April 13, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Helen Regan, Matias Grez, Jeevan Ravindran, Laura Smith-Spark, Maureen Chowdhury and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, April 14, 2022
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1:26 a.m. ET, April 13, 2022

President Biden claims genocide is happening in Ukraine. Here's why that matters

US President Joe Biden said Tuesday the atrocities being uncovered in Ukraine qualify as genocide, saying "it’s become clearer and clearer that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is just trying to wipe out even the idea of being Ukrainian."

Here's how we got to this point:

  • The US President first referenced genocide on Tuesday when talking about rising gas prices.
  • Later he reiterated his assessment to reporters, saying the "evidence is mounting, it’s different than it was last week, the more evidence that’s coming out."
  • Biden has previously stopped short of calling what is underway in Ukraine a genocide. His aides have said it doesn't yet rise to the level.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — who has also used the term — thanked Biden for using it, saying they were "true words of a true leader."
  • Last week, Zelensky accused Russia of committing genocide after a number of civilian bodies were uncovered in Bucha following the withdrawal of Russian troops.
  • Other world leaders, such as the UK's Boris Johnson and Poland's Andrzej Duda, have also used the word "genocide" to describe Russian actions in Ukraine.

What is genocide?

  • Genocide became a crime in 1948, with a UN treaty describing it “as a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part.”
  • Atrocities include killing members of a group or causing serious bodily or mental harm.
  • The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the United Nations after World War II.
  • Genocide has often been described as the "crime of crimes."
  • The word genocide was coined by Polish lawyer Raphäel Lemkin in 1944 to describe the Nazi's systematic attempt to eradicate Jews from Europe during the Holocaust.
  • Genocide is difficult to prove in court because "intent" has to be established, according to the UN. Countries even differ over the exact definition of genocide.

When has the US used the term before?

  • The US government rarely designates atrocities using the term genocide.
  • Recent previous examples include the Chinese campaign against Uyghur Muslims and Myanmar’s persecution of the Muslim minority Rohingya.
  • The US designation does not carry any legal ramifications but does carry significant weight as Biden seeks to rally countries behind a strategy of isolating and punishing Moscow.
  • Some experts say it is too early to make the determination with certainty in Ukraine, but the issue should be "rigorously" investigated.
1:28 a.m. ET, April 13, 2022

It's 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

A priest and a relative of a civilian man exhumed from his yard react in Gostomel village, Kyiv on April 12.
A priest and a relative of a civilian man exhumed from his yard react in Gostomel village, Kyiv on April 12. (Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden described the atrocities in Ukraine as "genocide" for the first time Tuesday, saying "it's become clearer and clearer that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is just trying to wipe out even the idea of being Ukrainian."

Here are the latest developments on the war in Ukraine:

  • Questions over chemical weapon use: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he cannot say with certainty if chemical weapons were used in the besieged city of Mariupol. His comments follow unverified reports of a possible such strike in the city. The US and the UK said they are working to verify the details but have not confirmed their use.
  • Biden's labels atrocities as "genocide": The US President said the atrocities being uncovered in Ukraine qualify as genocide, a designation he’d previously avoided but that he now believes is warranted as scenes of devastation emerge from towns once overrun by Russian troops. It was a dramatic rhetorical escalation in the US view of what is happening on the ground and garnered near-immediate praise from Zelensky. The US government rarely designates atrocities using the term genocide.
  • Negotiations flounder: Putin said peace talks with Ukraine had hit "a dead end" and vowed he "will not stop military operations" until Moscow succeeds. He appeared next to his ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. According to Zelensky, "negotiations are extremely difficult" but "they are ongoing."
  • Putin ally held: Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch, has been detained in a "special operation," Zelensky said. The President has proposed swapping Medvedchuk for captured Ukrainian prisoners of war. Prior to Russia's invasion, Medvedchuk had faced allegations of treason in Ukraine.
  • New US military assistance: The US is expected to announce it is sending hundreds of millions of dollars in new military assistance to Ukraine soon, according to two sources familiar with the package. The final amount is expected to be close to $700 million.
  • On the ground: The Ukrainian military reported heavy fighting in the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia Tuesday, saying a five-hour battle took place in the Polohy district as Ukrainian forces tried to liberate the area. Polohy is northeast of the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol. Meanwhile, a large column of Russian military vehicles facing the Donbas region, in the east, was seen in a video geolocated by CNN in Russia’s Rostov region. And the Pentagon assesses that Mariupol remains contested amid Russia’s bombardment.
8:31 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Zelensky says it's unclear whether chemical weapons were used in Mariupol

From CNN’s Mariya Knight and Mitchell McCluskey

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he cannot say with certainty if chemical weapons were used in the besieged city of Mariupol.

“We take with great attention yesterday's reports on the use of munitions with a poisonous substance in Mariupol against the defenders of the city. It is not yet possible to draw 100% conclusions about what kind of substance it was,” Zelensky said in a video address on Tuesday. "It is clear that it is impossible to conduct a full investigation and full analysis in the blocked city."

Zelensky warned other leaders to pay attention to the possibility of chemical weapons put in use.

“However, given the repeated threats of Russian propagandists to use chemical weapons against the defenders of Mariupol and its repeated use by the Russian army, such as phosphorus munitions in Ukraine, the world must respond now,” he cautioned. "React preventively. Because after the use of weapons of mass destruction, any response will not change anything. And it will only look like a humiliation for the democratic world."

More context: Reports that chemical weapons were used in Mariupol have not yet been confirmed by the United States, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in an interview with CNN Monday.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States could not confirm the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine but noted that they “had credible information that Russian forces may use a variety of riot control agents."

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.

11:51 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Zelensky proposes prisoner swap with detained Putin ally

From CNN’s Mariya Knight and Mitchell McCluskey

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a video broadcast on Tuesday April 12.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a video broadcast on Tuesday April 12. (Ukrainian Government)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed swapping detained pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk for captured Ukrainian prisoners of war.

“I propose to the Russian Federation to exchange 'your guy' for our boys and our girls who are now in Russian captivity. It is therefore important that our law enforcement and military also consider this possibility,” Zelensky said in a video address on Tuesday.

Zelensky also warned Russia that Ukrainian forces would capture more soldiers.

"We will establish the full truth about all these savages. No matter how much time and effort it takes, we will find them all. Let Medvedchuk be an example for you,” Zelensky said.

"Even the former oligarch did not escape. What to say about much ordinary criminals from the Russian middle of nowhere. We will get everyone."

Medvedchuk was detained in a "special operation," Zelensky announced Tuesday.

9:30 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Biden calls atrocities in Ukraine a "genocide" for the first time

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media prior to boarding Air Force One in Des Moines, Iowa on April 12.
US President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media prior to boarding Air Force One in Des Moines, Iowa on April 12. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden said Tuesday the atrocities being uncovered in Ukraine qualify as genocide, a designation he'd previously avoided but that he now believes is warranted as scenes of devastation emerge from towns once overrun by Russian troops.

"I called it genocide because it's become clearer and clearer that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is just trying to wipe out even the idea of being Ukrainian. The evidence is mounting," Biden told reporters in Iowa after using the term earlier in a speech.
"It's different than it was last week, the more evidence that's coming out," he continued. "Literally, the horrible things that the Russians have done in Ukraine — and we're going to only learn more and more about the devastation."
"We'll let the lawyers decide, internationally, whether or not it qualifies," he concluded, "but it sure seems that way to me."

It was a dramatic rhetorical escalation in the US view of what is happening on the ground in Ukraine, which Biden has previously deemed war crimes. And it appeared to be the latest example of the President allowing his emotion-driven views of the war to outpace official US policy toward the conflict, even as he was voicing a position held by many Americans horrified by the scenes of brutality in Ukraine.

It garnered near-immediate praise from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who began accusing Russia of committing genocide inside his country last week.

"True words of a true leader @POTUS," Zelensky wrote on Twitter. "Calling things by their names is essential to stand up to evil. We are grateful for US assistance provided so far and we urgently need more heavy weapons to prevent further Russian atrocities."

Read more:

8:10 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Putin ally Viktor Medvedchuk detained in "special operation," Zelensky says

From CNN's Nathan Hodge, Olga Voitovych and Kostan Nechyporenko

Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch sits in a chair with his hands cuffed after a "special operation" was carried out in Ukraine on April 12.
Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch sits in a chair with his hands cuffed after a "special operation" was carried out in Ukraine on April 12. (Ukrainian Presidency/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch, was detained in a "special operation," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday on Telegram.

Zelensky posted a photo of a handcuffed and disheveled-looking Medvedchuk wearing fatigues, with the caption: "A special operation was carried out thanks to the SBU [the Security Service of Ukraine]. Well done! Details later."

Prior to Russia's invasion, Medvedchuk had faced allegations of treason in Ukraine and had been under house arrest. His whereabouts had been unknown in the weeks following the invasion. Some observers speculated that Medvedchuk or one of his allies might be the Kremlin's preference to lead a puppet government in Ukraine if the Feb. 24 invasion succeeded in toppling Zelensky.

Putin ties: Medvedchuk was sanctioned by the US in 2014 "for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes."

But the businessman also served as a go-between for Moscow and Kyiv after the outbreak of the Donbas conflict in 2014 by leveraging his personal ties with Putin. In a 2019 interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone, Putin acknowledged that he was godfather to Medvedchuk's daughter.

"I would not say that we are very close but we know each other well," Putin said. "He was [former Ukrainian] President [Leonid] Kuchma’s chief of staff, and it was in this capacity at the time that he asked me to take part in the christening of his daughter. According to Russian Orthodox tradition, you can't refuse such a request."

Medvedchuk also had notoriety in Ukraine for his role as the Soviet state-appointed defense attorney for the Ukrainian dissident poet Vasyl Stus, who died in a Soviet labor camp in 1985.

In a statement, SBU head Ivan Bakanov said, "You may be a pro-Russian politician and work for the aggressor state for years. You may hide from justice lately. You may even wear a Ukrainian military uniform for camouflage … But will it help you to escape punishment? Not at all! Shackles are waiting for you. And for the same traitors of Ukraine as you!"
Bakanov added, "Pro-Russian traitors and agents of the Russian intelligence services, remember — your crimes have no statute of limitations. And there are no hiding places where we wouldn’t find you!"

CNN was not immediately able to reach a legal representative for Medvedchuk.

8:21 p.m. ET, April 12, 2022

Putin says talks with Ukraine are at a "dead end" 

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova  

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko on April 12.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko on April 12. (Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that peace talks with Ukraine had hit "a dead end." 

"Now, security requirements are one thing, and the issues of regulating relations over Crimea, Sevastopol and Donbas are taken out of the scope of these agreements. That is, we have again returned to a dead-end situation for ourselves and for all of us," he added, speaking alongside his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko at a news conference.  

Putin vowed that he "will not stop military operations" in Ukraine until Moscow succeeds. 

The Russian leader also dismissed the reports of atrocities in the Ukrainian town of Bucha as “fake” and compared them to “fake” reports about the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad regime.   

"There were provocations in Syria, when the use of chemical weapons by the Assad government was planted. Then it turned out that it was fake, the same fake is in Bucha,” he said.   

CNN saw firsthand a mass grave while on the ground in the Kyiv suburb, and at least 20 bodies were seen on just one street.