Putin scraps plan to storm steel plant in Mariupol
From CNN's Radina Gigova
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that there is no need to storm the industrial area around the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and those who choose to surrender should be treated in accordance with international conventions.
"I believe the proposed storming of the industrial zone is no longer necessary," Putin told Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at a meeting at the Kremlin, according to state media.
The industrial area, Putin told Shoigu, should be sealed and those remaining at the plant should once again be offered to surrender in exchange for their lives and a "dignified treatment."
Putin also congratulated Shougu and the Russian military on taking control of the city of Mariupol.
"Completing the military task of liberating Mariupol is a great achievement, I congratulate you," Putin said.
Ukrainian officials have denied that Mariupol has fallen to Russia.
3:58 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
Russian defense minister tells Putin the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol could be taken in 3-4 days
From CNN's Radina Gigova
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that Russian forces would need 3-4 days to take over the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
At a meeting with Putin at the Kremlin, per Russian media, Shoigu said "the remaining nationalists and foreign battalions are securely blocked" at the Azovstal plant.
Some context: As the barrage of Mariupol continues, the plant is among the last significant holdouts of Ukrainian forces in the city and is sheltering hundreds of soldiers and civilians.
Two top Ukrainian officials said they are ready to head to Mariupol to negotiate the evacuation of soldiers and civilians, according to a captain with Ukraine's Azov Regiment.
3:55 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
Analysis: How Putin rattles his "Satan II" nuclear saber to hide Russian failures in Ukraine war
Analysis from CNN's Brad Lendon
Vladimir Putin did his best to put a menacing spin on Russia's testing of a new intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday.
The Russian President said the successful launch of the "Sarmat" ICBM -- nicknamed the "Satan II" in the West and capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads as far as the continental United States -- would "give thought to those who are trying to threaten Russia."
But Western experts portrayed the test as "nuclear saber-rattling," saying the threat to the US or its allies was "extremely low" and suggesting Putin's real motivation was to distract his domestic audience from Russia's recent military failures, such as the sinking of its Black Sea flagship, the Moskva.
Russian shelling continues in Mariupol amid evacuation effort, military commander says
From CNN's Julia Presniakova and Nathan Hodge in Lviv
The co-commander of one of the Ukrainian units encircled in the port of Mariupol said Thursday that Russian forces continued their bombardment of the city amid negotiations to evacuate civilians.
Maksym Zhorin, co-commander of Ukraine's Azov regiment, said in televised remarks that Russian forces "have not stopped shelling areas of Mariupol" amid negotiations on so-called "green corridors" for evacuation from the city, limiting the number of people who can be evacuated.
"Think about it, there are more than 100,000 people in the city, some of them under rubble, some in basements," he said. "Many of them are in the territory of Azovstal [steel factory], there are a lot of children, a lot of women, the elderly. And today, while agreeing on a green corridor, the Russians simply cynically fired on fortifications, on shelters where civilians were. So, of course, the Russians cannot be trusted in any case."
Two senior Ukrainian officials said Wednesday they were ready to meet their Russian counterparts to negotiate safe passage for civilians and Ukrainian troops holding out in the city. Zhorin expressed the hope that a third country could act as a guarantor for an evacuation agreement.
Ukrainian officials said they hoped they would be able to resume evacuations Thursday.
"Today, indeed, a number of people were still able to find and get on buses, but they are still in uncontrolled territory," Zhorin said. "And we can consider this evacuation at least a little successful when Ukrainians, civilians, will be in the territory controlled by Ukraine. This has not happened so far."
Four evacuation buses managed to leave the besieged city of Mariupol on Wednesday through an evacuation corridor, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Thursday.
"They spent the night in Berdiansk and are now heading to Vasylivka," Vereshchuk said in a statement on Telegram. "We are waiting for them in Zaporizhzhia soon."
Some context: Early on Wednesday, Vereshchuk said an evacuation corridor had been agreed upon with the Russians for women, children and the elderly. And people were asked to gather departure on Shevchenko Boulevard near the Port City shopping mall at 2:00 p.m. local time.
"Due to the lack of control over their own military on the ground, the occupiers were unable to ensure a proper ceasefire," Vereshchuk said Wednesday. "Also, due to the inherent disorganization and negligence, the occupiers were unable to provide timely transportation of people to the point where dozens of our buses and ambulances were waiting."
According to officials, tens of thousands of civilians remain in Mariupol, which is encircled by Russian forces and has endured weeks of intense bombardment.
2:23 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
Russia presses offensive in eastern Ukraine, regional military governor says
From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Lviv
Russian forces continued to press an offensive in eastern Ukraine, according to Serhii Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional military administration.
Haidai told CNN on Wednesday that 80% of Luhansk's territory is under Russian control amid a major battle for the control of the Donbas region.
"The enemy tried to entrench in the western and northwestern parts of Rubizhne, but failed," he said. "They carried out unsuccessful assaults in the direction of Novotoshkivske, the assault on Popasna continues. "
Residential buildings in the towns of Rubizhne and Novodruzhesk were destroyed by Russian fire and that no food warehouses remained in Severodonetsk, he said. CNN is unable to confirm the details of the destruction described by Haidai.
"Much of the destruction caused by the Russian invasion in the last 24 hours is in Rubizhne and Novodruzhesk," he said. "People are receiving food only from humanitarian supplies."
"Six fires broke out in residential buildings in the region," he said, adding that they have been extinguished and five people were rescued.
3:01 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
Director of children's cancer foundation in Ukraine describes chaos of moving patients to safety
From CNN's Travis Caldwell
The director of the largest children's cancer foundation in Ukraine says an all-hands-on-deck effort from volunteers, doctors and officials in Ukraine and abroad has been needed to get children undergoing cancer treatment out of harm’s way during the Russian invasion.
Yuliya Nogovitsyna, director of program development at Tabletochki, told CNN on Wednesday that evacuating patients to western Ukraine — and then onward to bordering nations — "was a sort of 'Mission: Impossible.'"
"From the very first days of the war, we tried to evacuate children from the biggest hospitals. We took them in rather large groups and we sought for either buses or train cars to bring them to Lviv," Nogovitsyna said. "It was very difficult and challenging because it was just near impossible to find any means of transport to move these kids."
Many children were in "severe conditions,” Nogovitsyna said, some with low blood counts or fever. Ukrainian officials would help evacuate whenever possible by providing buses or transport, she said, "but every time it was an ad hoc situation and we had to find the solution."
Lviv and other parts of western Ukraine are not near the frontlines of the Russian invasion but have faced missile attacks, which "didn't stop us from evacuating children" as the city was struck, she said.
"It just demonstrated that you cannot be safe anywhere in Ukraine. And regardless where the children are, they are to be taken out-of-country for the reason of safety," she said.
Nogovitsyna hailed the parents, saying they are "resolved to save their children" and are bravely facing the "double threat" of not only dealing with their child’s cancer diagnosis but also knowing their lives could be lost due to the interruption of treatment or being fatally wounded by Russian bombing.
A team of psychologists, volunteers and international partners such as St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital are assisting and providing updates to families in Ukraine as children are transported to care centers in other nations, she said.
Her organization has received guarantees from the hospitals abroad that the children may remain throughout their treatment even if the war ends soon, she said. And rebuilding collapsed health care systems would be the next step.
“As soon as Ukraine wins this war and the peace is restored, we want to rebuild the Ukrainian pediatric oncology service,” Nogovitsyna said, “and make it even better than it used to be before the war.”
12:18 a.m. ET, April 21, 2022
Analysis: Western pressure on Russia hasn't stopped Putin's latest provocations
Those moves were rich with symbolism about Western intentions to keep tightening the vise around Russia's economy as the US and its allies try to isolate Putin on the world stage. But they looked feeble against the backdrop of Putin's provocative test launch of Russia's new intercontinental ballistic missile and the allies' inability to save civilians as the latest evacuation attempts from Mariupol collapsed Wednesday.
US officials downplayed the importance of the missile test, noting they had been alerted of the launch window through international notification agreements, that they had tracked the missile's path and believe it is not yet operational in Russia's inventory.
But after weeks of saber-rattling from Putin — including his February order putting nuclear forces on high alert — the Russian leader clearly hoped the move would unnerve the US and its allies as they weigh their next moves to help Ukraine.
World War II Soviet victory flag begins to appear across parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine
From CNN's Paul P. Murphy
The Soviet victory flag from World War II is beginning to appear across occupied parts of Ukraine ahead of Russia's May 9 WWII Victory Day celebration.
The red flag — flown over Berlin's Reichstag on May 9, 1945, when the Nazis surrendered to the Soviets — bears the Soviet hammer and sickle insignia with the inscription, "150th Rifle, Order of Kutuzov Second Class, Idritz Division, 79th Rifle Corps, 3rd Shock Army, 1st Belorussian Front."
May 9 has since become a revered holiday in Russia and the flag an important icon.
Russian troops raised a large flag as part of a staged propaganda stunt in occupied Kherson, videos published on Tuesday show. Propaganda videos published on Wednesday by Russian-backed separatists in Kreminna showed troops fixing the victory flag to a Ukrainian government building.
Kreminna fell under Russian and Russian-backed separatist control earlier this week, Ukrainian officials said.
The flag was also placed atop the regional council building in the Russian-occupied town of Henichesk in Kherson province. A statue of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin was reinstalled in front of the council building earlier this week, CNN has previously reported.
Two European officials told CNN that Russian forces are feeling "self-imposed pressure" to achieve any semblance of a victory ahead of Russia's May 9 Victory Day celebration. Russia generally marks the holiday with a military parade through Red Square and a speech from President Vladimir Putin.