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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10:12 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Ukraine issues stamps immortalizing a soldier's defiant words to Russia

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Lviv

Ukrposhta, Ukraine's postal service, announced Tuesday it had issued a postage stamp with the slogan, "Russian warship, go ****!" that was put into circulation today.

Roman Hrybov — the Ukrainian soldier who uttered the phrase, "Russian warship, go f**k yourself!" on the opening day of the war when ordered by a Russian warship to surrender — was invited to the ceremony unveiling the stamp, the service said in a statement on the Ukrposhta Facebook page.

Hrybov was captured by Russian forces and released in a prisoner exchange.

The phrase has become a popular Ukrainian slogan during the war with Russia.

"There would be neither postage stamp nor such strong resistance as exemplified by soldiers from Zmiinyi Island (Snake Island) without him," the statement read.

9:42 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Australia to investigate reports of possible chemical substances used in Ukraine, foreign minister says

From CNN's Wayne Chang in Taipei, Taiwan

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne has called reports of a possible strike involving chemical substances in Ukraine "deeply concerning" and said Australia will work with its counterparts to verify such reports. 

"Reports Russian forces may have deployed a chemical agent in Mariupol are deeply concerning. [Australia] is working with partners to verify these reports. Any use of chemical weapons would be a further wholesale breach of international law," Payne tweeted on Tuesday.

In a press conference Tuesday, Payne also called the reports, if confirmed, a “further indication of President Putin and Russia’s absolute violation of every single value and every single rules-based aspect of the rules based global order,” according to a transcript released by the government. 

More context: 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.

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.

9:49 a.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Russian military-linked hackers target Ukrainian power company, investigators say

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas

Workers repair power lines in Hostomel, Kyiv Region, north-central Ukraine on April 8.
Workers repair power lines in Hostomel, Kyiv Region, north-central Ukraine on April 8. (Hennadii Minchenko/Ukrinform/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

A Russian military-linked hacking group has attempted to infiltrate Ukrainian power substations and deploy malicious code capable of cutting the power, Ukrainian government officials and private investigators said Tuesday. 

The cyberattack appears to have been thwarted — the Ukrainian government Computer Emergency Response Team said it had prevented the attackers from “carrying out [their] malicious intent.”

The hack attempt did not affect the provision of electricity at the power company, Victor Zhora, a senior Ukrainian cybersecurity official, told CNN

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency was working closely with Ukrainian officials to understand the incident and share any relevant information to protect US infrastructure, CISA Director Jen Easterly tweeted Tuesday.

The hackers blamed for the incident — a group known as Sandworm that the US Justice Department has attributed to Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency — are of top concern to cybersecurity researchers around the world because they cut power in parts of Ukraine in 2015 and 2016.

In this recent incident, the hackers tried to deploy malicious code “against high-voltage electrical substations in Ukraine” on April 8, and appeared to make preparations or the attack two weeks prior, according to cybersecurity firm ESET, which investigated the hack. 

It’s the type of advanced cyberattack that many US officials and cybersecurity analysts predicted would accompany Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

“A lot of people were expecting something like this to happen, with critical infrastructure targeted by really advanced malware,” Jean-Ian Boutin, ESET’s director of threat research, told CNN. 

While this hack may have been thwarted, prior Sandworm hacks in Ukraine have been disruptive. 

A 2015 cyberattack that US officials pinned on Sandworm cut power for about a quarter million people in Ukraine. A follow-up hack in 2016 at an electrical substation outside of Kyiv caused a smaller blackout, the malicious code used was more sophisticated, according to analysts.  

The hacking tool used in the recent attempted cyberattack on the Ukrainian power company was a variation of the malicious software known as Industroyer that was used in the 2016 hack, ESET researchers said. 

“It is something that we don’t see often. And the fact that Industroyer was used years ago … this is very significant,” Boutin said.

Some background: US officials have been closely monitoring suspected Russian cyberattacks against Ukrainian critical infrastructure before and after Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The White House on Feb. 18 blamed a separate hacking incident, which temporarily knocked Ukrainian government and bank websites offline, on the GRU. 

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.