US President Biden will announce new Ukraine security assistance in remarks today, official says
From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins
US President Joe Biden is expected to announce on Thursday additional security assistance to Ukraine, according to an official.
CNN has previously reported the President was preparing an additional $800 million package of assistance following a similarly sized measure earlier this month.
In his remarks at the White House on Thursday, Biden plans to update Americans on US efforts to support the people of Ukraine and unveil the new assistance package, which has been finalized over the past days.
The latest package would come a week after the Biden administration authorized an $800 million security package, which included heavy weapons including artillery and anti-artillery radars for the first time since the Russian invasion began.
The Biden administration is working to get the military assistance to Ukraine as quickly as possible because they believe the war is in a critical stage and the continued US assistance could make a difference when Russia’s more aggressive assault on Eastern Ukraine ramps up.
Luhansk official says civilian evacuation "complicated" amid heavy Russian shelling
From CNN's Julia Presniakova in Lviv
Serhii Haidai, the head of the Luhansk region military administration, said Thursday that evacuation of the region has become "complicated" amid heavy Russian shelling.
"Lately, at the end of every day, I've been saying to myself: 'We did it,'" Haidai said.
"Because evacuation is complicated. Yes, we already can't get to some settlements of Hirske. The blue and yellow [Ukrainian] flag continues to fly above them, but the route is constantly shelled by the Russians, or mined," he said.
"Every trip to Popasna is full of danger — evacuation vehicles have repeatedly come under fire from the Russians. However, today we managed to save 60 locals. And in total for three days, 163 citizens of Popasna," he continued.
Hayday quoted the Popasna local administration as saying more than 100 people have been killed in shelling since Feb. 24, and that more than 2,500 people still remain in bomb shelters.
The military governor said on Wednesday that 80% of the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine was under Russian control.
8:06 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
Russia closes consulates of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania
From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London
Russia is closing the consulates of three ex-Soviet Baltic nations, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
The statement said the consulates of Latvia in St. Petersburg and Pskov, as well as the consulates general of Estonia and Lithuania in St. Petersburg will be shuttered and all of their employees declared "persona non grata."
The phrase "persona non grata" literally means “an unwelcome person”. Declaring someone as such usually means they have to leave the country.
Echoing Russian President Vladimir Putin's claims for invading Ukraine, the statement said the decision was made "on the basis of the principle of reciprocity, as well as taking into account the provision by the authorities of these countries of military assistance to the Kiev regime and covering up of the crimes of Ukrainian nationalists against the civilian population of Donbas and Ukraine."
The ambassadors of Latvia, Estonia and the charge d'affaires of Lithuania in Russia were summoned in connection with the "unfriendly actions of these countries."
According to the foreign ministry, consular employees and other staff who are not Russian citizens should leave Russian territory within the same time frame that was set for the departure of employees of Russian consular missions from these countries.
8:02 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
What we know about the Azovstal plant in Mariupol
The fate of the Ukrainian city of Marioupol rests on an unknown number of troops defending the Azovstal iron and steel plant -- a sprawling industrial complex in the southeastern corner of the port city.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he was scrapping plans for troops to storm the compound.
Instead, Putin said it should be sealed and those inside should be offered the chance to surrender in exchange for their lives and a “dignified treatment.”
Here’s what we know about the plant:
The complex is huge: It spans numerous buildings and an area of more than four square miles and used to employ more than 10,000 people.
Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are sheltering within the complex.
It is among the last significant holdouts for Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, which has been leveled by Russian forces during the course of the war.
Conditions inside are said to be desperate. On Monday, a Ukrainian military official said: "Women with children and babies live in bunkers. In hunger and cold … The wounded die every day because there is no medicine, no water, no food.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has told Putin that Russian forces would need three to four days to take over the plant.
Mariupol's strategic position on the Sea of Azov has made it a key target for the Russian military.
Taking it would allow Russia to create a continuous land bridge from Donbas to Crimea, the peninsula it illegally annexed in 2014.
8:17 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
It's 3 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has likened the Russian attacks on the southeastern port city of Mariupol to a "terrorist operation" as heavy fighting continues there.
Here's the latest:
Mariupol: Zelensky said Thursday that "thousands" of civilians remain blockaded inside Mariupol. The co-commander of one of the Ukrainian units encircled in the port said Thursday that Russian forces continued their bombardment of the city amid negotiations to evacuate civilians.
Diplomacy: The Prime Ministers of Spain and Denmark arrived in Kyiv on Thursday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky..
Kharkiv: As Russia steps up its offensive in the east, Ukraine's second largest city of Kharkiv was under heavy shelling overnight, its mayor said.
Putin proclaims “success”: Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the effort by Russian forces to capture Mariupol a "success," but ordered Russian forces to halt outside the city's besieged Azovstal steel factory and blockade it "so that a fly can't get through."
Azovstal steel plant: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that there is no need to storm the industrial area around the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and that those who choose to surrender should be treated in accordance with international conventions. Earlier Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin Russian forces would need three to four days to take over the plant.
Heavy weapons shortage: The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his forces don’t have enough "serious and heavy" weapons to defeat the Russian army in Mariupol.
Russians take central Rubizhne: Videos on social media and verified by CNN show Russian forces in Ukraine's Luhansk region have taken central Rubizhne and the nearby village of Kreminna. The videos come after the regional military administrator said 80% of the Luhansk region is under Russian control.
Air force extra parts: The Ukrainian Air Force has added about 20 operational aircraft to its fleet because of an influx of spare parts, a senior US defense official said. Without specifying which country provided the parts, the official said the US and other countries worked "to get them the parts they need to get them in the air."
Biden administration to detail how Ukrainian refugees can enter US
From CNN's Arlette Saenz
The Biden administration is expected soon to announce new details on how Ukrainian refugees would be able to seek entry into the United States on humanitarian grounds, a source familiar with the planning says.
The move comes nearly one month after US President Joe Biden pledged to admit up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the invasion.
Over 5,000 Ukrainians attempted to gain entry into the US in March, including 3,274 at the southern border with Mexico, according to US Customs and Border Protection data.
The humanitarian parole program, which would fall under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security and could be announced as soon as Thursday, would require Ukrainians seeking entry to the US to be sponsored by a US citizen or individual, which would include resettlement organizations and non-profits, the source said.
The individuals would need to undergo rigorous security vetting and checks -- including biographic and biometric screening and complete vaccinations and other public health requirements, such as receiving the Covid-19 vaccine -- in order to be eligible, the source said.
Sponsors would need to pass security background checks of their own as well as declare financial support.
Through this process, Ukrainian applicants would be allowed to travel to the US and be considered for humanitarian parole on a case-by-case basis for up to two years, the source said. If accepted, the individuals would be eligible for work authorization.
The Biden administration could begin taking applications for the program as soon as before the end of April, according to the source.
In addition to the humanitarian parole program, the State Department is working to expand its Refugee Admissions Program operations in Europe, the source added, with the goal of providing eligible individuals with better access to the Lautenberg program -- an 1989 initiative aimed at helping those fleeing religious persecution from the Soviet Union -- as well as stepping up referral mechanisms for Ukrainians seeking permanent resettlement.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that the administration was working to finalize the details of how it would welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to the US.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the new details but said additional details about the administration’s efforts would be announced “soon.” The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
More than five million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began in late February, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Wednesday.
8:34 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
"Thousands" trapped in Mariupol, says Zelensky as he calls Russian siege "a terrorist operation"
From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Lviv
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that "thousands" of civilians remain blockaded inside Mariupol as he likened the Russian siege of the southeastern port city to a "terrorist operation."
Ukrainian commanders on the ground have said Russian forces have not honored agreements to open evacuation corridors or enforce ceasefires and have continued to bombard the city.
Mariupol has been nearly completely destroyed by weeks of Russian bombardment. Tens of thousands of civilians still await evacuation, according to Ukrainian officials.
After numerous failed attempts to establish safe corridors out of Mariupol, four evacuation buses managed to leave the city on Wednesday.
In an interview with French television channel BFMTV, Zelensky said:
"As to our army, the forces of the Russian Federation do not allow us to pass through these occupied 120 kilometers so that we could reach the military unblocking of Mariupol today. It's true. We can't do it today. We negotiate and open humanitarian corridors, and some people are leaving. But the thousands I told you about are blocked there, and so far Russia isn't allowing these people to get out from captivity."
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday proclaimed the effort by Russian forces to capture the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol a "success," but ordered Russian forces to stop short of trying to storm the city's besieged Azovstal steel factory, which is still held by Ukrainian forces.
Local residents, children, the elderly and the military are blocked in the city of Mariupol. It is not more like a war, but a terrorist operation by Russia against Mariupol and the people of this city."
6:50 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
Greek authorities to release seized Russian tanker
From CNN's Chris Liakos
A Russian crude oil tanker seized last week by Greek authorities will be released, a government spokesperson confirmed to CNN on Thursday.
Greece impounded the tanker with 19 Russian crew members on board on April 15th as part of the EU sanctions.
The spokesperson for the Greek Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy said that the anti-money laundering authority has ordered the release of the vessel. The spokesperson added that the release has not begun yet and could not provide further information at this point.
According to the Athens News Agency, the tanker was headed to the Peloponnese peninsula due to an engine problem. There, it planned to offload its cargo on to another vessel.
However adverse weather conditions led it to anchor near the southern coast of the Greek island of Evia, where the tanker was seized.
9:03 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
Prime Ministers of Spain and Denmark arrive in Kyiv to meet with Zelensky
From CNN’s Al Goodman and James Frater
The Prime Ministers of Spain and Denmark arrived in Kyiv on Thursday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, their respective offices said.
After arriving in the Ukrainian capital, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen appeared together in a short video tweeted by Sanchez’s official account.
“Ukraine has the support, solidarity and commitment of Spain,” the post said.
Frederiksen’s office tweeted that she and Sanchez would “meet with President Zelensky to deliver concrete support to Ukraine.”
“Tthey will meet to discuss the current situation in Ukraine, further support for the Ukrainians and the prosecution of war crimes and human rights violations in connection with the Russian invasion,” Frederiksen’s office said in a statement.
Russia has denied allegations of war crimes and claims its forces do not target civilians, but CNN journalists on the ground in Ukraine have seen firsthand evidence of atrocities at multiple locations across the country.
Sanchez announced earlier this week that Spain would reopen its embassy in Kyiv in the coming days, which it had closed shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.