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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7:09 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Greece seizes Russian tanker following EU sanctions

From CNN's Chris Liakos in Paris

The Russian-flagged oil tanker Pegas is pictured at a port in Marmara Ereglisi, western Turkey, on January 16.
The Russian-flagged oil tanker Pegas is pictured at a port in Marmara Ereglisi, western Turkey, on January 16. (Yoruk Isik/Reuters)

Greek authorities have seized a Russian tanker off the southern coast of the Greek island of Evia, a spokesperson for the country's Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy confirmed to CNN Tuesday.

Pegas, the crude oil tanker sailing under the Russian flag with 19 Russian crew members on board was seized near the town of Karystos on April 15 as part of the European Union's latest sanctions, the spokesperson said.

They added that the authorities seized the vessel but not its oil cargo, and the ministry could not provide further details at this point.

Some background: The EU's latest sanctions package announced earlier this month includes the closing of EU ports to Russian vessels. Exemptions were granted to vessels carrying energy, food and other humanitarian aid.

6:14 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

China tells Russia it will strengthen "strategic cooperation" regardless of international landscape

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, on April 16 2021.
Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, on April 16 2021. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

China says it will "continue to strengthen strategic coordination" with Russia, regardless of how the "international landscape may change," according to a statement released by China's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.

China's Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng expressed this view to the Russian ambassador to China Andrey Denisov during a meeting on Monday, the ministry said.

"No matter how the international landscape may change, China will continue to strengthen strategic coordination with Russia to achieve win-win cooperation, jointly safeguard our common interests and promote the building of a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind," Le said, according to the statement.

Le cited a nearly 30% increase in trade between the two countries during the first quarter of the year, reaching around $38.2 billion, as a testament to the "tremendous resilience" of its bilateral cooperation.

The two sides also exchanged views on Ukraine, as well as other international and regional issues of concern. However, no further details were provided by the ministry.

Some context: In public statements and at international summits, Chinese officials have attempted to stake out a seemingly neutral position on the war in Ukraine, neither condemning Russian actions nor ruling out the possibility Beijing could act as a mediator in a push for peace.

Before the invasion, allies China and Russia proclaimed their relationship had "no limits."

But Beijing has since been quietly distancing itself from Russia's sanction-hit economy and has repeatedly denounced sanctions against Moscow as an ineffective way of resolving the crisis.

6:00 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Threat of Russian "provocations" during Easter celebrations, warns Ukranian regional military governor

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv

Residents in the Sumy region in northern Ukraine have been advised to attend Easter services virtually this weekend amid concerns about potential "provocations" by Russia.

"We urge people to stay at home for Easter holidays," said Dmytro Zhyvytskyi, the head of the Sumy regional military administration in northern Ukraine, adding that an online livestream of the church service would be organized.

"We already have a similar experience due to Covid-19, when people had to refrain from going to Church, so now we again urge people to stay at home that night for their own safety and not to give the enemy any opportunities for provocations," he said.

Many Ukrainians celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar, with Easter Sunday falling this year on April 24. Zhyvytskyi said law enforcement would work extra shifts during Easter celebrations.

Some context: Russian troops recently withdrew from Sumy, which borders Russia's Bryansk, Kursk and Belgorod regions.

In the days after the retreat, authorities said more than 100 bodies had been discovered, some tortured.

Zhyvytskyi said on April 13 that the number of bodies was growing every day and there had been "a lot of people found dead with their hands tied with the signs of torture." He added at the time that others remained captive with "daily negotiations" for them to be exchanged or freed.

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

Fight for Donbas is "the major battle" of the war, Ukrainian lawmaker tells CNN

Kira Rudik talks to CNN on April 19.
Kira Rudik talks to CNN on April 19. (CNN)

The fight for the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine will be "the major battle" of the war with Russia, Ukrainian lawmaker Kira Rudik told CNN Tuesday.

In a video address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia had commenced the battle for Donbas and that Ukrainian forces will continue to fight against a Russian incursion in the region.

"The result of it will impact what would happen to Mariupol, what would happen to Kyiv, what would happen to Lviv, to all the other cities of Ukraine," said Rudik, a member of parliament in Ukraine and leader of the Golos Party.
"This is why it is so important for us to get all the support right now we can and to get it now so we can stand up and we can actually win."

Rudik also echoed calls from Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials for military equipment to be sent to Ukraine to help repel Russian attacks.  

In an interview with CNN last week, Zelensky said the weapons the US and other countries have provided to Ukraine to date, including the Biden administration’s new $800 million security assistance package, have helped his country resist Russia’s invasion.

But he said more would be needed, and that his country’s trainers would be able to get his forces up to speed quickly.

"This is a test for us — are we ready? Do we have enough weapons? Did all the weapons that we were promised arrive, or did they remain only promises?" Rudik said regarding the fight for Donbas.

"At some point(s), we are getting enough, at other points we are not getting anything," she added.

"Right now, rather than being upset with the ones who are not giving us what we asked (for), I would like to thank every single country that is supporting us and say: Give us more.

"You see how critical it is, you see that we are fighting not only for ourselves, but for the whole democratic world, for the whole of Europe."

7:22 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

France supports banning imports of Russian oil, says French Economy Minister

From CNN's Simon Bouvier and Chris Liakos

France supports extending sanctions to ban imports of Russian oil, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said Tuesday.

"When you see what is going on in the Donbas, it is more necessary than ever to stop importing Russian oil," Le Maire told radio station Europe 1.

Le Maire went on to say that it was oil, not gas, that has been "the first source of currency for Putin’s regime for several years," and therefore "stopping Russian oil imports means hurting the financing of the war in Ukraine for those who are in power in Russia."

France was attempting to persuade European partners to stop imports of Russian oil, Le Maire added, alleging that some countries were "hesitant" to do so.

"The reason that we are not there yet isn’t because France does not wish it," Le Maire said. "It is because there are still certain European partners who are hesitant."

Speaking earlier this month to CNN, Le Maire said: "As France is concerned we stand ready to go further and to decide a ban on oil and I’m deeply convinced that the next steps and the next discussions will focus on this question of the ban on Russian oil."

Some background: Earlier this month, European leaders agreed to go after Russia's vast energy sector for the first time by banning all forms of Russian coal from the European Union. The European Commission predicted the move would affect about 8 billion euros ($8.7 billion) worth of Russian exports per year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has reiterated his call for an oil embargo, saying on April 8: "How much longer can the Europe ignore the introduction of an embargo against oil supplies from Russia?"

The European Commission says that about 45% of the bloc's natural gas imports, and around 25% of its oil imports, come from Russia. The EU has imported about 35 billion euros ($38 billion) worth of Russian energy since the war began.

4:53 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

New Zealand announces additional sanctions on Russian financial institutions

From CNN's Jorge Engels

New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta speaks during a session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 28, in Geneva, Switzerland.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta speaks during a session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 28, in Geneva, Switzerland. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

New Zealand has imposed new sanctions against more than a dozen Russian financial entities, including the country’s central bank, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced in a statement Tuesday.

The sanctions target 18 financial organizations that allegedly finance Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and which make up about 80% of Russia’s total banking assets, Mahuta said in a statement released by the New Zealand government. 

"These sanctions are designed to impose an economic and political cost," Mahuta said in the statement. "With this latest round of sanctions, New Zealand is joining countries around the world who have imposed heavy penalties on President Putin and the system financing his illegal invasion."

The 18 newly-sanctioned organizations are: Alfa-Bank, Bank Rossiya, Bank Otkritie, Black Sea Bank for Development and Reconstruction, Central Bank of the Russian Federation, Credit Bank of Moscow, Gazprombank, GenBank, Industrial Savings Bank, Novikombank, Russia Agricultural Bank, Russian National Commercial Bank, Russian Direct Investment Fund, Sberbank, Sovcombank, SMP Bank, Vnesheconombank, VTB.

Over the past month, New Zealand has issued a raft of sanctions against Russian entities and individuals, including against Russian President Vladimir Putin, members of his security council, politicians, oligarchs and military leaders.

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.