May 16, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Jessie Yeung, Amy Woodyatt, Matias Grez, Ed Upright and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022
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7:54 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Explosions heard in Lviv 

From Andrew Carey, Tim Lister, Roman Tymotsko, Taras Zadorozhnyy and Sofiya Harbuziuk in Lviv 

A series of explosions were heard in central Lviv around 12:45 a.m. local time (5:45 p.m. ET) Tuesday shortly after air raid sirens had sounded in the city. 

One member of CNN’s team in Lviv heard an explosion to the north of the city center.  

Another member of the CNN team saw air defenses lighting up to the northwest of the city; an eyewitness living in the same direction, about 30 kilometers away (18 miles) from the city, told CNN explosions could be heard there. 

The all-clear sounded at 1:15 a.m. local time (6:15 p.m. ET). 

In a short statement on his Telegram channel, Maksym Kozytsky, head of the Lviv regional military administration, said air defense systems had responded to the attack but gave no information about any sites hit. 

Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, in a post on his Facebook page, said he could not confirm any information about possible missile strikes in the city. He paid tribute to military personnel operating air defense systems and said further details of the attack would be released in the morning. 

Lviv and the surrounding area has been hit at least seven times since the start of the war. 

In the first such attack on March 13, a large military base at Yavoriv, northwest of Lviv, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the border with Poland, was hit, killing more than 30. 

An aircraft parts plant, a fuel depot and several electrical substations are among other targets hit by Russian missiles in Lviv in recent weeks. 

6:18 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022

More than 260 people have left Azovstal steel plant, Ukrainian defense official says

From CNN's Tim Lister and Victoria Butenko

Buses carrying service members of Ukrainian forces from the besieged Azovstal steel mill drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol, Ukraine, Monday, May 16.
Buses carrying service members of Ukrainian forces from the besieged Azovstal steel mill drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol, Ukraine, Monday, May 16.

More than 260 people have been rescued from the besieged Azovstal plant — including 53 seriously wounded, Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said.

In a video statement issued late Monday, Malyar said that together, the Ministry of Defense, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the National Guard, and the Border Guard Service launched an operation to rescue defenders of Mariupol blocked on the territory of the Azovstal plant.

She said that "53 seriously injured people were evacuated from Azovstal to a medical facility in Novoazovsk [in territory of the Donetsk People's Republic] for medical care."

"Another 211 people were taken to Olenivka through the humanitarian corridor. An exchange procedure will be carried out to return them home."

Olenivka is a town near Donetsk on the front lines of the current fighting, but in Russian-occupied territory. 

Malyar made it clear that some defenders remain at Azovstal.

"As for the defenders who still remain on the territory of Azovstal, rescue efforts are being carried out by the joint efforts of the above-mentioned agencies," she said.

She added, "Thanks to the defenders of Mariupol, we have gained critical time to form reserves, regroup forces and receive assistance from partners. The defenders of Mariupol fulfilled all the tasks set by the command in full."

"Unfortunately, we do not have the opportunity to unblock Azovstal by military means. The most important common task of all Ukraine and the whole world is to save the lives of the defenders of Mariupol," Malyar said.

A short time after Malyar's statement was released, President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the situation at Azovstal, and also implied that some Ukrainians remained inside the plant. 

"Thanks to the actions of the Ukrainian military — the Armed Forces of Ukraine, intelligence, the negotiating team, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, we hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys."

"Among them are the seriously injured. They are being treated. I want to emphasize that Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle."

"The work continues to bring the boys home, and this work needs delicacy. And time."

3:53 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Russia says evacuation of badly wounded Ukrainian forces from Mariupol's Azovstal plant has begun

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

The Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 15.
The Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 15. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The Russian Defense Ministry says the evacuation of wounded Ukrainian forces from the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol has begun.

Russian network RT has shown video of about 10 to 12 buses leaving the plant. The buses appear to be a mixture of hospital and ordinary transport — some are marked with a red cross.

Media outlets in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic showed at least one wounded fighter on a stretcher arriving at a hospital in the region late Monday. The fighter did not speak and there was no way to confirm his identity.

"On May 16th, as a result of negotiations with representatives of Ukrainian servicemen blocked on the territory of the Azovstal Metallurgical Plant in Mariupol, an agreement was reached on the removal of the wounded," the ministry said, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.

"Currently, a ceasefire regime has been established in the area of ​​the enterprise and a humanitarian corridor has been opened, through which wounded Ukrainian servicemen are being delivered to a medical facility in Novoazovsk, Donetsk People's Republic, to provide them with all the necessary assistance," the statement continues.

Novoazovsk is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Mariupol.

In a brief statement late Monday, the Azov regiment — one of the Ukrainian army’s units in Mariupol — announced that: "In order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the approved decision of the Supreme Military Command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people."

"The defenders of Mariupol fulfilled the order, despite all the difficulties, and distracted the overwhelming forces of the enemy for 82 days," it continued.

It did not provide any further details.

CNN's Taras Zadorozhnyy contributed reporting to this post

3:31 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022

EU unable to reach unanimity on Russian oil ban

From CNN’s Alex Hardie in London

Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy
Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy (EBS+)

European Union leaders were unsuccessful in reaching unanimity on banning Russian oil during a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers, Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, said Monday. 

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels, Borrell said “unhappily” it was not possible to reach an agreement on a sixth sanctions package against Russia, telling reporters that “we are with the same difficulties about unanimity on the oil ban.”

The EU has proposed banning all oil imports from Russia by the end of this year and removing the country's biggest bank, Sberbank, from the SWIFT international payments network.

On Wednesday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said Hungary will only vote for EU sanctions on Russian oil if the bloc comes up with solutions to the problems it would create.

Borrell told reporters that the day’s discussion had clarified some issues about the difficulties Hungary is facing.

“It was not even in the agenda to try to get an agreement today, because we knew it was not possible,” Borrell said.

“But we had a very constructive discussion about the reasons why some member states are reluctant — not only about oil ban but other elements of the sanctions package,” he continued.

 

6:31 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Turkish president says he will not approve Sweden and Finland's NATO membership if they sanction Turkey

From CNN's Isil Sariyuce in Istanbul and Zahid Mahmood in London

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a welcoming ceremony for his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, May 16.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a welcoming ceremony for his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, May 16.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that he would not approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership if they sanction Turkey. 

“First of all, we would not say ‘yes’ to those who impose sanctions on Turkey joining NATO, which is a security organization. Because then NATO would not remain a security organization anymore, it becomes a place where representatives of the terror concentrate,” Erdogan said. 

Speaking at a news conference in Ankara, Erdogan said Swedish and Finnish delegations should not bother coming to Turkey to try to convince Turkey to approve the country’s NATO membership. 

Turkey’s foreign minister held “some” meetings with Swedish and Finnish counterparts, Erdogan said, adding that none of the two countries had a clear stance against terror organizations.

“Even if they say ‘we are against them,’ on the contrary they have statements saying that they do not hand over the terrorists that they need to hand over to Turkey,” he said. 

He added that Sweden is a “nest” for terror organizations, saying it allows terrorists to speak in parliaments. 

“They have special invitations to terrorists. They even have pro PKK MPs in their parliaments. How are we going to trust them?”

Erdogan reiterated the same stance last week when he told a news conference in Istanbul that he was not looking at the prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO “positively,” accusing both countries of housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations.”

The PKK, or Kurdistan Worker's Party, which seeks an independent state in Turkey, has been in an armed struggle with Turkey for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

1:54 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Ministers of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania endorse Sweden and Finland's "historic" decision to join NATO

From CNN’s Alex Hardie in London

The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have endorsed Sweden and Finland’s plans to seek membership in NATO.

In a joint statement released on Monday, the foreign ministers called the decisions “historic” and said that they will “do what it takes to assist both countries.” 

“We are confident that both Sweden and Finland will contribute to unity, solidarity, cohesion and strength of the Alliance and whole Transatlantic area, at a time when the security environment we face is increasingly complex,” the statement says.

The ministers added that Sweden and Finland’s membership “will also greatly increase the security of the Baltic Sea region”, as well as “open new perspectives for Nordic-Baltic and other regional cooperation formats in defense and security matters.”

“We are committing ourselves to promote speedy ratification of the accession protocols once they are signed,” the joint statement adds.

1:19 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022

McConnell thinks US Congress will vote "as rapidly as possible" to support Finland's application to NATO

From CNN's Ali Zaslav

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Finland's President Sauli Niinistö speak to the press after their meeting in Helsinki on Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Finland's President Sauli Niinistö speak to the press after their meeting in Helsinki on Monday. (Roni Rekomaa/Lehtukuva/AFP/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said on Monday that there’s “strong bipartisan support” in the US to help Finland become a member of NATO and that he thinks the US Congress will vote “as rapidly as possible” — likely before the chamber’s August recess — to support Finland’s application to join the alliance. 

“I think I'm safe in saying there's strong bipartisan support in the United States for admission of Finland to the world's most successful military alliances,” McConnell said in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday.

He added: “The goal of the United States will be able will be to approve that as rapidly as possible.” 

Two-thirds of the Senate is required to support the treaty in order for it to be ratified. McConnell said he expects the size of the vote in the chamber to be “very significant.”

When asked when Congress would vote, the Kentucky Republican said: “I think certainly we hope to achieve it before the August recess when Congress typically goes out of session. Obviously, that would be well before the fall election. With regard to the size of the vote, I think it will be very significant, not unanimous, but very significant.”

McConnell also said on Monday that Republicans are “absolutely” committed to NATO, when asked about reports that former President Trump has expressed wanting to pull the US out of NATO and whether the GOP still strongly support the alliance.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s not the majority view in the Republican party. Certainly not the majority view amongst Senate Republicans or House Republicans.”

McConnell led a US congressional delegation to Ukraine over the weekend and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv Saturday. McConnell was joined on the unannounced trip by Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas.

McConnell and the other senators became the latest US officials to visit Ukraine since Russia invaded the eastern European nation in late February.

10:58 a.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Russians fired long range missiles targeting military training facility near Lviv, US defense official says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Russian forces fired long-range missiles over the last 24 hours that appeared to be targeting the Yavoriv military training facility near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, a senior US defense official said Monday.

The official said there was “minimal damage” as a result of the strikes.

“I don't have perfect visibility on those strikes. They do appear to have been targeted at that training facility and again, what we what we can see from our perspective is minor damage to a few buildings,” the official said.

 

10:44 a.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Denmark, Iceland and Norway "strongly welcome" Finnish and Swedish decision to apply for NATO membership 

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London

The leaders of Denmark, Iceland and Norway have welcomed Finland and Sweden's decision to apply for membership of NATO. 

"We strongly welcome Finland and Sweden’s decisions to apply for NATO membership," the three nations said in a joint statement.

"We note that the decisions by Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership are sovereign national decisions in line with Finland and Sweden’s right to choose their own security arrangements. Finland and Sweden have the right to pursue their accession process without any attempts of outside interference," the statement said.

More context: On Monday, the Swedish government announced its decision to apply for NATO membership after determining that membership "is the best way to protect Sweden’s security in light of the fundamentally changed security environment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine."

Last week, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Finland must apply for membership "without delay" and will complete the steps it needs to on the national level "in the next couple of days."

The three nations stressed Monday that Finnish and Swedish security are "a matter of common concern to us all."  

"Should Finland or Sweden be victim of aggression on their territory before obtaining NATO membership, we will assist Finland and Sweden by all means necessary," the three nations pledged. 

They also vowed to do their "utmost to ensure a swift accession process, as Finland and Sweden already live up to the relevant criteria for NATO membership."

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre pledged in a separate statement to "further develop our Nordic defense cooperation."