7 Ukrainian civilians killed after evacuation buses fired on, prosecutor says
From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych
Seven people were killed when Russian forces allegedly opened fire Thursday on two evacuation buses, according to preliminary information, said the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor's Office.
Another 27 people were wounded as the buses travelled near the village of Borova, close to the contested city of Izium, the office added.
"A pre-trial investigation has been launched into violations of the laws and customs of war combined with premeditated murder," the office said.
7:31 a.m. ET, April 15, 2022
"Russian ships can go [...] to the bottom only," says Zelensky, on day of Moskva sinking
From CNN's Radina Gigova
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the bravery of all Ukrainians who had defended the country in his latest video address, published Thursday -- the 50th day of the Russian invasion.
"Those who stopped the advance of endless columns of Russian equipment; those who rebuff constant attacks in Donbas; those who heroically defend Mariupol, helping our entire state to withstand; those who stopped the offensive from the south and made our Chornobaivka famous; those who drove the enemy out of the north; those who have shown that Russian aviation is defenseless," Zelensky said.
Zelensky then made an apparent reference to the Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva, which sank off the coast of Ukraine in the Black Sea on Thursday.
"Those who have shown that Russian ships can go... [Zelensky pauses instead of saying an expletive associated with Russian ships since an incident earlier in the war, then continues] to the bottom only."
Russia's Defense Ministry said the ship sank as a result of an explosion after a fire of unknown origin that detonated the ship's stored ammunition. Ukraine says it hit the Moskva with anti-ship cruise missiles and that these missiles sparked the fire that detonated the ammunition.
Moskva was one of the ships involved in the famous exchange at Snake Island in February, which saw Ukrainian soldiers on the tiny Black Sea island react with defiant words when threatened with bombing by approaching Russians.
According to a purported audio exchange, one of the Ukrainian troops had responded to a warning from an approaching Russian vessel to lay down their weapons or face bombing by saying, "Russian warship, go f*** yourself."
In his address, Zelensky added that by destroying civilian infrastructure, Russia had shown "how absurd" the invasion is, because along with destroying Ukrainian cities it is also destroying Russia's standing in the world.
7:21 a.m. ET, April 15, 2022
Ukrainian military intelligence names top Russian commander and alleges "war crimes" in Mariupol
From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv
Ukrainian military intelligence issued a statement Thursday naming the Russian general leading operations in Ukraine and alleging "war crimes" in the siege of the port city of Mariupol.
Army Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, the commander of Russia's Southern Military District, was recently named as Russia's overall commander of the military campaign in Ukraine, according to a US official and a European official.
In its statement, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine said Dvornikov was appointed commander of the Russian troops in Ukraine on April 8.
The Ukrainian statement added that "his subordinate units of the armed forces and troops of the National Guard of Russia are involved in war crimes against the civilian population of Mariupol," the port city that has been devastated by weeks of Russian bombardment.
Some background: Military analysts say the naming of a commander to lead Russian President Vladimir Putin's war signals an intent to remedy initial Russian battlefield setbacks and a lack of coordination among forces. Russian and Ukrainian troops continue to battle for control of Mariupol.
The alleged atrocities carried out by Russian forces following their retreat from several towns near Kyiv in recent weeks have drawn international outrage.
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."
On Monday, the prosecutor general of Ukraine said Monday that her office was investigating 5,800 cases of Russian war crimes, with "more and more" proceedings every day.
And on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden described the atrocities in Ukraine as "genocide" for the first time, adding that "it's become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being able to be a Ukrainian.”
CNN's Nathan Hodge, Tara John, Jonny Hallam and Paul LeBlanc contributed reporting to this post.
6:50 a.m. ET, April 15, 2022
No short-term end in sight to Russian invasion of Ukraine, say Western officials
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told European allies that the United States believes the Russian war in Ukraine could last through the end of 2022, two European officials told CNN, as US and European officials have increasingly assessed that there is no short-term end in sight to the conflict.
Many of the officials who spoke with CNN stressed that it is hard to predict exactly how long the war could go on, but several officials said that there are no indications that Russian President Vladimir Putin's ultimate goals have changed, and it is unlikely he will pursue diplomatic negotiations unless faced with military defeat.
The thinking that this could be a long-term conflict represents a marked shift from the early days of the war, when Russia was expected to quickly take the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, and underscores Moscow's failures on the battlefield.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday that the fighting will go on "for months or even longer," while two other European officials said they believe fighting in eastern Ukraine could last for four to six months and then result in a stalemate.
Blinken, a senior State Department official said, "has discussed with his counterparts our concern that the conflict could be protracted, but all of his engagements have revolved around how best to bring it to a halt as quickly as possible."
Doubling down on weapons support: UK Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said this week that the launch of the new Russian fighting in the Donbas could be weeks away, telling reporters that "there is a window of opportunity and I think this is why the nature of our support is so important, that we are providing weapons, the equipment that Ukrainians need to do the job they need to do."
US officials cast the additional military support to Ukraine this week as a continuation, but do say that part of what has prompted the doubling down -- and additional support -- is the Ukrainians' battlefield efforts.
A second senior State Department official said that "we have done a lot and so we do have faith and we always had faith in our Ukrainian partners. But as the fight doubles down, so does our commitment to give them weapons and equipment that they can use," adding that the Ukrainians have used certain weapons systems "to great effect."
Cost of inaction: Officials also acknowledge that the public may grow weary of continued support for Ukraine, and will have to be reminded that inaction would be even more costly.
"You can't defend democracy for free. It just doesn't work like that," said Cleverly. "The very visible cost is in human lives. We have discussed the number of people that have been killed and injured during this conflict, but it has a financial cost and you know -- we will be paying that through increased gas prices, we'll be paying that through general inflation as kind of the ripple effects of this kind of washes across the world, and people won't like that. And it's quite understandable that people won't like that, but they should also recognize that not acting would come at a much, much, much, much greater cost."
Russia claims advances in besieged port of Mariupol as Ukrainian units consolidate defenses
From CNN's Anna Chernova and Nathan Hodge
The Russian military claimed Friday to have made advances in the besieged port city of Mariupol, just two days after Ukrainian units blockaded in the city said they had consolidated their defenses.
"The grouping of Russian troops and units of the Donetsk people's militia have completely liberated Ilyich Steelworks from Ukrainian nationalists as a result of the offensive in Mariupol city," Russian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement on Friday.
CNN cannot independently verify Konashenkov's claim, but the commanders of two Ukrainian units defending Mariupol issued a video statement on Wednesday saying they had been able to consolidate forces inside the city. Denis Prokopenko, the commander of the Azov Regiment, said his unit had linked up with troops from the 36th Marine Brigade, but acknowledged that some Ukrainian defenders had surrendered.
In a statement earlier this week, Ukrainian Marines had vowed to fight on, despite dwindling supplies and ammunition.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), an independent think tank that monitors the Russian military campaign in Ukraine, said on Thursday that Russian troops "continued assaults against Ukrainian defenses in southwestern and eastern Mariupol on April 13, though ISW cannot confirm any territorial changes."
"Ukrainian officials admitted on April 14 that Russian forces captured 'some' personnel from Ukraine's 36th Marine Brigade during their breakout from the Ilyich plant to link up with Ukrainian forces in the Azovstal plant in eastern Mariupol on April 13," it added.
Some context: Ukrainian officials have warned of a major humanitarian emergency in Mariupol, saying around 100,000 civilians still require evacuation.
On Thursday, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths called on all parties to provide the safe passage of civilians out of Mariupol, following the announcement that two aid workers and their family members were killed there in March.
The military governor of Ukraine's Donetsk region, of which Mariupol is a part, said on Tuesday the situation in the besieged city was "difficult," citing preliminary estimates that as many as 22,000 people had died in the city.
Independent casualty figures from the fighting in the devastated city are not available.
5:54 a.m. ET, April 15, 2022
Heavy Russian shelling along Donetsk front line, Ukrainian officials say
From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych
Heavy shelling has taken place along much of the front line in the Donetsk region, Ukrainian officials said Friday.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said that "almost all settlements of the Donetsk region along the front line are under attack."
Kyrylenko highlighted the plight of the town of Maryinka, where he said 11 civilians had been killed since the beginning of the Russian invasion. The town had been extensively damaged, with nearly 100 homes destroyed, 13 high-rise buildings and three schools hit, he said.
"Despite constant shelling, civilians are being evacuated from the community on a daily basis. As of today, at least 350 people have been moved from Maryinka," Kyrylenko said.
Earlier Friday, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said the focus of Russian forces in the east had been on capturing the settlements of Popasna and Rubizhne, but they had not succeeded. Russian forces earlier this week were said to have taken parts of Popasna.
"In the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, eight enemy attacks were repulsed during the last 24 hours, four tanks, six armored personnel carriers, four infantry fighting vehicles, and one enemy artillery system were destroyed," the General Staff said.
Some context: Russian preparations continue to build in eastern Ukraine for an offensive operation, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Thursday.
The Donbas region of eastern Ukraine has been the front line of the country's conflict with Russia since 2014.
Civilians continue to be evacuated from the region, which has seen weeks of shelling as the Russians' invasion of Ukraine has shifted focus to seizing control of the Donbas' two major cities, Donetsk and Luhansk.
Serhii Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional military administration, said Thursday that despite the opening of evacuation corridors, the Russians continued to shell the cities of Luhansk region throughout the day.
Some Belarusians want to fight Russians in Ukraine. They also hope to free their country from Putin's grip
From CNN's Salma Abdelaziz, Sarah Dean and Li-Lian Ahlskog Hou
In a wooded area on the Polish side of the Poland-Ukraine border, men dressed in crisp, clean, camouflage are given tourniquets. They kneel on the muddy ground and start to learn basic survival training.
They call themselves the Pohonia Battalion, a group of fewer than 30 Belarusian exiles living mostly in Poland and other countries across Europe, who hope to join hundreds of their compatriots already involved in the battle for Ukraine.
The aspiring volunteer fighters say that in order to free their country 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.
They are led by dissident and restaurateur Vadim Prokopiev. "We see a window of opportunity," Prokopiev told CNN on Monday.
I made the call for Belarusians to join the battle for Ukraine because that's step one before step two, which is the battle for Belarus."
Russia strikes outskirts of Kyiv with cruise missiles, Russian Ministry of Defense says
From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Anna Chernova
Russia has struck what it described as a "military facility" on the outskirts of Kyiv, two days after threatening it would hit targets in the capital in response to purported Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil, the Russian military said Friday.
"Tonight a military facility on the outskirts of Kyiv was hit by Kalibr high-precision long-range sea-launched missiles," said Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov.
"As a result of the strike on the Zhuliany Vizar machine-building plant workshops for the production and repair of long-range and medium-range anti-aircraft missile systems were destroyed, as well as anti-ship missiles," Konashenkov added.
The Russian military warned on Wednesday that it would strike Ukrainian "decision-making centers" -- including those in Ukraine's capital -- in response to what Russia said were "attempts of sabotage and strikes" on Russian territory.
Missile strikes on the Ukrainian capital "will increase in response to the commission of any attacks by the Kyiv nationalist regime of a terrorist nature or sabotage on Russian territory," Konashenkov said Friday, using propagandistic language to describe the Ukrainian government.
On Thursday, one of Russia's most important warships sank in the Black Sea. Ukraine claimed it had hit the Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva with anti-ship missiles, while the Russian military acknowledged only that the ship had sunk after a fire on board and the detonation of ammunition.
It's 12 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know
From CNN Staff
Note: This post contains graphic imagery.
Conflicting reports have emerged from Russian and Ukrainian officials on why a flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet, the Moskva, sank on Thursday.
Meanwhile, diplomatic relations between Russia and Japan continue to deteriorate amid tensions over the war in Ukraine.
Here are the latest developments:
Moskva sinking: After a key Russian warship, the Moskva, sank off the coast of Ukraine in the Black Sea on Thursday, opposing reports emerged about the cause. Russia's Defense Ministry said a fire of unknown origin detonated the ship's stored ammunition and caused explosions, which resulted in structural damage. The vessel then sank as it was being towed amid rough seas, the Russians said. However, Ukraine said it hit the Moskva with anti-ship cruise missiles and that these sparked the fire that detonated the ammunition. Either way, the fall of the Moskva could knock Russian morale -- considering the ship was one of its most visible assets in the Ukraine war.
Diplomatic relations falter: Japan and Russia have been increasingly at odds since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with the latter withdrawing from peace treaty talks in Japan last month, and freezing joint economic projects because of sanctions imposed by Tokyo over the invasion. In what could be another blow to diplomatic relations between the two countries, Tokyo “conveyed its concerns” to Moscow over cruise missile tests conducted by Russia in the Sea of Japan, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said in a news conference on Friday.
CNN reporters recount witnessing atrocities in Ukraine: 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. 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.
Buildup in the east: Russian troops continue to prepare for an offensive operation in the east, training additional units and gathering aviation power, according to Ukraine's military. The first Russian troops that withdrew from northern Ukraine earlier this month have begun appearing in the northern Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, a senior US defense official said Thursday. Meanwhile, civilians are being evacuated from the region, which has seen weeks of shelling and fighting break out in towns.
Civilians fight on the front lines: A Ukrainian pastor and father of two, Oleg Magdych, is now serving as a volunteer battalion commander for 120 soldiers ranging in ages from 18 to their mid-70s. He shared with CNN that they are preparing for deployment to southern Ukraine after fighting on the front lines north of Kyiv, adding that most of the soldiers he's with were civilians before the war. “Eighty per cent of my units are people that have never held a gun in their hands in their lives. They're ordinary truck drivers, lawyers, you name it," Magdych said.