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Russia-Ukraine war updates for April 20, 2022

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Russia may ramp up attacks ahead of May 9 Victory Day celebrations: U.K. ministry

Russian President Vladimir Putin joins his hands as he holds a meeting at the Catherine’s Hall of the Kremlin in Moscow on April 20, 2022. Russia likely wants to be able to show “significant successes” ahead of their annual May 9 Victory Day celebrations, the British defense ministry said in an intelligence update.

Mikhail Tereshchenko | Afp | Getty Images

Russia likely wants to be able to show “significant successes” ahead of its annual Victory Day celebration on May 9, the British defense ministry said in an intelligence update.

“This could affect how quickly and forcefully they attempt to conduct operations in the run-up to this date,” the U.K. ministry said.

May 9 is of great national importance to Russia, as it marks the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Russian forces are now advancing toward Kramatorsk, the capital of the Donbas region, which continues to suffer from rocket attacks, the ministry said. The Donbas is made up of the two pro-Russian self-declared “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk.

“High levels of Russian air activity endure as Russia seeks to provide close air support to its offensive in eastern Ukraine, to suppress and destroy Ukrainian air defense capabilities,” the ministry added.

— Chelsea Ong

Ukraine wants to cut off Russia’s ability to finance war with oil and gas sales

Ukraine wants to cut Russia off from financing its military activities with oil revenues, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

The plan is to restrict key sectors in Russia — including energy and banking, as well as export-import operations, transport, he said. “The next steps should include an oil embargo and a complete restriction on oil supplies from Russia,” he said during his nightly video address.

Ukrainian and international experts are working to ensure that “Russia will lose the opportunity to finance the military machine,” he added, saying details of the plan were published today.

“We are also working to ensure that all — I emphasize — all Russian officials who support this shameful war receive a logical sanctions response from the democratic world,” the president said.

Ukrainian soldier checks the destruction of the shrapnel in a wall of a village near the frontline of Mykolaiv after a Russian shelling. A plan developed by a team of Ukrainian and international experts to strengthen sanctions against Russia has been published, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Wednesday.

Celestino Arce | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Zelenskyy highlighted his meeting with European Council President Charles Michel, who visited Kyiv on Wednesday.

The two leaders talked about how to address threats to food and energy security in Europe and globally. “Resuming exports of Ukrainian agricultural products and blocking Russia’s ability to blackmail Europe with energy resources are top priorities for everyone on the continent,” he added.

While pointing out that the EU was preparing a sixth package of sanctions, he emphasized that sanctions are not “an end in themselves,” but a tool to motivate Russia to end the war.

Zelenskyy added that the situation in the east and south of Ukraine remains “as severe as possible” and that Russian forces are still trying for some victory through new large-scale offensives — “at least something they can ‘feed’ their propagandists with,” he said.

Russia has been waging information warfare alongside its military operations. NBC News previously reported that Russians have been “fed a steady diet of propaganda” by Russian-state media.

— Chelsea Ong

Members of Five Eyes intelligence group warn of potential Russian cyberattacks

The Russian flag displayed on a laptop screen with binary code code overlaying.

Nurphoto | Getty Images

Cybersecurity authorities from the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom warned that intelligence indicates the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks on critical infrastructure networks.

The warning, which comes from members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing group, said that a cyberattack “may occur as a response to the unprecedented economic costs imposed on Russia.”

The group also said that a malicious attack could occur as retaliation for providing security assistance to Ukraine.

The group urged those responsible for defending critical infrastructure networks “to prepare for and mitigate potential cyber threats—including destructive malware, ransomware, DDoS attacks, and cyber espionage.”

— Amanda Macias

Former U.S. ambassador to Russia urges Biden to label the Kremlin a state sponsor of terrorism

Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, participate in a discussion with Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which included the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Pa., on Thursday, March 10, 2022.

Tom Williams | Getty Images

Former U.S ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul is calling on the Biden administration to label Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, becoming the latest voice in a growing chorus of support for the controversial diplomatic move.

“The world should Designate the Russian Federation as a sponsor of terrorism and … Expel Russia from the Financial Action Task Force on money laundering (FATF),” McFaul wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

He noted that there are four countries the U.S. currently considers state sponsors of terrorism: North Korea, Iran, Syria and Cuba. “Clearly, Russia is terrorizing more people today than Cuba is! Act now @POTUS,” wrote McFaul, addressing President Joe Biden by his Twitter handle.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also recently asked Biden to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, and while Biden did not agree right away, he did not say “no,” either. U.S. officials say the White House is looking closely at the rules around such a designation.

But they stressed that the point of the “state sponsor of terror” label is to trigger specific sanctions against a country, like arms embargoes and foreign aid suspensions. They also say that in the case of Russia, all those sanctions have already been imposed through other means, raising doubts about what the terror designation could actually accomplish.

— Christina Wilkie


Biden says weapons are flowing daily to Ukraine during meeting with top military advisors

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Combatant Commanders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC on April 20, 2022.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden said he asked his military commanders and national security officials for assessments on global threats and challenges facing the United States, along with updates on the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Speaking at the start of a meeting in the Cabinet Room, Biden, flanked by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, said he sees “a need for adaptation” in light of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The strategic environment is evolving rapidly in the world and that means our plans and force posture have to be equally dynamic. Ensuring the security of the American people, our interests and the interests of our allies means having to constantly adapt to anything and everything that is happening around the world,” Biden said.

The White House meeting comes as Russia launches a new offensive in the east and south of Ukraine and as the U.S. and its allies rush to transfer more weapons to the fight. Biden said that U.S. security assistance is flowing into the region daily and that allies are “stepping up and amplifying the impact of our response.”

The Biden administration is expected to announce another substantial security assistance package for Ukraine this week, five U.S officials familiar with the matter tell NBC News.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Navy Admiral Christopher Grady, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, Chief of Space Operations General John Raymond, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Brown and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Daniel Hokanson also attended along with several U.S. combatant commanders.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine offers Russia talks ‘without any conditions’ on the fate of those left in Mariupol

Ukraine is ready to hold talks with Russia “without any conditions” to resolve the fate of civilians and soldiers trapped in a steel mill in the besieged city of Mariupol, said a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, served as the lead negotiator in the failed earlier talks between Russia and Ukraine in Belarus.

Zelenskyy also suggested Wednesday that Ukraine would be open to potentially exchanging Russian prisoners for Ukrainian civilians and soldiers in Mariupol, or Russian war dead for injured Ukrainians.

“Behind the backs of our guys in Mariupol there are around a thousand civilians, including women and children,” he said after talks with European Council President Charles Michel.

After months of near constant Russian shelling, most of the port city of Mariupol has been demolished.

— Christina Wilkie

Yellen, Powell and Lagarde walk out of G20 event when Russian speaks

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde joined other allies in a coordinated walkout when the Russian deputy finance minister began speaking Wednesday at a G20 plenary meeting.

Canadian deputy prime minister and finance minister, Chrystia Freeland, posted a photo of the group moments after they left the meeting.

Walking out of events is a relatively common way that diplomats protest the policies of other countries. It’s even rarer to see it at such a high level.

The U.S. said last week that Yellen would boycott some events at this week’s G-20 conference in Washington, but until Wednesday it wasn’t clear what form this would take.

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Timur Maksimov appeared virtually. A Treasury official told CNBC that several other virtual attendees at the session turned their screens off in protest.

— Christina Wilkie

U.S. flies in four additional military cargo aircraft with security assistance

A C-130 Hercules taxis on the flightline July 14, 2014, at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelly Goonan | U.S. Air Force

Four U.S. military cargo aircraft carrying security assistance for Ukraine arrived in the region within the last 24 hours, a senior U.S. Defense official said on a conference call with reporters.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the aircraft carried weapons and other aid from the $800 million security package announced last week including some of the 18 howitzers. The official added that more howitzers and ammunition would be arriving in the region in the next 24 hours.

The howitzer artillery systems are the first known heavy artillery platforms of that caliber to be transferred to Ukrainian forces. The Pentagon also committed 40,000 artillery rounds, from both Army and Marine Corps stockpiles.

The Biden administration is expected to announce another substantial security assistance package for Ukraine this week, five U.S officials familiar with the matter tell NBC News.

— Amanda Macias

UN Secretary-General asks Putin, Zelenskyy to meet him to discuss ending the war

UN Secretary General António Guterres photographed at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland on Nov. 11, 2021.

Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres asked Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy if they would take meetings with him in their respective capitals.

A spokeswoman for Guterres said the request was made in separate letters delivered yesterday afternoon to the U.N. Permanent Missions of the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

“The Secretary-General said, at this time of great peril and consequence, he would like to discuss urgent steps to bring about peace in Ukraine and the future of multilateralism based on the Charter of the United Nations and international law,” wrote U.N. Secretary-General spokeswoman Stephane Dujarric in a statement.

“He noted that both Ukraine and the Russian Federation are founding members of the United Nations and have always been strong supporters of this Organization,” she added.

— Amanda Macias

U.S. lobs fresh round of sanctions against bitcoin miner and others aiding Russia

US President Joe Biden, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (L) and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (R), speaks during a meeting with his cabinet at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2022.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

The U.S. Treasury Department expanded its wide raft of sanctions to include businesses and individuals that are helping Russia blunt the impact of economic penalties imposed on Moscow.

Treasury officials said the department is now targeting Russian commercial bank Transkapitalbank, as well as a network of more than 40 people including oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev it believes are helping the Kremlin skirt a wave of economic punishments.

The Biden administration also said it’s cracking down on companies operating in Russia’s digital currency mining industry, including Bitriver, that help the country monetize its exports and other natural resources.

“Treasury can and will target those who evade, attempt to evade, or aid the evasion of U.S. sanctions against Russia, as they are helping support Putin’s brutal war of choice,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a press release.

U.S. troops begin training Ukrainians on howitzer artillery

U.S. Marines with Alpha Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 4th Marines, fire their M777 Lightweight 155mm Howitzer during Exercise Alligator Dagger in Arta Beach, Djibouti, Dec. 18.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Zachery C. Laning | U.S. Marine Corps

American troops have begun training Ukrainians to use howitzer artillery, a senior U.S. Defense official said.

“The training of some small number of Ukrainians on the howitzers has begun it has begun in a country outside Ukraine. I am not going to tell you or be able to detail where this is happening,” the official said on a conference call with reporters.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the Pentagon expected the training of about 50 Ukrainian troops to last for nearly a week.

The U.S. included 18 howitzer artillery systems, the first known heavy artillery platforms of that caliber to be transferred to Ukrainian forces, in the $800 million security package announced last week.

The Pentagon also committed 40,000 artillery rounds, from both Army and Marine Corps stockpiles.

— Amanda Macias

Pentagon says Russia’s test of its new intercontinental ballistic missile wasn’t a surprise

The Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile is launched during a test at Plesetsk cosmodrome in Arkhangelsk region, Russia, in this still image taken from a video released on April 20, 2022.

Russian Defense Ministry | via Reuters

The Pentagon said that Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missile test was not a surprise and that Moscow “properly notified the United States under its New START treaty obligations that it planned to test” the system.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters the Russian test was not deemed to be a threat to the United States or its allies. “The department remains focused on Russia’s unlawful and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it test-launched its new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile from Plesetsk in the country’s northwest and hit targets in the Kamchatka peninsula in the far east, according to a Reuters. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that no other nation had a missile system comparable and that it would ensure Russia’s security and “make those crazy who are trying to threaten it, think,” according to Reuters.

When asked about Putin’s rhetoric following the test, a senior U.S. Defense official said the Pentagon found it “unhelpful.”

“It’s not the kind of thing that we would expect from a responsible nuclear power, especially in the current environment,” the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said.

— Amanda Macias

Wimbledon bans Russian and Belarusian tennis players, citing Ukraine war

The Wimbledon logo amongst flowers The Championships at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 10, 2019 in London, England.

Visionhaus | Getty Images

Russian and Belarusian tennis players will be barred from entering this year’s Wimbledon Championship in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the tournament’s sponsor, the All England Club, announced.

“We recognize that this is hard on the individuals affected, and it is with sadness that they will suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime,” said All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt.

The annual lawn tennis tournament played in Wimbledon, England is considered the most prestigious of the professional tennis circuit’s “grand slam” championships, and it consistently draws the best players in the sport.

Several of those players hail from Russia and Belarus. On the men’s side, there are four Russian players currently ranked in the top 40 in the world, including Daniil Medvedev, who is ranked No. 2 in the world behind Slovakia’s Novak Djokovic. In women’s tennis, Belarusian star player Aryna Sabalenka is currently ranked No. 4 in the world.

The Kremlin called the Wimbledon decision “unacceptable.” Spokesman Dmitri Peskov described the sidelined players as “victims of some kind of political prejudices, intrigues and hostile actions towards our country.”

— Christina Wilkie

Russia tests nuclear-capable ballistic missile that Putin says has no peer

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the construction site of the Amur launch complex for Angara rockets at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur Region, Russia April 12, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik | Reuters

Russia said it test-launched its Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, a new addition to its nuclear arsenal which President Vladimir Putin said would give Moscow’s enemies something to think about.

Putin was shown on television being told by the military that the missile had been launched from Plesetsk in the country’s northwest and hit targets in the Kamchatka peninsula in the far east.

“The new complex has the highest tactical and technical characteristics and is capable of overcoming all modern means of anti-missile defense. It has no analogues in the world and won’t have for a long time to come,” Putin said.

“This truly unique weapon will strengthen the combat potential of our armed forces, reliably ensure Russia’s security from external threats and provide food for thought for those who, in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country.”

— Reuters

Pentagon chief speaks to Chinese counterpart for the first time

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on “Department of Defense’s Budget Requests for FY2023”, on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 7, 2022.

Sarah Silbiger | Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Chinese Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe this morning, the first known call between the two since Austin ascended to the top office in the Pentagon.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the call was a “follow-up” to the recent call between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Kirby added that on the call with Wei, Austin discussed U.S. and Chinese defense relations, regional security issues and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Austin, who became the Pentagon chief more than a year ago, requested the call with Wei following months of failed efforts to speak with China’s highest-ranking military officer, Gen. Xu Qiliang.

The call follows repeated warnings from Washington that Beijing, the world’s second-largest economy, should not provide material or financial support to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

Biden to meet with Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs and combatant commanders

President Joe Biden speaks to reporters before the start of a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on March 03, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images

President Joe Biden is slated to meet with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, all eight members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. combatant commanders at 4 p.m. E.T. in the Cabinet Room.

The White House meeting comes amid a new Russian offensive in the east and south of Ukraine and as the U.S. and its allies rush to transfer more weapons to the fight.

Following the meeting, Biden and the first lady will host a dinner for everyone and their spouses at 5:30 p.m. E.T. in the Blue Room.

— Amanda Macias

UN says 2,224 killed in Ukraine since start of war, warns death toll is likely higher

A woman mourns in Bucha, Ukraine, on April 8, 2022. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on Monday recorded 4,335 civilian deaths and injuries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Wolfgang Schwan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The United Nations says it has confirmed 2,224 civilian deaths and 2,897 injuries in Ukraine since Russia invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor on Feb. 24.

Of those killed, the U.N. has identified at least 42 girls and 61 boys, as well as 70 children whose gender is unknown.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Monday that the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher, citing delayed reporting due to the armed conflict.

The international body said most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, as well as missiles and airstrikes.

— Amanda Macias

Kremlin withholding casualty numbers from Moskva sinking as parents seek answers

The Kremlin is declining to release information on the number of troops lost when its flagship missile cruiser, the Moskva, sank in the Black Sea off Ukraine’s southern coast.

Russian officials maintain that the warship sank after a fire started onboard, but Ukrainian and U.S. officials say it was hit by Ukrainian missiles. Russian authorities said the crew had been evacuated from the ship, but have given no further details.

Some parents of the soldiers onboard have taken to social media to express anger over the lack of information on their children’s whereabouts.

“My son is a conscript … a conscript who was not supposed to take part in hostilities is listed as missing,” Dmitry Shkrebets wrote in a post on Russian social network VKontakte, according to a Google translation of his posts. Shkrebets said his son was a cook on the ship. The details could not be independently verified by CNBC.

“It was reported that the entire crew had been evacuated. It’s a lie!” Shkrebets wrote, adding, “After my attempts to clarify the data on the incident, the cruiser commander and his deputy stopped communicating.”

A satellite image shows a view of Russian Navy’s guided missile cruiser Moskva at Black Sea, northwest of Sevastopol, Crimea, April 10, 2022. Picture taken April 10, 2022. Satellite image 2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. DO NOT OBSCURE LOGO.

Maxar Technologies | Via Reuters

Shkrebets also wrote that he had spoken to other families whose conscripted sons had also gone missing after the Moskva sank, sharing what he said were screen shots and printouts of Whatsapp conversations with them.

“We need written answers to our questions about the location of our children,” he wrote.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that he was not authorized to discuss the matter. “All information regarding this is issued by the defense ministry and here we are not authorized to release anything,” he was quoted by AFP as saying.

— Natasha Turak

Norway to donate 100 air defense missiles to Ukraine

Norway is sending 100 mistral air defense missiles to Ukraine, its defense ministry announced, describing the weapons as being phased out for the Norwegian military but still “modern and effective.”

“The mistral system has been used on deminers and corvettes. It is a type of air defence that the armed forces has planned to replace,” Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram said in a statement. “It will therefore not have a major impact on the national operational capability to donate the missiles.”

“The missile will be phased out by the Norwegian armed forces, but it is still a modern and effective weapon that will be of great benefit to Ukraine,” he said, adding that the weapons have already been sent from Norway.

— Natasha Turak

Russian troops are trying to advance toward Zaporizhzhia, regional officials say

Russian troops are reportedly moving toward Ukraine’s southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, its regional council said.

“The situation at the frontline suggests that the enemy is trying to advance in direction of Zaporizhzhia, but suffers losses and focuses its main efforts on maintaining the occupied frontiers,” the council said in a statement quoted by CNN.

“Russian troops continue to shell the positions of our troops and conduct offensive operations in the direction of Pokrovske – Huliaipole,” it added.

Zaporizhzhia is north of the embattled city of Mariupol, and is the destination point for a humanitarian corridor from Mariupol that was agreed for today between Russia and Ukraine.

The city is also home to Europe’s largest nuclear plant, which was captured by Russian forces early on in the invasion, along with the Zaporizhzhia thermal power station. Russian forces have already occupied areas south of Zaporizhzhia — Melitopol and Kherson — and the regional council claims that Russian forces are planning to hold “sham referendums” in the territories they occupy to validate their authority.

— Natasha Turak

European Council President Charles Michel visits Kyiv

President of the European Council Charles Michel has traveled to Kyiv via train in a show of support for Ukraine’s leadership. He was greeted by Olga Stefanishyna, Ukrainian deputy prime minister for European affairs and Euro-Atlantic integration, and is scheduled to meet with President Zelenskyy later today.

The visit comes just days after Ukraine completed its questionnaire for applying to join the European Union, the first step in the application to join the bloc. EU leaders have expressed optimism at the prospect of Ukraine potentially joining the group.

— Natasha Turak

Humanitarian corridor agreed from Mariupol, Ukraine’s deputy PM says

A humanitarian corridor has been agreed to evacuate women, children and elderly people from Mariupol, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said. The southeastern port city has been under constant Russian bombardment and cut off from basic necessities and aid since early March. Ukrainian officials hope to evacuate 6,000 civilians to the city of Zaporizhzhia via Berdyansk using 90 buses.

Humanitarian corridor agreements have often fallen apart due to renewed Russian shelling, Ukrainian officials say, and Tuesday had marked the third day of failure to agree on any such corridors.

More than 100,000 civilians still remain in Mariupol, officials say, down from a pre-war population of nearly half a million. The United Nations and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have sounded the alarm over the severe humanitarian crisis in the city. A regional mayor described it as having been “wiped off the face of the earth” by Russian bombings.

Local resident gather in a courtyard near a block of flats heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 18, 2022.

Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

Ukrainian troops in Mariupol facing ‘last days, if not hours,’ commander says

Major Serhiy Volyna, commander of Ukraine’s 36th Separate Marine Brigade, issued a desperate plea to world leaders in a Facebook video posted from the besieged city of Mariupol.

“This is our appeal to the world. This could be the last appeal of our lives. We are probably facing our last days, if not hours,” Volyna said, according to multiple translations. Russia has issued a new ultimatum, demanding the city surrender by 2:00 p.m. (7:00 a.m. ET) Moscow time, after Ukrainians refused to meet a surrender deadline last Sunday. Mariupol has been surrounded by Russian forces and largely cut off from electricity, water, food and heating since early March.

“The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one. They have advantage in the air, in artillery, in their forces on land, in equipment and in tanks,” Volyna said, adding that his forces were “defending only one object” — the Azovstal steel plant where both military personnel and civilians were holed up, with reportedly hundreds wounded from Russian strikes. “We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us,” he said.

The video was posted by Volyna from his personal Facebook page, not by the Azov unit. NBC has not independently verified the information.

In a prior post from Monday, Volyna wrote: “Our wounded die in unbearable torment daily as medicines, disinfectants, pain relief opportunities are long over.” He called for heavy weapons to be delivered to Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol.

The humanitarian situation in the eastern Ukrainian city, which had a pre-war population of around 500,000, is extremely dire, Ukrainian officials and humanitarian organizations say. At least 100,000 civilians still remain trapped there under heavy Russian shelling. Attempts to open humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to escape have consistently failed.

— Natasha Turak

China’s imports of Russian coal fell 30% in March

Employees work on a freight train loaded with coal at Jiangxi Coal Reserve Center on January 29, 2022 in China. China imported 30% less coal from Russia year-on-year in March, according to Reuters.

Hu Guolin | Visual China Group | Getty Images

China imported 30% less coal from Russia in March than last year, on worries of potential foreign sanctions and a decline in purchases of foreign coal, according to Reuters.

The news agency reported the country’s overall coal imports fell by 40% from last year as record domestic output and government price caps made overseas supply less attractive.

Reuters reported Chinese traders trimmed Russian coal imports in part because they had difficulty securing financing from state banks on edge about possible sanctions.

But a potential European Union ban of Russian coal could cause prices to plummet. Reuters reported Chinese traders have sought cheap cargos and looked to pay in yuan in order to bypass the international SWIFT transaction system.

— Chelsea Ong

Russia gives Ukraine new deadline for Mariupol surrender

Russia has set a new deadline for the surrender of the battered city of Mariupol by 2 p.m. Moscow time today (7:00 a.m. ET), saying in a statement early Wednesday morning that it would “once again” offer Ukraine the option “to stop fighting and lay down their weapons.”

An initial ultimatum demanding surrender by last Sunday, April 17, was ignored by Ukrainian forces in the city, who have pledged to “fight till the end.” Ukrainian defenders in the strategic port city are vastly outnumbered by Russian troops, who have surrounded it since early March, cutting it off from access to water, electricity, heat, internet, and most humanitarian aid.

Just 30 miles from the Russian border, Moscow views Mariupol as crucial territory that would give it a land corridor between the contested breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which Russia has recognized as independent, and the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014.

— Natasha Turak

Russia hopes to disrupt Ukrainian troop and weapon movements, UK says

A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Barvinkove, eastern Ukraine, on April 15, 2022. Fighting in the Donbas is “intensifying” and Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s eastern border continues to increase, the British defense ministry said

Ronaldo Schemidt | Afp | Getty Images

Russia is trying to disrupt the movement of Ukrainian reinforcements and weaponry to the east of the country by attacking various cities, the British defense ministry said in an intelligence update.

But Russian air activity in northern Ukraine is “likely to remain low” following its withdrawal from the north of capital Kyiv, according to the ministry.

“However, there is still a risk of precision strikes against priority targets throughout Ukraine,” the U.K. ministry said.

Fighting in the eastern Donbas region is “intensifying” and Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s eastern border continues, the ministry said.

— Chelsea Ong

Zelenskyy says situation in battered port city of Mariupol remains ‘severe’

Russia is “blocking” efforts to organize humanitarian corridors in the strategic port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

“The situation in Mariupol remains unchanged — as severe as possible,” he said. Ukraine has not heard from Russia about the exchange offer, he added, referring to a proposal to trade detained pro-Russia Ukrainian opposition politician Viktor Medvedchuk for civilians and troops in the the battered port city.

He also said Russian forces are trying to carry out deportation or mobilization of Mariupol’s residents.

“The fate of at least tens of thousands of Mariupol residents who were previously relocated to Russian-controlled territory is unknown,” he added.

People rest near a residential building damaged in Mariupol on April 17, 2022. Zelenskyy said the situation in Mariupol remains “as severe as possible.”

Victor | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

Zelenskyy also said that Russia has increased its intensity of fire “significantly” in the direction of Kharkiv —Ukraine’s second biggest city, as well as the Donbas and the Dnipropetrovsk region. The Donbas region is made up of the two pro-Russian self-declared “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk

“They still consider ordinary housing infrastructure normal targets for them,” he said.

Ukraine previously said Russia’s full offensive against the Donbas region has begun, with a top official saying it is the “second phase” of the war.

Zelenskyy once again called for more military aid, urging countries not to delay sending any supplies.

“If we had access to all the weapons we need, which our partners have and which are comparable to the weapons used by the Russian Federation, we would have already ended this war,” he said.

— Chelsea Ong

Ukrainians repel ‘numerous’ Russian advances in eastern Ukraine, says UK ministry

The Russian troops now attacking eastern Ukraine are dealing with the same logistics and technical troubles that bedeviled them in the first phase of the war, a British government ministry said in an intelligence assessment Tuesday night.

Ukrainian troops have repulsed “numerous attempted advances” in the eastern Donbas region, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defence. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a nightly video address on Monday that Moscow had begun striking Ukrainian targets in Donbas.

On April 17, a mother holds her daughter at the funeral of her husband, a Ukrainian soldier killed in the Donbas area of Ukraine. Moscow is refocusing its attacks on Donbas.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Donbas is a coal- and natural gas-rich part of eastern Ukraine that contains the Donestsk and Luhansk provinces.

“Russia’s ability to progress continues to be impacted by the environmental, logistical and technical challenges that have beset them so far, combined with the resilience of the highly-motivated Ukrainian armed forces,” the U.K. ministry said.

CNBC was unable to independently confirm the British assessment, though Russian troops are widely known to have redeployed to Donbas since retreating from Kyiv and other areas in the west.

The press office of the Russian Ministry of Defense was not immediately available to respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

— Ted Kemp