Russia-Ukraine live updates: Putin critic sentenced to 25 years

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(NEW YORK) — More than a year after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine, the countries are fighting for control of areas in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have liberated nearly 30,000 square miles of their territory from Russian forces since the invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022, but Putin appeared to be preparing for a long and bloody war.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Apr 17, 6:19 AM EDT
Putin critic sentenced to 25 years

A Moscow court has sentenced one of Russia’s best-known opposition leaders, whose family live in the U.S., to 25 years in prison in what is widely seen a show trial.

Vladimir Kara-Murza is the most high-profile opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin to be jailed since Alexey Navalny.

Kara-Murza’s extraordinarily harsh sentence is one of the lengthiest any opposition figure has received under Putin and illustrates how repressive Russia has become during the war in Ukraine, reverting to something much closer to the USSR where no opposition is tolerated.

Kara-Murza was convicted of treason, as well as “discrediting Russia’s armed forces,” a new law that effectively criminalizes criticizing the war in Ukraine. He was also convicted of belonging to a banned organization. The charges are widely seen as politically motivated.

Kara-Murza is one of Russia’s best-known pro-democracy figures and a veteran critic of Putin.

Kara-Murza, who holds both British and Russian citizenship, spent many years living in the United States and his wife and children still live in Virginia. He was close to the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, who championed human rights in the former Soviet Union.

Dozens of journalists and Western diplomats attended the court hearing on Monday, including the U.S. ambassador who read out a statement condemning the sentence.

“We support Mr. Kara-Murza and every Russian citizen to have a voice in the direction of their country. Mr. Kara-Murza and countless other Russians believe in and hope for a Russia where fundamental freedoms will be upheld. And we will continue to share those hopes and work for that outcome,” Amb. Lynne Tracy said.

Kara-Murza previously has survived being poisoned not once but twice. In 2015 and then again in 2017, he suffered organ failure after being exposed to an unknown toxin. Independent researchers later linked the poisoning to the same team of FSB poisoners who targeted Navalny.

He chose to return to Russia after the war began, believing it was important to continue to campaign for freedom in his country and has been an outspoken critic of the invasion.

His trial was held entirely behind closed doors, but a letter containing his closing statement to the court has been released to reporters.

“I only blame myself for one thing,” Kara-Murza said in the statement. “I failed to convince enough of my compatriots and politicians in democratic countries of the danger that the current Kremlin regime poses for Russia and for the world.”

“Criminals are supposed to repent of what they have done. I, on the other hand, am in prison for my political views. I also know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will dissipate.

-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell

Apr 14, 6:03 PM EDT
Detained WSJ reporter’s parents speak out

The parents of Wall Street Journalist journalist Evan Gershkovich spoke in an interview with with the paper Friday, the first time since their son was detained in Russia in March.

Mikhail and Ella Gershkovich, who were born in the Soviet Union and married after emigrating to the U.S. separately in 1979, talked about how much he wanted to work for the Journal and cover Russia.

“He said I’m just one of the few left there,” Ella Gershkovich, his mother, said of his time working in Russia during the Ukraine war.

The couple said their family is keeping hope that their son will be returned.

The couple said their family is keeping hope that their son will be released.

“It’s one of the American qualities we absorbed. Be optimistic, believe in happy ending. That’s where we stand right now, but I am not stupid. I understand what’s involved, but that’s what I choose to believe,” Ella Gershkovich said.

-ABC News’ Ellie Kaufman

Apr 14, 2:52 PM EDT
6 dead, including 1 child, after Russia attacks Slovyansk

Russian forces shelled Slovyansk, a city in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, Friday, Andrii Yermak, the head of the office of the President of Ukraine, said on Telegram.

At least seven explosions were heard in the city in the area near a school, and three buildings were struck, Yermak said. Russia hit three five-story buildings in the attack, he added.

Six civilians, including one child, were killed and 17 people have been wounded, as of Friday afternoon, officials said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shared a video of the attack on his Telegram page and condemned Russian forces.

He said there are still people trapped in the rubble.

“The evil state once again demonstrates its essence, just killing people in broad daylight, [and] ruining, destroying all life,” he said.

-ABC News’ Oleksiy Pshemyskiy and Ellie Kaufman

Apr 12, 7:12 PM EDT
Singer Brad Paisley visits Ukraine for 1st time with Senate delegation, meets with Zelenskyy

Country singer Brad Paisley visited Ukraine for the first time on Wednesday and met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to see firsthand what’s happening in the war-torn country, according to Ukrainian fundraising platform UNITED24.

Paisley, who serves as a global ambassador for UNITED24 and its campaign to help rebuild Ukraine, performed his song “Same Here” while in St. Michael’s Square in Kyiv.

Paisley, who went with a bipartisan U.S. Senate delegation, also played for American troops in Poland, UNITED24 said.

“It’s an emotional experience seeing all of this firsthand,” Paisley said during a press conference. “For me, looking around this city and being here for the first time, I’m absolutely struck by the resilience of life and the beautiful nature of the way this city is trying to thrive in the middle of conflict.”

Apr 12, 5:59 PM EDT
2 US citizens died while fighting in Ukraine, State Dept. says

Two Americans have died while volunteering to fight in Ukraine, he U.S. Department of State said Wednesday.

Edward Wilton and Grady Kurpasi died in combat during the conflict, bringing the total number of Americans killed to at least eight.

Wilton, 22, died on April 7 fighting in Bakhmut, his half brother Parker Cummings told ABC News. He was from Marianna, Florida.

Wilton served in the U.S. Army, Cummings said, and informed his half brother about his plans to fight in Ukraine through a message sent from a plane en route to Poland on April 10, 2022.

“My brother was very selfless. My brother was very honorable and traditional,” Cummings told ABC News. “He cared more about freedom for all than for his own safety. Edward was a true hero and he will be missed until we see him again.”

Joshua Cropper, who told ABC News he fought with Wilton in Ukraine’s International Legion between April and early July 2022, said of Wilton: “He was so young, but immensely brave. Fearless. We’d need three guys to do any task, he’s always going to have his hand up. He was as mature as anybody I’ve ever known.”

Kurpasi was reportedly last seen in April 2022 and was widely reported to be missing last June.

As recently as last fall, his family said they believed he was in critical condition in a Russian-controlled hospital in Donetsk, but it’s not clear exactly when he was confirmed dead or if he was ever hospitalized.

A GoFund Me page organized on behalf of Kurpasi’s wife provides few details on his time in Ukraine, but states that he “ended up leading a squad into battle and was killed in action.”

“We can confirm the death of a U.S. citizen in Ukraine. We are in touch with the family and providing all possible consular assistance,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement when asked about his case. “When a U.S. citizen dies overseas, including in Ukraine, the Department of State supports the legal representative and family of the deceased in numerous ways, including by providing information on the disposition of remains and estates and issuing a consular report of death.”

The spokesperson added: “The U.S. government takes its role in such a situation very seriously, providing all appropriate assistance through the legal representative, next of kin or their designee.”

Regarding Wilton, a State Department official confirmed that a U.S. citizen died near Bakhmut and said they’re in touch with the family and providing all appropriate consular services.

-ABC News’ Shannon Crawford and Chris Looft

Apr 12, 2:50 PM EDT
Efforts to pressure Russia to release WSJ reporter ‘senseless and futile,’ Russia says

Days after the U.S. designated Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich as wrongfully detained in Russia, Russian officials referred to pressure from the U.S. to release him as futile.

“Any attempts to put pressure on the Russian authorities and the court, insisting on a ‘special treatment’ for U.S. citizens who have violated Russian law, are senseless and futile,” the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

-ABC News’ Natalia Shumskaia

Apr 11, 1:56 PM EDT
Biden speaks to Evan Gershkovich’s parents

After some missed calls, President Joe Biden finally connected with the parents of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed Tuesday.

“He felt it was really important to connect with Evan’s family,” she told reporters on Air Force One as the president travels to Ireland.

Meanwhile, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Gershkovich’s detention is “pretty fresh” and officials are still trying to get consular access to Gershkovich, which they have not been able to do.

He would not get into any specific conversations the U.S. is having with Russians about releasing Gershkovich or if a prisoner swap is a possibility.

“I just want to make a couple of things clear that is, the determination of wrongful detention, it doesn’t start the clock necessarily on communicating with the Russians about getting him released,” Kirby said. “We’re very early in this process here and I certainly, I think you can understand why I wouldn’t talk about any discussions we might be having with the Russians about his release or Paul [Whelan]’s release. We certainly wouldn’t do that.”

Kirby said the administration is “certainly having discussions about what we can do to get him released.”

“I don’t want to go into details about these internal deliberations, having things out in the public sphere viscerally might actually make it harder to get Evan and Paul home, and that’s what we’re focused on,” Kirby said.

-ABC News’ Justin Gomez

Apr 10, 4:28 PM EDT
Gershkovich designated as wrongfully detained by Russia

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has determined that Wall Street Journalist reporter Evan Gershkovich is being wrongfully detained by Russia, according to a statement released Monday afternoon.

Two Americans are now considered to be wrongfully detained by Russia — Gershkovich and Paul Whelan.

Gershkovich’s case will now be transferred to the Office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, the U.S. government’s top hostage negotiator.

Gershkovich, a 31-year-old New Jersey native who has lived and worked in Moscow as an accredited journalist for the last six years, was in a restaurant in Yekaterinburg on March 29 when Russia’s Federal Security Service arrested him on espionage charges that the Wall Street Journal, his colleagues and the U.S. government have said are absurd.

-ABC News’ Shannon K. Crawford

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