of terror against Ukraine and our defenders. One of the occupiers' spokesmen said that they could use chemical weapons against the defenders of Mariupol. We take this as seriously as possible," Zelensky said.

What was he talking about? Zelensky may have been referring to an earlier statement by a spokesperson for the militia of the pro-Russian separatists in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) in eastern Ukraine.

In a Russian state television talk show, DNR spokesperson Eduard Basurin alluded to using chemical weapons to attack a Mariupol steel plant that is a stronghold for Ukrainian forces.

"Azovstal is a factory that was built during Soviet Union times," Basurin said. "It is made of lot of concrete and iron. There are multilevel underground floors there, so it makes no sense to take this target by storm. Because you can lose a lot of your soldiers, and the enemy will not suffer the same losses.
"So at the moment we need to deal with blockade of this plant, find all exits and entrances — it is possible to get this done. And then turn to, I think, the chemical troops who will find a way to smoke moles out of their burrows."

What have other countries said? The US has not confirmed the use of chemical weapons in Mariupol, but had previously warned the Ukrainians that Russia could use chemical agents in the city, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CNN Monday.

In a statement Monday, press secretary John Kirby said The Pentagon cannot confirm the reports but US officials remain concerned about the potential Russian use of riot control agents.

Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted about working "urgently with partners" to verify the unconfirmed reports.

7:16 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

It's 2 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Rescuers search for bodies under the rubble of a building destroyed by Russian shelling, in Borodianka, Kyiv region, on Monday.
Rescuers search for bodies under the rubble of a building destroyed by Russian shelling, in Borodianka, Kyiv region, on Monday. (Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

At Monday's United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting, the director of UN Women said the organization is increasingly hearing of rape and sexual violence being committed in Ukraine. Sima Bahous told the meeting the allegations "must be independently investigated to ensure justice and accountability."

Bahous added that the risk of human trafficking is increasing as the situation becomes more desperate, with young women and unaccompanied teenagers particularly at risk.

Here's the latest from the war in Ukraine:

  • Russian troops start pouring into east: A large column of Russian military vehicles facing the Donbas region was seen in a video shared on social media that CNN has geolocated in Russia’s Rostov region. The vehicles are seen facing north-west, in the direction of the Donbas region.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children displaced: UNICEF says two-thirds of Ukrainian children are now displaced due to the ongoing conflict. UNICEF's emergency programs director Manuel Fontaine told the UNSC on Monday that he had "rarely seen so much damage caused in so little time."  
  • Russia accused of more than 5,800 war crimes: Ukraine's prosecutor general told CNN Monday that her office is building more than 5,800 cases accusing Russia of war crimes, starting "more and more such proceedings" every day.
  • More devastation near Kyiv: After Russian troops withdrew from areas surrounding the capital to focus their theater of war on eastern and southern Ukraine, residents returning or emerging from hiding are confronted by the invasion’s devastating aftermath. CNN’s Clarissa Ward toured a pair of villages that were occupied by Russians for more than a month and reported they found "endless accounts of horror, executions, arbitrary detentions and more."
  • Russian troops leave thousands of mines: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian troops retreating from the north of the country had deliberately left thousands of mines in their wake, in what he considered a war crime.
  • Mariupol defense: Ukrainian Marines in the besieged port city of Mariupol said they are "holding out to the end" despite being surrounded by Russian forces and running low on supplies. The head of the Russian-backed Donetsk People's Republic said Monday the city's port had fallen to Russian and Russian-backed forces, Russian state news agencies reported, which could not be immediately verified. Ukrainian officials have said about 100,000 civilians remain in the city.
  • Unconfirmed reports of chemical attacks: After reports emerged Monday of a possible strike involving chemical substances of some kind in Mariupol, Zelensky warned the possibility should be taken seriously, though a Mariupol official said any such attack remained unconfirmed. Other nations such as the UK said they are working to verify details. CNN cannot independently verify that there has been any kind of chemical strike in Mariupol.  
  • More than 4,000 evacuated Monday: A total of 4,354 people were evacuated from areas where fighting continues, according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, including more than 500 from Mariupol. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly decried Russian forces for often not allowing safe passage of citizens away from combat zones.
  • Russia hit by further Japanese sanctions: Japan imposed additional sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, freezing the assets of 398 Russian citizens, including President Vladimir Putin's two adult daughters, Katerina Tikhonova and Mariya Vorontsova, according to a news release from Japan's Foreign Ministry.
  • Austrian leader visits Moscow: A face-to-face meeting between Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow was ''not a friendly visit," Nehammer said in a statement. "I have just come from Ukraine and have seen with my own eyes the immeasurable suffering caused by the Russian war of aggression,” he said.
  • Russia to resupply forces in Donbas: Russia is attempting to resupply and reinforce its forces in eastern Ukraine, according to a senior US defense official, as evidenced by a convoy of vehicles approaching the city of Izyum from the north. The vehicle line includes a “command and control element, a support battalion, basically enablers, perhaps rotary-wing aviation support, and other infantry support,” according to the official.
6:40 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Nokia announces it will exit the Russian market

From CNN's Chris Liakos

Nokia has officially announced its exit from the Russian market.

"It has been clear for Nokia since the early days of the invasion of Ukraine that continuing our presence in Russia would not be possible," the Finnish telecoms company said in a press release Tuesday.

Nokia said its top priority continues to be the safety and wellbeing of its employees.

"For humanitarian reasons, Western governments have expressed concerns about the risk of critical telecommunication network infrastructure in Russia failing," the press release read.

They have also emphasized the importance of ensuring the continued flow of information and access to the internet which provides outside perspectives to the Russian people.

"Therefore, as we exit we will aim to provide the necessary support to maintain the networks and are applying for the relevant licenses to enable this support in compliance with current sanctions," Nokia added.

Nokia said that it does not expect this decision to impact its financial outlook and that Russia accounted for less than 2% of its net sales in 2021.

This comes after Swedish telecoms company Ericsson said Monday it was suspending its business in Russia indefinitely.

6:34 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Ukrainian Marines are "holding out to the end" in besieged city of Mariupol

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Chernivtsi and Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Residents walk near a destroyed building in Mariupol, on April 10.  
Residents walk near a destroyed building in Mariupol, on April 10.   (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Ukrainian Marines in the besieged port city of Mariupol said they are "holding out to the end" despite being surrounded by Russian forces and running low on supplies.  

"We are the defenders of Mariupol, the 36th Marine Brigade, which is holding the defense of this city to the last," one of the marines said in a video on Facebook.

"We did not give up our positions. We kept every inch of this city as best as we could. But the reality is that the city is under siege, in a ring. There has been no supply of ammunition or food. We have been holding out to the end. We are grateful to every Ukrainian who believed and continues to believe in the Marines. We have held on to this faith for so long. We did not leave our positions. We have always remained faithful."

Independent analysis of the situation in Mariupol on Sunday published by the Institute for the Study of War assessed that the defense of Mariupol had reached a critical stage. 

"Russian forces bisected Mariupol from the city center to the coast on April 10, isolating the remaining Ukrainian defenders in two main locations: The main port of Mariupol in the southwest and the Azovstal steel plant in the east," the analysis stated.

CNN cannot independently verify the situation on the ground in the areas of heaviest fighting in Mariupol. The city, which has been battered by weeks of relentless bombardment, has become a symbol of Ukrainian resolve in the war against Russia. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said "tens of thousands" have died in Mariupol, a figure that cannot be independently verified.