May 12, 2022: Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Jessie Yeung, Travis Caldwell, Adrienne Vogt, Seán Federico O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Jack Guy and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 3:21 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022
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11:26 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

More than 6 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian invasion began, UN refugee agency says

From CNN's Benjamin Brown in London

More than 6 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion in late February, according to the latest data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

In addition, more than 8 million people – nearly one in five of Ukraine’s pre-war population – are internally displaced in the country after having been forced to flee their homes, according to the latest report by the International Organization for Migration.

A projected 8.3 million refugees are expected to flee Ukraine, the UNHCR said in late April.

11:26 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Here's what you need to know about NATO and how it works

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová and Bryony Jones

A soldier with the Polish Army sits in a tank as a NATO flag flies behind him during military exercises in 2015 in Zagan, Poland.
A soldier with the Polish Army sits in a tank as a NATO flag flies behind him during military exercises in 2015 in Zagan, Poland. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Finland – which shares an 800-mile border with Russia – is one step closer to joining NATO after the nation's president and prime minister announced their support for being a part of the US-led military alliance. The Kremlin said the move would be a threat to Russia.

Here's what you need to know about NATO and how it works:

NATO is a European and North American defense alliance that was created as the Cold War escalated and is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. The aim of the alliance was to protect Western European countries from the threat posed by the Soviet Union and to counter the spread of Communism after World War II.

Remember: An armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty guarantees that the resources of the whole alliance can be used to protect any single member nation. This is crucial for many of the smaller countries who would be defenseless without its allies. Iceland, for example, has no standing army. Since the US is the largest and most powerful NATO member, any state in the alliance is effectively under US protection.

The alliance started with 12 founding countries, but over the decades since, the alliance has grown to include a total of 30 members.

In alphabetical order, they are: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the US.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but has long hoped to join the alliance. This is a sore point for Russia, which sees NATO as a threat and vehemently opposes the move.

Amid ongoing tensions with the West, Russia has asked for iron-clad guarantees that the alliance won't expand further east — particularly into Ukraine.

But the US and NATO have resisted those demands. The alliance has always had an "open door policy," which states that any European country ready and willing to undertake the commitments and obligations of membership is welcome to apply for membership. Any decisions on enlargement of the alliance must be agreed unanimously.

Following the end of the Cold War, NATO made it clear it would welcome expansion to the east and in 1997, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were invited to begin accession talks.

Since then, more than a dozen countries from the former Eastern bloc, including three former Soviet republics, joined the alliance.

Read the full explainer on NATO here and see a map of its current members below:

11:11 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

"Difficult negotiations" on evacuation of badly wounded from Azovstal are ongoing, Ukrainian deputy PM says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk speaks during an interview in Kyiv in April 11.
Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk speaks during an interview in Kyiv in April 11. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that "very difficult negotiations" are ongoing on the evacuation of seriously wounded fighters from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol in exchange for Russian prisoners of war.

"To be clear: we are currently negotiating only about 38 severely wounded (bedridden) fighters. We work step by step. We will exchange 38, then we will move on. There are currently no talks on the exchange of 500 or 600 people, which is being reported by some media outlets," she said.

She asked others to stop speculating about the process.

"I beg you. It's about people's lives. Refrain from public comments about what you do not know," she said.

11:07 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Apprehending perpetrators of war crimes is a "long game," says top US official for global criminal justice

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Beth Van Schaack, the US ambassador at large for global criminal justice, said one of the biggest challenges to ensuring accountability for those who are responsible for war crimes in Ukraine will be getting them into custody. But, she added, that “those of us in this business are playing a long game” to try to apprehend them.

“Eventually people, perpetrators will want to travel — they will have family members abroad, they will want to visit the capitals of Europe, and international prosecutors around the world will be ready with indictments in hand,” Van Schaack said at a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday.

She told lawmakers that the world has “never seen this type of international coordination around the imperative of accountability, frankly, since World War II and then in the 1990s when the two ad-hoc criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were created.”

“There is a huge international effort to document crimes that's being done on multilaterally through partnerships and also individually at the civil society level and a huge effort with prosecutors from different systems, working together,” she said.

The Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova has alleged that the Russian army had committed more than 9,800 war crimes as of May 5.

10:41 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

US Foreign Relations Committee working for "swift consideration" of possible Finland and Sweden NATO bids

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Democratic US Sen. Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday that his committee is “already working to ensure swift consideration” of Finland’s and Sweden’s memberships in NATO should they choose to apply.

At least two-thirds of the US Senate must vote to approve new member states in the defensive alliance.

In a tweet, Republican ranking member of the committee Sen. Jim Risch said that Finland’s “announcement today marks a tremendous step forward in the future of transatlantic security.”

10:35 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Germany's Scholz offers "full support" to Finland's NATO bid 

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends a meeting of the German Federal Cabinet in Berlin in April.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends a meeting of the German Federal Cabinet in Berlin in April. (Henning Schacht/Pool/Getty Images)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday welcomed Finland's bid to join NATO and offered Berlin's “full support" after Finland's president and prime minister announced their support for joining NATO, moving the Nordic nation – which shares an 800-mile border with Russia – one step closer to membership of the US-led military alliance.

“I welcome Finland's decision to speak out in favor of the country's immediate accession to NATO,” Scholz said in a tweet.  

“In a phone call with President Sauli Niinistö, I assured Finland of the German government's full support,” Scholz added.   

The Finnish president on Twitter said that he discussed Finland's NATO membership bid with the German chancellor.   

''Finland is grateful for German support for our NATO membership,” he wrote, adding that they also discussed "the need to achieve peace in Ukraine."  

10:13 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

EU proposes streamlined export plan for Ukrainian produce

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in London 

European Commissioner for Transport Adina-Ioana Valean talks to the media at the EU Commission headquarters on May 12, in Brussels, Belgium.
European Commissioner for Transport Adina-Ioana Valean talks to the media at the EU Commission headquarters on May 12, in Brussels, Belgium. (Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

The European Union is proposing to establish “solidarity lanes” exclusively for exporting agricultural goods from Ukraine to help ease the blockade of produce, which is “threatening global food security,” the commission said in a news release Thursday.  

The plan aims to integrate Ukrainian and EU infrastructure to mobilize 20 million metric tons of grain that must leave Ukraine within three months, EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said in the release. 

“Thousands” of trucks and wagons are stuck on the Ukrainian side of many EU borders, with an average waiting time of 16 days to pass through — rising to 30 days at some borders — the commission said.  

The commission is urging freight and infrastructure managers to take steps to streamline Ukrainian exports, such as making more vehicles available and prioritizing time slots.

National authorities are also being asked to apply “maximum flexibility” to “accelerate procedures at border crossing points” and work to secure more capacity for storing Ukrainian exports temporarily. 

The export blockade — resulting from the war with Russia — in addition to incidents of grain theft, reportedly at the hands of Russian forces, are causing a global supply crisis of grains such as wheat and corn.

9:56 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Families of Azovstal fighters appeal to Turkish president to initiate an extraction procedure

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London

Families of Azov regiment fighters holed up in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol sent an emotional appeal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging him to "be a hero" and initiate an extraction procedure for all remaining fighters at the plant. 

At a news briefing in Kyiv, a father of an 18-year-old fighter urged the Turkish leader to seize “a historical opportunity to go down in history as a peacemaker, as a hero.”

“As a man to man, a father to a father, I implore you to save my son and his comrades,” Evheniy Suharnikov pleaded, referencing Turkey’s experience with military extraction operations in the Middle East.

Using examples of extractions in Syria and Dunkirk during World War II, Suharnikov asked for a civilian vessel to be sent for the fighter’s collection from Azovstal. The fighter’s father also suggested they are taken to a neutral country, away from the hostilities. 

“We need a hero, a person with enough political authority to carry out this procedure. From a political and geographical perspective, we think Turkey can be that country and Erdogan can be that person," he added.

Families of fighters have gathered 1.5 million signatures on a petition they started to secure a safe passage out of the plant for Azov fighters.

“The UN and the Red Cross are only interested in civilians,” one fighter’s wife said while standing next to her young son.

One girlfriend of an Azov fighter warned if the fighters are abandoned, “Ukraine will not have a bright future.”

Ukraine has offered to release Russian prisoners of war in exchange of the evacuation of injured Ukrainian soldiers from the besieged Azovstal steel plant. There are thought to be several hundred soldiers still at Mariupol’s last Ukrainian stronghold. Russia continues regular bombardments of the plant, according to both the Russian and the Ukrainian military.

10:14 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Russian state energy giant Gazprom stops sending gas through pipeline via Poland after Kremlin sanctions

From CNN's Robert North

Pipework at the Wierzchowice Underground Gas Storage Facility, operated by Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo SA, also known as PGNiG, in Wierzchowice, Poland, on April 27.
Pipework at the Wierzchowice Underground Gas Storage Facility, operated by Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo SA, also known as PGNiG, in Wierzchowice, Poland, on April 27. (Bartek Sadowski/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Russian state energy giant Gazprom said it will stop sending Russian gas through the Yamal pipeline that runs through Poland, after the Kremlin imposed sanctions on a number of foreign companies.

Gazprom said the sanctions include EuRoPol Gaz, which owns the Polish section of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline. 

“A ban has been established on transactions and payments in favor of persons under sanctions, in particular, for Gazprom, this means a ban on the use of a gas pipeline owned by EuRoPol Gaz to transport Russian gas through Poland,” a Gazprom representative said.

It’s the latest tension over gas between Russian and Poland. Last month, Gazprom said it had fully halted supplies to Polish gas company PGNiG and Bulgaria's Bulgargaz after they refused to meet a demand by Moscow to pay in rubles rather than euros or dollars.

The Yamal pipeline runs from Russia through Belarus and onto Poland and Germany. According to energy analyst Bruegel, it accounts for a small part of Russian gas flows to Europe, and its use has been declining sharply since the war began. 

The German energy regulator played down the impact on its supplies. It told Reuters in a statement that stopping gas flows through Yamal will not endanger German supplies because “hardly any gas to Germany has been going through this pipeline for weeks.”