May 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Hannah Ryan, Luke McGee, Adrienne Vogt and Joe Ruiz, CNN

Updated 12:13 AM ET, Sun May 22, 2022
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3:46 p.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Turkey's president holds calls with leaders of Sweden and Finland over NATO bids

From CNN's Jomana Karadsheh, Isil Sariyuce, and Hande Atay Alam 

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan holds a news conference during the NATO summit at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 14, 2021.
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan holds a news conference during the NATO summit at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 14, 2021. Yves Herman/Pool/Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held separate phone conversations Saturday with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg regarding the NATO membership application of the Nordic nations. 

Erdoğan has stated numerous times in recent days that Turkey would not support Finland and Sweden to join NATO and accused them of being "like guesthouses for terror organizations." Erdoğan claimed the two countries are harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan's Workers Party, also known as PKK. 

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO last Wednesday. The decision represents a setback for Moscow, with the war in Ukraine triggering the kind of enlargement of the alliance that it invaded Ukraine to prevent. The entry of Finland would mean adding hundreds of miles of direct NATO borders with Russia.

During the phone call with Andersson, Erdoğan stated that "Turkey has for a long time emphasized that it is uncomfortable with Sweden's contacts with individuals and so-called organizations under the control of the terrorist organization PKK/YPG/PYD and Sweden's political, financial and weapon support to terrorist organizations must end," according to a statement from the Turkish presidency. 

The YPG is a Syrian Kurdish group in northern Syria supported by various Western countries. The YPG is an ally in the fight against ISIS, but Turkey considers it an extension of the PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the European Union.

Andersson said she appreciated speaking with the Turkish president today.

"We look forward to strengthening our bilateral relations, including on peace, security, and the fight against terrorism," according to the prime minister's Twitter account. 

Erdoğan told Niinistö on the phone that "an understanding that ignores terrorist organizations that pose a threat to an ally within NATO is incompatible with the spirit of friendship and alliance," according to the Turkish presidency. 

Niinistö also wrote on his Twitter account about his "open and direct" conversation with Erdogan, saying:

"I stated that as NATO Allies, Finland and Turkey will commit to each other’s security and our relationship will thus grow stronger. Finland condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The close dialogue continues."

Erdoğan also told Stoltenberg on the phone that "unless Sweden and Finland clearly show that they will stand in solidarity with Turkey on fundamental issues, especially in the fight against terrorism, Turkey will not approach their NATO membership positively," according to the presidency.

Stoltenberg said on his Twitter account that "we agree that the security concerns of all Allies must be taken into account and talks need to continue to find a solution."

The legislatures of all 30 current members of the alliance must approve new applicants.

1:28 p.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Russian transportation minister says sanctions have “practically broken all” logistics corridors for trade

From CNN’s Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Russian Transport Minister Vitaly Savelyev attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2021.
Russian Transport Minister Vitaly Savelyev attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2021. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Russian Transportation Minister Vitaly Savelyev said on Saturday that Western sanctions against Russia have “practically broken all” logistics corridors used by the country for trade, state news agency TASS reported.

Speaking during a visit to Russia’s Astrakhan region, Savelyev said: "The sanctions that have been imposed on the Russian Federation today have practically broken all logistics [corridors] in our country. And we are forced to look for new logistics corridors together.”

He said Moscow is looking into capitalizing from alternative trade routes such as the International North–South Transport (INSTC) corridor – a transit route linking India with Central Asian countries, Russia and Europe through Iran, according to TASS. 

6:13 p.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Kharkiv's mayor says thousands of buildings have been damaged in the city

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Roman Tymotsko

A man walks in a destroyed market in Kharkiv, Ukraine on May 21.
A man walks in a destroyed market in Kharkiv, Ukraine on May 21. (Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images)

Nearly 170 schools and kindergartens, as well as 30% of high-rise buildings in Kharkiv, have been destroyed, Ukraine's Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security wrote in a Telegram post

According to Mayor Ihor Terekhov, multiple points of infrastructure, including hospitals, substations, transport and roads were among other buildings destroyed.

"We have eight thousand residential high-rises, 30% of them are to some extent destroyed," according to Terekhov.

He said while the city was planning to restore damaged buildings using new technology, "many of them will have to be rebuilt from scratch."

Correction: An earlier version of this post cited the mayor of Kharkiv's Telegram account. The information was posted to the Telegram account of Ukraine's Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security.

6:11 p.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Russia bans more than 960 Americans from entering country, including members of Congress and Morgan Freeman

From CNN's Gabby Gretener in London   

Russia published its updated “stop list” on Saturday, banning a total of 963 American officials and figures from entering the country.

The updated list included the majority of US senators and members of the House of Representatives, former and current government officials, journalists, military personnel, advocates, citizens, CEOs — and even a few deceased individuals.

Longtime Arizona. Sen. John McCain and Defense Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Melissa Drisko, who both died in 2018, were included on the list.

Russia also targeted Hollywood, with actor Morgan Freeman and actor/filmmaker Rob Reiner making the list. In 2017, Reiner was involved in promoting the group The Committee to Investigate Russia, and Freeman was featured in a video on the site.

Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State under President Donald Trump, was also listed. He previously spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin about its election interference in US elections.

In a statement, the ministry said the people “incite Russophobia” and added the Russian “counter sanctions are of necessity and directed to make the ruling US regime, which tries to impose a neocolonial 'rules-based world order' to the rest of the world, to change its behavior by realizing a new geopolitical reality.”   

In March, in addition to President Joe Biden, the Russian government added the following individuals to the “stop list” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan, CIA Director William Burns, former White House press secretary Jen Psaki and others. The list also included the President’s son, Hunter Biden, and former US presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In April, Russia banned others, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Bank of America head Brian Moynihan. 

In a separate announcement on Saturday, the Russia's foreign ministry also announced the names of 26 Canadians barred from entering the country, in addition to the previous banning of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March.

12:18 p.m. ET, May 21, 2022

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine approaches its 3-month mark, here's what's happened in key areas

From CNN's Joshua Berlinger

It is nearly three months since Russia invaded Ukraine – a 12-week period in which Russian forces have wrought devastation on the country and its people, resulting in death on a vast scale and causing millions to flee.

But the invasion has not been the military success Moscow hoped, and is now deep into its second phase.

The bulk of fighting has moved to the east after failed Russian advances in central Ukraine. The Ukrainians are focusing on retaking some key areas closer to the Russian border, while Moscow is seeing its troops beaten back in a few key battles.

Western aid is also flowing into Ukraine, NATO is set to be strengthened as Nordic countries seek to join, and the first Russian soldier accused of war crimes has stood trial.

Here’s what has happened in several key areas since the war began.


After weeks of intense fighting, Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region is “completely destroyed,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday.

He accused Russia of a “deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible” after a village in Chernihiv was hit with missiles, leaving many dead.

Officials in the region say the front line is being shelled “day and night,” with Russian forces attempting to break through Ukrainian lines.

A NATO military official told CNN Wednesday that the alliance expects something of a stalemate over the next few weeks. But the official said NATO believes momentum has shifted significantly in favor of Ukraine and the debate within NATO circles is now over whether it is possible for Kyiv to retake Crimea and the Donbas territories seized by Russia and Russian-backed separatists, respectively, in 2014.


Ukrainian forces have beaten back Russia’s assaults in Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, and advanced toward the border in several places north and east of the city.

Ukrainian officials said last week they were liberating villages on the outskirts of the city. Their advances led to the symbolic and embarrassing expulsion of the Kremlin’s forces back to their own border while posing the strategic threat of cutting Russia’s supply lines into Ukraine and its forces further south in Donbas.

Anastasia Paraskevova recently returned to her home in Kharkiv for the first time since fleeing the city two months ago. It had been under constant bombardment since then until Russian forces were repelled.

Paraskevova said overall the experience was good.

“The city was much more alive. People were walking the streets. And some shops were working. It felt like some life was back, much better than it was when I was here in March.”


Every day, hundreds, or even thousands, of people are trying to flee the Russian-occupied region of Kherson in southern Ukraine.

The city has been under Russian control since early in the invasion. Ukrainians are leaving for many reasons: to avoid being detained or to escape the heavy-handed actions of Russian forces, or because of the chronic shortages of medicine and other basics in Kherson, which fell under Russian control soon after the invasion.

Last week, a convoy of about 1,000 vehicles tried to leave Kherson. The Russians ultimately let the convoy move in batches – but only after holding it in one place for most of the day.

Keep reading here:

12:16 p.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Ukraine recovers bodies, including a senior Russian officer, from graves dug by locals in Kharkiv region

From Olga Voitovych in Kyiv 

Ukrainian officials have recovered the bodies of at least six Russian military personnel, including a lieutenant colonel, buried by local people in the Kharkiv region, a police official said Saturday.

The bodies were buried and marked only with handmade crosses, regional police official Serhii Bolvinov said in a statement on Facebook. Local residents had buried them out of religious respect, he said. 

Police dug up the graves in the settlement of Zolochiv “to identify the buried and to transfer them in accordance with international procedures,” he said. 

Ukrainians have been saying since the early days of the invasion that the Russian military is leaving large numbers of their dead unburied and abandoned. 

Russia has been tight-lipped on the numbers of troops killed in Ukraine, with the last update provided by the Russian military back in March standing at more than 1,300. US, Ukrainian and NATO estimates put estimates of Russian troop losses much higher.  

CNN has not been able to independently verify the number of casualties in the nearly 3-month-old conflict.

Barely a month into the invasion, an adviser to Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs Viktor Andrusiv, told CNN that “the problem with Russian bodies is really huge. It's thousands of them.”

Andrusiv said in March that the issue would only get worse as the weather warmed.

“I actually don't know what we will do in the next weeks with their bodies,” Andrusiv had said.

CNN’s Eliza Mackintosh contributed earlier reporting to this post.

1:11 p.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Russian ruble not being used in occupied region of Kherson, regional Ukrainian official says

From Maria Kostenko in Chernivtsi

A Russian military vehicle moves down a road in Kherson, Ukraine on May 19.
A Russian military vehicle moves down a road in Kherson, Ukraine on May 19. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian ruble is not being used in the occupied Ukrainian region of Kherson, the head of the regional council said Saturday. 

“All payments are made in Ukrainian hryvnia. The occupiers’ stories about the ruble’s circulation are not true,” Kherson regional council head Oleksandr Samoilenko said on Ukrainian television.

A Russian-backed local official said last month that the region would start using the Russian ruble as currency starting May 1.

The official, Kirill Stremousov, told the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti on April 28 that there would be a transition period of up to four months during which both the Russian ruble and the Ukrainian hryvnia would be in circulation.

After that, only the ruble would be in use in the Kherson region, the agency quoted him as saying.

But Samoilenko said Saturday that Kherson had been financially reconnected to the rest of Ukraine, with state benefit payments resuming on Monday.

CNN's Masha Angelova contributed reporting to this post.

11:36 a.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Woman storms Cannes red carpet denouncing sexual violence in Ukraine, video shows

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau in London 

Security guards cover a topless protester after she ran onto the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20.
Security guards cover a topless protester after she ran onto the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20. (Daniel Cole/AP)

A topless protester with blue and yellow colors painted across her chest and stomach ran onto the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday, protesting against sexual violence in Ukraine, according to video taken at the festival.

The unidentified woman is seen emerging from behind photographers and quickly removing her dress before making her way onto the carpet and shouting at cameras.

The activist had the colors of the Ukrainian flag painted on her upper body, as well as the words “stop raping us” painted on her chest and abdomen. She was also wearing white underwear covered by red paint that resembled blood. 

Since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, Ukrainian officials have noted multiple instances of sexual abuse of women, children and men by Russian forces who, they say, are using rape and other sexual offenses as weapons of war.

At Cannes, security guards quickly circled the woman and wrapped her in a jacket before removing her from the event. 

The French feminist group SCUM, self-described as “radical feminist activists and universalist blasphemers,” said on Instagram that one of their members went to the festival to “denounce the sexual torture suffered by Ukrainian women in the war.”

CNN has reached out to the organizers of the festival for comment.

11:16 a.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Portugal's prime minister visits Kyiv and makes a joint appearance with Zelensky

From Victoria Butenko

Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 21.
Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 21. (Sergei Supinksky/AFP/Getty Images)

Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa visited Kyiv on Saturday, making a joint appearance with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the president’s office announced.

Costa is the latest in a line of Western leaders and officials to visit Kyiv since Ukrainian forces pushed the Russian military back from the outskirts of the city.

Zelensky said he hoped Portugal would back Ukraine’s efforts to join the European Union.

"We hope that the state vote of Portugal will be in support of our country on the status of a candidate for accession to the European Union during the consideration of this issue at the European Council in June," Zelensky said.

The two leaders also discussed military aid to Ukraine, sanctions against Russia, war crimes and how Portugal could help in the rebuilding of Ukraine, Zelensky’s office said.