Ukraine war latest: Russian court tells US journalist he'll stay in prison - as Putin visits Ukraine, but why now? (2023)

Key points
  • Putin visits Ukraine to 'listen to Russian soldiers'
  • Why has he chosen to visit now? | Sean Bell
  • US journalist must stay in prison, Moscow court rules
  • Treason trial of Kremlin critic shows near-total remove of basic rights |John Sparks
  • Why Poland has banned Ukrainian grain imports | Adam Parsons
  • Fugitive mayor wanted for fraud 'joins Russian army'
  • Explainer: How concerned should we be about power outages at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant?
  • Live reporting by Bhvishya Patel


Zelenskyy visits troops in Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Ukrainian troops today in Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine, his office said.

The Ukrainian president heard reports from military commanders on the battlefield situation and handed out awards to soldiers, it said.

"I have the honour to be here today, to thank you for your service, for defending our land, Ukraine, our families," Mr Zelenskyy was quoted as saying.

For context: Avdiivka has been on the front line of the Russian-Ukrainian war since 2015. It was the site of the 2017 Battle of Avdiivka, which saw the city destroyed, although it was still held by Ukrainian forces.

When Russia officially launched its invasion of Ukraine, Avdiivka was one of its main targets. On 13 March, Russian forces bombed the Avdiivka coke factory, and on 25 March, it was reported that Azov Battalion Commander Artem Murahovskii was killed in Avdiivka.


Putin and Moscow-appointed governor's trips to Ukraine and Minsk show Belarusian threat 'hasn't gone away'

Footage released by the Kremlin and broadcast by Russian state television showed Vladimir Putin arriving by helicopter at the command post of Russian forces in southern Ukraine's Kherson province earlier.

He then flew to the headquarters of the Russian National Guard in Luhansk province, which is in the east.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak was scathing in his criticism of the president's trip, accusing the Russian leader of "degradation" and being the author of "mass murders" in the war.

Meanwhile, the Moscow-appointed governor of the occupied part of Donetsk province, Denis Pushilin, went to Minsk and won pledges of support from Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, a Putin ally.

Analysts claim Mr Pushilin's visit was likely approved by the Kremlin and sought to remind Kyiv about the possibility of Belarus joining Russia in the war.

"The Kremlin forces Minsk to get involved in the war more actively in order to pressure Ukraine with threats of Belarus joining," said Belarusian political analyst Valery Karbalevich.

"It is clear that Pushilin's visit to Minsk has been synchronised with Putin's trip to the occupied Ukrainian regions and aims to show that the Belarusian threat hasn't gone away."

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'Release him': US ambassador says charges against reporter are 'baseless'

The charges against Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich are "baseless" and he "deserves to go home", the US ambassador to Russia has said in the past few moments.

Speaking to reporters outside the Moscow court where Mr Gershkovich appeared today, Lynne M Tracy said it was "troubling" to see the journalist held in these circumstances.

She said she had visited him at Lefortovo prison in Moscow yesterday and he was in "good health".

"The charges against Evan are baseless and we call on the Russian Federation to immediately release him" she said.

"We also call for the immediate release of Paul Whelan, who has been held for more than four years in Russia.

"Both men deserve to go home to their families now."


Putin icons distributed to mobilised soldiers - reports

Religious works of art depicting Vladimir Putin were sent to mobilised Russian soldiers for Easter, the independent investigative project Perm 36.6 reports.

One of the mobilised soldiers told the news site that the icons were sent by activists from the United Russia party.

In recent months, there have been suggestions that Russia may be preparing for a second mobilisation drive but as of yet this has not happened.

However, experts have reported that Russia is losing the territory it had initially captured and its offensive is not going as well as it had planned.


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Russian court rejects Wall Street Journal reporter's pre-trial detention appeal

A Russian court has rejected Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's appeal to be allowed out of prison before trial.

Earlier today, the US reporter appeared in a Moscow court to appealagainst a decision to keep him in pre-trial detention in a former KGB prison until at least 29 May.

Russia's FSB security service arrested Mr Gershkovich on 29 March on espionage charges that carry a possible 20-year prison sentence for collecting what it said were state secrets about the military industrial complex.

He denies all allegations against him.

The Kremlin has said Mr Gershkovich, the first US journalist detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War, was caught "red-handed."

The US has said he has been "wrongfully detained".


US, British and Canadian ambassadors summoned by Russia

Russia has summoned the US, British and Canadian ambassadors to protest against what it said was their "interference in Russia's internal affairs", the Interfax news agency reports.

The three countries yesterday condemned Russia for jailing opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza for 25 years and have also called for the release of jailed American reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been charged with espionage.

It comes after the UK government on Monday summoned the Russian ambassador to make clear its condemnation of what it described as the "politically motivated" jailing of Mr Kara-Murza, a British dual national.


Ukrainian boy speaks out after alleged deportation to Russia

We have heard a lot about the alleged deportation of children to Russia from different sources, the number of which Ukrainian authorities estimate is 16,000.

Now one of those children, a 13-year-old boy, has described to CNN the indoctrination camps where they were held.

Bogdan was sent to Crimea by his mother, who was under the impression he was going to a holiday camp for two weeks safe from the bombing of their hometown, Kherson.

It was much longer before he returned, CNN reported, and he explained the lessons he was taught on a unified Ukraine and Russia.

"They told us how it was a long time ago with Russia and Ukraine that once they were together," he told the broadcaster.

"It wasn't cool. In the lesson I put my head down and looked at my phone. I didn't want to listen."

He described the town where he stayed as dirty and undeveloped, with "trash everywhere".

Not all children were aware of the circumstances they had been placed in.

Kira, 10, who was also sent to Crimea, told CNN: "It was super at the camp."

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Why has Putin chosen to visit occupied Ukraine now?

There are "lots of reasons" why the Russian president has chosen to visit occupied parts of Ukraine - but chief among them will be his desire to show he is "in control" at a time when his war is not going to plan,military analyst Sean Bellhas told Sky News.

The war is "not going well", Bell said, noting Russia has lost 50% of the territory it initially captured since the invasion.

"This is about Putin demonstrating his leadership, demonstrating that he is in control with the commanders on the ground," he said.

Another motive could be a show of defiance to Ukraine's allies after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest last month.

This visit "will show he is free to move around" despite being a wanted man.

The president will also want to send a message back home that "Russia is in control and the war in Ukraine is on track".

This is critically important because the Russian army is "desperately short" on soldiers and needs to recruit more men.

There are limits on where Mr Putin can go, however - he visited military headquarters in Kherson and Luhansk, two of four regions he illegally annexed in September, but it is unlikely he is meeting any soldiers on the ground, Bell said, particularly in Bakhmut.

The city in Donetsk has been the site of fierce fighting for months and has earned the nickname the "meat grinder" for the thousands of fighters to have died there.

Mr Putin "probably won't want to hear" what Kremlin troops in the city have to say and "almost certainly wouldn't be safe there", Bell said.

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One dead and six injured after shelling in Kherson

One person has been killed and six injured after Russian troops shelled the central market district in Kherson city, in southern Ukraine, according to the Kyiv Independent.

Earlier today, Andriy Yermak, head of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office, said on Telegram that Russian forces had shelled the region.

The number of casualties in Kherson is expected to rise as Mr Yermak and local media provide more updates on the incident.

It came after reports emerged that Mr Putin had visited Russian-occupied parts of Kherson to discuss "military plans" (see post at 8.26am).

For context: The city of Kherson was the first major city to be captured by the Russians in the days after the invasion, but was liberated by Ukrainian forces in November last year.

This is not an isolated incident - Russian forces have shelled liberated parts of the region since their withdrawal.

Kherson was one of four regions to be illegally annexed by Mr Putin in September last year after referendums decried as "sham" by Ukraine and its allies - the others were Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk, all in east Ukraine.


Wall Street Journal reporter appears in Russian courtroom

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has appeared in a Russia courtroom for an appeal hearing against his pre-trial detention.

The reporter, who is being held at the notorious Lefortovo prison in Moscow, was formally charged with espionage 11 days ago.

He is being held until at least 29 May and faces up to 20 years behind bars if convicted.

This is the first time we have seen Mr Gershkovich, 32, since he was arrested.

Our correspondent John Sparks says the case today is around his pre-trial detention rather than the "substance of his charges".

"I assume his lawyers will be trying to get an alternative custody arrangement for him," Sparks says.

"I think that he is realistically looking at spending a significant period of time in a Russian prison at the moment."

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