May 24, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico-O'Murchú, Jack Guy, Sana Noor Haq, Hafsa Khalil and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, May 25, 2022
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11:01 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

Declassified US intelligence shows Russian blockade of Ukraine

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has effectively halted all maritime trade at Ukrainian ports, according to newly declassified US intelligence, cutting off a critical export commodity for Ukraine and risking a global food crisis.

In the months since Russia moved to invade in February, it has established an “effective blockade” in the northern third of the Black Sea, according to a US official who provided a declassified map of the region to CNN on the condition of anonymity. 

The map analyzes the density of ships coming in and out of Ukrainian ports before and after the start of the conflict, showing an almost total drop-off of commercial traffic to ports in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov after the start of the invasion. A third map provides a current visualization of the density of Russian naval vessels clustered in the Black Sea off Ukraine’s coast, highlighting “hotbeds of activity,” according to the US official. 

“The impact of Russia’s actions cannot be understated as Ukraine’s seaborne exports are vital to global food security,” the US official said, echoing the broad assessment of Western analysts and government officials.

Ukraine provides about 10% of the world’s wheat exports, the official noted, the vast majority of which exit the country from Black Sea ports. 

Some context: Before the war, Ukraine was the world’s fourth-largest exporter of corn and fifth-largest exporter of wheat, according to the US State Department. Almost 30% of global trade in wheat came from Russia and Ukraine alone.

The United Nations World Food Program which helps combat global food insecurity buys about half of its wheat from Ukraine each year and has warned of dire consequences if Ukrainian ports are not opened up.

Last week CNN reported that the US and allies are holding discussions on how to safely develop routes to transport grain from Ukraine amid concerns about global food supplies. New satellite images reported by CNN on Monday appear to substantiate Ukrainian claims that Russia is also stealing stores of grain that have been sitting idle at commercial ports. 

Since the start of the conflict, Russia has intimidated commercial traffic, occasionally impeded safe passage to Ukraine through the Kerch Strait and, most visibly, stationed warships off Ukraine’s coast and pummeled Ukrainian ports, the US official said. 

CNN's Alex Marquardt contributed to this post

8:23 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

English Premier League approves sale of Chelsea Football Club

The English Premier League said Tuesday that its board has approved the sale of Chelsea Football Club to the ownership group led by Todd Boehly.

The deal, worth more than $5 billion, must still receive government approval before the transaction can be finalized.

“The Premier League Board has today approved the proposed takeover of Chelsea Football Club by the Todd Boehly/Clearlake Consortium,” the league said in its statement.

Russia owner under sanctions: The club's current owner is Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who is subject to sanctions by the British government and has seen his assets frozen.

Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale in early March following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, saying at the time it was "in the best interest of the Club."

The Premier League statement noted Boehly had passed the board's "Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test."

Boehly owns stakes in the MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers, the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.

Read more:

4:09 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

Regional military chief: Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from contested town of Svitlodarsk

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said Tuesday that Russian forces had taken the contested town of Svitlodarsk in the eastern Donbas region and that Ukrainian forces had withdrawn.

"About 10,000 civilians remain in occupied Svitlodarsk," Kyrylenko said. "No more than 30% of the population left the city. Today, May 24, the Russian army entered Svitlodarsk in the Donetsk region. Russian flags have already been hoisted there."

According to Kyrylenko, Svitlodarsk had been surrounded on three sides, and that the city had not been under intense shelling, so much of the civilian population remained.  

"This is not a retreat [of the Armed Forces of Ukraine], but a regrouping," he said. "This is the right and logical decision in this situation to save the lives of [the military] and regroup."

Pro-Russian Telegram channels showed images of the Russian flag being hoisted over the city administration building in Svitlodarsk.

Kyrylenko also described the situation as "very difficult" in Lyman, a city further north in Donetsk region. 

"It's now under constant fire," he said. "The enemy entered the territory of the Lyman community a long time ago. Their main goal is to take the centre of the community of Lyman. The estuary is now partially under control, they enter, then they are kicked out, heavy artillery drives in, and tanks enter the outskirts of the city to conduct shelling and occupy the entire center and the entire Lyman community. The situation there is now one of the tensest along the entire front line, along with Avdiivka."

3:56 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

Mariupol death toll at 22,000, says mayor's adviser

From CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne and Melissa Bell in Kyiv

“Mariupol is now a city of ghosts,” an adviser to the mayor of the ruined Ukrainian port city said Tuesday.  

Speaking to CNN’s Melissa Bell, Petro Andriushchenko — who has fled to Ukrainian held territory — said that Mariupol town hall officials believe that at least 22,000 residents of the city were killed during three months of war — a figure that cannot be independently supported, with the free press now unable to get access to the city and those still inside too scared to speak openly.

The figure of 22,000 is based, Andriushchenko said, on the many contacts he and other town hall officials continue to have with officials trapped inside. But he believes the actual figure could be much higher.

Andriushchenko said that the process of reburying the dead has been complicated by Russian official insistence that reclaimed bodies be brought to a morgue and that a person claiming a body must agree to record a video in which the applicant says the deceased was killed by the Ukrainian military. 

Andriushchenko said that, based on the information gathered from his network of sources, Mariupol tonight is a city thrown back to the Middle Ages.

“It is absolutely dark inside the city. The only lights are from Russian troops and Russian patrols,” he said. “Everywhere it’s the smell of death and the smell of fire.”

The mayor's adviser said his contacts paint a picture of a city in the grips of a humanitarian catastrophe with very little contact to the outside world. Mobile phone connections are only just beginning to be re-established.

He said residents are unable to move freely, with special passes needed for any movement within the city and a filtration system keeping them from fleeing altogether.

Mariupol has been at the center of a ferocious, months-long battle between Ukrainian government forces and Russian soldiers and pro-Russian fighters. 

It officially fell to Russian forces Friday when the last group of the Azovstal fighters at the steel plant they had been holding out in for several weeks surrendered.

 

2:12 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

Hungarian prime minister announces "state of emergency" due to war in Ukraine

From CNN's Boglarka Kosztolanyi and Niamh Kennedy in London

Hungary will enter a "state of emergency" due to the war in Ukraine, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a video posted on his official Facebook account on Tuesday. 

"Hungary must stay out of this war and protect families’ financial security. To do this, we need room for maneuver and the ability to act immediately," Orban said. 

The state of emergency is set to go into effect starting at midnight local time on Wednesday, according to Orban, who did not give details regarding the extent of the emergency powers. The prime minister said he would share more details regarding his decision on Wednesday. 

This would not be the first time Hungary has activated a state of emergency. A bill was passed during the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 that allowed Orban to rule by decree. 

Hungary also recently voiced its opposition to a proposal from the European Union to ban imports of Russian oil, saying it will not support such a measure. 

1:07 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

Russia would still pose threat to peace in Europe even after possible ceasefire, Polish foreign minister says

From CNN’s Inke Kappeler and Arnaud Siad 

Russia would remain a threat for peace in Europe even after a ceasefire in Ukraine, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said on Tuesday.

“That Russia changes immediately after a ceasefire has been agreed is daydreaming. It would remain a danger for peace in Europe,” Rau said during a joint press conference with his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock.

Rau said he feared a Russian invasion into Poland, as well as “the danger of an armed invasion of the countries in the NATO eastern flank.”

Poland and Germany must strive for Russia "to suffer a strategic defeat and its occupation forces to leave Ukraine within the borders recognized by international law," Rau also said. 

Baerbock also made clear that the Donetsk region belonged to Ukraine, saying, “Ukraine is a sovereign state within its borders and this is true for now, this is true since 2014 and this is true for the future.”

12:43 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

French foreign minister pushes for another round of Russia sanctions

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

France's Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna listens as Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speaks during a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday.
France's Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna listens as Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speaks during a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday. (Filip Singer/Pool/Getty Images)

The European Union needs to adopt its sixth package of sanctions against Russia soon, according to France's Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna.

Speaking during a joint press conference in Berlin with her German counterpart, Colonna stressed the need "to strengthen our support to Ukraine." 

"We have to quickly adopt the sixth package of sanctions which will foresee the progressive end of the imports of Russian oil," said Colonna, who was appointed to her role last week.

Despite opposition from countries like Hungary, Colonna said she is "optimistic" that the package will be approved and commended the "remarkable" unity shown by the EU in holding Russia accountable. 

"We have to continue because it is this unity that is our strength," Colonna emphasized. 

12:30 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

Russia's invasion contributing to rise in severe food insecurity in Latin America and Caribbean, officials say

From CNN's Jorge Engels

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is contributing to a sharp rise in the number of people suffering from severe food insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean, the United Nations World Food Programme warned in a statement Tuesday, heaping more pressure on a region that is already suffering from the fallout of Covid-19 and the effects of climate change.

Between December 2021 and March 2022, the WFP said that, according to recent surveys conducted by the organization, the number of people suffering due to severe food insecurity “shot up” by more than 500,000. Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“Millions of people could be pushed into poverty and hunger if the conflict in Ukraine continues. The region is already dealing with Covid-19, rising costs and climate extremes,” said Lola Castro, WFP’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “We could return to food insecurity peaks seen during the height of the pandemic, as job and income losses, food inflation and other driving factors batter the most vulnerable people.”

The WFP said the war in Ukraine has led to a surge in commodity and energy prices, which is leading to a rise in food inflation that threatens the region since several countries are highly dependent on cereal imports. It added that Caribbean nations that import substantial amounts of food will be particularly affected due to “soaring” sea freight costs.

Before the war, wheat supplies from Russia and Ukraine accounted for almost 30% of global trade, and Ukraine is the world's fourth-largest exporter of corn and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat, according to the US State Department. The WFP, which helps combat global food insecurity, buys about half of its wheat from Ukraine each year and has warned of dire consequences if Ukrainian ports are not opened up.

Since the war began, Russia has been blocking Ukraine from exporting goods from its ports, fueling fears of a global food crisis. 

"Russia has blocked almost all ports and all, so to speak, maritime opportunities to export food — our grain, barley, sunflower and more," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday.

The US and Ukraine have also accused Russia of stealing Ukrainian grain supplies, which Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says is “fake news,” according to Russian state news agencies. CNN has viewed satellite images that show two Russian ships docking and loading up with what is believed to be stolen Ukrainian grain. CNN also tracked a Russian ship carrying Ukrainian grain from Crimea to Syria after being turned away from ports in Egypt and Lebanon.

CNN’s Alex Marquardt and Tim Lister contributed reporting to this post.

12:13 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

It's just past 7 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know now.

From CNN Staff

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

A top Russian security official said Russian forces are not "chasing deadlines" in Ukraine, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for continuing economic and political pressure on Moscow.

If you're just reading in now, here are some of the latest developments of the war in Ukraine:

  • Ukraine shows drone footage: The Ukrainian military for the first time released footage of special forces using small, foreign-made drones to target Russian positions. The portable, so-called kamikaze drones carry warheads and detonate on impact.
  • NATO leader says there is support for new members: NATO member countries broadly support welcoming Finland and Sweden into the alliance, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Davos.
  • A brewing food crisis: The head of the UN World Food Programme called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to reopen ports in Ukraine to exports to prevent children around the world from starving. The president of the European Commission earlier accused Putin of "weaponizing" food supplies. Russia's theft of Ukrainian grain appears to be ramping up, according to new satellite photos.
  • Russia's undefined timeline: Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia's Security Council, said in published remarks that Russian forces aren't "chasing deadlines" in Ukraine, suggesting a possibly open-ended timeline for Moscow's invasion.
  • Zelensky addresses World Economic Forum: The Ukrainian President told an audience in Davos that Kyiv is prepared for a prisoner exchange with Russia and also urged world leaders to "keep the political pressure" on Russia in "any way they can."
  • Russian oil embargo could come soon: Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said an embargo on Russian oil could be in place "in a matter of weeks."
  • Ukrainian prosecutor general charges Russians: The prosecutor's office said it had charged members of the Russian military and a Russian mercenary group as suspects in the murder of Olha Sukhenko, the mayor of a Ukrainian village, and two family members.