April 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Travis Caldwell, Andrew Raine, George Ramsay, Lianne Kolirin, Ivana Kottasová, Adrienne Vogt and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, April 22, 2022
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4:31 p.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Ukraine's military release apparent Russian communications intercept with alleged order to kill Ukrainian POWs

From CNN's Jorge Engels

Ukraine’s military intelligence on Wednesday released a purported communications intercept of Russian armed forces referring to an alleged order to kill Ukrainian prisoners of war in the city of Popasna in the eastern region of Luhansk, which is bearing the brunt of Russia’s renewed attack.   

“The Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine received an audio interception of the occupiers' conversation, which refers to the order to kill all prisoners of war of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who are in their captivity in the area of Popasna (Luhansk Region),” Ukrainian military intelligence tweeted on Wednesday. 

“This is a blatant war crime, a violation of international law, and another striking example that the Russian military are murderers, rapists, and looters,” it added. 

The alleged intercepted audio recording released Wednesday appears to feature the voices of unknown Russian soldiers saying: “What can I tell you, damn it, [expletive], [unintelligible] – you keep the most senior among them, and let the rest go forever. Let them go forever, damn it, so that no one will ever see them again, including relatives.” 

CNN cannot vouch for the authenticity of the recording and has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment. 

Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) has previously released a purported communications intercept of a Russian ground unit commander, who said Russian aircraft were planning to "level everything to the ground" around Azovstal, the steel factory that is a redoubt of Ukrainian defenders in the besieged port city of Mariupol. 

On Thursday, in a meeting with his defense minister, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there is no need to storm the plant, but it should be surrounded, and those inside should be offered a chance to surrender.  

"Block off this industrial area so a fly cannot get through,” he said.    

The SBU also previously released audio from purported intercepted radio traffic revealing Russian soldiers discussing killing and raping civilians, bolstering allegations of war crimes by Russian troops.   

Germany’s foreign intelligence service has also intercepted alleged radio communications where Russian soldiers talked about shooting soldiers and civilians in Ukraine. Military observers have also noted a tendency of Russian troops to use unsecured communications in Ukraine. 

Speaking from an undisclosed location to CNN on Wednesday, Serhii Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said 80% of his region's territory is under Russian control, and if Ukraine doesn’t resist, “Russia is certainly not going to stop here and will push further on.” 

“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 went on to say that “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.” 

1:24 p.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Russia’s behavior "so offensive" to international norms, US Treasury secretary says

From CNN's Alison Kosik

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen talks to reporters during a news conference in the Cash Room at the Treasury Department on April 21 in Washington, DC.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen talks to reporters during a news conference in the Cash Room at the Treasury Department on April 21 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she and other finance ministers walked out of a closed-door G20 meeting with Russia on Wednesday because “it simply cannot be business as usual for Russia in terms of its participation in our global forums" where countries meet to address common challenges.

Yellen’s comments on the walkout came during a press conference with reporters on Thursday. The treasury secretary departed along with European and other Western officials who were participating in the meeting, according to a person familiar with the session.

“I think participation in those forums requires a commitment on the part of countries to obey the fundamental norms and values underlying international cooperation," Yellen said Thursday. "My decision, along with that of others to leave when the Russian finance minister began to speak, was to make clear that Russia’s behavior ... is so offensive to international norms that we’re not willing to allow Russia to participate or to listen to what the Russians have to say.”

Ahead of the meeting, US officials had said Yellen would not participate in certain sessions of the gathering that included Russia. 

Ukrainian officials also spoke at the session as invited guests, but departed along with Yellen and other officials when Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov began speaking virtually.

1:12 p.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Ukrainian officials and satellite images point to evidence of mass graves outside of Mariupol

From CNN's Nathan Hodge, Julia Presniakova and Katie Polglase

A satellite image shows an alleged mass grave in the village of Manhush, outside the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, on April 3.
A satellite image shows an alleged mass grave in the village of Manhush, outside the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, on April 3. (2022 Maxar Technologies)

Ukrainian officials on Tuesday identified the location of apparent mass graves outside the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol — claims bolstered by the publication of satellite images collected and analyzed by Maxar Technologies.

In a post Thursday on Telegram, Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, wrote: "As a result of a long search and identification of places of mass burial of dead Mariupol residents, we established the fact of arrangement and mass burial of the dead Mariupol residents in the village of Manhush." 

Andriushchenko — who is not in Mariupol but has served as a clearinghouse for information from inside the besieged city — posted the coordinates on Telegram, saying Russian forces had dug several mass graves, each measuring about 30 meters (around 100 feet), in Manhush, a town around 12 miles (about 19 kilometers) to the west of Mariupol. 

"Trucks carry in the bodies of the dead, in fact, simply dumping them on the embankment," he said. "This is direct evidence of war crimes and attempts to cover them up."

Maxar published analysis of satellite imagery Tuesday appearing to show evidence of new graves at a site on the northwestern edge of Manhush.

An overview of a cemetery and expansion of graves is seen on March 23.
An overview of a cemetery and expansion of graves is seen on March 23. (2022 Maxar Technologies)

"According to recent media reports, Russian soldiers have been taking the bodies of people killed in Mariupol to this location," Maxar said in its analysis. "A review of our satellite images from mid-March through mid-April indicate that the expansion of the new set of graves began between March 23-26, 2022 and has continued to expand over the past couple of weeks. The graves are aligned in four sections of linear rows (measuring approximately 85 meters per section) and contain more than 200 new graves." 

Vadym Boichenko, the mayor of Mariupol, also alleged Thursday that Russian forces have buried bodies in mass graves in Manhush, amid claims by Ukrainian officials that as many as 20,000 people have died in weeks of bombardment.

"More than 20,000 civilians — women, children, elderly people — died on the streets of our city from enemy artillery, aircraft," he said. "And this is also [based] on the evidence of the heads of our municipal services, who saw it. And unfortunately, we have seen that the bodies of dead Mariupol residents have begun to disappear from the streets of our city." 

Boichenko said the mass graves were off a bypass road, near a cemetery.

"And there is a field near the cemetery, and in this field there are ditches, 30 meters (about 90 feet) long, and there they bury them, bring the bodies of the dead by trucks and throw them into these ditches," he said.  

CNN cannot independently verify claims that Russians have disposed of bodies in mass graves at that location, and a firm death toll following weeks of heavy bombardment of Mariupol is not available. Journalists in Mariupol have documented the hasty burial of civilians in the besieged city, and images have surfaced on social media showing bodies apparently left for collection in the city. 

Evidence of mass graves outside Mariupol surfaced as Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the "liberation" of the city by Russian forces, although he also called off an attempt to storm the Azovstal steel plant, the final bastion of Ukrainian defenders inside the city, where civilians have also sheltered.

"Unfortunately, it is not possible today to evacuate civilians from Azovstal," Boichenko said. "Because we are asking for a stable ceasefire. Somewhere we need one day to be able to accommodate those residents who have been hiding there for 57 days in a row, and they are being bombed, bombed and bombed."

Boichenko estimated that around 100,000 people remain in Mariupol. 

12:11 p.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Ukrainian prime minister outlines financial needs while speaking with US House speaker in Washington

From CNN's Clare Foran and Daniella Diaz 

US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi meets with Ukranian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, left, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on April 21.
US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi meets with Ukranian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, left, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on April 21. (Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images)

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal spoke briefly on Capitol Hill Thursday. 

Shmyhal said that Ukrainians “feel great support from the United States, from President Biden.”

He discussed the importance of sanctions in addition to other forms of aid, and outlined a number of financial needs, including for internally displaced people, Ukrainian refugees and “mine-cleaning activity,” saying, “we need money, we need technologies, we need support.”

Shmyhal said people are suffering in areas close to major battles and need help. “There is no food, no water, no electricity,” he said.

Pelosi referenced President Joe Biden’s announcement that he will make a formal request for Congress to approve a second supplemental funding package to aid Ukraine, saying “we want to do more.” 

"The President said he will be asking Congress for more. We’ll learn about that in the next day or so to be taken up as soon as we can next week,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi praised Biden’s leadership amid the crisis in Ukraine, saying that he has “been a unifier.”

She condemned Russia’s actions. “Words are almost inadequate to describe it,” Pelosi said.

12:39 p.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Mariupol steel plant owner says situation there is "close to a catastrophe"

From CNN’s Livvy Doherty and Chris Liakos

The situation at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol is “close to a catastrophe,” Yuriy Ryzhenkov, the CEO of Metinvest Holding, the company that owns the plant, told CNN on Thursday. 

“When the war started we had stocked quite a good stocks of food and water in the bomb shelters and the facilities at the plant so for some period of time the civilians, they were able to use it and basically survive on that. Unfortunately all the things, they tend to run out, especially the food and daily necessities. I think now it’s close to a catastrophe there,” Ryzhenkov told CNN’s Julia Chatterley.

Ryzhenkov said originally there had been enough supplies for two to three weeks but they were almost eight weeks into the blockade. He added that those still there “were not giving up.”

The CEO said they had set up a hotline for any employees of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, and so far about 4,500 had been in contact, leaving around 6,000 yet to be accounted for.

“Hopefully they are still alive, hopefully they are ok and hopefully they will get out and we will be able to provide them with all the necessary comfort,” he said. 

According to Ryzhenkov, the company has said the facility will not work under Russian occupation. “Our enterprises will not be working under Russian occupation. We will not be controlling this work we will not be providing this work. Of course Russians can try to restart the plants, but let’s see if they can manage that, I doubt very much," he said.

11:51 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Russia continues to add battalion tactical groups in Ukraine, senior US defense official says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Russia continues to bolster their forces inside Ukraine as it refocuses on the east, adding three more battalion tactical groups since yesterday, bringing the total number of Russian battalion tactical groups, or BTGs, in Ukraine to 85, a senior US defense official told reporters on Thursday.

This brings the total number of BTGs added over the past week to 20.

Most of the BTGs being added in Ukraine are “going into the Donbas region,” the official said. 

“Most of them we still assess are going into the Donbas region, but I caution this by saying we don’t know, we don’t know exactly what unit is where on any given day specifically, but that’s where we’re assessing that we’re going,” the official added. 

11:57 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

US Air Force designed drone system specifically to meet Ukrainian requirements, Pentagon says

From CNN's Michael Conte

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby holds a news briefing at the Pentagon on April 19 in Arlington, Virginia.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby holds a news briefing at the Pentagon on April 19 in Arlington, Virginia. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The US Air Force developed the new Phoenix Ghost drone system to meet Ukrainian needs, according to a Pentagon spokesperson.

The new US aid package for Ukraine includes more than 121 Phoenix Ghost systems, the Pentagon said.

“This was rapidly developed by the Air Force in response specifically to Ukrainian requirements," said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby in off-camera remarks to reporters.

“It provides similar capabilities to the Switchblade series of unmanned systems — similar capabilities, but not exact,” Kirby said. “There’s differences in the scope of capability for the Phoenix Ghost.”

But Kirby would not say what the differences in capabilities are between the Switchblade and Phoenix Ghost systems.

Kirby also said the new system will require “some minimal training for knowledgeable UAS operators,” and that the US Defense Department is “working through” those requirements with the Ukrainian military.

Additionally, concerning the howitzers in the new aid package that will be used to outfit five additional Ukrainian battalions, Kirby said they are being provided per Ukrainian needs for fighting in the Donbas region that the department expects to continue “over days and weeks ahead.”

11:23 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Zelensky thanks Biden for additional support for Ukraine

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked US President Joe Biden for his announcements of additional military and economic aid for Ukraine Thursday.

“I’m grateful to @POTUS & [American flag emoji] people for the leadership in supporting the people of Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression. This help is needed today more than ever! It saves the lives of our defenders of democracy and freedom and brings us closer to restoring peace in [Ukrainian flag emoji],” Zelensky said in a tweet.

Earlier, Biden announced $500 million in US assistance for the Ukrainian government and $800 million in military aid.

The $800 million package would include heavy artillery and drones, along with ammunition, Biden said.

And the $500 million in funding can be used by Ukraine’s government “to stabilize their economy, to support communities that have been devastated by the Russian onslaught, and pay the brave workers that continue to provide essential services to the people of Ukraine,” Biden said.

10:55 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022

Ukraine's parliament extends martial law by another 30 days

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv

The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament, approved the extension of martial law in the country by another 30 days. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law across the country following the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.