April 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Andrew Raine, Travis Caldwell, George Ramsay, Jack Bantock, Laura Smith-Spark, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
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12:41 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022

2 employees of Kharkiv zoo were found dead after staying behind to feed animals

From CNN’s Mitchell McCluskey

A white lion that was evacuated from the Feldman Ecopark in Kharkiv is seen in Odesa, Ukraine on April 14.
A white lion that was evacuated from the Feldman Ecopark in Kharkiv is seen in Odesa, Ukraine on April 14. (Stringer/NurPhoto/AP)

Two employees of a zoo in Kharkiv who stayed behind last month to take care of animals amid heavy shelling from Russian forces were found dead, the zoo said in a statement Tuesday.

The Feldman Ecopark zoo said it received confirmation on Monday that the employees had been shot and killed by Russian soldiers and found barricaded in a room. 

It was not clear from the statement when the employees died but the zoo said they went missing in early March.

Several animals were evacuated during the shelling, the zoo said, including lions, jaguars, silver foxes and hyenas.

The two employees stayed behind to feed the remaining animals. When other staff returned to the park on March 7, the employees were missing, according to the zoo.

“The staff searched for them and informed law enforcement,” Feldman Ecopark said.
“We’ll cherish the blessed memory of these wonderful and courageous people. Sincere condolences to their families and friends. We believe the inhumane people who have committed this will definitely be punished!”

Parts of the park have been damaged from shelling. A pair of bison were killed, leaving behind a 10-month old calf, the zoo said.

Some context: Kharkiv, located in northeast Ukraine, has faced intense shelling and attacks since the start of the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian shelling had killed five residents and wounded 15 others on Sunday. He added that in the last few days, 18 people in total have been killed and 106 have been wounded by Russian shelling in the city.

12:22 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022

Videos show damage caused by Russian military strikes in 2 towns in the Luhansk region

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

Two new videos posted on social media show the damage caused by Russian military strikes in Rubizhne and Lysychansk, two towns on the outskirts of Severodonetsk in Ukraine's Luhansk region.

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the videos.

A video taken Tuesday in Lysyschansk shows a car driving northwest on Route 66 and pans to the damage surrounding it. The images show a shopping center, a seafood market and a grocery store, all of which appear to have been destroyed in a strike. Nearby, a sheet metal blue fence has been ripped to shreds.

"Yesterday, the orcs began to break through," a voice says, using a derogatory term for Russian soldiers. "Now, shelling has become more frequent here." 

The person speaking says the Ukrainian forces are holding their ground, despite the shelling. 

The second video, taken on Monday, shows the damage to a residential area on the southeastern side of Rubizhne. It shows the ruins of an apartment building, still smoking after a military strike, and debris from the building that has been thrown roughly 100 feet (32 meters) onto the road.

"In short, everything is smoking," a voice in the video says. 

Correction: An earlier version of this post gave the incorrect location for the towns of Rubizhne and Lysychansk, which are in the Luhansk region.

12:01 a.m. ET, April 20, 2022

It's 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know.

Russian forces have begun a new phase in the war, launching the battle for the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Satellite images have shown Russian military convoys moving toward the region in preparation for a large-scale invasion — one that is likely to shape the fate of the war.

In the southeastern port city of Mariupol, an unknown number of defenders are making their last stand at the Azovstal steel plant.

If you’re just catching up on the news, here are the latest developments:

  • Mariupol situation "brutal and unchanged": Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address on Tuesday that Russian forces are blocking evacuation routes from Mariupol. Meanwhile, the Security Service of Ukraine released a purported communications intercept of a Russian ground unit commander, who said Russian aircraft were planning to “level everything to the ground” around the Azovstal steel factory.
  • Call for international evacuation effort: Maj. Serhii Volyna, commander of Ukraine's 36th Separate Marine Brigade, spoke by phone with CNN from Mariupol and requested a third country provide evacuation for the troops and civilians trapped in the Azovstal plant. He appealed to world leaders to "take us to the territory of a third country and provide us with security."
  • Russian advances "repelled" in Donbas: Ukrainian fighters have repelled "numerous attempted advances" by Russian forces on the Donbas line of control as Moscow's shelling and attacks "continue to increase" on Tuesday, according to the latest British defense intelligence update. However, control over Kreminna, a town in the Luhansk region of the Donbas, has been "lost" to Russia, according to Serhii Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration.
  • Civilian districts hit in Kharkiv, mayor says: In the northeast of the country, Kharkiv mayor Igor Terekhov told CNN that there has been "non-stop bombardment of civilian districts" of his city since Sunday. "In the last few days, [Russian shelling] has been in the center and it’s targeting peaceful civilians," Terekhov said.
  • Ukraine receives fighter aircraft: Ukraine has received additional fighter aircraft from other countries not including the US, as well as parts to enable them to get more planes in the air, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. "I would just say, without getting into what other nations are providing, that they have received additional platforms and parts to be able to increase their [aircraft fleet size]. I think I'd leave it at that," he said.
  • US urges UN action on refugees: US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday called on the organization to step up in response to the massive refugee crisis.
  • More US assistance on the way: Three senior administration officials say the US is preparing another $800 million security assistance package for Ukraine. Details are still being discussed and could change, but earlier on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden said the US plans to send more artillery to Ukraine.
11:15 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Part of Mariupol's shipyard severely damaged, new video shows

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

(Mariupol City Council)
(Mariupol City Council)

Part of Mariupol's Azov shipyard has been heavily damaged by fighting in the city, a new video released by the Mariupol City Council shows.

CNN has geolocated the video and verified its authenticity. 

In the video, the shipyard's entrance sign and gate can be seen. Debris is scattered outside the gate, where a car and a forklift appear to have been strategically placed to block access.

The small building next to the gate has been destroyed by an explosion.

Toward a fence, two Czech hedgehogs — three metal beams welded together to act as an anti-tank barrier — can be seen.

Some context: Ukrainian forces are continuing to resist Russian attacks in the southeastern port city of Mariupol, with a Ukrainian commander telling CNN the situation at the nearby Azovstal steel plant — one of the city’s last bastions still under Ukrainian control — is "critical" as a large number of troops are wounded and time is limited. 

11:15 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

US believes Russia will target routes used for weapons shipments, defense official says

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

The United States believes Russia will target routes used for weapons shipments, according to a defense official, in an attempt to slow the supply of US and partner weapons flowing into Ukraine.

Russian forces have not frequently struck moving targets such as convoys or rail deliveries, but they could try to destroy the bridges, roads and rails used to transport the weapons and supplies into the country, the official said.

Even if the Russians were successful in striking those routes, the official said, they would be unable to stop the shipments in their entirety. There are simply too many shipments going in. 

Weapons into Ukraine: The US and partner nations have shipped nearly 70,000 anti-tank and anti-armor weapons into Ukraine, including Javelins, NLAWs, RPGs and more, the official said. The shipments have also included nearly 30,000 anti-aircraft missiles, such as Stingers, and some 7,000 launchers for these weapons.

Earlier this month, Joints Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee that some 60,000 anti-tank weapons and 25,000 anti-aircraft weapons had been sent into the country. Since then, the US has authorized hundreds of millions more dollars in military assistance.

Slowing down Russian invasion: The US and NATO have assessed that Ukrainian forces have used these systems very effectively to slow down and in some places stymie the Russian invasion. Part of that success has come from Ukraine’s adaptation of a decentralized command and control which allows junior commanders to make important battlefield decisions without higher authorization, the official said

Russia retains some advantage: The official also noted that Ukraine has had years to prepare for Russia’s offensive in southeast Ukraine, since the Donbas region has seen regular fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed proxies.

Ukraine has prepared trenches, anti-armor ambushes and more ahead of this imminent fight, the official said, but warned that Russia still retains the advantage in military technology and overall military power. Instead of spreading that power out over much of Ukraine, it is now concentrated in the south and east for what may be a massive assault.

 

11:15 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Communication has been restored with the Chernobyl nuclear power station, the IAEA says

From CNN's Maija Ehlinger

A shelter above the sarcophagus covering the exploded reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine, seen on Saturday, April 16.
A shelter above the sarcophagus covering the exploded reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine, seen on Saturday, April 16. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP/FILE)

Direct communications between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was restored late Tuesday, according to a press statement from IAEA's Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi.

Russian forces held Chernobyl for five weeks before withdrawing on March 31. IAEA lost contact with the nuclear power site on March 10.

“This was clearly not a sustainable situation, and it is very good news that the regulator can now contact the plant directly when it needs to,” Grossi said in the statement.

The statement added that a "mission of IAEA experts" plans to visit the site later this month to "conduct nuclear safety, security and radiological assessments, deliver vital equipment and repair the Agency’s remote safeguards monitoring systems."

11:15 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Ukrainian commander requests international evacuation effort at Mariupol plant as situation is "critical"

From CNN's Olga Voitovych, Julia Presniakova and Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Maj. Serhii Volyna, commander of Ukraine's 36th Separate Marine Brigade, spoke by phone with CNN from the besieged city of Mariupol Tuesday evening and requested that a third country provide evacuation for troops and civilians trapped in the Azovstal steel plant under heavy Russian bombardment. 

"I have a statement to the world," Volyna said. "It may be my last statement, because we have only a few days, or even hours, left. We appeal to world leaders to apply the extraction procedure to the military of the Mariupol garrison, to the civilians who are with us here at the plant. We ask you to take us to the territory of a third country and provide us with security."

Ukrainian forces inside the besieged city have consolidated around the massive Azovstal steel factory. 

Ukrainian officials have said hundreds of civilians are sheltering in the basements of the massive steelworks. A Mariupol police official told CNN food and water supplies were dwindling amid heavy bombardment. 

Asked how an evacuation might be facilitated, Volyna said, "This should be at the level of agreements. If we talk about practical application, it could be a ship with helicopters, for example, that could pick us up. Or an international humanitarian mission that can come to us and guarantee our security and accompany us on the way to the state that will make such commitments."

Volyna described the situation at the plant as "critical," with a large number of wounded troops and limited medical care. 

"We are completely surrounded," he said. "There are about 500 wounded military, it is very difficult to provide them with medical care. They literally rot. There are civilians on the territory. They are also suffering from explosions, blasts on them, next to them. They [the Russians] use heavy aircraft bombs against us and strike with artillery."

"This happens all the time. The city is destroyed. Enemy groups outnumber us dozens of times, they have a complete advantage in air, artillery, equipment, manpower. We fight to the last, but we have very little time left," he continued.

The Ukrainian commander estimated that there were "hundreds of civilians" sheltering on the territory of the plant. 

"We appeal to absolutely all world leaders: Whoever will be able to make such commitments, whoever will be able to succeed in the short term in agreeing on such a procedure," he said. "We know that there are some developments and talks with the Turkish side that it is acting as a guarantor. Probably the United States, because we believe that this is a very powerful state with a strong leader, [President Joe] Biden, and that he can personally resolve this issue in the shortest possible time. Or this issue can be resolved with his help in a short time."

Volyna declined to comment on the number of military holding out at Azovstal. 

"If the world hears us, if the world leaders hear us, we very much hope so, and the extraction procedure will be carried out, then everyone will understand the quantitative composition of the people who were in captivity," he said.