May 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Andrew Raine, Amy Woodyatt, Hafsa Khalil, Ed Upright and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:27 a.m. ET, May 24, 2022
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2:08 a.m. ET, May 23, 2022

Russian death toll in Ukraine "likely similar" to Soviet war in Afghanistan, says UK Defense Ministry

From CNN's Alex Stambaugh

A man walks past a destroyed Russian tank in the village of Mykolaivka in the Kyiv Region, on May 17.
A man walks past a destroyed Russian tank in the village of Mykolaivka in the Kyiv Region, on May 17. (Sergei Chuzavkov/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Russia has "likely suffered a similar death toll" in the first three months of its invasion of Ukraine to that of the Soviet Union during its nine years of war in Afghanistan,  the UK Ministry of Defence said Monday.

"A combination of poor low-level tactics, limited air cover, a lack of flexibility, and a command approach which is prepared to reinforce failure and repeated mistakes has led to this high casualty rate, which continues to rise in the Donbas offensive," the ministry said in an intelligence update.

Tuesday marks three months since Russia launched its assault on Ukraine on Feb. 24. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan ran from December 1979 to February 1989.

Some context: The official Soviet death toll during the Afghan War was around 15,000 soldiers. In March, senior NATO officials estimated that as many as 15,000 Russian soldiers may have been killed in Ukraine in just one month alone.

12:59 a.m. ET, May 23, 2022

Ukrainians describe brutal "filtration" process to escape Russian-held territory

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová and Oleksandra Ochman

Civilians evacuated from Mariupol arrive at the Russian filtration camp in Bezimenne in eastern Ukraine on May 1.
Civilians evacuated from Mariupol arrive at the Russian filtration camp in Bezimenne in eastern Ukraine on May 1. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

"What would happen if we cut off your ear?" the soldiers asked Oleksandr Vdovychenko. Then they hit him in the head.

The punches kept coming whenever his interrogators — a mixture of Russian soldiers and pro-Russian separatists — didn't like his answers, he later told his family.

The men asked about his politics, his future plans, his views on the war. They checked his documents, took his fingerprints and stripped him to check if he had any nationalist tattoos or marks caused by wearing or carrying military equipment.

"They were trying to beat something out of him," his daughter Maria Vdovychenko told CNN in an interview.

Maria said her father received so many blows to his head during the interrogation last month that several medical examinations have now confirmed his sight has been permanently damaged.

Yet Oleksandr was one of the lucky ones. He made it through "filtration."

When Russian troops first started taking over villages and towns in eastern Ukraine in early March, following their invasion of the country, evidence began to emerge of civilians being forced to undergo humiliating identity checks and often violent questioning before being allowed to leave their homes and travel to areas still under Ukrainian control.

Three months into the war, the dehumanizing process known as filtration has become part of the reality of life under Russian occupation.

CNN spoke to a number of Ukrainians who have gone through the filtration process over the last two months. Many are too scared to speak publicly, fearing for the safety of relatives and friends who are still trying to escape Russian-held areas.

All of the people CNN spoke to have described facing threats and humiliation during the process. Many have witnessed or know of people who have been picked up by Russian troops or separatist soldiers and subsequently disappeared without a trace.

Read more:

12:13 a.m. ET, May 23, 2022

It's 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Refugees from Maiurpol arrive at the train station of Lviv meet with others going to take a train for Poland on May 19.
Refugees from Maiurpol arrive at the train station of Lviv meet with others going to take a train for Poland on May 19. (Rick Mave/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/AP)

At least one person was killed on Sunday after Russia fired "naval-based cruise missiles" at the Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv, according to the Ukrainian military.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Ukraine-Poland customs deal: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced a "historic" joint customs control with Poland that he described as "the beginning of our integration into the common customs space of the European Union." Zelensky said it would "significantly speed up border procedures" and "remove most of the corruption risks." It comes after France's European affairs minister said Ukraine's bid to join the EU would take at least "15 or 20 years to complete."
  • "Staggering milestone": More than 100 million people have been forced to flee conflict, violence and persecution worldwide — a record figure fueled by the situation in Ukraine, the UN refugee agency said Monday. UNHCR described the "stark" figure as "sobering and alarming in equal measure" and said it should serve as a "wake-up call." The war in Ukraine has displaced 8 million within the country, and more than 6 million refugee movements from Ukraine have been registered, it said.
  • British PM blasts blockade: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday he would "redouble efforts to provide vital food and humanitarian aid" to Ukraine. During a phone call with Zelensky, Johnson spoke about the "despicable" blockade of the key port city of Odesa and said the UK would work to "ensure that (Ukraine) is able to export to the rest of the world," according to a statement.
  • Cruise-missile attack: At least one person was killed Sunday in a Russian missile attack on Malyn, in the Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv, according to the Ukrainian military. Ukraine’s Air Command Center said Russian forces fired "naval-based cruise missiles" from the southeastern direction at infrastructure facilities in Zhytomyr. The center added that its air defense units had destroyed four Russian cruise missiles — three were destroyed by aircraft, one by an anti-aircraft missile.
  • Russia House rebranded: A venue normally used by Russia to promote itself at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos has been rebranded as the Russian War Crimes House. A Ukrainian businessman, working with the WEF, has turned the Russia House venue into an exhibition depicting the devastation and destruction of the war in Ukraine. 
11:53 p.m. ET, May 22, 2022

New Zealand to offer more support in training Ukrainian forces, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says

From CNN's Lauren Lau

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a post cabinet press conference at Parliament on May 23.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a post cabinet press conference at Parliament on May 23. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that her country would deploy an extra 30 defense force personnel to the United Kingdom to support the training of Ukrainian armed forces.

The soldiers will be stationed in the United Kingdom until the end of July," Ardern said.

They will train Ukrainian soldiers on how to use the L-119 light gun, she added.

The troops, training ammunition and surplus equipment including aiming systems will be moved in an airlift coordinated by the UK.

This follows a previous deployment of 66 New Zealand defense force personnel in April along with a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules.

11:29 p.m. ET, May 22, 2022

Another casualty of Russia's war: Ukraine's natural environment

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová

The pine forests around Irpin are Oleh Bondarenko's happy place. He discovered them as a child, when his mom sent him to the area for summer camp, and he has been coming back ever since.

It's a place full of memories. Vorzel, Irpin, Bucha, the forests, the fresh air. For me, this is a place of respite," the 64-year-old environmental scientist told CNN during a recent trip to Irpin.

The hour-long journey from Kyiv — a trip he has made many times over the decades — was filled with anguish for Bondarenko, who worried what he would find in Irpin.

This area was under Russian control for several weeks in March; it has subsequently become known around the world as the site of some of the worst atrocities committed by Russia in this war. At least 1,200 bodies of civilians have been discovered in the region since Russian troops withdrew from there, according to the Kyiv region police. At least 290 of them were found in Irpin, according to the city's mayor.

In addition to the human toll, the destruction Russian forces caused to the landscape here is brutal and omnipresent: Scorched earth, forest floors ravaged by missiles, and trees broken down and uprooted, while abandoned military equipment litters the ground. Many of the town's neat houses lie in ruins; the woodland and green spaces around them are off limits.

Read more:

11:27 p.m. ET, May 22, 2022

"Staggering milestone" as over 100 million people forced to flee conflict, a record propelled by Ukraine war

From CNN’s Pierre Meilhan

A man gets out of an evacuation van in Sloviansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on May 21.
A man gets out of an evacuation van in Sloviansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on May 21. (Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

More than 100 million people have been forced to flee conflict, violence and persecution, a record figure setting a “staggering milestone,” the United Nations refugee agency said Monday.

The number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution has now crossed the staggering milestone of 100 million for the first time on record, propelled by the war in Ukraine and other deadly conflicts,” the UNHCR said in a statement.

“One hundred million is a stark figure — sobering and alarming in equal measure. It’s a record that should never have been set,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

“This must serve as a wake-up call to resolve and prevent destructive conflicts, end persecution, and address the underlying causes that force innocent people to flee their homes.”

The UNHCR said the war in Ukraine has displaced 8 million within the country this year, and more than 6 million refugee movements from Ukraine have been registered. The number has also been propelled by "new waves of violence" or conflict in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

11:25 p.m. ET, May 22, 2022

Ukrainian President Zelensky announces "historic" joint customs control with Poland

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Pierre Meilhan

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during his nightly address, on Sunday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during his nightly address, on Sunday. (Youtube/Office of President of Ukraine)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced a “historic” joint customs control with Poland on Sunday, stressing “unity of Ukrainians and Poles is a constant that no one will break.”

"A solution has been reached that is revolutionizing the order on our border," Zelensky said during his nightly video address. "We are introducing joint customs control with Poland. This will significantly speed up border procedures. It will remove most of the corruption risks. But it is also the beginning of our integration into the common customs space of the European Union. That is a truly historic process."

Zelensky's comments came on the heels of Polish President Andrzej Duda’s visit to Kyiv earlier in the day. Duda also emphasized the unity between the two countries as he became the first foreign leader since the Russian invasion to address Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada.

Zelensky described Ukrainian-Polish relations as "finally on a completely clean, sincere basis, without any quarrels and old conflict heritage. This is an achievement — the historic achievement of our people. And I want the brotherhood between Ukrainians and Poles to be preserved forever. As I talked about it today in front of the deputies, our unity of Ukrainians and Poles is a constant that no one will break."

Zelensky also said he signed a decree introducing a new award "to thank those cities of partner countries that have helped the most. And Rzeszow became the first such city. The savior city. It is fair to say."

The Ukrainian leader also announced the preparation of a bill that will mirror the law passed in Poland about Ukrainian citizens who sought refuge in Poland and who "have been legally given the same opportunities as Poles."

Nearly 3.5 million Ukrainian refugees have entered Poland since the Russian invasion in February, making it by far the single largest host nation for people fleeing the country, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. 

"It will be the right gesture to pass such a law in Ukraine," Zelensky said. "Let it be so that the citizens of Poland will never have to use such a law. But let us show our gratitude and our respect."

The Ukrainian leader also said he spoke with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and "discussed ways to increase the volume of our exports, especially agricultural products. As well as the volume of fuel imports to Ukraine."

11:23 p.m. ET, May 22, 2022

UK will ensure Ukraine can export to rest of world, says Prime Minister Boris Johnson

From CNN’s Cecelia Armstrong in London

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Paddington Station in London on May 17.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Paddington Station in London on May 17. (Andrew Matthews/Pool/Getty Images)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will "redouble efforts to provide vital food and humanitarian aid" to Ukraine, his office said Sunday.

During a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Johnson spoke about the "despicable" blockade of the key port city of Odesa, according to the statement. The Prime Minister will work to "ensure that the country is able to export to the rest of the world," according to a 10 Downing Street statement.

The leaders agreed on the need for the international community to remain united in its condemnation of Putin’s barbarism," Downing Street said.

Johnson said, "every country has a duty to help Ukraine in their struggle for freedom, both now and in the long-term." He reiterated the British people are "1,000% behind the people of Ukraine."

11:21 p.m. ET, May 22, 2022

Davos venue usually used by Russia to promote itself rebranded as "Russian War Crimes House"

From CNN's Chris Liakos in Davos, Switzerland

The venue typically used by Russia to promote itself at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos has been rebranded as the "Russian War Crimes House." 

Russia House was used to host events at WEF by Russians for many years. A Ukrainian businessman, working with WEF, has turned the venue into an exhibition depicting the devastation and destruction of the war in Ukraine. 

Organized by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation and PinchukArtCentre, an international center for contemporary art based in Kyiv, “the exhibition aims to inform about the main facts, share faces, names and dates and provide at least some of the victims a platform from which to tell their real story,” the foundation said in a news release.

Björn Geldhof, the exhibition's curator, said the process of collecting and verifying the images took about one-and-a-half weeks, collecting more than 4,600 images showing “overwhelming amount of evidence of war crimes.”

“An exhibition as this, is one of the steps to raise awareness for the absolute necessity of bringing war criminals to justice and this is not exclusively the task of Ukraine, this is a common task, this is a task for all countries in the world to say this cannot be,” Geldhof said.

Russian politicians and businessmen were not invited to this year’s World Economic Forum following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

As Russia is not here, we had the opportunity to speak about Russia but about a different reality of Russia, about the war crimes that Russia is committing in Ukraine,” Geldhof said.