Ukrainian forces will have to leave key eastern city, Luhansk governor says; retired Russian major captured

This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces may soon give up the key battleground of Severodonetsk in the east, where their troops have suffered heavy losses and the Russian offensive has gained significant ground.

EU leaders have approved Ukraine's candidacy as to join the bloc, marking a milestone in its long journey to join the union.

Russian and Ukrainian forces remain nailed down in street battles in many cities, towns and villages in the eastern Luhansk region as Russian artillery fire destroys swathes of infrastructure and homes in the broader Donbas.

Blinken does not rule out a possible meeting with Russian foreign minister at G-20

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about US policy towards China during an event hosted by the Asia Society Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington, DC, on May 26, 2022.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not rule out meeting with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting later this year.

"I won't get ahead of that," Blinken told reporters in Berlin, Germany. "Stay tuned," he added.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is slated to present a set of proposals to increase pressure on Russia at the upcoming G-7 and NATO summit. The proposals will "demonstrate our support collectively for Ukraine," a senior Biden administration official told reporters on a conference call.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the administration's plans, said that Biden will also address with global leaders "the impact of Putin's war on prices," including rising food costs and shortages due to a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.

– Amanda Macias

Ukrainian army leaving battered city for fortified positions

After weeks of ferocious fighting, Ukrainian forces have begun retreating from a besieged city in the country's east to move to stronger positions, a regional governor said Friday, the four-month mark in Russia's invasion.

The planned withdrawal from Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk region, comes after relentless Russian bombardment that has reduced most of the industrial city to rubble and cut its population from 100,0000 to 10,000. Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to the huge Azot chemical factory on the city's edge, where they remain holed up in its sprawling underground structures in which about 500 civilians also found refuge.

— Associated Press

Ukraine needs 'fire parity' with Russia to defend Luhansk region, top general says

Ukraine's top general told his U.S. counterpart during a phone call on Friday that Ukraine needed "fire parity" with Russia in order to "stabilize" the difficult situation in the country's eastern Luhansk region, according to his summary of the call.

"We discussed the operational situation and the delivery flow of international technical assistance," Ukraine's General Valeriy Zaluzhniy wrote on the Telegram app after a phone call with U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley.

Ukraine has said Russia's artillery advantage on the Donbas frontlines is taking a significant toll on Ukrainian troops, and has called on its Western partners to supply more weapons to minimize the deficit.

– Reuters

Russia trying but unable to impede weapons flow to Ukraine, U.S. official says

Russia is trying but has been unable to target Western weapons flowing into Ukraine, including longer-range systems that Kyiv hopes will be decisive on the battlefield, a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday.

The official also appeared to play down the significance of Russian advances in Ukraine and said a Ukrainian pullback from Sievierodonetsk would allow them to take a better defensive position.

"In moving the Ukrainian armed forces from Sievierodonetsk back, what they are doing is putting themselves in a position where they can better defend themselves," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

– Reuters

Lockheed Martin HIMARS platform among high ticket weapons sent to Ukraine

U.S. Soldiers assigned to the 65th Field Artillery Brigade fire a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during a joint live-fire exercise with the Kuwait Land Forces, Jan. 8, 2019, near Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
Courtesy: U.S. Department of Defense

Heavy artillery platforms sit high on Ukrainian military wish lists.

The latest U.S. security assistance package, which is valued at approximately $450 million, includes four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS.

The HMIARS platform is manufactured by defense giant Lockheed Martin and is designed to shoot a variety of missiles from a mobile 5-ton truck. This platform will give Ukrainian forces the ability to carry out quick and long-range strikes.

There are more than 500 HIMARS platforms fielded around the world, some of which have already been deployed in combat.

The latest security package, the 13th such installment, brings the U.S. commitment to $6.1 billion since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Pentagon has previously transferred 126 155 mm howitzer artillery systems from U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps stockpiles to Ukrainian forces. The U.S. has also sent more than 260,000 artillery rounds.

Read more: The firepower the U.S. has sent to Ukraine so far.

– Amanda Macias

More than 150 cultural sites in Ukraine have been partially damaged or destroyed

A woman walks next to an armoured vehicle of pro-Russian troops the building of a theatre destroyed in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 10, 2022. 
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

More than 150 cultural sites in Ukraine have been partially or totally destroyed as a result of Russia's war in Ukraine, according to a new tally compiled by UNESCO.

United Nations experts identified 152 cultural sites, including 70 religious buildings, 30 historical buildings, 18 cultural centers, 15 monuments, 12 museums and seven libraries.

The majority of the damaged cultural sites are located in Donetsk, Kharkiv and in Kyiv.

"These repeated attacks on Ukrainian cultural sites must stop. Cultural heritage, in all its forms, should not be targeted under any circumstances. I reiterate my call for the respect of international humanitarian law, in particular the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict," wrote Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO in a statement.

Following Russia's late-February invasion of Ukraine, UNESCO experts assisted Ukrainian authorities in marking cultural sites with a distinctive blue shield emblem that indicates the property is protected under the 1954 Hague Convention and any infringement is considered a violation of international law.

"UNESCO is in the process of setting up a team dedicated to the protection of cultural property, based in Kyiv, and will soon send a mission of heritage experts to the country," the agency wrote in a release.

 — Amanda Macias

UN says at least 4,677 killed in Ukraine since start of war

Relatives of the fallen soldiers pay their final respects by the graves at the cemetery after the funeral of the fallen soldiers in Lviv, Ukraine on May 26, 2022. The number of soldiers who lost their lives is increasing day by day and different burial sites are opened to bury people, as in Lviv.
Adri Salido | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The United Nations has confirmed 4,677 civilian deaths and 5,829 injuries in Ukraine since Russia invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor on Feb. 24.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher, because the armed conflict can delay fatality reports.

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

 — Amanda Macias

View of damage at the Kharkiv National Technical University

Ukrainian servicemen and employees examine a building of the Polytechnic Sports Complex of the Kharkiv National Technical University after it was hit by missile in Kharkiv, as the Russia-Ukraine war enters its 121st day.

A Ukrainian serviceman talks by phone as he walks through the rubbles of a building of the Polytechnic Sports Complex of the Kharkiv National Technical University after it was hit by Russian missile in Kharkiv on June 24, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. 
Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images
A Ukrainian serviceman talks by phone as he walks through the rubbles of a building of the Polytechnic Sports Complex of the Kharkiv National Technical University after it was hit by Russian missile in Kharkiv on June 24, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. 
Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images
A Ukrainian serviceman talks by phone as he walks through the rubbles of a building of the Polytechnic Sports Complex of the Kharkiv National Technical University after it was hit by Russian missile in Kharkiv on June 24, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. 
Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images
A Ukrainian serviceman talks by phone as he walks through the rubbles of a building of the Polytechnic Sports Complex of the Kharkiv National Technical University after it was hit by Russian missile in Kharkiv on June 24, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK / AFP) (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images)
Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

-Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

UN agency is 'increasingly concerned' about worker conditions at Ukrainian nuclear power plant

The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog has expressed worry over the conditions for staff at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, which has been under the control of Russian forces since March.

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, points on a map of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as he informs the press about the situation of nuclear powerplants in Ukraine during a special press conference at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria on March 4, 2022.
Joe Klamar | AFP | Getty Images

"The IAEA is aware of recent reports in the media and elsewhere indicating a deteriorating situation for Ukrainian staff at the country's largest nuclear power plant," the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

The agency also said it was "increasingly concerned about the difficult conditions facing staff," according to Reuters. The plant would soon require a physical inspection, the IAEA said.

Ukrainian authorities have in the past objected to potential IAEA inspections of the plant while it is under Russian control, saying that this would legitimize its occupation.

— Natasha Turak

Global food shortage 'catastrophe' is coming, UN chief warns

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is warning that the war in Ukraine is compounding food access issues that could lead to "catastrophe," the consequences of which no country will be able to escape.

"There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022. And 2023 could be even worse," Guterres said in a video message to representatives from developing nations meeting in Berlin.

Agricultural production and food access around the world already faced problems due to climate change, supply chain issues, growing inequality and the Covid-19 pandemic. But Russia's invasion of Ukraine has strangled a region that is responsible for almost one-third of the world's grain exports, and sent prices of grain, seeds, cooking oils and other produce soaring.

A Ukrainian army officer inspects a grain warehouse shelled by Russian forces on May 6, 2022, near the front lines of Kherson Oblast in Novovorontsovka, Ukraine. Russia has been accused of targeting food storage sites in front-line areas and disrupting Ukraine's wheat production, potentially causing a global shortage.
John Moore | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Farmers are struggling under the weight of higher energy and fertilizer costs, as sanctions limit exports from Russia, which is the world's top producer of fertilizer and a top exporter of fossil fuels.

"This year's food access issues could become next year's global food shortage," Guterres said. "No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe."

— Natasha Turak

Russian-installed official killed in bomb blast in occupied Kherson: Reuters

A Russian official from the Kremlin-installed government in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson was killed in a bombing in what is being described as an assassination, Reuters reported, citing the deputy head of the administration there.

The official killed in the blast was Dmitry Savluchenko, the Russian-appointed head of the families, youth, and sports department of the Kherson Military-Civilian Administration. Kherson was taken over by Russian forces in March.

The explosion had left two burnt-out cars and shattered windows in a nearby house, Russia's TASS news agency said, according to Reuters.

Reuters also quoted an advisor to Kherson's Ukrainian governor saying that the assassination was the "successful work of partisans" led by Ukraine's military.

Russian servicemen in the Kherson region on May 19, 2022.
Olga Maltseva | AFP | Getty Images

Popular protests against Russia's invasion took place in Kherson in the first weeks of Russian troops occupying the city. But those have faced heavy crackdowns, and Ukrainian officials have warned of a Russian-led "sham referendum" expected to be held in the coming months that would decide the city's fate.

Ukrainian and Russian outlets have reported assassination attempts against Russian officials and troops in Kherson in the months since its occupation began, though those have not been independently verified by CNBC. Kherson's southern location provides a strategic part of a land bridge for Russia from eastern Ukraine to Crimea, which it illegally annexed in 2014.

— Natasha Turak

District near Lysychansk has been 'fully occupied' by Russian forces, Ukrainian official says

A district near the strategic city of Lysychansk has been "fully occupied" by Russian forces, its municipal leader said on Ukrainian TV.

The district, Hirske, is just south of Lysychansk, and is one of two remaining cities left in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region still under Ukrainian control and over which Russian and Ukrainian forces have been engaged in bloody fighting for weeks now. The other city, Sievierodonetsk, is on the verge of falling to the Russians as Ukrainian troops appear ready to withdraw.

"Unfortunately, as of today ... the entire Hirske district is occupied," Hirske's municipal leader Oleksy Babchenko said. "There are some insignificant, local battles going on at the outskirts, but the enemy has entered."

A tweet from Ukrainian independent news outlet Hromadske cited the local official's words.

— Natasha Turak

Ukraine is 'not a pillow between the West and Russia, not a buffer,' Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference with Prime Minister of Luxembourg following talks in Kyiv on June 21, 2022.
Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine is not a "gray zone" or buffer between the West and Russia, its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on the messaging app Telegram, in a post celebrating Ukraine's candidacy status for European Union membership.

"It is officially recognized that Ukraine is not a bridge, not a pillow between the West and Russia, not a buffer between Europe and Asia, not a sphere of influence, not a 'gray' zone, not a transit territory. Not the border between orcs and elves," Zelenskyy wrote, according to a Google translation of the Telegram post on his official channel. Orcs and elves refer to the names many in Ukraine use for Russian troops and Ukrainians, respectively, drawing on terms from the Lord of the Rings series.

"Ukraine is a future equal partner for at least 27 EU countries," Zelenskyy wrote. "Ukraine is a candidate for accession to the European Union!"

— Natasha Turak

Olaf Scholz: Europe needs to speed up efforts to cut reliance on Russian energy

Europe needs to speed up its work to end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told press in Brussels.

"All together, we are very, very well prepared for the difficult challenge linked to Russian fossil fuel imports. This is an effort that we need to speed up further now – and of course this is linked to big challenges but we will support each other," Scholz was cited by Reuters as saying.

The EU's partial embargo covers Russian oil brought into the bloc by sea, with an exemption carved out for imports delivered by pipeline following opposition from Hungary.
Attila Kisbenedek | Afp | Getty Images

He made note of the sanctions the EU has already imposed to ban imports of Russian coal and oil, though the latter includes significant exemptions for Russian crude delivered by pipeline as some heavily dependent EU countries like Hungary and Slovenia protested the measure.

EU leaders are now worried about Moscow shutting off the gas taps to Europe this winter in retaliation to the sanctions. Many energy analysts say that completely ending reliance on Russian gas will be impossible in the immediate future and is likely to take years. The EU imported 41% of its gas and 36% of its oil from Russia in 2020, according to data from Eurostat.

— Natasha Turak

Russian pilot captured is a retired major, revealing Moscow's struggles to staff air force: UK

A Russian pilot shot down and captured by Ukrainian forces confessed to being a retired major of his country's air force, Britain's Ministry of Defense wrote in its daily intelligence update. The pilot had joined Russia's military contracting group Wagner and flown several missions in Ukraine, the update said, citing Ukrainian forces.

"The use of retired personnel, now working as Wagner contractors, to conduct close air support missions indicates that the Russian air force likely is struggling to support the invasion of Ukraine with sufficient aircrew," said the intelligence update, published in a series of tweets.

"This is likely due to a combination of Russia's insufficient numbers of suitably trained personnel and its combat losses."

The Russian pilot "reportedly used commercial GPS devices rather than Russian military navigation equipment" while flying his missions, the Ministry of Defense added.

— Natasha Turak

Ukrainian troops will have to leave Severodonetsk, Luhansk governor says

Severodonetsk has been a prime target in the Kremlin's pursuit to seize full control of Luhansk.
Aris Messinis | Afp | Getty Images

Ukrainian troops fighting a brutal battle for the strategically crucial city of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine "will have to be withdrawn," Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said on Ukrainian TV.

"Remaining in positions smashed to pieces over many months just for the sake of staying there does not make sense," he said. Ukrainian forces have lost huge numbers of troops, as have Russian forces, in devastating fighting over a key territory that is one of two remaining Ukrainian-controlled cities in Luhansk, which is part of the eastern Donbas region that Russia has called an "unconditional priority" in its military pursuit.

Haidai added that Ukrainian troops have, however, pushed back an offensive on the outskirts of Lysychansk, the other remaining Ukrainian-controlled city in Luhansk.

— Natasha Turak

Biden approves $450 million security assistance package for Ukraine

John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, speaks to reporters during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 23, 2022. 
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The Biden administration announced a 13th security assistance package for Ukraine worth $450 million.

"This package contains weapons and equipment including new high mobility artillery rocket systems, tens of thousands of additional rounds of ammunition for the artillery systems that have already been provided, as well as patrol boats to help Ukraine defend its coast and its waterways," said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby at a daily White House press briefing.

The assistance package includes the following, according to a Pentagon release:

  • 4 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HMARS
  • 36,000 rounds of 105 mm ammunition
  • 18 tactical vehicles to tow 155 mm artillery
  • 1,200 grenade launchers
  • 2,000 machine guns
  • 18 coastal and riverine patrol boats
  • Spare parts and other equipment

The latest security package brings the U.S. commitment to $6.1 billion since Russia invaded Ukraine.

 — Amanda Macias

Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova inch closer to EU member status

A national flags of Ukraine an EU flags outside the Town Hall in Lille, France, on Wednesday, March 16, 2022.
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

European Union leaders granted the countries of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia candidate status to join the bloc, a significant step on the long road to EU membership. The three countries applied for European Union membership in early March.

"Your countries are part of our European family. And today's historic decision by leaders confirms that," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet.

Ukrainian President Voldomyry Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that he was grateful for the support from European Union leaders.

Meanwhile, Kosovo and North Macedonia, among others, await their membership applications to progress.

 — Amanda Macias

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