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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8:19 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.

6:21 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Ukrainian officials report more shelling in east but hope rains will impede Russian advance

From Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv, Maria Kostenko in Chernivtsi and Tim Lister

Ukrainian officials have reported further shelling by Russian forces and civilian casualties in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which have become the focus of Russian attacks.

Serhii Haidai, head of Luhansk regional military administration, said the cities of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Kreminna, Novodruzhesk and Rubizhne had been targeted again, with 12 residential buildings struck in the last day.

"Unfortunately, there were casualties in Lysychansk -- one man died, three more people were injured," Haida said. "The number of missile and air attacks on the Luhansk region has increased significantly.

Yesterday Lysychansk was bombed from planes and there was a missile attack."

"It is most difficult to evacuate people from the cities of Popasna and Rubizhne," he said, as they were partially occupied by Russian forces. "Our troops repel constant attacks. We can't go to certain areas of cities and pick up people due to constant shelling."

"In the cities of Kreminna, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk evacuation takes place daily," Haidai said, adding it can sometimes be as many as 2,000 people.

He said that hospitals are still operating in Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.

Haidai said that heavy rains could impede Russian efforts to advance.

"Within last two days they began to collect hundreds of units of heavy equipment, pulling it closer to the front line. This suggests that the offensive should begin today and tomorrow, but it is raining today. According to the forecast, it will rain for several days."

He said the rains would force vehicles to use roads, "and this makes an easy target for our defenders. I hope the rains slows down the offensive."

Ukrainian officials say Russian attacks by air are moving further west to the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Mykola Lukashuk, head of Dnipropetrovsk Regional Council, said that the night in the Dnipropetrovsk region was "restless."

"We had two air attacks on Synelnykiv district at the border of Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions," Lukashuk said, adding there were no casualties.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Tuesday that Russian forces continued to regroup along Ukraine's eastern borders and said it expected further ground attacks towards Popasna in Luhansk region and Kurakhove in Donetsk, "with the aim of reaching the administrative boundaries of Donetsk region."

It accused Russian forces of "placing their military equipment and troops directly in residential facilities," as well as in "agricultural enterprises, energy and social infrastructure facilities."

The Armed Forces claimed that six Russian attacks in the east had been foiled Monday and tanks, armored vehicles and artillery systems had been destroyed.

As the fighting in the east continues, the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced nine evacuation corridors Tuesday, including from Mariupol and Berdiansk on the southeast coast, and Severodonetsk, Rubizhne and Lysychansk.

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

Nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children now displaced, says UNICEF

From CNN's Richard Roth and Yulia Kesaieva

A woman and a child, along with other refugees from Ukraine, wait in the ticket hall of the railway station in Przemysl, eastern Poland, on April 7.
A woman and a child, along with other refugees from Ukraine, wait in the ticket hall of the railway station in Przemysl, eastern Poland, on April 7. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)

Nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children are now displaced due to the ongoing conflict, UNICEF has said.

UNICEF's emergency programs director Manuel Fontaine told the UN Security Council on Monday that he had "rarely seen so much damage caused in so little time" after returning from a visit to Ukraine.

"They have been forced to leave everything behind: Their homes, their schools, and often, their family members," he said.

Fontaine said the UN had verified the deaths of 142 children with 229 injured as of Sunday, but that "the true figures are most certainly much higher given the scale of attacks."

Meanwhile Liudmyla Denisova, commissioner for human rights of the Ukrainian Parliament, said Tuesday that 186 children had died and 344 had been injured.

"It is not possible to establish the actual number of dead and wounded children due to the fact that the occupying forces are actively fighting in Ukrainian cities," she added, stating that the figures were according to the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations and "other sources that need confirmation."

In his Security Council comments, UNICEF's Fontaine also drew attention to the 3.2 million children estimated to still be in their homes.

"Nearly half may be at risk of not having enough food," he said. "Attacks on water system infrastructure and power outages have left an estimated 1.4 million people without access to water in Ukraine. Another 4.6 million people have only limited access.

"The situation is even worse in cities like Mariupol and Kherson, where children and their families have now gone weeks without running water and sanitation services, a regular supply of food, and medical care. They are sheltering in their homes and underground, waiting for the bombs and violence to stop."

He also said unaccompanied children in Ukraine face a "much higher risk of violence, abuse, exploitation, and trafficking," and pointed to the impacts of school closures on 1.5 million students in higher education and 5.7 million school-age children.