April 19, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Maureen Chowdhury, Andrew Raine, Travis Caldwell, George Ramsay and Jack Bantock, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
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4:50 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

UK not looking to help Russia with hostage swap for two British fighters, minister says

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

Fugitive oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk is seen handcuffed after a special operation was carried out by Security Service of Ukraine in Ukraine on April 12.
Fugitive oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk is seen handcuffed after a special operation was carried out by Security Service of Ukraine in Ukraine on April 12. (Security Service of Ukraine/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The United Kingdom is not looking to help Moscow with the prospect of a prisoner swap that would trade pro-Russian oligarch and Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk for two British fighters captured in Ukraine by Russian forces, a government minister said Tuesday.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis would not confirm to Sky News if his government is working to return the fighters to the UK, saying he would not comment on “what are effectively national security issues.”

Russian state TV footage that it said shows Shaun Pinner, a British fighter captured in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol by Russian forces, at an unknown location, from a video released on April 18, 2022.
Russian state TV footage that it said shows Shaun Pinner, a British fighter captured in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol by Russian forces, at an unknown location, from a video released on April 18, 2022. (Rossyia 1/Reuters)

Video footage of both captive Britons has aired on Russian TV. They previously fought with the UK armed forces and were volunteering with the Ukrainian military in the fight against Russia.

“They shouldn’t have been there, it is an illegal act to be there,” Lewis said.

Russian state TV footage that it said shows Aiden Aslin, a British fighter captured in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol by Russian forces, at an unknown location, from a video released on April 18, 2022.
Russian state TV footage that it said shows Aiden Aslin, a British fighter captured in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol by Russian forces, at an unknown location, from a video released on April 18, 2022. (Rossyia 1/Reuters)

Asked about the prospect of exchanging the Britons for Medvedchuk, who is currently detained by Ukrainian forces, he said: "We're actually going through the process of sanctioning people who are close to the [Russian President Vladimir] Putin regime. We're not going to be looking at how we can help Russia.”

“We always have a responsibility for British citizens which we take seriously," he said. “We’ve got to get the balance right with Ukraine, that’s why I say to anybody, do not travel illegally to Ukraine. The armed forces of Ukraine have the support of the UK. We’re continuing to put that support in and that’s the right way to do it.”

Lewis encouraged people who want to help Ukraine to do so through the “right channels” -- such as financially or by opening their homes to refugees -- “rather than taking very dangerous and actually not legal processes to go out” and fight, he said.

Some context: Medvedchuk 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."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced last week that Medvedchuk had been detained in a "special operation." Medvedchuk's wife, Oksana Marchenko, has posted videos appealing for the release of her husband in exchange for British nationals taken captive.

1:49 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Civilians in Luhansk urged to evacuate as Russian forces approach

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv

People board a bus leaving Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region, on April 13.
People board a bus leaving Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region, on April 13. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

The head of the Luhansk regional military administration urged civilians on Tuesday to evacuate amid an escalation in fighting and the fall of the town of Kreminna to Russian forces. 

Please, evacuate now! The residents of Kreminna did not make it on time and are now hostages," Serhii Haidai said.

Haidai said evacuations would take place even though Russian forces had refused a ceasefire.

Evacuation efforts would focus on the areas of Rubizhne, Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Popasna and Hirske, Haidai said, adding people had volunteered to help despite heavy Russian shelling. 

"The police will escort the elderly and less mobile people to the buses, as well as people from shelters," he said. "Therefore, when you see the police patrol, do not delay, this is a chance to escape. There are fewer opportunities to evacuate from day to day."

Some context: Russian forces have been trying to advance toward the borders of both Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region. Russia's focus has shifted to the east of the country since its failure to gain territory around the capital Kyiv, and other parts of central and northern Ukraine.

On Monday, Russian forces entered Kreminna, a town in the eastern Luhansk region, with "a huge amount of equipment," said Haidai, claiming that "the offensive has begun."

3:09 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

No evacuation routes are open Tuesday, Ukraine deputy PM says

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Damaged residential buildings in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 18.
Damaged residential buildings in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 18. (Pavel Klimov/Reuters)

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said no evacuation routes for civilians had been agreed with Russian forces on Tuesday, amid warnings from Ukrainian officials that a major battle for the Donbas region had begun.

"Intense shelling continues in Donbas," Vereshchuk said in a statement.

The Russians had refused to open an evacuation route for civilians in the besieged city of Mariupol to leave for the port city of Berdyansk, Vereshchuk said, while talks on other routes were ongoing.

"We continue difficult negotiations on the opening of humanitarian corridors in Kherson and Kharkiv regions," Vereshchuk added.

Some context: Civilians in Mariupol remain trapped in an increasingly dire situation with little chance of escape, officials say, as Russian shelling and attacks continue.

Over the weekend, the Russian Defense Ministry laid down conditions for the surrender of the remaining Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol — an ultimatum rejected by officials in the city.

3:01 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Russian brigade accused of war crimes in Bucha awarded honorary title by Putin

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie and Masha Angelova

A funeral ceremony at a cemetery in Bucha, Ukraine, on April 18.
A funeral ceremony at a cemetery in Bucha, Ukraine, on April 18. Yasuyoshi CH/ AFP) (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)

A brigade accused of committing war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha has been awarded an honorary title by Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

In a signed letter on Monday, Putin congratulated Russia’s 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade for their “great heroism and courage” and awarded the unit the title of "Guards" for “protecting Russia’s sovereignty.” 

“This high distinction recognizes your special merits, great heroism and courage in defending your fatherland, and in protecting Russia’s sovereignty and national interests,” Putin said in the letter. 
“Through astute and bold actions during the special military operation in Ukraine, the unit’s staff became a role model in fulfilling its military duty, valor, dedication and professionalism,” the letter continued. 

Earlier this month, mass graves full of hundreds of murdered civilians -- which CNN teams visited -- were discovered in the towns of Bucha and Borodyanka following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kyiv region. 

In a statement issued April 4, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense named the servicemen of the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade as war criminals directly involved in the atrocities committed against the civilians of Bucha. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has blamed Russia for the killings and called on Moscow to stop committing "war crimes."

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the mass killings, while reiterating baseless claims that the images of civilian bodies on the streets of Bucha are fake.

During a visit to Bucha and Borodyanka last week, International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said there were “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC are being committed.”

But Khan also warned that it would be “challenging” to guarantee justice would be served in Ukraine, given Russia’s decision to withdraw its signature from an ICC statute that gives the court jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

Russia does not extradite its citizens to other countries.

2:31 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

A Ukrainian-American woman's family were forced to flee to Russia. She smuggled them to Poland

From CNN's Salma Abdelaziz, Lauren Kent and Li-Lian Ahlskog in Przemysl, Poland

Mila Turchyn walks into a McDonald's parking lot near the Poland-Ukraine border. She is anxious. She doesn't trust the man she is about to meet. He is a smuggler.

Turchyn found the man via a messaging app a few days ago, advertising transport services for Ukrainians stranded in Russia. They made a deal — $500 to drive Turchyn's mom and sister from Moscow to Przemysl, Poland. It's more than most families fleeing war can afford.

She is wondering if it worked.

Turchyn turns and suddenly finds herself in her sister's arms. There is a brief moment of joy, but no time to hug her mom. The smuggler wants to be paid now. He demands more cash. She pays. At this point, she wants nothing more than to be with her family.

The exchange is finally over and the three women are reunited in Poland. They quietly and quickly embrace.

For the Ukrainians who now find themselves displaced in Russia, however, getting to safety is dangerous.

Read the full story:

1:15 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Statue of Lenin returns to Henichesk, a Russian-occupied town near Crimea

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

A statue of Vladimir Lenin reinstalled in Russian-occupied Henichesk, Ukraine.
A statue of Vladimir Lenin reinstalled in Russian-occupied Henichesk, Ukraine. (From Facebook)

A statue of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin has been erected in Russian-occupied Henichesk, Ukraine, photos posted Monday to social media show, nearly seven years after one was removed as part of "decommunization" efforts.

The town of Henichesk sits on the Sea of Azov in Kherson province, just north of the border with Russian-annexed Crimea.

Three photos, posted on Facebook, show the new Lenin statue in front of the regional council building. A Russian flag is seen on the roof of the building. 

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the photos.

The original Lenin statue outside the government building was taken down by order of the city council on July 16, 2015, video and local news reports show. According to those reports, Henichesk was one of the last towns in the region to have a statue of Lenin. 

Yuri Sobolevsky, Ukrainian regional deputy for Kherson, confirmed the new statue in a post on Facebook. 

"Orcs in Kherson Region continue their experiments in moving back in time," Sobolevsky wrote, using a slang term for Russian soldiers.
"Red flags, monuments from the Soviet era. And all this against the backdrop of a worsening humanitarian crisis, severe suppression of dissent and manifestations of civic position. Their motive is absolutely transparent — they are [acting like parasites] on the nostalgic sentiments of the population," Sobolevsky wrote.

1:50 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

It's 8am in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know.

Having regrouped to launch an offensive in the east of Ukraine, Russian forces have started what one Ukrainian official described as the "second phase of the war" -- the battle for Donbas.

Control of Kreminna, a town in the eastern Luhansk region, has already been "lost" during heavy fighting, a Ukrainian official said.

The developments come after Russia bombarded cities across Ukraine on Monday, with a least four missile strikes reported in the western city of Lviv and at least seven people killed.

Here are the latest developments on Russia's invasion of Ukraine:

  • The battle for Donbas: Russian forces have begun an assault on the eastern Donbas region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address on Monday. He said Ukrainian forces would continue to fight, saying he is "thankful to all of our warriors, our soldiers, our heroic towns and towns in the region who are resisting and standing firm."
  • Not a "single place" safe in Ukraine: Ihor Zhovka, chief diplomatic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "not a single place, a town, a city or a village" is now safe in Ukraine following Russian missile strikes in Lviv on Monday. The city was previously seen as a safe haven due to its proximity to Ukraine's western border with Poland.
  • Women, children in besieged steel plant: Video appearing to show women and children sheltering in the basement of the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol was posted on Telegram Monday evening by the Azov Battalion of Ukraine. The battalion's commander, Lieutenant Colonel Denys Prokopenko, also said Russian forces were firing "willingly" on the plant. The plant is one of the last areas under Ukrainian control in the city.
  • Moskva sinking latest: New images emerged early Monday on social media showing Russia's guided-missile cruiser, the Moskva, badly damaged and on fire in the hours before the ship sank in the Black Sea on Thursday. The images show the Moskva listing to one side, with black holes from possible missile puncture marks, and a large plume of smoke billowing upwards.
  • No plans for Biden to visit Ukraine: White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated Monday that there were no plans for US President Joe Biden to travel to Ukraine, following comments from Zelensky encouraging him to do so. The US President suggested last week he wanted to go, though he said US officials are still "in discussions" on whether a high-level US official will visit Ukraine.
  • US describes “campaign of terror”: State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that Russia’s attacks in Ukraine in recent days further illustrate that the country is “undertaking a campaign of terror” against the people of Ukraine.
  • Ceasefire “not on the horizon”: A ceasefire in Ukraine is not on the horizon, but may be "in a couple of weeks" depending on how the war and ongoing negotiations continue, said Martin Griffiths, United Nations under secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, on Monday.
12:14 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Video shows Ukrainian forces in Mariupol ambushing Russian military convoy

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

A frame from a video shows Ukrainian forces ambushing a Russian convoy in Mariupol.
A frame from a video shows Ukrainian forces ambushing a Russian convoy in Mariupol. (Azov Battalion)

A new video posted by the Azov Battalion on Monday shows Ukrainian forces in Mariupol ambushing a Russian military convoy.

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the video, but it's unclear when the ambush occurred. The Azov Battalion is a unit that began as an ultra-nationalist militia but has since integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces.

The video, taken by a drone, shows a convoy of six vehicles moving south along Metallurgists Avenue in Mariupol. The convoy pulls off the road and onto a sidewalk just outside the Ararat cafe.

As the drone zooms out, it shows at least nine Ukrainian troops creeping toward the convoy, which has stopped moving. The video then cuts to soldiers firing in the direction of the convoy.

It then cuts to another scene, in which at least three of the six vehicles are on fire. A "Z" -- the symbol of the Russian invasion -- can be seen on at least two of the vehicles.

The video then shows Ukrainian soldiers throwing grenades over a brick wall, in the direction of Russian soldiers who are taking cover between one of the vehicles and a wall.

CNN is not airing the entire video, as it shows grenades exploding on top of the Russian soldiers. 

2:15 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Ukrainian commander: Russian forces firing "willingly" on Mariupol factory where people are sheltering

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London and Karen Smith in Atlanta

Smoke rises above the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works company and buildings in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Monday, April 18.
Smoke rises above the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works company and buildings in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Monday, April 18. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

In an address on Monday to world leaders, commander of the Azov Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Denys Prokopenko, said Russian forces are firing on the Azovstal steelworks factory “willingly” in Mariupol as hundreds of people are sheltering inside. 

The Azov Regiment, sometimes referred to as the Azov Battalion, is a unit that began as an ultra-nationalist volunteer militia but has since integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces.

Prokopenko, who is the commander of one of the Ukrainian units defending the port city, said in a post on Telegram account that among those sheltering are, “people of all ages, women, children, and families of Mariupol defenders. They are sheltering in the basements and bunkers from the ‘Russian world.'"

According to Prokopenko, those sheltering “found their only available shelter next to the Ukrainian soldiers, who are still defending the city from Russian invaders.”

“Russian occupational forces and their proxy from Luhansk People’s Republic/Donetsk People's Republics know about civilians and keep their fire on the factory willingly. They use free-fall bombs, rockets, bunker-buster bombs, and all varieties of artillery, both ground and naval, for indiscriminate attacks,” Prokopenko said.

He added, “City theatre, maternity hospital, schools, kindergartens, and houses were destroyed by those who now offer civilians evacuation and safety. These are the same people. And nobody believes.”

Watch: Drone footage shows smoke rising from Azovstal plant