May 18, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Catherine Nicholls, Christian Edwards, Adrienne Vogt, Maureen Chowdhury and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 10:44 AM ET, Fri May 19, 2023
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1:21 p.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Russia says latest grain deal extension will be the last if the West doesn't lift sanctions

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova and Julia Kesaieva

Workers load grain at a grain port in Izmail, Ukraine, on April 26.
Workers load grain at a grain port in Izmail, Ukraine, on April 26. Andrew Kravchenko/AP

After agreeing to extend the Black Sea grain initiative again this week, Russia renewed threats to let the deal expire if Western powers do not meet its demands to lift certain sanctions.

Russia has agreed to a two-month extension of the deal, viewed as pivotal for addressing world hunger, through July 17.

Moscow has frequently complained that while the deal allows Ukraine to export its grain through Black Sea ports, its own exports are impeded by Western sanctions. An agreement with the United Nations to help facilitate Russian shipments has not yielded results, the Kremlin claims.

The Russian foreign ministry said Thursday there will be not talks of expanding the deal further unless it gets concessions.

“The Russian Federation reminds the US, Britain and the EU of the need for a real lifting of unilateral sanctions on Russian fertilizers and food; even donations of Russian fertilizers to the poorest countries continue to face blocking due to sanctions,” the ministry statement reads.

Some context: The grain deal became necessary in the first place after Russia launched its war in Ukraine. Following its full-scale invasion, Moscow blockaded exports from key Ukrainian Black Sea ports, including Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi.

The blockages kept millions of tons of Ukrainian grain from reaching the countries that rely on it, until the United Nations and Turkey helped broker the deal.

What Ukraine is saying: The current extension does not provide for satisfying Russia’s outside demands, said Vasyl Bodnar, Ukraine’s ambassador in Turkey.

"What Russia is trying to attach now are issues related to the ammonia pipeline, issues related to the lifting of sanctions against banks and organizations involved in grain and fertilizer trade. This issue is still under discussion,” he said. 

The grain initiative exists separately from Russia's demands, which are between the Kremlin and UN leadership, Bodnar insisted.

CNN's Sophie Tanno contributed to this report.

1:12 p.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Russian governor says 2 civilians killed by Ukrainian fire near the border

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Julia Kesaieva

The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region says that two civilians were killed by Ukrainian fire in a district close to the border.

Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram that two people were killed and one person was hospitalized in critical condition in the Shebekinsky district.

“The Ukrainian Armed Forces killed these civilians while they were in their vegetable garden planting potatoes,” Gladkov said.

A number of Russian civilians have been killed or injured in areas close to the border since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year. 

On May 10, a man in the Belgorod region died after sustaining a head injury because of Ukrainian shelling, Gladkov said.

In Ukraine, Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Kharkiv region military administration, said Thursday that one person had been killed in the village of Tsyrkuny by a Russian rocket attack. Two more civilians were wounded, he said.

Ukraine said its northern border regions are under fire almost daily by Russian forces, resulting in dozens of casualties in recent months. 

12:41 p.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Global wheat prices fall as Black Sea grain deal gets 2-month extension

From CNN's Anna Cooban

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a press conference on the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative at the UN headquarters in New York, on May 17.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a press conference on the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative at the UN headquarters in New York, on May 17. (Xie E/Xinhua/Getty Images)

Global wheat prices fell Thursday after Ukraine and Russia agreed to extend a deal allowing grain to be exported from Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea.

Wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade dropped 2% to $6.12 a bushel. Prices have fallen 23% since the start of the year and 57% since hitting an all-time high of $14.30 a bushel in March last year.

“These agreements matter for global food security,” António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, told journalists Wednesday. “Ukrainian and Russian products feed the world.”

The grain deal, first signed in July 2022, was due to expire on Thursday, but Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday that it would be extended for another two months.

Russia had previously threatened to pull out of the deal, complaining about a related agreement with the UN to facilitate shipments of Russian grain and fertilizers.

Why the initiative is important: Ukraine and Russia together account for nearly a third of global wheat exports, according to Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data firm. They are also among the top three global exporters of barley, maize, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil.

Following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Moscow blockaded crucial grain shipments from the country’s Black Sea ports. That meant that millions of tons of the region’s grain went undelivered to the many countries that rely on it.

In the days after the invasion, global wheat prices skyrocketed, with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization warning that as many as 47 million people could be pushed into “acute food insecurity” because of the war.

But the July grain deal and its renewals have helped "stabilize markets and reduce volatility," the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, an intergovernmental body, said in a press release on Wednesday, noting that global food prices had fallen 20% since hitting all-time highs in March 2022.

CNN's Anna Chernova contributed reporting.

11:08 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Ukrainian brigade claims breakthrough on western outskirts of Bakhmut

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton and Yulia Kesaieva

As intense combat continues in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, one Ukrainian unit says it has made more progress on the western outskirts of the city. 

The Third Separate Assault Brigade said its recent "offensive actions" have helped it stake out a strong position ahead of Ukraine's anticipated counteroffensive. Brigade leaders said the breakthrough came in an area about 2000 meters (about 1.25 miles) wide and 700 meters (a little less than half-a-mile) deep.

The Ukrainian fighters claim they've killed at least 50 Russian troops and wounded as many as 100 more, taking an additional four Russians prisoner. This has significantly cut into the enemy's reserves in the area, the brigade said.

CNN cannot independently verify the brigade's claims.

Other recent developments in Bakhmut: Ukrainian forces have claimed advancements in several areas surrounding the embattled eastern city in recent days, despite coming under heavy fire from Russian troops.

Ukrainian fighters from another unit, the 46th Separate Air Assault Brigade, said on Telegram that they're focused on a promising territory in a rural area south of the city, as well as villages close to the main highway that runs northwest from Bakhmut toward Sloviansk.

The head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed Thursday that Russian army units pulled back in an area north of Bakhmut, leaving his own fighters exposed.

However, Prigozhin said his fighters in the city itself continue to take streets and buildings along the western edge of Bakhmut.

9:42 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Next 2 months will be "decisive" on future of Black Sea grain deal, Russia's foreign minister says

From CNN's Anna Chernova

The first UN-chartered vessel MV Brave Commander loads more than 23,000 tonnes of grain to export to Ethiopia, in Yuzhne, east of Odessa on the Black Sea coast, on August 14, 2022.
The first UN-chartered vessel MV Brave Commander loads more than 23,000 tonnes of grain to export to Ethiopia, in Yuzhne, east of Odessa on the Black Sea coast, on August 14, 2022. (Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the next two months will be “decisive” when it comes to the future of the Black Sea grain deal, which allows the safe export of grain from Ukrainian ports. 

“Taking into account the whole range of circumstances, and taking into account the appeals of our partners, we supported the initiative of President Erdogan when he proposed extending this deal for another two months, with a clear understanding that these two months will be decisive,” Lavrov said at a news conference with his Ugandan counterpart in Moscow. 

Moscow has agreed to a two-month extension of the Black Sea grain deal, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov confirmed on Thursday after talks on easing restrictions on Russian agricultural exports.

“We can confirm that the Russian side has also decided to continue this so-called Black Sea deal for a period of two months," Peskov told reporters.

He described it as a "relative result” for Russia, adding that the pact’s fate was, “in the hands of those with whom the UN must agree on its Russian part.”

Russia had previously threatened to pull out of the deal, complaining that a separate agreement with the UN to facilitate shipments of Russian grain and fertilizers, brokered as part of the negotiations on the deal last July, was not being adhered to.  

What is the Black Sea grain deal?: The deal was first established in July 2022 to ensure the safe exportation of Ukrainian grain amidst Russian blockades of Ukrainian ports. The deal – which the United Nations and Turkey helped broker – was set to expire on Wednesday before it was renewed.

According to the European Commission, Ukraine accounts for 10% of the world wheat market, 15% of the corn market and 13% of the barley market. It is also a key global player in the market of sunflower oil.

Should the deal not have been renewed, food security around the world would have been jeopardized. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) wrote on Tuesday that as much as 90% of imports into East African countries are shipments supported by the grain deal. If these imports were to stop, there would be a “spike in the number of undernourished people” to almost 19 million in 2023, the IRC said.

The new deal will now be in effect until July 18.

8:41 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Moscow says it hit Ukrainian weapon depots in overnight missile strikes

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova and Jo Shelley

Moscow claimed on Thursday that it had struck “foreign-made weapons and equipment” depots in overnight strikes on Ukraine using “high-precision” missiles. 

The Russian defense ministry said in its daily briefing: “Today, during the night, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation carried out group strikes with long-range, sea- and air-based high-precision weapons against large warehouses of foreign-made weapons and equipment, as well as enemy reserves. The target has been reached. All assigned objects are hit.”

“As a result of the strikes, significant stocks of weapons and ammunition of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were destroyed, and the advancement of reserves to the areas of hostilities was also prevented,” it added. 

Some context: Ukraine earlier claimed it had intercepted 29 out of 30 Russian missiles that were fired overnight, including over the capital Kyiv. At least one person was killed in the southern port city of Odesa after debris from an intercepted missile fell on industrial buildings.

9:47 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Ukraine shoots down 29 out of 30 Russian missiles. Here's the latest

From CNN staff

Russia has continued its bombardment of multiple sites in Ukraine, killing one civilian in Odesa and leaving Kyiv’s air sirens blaring. But on the front lines, Ukraine is continuing to make significant gains, raising speculation that its counteroffensive may well be underway.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Civilian casualty in Odesa: A civilian security guard was killed in Odesa overnight, after fragments of a Russian missile fell on an industrial building when it was shot down by Ukrainian air defense systems. Two other civilians were injured by the missile fragments, Ukraine’s Operational Command South said on Facebook.
  • Strikes on Kyiv: Yet another Russian missile strike was fired toward Kyiv on Thursday, making this the ninth air strike the capital has faced this month. But Ukraine claims to have downed 29 out of the 30 cruise missiles launched by Russia overnight — in another sign that its air defenses are holding firm.
  • Gains in Bakhmut: Ukrainian forces claim to have made advancements in the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut over the past day, despite coming under heavy fire from Russian troops. “In the course of the fighting, our units continue to advance on the flanks,” a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military said Thursday. 
  • Grain deal renewed: Moscow has confirmed the renewal of the Black Sea grain deal after it was set to expire on Wednesday. Russia had previously threatened to pull out of the deal, sparking fears for global food security.
  • Beijing plays peacemaker: Chinese envoy Li Hui wrapped up a two-day visit to Ukraine Wednesday as Beijing attempts to pose as a peacemaker in the grinding conflict, despite its close ties with Russia. Li spoke of the need for “peace talks,” while Ukraine reiterated its refusal of “any proposals that would involve the loss of its territories.”
  • EU mulls sanctions: The European Union is not planning on formally sanctioning Russia’s state-run nuclear company Rosatom in its eleventh sanctions package, according to a senior EU official. The bloc is considering new measures at the G7 meeting in Japan, which may include new sanctions on Russian diamonds.
  • Finnish bank accounts frozen: Moscow has frozen the bank accounts of Finland’s embassy and consulate in response to “unfriendly actions” by Western nations, Peskov said Thursday. Finland has sought to shore up its defenses against Russia since the start of the war – by joining NATO in April.
  • Crimean train derails: Trains between Crimea’s two largest cities have been halted after a freight-train derailed Thursday, according to officials. Sergey Askenov, the Moscow-appointed head of the peninsula, said that wagons carrying grain “fell off the rails” in Simferopol.
8:30 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Russia-backed officials say a freight train has derailed in Crimea

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Derailed wagons following an accident involving a freight train carrying grain in the Simferopol District, Crimea, on May 18.
Derailed wagons following an accident involving a freight train carrying grain in the Simferopol District, Crimea, on May 18. (Reuters)

Trains between Crimea's two largest cities have been halted after a freight train derailed Thursday, according to Russia-backed authorities.

In a Telegram post, Crimean Railways announced the suspension of services on the Simferopol to Sevastopol line after the train was derailed by the "intervention of unauthorized persons.”

There were no casualties, it added.

Sergey Aksenov, the Moscow-appointed head of the peninsula, said on Telegram that wagons carrying grain "fell off the rails" in Simferopol. He later added that authorities were investigating.

Ukraine has not commented on the incident.

A derailed wagon following an accident involving a freight train carrying grain in the Simferopol District, Crimea,  on May 18.
A derailed wagon following an accident involving a freight train carrying grain in the Simferopol District, Crimea, on May 18. (Reuters)

Some context: The Ukrainian military has in recent months carried out attacks in Crimea to harass the Russian Black Sea fleet and disrupt vital Russian supply lines. Ukrainian leaders have previously stated that their goal is to recapture Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

8:00 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

What life is like under Kyiv’s air raid sirens

From CNN's Josh Pennington, Tim Lister, Kostan Nechyporenko, Olga Voitovych, Ivana Kottasová and Yulia Kesaieva

Ukraine’s capital has seen nine attempted Russian missile strikes so far this month. Despite this, Kyiv claims to have escaped with barely a scratch, denying that any of Moscow’s missiles or drones hit their targets. NATO-provided air defense systems are the likely reason behind this, intercepting the weapons before they are able to inflict their intended damage. 

Most Kyiv residents have no way of knowing for sure that the sudden, terrifying loud bangs are the Ukrainian air defense systems taking down Russian missiles, rather than rockets hitting their city.

On Tuesday morning, Kyiv was hit by an “exceptional” dense attack, according to Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration.

Liudmyla Kravchenko spent most of the strikes sheltering in her corridor with her husband and their two children. 

“It was very scary, so after we heard the first explosions we rushed to the corridor… of course in case the missile hits our house directly, none of this will save our lives - not two walls, not three, not even five,” she told CNN. 

She said her 1-year-old son Artem slept in her arms as they were waiting for the attack to end. Her 9-year-old daughter is now so used to air raids that she knows “to drop everything and take cover” when her parents tell her to.

Read our full report here.