May 3, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner, Adrienne Vogt, Maureen Chowdhury, Ben Church, Ed Upright, Sana Noor Haq, Jessie Yeung, Andrew Raine and Helen Regan, CNN

Updated 12:09 AM ET, Wed May 4, 2022
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8:57 p.m. ET, May 3, 2022

Ukrainians strike Russian positions in Oleksandrivka, newly released video shows

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Tim Lister

A drone video shows a smoldering Russian military vehicle in Oleksandrivka, Ukraine.
A drone video shows a smoldering Russian military vehicle in Oleksandrivka, Ukraine. (Courtesy Ukrainian Armed Forces)

The Ukrainian military took out a number of Russian military vehicles in Oleksandrivka, south southeast of Russian-occupied Izium, newly released video from the Ukrainian Armed Forces shows.

The armed forces did not disclose where, or when, the video was taken. CNN verified its authenticity, and has geolocated it to Oleksandrivka, a small village in the Donestk oblast.

Sensory satellite data from NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System has detected a number of fires in the village, and around the area, since April 27.

In the drone video, there are a number of smoldering Russian military vehicles.

In a Sunday briefing posted on Telegram, the Ukraine Armed Forces said Russian forces were moving south from the Kharkiv oblast and into Oleksandrivka.

According to briefing, the Russians were attempting to advance on Lyman, a strategic and heavily contested city just south of the village.

In recent weeks, the Russian military has conducted repeated military strikes on Lyman, including on its railroad infrastructure.

The Russian Ministry of Defense also admitted to military activity near Oleksandrivka, saying in a Monday briefing posted to Telegram that they targeted the area around the village with missiles.

8:55 p.m. ET, May 3, 2022

Russian-backed separatist region opens criminal case against British, Moroccan nationals fighting for Ukraine

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Josh Pennington

The prosecutor's office for the Russian-backed Donetsk People's Republic announced Monday it has opened a criminal case against two British men and a Moroccan national who were captured while allegedly fighting for Ukraine.

CNN previously reported British citizens Sean Pinner and Aidan Daniel John Mark Aslin were captured by Russian forces in mid-April in Mariupol.

A third man, a Moroccan citizen, also appears to have been captured, according to the prosecutor’s office.

The three are being investigated for "committing a crime by a group of people, forcible seizure of power or forcible keeping of power and mercenary activity,” the prosecutor’s office alleges. Prosecutors claim the three acted as mercenaries and conducted military operations against the separatist republic.

The three remain in custody, the prosecutor's office said.

Pinner and Aslin's families previously told CNN the two were serving with the Ukrainian Marines and were not mercenaries.

7:52 p.m. ET, May 3, 2022

Ukrainians strike Russian positions on Snake Island with military drone, video shows

From CNN’s Paul P. Murphy and Tim Lister

A strike targeting a communications tower on Snake Island is seen in a drone video.
A strike targeting a communications tower on Snake Island is seen in a drone video. (Courtesy Ukrainian Armed Forces Southern Operation Command)

The Ukrainian Armed Forces say they hit at least two Russian military positions on Russian-occupied Snake Island purportedly using a Bayraktar UAV, a military drone.

It’s unclear what date the Ukrainian military strikes were conducted, but the video was posted by the Ukrainian Armed Forces Southern Operation Command on Tuesday.

CNN has geolocated the video showing the strikes and verified its authenticity.

The military strikes appear to have targeted an area between a building and a communications tower, and another area that appears to have contained ammunition or another explosive. A number of explosions are seen after the initial one in the second area.

Snake Island, and the Ukrainian border guards on it, gained significant notoriety at the beginning of the Russian invasion when the island was targeted by Russian soldiers and the Ukrainian guards refused to surrender.

8:04 p.m. ET, May 3, 2022

President Zelensky: 156 people arrived in Zaporizhzhia from areas near Mariupol

From CNN’s Mitchell McCluskey and Mariya Knight

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a nightly video address.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a nightly video address. (From Office of President of Ukraine)

In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 156 people arrived to Zaporizhzhia from the Azovstal steel plant and surrounding areas in Mariupol by evacuation corridors on Tuesday.

“I am grateful to all of those on whom the salvation of these people depended. Who agreed and who helped. I am grateful to everyone who provided physical movement of people through the humanitarian corridor,” he said.

“We will continue to do everything to get all our people out of Mariupol and Azovstal. It's difficult. But we need everyone who stays there: civilians and soldiers,” he said. 

Zelensky also accused Russian troops of not adhering to the ceasefire and continuing strikes on the Azovstal steel plant.

6:34 p.m. ET, May 3, 2022

Ukrainians destroyed a number of Russian military vehicles in the Kharkiv oblast, drone footage shows 

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Tim Lister

Ukrainian military strikes, captured on drone footage, destroyed a number of Russian military vehicles in the village of Sulyhivka — about 11 miles or 18 kilometers — south of Izium in the Kharkiv oblast.

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the footage, which was first uploaded to Telegram on Monday. When the footage was taken is unclear.

However, in two situation updates posted to Telegram on Saturday, the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Kharkiv regional military administrator Oleg Sinegubov noted that Russian forces had tried to advance near the village.

Both said that Ukrainian forces had repelled the Russian assault, but Sinegubov claimed the Russians had sustained heavy losses.

There's been heavy fighting in the area for several weeks, as Ukrainian forces try to resist a large armored offensive from the Izium area south and west towards Sloviansk. The video indicates that Ukrainian artillery fire and attack drones continue to degrade Russian armor.

6:33 p.m. ET, May 3, 2022

Leader of Russian-backed separatist region of Donetsk visits Mariupol

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Mariya Knight

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Russian-backed separatist region of Donetsk visits Mariupol.
Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Russian-backed separatist region of Donetsk visits Mariupol. (Courtesy Donetsk People's Republic)

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Russian-backed separatist region of Donetsk, is the first known high-ranking official — Russian or Russian-backed — to visit the besieged Ukrainian city.  

He is seen in photos, posted on his official Telegram channel, posing near the Illich metallurgical plant, located in northern Mariupol, and on a ship in the Port of Mariupol, located in the southern area of the city. 

It's unclear from the photos when the trip actually took place, but given that the Russian forces have solidified their control of the city within the last week, it's likely to have taken place during that time.

It does not appear from the photos that Pushilin traveled anywhere near the Azovstal steel plant, the last remaining stronghold of Ukrainian forces in the city.

His trip to the city is the first major sign of the impending Russification of it. Pushilin is expected to oversee the city being that it's in the Donetsk region.

5:57 p.m. ET, May 3, 2022

President Biden asked the US Congress to loosen visa restrictions on highly educated Russians

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

US President Joe Biden has asked the US Congress to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to make it easier for highly educated Russians to obtain visas to work in the United States, according to a section of the White House’s Ukraine supplemental budget request submitted to lawmakers last week and reviewed by CNN.

The request, if enacted, would allow Russians with a masters or doctoral degree in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math to apply for a visa without first obtaining an employer sponsor in the US. 

The amendment would also require the Department of Homeland Security “to expedite consideration of such applications,” the document says, “as appropriate” and with the necessary vetting. 

The administration explained in the document that the authority “would help the U.S. attract and retain Russian STEM talent and undercut Russia’s innovative potential, benefitting U.S. national security.” The authority would expire four years after the date that it is enacted, according to the document. 

More context: Tens of thousands of highly educated Russians have reportedly fled Russia since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine just over two months ago. The Biden administration is hoping to take advantage of that brain drain and lure some of those workers to the US, officials said. 

The document says the visa changes would apply to Russians with degrees in fields including, but not limited to: hypersonics, advanced nuclear energy technologies, advanced missile propulsion technologies, directed energy, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and space technologies and systems.  

The US has already sought to curtail Russia’s ability to remain technologically competitive by imposing severe export restrictions on materials like semiconductors that are found in thousands of electronic products.

Bloomberg first reported that the administration was weighing loosening the visa restrictions.

5:48 p.m. ET, May 3, 2022

As investigators probe war crimes in Bucha, Ukrainian families mourn the war's youngest victims 

From CNN's Sara Sidner, Sandi Sidhu, Oleksandra Titorova and Lauren Said-Moorhouse

Local prosecutor Roman Kravchenk says at least 31 children have been killed in Bucha.
Local prosecutor Roman Kravchenk says at least 31 children have been killed in Bucha. (CNN)

Deep in a pine forest in Ukraine’s Bucha district, a bumpy dirt road dead-ends in a small tidy cemetery. There, a figure dressed in black, her head covered with a scarf, hunches over a fresh mound of dirt blanketed in flowers and adorned with a picture of a small girl.

Her body begins to shake. Then her sobs pierce the quiet of the forest.

“I wish I could trade places with her,” says 68-year-old grandmother, Galina, from Vorzel, a small village in Ukraine’s Bucha district.

The grave holds the body of her seven-year-old granddaughter Anastasia, who was murdered as the family tried to escape the Russian invasion of their village. Galina says the pair — along with six more children and two other adults, all family members — had packed into a car and were driving down a two-lane highway when a Russian sniper fired at their vehicle from the woods.

“On the first strike, he shot through the front window and my granddaughter started to scream. The next shot our car stopped and then again, they shot at us. Anastasia whimpered,” Galina, who only gave CNN her first name, says. “I started to cry and children were scared. They were all screaming.”
Galina and her granddaughter Anastasia, in happier times.
Galina and her granddaughter Anastasia, in happier times. (CNN)

When the screaming and panic ended, sorrow washed over the family with the realization Anastasia had been shot dead. Her sister Lida, 11, was also badly wounded.

“I asked the soldier (to) help us. I was begging them saying, ‘Don’t you have kids of your own?’” Galina says.

“We did nothing to them. We lived our life. We didn’t attack anyone … It was them to attack us. They didn’t care if there was a kid or grandmothers or grandfathers. They didn’t care. And still don’t care,” she adds.

This scenario is exactly what the family was trying to escape. They were well aware of the Russian soldiers who had rolled into their village in March, snuffing out humans as casually as cigarettes and then leaving the bodies carelessly scattered along the sides of the roads.

The true scale of Russia’s monthlong occupation of Bucha is yet to be fully understood — but the picture emerging from it has shocked the world.

Russia has flatly refused to accept responsibility for the atrocities emanating from Bucha and other districts surrounding Kyiv since its troops made a hasty retreat in late March after failing to encircle the capital. Instead, the Kremlin has repeatedly claimed – without evidence — that the numerous reports of indiscriminate killings, mass graves, disappearances and looting are “fake” and part of a “planned media campaign.”

Read the full story here.

5:30 p.m. ET, May 3, 2022

Putin's war is tearing families apart in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east

From CNN's Mick Krever and Olha Konovalova

The warm spring air is coming to eastern Ukraine. The roads are lined with red tulips, and people are reopening their summer kitchens, small buildings outside traditional homes used to isolate the heat and smells of cooking in the hotter months.

It was in her elderly mother's wood-frame summer kitchen that Ludmilla, 69, was chatting to her brother Victor, 72, who went by Vitya, in the eastern city of Lysychansk last week. Despite near-constant bombardment from Russian troops just a few kilometers away, they had stayed in their family home since the invasion of Ukraine in late February.

"My brother and I were talking," said Ludmilla, who asked CNN to use only her first name out of privacy concerns. "All at once, Grads started falling down one by one." The windows were blown from their frames. "Everything was cracking."

She recalled the initial shock and confusion. "We're standing there — my brother's making the sign of the cross, and I'm shouting. I turned away from him to look at the house, and then another explosion went off, and I was trapped under the rubble."

Ludmilla was momentarily blinded. Blood poured from her face and from lacerations on her hands and feet, but she was alive. She felt the touch of a neighbor, who pulled her to safety, to her basement. Her 96-year-old mother, mercifully, was unscathed.

"I ask, 'How's my brother, how's Vitya?' And the neighbor hides his eyes and says: 'Everything is fine.'

"I said to him, 'Vova, I don't believe it. If it were okay, he would have come seen us.'

"He says, 'Everything is OK down, sit down,' and goes out. And his wife is sitting next to me and says 'Luda, he doesn't know how to tell you. Vitya is dead.'

"That's it. And my brother would be 73-years-old on May 6. And that was it."

Death and loss are far from the only traumas in this Russian-speaking region. For many, the war has upended any remaining fellowship with Russia. According to a survey last year by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 43% of Ukrainians report having relatives in Russia.

Even in the Russian-speaking east, that camaraderie had already been waning since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatist movements. With this war, a history of pain is brought to the fore: of millions dead from famine and forced Soviet collectivization and of attempts, over decades, to wipe out Ukrainian culture and the Ukrainian language.

It's hard to relate to someone if they believe Russian President Vladimir Putin's propaganda — that the military is conducting a small and targeted operation that avoids civilian casualties. It's perhaps, even more difficult to relate if they don't believe your neighbors, brothers, and friends are being killed.

Ludmilla's son, as well as her sister and her sister's family, all live in Russia.

"My granddaughter had a fight with my own sister's granddaughter," Ludmilla explained. "She said, 'What are you making up? You are shooting at yourself, and you are lying,'" adding that a "lot of people" in Russia don't believe what's really happening in her country.

"This is Putin's politics. Zombification," Ludmilla said.

Whether Russia can conquer all of the Donbas — the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk — is an unanswered question after its military's underwhelming performance in the war's opening months.

Read the full story here.