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Latest Developments in Ukraine: June 17

A man sleeps as he hides from Russian shelling in a basement in Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine, June 16, 2022.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

9:25 p.m.: In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the European Union’s move to put his country on a path to membership.

“We are now one step from the beginning of full-fledged integration with the European Union. We have a positive conclusion from the European Commission on the candidacy for Ukraine. And this is a historical achievement of all those who work for our state. The only thing left is to wait for the decision of the European Council next week,” he said.

Zelenskyy also said Ukraine was able to secure the release of civilian paramedic Yulia Payevska, known as Tyra, who was captured by Russian forces in Mariupol on March 16.

8:09 p.m.: Russian state television has shown video of two U.S. military veterans who went missing last week while fighting in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported. The videos confirm that the men were taken captive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and raise fears about their fate. Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh, both from Alabama, are believed to be the first Americans captured by Russian forces since the war began on February 24, AP reported.

7:16 p.m.: Former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Ilya Bogdanov first came to Ukraine in 2014 "not to fight for Ukraine but to fight against Putin’s regime." After becoming a Ukrainian citizen and recovering from a serious injury in recent fighting, he now says he doesn't "want war for the sake of war. I want peace in Ukraine." Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this story.

6:11 p.m.: The U.S. imposed sanctions Friday on Nicaragua’s state-owned gold mining company and the president of its board of directors in part over the Central American nation’s ties to Russia, The Associated Press reported. The sanctions were imposed against the Nicaraguan Mining Co., known by the Spanish-language acronym ENIMINAS, partly because the country’s leaders are “deepening their relationship with Russia as it wages war against Ukraine, while using gold revenue to continue to oppress the people of Nicaragua,” the Treasury Department said.

5:20 p.m.:

4 p.m.: The United States said on Thursday it was aware of reports that a third U.S. citizen is missing after traveling to Ukraine and it had not yet asked Russia about two Americans reportedly captured after going to the country to fight Russian forces.

"As of today, we have not raised this yet with the Russian Federation. ... (We) haven't seen anything from the Russians indicating that two such individuals are in their custody," U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, describing reports about the two men as unconfirmed.

Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Huynh, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama, who went to Ukraine as volunteer fighters against Russian forces, have been missing for a week, and are feared captured, family members have said.

3:28 p.m.:

3:01 p.m.: Denmark's military says a Russian warship has violated its territorial waters, The Associated Press reported. The Defense Command of the Danish armed forces says a Russian corvette entered Danish waters twice in the early hours of Friday near the island of Christiansoe in the Baltic Sea.

In a statement, the Defense Command said the Russian vessel left after it was contacted on marine two-way radio by the Danish navy. Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said Denmark summoned the Russian ambassador to protest the incident.

"It has been communicated in very clear terms to the Russian ambassador that this type of action is completely inadmissible," Kofod said in a statement. "We will not accept this type of Russian provocations." Both Sweden and Denmark have reported airspace violations by Russian aircraft following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

2:39 p.m.:

2:14 p.m.: Russian media outlets on Friday broadcast images of what they said were two U.S. citizens captured while fighting for Ukraine, in what could be the first confirmation the duo had been taken prisoner, Reuters reported.

The Izvestia newspaper showed a video clip of what it said was a brief interview with Andy Huynh, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama. The RT channel posted an image of a man it identified as Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Family members said on Wednesday the two men had been missing in Ukraine for a week and said they feared they had been taken prisoner. read more.

In a separate six-second video posted on the Telegram messaging app, a bearded man with an American accent speaks into a camera and says "My name is Alexander Drueke, I am against war". He repeated "I am against war" in Russian. In another two-second video, the man that Izvestia identified as Huynh said "I am against war" in Russian.

The Russian defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports.

2:05 p.m.:

1:48 p.m.: Both the words "historic" and "symbolic" are appropriate when considering the June 17 decision by the European Commission to recommend that Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia be given a "European perspective" -- in other words, announcing for the first time ever that the trio of countries can become European Union members in the future, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Rikard Jozwiak says in this news analysis.

1:34 p.m.:

1:20 p.m: Moscow accused the Netherlands on Friday of an "anti-Russian campaign" after Dutch authorities announced the detention of a man they said was a Russian spy trying to infiltrate the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Dutch intelligence service said on Thursday it had uncovered a Russian military agent using a false identity to seek an internship at the ICC, which is investigating accusations of war crimes in Ukraine.
Russia's foreign ministry said the Netherlands was "planting information" to whip up a scandal and "scare the public with talk of 'insidious machinations' of the Russians." Moscow regularly accuses Western governments of "Russiaphobia," including in response to numerous accusations of spies targeting European organizations and academic institutions over the last decade.

1:16 p.m.:

1:09 p.m.: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised more military aid to Ukraine during a surprise visit to Kyiv, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. “We are with you to give you the strategic endurance that you will need,” Johnson said on Friday, shortly before a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Johnson did not go into detail on what new aid his nation will provide to Ukraine. Kyiv has been pleading with Western nations for more heavy artillery, including howitzers and rocket launchers, saying it is outgunned 10-to-1.

Ukraine has been slowly losing territory in the Donbas due to Russia’s greater firepower, experts have said. Nonetheless, Ukrainian forces are continuing to put up fierce resistance.

1:02 p.m.:

12:47 p.m.: Supporters of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow - labeled as a foreign agent and shut down by a court in December - have created a new group called Memorial, The Center To Defend Human Rights.

The group announced on Friday that the new human rights center was established as an organization without the status of a legal entity, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

"The new organization will document and publish information about significant violations of human rights, and will contribute to the defense of the rights of victims of gross violations, including political prisoners and vulnerable groups," the founders' statement says.

12:28 p.m.: In Ukraine, soldiers follow first-aid standards adopted by the United States and NATO. They also have tens of thousands of lifesaving first aid kits, thanks to volunteers with an American nonprofit. VOA’s Anna Kosstutschenko has the story.

US Charity Gives Ukrainians Lifesaving Gift in Wartime
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12:16 p.m.: European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Friday held a video press briefing, during which he spoke about U.N. efforts to negotiate the unblocking of Ukraine’s port of Odesa, in order to resume shipments of grain out through the Black Sea, VOA’s U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer reported.

“We hope that the U.N. will continue discussing with the Ukrainians and with the Russians and look for a solution for the deblocking of Ukrainian ports,” Borrell said. “In the meantime, we do everything we can to look for alternative ways, but certainly they are much less efficient than using big ships through the ports,” he added.

Ukraine was exporting 5 tons a month before the war, now there is much less than that, Borrell said. He said he also met with African Union ambassadors (by video) and discussed their concerns about EU sanctions impacting their food and fertilizer imports. He reiterated that the EU is not sanctioning Russian food or fertilizer exports.

“I insisted once and again that our sanctions don’t affect exports of food and fertilizer from Russia, that our sanctions only affect European operators and do not affect third countries. If there is any situation in which the typical market avoidance or over compliance by some economic actors, this has to be studied and this has to be solved,” Borrell said.

11:52 a.m.:

11:39 a.m.: President Vladimir Putin told Russia’s showpiece investment conference Friday that the country’s economy will overcome sanctions that he called “reckless and insane,” The Associated Press reported.

Putin began his address to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum with a lengthy denunciation of countries that he contends want to weaken Russia, including the United States.

Russia came under a wide array of sanctions after sending troops into Ukraine in February, while hundreds of foreign companies suspended operations in Russia or pulled out of the country entirely.

“It didn’t work. Russian enterprises and government authorities worked in a composed and professional manner,” Putin said. “We’re normalizing the economic situation. We stabilized the financial markets, the baking system, the trade system.”

11:11 a.m.: During his unannounced visit to Ukraine’s capital Friday, UK Prime Minister tweeted a photo of himself with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, saying “Mr. President, Volodymyr, It is good to be in Kyiv again.” Johnson also said his country supports Ukraine and its people, in off-the-cuff remarks while in a city square, as VOA’s Eastern Europe bureau chief Myroslava Gongadze reported.

11:07 a.m.: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a second unannounced visit to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Friday, and as he walked with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a downtown square, he was greeted with cheers. VOA’s Eastern Europe bureau chief Myroslava shared a video clip on Twitter.

10:52 a.m.: The scientific lab that’s home to the world’s largest atom-smasher says it plans to terminate all cooperation with Russia and Belarus over their roles in the war in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported. The announcement was made Friday, a day after CERN’s managing council made the decision.

In March, CERN suspended cooperation with the two countries over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, which included passage of Russian forces through Belarus for their invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

“Yesterday’s council’s decision confirms the strong condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation aided by Belarus, while leaving the door ajar for continued scientific collaboration should conditions allow in the future,” said CERN director-general Fabiola Gianotti in a statement.

10:41 a.m.: The economic sanctions imposed on Russia after its military intervention in Ukraine are causing a domino effect across all spheres of the country's economy. For the average Russian – that translates into a sharp rise in prices. VOA’s Jonathan Spier narrates this report from Moscow.

As Sanctions Bite, Russians Seem Worried – and Skeptical
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10:26 a.m.: Fine Italian knitwear packed in boxes addressed to retailers in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kursk sit stacked in a Lombardy warehouse awaiting dispatch. Although not subject to sanctions to punish Russia for invading Ukraine, the garments are not likely to ship any time soon.

10:19 a.m.: Russian military forces have inflicted heavy damage on Ukrainian business infrastructure since the start of its invasion February 24. VOA’s Eastern Europe bureau chief Myroslava Gongadze on Friday visited a destroyed factory in Chernihiv which requires millions of dollars to restore.

9:51 a.m.: Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov has announced the planned launch of a new media project following the suspension of the Novaya gazeta newspaper, where he was editor in chief, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Muratov said in a statement on June 16 that the two first letters of his suspended newspaper, NO, will be the name of the new project, which he sees as an appendix to Novaya gazeta. "No" can be translated from Russian as "but."

"We will also launch a YouTube channel under that name," Muratov's statement said. He gave no further details. In late March, Novaya gazeta suspended its operations after receiving warnings regarding its coverage of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine from Roskomnadzor, the state communications regulator.

9:39 a.m.: The U.S. Department of Defense on Friday released a list summarizing security assistance supplied to Ukraine, worth approximately $5.6 billion since Russia’s invasion on February24. VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin shared the details on Twitter.

9:28 a.m.:
The world has become more compassionate towards refugees, according to a survey by pollster Ipsos published on Friday, Reuters reported. It’s a finding that it said suggested the war in Ukraine had increased public openness to people fleeing war or oppression.

Some 78% of people in 28 countries believe those escaping conflict or persecution should be able to take refuge in another country, up from 70% in a 2021 survey.

Fewer people also believe borders should be entirely closed to refugees, with 36% agreeing in Friday's poll, against 50% a year earlier, in part reflecting decreasing concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

9:10 a.m.: The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Friday tweeted a video profiling one of its Ukrainian volunteers, a young man named Maksym who helps displaced children and their families affected by the war.

8:59 a.m.: Russian journalist and Nobel Peace laureate Dmitry Muratov is auctioning his Nobel medal for Ukrainian refugees, distraught at the eradication of independent media in his country, where he says fewer and fewer people support Moscow's military campaign.

Muratov is the bear-like co-founder and long-time editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper critical of the Kremlin that was itself established in 1993 with money from former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev's Nobel Peace Prize.

"My country invaded another state, Ukraine. There are now 15.5 million refugees ... We thought for a long time about what we could do ... and we thought that everyone should give away something dear to them, important to them," Muratov told Reuters in an interview.

8:46 a.m.: VOA’s Eastern Europe bureau chief Myroslava Gongadze was in the Ukrainian town of Chernihiv on Friday and tweeted a video showing local efforts underway to try and help defend the city from Russia’s military.

8:33 a.m.: France's president said on Friday he saw little chance of an agreement with Russia for now to get grain out the Ukrainian port of Odesa, but said there were talks to regenerate rail routes linking Odesa to the Danube in Romania as an alternative, Reuters reported.

Ukraine's inability to use its major deep-sea port, Odesa, because of Russia's military incursion has led to a jump in global food prices and warnings by the United Nations of hunger in poorer countries that rely heavily on imported grain.

After holding discussions with his Ukrainian, German, Italian and Romanian counterparts in Kyiv on Thursday, Macron told broadcaster TF1 that options were being looked at to revamp a rail route from Odesa to the Danube river in Romania.

"Odesa is a few dozen kilometers from Romania, and through Romania (we would) be able to access the Danube and the railway," Macron said. A diplomatic source aware of the idea said the initiative would see grains eventually moved to the Black Sea port of Constanta where they could then be exported on larger vessels.

Macron said Paris would send experts to help Romania as it ramps up investment for the scheme.

8:17 a.m.:

8:02 a.m.: Ukraine is finding it increasingly difficult to buy weapons on the global defense market, running into competition with Russia which has often tried to buy the same weapons or blocked Ukraine’s attempts to acquire them, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. “Western arms brokers and Ukrainian officials said Russia is often outbidding Ukraine for these supplies and hastening to fortify its own dwindling weapons stores,” the Wall Street Journal said.

7:49 a.m.: Ukraine announced Friday that it is scrapping visa-free travel for Russians, the Kyiv Independent reported.

7:43 a.m.: Russia reduced natural gas to Europe again Friday, including cutting flows by half to Italy and Slovakia and completely to France, as countries have worked to ease their dependence on Russian supplies amid the war in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported. It marks the third day of significant reductions to the fuel that powers industry and generates electricity in Europe, which also have hit Germany and Austria. It has further spiked already-high energy prices that are driving record inflation in the European Union.

7:40 a.m.: The Russian subsidiary of Alphabet’s Google has submitted a declaration of bankruptcy, Interfax reported on Friday, citing court filings online. The subsidiary announced plans to file for bankruptcy in May after authorities seized its bank account, making it impossible to pay staff and vendors, Reuters reported.

7:02 a.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden sat down with The Associated Press to discuss the state of the economy, his concerns about the national mood and his commitment to standing up to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

Biden said he didn’t consider the domestic political impact from U.S. efforts to sanction Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, particularly how it would roil the economy. Without such action, he said, “I fear what would happen next is you’d see chaos in Europe.” He added: “It’s not about my political survival. It’s about what’s best for the country.

Biden suggested that he’s willing to pay a political price as a result, saying his advice to young people interested in public service is, “Unless you know what’s worth losing over, don’t get engaged.”

6:53 a.m.:

6:41 a.m.: A Russian-owned superyacht seized by the United States has arrived in Honolulu Harbor flying an American flag, The Associated Press reported Friday. The U.S. last week won a legal battle in Fiji to take the $325 million vessel and immediately sailed it to Hawaii. The FBI has linked the Amadea to the Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov. The U.S. said Kerimov secretly bought the Cayman Island-flagged vessel last year through various shell companies. The ship became a target of Task Force KleptoCapture, launched in March to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs to put pressure on Russia to end the war in Ukraine.

6:32 a.m.: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the European Commission recommendation Friday that Ukraine should be granted candidate status, saying the decision was “the first step” on the path to EU membership and that it will "certainly bring our victory closer."

6:18 a.m.: The European Commission has recommended that Ukraine and Moldova should be granted European Union candidate status, a first step in the long process of accession, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

The recommendation, announced by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday, will be discussed by leaders of the 27-nation bloc during a summit next week in Brussels.

The move comes as Kyiv fights a devastating war against Russia, which launched an unprovoked invasion of its neighbor on February 24 that has killed tens of thousands of people and caused huge material destruction.

Ukrainians were "ready to die" for the "European dream," von der Leyen told a news conference.

6:02 a.m.: Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Friday he would take advice on whether to accept President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s invitation to visit Ukraine during an upcoming European trip, The Associated Press reported. Albanese will attend a NATO meeting in Spain at the end of this month.

Albanese said he only became aware of the invitation to visit Ukraine when he read a newspaper report Friday. “I’ll take appropriate advice, and obviously there are security issues as well in terms of such a visit,” Albanese told reporters.

“I appreciate the spirit in which it’s been offered and one of the reasons why Australia has been invited to NATO is that Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor to give support to Ukraine in its defense of its national sovereignty against Russia’s illegal, immoral invasion. And we’ll continue to stand with the people of Ukraine,” Albanese added.

5:57 a.m.: The evacuation of 568 civilians sheltering in bunkers under the Azot chemical plant in Ukraine’s embattled city of Sievierodonetsk is currently impossible due to shelling and heavy fighting, the governor of the eastern Luhansk region said on Friday. In a post on Telegram messenger, he said there were 38 children taking shelter in the bunkers at the chemical plant, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's armed forces said they struck the Russian navy's Vasiliy Bekh tugboat in the Black Sea with two Harpoon missiles on Friday, the first time Ukraine has said it hit a Russian vessel with the Western-supplied anti-ship rockets.

Ukraine's Armed Forces Strategic Communications Directorate published the information on the Telegram app, alongside a video purporting to show the strike from the air. Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

5:49 a.m.:

5:45 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry says that the invasion of Ukraine "has accelerated the state’s long-term trajectory towards authoritarianism." It notes that speaking out against the invasion is being criminalized, and Russian lawmakers are moving toward introducing a 20-year sentence for Russians fighting against the Russian Federation.

Some Russians continue to protest the war. The update notes that some high-profile officials have faced fallout for criticizing the war, and signs indicate 15,000 Russian millionaires may be attempting to leave the country.

"Should this exodus continue," the update concludes, "it will likely exacerbate the war’s long-term damage to Russia’s economy."

5:19 a.m.: The New York Times reports that the European Commission is expected to recommend Ukraine be granted candidate status in its quest to become a member of the European Union.

It's only the first formal step; the Times says the process normally takes more than 10 years.

4:35 a.m.: A European Commission spokesperson says that Russia's reducing gas supplies to Europe won't put Europe's energy security at immediate risk, Al Jazeera reports.

3:36 a.m.: Al Jazeera, citing Russian state news agency RIA, reports that Russia denies taking stolen Ukrainian grain to Syria.

Reuters had reported that Russian-flagged ships had been taking Ukrainian grain to Syria over the past few months. Russia's representative to Syria called this "more fake, unconfirmed and unrealistic information," Al Jazeera reports.

2:30 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, says Russia is continuing to attack Severodonetsk and to fortify fallback positions in Kherson Oblast. Russian and Ukrainian forces have also fought near Kharkiv City, and Russia has had several unsuccessful operations near Slovyansk.

1:15 a.m.: Russia has "strategically lost" its war with Ukraine, suffering heavy losses and strengthening NATO, the United Kingdoms chief of defense staff said in an interview published on Friday.

"This is a dreadful mistake by Russia. Russia will never take control of Ukraine," said Tony Radakin, the country's highest-ranking military officer, adding it would emerge a "more diminished power.”

"Russia has strategically lost already. NATO is stronger, Finland and Sweden are looking to join," he told Britain's domestic Press Association news agency.

Radakin said Russian President Vladimir Putin may achieve "tactical successes" in the weeks to come but had sacrificed a quarter of his country's army power for "tiny" gains and was running out of troops and high-tech missiles.

12:02 a.m.: Germany's vice chancellor is appealing for the country's residents to step up their efforts to save energy after Russia's Gazprom announced significant cuts in natural gas deliveries through a key pipeline.

Russian President Vladimir Putin "is doing what was to be feared from the beginning: He is reducing the volume of gas, not in one go but step by step," German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said in a video posted by his ministry on Twitter Wednesday night.

Habeck, who is also the economy minister, had launched a campaign for people to save energy last week. After the Gazprom announcements, he hammered home the message in Wednesday night's video.

"Gas is coming to Europe — we have no supply problem, but the volumes of gas must be acquired on the market and it will get more expensive," Habeck said. He said the government is prepared and noted that it has enacted legislation requiring gas storage to be filled.