May 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Brad Lendon, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Hafsa Khalil and Jack Guy, CNN

Updated 12:12 a.m. ET, May 27, 2022
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11:20 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

Grain shortage caused by war now having "significant impact" in some African countries, US general nominee says

From CNN's Barbara Starr and Ellie Kaufman

Grain shortages around the world caused by the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine are “being felt on the African continent,” the nominee to be the next top US general overseeing the US military presence in Europe, Gen. Christopher Cavoli, told lawmakers Thursday.

Cavoli, who currently serves as commander of US Army Europe-Africa, said he saw the impacts of the grain shortage on a recent trip to Kenya.

“There was a significant impact there already. We know that in other countries such as Tunisia, the prices have skyrocketed for basic foodstuffs. So there is food insecurity in Africa that is being provoked by the shortage of grain,” Cavoli said.

While the shortage is being experienced in Africa, this will “largely be a European concern, because of the close connection between African security issues and European security issues,” he added.

Some countries, like Germany and Romania, are already starting to try to alleviate the problem, Cavoli said. 

Romania has “made the port at Constanța available,” Cavoli said, but that port will only allow “about 90,000 tons” of grain a day through, while there’s about 22 million tons of grain backed up, he added.

The German national railroad agency, Deutsche Bahn, also recently announced a new plan called the Berlin train lift to “dedicate trains to pulling wheat right out of Ukraine into western Europe,” Cavoli said.

“Poland has established a new border crossing regime with Germany to facilitate that. So I think some efforts are taking place, much more remains to be done, senator,” he told lawmakers. 

He also addressed the NATO bids of Finland and Sweden, saying they will bring “quite a lot of capability and capacity” to the alliance if they join.

Cavoli is nominated to succeed the current US European Command Commander Gen. Tod Wolters.

10:23 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

Russians intensify attacks against vastly outnumbered Ukrainian forces across Donetsk and Luhansk

From CNN's Tim Lister 

This video footage, published by Ukraine's Armed Forces, shows the devastating impact of shells from a Russian TOS-1A hitting Ukrainian positions near Novomykhailivka in the Donetsk region on May 26.
This video footage, published by Ukraine's Armed Forces, shows the devastating impact of shells from a Russian TOS-1A hitting Ukrainian positions near Novomykhailivka in the Donetsk region on May 26. (Armed Forces of Ukraine/Cover Images/Reuters)

Russian forces are applying a wide array of weapons across several fronts in eastern Ukraine as they try to break down stubborn Ukrainian defenses, which are outnumbered and outgunned, according to Ukrainian officials.

Several of those officials describe the situation as "very difficult" and admit Ukrainian units may have to fall back in some places.

In recent days, Ukrainian officials say, the Russians have combined short-range ballistic missiles, multiple-launch rocket systems, heavy artillery and tanks in a remorseless bombardment of towns and cities in Luhansk and Donetsk regions still under Ukrainian control.

The National Police of Ukraine said that civilians were killed in attacks on 13 settlements in Donetsk, with several towns not previously targeted suffering damage. Russian forces seem to be broadening the number of towns they are shelling as they try to destroy Ukrainian defenses and supply lines. 

Their chief objective appears to be taking Sloviansk, which has seen an increase in shelling in recent days. Mayor Vadym Liakh said half the city is now without water, and there will be "no gas supply until the heating season."

A growing number of Ukrainian officials describe the military situation in dire terms, although Russian advances on the ground have been modest.

Fedir Venislavskyi, a member of Ukraine's parliament who is on the National Security Committee, described the situation as "difficult."

He told Ukrainian television that "the hottest spots are Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. The enemy is trying to encircle our troops."  

The twin cities in Luhansk are almost entirely destroyed, but Ukrainian troops are still present. Nearly 15,000 civilians are estimated still to be in Severodonetsk.

According to the Institute for the Study of War's latest battlefield assessment, "Russian forces may need to conduct a ground offensive on Severodonetsk in upcoming days to maintain their pace after committing a significant portion of personnel, artillery, aviation, and logistics to the front."

Venislavskyi said that if the Russians could break Ukrainian resistance there, "their next targets are Bakhmut, Soledar," towns that are further west.

In particular, regional officials say that the highway linking Bakhmut and Lysychansk — a resupply route for Ukrainian forces — is under constant attack.

"The enemy partially controls Lyman and goes to the outskirts of Severodonetsk. The situation in this operational area will be very difficult in the coming days," he said.

He also suggested that additional Russian forces were being brought in, saying "the enemy continues to accumulate reserves near Izium to attack Sloviansk and Barvinkove."

"The enemy is sending units from the Primorsky Krai, the Far East, and Siberia to Ukraine. Battalion groups are formed, loaded on the railway and sent to Ukraine," Venislavskyi said. 

A building damaged in a missile strike in the city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on May 26.
A building damaged in a missile strike in the city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on May 26. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional military administration, said the "Armed Forces have been defending for the fourth month now. Our defensive positions are destroyed by the enemy every day."

"Luhansk region, the part that is under the control of Ukraine, is very small in terms of territory. Therefore, the Russians will try their best to take it. For them, this is the easiest way to win at least some intermediate victory. ... Our forces are gradually moving to more fortified positions," he said.

Haidai is one of several Ukrainian officials to stress that the defenses in the east are vastly outnumbered.

"You need to understand that a huge amount of equipment and people are fighting against us," he said.

"It takes time for [Western] weapons to reach us. They must pass from the west to the east of Ukraine. One or two howitzers will not change the position; we will simply lose them. Therefore, we need to wait and regroup," Haidai said.

He also acknowledged the probability that Ukrainian forces would have to fall back.

"Perhaps we will have to leave one more two settlements. But we need to win the war, not the battle," Haidai said.

Rostyslav Smirnov, an adviser to the minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, told Ukrainian television that "the advantage of the Russians in [terms of] personnel is eight to one," and the advantage in equipment more than twice that.

10:10 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

2 Russian soldiers plead guilty to war crimes in Ukrainian court

From Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London and Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Russian soldiers Oleksandr Ivanov and Oleksandr Bobykin, right, attend their trial hearing in Kotelva, northeastern Ukraine, on May 26.
Russian soldiers Oleksandr Ivanov and Oleksandr Bobykin, right, attend their trial hearing in Kotelva, northeastern Ukraine, on May 26. (Bernat Armangue/AP)

Two captured Russian soldiers pleaded guilty in Kotelevsky court in Ukraine’s Poltava region on Thursday to “violating laws and customs of war conducted with preliminary group conspiracy.”

Oleksandr Bobykin and Oleksandr Ivanov are accused of firing Grad rockets from Russia’s Belgorod region towards Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Feb. 24.

According to the case details made public on the court website, the men fired artillery and damaged “objects of civil and critical infrastructure, including private homes” in Kazacha Lopan and Veterynrne in the Kharkiv region. The soldiers were captured by Ukrainian forces in the Kharkiv region, according to the court memos. 

The court is due to deliver a verdict on May 31.

9:31 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

4 killed in shelling in Kharkiv region, military governor says

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll

At least four people have been killed and seven more wounded in shelling of regional centers in the Kharkiv area, according to Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the regional military administration. 

In a message posted on his Telegram channel on Thursday, Syniehubov urged residents to stay in shelters during the ongoing exchanges of fire between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

“The most intense fighting is happening in Izium region. The Russian forces are trying to improve their strategic positions in the Izium area and renew their offensive on Sloviansk,” he said. 

Syniehubov added that a number of other towns have been shelled in the last 24 hours, including Pyatyhatky, Balakliya, Tsyrkuny and the Chuhuyiv area.

9:48 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

French and Turkish presidents discuss Finland and Sweden NATO applications in call

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London, Pierre Bairin in Paris and Yusuf Gezer in Istanbul 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron. (AP, Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed Finland and Sweden's applications to join NATO in a phone call on Thursday.

According to a Élysée Palace readout of the call, Macron stressed to Erdogan "the importance of respecting the sovereign choice of these two countries" which he maintained was "the result of a democratic process" and "a reaction to the evolution of their security environment."

Erdogan has voiced his opposition to Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance, claiming that their alleged sheltering of Kurdish "terrorist organizations" should bar them from entry. 

The Turkish president told Macron that "Sweden and Finland's contacts with individuals and so-called organizations under the control of the terrorist organization PKK/YPG would not be compatible with the spirit of alliance under NATO,” according to the Turkish Directorate of Communications readout of the call.  

The two leaders also addressed the food security crisis, focusing particularly on the "urgent need to enable the export of Ukrainian grain," according to the Élysée. 

"They discussed the various possible ways to transport crops out of Ukraine, identified in conjunction with the United Nations, and agreed to remain in contact in order to find a solution quickly," the Élysée said. 

8:34 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

Putin calls on Eurasian Economic Forum to choose "natural" partners and neighbors over developed economies

From Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Eurasian Economic Union partners to choose “natural” partners and neighbors over other “well developed” economies on Thursday.

Putin spoke via video link at the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) forum opening in Bishkek. He added there are more than 180 projects worth $300 billion on the EAEU forum agenda.

EAEU is an economic union of post-Soviet economies initiated by Russia in 2015 to create a single market for Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.

8:45 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

Putin cannot be allowed to dictate peace terms, German Chancellor says

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on May 26.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on May 26. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

It's impossible to "switch off" Russian President Vladimir Putin's "imperialist" aims, the German Chancellor said Thursday.

In his closing speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Olaf Scholz said that the horrors in Ukraine cannot be ignored. 

"It keeps us up at night … will it expand beyond the borders of Ukraine?"

He said Putin will only seriously negotiate peace if his army can’t break Ukrainian defensive forces, with neither Ukraine nor the European Union accepting peace dictated by Putin. 

Scholz's comments come after Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky criticized Henry Kissinger's remarks after the former US Secretary of State appeared to suggest that Ukraine agree to give up much of the Donbas and Crimea. Zelensky on Wednesday compared Kissenger's views to appeasement of Nazi Germany in 1938.

Meanwhile, Scholz said that NATO "will not become a party to this war," as that would put nuclear powers in opposition to each other. He added that Germany will welcome Sweden and Finland into NATO with "open arms."

Earlier, Scholz spoke of the war's impact on the international community, stressing "we cannot let Putin win this war, and I firmly believe he will not win it."

He added that his country would be ready to defend itself at all times in light of Russia's actions.

8:40 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

Russia still wants to take Kyiv, says city mayor

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko speakes at a conversation about the war in Ukraine during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on May 26.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko speakes at a conversation about the war in Ukraine during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on May 26. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Russia plans to take the whole of Ukraine, with the capital of Kyiv being its main target, according to city mayor Vitali Klitschko.

It is clear that Russia is not carrying out a "special operation" but rather a "genocide" in Ukraine, Klitschko said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday.

He warned that Ukraine is not only defending its own sovereignty, but that of all like-minded nations.

"We defend not just our families, we defend all of you," said Klitschko. "We defend you because we have the same values."

The war is a danger to Europe and the whole world, Klitschko said. He made a plea for "fast decisions" from other leaders on sending Ukraine more defensive weapons, which he says they need quickly.

9:30 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

"Putin must lose in Ukraine," says UK foreign secretary

From CNN's Sarah Dean in London

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted this picture of her in Sarajevo meeting Bosnia and Herzegovina Foreign Minister Bisera Turković on May 26.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted this picture of her in Sarajevo meeting Bosnia and Herzegovina Foreign Minister Bisera Turković on May 26. (trussliz/Twitter)

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has spoken out against Russia's "bullying" and "atrocities" in Ukraine during a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Thursday.

Truss used an address to the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to speak out against Russian maneuvering in the Balkan nation, and urged partners to continue to rally behind Ukraine.

"As Russia meddles here, Putin’s troops are committing atrocities just 700 miles away in Ukraine. The people of Ukraine need our support," said Truss.

"They need that support from the whole of Europe, from the whole of the free world. We need to back the people in their brave fight for their country," she added, urging allies not to compromise with or appease Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We have seen Russia’s bullying tactics – just this week flagrantly saying they will let Ukrainian grain flow only if sanctions on them are lifted," said Truss.

"That is trying to hold the world to ransom, and it must not succeed. So now it is about digging deep, not backsliding," she added.

"Democracy and freedom must prevail over autocratic aggression," said Truss. "Putin must lose in Ukraine. Putin’s aggression must never succeed in Europe."