Russian military carries out test launch of Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, defense ministry says
From CNN’s Nathan Hodge and Uliana Pavlova
The Russian defense ministry announced Wednesday that it had conducted a test launch of its intercontinental ballistic missile, the Sarmat.
The missile was fired from a silo launcher at 3:12 p.m. Moscow time at the Plesetsk State Test Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk Region of northern Russia toward the Kura test site on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's far east.
The defense ministry's statement said that it landed in the “designated area in Kamchatka."
The ministry noted that after the completion of a test program, the Sarmat would go into service with Russia's Strategic Missile Forces. The RS-28 Sarmat is designed to replace the Soviet-era Voevoda ICBM, known by the NATO designation SS-18 Satan.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin congratulated the military on their successful missile test, saying it would “give thought to those who are trying to threaten Russia," according to the ministry statement as quoted by the state-run TASS news agency.
The Sarmat was one of the weapons Putin mentioned in a 2018 speech boasting of new weaponry he said would render NATO defenses "completely useless." US officials played down the threat at the time.
11:41 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
Mariupol is under "constant" bombardment, Ukrainian Marine commander says
From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton and Khrystyna Bondarenko
Maj. Serhii Volyna, commander of Ukraine's 36th Separate Marine Brigade, told CNN Wednesday that Russia continued its "constant" bombardment of Mariupol following his appeal for a third country to evacuate Ukrainian forces and civilians encircled in the city.
Strikes by Russian aviation and heavy artillery continued Wednesday, Volyna said, adding that Ukrainian defenders had been suffering serious losses.
"We ask for the extraction procedure for soldiers and citizens," he said. "We need international support. There are still hundreds of civilians here. We do not trust the Russians, we need other countries for guarantees. Mariupol can still be saved."
Volyna spoke with CNN Tuesday and requested that a third country provide evacuation for troops and civilians trapped in the Azovstal steel plant under heavy Russian bombardment. The Russian military offered a ceasefire for Wednesday, but the extent to which it has been implemented is unclear.
11:14 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
80% of Luhansk territory is under Russian control, regional military governor tells CNN
From CNN’s Zeena Saifi
Serhii Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said 80% of his region's territory is under Russian control. If Ukraine doesn’t resist, the official said, “Russia is certainly not going to stop here and will push further on.”
Speaking to CNN’s Becky Anderson from an undisclosed location, Haidai concurred with the Russian characterization that the second phase of the war has begun, but cautioned that it is not yet a “complete and total invasion.”
“Certainly they (Russians) are spreading out a lot," he said. "We’ve established our defenses in a lot of towns. They’re trying to encircle our troops, a lot of nasty business is going on there…but they haven’t had any successes so far. We are doing well to destroy their equipment.”
Haidai added: “We have a very serious situation here. The whole of Luhansk territory is being shelled. There is no safe town… We understand that the Russian government is going to push ahead and going to destroy everything in its path. So what we are doing is trying to evacuate everyone as much as possible.”
The official has been appealing to remaining civilians to leave the eastern region of Ukraine as fighting intensifies. He said out of the 350,000 people that lived in the Ukrainian territory of Luhansk before the war, around 70,000 remain today.
“Most people have left on their own transport or using our national buses or volunteers. We have no idea when the humanitarian corridors will be established, but we are evacuating every day. The point is that Russia always violates the agreements. Shelling, despite the quiet hours, is still going ahead,” he added.
Haidai went on to say that shelling has been happening “without any respite” in the area, which has destroyed the electricity grid and all water supplies. For the 70,000 people that remain, most of them are living in bunkers, cellars and shelters.
“This is the second month we’ve had all these people living underground essentially," he said. "We are trying to supply them with some kind of aid, trying to get sanitation and water to them and make sure that they don’t starve to death…there’s hardly any stable supply of gas so the situation is pretty desperate,” he added.
Asked to compare the situation in Luhansk to the besieged city of Mariupol — which has been facing a similar fate for weeks — Haidai said, “For us, at least that we can get aid through and we can actually still evacuate people. But bombing goes ahead every day until nightfall and so in that respect it’s very similar to Mariupol.”
The military governor appealed to the West to provide more military equipment to help them in defending Ukraine’s skies and land.
“We need aviation, air defense equipment, lots of UAVs from the United States and long range, heavy precision-fire artillery," he said. "I think that recent events have shown that the much lauded Russian army is really not up to scratch, not what we thought, so I think it is possible for Ukraine’s armed forces, provided it gets this kind of equipment, to actually beat them."
When asked how he sees the war ending, Haidai told CNN it’s likely there may be a cessation of hostilities through a political agreement, but added that he felt it was hard to trust the Russians.
“They’re lying all the time," he said. "Everybody knows about that. Nobody believes them. Everybody knows that an agreement with Russia is not worth the paper that it’s printed on. Russia is the enemy of the entire world today not just Ukraine. Their ambitions spread much further than Ukraine.”
11:02 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
Wimbledon bans Russian and Belarusian athletes from tennis tournament
From CNN’s Aleks Klosok and Anna Chernova
Wimbledon organizers confirmed a ban on Russian and Belarusian tennis players in a statement on Wednesday, saying, "it is our responsibility to play our part in the widespread efforts of Government, industry, sporting and creative institutions to limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible."
Wimbledon, the third grand slam of the year, is set to begin on June 27.
The Kremlin said earlier on Wednesday that the ban on Russian players is “unacceptable.”
Government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov responded to a question about the barring of Russian and Belarusian players from the tournament, which was first reported by The New York Times on Wednesday.
“Making athletes victims of some kind of political prejudices, intrigues, hostile actions towards our country, is unacceptable. One can only express regret here,” Peskov told a conference call with reporters.
“Considering that Russia is after all a very strong tennis country, our tennis players are in the top lines of the world ranking, the competition itself will suffer from their removal,” Peskov said. “... I would like to wish the guys to do everything in order not to lose shape and not lose their world tennis class."
The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), which organizes and hosts the event, told CNN earlier this month that it was “continuing to engage in discussion with the UK Government, the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association), and the international governing bodies of tennis” in relation to the participation of Russian and Belarusian players.
The organizers added that they had planned to make a decision ahead of their entry deadline in mid-May.
The ban prevents several high-ranked players from competing at the iconic grass court grand slam. Four Russian men, including world number two and reigning US Open Champion Daniil Medvedev, are currently ranked in the top 30 of the ATP Tour.
Russia has five women in the top 40 of the WTA Tour rankings.
Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka is currently ranked fourth in the world and was a Wimbledon semi-finalist last year while compatriot Victoria Azarenka, a former world number one, is currently ranked 18th.
The AELTC’s decision is the first time Russian and Belarusian players have been prohibited from competing in an elite tennis event.
Tennis governing bodies had banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the invasion. Individual players are allowed to compete on the ATP and WTA Tours but not under the name or flag of their countries.
10:56 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
Ukraine says more than 400 children with cancer have been evacuated for treatment abroad
From CNN's Hande Atay Alam
More than 400 Ukrainian children with cancer have been evacuated for treatment abroad since the war started, according to the Ukrainian Presidency.
The flights to transfer the Ukrainian children with cancer who are in the combat zones were organized with the assistance of the leadership of foreign countries and agreements between Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska and the first ladies of other countries, a statement from the presidency said.
The flights started in "the first weeks of the war through cooperation with volunteer and medical organizations," the statement added.
"In order to ensure the safety of children with cancer, they are first brought to Lviv - to the Western Ukrainian Specialized Children's Medical Center (ZUSDMC)," the statement said, adding, "then, accompanied by medical teams, young patients together with their relatives are taken to the Republic of Poland, to a specially created Unicorn clinic. There, children are assigned to permanent treatment in Poland or other European countries."
"Currently, more than 400 young patients continue treatment in peaceful countries," according to the statement.
Zelenska also thanked all the doctors involved in the effort on her Facebook page and wrote about each doctor's story at the Western Ukrainian Specialized Children's Medical Center.
"It's time to introduce you to the doctors who do all this, who live at work, treat not only diseases but also souls, because during the war they became psychologists, counselors, friends, family for those who need it," she wrote.
9:37 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
US doctor says he feels compelled to help local doctors treat the wounded in Ukraine
A doctor from Texas has already traveled to Ukraine three times to help local doctors treat the wounded of war.
"As a physician first, it's our duty and our ethics to help every needy person in the world," Dr. Monzer Yazji told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Yazji, a Syrian American, ran more than 30 medical missions to Syria during the war that began in 2011 there.
"What happened in Ukraine, it happened in Syria. And I feel myself that I'm part of that," he said.
As of last week, the World Health organization has verified nearly 120 attacks on health care since the invasion of Ukraine began.
Yazji said there are complicated surgeries needed to be performed in Ukraine. One man lost half his shoulder, but he survived, he said. There are also issues with water, medical supplies and electricity shortages.
"When I see Ukrainian doctors suffering because [they're] exhausted mentally, physically and that attack on them, I see us, ourselves, we were there. That's why this ... all make[s] me come to Ukraine and be with them," he said.
Listen: A former CNN Moscow bureau chief examines Putin's inner circle on "Tug of War"
When Russia invaded Ukraine, Western allies were quick to slap sanctions on the wealthy oligarchs closely aligned with Vladimir Putin. But are they having an impact?
In the latest episode of CNN's "Tug of War" podcast, CNN contributor and former CNN Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty examines who is in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, how they work hand-in-hand with the Kremlin, and why Russia is so desperate for anything it can call a “victory” on the battlefield.
NATO allies could be involved in safe passage of civilians from Mariupol, US official tells CNN
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
There “was some hope that the Russians might allow” safe passage for civilians and wounded soldiers from Mariupol, a top US State Department official said Wednesday, adding that her understanding is “there will be NATO allies involved in that if it happens.”
However, such an arrangement “has fallen apart a number of times before,” and ultimately, it is up to the Russians to allow safe passage, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland cautioned.
The siege of Mariupol speaks “to the brutality of this war” and the war crimes Vladimir Putin is committing, Nuland added.
9:14 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022
US assesses there have been no major territorial gains so far for Russia in new offense
From CNN's Jim Sciutto
Early in Russia’s expanded offensive in the Donbas, the US assesses there have been no major territorial gains for Russia so far since the start of the new push, according to two senior US officials with direct knowledge of the assessment.
The US has observed some new attacks by Russian forces, which appear to be probing attacks to test Ukrainian defenses, one of the officials said. However, the frontlines remain static with no major territory changing hands as of yet.
To help prepare Ukrainian forces for the battles to come, a new $800 million weapons package will be focused on artillery, specifically 155mm howitzers and ammunition, according to a senior US official and a congressional source with knowledge of the draft plan. The US has asked “many” NATO allies to help contribute artillery to this new planned weapons shipment, a senior US official told CNN.