May 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Andrew Raine, Matias Grez, Jeevan Ravindran, Ed Upright and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, May 21, 2022
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6:09 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

UK intelligence believes Russia has fired senior commanders who “performed poorly”

From CNN's Zahid Mahmood in London

A destroyed Russian tank in the village of Mala Rogan in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on May 16.
A destroyed Russian tank in the village of Mala Rogan in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on May 16. (Aziz Karimov/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Russia has fired senior commanders who were considered to have “performed poorly” during the initial stages of the Ukraine invasion, an intelligence update by the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) said on Thursday.

“Lieutenant General Serhiy Kisel, who commanded the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, has been suspended for his failure to capture Kharkiv," the MOD said on Twitter.

Vice Admiral Igor Ospipov, who commanded Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, has also likely been suspended following the sinking of the cruiser Moskva in April."

Russian Chief of General Staff Valeriy Gerasimov “likely” remains in his post, but it's “unclear” whether he retains the confidence of President Vladimir Putin, the statement continued.

The British intelligence update also said that a culture of cover-ups and scapegoating is “probably prevalent” within the Russian military and security system.

“Many officials involved in the invasion of Ukraine will likely be increasingly distracted by efforts to avoid personal culpability for Russia’s operational set-backs,” the statement said.

“This will likely place further strain on Russia’s centralised model of command and control, as officers increasingly seek to defer key decisions to their superiors," it added.

7:15 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Nearly 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered at Azovstal, says Russian defense minister

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova and Tim Lister

Buses carrying Ukrainian forces from the Azovstal steel works arrive at a detention facility in the settlement of Olenivka in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine, on May 17.
Buses carrying Ukrainian forces from the Azovstal steel works arrive at a detention facility in the settlement of Olenivka in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine, on May 17. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said that almost 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

In remarks carried by Russian state media Friday, Shoigu said: “The blocking of the Azovstal plant continues ... Nationalists are actively surrendering to captivity. At the moment, 1,908 people laid down their arms." CNN cannot independently verify these figures.

Azovstal was the last holdout in otherwise Russian-occupied Mariupol and become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance under relentless Russian bombardment.

The previous figure given by the Russian Defense Ministry Thursday was 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers. However, there has been no evidence of more people leaving the plant since Thursday.

Shoigu also said that 177 civilians had been evacuated from the plant but he appears to have been talking about the total that emerged last week.

"Everyone was provided with qualified medical and psychological assistance," Shoigu said.

"I vouch that the Russian armed forces are doing everything to prevent deaths among the civilian population. Since the beginning of the special military operation [Moscow's euphemism for its war in Ukraine], more than 1.37 million people have been evacuated from the dangerous regions of the people's republic [the pro-Russian self-declared separatist regions], as well as from Ukraine to Russia," Shoigu said.

That figure can't be independently confirmed. Ukraine has alleged that more than a million people have been forcibly deported from parts of the country that were under its control before the Russian invasion began.

9:09 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Soldier at Azovstal posts photos and message at "the place of my death and my life"

From CNN's Roman Tymotsko and Tim Lister

One of the Azov Regiment troops still inside the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol has posted photographs on social media networks, with the message: "That’s it. Thank you for the shelter, Azovstal. The place of my death and my life."

The soldier, Dmytro Kozatskiy (Orest) posted the photographs early Friday.

He later commented: "By the way, while I am in captivity, I will leave you photos in the best quality, send them to all journalistic awards and photo contests, if I win something, after the release it will be very nice. Thank you all for your support. See you."

Azovstal, in the besieged city of Mariupol, was the last holdout in a city that had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance under relentless Russian bombardment.

Earlier this week, the Ukrainian military said the country's forces had completed their "combat mission" in Mariupol, according to a statement by the country's military, bringing the months-long battle for the city close to an end.

There are still thought to be hundreds of soldiers at Azovstal but it's unclear whether or when they will leave the plant and what negotiations may be going on between Ukraine and Russia and international organizations.

Ru

ssian authorities say that 1,730 of the troops that were defending Azovstal have left the plant and are either in detention or hospital in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).

The DPR's leader, Denis Pushilin said Thursday that those still in the steel plant included Azov Regiment commanders.

5:21 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Russian soldier's war crime trial in Kyiv adjourned until Monday

From CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne and Daria Markina in Kyiv and Katya Krebs in London

Russian serviceman Vadim Shishimarin sits in the dock on the second day of his war crimes trial in the Solomyansky district court in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 19 May.
Russian serviceman Vadim Shishimarin sits in the dock on the second day of his war crimes trial in the Solomyansky district court in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 19 May. (Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The war crimes trial of a 21-year-old Russian soldier in Ukraine has been adjourned until Monday.

Vadim Shishimarin appeared before a Kyiv court on Friday for a third day of hearings in the first war crimes trial since Russia invaded the country back in February.

I'm sorry and sincerely repent. I was nervous the moment it happened. I didn't want to kill. But it happened and I do not deny it," he said during Friday's hearing.

A defense lawyer defended Shishimarin's actions saying the soldier "was not aware of what is going on in Ukraine."

Shishimarin and other Russian soldiers "were not aware that actions that will follow will result in mass deaths not only of servicemen, but civilians too," the lawyer said.

"Shishimarin was in a state of stress caused by the combat situation and the pressure from his commander. Analysis of those circumstances allows me to conclude that Shishimarin had no direct intent for the murder," the lawyer continued.

Some background: The soldier pleaded guilty Wednesday to shooting an unarmed 62-year-old civilian in Ukraine’s Sumy region on the fourth day of the war and is facing a life sentence.

Shishimarin told the man's widow on Thursday that he is sorry for killing her husband.

5:09 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Firefighters in Ukraine's "nuclear town" protest Russian occupation

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva

A social media video on Friday from the Russian-occupied town of Enerhodar showed a protest by much of the fire department after its chief was detained.

Enerhodar is close to Europe's largest nuclear power plant -- the Zaporizhzhia NPP -- which was taken over by the Russians in early March.

The mayor's office said that fire department employees were protesting against the "occupiers who abducted the chief of fire and rescue unit Vitalii Troyan."

It said the Russians had used force against the protest and that people had been beaten.

A previous protest in early April led to gunfire and explosions during the dispersal of protesters, while at least four people were injured, according to Ukrainian state nuclear power company Energoatom.

4:21 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

China's demand for Russian coal is making up for Western sanctions

From CNN's Laura He

The Borodinsky opencast coal mine, producing 22 million tonnes per annum, next to the village of Borodino, in the Rybinsk district of the Krasnoyarsk region, Russia on April 19.
The Borodinsky opencast coal mine, producing 22 million tonnes per annum, next to the village of Borodino, in the Rybinsk district of the Krasnoyarsk region, Russia on April 19. (Alexander Manzyuk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

China is buying record amounts of cheap Russian coal, even as Western nations slam Moscow with sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

In April, not only did the world's second largest economy buy more coal from Russia than ever before, it also eliminated import tariffs on all types of coal, a move analysts say will mainly benefit Russian suppliers.

China's coal imports from Russia nearly doubled between March and April, reaching 4.42 million metric tons, according to trade data from Refinitiv. Russia has overtaken Australia as China's second biggest supplier since last year and now accounts for 19% of its coal imports, up from the 14% share it had in March.

The booming coal trade boosts both sides. Despite bold pledges to tackle the climate crisis, China is now focused on getting its economy out of a slump and needs coal to fuel power stations and make steel for infrastructure projects. Russia desperately needs new customers for its fossil fuels as they are shunned by the West.

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5:17 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Russian soldier’s war crimes trial resumes in Kyiv

From CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne and Daria Markina in Kyiv

A Russian soldier is back in a Kyiv court on Friday for a third day of hearings in his trial for war crimes.

Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old soldier, pleaded guilty Wednesday to shooting an unarmed 62-year-old civilian in Ukraine’s Sumy region on the fourth day of the war. 

Closing remarks by defence and the soldier's last statement to the court are expected during Friday’s hearing. 

Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin sits in the defendant's box on the second day of his trial on charges of war crimes for having killed a civilian, at a courthouse in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 19.
Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin sits in the defendant's box on the second day of his trial on charges of war crimes for having killed a civilian, at a courthouse in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 19. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Some background: The judges adjourned the trial on Thursday, saying that Shishimarin was not "ready" for a court "debate."

The prosecution team earlier asked for a life sentence for the soldier.

Shishimarin, the first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes in Ukraine since Russia's invasion began, told the man's widow on Thursday that he is sorry for killing her husband.

2:35 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

12 civilians killed in Russian bombardment of city in Luhansk, Ukrainian military says

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

Destruction in Severodonetsk, Ukraine, on May 19.
Destruction in Severodonetsk, Ukraine, on May 19. (Serhii Hayday/Telegram)

Ukrainian military officials say 12 people were killed in the eastern Luhansk region and 60 properties destroyed by Russian bombardments on Thursday.

But, they note, Russian forces do not appear to have made any headway on the main front lines in Luhansk and Donetsk in the past day. 

Civilian deaths: The 12 people were killed in the city of Severodonetsk, according to the head of the military administration in Luhansk, Serhii Hayday.

Hayday said many homes were destroyed throughout the area.

Lines holding: Despite the intense bombardment, the Ukrainians say their defensive lines are holding. "The assault on Severodonetsk was unsuccessful. The Russians suffered personnel losses and retreated," Hayday said.

State of the city: Oleksandr Striuk, head of the Severodonetsk city military administration, said there are up to 15,000 civilians still in the city, living in bomb shelters and basements. 

"The city has been without electricity, internet and communication for almost a week now," he said. "About 70% of the city's housing stock was destroyed."

Russians push on: South of Severodonetsk, Russian forces tried to break through around the town of Toshkivka, according to the Ukrainian General Staff.

In their efforts to complete the seizure of Luhansk, the Russians have also tried to push toward the small town of Vyskryva. If successful, they would also be closer to another objective: the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, which has become a hub for the Ukrainian military as it tries to resupply its defensive positions. 

On the Donetsk front, there was continued shelling of settlements north of Sloviansk.

Further north in the Kharkiv region, where Ukrainian forces have launched a counter-offensive in recent weeks, Russian shelling of areas retaken by Ukrainian forces continues, according to the Ukrainian military. The city itself has seen much less incoming fire.

1:13 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Ireland gives warm welcome to Ukrainians fleeing conflict. Asylum-seekers from elsewhere point to unequal treatment

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Donie O'Sullivan

Maria Kozlovskaya, who lives in Ballindooley Castle after fleeing conflict in Ukraine.
Maria Kozlovskaya, who lives in Ballindooley Castle after fleeing conflict in Ukraine. (CNN)

When 25-year-old Maria Kozlovskaya gazes out of the window, she sees the green fields of the west of Ireland. It’s a far cry from the shelled apartment buildings of her home city of Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine. Forced into exile by conflict, the young mother has found an unlikely refuge in a 15th-century castle in County Galway.

“I never dreamed that I could live in a castle in the future,” she says, still in awe after two months of living in Ballindooley Castle with her sons, 5-year-old Illya and 7-year-old Matvey.

Down south in County Cork, 31-year-old Vera Ruban finds herself in less regal surroundings. She was one of the first Ukrainian refugees to be placed in Irish government emergency accommodation after hotel rooms ran out. The interpreter from Hostomel, near Kyiv, now sleeps on a single bed inside the Green Glens Arena, an equestrian and entertainment venue in the small town of Millstreet.

Although their living situations could not be more different, both women have managed to settle quickly into life in Ireland. The smooth nature of the process has prompted questions from asylum-seekers fleeing conflicts in countries other than Ukraine who say they encountered an arduous asylum process that can take years to navigate.

Some context: Ireland, an island of just over 5 million people, has taken in more Ukrainian refugees than many of its larger Western European neighbors. Ukrainian refugees began arriving in early March and so far more than 30,000 refugees have arrived.

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