Ukrainian officials: Russians continue build-up in eastern Ukraine with widespread shelling reported Thursday
From CNN's Tim Lister, Julia Presnokovich and Olga Voitovych
In its latest update, the general staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces says Russian preparations continue in the east for an offensive operation, with command and control as well as aviation being added to the gathering force.
It says Russia is training additional units of its Southern Military District "to conduct hostilities" in Ukraine and claims Russia is planning an additional mobilization nationwide.
"The enemy continues to launch missile and bomb attacks on infrastructure facilities and residential areas of cities and villages," the general staff says.
At the same time the Russian armed forces are "regrouping units in the northern direction with a further concentration in areas bordering Ukraine. From the Bryansk and Kursk regions, there is a movement to Russia's Belgorod and Voronezh regions."
The General Staff says Russian units inside Ukraine are conducting reconnaissance in areas such as Slobozhansky in Kharkiv region ahead of the planned offensive, while the shelling of Kharkiv city continues. It says they are also preparing for offensive action towards Slaviansk, an important town in Donetsk region.
Fighting continues in towns around Severodonetsk, the General Staff says. The Russians had tried to break through Ukrainian defenses in the region but had failed.
Civilians continue to be evacuated from the region, which has seen weeks of shelling as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shifted to seizing control of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Serhii Haidai, head of the Luhansk region military administration, said Thursday that despite the opening of humanitarian corridors the Russians continued to shell the cities of Luhansk region throughout the day.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk region military administration, said the Russians had carried out three air strikes on the town of Velyka Novosilka, close to the border between Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia.
At least two people had been injured, he said. And further north, in Zarichne, one person was killed in Russian shelling. In Vuhledar on the frontlines in Donetsk region, one person had been killed, but a further 46 people had been evacuated from the town, Kyrylenko said.
"I once again call on all those who are not involved in the work of critical infrastructure to leave the region as soon as possible," he said.
The military landscape in eastern Ukraine shows a three-pronged offensive taking shape - with Russian forces edging forward from the north, east and south but meeting stiff resistance on all fronts.
3:53 p.m. ET, April 14, 2022
US State Department: Goal is to reestablish diplomatic presence in Ukraine as soon as it is safe and practical
From CNN's Christian Sierra and Jennifer Hansler
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday the department's goal is to have the country's diplomatic presence "reestablished in Ukraine as soon as it would be safe and practical to have US diplomats on the ground there,” but did not give any indication that this would happen in the near future.
“We are constantly evaluating and reevaluating the safety and the security situation,” he said at a department briefing.
Price said that the lack of diplomatic presence on the ground “has in no way hampered our ability to coordinate and to consult with our Ukrainian partners.”
Asked about Secretary of State Antony Blinken potentially traveling to Ukraine, Price said he had no travel to announce.
Why some Belarusians want to fight Russians in Ukraine
From CNN's Salma Abdelaziz, Sarah Dean and Li-Lian Ahlskog Hou
Pohonia Battalion is a group of fewer than 30 Belarusian exiles living mostly in Poland and other countries across Europe. They hope to join hundreds of their compatriots already involved in the battle for Ukraine.
The aspiring volunteer fighters say that in order to free Belarus of Russian President Vladimir Putin's grip, he must first be defeated in Ukraine.
The group, whose ages range from 19 to 60, carry Kalashnikov replicas. Almost none have fighting experience.
Most of the members were forced to flee their country in 2020, when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko — a Kremlin-backed, Putin ally — cracked down on a mass protest movement after he claimed victory in a widely disputed election, which was marred by fraud.
"If Ukraine loses this war, Belarus will have zero chance to get free," said dissident and restaurateur Vadim Prokopiev, who is leading the group. "If Ukraine wins this war that means Putin's hands are too busy and he's too weakened and he won't be supporting Lukashenko with resources."
Hundreds of other Belarusian volunteers are already on the ground fighting alongside Ukrainian troops. Four have been killed since the start of the war, said Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
In Staryi Bykiv, Ukrainians tell CNN of tragic losses
From CNN's Clarissa Ward
Indiscriminate killings of civilians attempting to flee the violence. Victims found with their hands tied behind their backs. An attack on a maternity hospital, a theater turned shelter bombed. The list of atrocities and apparent war crimes allegedly committed by Russian troops in Ukraine gets longer by the day.
As Ukrainians reclaim areas previously occupied by invading Russian troops, evidence of the horrors of recent weeks is emerging from the rubble of shattered villages and towns. New victims are discovered on a daily basis. And those lucky enough to have survived the ordeal tell harrowing tales of kidnappings, rapes and torture.
Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said Monday that her office is investigating 5,800 cases of alleged Russian war crimes, with “more and more” proceedings opening every day.
Russia has denied allegations of war crimes and claims its forces do not target civilians. But CNN journalists on the ground in Ukraine have seen firsthand evidence of atrocities at multiple locations across the country.
Here's CNN's Clarissa Ward's report from the ground:
Novyi and Staryi Bykiv are two tiny specks on the map, separated by a small stream. Together they form a sleepy community of about 2,000 people that you’d expect few Ukrainians — let alone the Russian army — to be familiar with.
Katerina Andrusha told me that’s why her daughter Victoria decided to leave her apartment in the Kyiv suburb of Brovary and come back here at the start of the war; she believed it would be safer at home.
But on Feb. 27, residents say Russian forces rolled into the neighboring villages, turned the local school into their base, vandalized and looted homes and terrorized the people here for five weeks.
On March 25, Katerina said Russian soldiers came to her home and took Victoria, claiming she had information about their forces on her phone.
Three days later, Katerina herself was taken captive. She said she was held in a cellar for three days. Blindfolded and terrified, she tried to find out what had happened to her daughter.
“They told me she was in a warm house and that she was working with them and would be home soon,” said Katerina.
She said she hasn’t seen Victoria since. As she spoke to us, Katerina’s gaze drifted skyward in disbelief. She showed us pictures of her daughter, a beautiful schoolteacher.
“We hope that she will get in touch with someone, somewhere,” she said.
Just a few streets away, we met another mother. Olga Yavon’s grief was raw and all-consuming. She knew why we were there and the moment she came out to greet us, she broke down in tears.
Her boys, Igor, 32, and Oleg, 33, are among six of the village’s young men who authorities say were executed by Russian soldiers on February 27.
She told us Russian forces rounded them up after a bridge nearby was blown up.
The Russians kept hold of their bodies for nine days before dumping them on the outskirts of the village, with instructions to bury them quickly, she said.
“They were very good boys,” Olga said. “How I want to see them again.”
French embassy in Ukraine set to return to Kyiv from Lviv "very soon," foreign ministry says
From CNN’s Simon Bouvier in Paris
France announced Thursday that its embassy in Ukraine would "very soon" return to the capital Kyiv from Lviv.
“This redeployment will take place very soon and will allow France to further deepen its support of Ukraine in every area in order to face the war started by Russia this past February 24,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.
The French embassy had been moved to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv in early March.
According to the statement, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian informed his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba of the decision on a Thursday phone call, during which the pair also discussed France’s assistance in “gathering and documenting evidence of abuses committed by the Russian forces in Ukraine,” as well as humanitarian operations and the provision of military equipment.
2:58 p.m. ET, April 14, 2022
Top ICC prosecutor after visiting town of Bucha: "Ukraine is a crime scene"
From CNN's Jorge Engels and Sugam Pokharel
International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan visited the Ukrainian towns of Bucha and Borodyanka this week, where mass graves and murdered civilians were discovered in early April following the Russian forces’ withdrawal from northern Ukraine.
“Ukraine is a crime scene. We’re here because we have reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC are being committed. We have to pierce the fog of war to get to the truth,” Khan said after visiting Bucha on Wednesday, according to a tweet by the ICC.
Images tweeted by the court show Khan meeting with residents and visiting the devastated towns.
“The voices of those impacted by alleged crimes must be at the centre of our independent work to establish the truth. Survivors and the families of victims will be full partners in our collective efforts to deliver justice,” Khan said.
On Wednesday, Khan met Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova in Kyiv to cooperate on an independent ICC investigation.
Khan and Venediktova agreed to deepen engagement and strengthen partnerships to deliver accountability for international crimes committed in Ukraine, the ICC tweeted.
The ICC formally opened an investigation into the situation in Ukraine on March 2.
2:48 p.m. ET, April 14, 2022
Medvedev warns Russia would bolster military over potential Swedish and Finnish NATO membership
From CNN staff
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chair of Russia's Security Council, warned in a statement Thursday Russia's military would “more than double” its forces in Russia’s Western flank should Sweden and Finland join NATO.
Ground- and air-defense forces would be beefed up, he wrote on Telegram, and Russia would deploy “significant naval forces” in the Gulf of Finland.
If Sweden and Finland join NATO, Medevedev added, “it will no longer be possible to talk about any non-nuclear status of the Baltic — the balance must be restored."
Medvedev, who served as president of Russia from 2008 to 2012 in a four-year interregnum for Russia President Vladimir Putin's two-decade rule, has struck a bellicose pose in recent months, though he is not a top decision-maker.
A 2018 Federation of American Scientists report concluded that Russia may have significantly modernized a nuclear weapons storage bunker in Kaliningrad, an exclave of Russian territory between Poland and the Baltic states.
1:59 p.m. ET, April 14, 2022
It's 8:30 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know.
From CNN staff
Thursday marks 50 days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and there has been a marked shift in Moscow's approach. Ukrainian officials have warned for days they expect a major offensive by Russian forces in the eastern Donbas region.
Meanwhile, organizations like the United Nations have warned that the prolonged war in Ukraine could lead to more problems in an already struggling global economy with food insecurity as a top concern.
Here are the latest developments:
Casualties of war: As of April 12, the civilian death toll in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24 stood at 1,932, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said Thursday. It warned that "the actual figures are considerably higher."
Global impact: The United Nations secretary-general has warned that the world is on the brink of a "perfect storm" as the war in Ukraine exacerbates an already struggling global economy. In a news release Wednesday, the UN said the war could lead to a "three-dimensional crisis" of food, energy and finance — areas that have already been hit hard by Covid-19 and climate change. "We are now facing a perfect storm that threatens to devastate the economies of developing countries," Secretary-General António Guterres said."The people of Ukraine cannot bear the violence being inflicted on them. And the most vulnerable people around the globe cannot become collateral damage in yet another disaster for which they bear no responsibility," he said.
Key Russian warship damaged: One of the Russian Navy's most important warships has been badly damaged in the Black Sea, a massive blow to a military struggling against Ukrainian resistance 50 days into Russia's invasion of his neighbor. Russian sailors evacuated the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of its Black Sea fleet, after a fire that detonated ammunition aboard, Russia's defense ministry said. Ukraine's Operational Command South claimed Thursday that the Moskva had begun to sink after it was hit Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles. Russia's defense ministry said Thursday that the Moskva "remains afloat" and that measures were being taken to tow it to port. The ministry said the crew had been evacuated to other Black Sea Fleet ships in the area. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told CNN's Brianna Keilar that "there was an explosion" on the Moskva, but said the United States cannot say at this point if the ship was hit by a missile. Whatever the reason for the fire, analysts say it strikes hard at the heart of the Russian Navy as well as national pride, comparable to the US Navy losing a battleship during World War II or an aircraft carrier today.
Ukrainian National Security Advisor Oleksiy Danilov told CNN Thursday that the alleged strike on the cruiser was a very important mission for his country’s military and vowed there would be more such dramatic actions. “It is a very important mission for us. The Moskva was there near the Snake Island and was hit yesterday by two powerful Ukrainian-made missiles,” Danilov told CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen in an interview. “[Putin] came to kill our children, our women, our civilians. That is our gift to him. And this is just the beginning. There will be more than one Moskva." The Ukrainian national security advisor went on to commend the Ukrainian military for the way they were defending the country but cautioned against underestimating the Russian military. Danilov also reiterated his country’s request for the international community to send more weapons. "We are, first of all, grateful for what we already have been given,” he said “We need helicopters, planes, powerful weapons, howitzers… We need a lot.”
Potential meeting between Zelensky and Putin: Turkey is still working on organizing a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkish news channel NTV on Thursday.“We know critical topics will be decided at leader level, so we will try to bring leaders together,” he said. Cavusoglu said that Turkey continues to approach the negotiations with “cautious optimism,” particularly after recent events of alleged war crimes in Bucha and Irpin which “negatively affected the process.”
The condition for a possible meeting between Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky is an agreement document ready for the two leaders to sign, the Kremlin said Thursday. Since the start of Russia's invasion, Zelensky has repeatedly called for talks with the Russian president, but there have been no talks at the highest level so far.
Russian opposition figure urges the West to wage a social media against Putin regime: Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny has issued a series of tweets urging a new front of "truth and free information" against Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he calls the "war criminal from the Kremlin."
Navalny, who is serving a nine-year sentence in a Russian penal colony after being convicted of fraud last month, said in his tweets that "truth and free information hit Putin's insane regime just as hard as Javelins," the US anti-tank weapons being used by Ukrainian forces against Russian armor.
Increased international defense aid for Ukraine: The Pentagon is working to move the $800 million worth of weapons, ammunition and other security assistance for Ukraine announced by US President Joe Biden yesterday into Ukraine as quickly as possible, a senior defense official said Thursday. “We’re under no illusion of the size and the scale of this thing. But we’re also mindful of the clock. We know time is not our friend. And we’re going to do the best we can to move this, to move these shipments as fast as we can,” the official told reporters during an off-camera briefing.
The European Union has approved an additional 500 million euros ($544 million USD) for military equipment for the Ukrainian Armed Forces on Wednesday, according to a news release from the European Council of the European Union.
“The next weeks will be decisive. As Russia prepares for an offensive on the East of Ukraine, it is crucial that we continue and step up our military support to Ukraine to defend its territory and population and prevent further suffering,” said Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
3:33 p.m. ET, April 14, 2022
Russian officials allege cross-border strikes by Ukrainian forces amid threat of retaliation by Moscow
From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv and Kostan Nechyporenko in Vasylkiv
Russian officials on Thursday alleged Ukrainian forces had carried out cross-border attacks on Russian territory, claims that a Ukrainian government agency said were made to stoke "anti-Ukrainian sentiment."
The village of Spodaryushino, near the border with Ukraine, had been shelled by Ukraine, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Russia's Belgorod region, said in a statement on Telegram.
He said there were no casualties or destruction of residential buildings, but added that residents in two villages, Bezymeno and Spodaryushino, had been evacuated. Later in the day, Gladkov said in a separate statement there had been "shelling from the Ukrainian side" on the village of Zhuravlyovka, also in Belgorod region, adding that there had been damage to residential buildings and social facilities, but no information about casualties.
The alleged strikes come days after Russia accused Ukraine of mounting a helicopter attack on a fuel depot in Belgorod region. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense neither confirmed nor denied the attack.
Separately, the Investigative Committee, Russia's top law-enforcement body, issued a statement Thursday saying it was launching an investigation into an alleged strike in Bryansk region by Ukrainian helicopters.
"On April 14, 2022, using two combat helicopters equipped with heavy offensive weapons, military personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine illegally entered the airspace of the Russian Federation. Moving at low altitude, they carried out at least 6 air strikes on residential buildings in the village of Klimovo, Klimovsky district, Bryansk region," the statement said.
Klimovo is situated north of Ukraine's Chernihiv oblast. The Investigative Committee said at least six residential buildings were damaged and that seven people were injured, including one child.
More context: The Russian military in a statement Wednesday threatened to strike "decision-making centers" including those Kyiv in response to what Russia said were "attempts of sabotage and strikes" on Russian territory.
Such claims were part of an attempt by Russia to stage so-called false flag attacks to justify attacking Ukraine and stir popular outrage, said the Center for Countering Disinformation at the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.
"Russia has stated that the Armed Forces of Ukraine shelled the Bryansk region's border area with helicopters, injuring civilians and homes," the statement read. "However, Ukrainian intelligence warned that Russia was preparing terrorist attacks on its territory to inject anti-Ukrainian sentiment."
The Ukrainian center's statement alleged that Russian special services had plans to stage "terrorist attacks" on Russian soil as a provocation.
"Thus, as of April 14, there have been several 'terrorist attacks' on the Russian border, in which the Russian leadership accuses Ukrainian sabotage and intelligence groups," the statement read, citing Russian statements about alleged attacks.