Key developments on April 18:
- Zelensky visits front-line Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast
- Putin reportedly visits Russian-occupied Luhansk, Kherson oblasts
- Macron wants China to help bring Ukraine, Russia to negotiating table, Bloomberg reports
- Former Wagner Group mercenary admitted killing POWs, says "he knows more" atrocities committed
President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the front-line city of Avdiivka, some five kilometers north of Russian-occupied Donetsk, the President's Office reported on April 18.
Zelensky met Ukrainian forces defending the city, awarding service members with state honors and thanking them for their service.
"I wish you nothing but victory – something that every Ukrainian desires and which holds great importance for all of us," Zelensky said.
Avdiivka has been a front-line city since 2014 when Russia occupied the regional capital Donetsk.
The industrial city, with a pre-war population of 32,000 people, is largely ruined. Less than 2,000 people remain in Avdiivka, according to Vitalii Barabash, the city's military administration head.
During the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the town remains one of Russia's primary goals as an important defense node in Donetsk Oblast, half of which is currently occupied.
In March, Russian troops made substantial gains on the southern and northern flanks of Avdiivka. Ukrainian military spokesperson Oleksii Dmytrashkivskyi said on March 20, adding that the city could become a "second Bakhmut."
Since then, Ukraine's military has stabilized defense lines near the city, with little territory changing hands.
The U.K. Defense Ministry, in its April 18 intelligence update, said there is a "realistic possibility" Russia has diverted troops and resources from Avdiivka toward Bakhmut, where they are continuing to make "creeping advances."
As of mid-April, Ukraine's forces hold parts of Bakhmut, west of the railway line, while Russian troops led by Wagner Group mercenaries have taken the administrative center.
Putin reportedly visits occupied territories
The Kremlin claimed on April 18 that Russian President Vladimir Putin recently visited the occupied territories in Kherson and Luhansk oblasts.
Ukraine's Center for Investigative Journalism verified the place visited by Putin to be the Russian military headquarters in the village of Shchaslyvtseve, Kherson Oblast.
The place, which used to be a vocation center, is located over 100 kilometers from the front line and less than 10 kilometers northeast of occupied Crimea.
Lithuania's Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said the Russian propaganda messages seem to be trying to mimic Zelensky and thus inspire the demotivated Russian troops.
It was Putin second reported visit to the territories occupied by Russia since February 2022. Days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin, he allegedly traveled to occupied Crimea and Mariupol in Donetsk Oblast in mid-March.
Macron wants China to force Kyiv, Moscow to talk
French President Emmanuel Macron wants China to help bring Kyiv and Moscow to the negotiations table as soon as this summer, Bloomberg reported on April 18, citing unnamed sources.
According to the report, Macron's foreign policy adviser Emmanuel Bonne was tasked to work with Wang Yi, China's top diplomat, "to establish a framework that could be used as a basis for future negotiations" between Ukraine and Russia.
After meeting with China's leader Xi Jinping in early April, Macron said that he believed China had a major role in "building peace."
However, three days after meeting Xi, Macron said France and China see it to be too early for peace talks as "today, the time is military."
"Ukrainians are resisting, and we are helping them," Macron said in an April 9 interview with Les Echos. "The time is not for negotiations, even if we prepare them, we have to set milestones," he added.
Zelensky talked with Macron on April 15 to discuss his recent visit to China and the situation on the front line.
China has positioned itself as a potential mediator between Ukraine and Russia and offered a widely criticized 12-point "peace plan" that does not explicitly include the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.
Russian mercenary claims he knows more war crimes committed in Ukraine
Alexey Savichev, a former Wagner Group mercenary, said that his alleged confession about executing dozens of Ukrainian civilians, including children, was "only 10%" of what he could share, Russian independent outlet Vertska reported on April 18.
Russian opposition media outlet Gulagu.net published a video on April 17 where two former prisoners turned mercenaries, Savichev and Azamat Uldarov, said they committed war crimes in Bakhmut and Soledar, Donetsk Oblast, as part of the Wagner mercenary group.
Both said they were ordered by Wagner Group boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin, Putin's confidant, to "clean up" two front-line towns, meaning kill everyone.
Savichev told Vertska he had been offered 10,000 rubles ($123) for the Gulagu.net interview, adding he decided to talk "just to eat and survive."
He claimed he had received multiple threats since the interview was published online.
"I only told 10% of what could be told. And for this 10%, I am now hiding, running like a rat across Russia," Savichev allegedly said.
Savichev admitted throwing around 30 grenades into a pit with 50-60 wounded Ukrainian POWs and Wagner deserters, saying he "would rather have fulfilled the order and go warm up because it was very cold." Uldarov confessed to killing several hundred Ukrainian civilians, including a child, sheltering in a basement.
Following the interviews, Ukraine's Prosecutor General launched an investigation into violation of the laws and customs of war on April 17.
Ukraine investigates 80,840 cases of alleged war crimes and crimes of aggression committed by Russia, the Prosecutor General's Office said on April 17, adding that Russia's war has killed at least 470 children and wounded at least 948 since late February 2022.
Prigozhin denied Savichev and Uldarov's claims, calling them "a blatant lie," saying both would be dealt with "in a special way."
Prigozhin's Wagner Group has been accused of war crimes, including torture and extrajudicial killings of civilians and prisoners of war in several countries, including Ukraine and Syria.
The U.S. has previously accused Russian mercenaries of exploiting natural resources in several African countries and elsewhere to fund its military aggression against Ukraine.
Prigozhin and his closest family members were sanctioned by a number of countries, including the U.S. and Ukraine in 2022 and the U.K. in 2020.