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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10:18 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

Zelensky: Withdrawing Russian forces left mines scattered "everywhere"

From CNN’s Mariya Knight and Jen Deaton

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Office of the President of Ukraine/YouTube)

In a nightly address to the nation on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russian troops retreating from parts of northern Ukraine had deliberately left thousands of mines in their wake, in what he considered a “war crime."

In those areas, “tens if not hundreds of thousands” of unexploded ordnance had been left behind, he said, adding that teams are working to clear these “dangerous items.” 

The “invaders left mines everywhere," including in homes, on streets and in fields, he added.   

“They deliberately did everything to ensure that the return to these areas after de-occupation was as dangerous as possible. Due to the actions of the Russian army, our territory today is one of the most contaminated by mines in the world," Zelensky said.

He called these actions “war crimes” intended to “kill or maim as many of our people as possible," adding that troops would not have done so without explicit orders from Russia’s leadership. 

10:05 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

US has not confirmed use of chemical weapons, but had previously warned Ukrainians of the possibility

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The United States has not confirmed the use of chemical weapons in Mariupol, but had previously warned the Ukrainians that Russia could use chemical agents in the southeastern Ukrainian city, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CNN Monday.

“Before today, there was credible information available to us that the Russians may have been preparing to use agents, chemical agents, potentially tear gas mixed with other agents, as part of an effort to weaken, to incapacitate the Ukrainian military and civilian elements that are entrenched in Mariupol, using these agents as part of an effort to weaken those defenses,” Price said.

“We shared that information with our Ukrainian partners. We are going to be in direct conversations with them to try and determine what exactly has transpired here, and as soon as we gain additional fidelity, we’ll be in a better position to say what this was or what this may have been,” he said.

Some context: After reports emerged Monday of a possible strike involving chemical substances of some kind in Mariupol, the Ukrainian President warned the possibility should be taken seriously, though a Mariupol official said any such attack remained unconfirmed.

The UK has said it is also working with partners to investigate the reports.

CNN cannot independently verify that there has been any kind of chemical strike in Mariupol. CNN teams on the ground have so far not seen evidence of such an attack, or any imagery from Mariupol sources to verify this.

8:30 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

Ukraine's prosecutor general says office is investigating 5,800 cases of Russian war crimes

From CNN's Paul LeBlanc

The prosecutor general of Ukraine said Monday that her office is investigating 5,800 cases of Russian war crimes, with “more and more” proceedings every day.

Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead,” Iryna Venediktova said Ukraine has identified more than 500 suspects in the sprawling probe, including Russian politicians, military personnel and propaganda agents “who wanted this war, who started this war and who continued this war.”

“We want to prosecute these war criminals in our Ukrainian courts, named by Ukraine,” Venediktova said, while acknowledging the role of the International Criminal Court.

Her comments come as shocking atrocities in Ukraine, allegedly at the hands of Russian forces, have amplified calls to pursue war crimes charges against Russian President Vladimir Putin. After images of at least 20 bodies strewn across the street in Bucha, Ukraine, emerged earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for an end to Russian “war crimes.”

Russia has denied any involvement in the incident, claiming — without evidence — that the atrocities in Bucha were staged, and part of a “planned media campaign.” But witnesses who have spoken to CNN said the carnage in the town began weeks ago, when it was occupied by Russian forces, and a video depicts Russian forces appearing to indiscriminately fire at a civilian.

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10:02 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

Ukrainian officials claim strike on Russian weapons depot in Luhansk region

From CNN's Celine Alkhaldi

Destruction of the weapons depot is seen in this screengrab taken from video.
Destruction of the weapons depot is seen in this screengrab taken from video. (From Telegram)

Ukrainian officials claim to have destroyed a Russian weapons depot in Novoaidar, Luhansk region.

CNN has geolocated a video and images shared to social media that appear to show the aftermath of that attack.

On Monday, Serhii Haidai, head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said in a Facebook post that Ukrainian forces had destroyed a Russian "ammunition warehouse" near a Russian settlement in Luhansk.  

In a video shared by Russian state media RIA Novosti, Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) People’s Militia officer Roman Ivanov said the Ukrainian strikes on Novoaidar destroyed “more than 20 homes, along with a warehouse filled with chemical fertilizers.”

Haidai denied Russian claims that Ukrainians targeted residential buildings.

Burned out shells and rockets are seen scattered all over the ground in the video and images, and an agricultural equipment store is spotted in the distance.

8:57 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

CNN tours Ukrainian villages decimated by Russian troops

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

(CNN)
(CNN)

In Ukrainian villages east of the capital of Kyiv where Russian forces have withdrawn, residents begin to slowly emerge from hiding and the new reality they’re facing is nothing short of devastating.

CNN’s Clarissa Ward toured a pair of villages that were occupied by Russians for more than a month. She reported that they found "endless accounts of horror, executions, arbitrary detentions and more."

One local school was taken over by Vladimir Putin’s invading army, used as a base, and left in shambles after being looted and ransacked by the troops.

Bloodstains speckle the main entrance, where the school’s principal is left to wonder how such an atrocity came to be.

“We are for education. Education is the future. Our students,” the woman told Ward. “It's such a shame that our occupiers didn't understand this. Why steal everything? This is a school.”

One chalkboard in a classroom Ward visited that was formerly occupied by Russians said, "Forgive us, we didn't want this war."

Nearby, a local cemetery houses the bodies of six Ukrainian men who authorities say were executed on the first day the Russians arrived.

“We dug very fast so they wouldn't shoot us,” a woman told CNN. “But there was shooting over there and heavy shelling.”

A pair of brothers are among the dead, Igor and Oleg. Their mother survived, but now mourns.

“They were very good boys,” she said. “How I want to see them again.”

One Ukrainian mother told Ward her daughter was taken on March 25. More than two weeks later she doesn’t know where she is, or whether she survived the Russians' invasion.

“They said they found information on her phone about their forces,” the mother told Ward. “They told me she was in a warm house. That she was working with them and she would be home soon.”

But as Ward revealed, “Victoria never came home.”

Amid the risk of certain death, the Ukrainian residents clung to one another, and their sense of pride, with one woman finding solace among blue and yellow stripes, Ward reported.

“We kept it, we kept it,” the woman tells Ward, showing the Ukrainian flag given to her husband for his military service. “We hid it.”

Now the flag can come out of hiding, as Russian forces have retreated. The village is decimated, but for the moment, it's once again free.

Watch Ward's on the ground reporting:

8:45 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

Russian forces left bombs, death and destruction around Kyiv. Now, a painstaking demining operation is underway

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio and Frederik Pleitgen, Byron Blunt and Daria Markina

On the outskirts of Kyiv, Lt. Col. Mykola Opanasenko kneels down in a remote field as he winds up a small electrical generator to power a blast.

"Fire," he shouts, before bracing and pressing the trigger. A fraction of a second later, an ear-ringing bang pierces through the otherwise silent countryside.

This is the sixth controlled explosion 34-year-old Opanasenko and his demining unit have carried out since Russia withdrew its forces from the Kyiv region earlier this month. Today, they blew up 16 unexploded artillery shells, each weighing around 45 kilograms (nearly 100 pounds), in one explosion. They have another 30 shells to go through before the day is over.

Their unit is one of many operating in the region. In total, they say they've destroyed 2.5 tons of ammunition in the past week and a half alone.

"If we are all alive, then everything is successful," Opanasenko says.

As Russian forces retreated, they left behind scores of unexploded shells and bombs in addition to mines they planted to slow down the Ukrainian advance, to protect their withdrawal, or perhaps, simply to scorch the earth.

Mines, ammunition and rusty machine guns from destroyed armored vehicles can be dangerous for civilians now returning to their homes, so Opanasenko's unit goes from village to village, scouring the ground for any of these deadly ordnances that need to be cleared out.

Signs warning of mines can be seen across towns and villages around Kyiv. Units like Opanasenko's will continue their work for months to come across the country as the war rages on, according to Ukraine's State Emergency Service (SES).

"As of now, we need to survey more than 300,000 hectares," the head of the SES, Serhiy Kruk, told journalists last Wednesday.

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8:12 p.m. ET, April 11, 2022

Austria's leader says his face-to-face meeting with Putin was "not a friendly visit"

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt, Nic Robertson and Rob Picheta

Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he raised alleged Russian atrocities in Ukraine during a "tough" and unfriendly meeting Monday with Vladimir Putin — the first Western sit-down with the Russian President since he launched his invasion in February.

"This is not a friendly visit. I have just come from Ukraine and have seen with my own eyes the immeasurable suffering caused by the Russian war of aggression," Nehammer was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his office after the meeting outside Moscow.

Nehammer is the first European leader to meet Putin face-to-face since his invasion of Ukraine. His visit divided opinion among EU leaders, with some expressing skepticism about engaging with the Russian leader.

The pair spoke for about 75 minutes at Putin's Novo-Ogaryovo residence near Moscow, Nehammer's spokesperson said, in talks the Austrian leader described as "very direct, open and tough."

Before visiting Russia, Nehammer met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv and visited the town of Bucha, where bodies of unarmed civilians were found strewn across public streets after a month of Russian occupation.

''I addressed the serious war crimes in Bucha and other places and emphasized that all those responsible for them must be held accountable," Nehammer said, according to the statement. "I also told President Putin in no uncertain terms that sanctions against Russia will remain in place and will continue to be tightened as long as people are dying in Ukraine."

The Austrian leader said Putin had blamed the Ukrainians for "being responsible for the crimes in Bucha." Video footage, however, shows Russian forces gunning down a civilian there.

Austria is militarily neutral but its government has joined its neighbors in condemning Putin's invasion.

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