Ukrainian forces have retaken another village in the northern Kharkiv region as a counteroffensive continues against Russian forces.
In a video circulating Telegram, troops were seen placing a flag on a building in the village of Molodova, just 13 miles southeast of the Ukraine-Russia border. CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the video.
“This is how we liberate,” a soldier is heard saying in the video. “Step-by-step, village-by-village. Our land.”
The counteroffensive to retake territory in Kharkiv has retaken a number of villages — about half a dozen in the area — in the last two weeks.
Not only are forces in the region nearing the Russian border, but they are also inching closer to vital Russian supply lines that run from the border down to Russian-occupied Izium and into the Donetsk region.
Resupplying forces in Izium and the northern Donetsk oblast is critical for the Russian advance in western Ukraine. The majority of the fighting, and shelling, in Ukraine is taking place in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Russian forces there are aided by Russian-backed separatists in both Donetsk and Luhansk.
Hungary won’t get on board with the European Union’s plan to ban Russian oil imports in its current form because it is “against Hungarian national energy security,” according to the spokesperson for the prime minister.
“The proposal on behalf of Brussels is suggesting that it should be done by the end of next year. The shortest period — we’ve been clear on that, our oil companies have been clear on that — is three to five years,” Zoltan Kovacs, spokesperson to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, told CNN’s Eleni Giokos Wednesday. “The very essence of decision-making in Europe is consensus … We maintain and we’ve been telling Brussels and all the European states, that on Hungary’s behalf, it simply cannot be done as they require.”
The European Union is proposing to ban all oil imports from Russia by the end of the year and remove the country’s biggest bank, Sberbank, from the SWIFT international payments network. In a sign of possible discord among EU member states following the announcement on proposals, Kovacs tweeted that Hungary —which heavily depends on Russian oil imports — does not see how an oil embargo transition would be manageable.
Kovacs confirmed in Wednesday’s interview that tension exists between the European Union, Hungary and Slovakia, another country heavily reliant on Russian oil. He told CNN that the differences have “nothing to do with emotions, political like or dislike.”
“We haven’t received much assistance on behalf of the European Union so far, beyond the energy terminal in Croatia. So simply neither resources nor capacity, nor alternative resources, are available for Hungary for the moment and for the foreseeable future,” he added.
When pressed on any energy alternatives Hungary may have at its disposal, Kovacs said that “it’s a matter of hard physical fact on the ground.”
“Hungary is a landlocked country. We have inherited a one-sided dependence on Russia after the fall of communism.”
Kovacs also strenuously denied reports that long-serving leader Orban has the ear of Russian President Vladimir Putin and was pre-warned of the invasion of Ukraine. Hungary has “received information and intelligence with the same pace and the same time as other NATO allies,” he said.
Russian troops continue to storm the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Wednesday “with no success,” according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
“Blockades and attempts to destroy our units in the Azovstal area in Mariupol continue. In some areas, with the support of aircraft, the Russian enemy resumed the offensive in order to take control of the plant. There has been no success,” adviser to the Armed Forces of Ukraine Alexander Stupun said in a video update.
New battles continue to rage at Azovstal where “hundreds of civilians remain trapped, including 30 children,” the mayor of Mariupol told Ukrainian TV.
The Interior Ministry of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic has published a video on showing ongoing bombardment, explosions and heavy plumes of smoke coming from the facilities within Azovstal. CNN analysis of the damage visible in the video confirms the footage was likely filmed this week.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Russian Armed Forces were not “storming” the Azovstal plant, and instead described them as suppressing “attempts by militants” to take new firing positions.
A Russian military strike on Tuesday killed and wounded a number of civilians waiting for a bus in the city of Avdiivka in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, according to the National Police of Ukraine.
Authorities have not yet disclosed how many workers were killed or injured in the military strike.
Photos posted by the National Police on Telegram, which CNN has geolocated and verified, show the aftermath of the strike on a bus depot at a factory in Avdiivka. In one of the photos, at least three objects — presumptively bodies — were blurred by the police.
In an accompanying post, the police said the workers who were killed and wounded in the strike were boarding a bus after their work shift.
The Metinvest Group, which owns the plant, confirmed on its Telegram channel that the facility was targeted by Russian shelling, saying those still at the plant were specialists.
“Specialists of the company did not even have time to return to the plant to the bomb shelters, which today have become a shelter for employees and residents of Avdiivka,” the company statement on Telegram read.
According to the company, the plant has seven storage facilities that can hold roughly 2,500 people.
“Shelters are provided with generators, medicines, drinking water, and food, in an amount sufficient for a long stay,” the statement said. “Despite difficult logistics and hostile shelling, the Metinvest Group is ready to evacuate all employees and members of their families who wish to leave the dangerous place.”
Avdiivka has been on the frontlines for weeks, shelled almost daily by Russian forces trying to break through Ukrainian defensive lines.
Approximately 2,000 Russian troops — or the equivalent of two Russian battalion tactical groups (BTG) — remain dedicated to Mariupol, according to a senior US defense official.
However, 10 Russian BTG’s that had been dedicated to the city are now attempting to move north and have paused, “either to create better defensive positions or to refit and re-posture themselves,” just south of the town of Velyka Novosilka, according to the official.
The official said that the remaining forces in and around Mariupol may include some non-Russian fighters, including Chechens.
Russian military progress in Ukraine “remains slow and uneven” in the north of the country, according to the official.
The official added that though the Russians are moving their operations to the south, they are facing lots of Ukrainian opposition in those areas, and “stalled in terms of their overall momentum in the North.”
“They’re not really making any progress in the south,” the official said of the state of the Russians’ battle in Mariupol.
There have been attempts by the Russians to attack critical infrastructure in Western Ukraine near Lviv, specifically railroads. However, it does not appear that the Russians have been accurate in their targeting, according to the official.
Nearly all of the howitzers that the US pledged to Ukraine are now “in Ukrainian hands,” according to a senior US defense official.
“I can tell you that more than 90% of the 90 howitzers that were pledged to Ukraine in the last two presidential drawdown authorities are actually in Ukrainian hands,” the official said.
Nearly 90,000 of the 144,000 pledged projectile ammunition to pair with them are now in Ukraine as well, according to the official.
But the official said that the US is not tracking where all the artillery is going once the materiel has been given to the Ukrainians.
“Again, where they go and how they’re being used, that’s up to the Ukrainians. We don’t have a bird’s eye view of every single tube and can tell you where it is in the fight,” the official said.
After the European Union and UK announced additional sanctions on Russia, US President Joe Biden said “we are always open to additional sanctions.”
“I’ll be speaking with the members of the G7 this week about what we’re going to do or not do,” Biden told reporters at the White House while discussing the US economy.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed a raft of measures, including a ban on Russian oil, on Wednesday. Other proposals include listing individuals who committed war crimes in Bucha, Ukraine; removing Russia’s largest bank Sberbank and two other companies from the SWIFT system, a messaging service that connects financial institutions around the world; and banning three Russian state-owned broadcasters from European airwaves.
The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Wednesday announced further sanctions against 63 Russian citizens and entities, including against Russian media companies “behind Putin’s vicious disinformation campaign” and their employees.
The Swedish embassy in Ukraine has returned to Kyiv, the Ambassador of Sweden to Ukraine Tobias Thyberg announced on Twitter on Wednesday.
“The embassy team is back where we belong: in Kyiv, supporting Ukraine and its heroic citizens as they defend the freedom of their country and freedom in Europe,” Thyberg said.
Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that diplomatic missions from 27 countries were now operating again in Kyiv.
The UK, Spain, Italy and France have all announced plans to reopen. The US said its embassy in Ukraine hopes to return to Kyiv by the end of May if conditions permit.
The South Korean ambassador to Ukraine, alongside some members of staff from the embassy in Kyiv, returned to the city on Saturday and will start operations on Monday, South Korea’s foreign ministry said.
See Thyberg’s tweet:
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, is among the individuals who will be included in the proposed sixth round of European Union sanctions, according to two sources who have seen the full documents.
The proposed draft has been sent to the corresponding ambassadors for review, the sources said.
At this stage, names can be taken off or added at member state discretion, an EU Commission source said.
On Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed a raft of measures that also include a ban on Russian oil.
In an interview this week, Pope Francis slammed Kirill for endorsing Russia’s stated reasons for invading Ukraine, warning him to not become “Putin’s altar boy.”
In response, the Russian Orthodox Church said Pope Francis had used the “wrong tone” in characterizing his meeting with Patriarch Kirill and called the Pope’s comments “regrettable.”
“Such declarations do not contribute to establishing a constructive dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church which is particularly necessary at this time,” declared the Department of External Relations of the Russian Patriarchate in a statement.
What Russia is saying: The sanctions are out of touch with “common sense,” Russian Orthodox Church spokesperson Vladimir Legoida said Wednesday, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
“The more indiscriminate [these] sanctions become, the more they lose touch with common sense and the harder it becomes to reach peace, which is what the Russian Orthodox Church prays for at every service with the blessing of His Holiness the Patriarch, and assistance to all those affected by the Ukrainian conflict, only serve to affirm his words,” Legoida said in a Telegram post.
“Only those completely ignorant of the history of our Church can seek to intimidate its clergy and believers by compiling some lists,” Legoida said.