May 28, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Simone McCarthy, Joshua Berlinger, Laura Smith-Spark, Adrienne Vogt and Joe Ruiz, CNN

Updated 12:06 AM ET, Sun May 29, 2022
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11:45 a.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Ukrainian Orthodox Church breaks ties with Moscow's Patriarch Kirill over his support for war

From CNN's Nathan Hodge, Oleksandra Ochman and Josh Pennington

Russia's Patriarch Kirill conducts a service in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on October 27, 2019.
Russia's Patriarch Kirill conducts a service in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on October 27, 2019. (Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters/File)

A branch of Ukraine's Orthodox church has broken ties with Russia's Patriarch Kirill over the Russian spiritual leader's support for the war in Ukraine, deepening a rift between the Moscow church and other Orthodox believers.

Leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which had been formally subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, held a council Friday in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In a statement, the council said it "condemns the war as a violation of God's commandment 'Thou shalt not kill!'" and urged the governments of Ukraine and Russia to pursue a path of negotiation.

But the council also had criticism for Patriarch Kirill -- who has given his support to the invasion of Ukraine and has put his church firmly behind Russian President Vladimir Putin -- and said it had opted for the "full independence and autonomy" of the Ukrainian church.

A large part of the Orthodox community in Ukraine has already moved to establish independence from Moscow. That movement took on further momentum in 2018, after Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople -- a Greek cleric who is considered the spiritual leader of Orthodox believers worldwide -- endorsed the establishment of an independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate, which has become closely entwined with the Russian state under Putin's rule, responded by cutting ties with Bartholomew.

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which has allegiance to Bartholomew, is separate from the UOC, which made its announcement Friday. But the emergence of a church independent of Moscow has also infuriated Putin, who has made restoration of the so-called "Russian world" a centerpiece of his foreign policy and has dismissed Ukrainian national identity as illegitimate.

The UOC council's statement on Friday said the war had been devastating for members of the church.

"During the three months of the war, more than 6 million citizens of Ukraine were forced to leave the country. These were mainly Ukrainians from the southern, eastern, and central regions of Ukraine. A large majority of them are faithful children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church," the statement read. "It is necessary to further develop the mission abroad among Orthodox Ukrainians to preserve their faith, culture, language and Orthodox identity."

10:28 a.m. ET, May 28, 2022

France and Germany's leaders urged Putin to agree to a ceasefire in a Saturday phone call

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

The leaders of Germany and France held a phone call with Vladimir Putin on Saturday, in which they pressed the Russian President to agree to an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and withdraw Russia's troops from the country, German officials said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Putin for 80 minutes “on their initiative,” according to the German government's press office.

“The German chancellor and the French president urged an immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian troops. They called on the Russian president to engage in serious direct negotiations with the Ukrainian president and to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict,” the German government news release said.

A statement from the French Presidential office, the Elysee Palace, said: "Any solution to the war must be negotiated between Moscow and Kyiv."

In the call, Macron and Scholz also called for the release of about 2,500 Azovstal defenders who have been taken as prisoners of war by Russian forces, the French readout said, in a reference to Ukrainian forces who were captured after defending the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for weeks.

In addition, the two leaders urged Putin to lift the blockade of Odesa to allow the export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea in order to avoid a world food crisis, according to the statement.

Some context: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that negotiations between Russia and Ukraine were frozen. He also accused Kyiv of making “contradictory” statements that Moscow did not understand.

A day earlier, Peskov said Moscow expected Kyiv to accept the status quo and meet its territorial demands, following remarks by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that appeared to suggest Ukraine has to agree to give up Crimea and much of the Donbas region to Russia.

In a May 23 interview with Reuters, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak ruled out agreeing to a ceasefire with Russia and said Kyiv would not accept any deal with Moscow that involved ceding territory.

8:28 a.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Zelensky and UK PM discuss global food crisis

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke by phone Saturday morning to discuss several issues related to the war in Ukraine, Zelensky tweeted.

Among the matters the two discussed was the growing global food supply crisis, which has been exacerbated by Russia's blockade of Ukrainian ports. Zelensky said Friday that some 22 million tons of grain meant for export were sitting in silos, as Russia is blocking export routes through the Black Sea and Azov Sea.

Ukraine and Russia together are responsible for about 14% of global wheat production, according to Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data analytics firm. The two countries supply about 29% of all wheat exports.

7:58 a.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Russian forces have shelled Kharkiv district, says regional military governor

From CNN's Nathan Hodge

Russian forces have shelled a district of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in recent hours, the regional military governor said in a statement.

Oleh Syniehubov, head of Kharkiv regional military administration, said the Kyiv district of Kharkiv city had been subjected to Russian shelling over the past 24 hours, and that several shells hit the suburb of Mala Danylivka overnight -- with no casualties.

A 65-year-old woman was killed by Russian fire in the village of Slatyne, he added.

Ukrainian troops have in recent weeks pushed back Russian forces from around Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. But it has remained in range of some Russian weaponry. 

"Fighting continues in the region," Syniehubov said. "In the Kharkiv direction, the enemy is trying to hold its ground and prevent further advance of Ukrainian troops."

Syniehubov said Ukrainian troops had shot down a Russian Ka-52 combat helicopter in the Kharkiv region, a claim that could not be immediately verified. 

8:18 a.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Putin signs law scrapping upper age limit to enlist in Russian military, says Russian state media

From CNN's Manveena Suri in New Delhi

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to watch the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in Moscow on May 9.
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to watch the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in Moscow on May 9. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images/File)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law scrapping the upper age limit for Russians and foreigners to join the military as contract service members, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Russia’s State Duma passed the bill on Wednesday but Putin's signature was needed for it to become law.

Previously, citizens aged 18 to 40 and foreigners aged 18 to 30 could enlist in the Russian military.

The changes were drafted by the head of the State Duma Defense Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, and his first deputy, Andrei Krasov. According to TASS, they believe the abolition of an upper age limit will attract specialists in areas such as medical support, engineering and communications.

The explanatory note to the draft law also notes that the use of high-precision weapons and military equipment requires specialists and they gain the experience by the age of 40 to 45.

The changes in law come amid serious Russian casualties in Ukraine, where Moscow is waging what it euphemistically calls a "special military operation."

Russia also has a system of military conscription. The Kremlin initially said draftees would not serve in Ukraine but subsequently acknowledged they were serving in combat

6:06 a.m. ET, May 28, 2022

It's 1 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Russia is intensifying its offensive in the Luhansk and Donbas regions as heavy shelling continues in the key industrial city of Severodonetsk. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Donbas faces a "very difficult" moment.

Here's the latest on Russia's war in Ukraine:

  • Ukrainian military says Severodonetsk "not cut off:" Serhiy Hayday, the head of Luhansk's regional military administration, said on Saturday the key eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk was "not cut off," as Russian troops press a concerted offensive in the Luhansk region. Hayday said intense Russian shelling was underway in Severodonetsk, an industrial center which is the last major stronghold of Ukrainian control in Luhansk. Ukrainian forces are fighting to stave off an apparent effort by Russian forces to encircle the defenders of Severodonetsk, while Russian troops make advances from several directions.
  • Russian-occupied Kherson: The Russian-occupied region of Kherson has closed its borders to surrounding Ukrainian areas, according to Russian state media. The deputy head of the Russian-installed administration in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, said Kherson’s border crossings with the Ukrainian regions of Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk are closed, while travel from Kherson to Crimea or the Russian-controlled areas of Zaporizhzhia remains possible.
  • Supply lines: Ukraine's military said the Russians are mobilizing railway brigades with special machinery to repair damaged railway lines inside northern Ukraine to sustain supply routes. The railway from Russia into the Kharkiv region and south to Izium is a critical supply line for the Russian offensive.
  • Weapons aid: US defense officials said they were "mindful and aware" of Ukraine's request for advanced, multiple-launch rocket systems, but decisions were yet to be made. CNN reported Thursday that the Biden administration is preparing to send MLRS systems as part of a larger package of military and security assistance to Ukraine, which could be announced as soon as next week.
  • Russia successfully tests its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile: Russia successfully tested its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile over a distance of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) on Saturday, according to its Ministry of Defense. The missile was fired from the waters of the Barents Sea towards a “target in the White Sea” -- a southern inlet on Russia’s northwest coast -- as part of a broader test of new weapons, according to a ministry statement. Video of the test shared by the ministry showed the Zircon missile being fired at a steep trajectory from Russia’s Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate at sea. 

 

10:55 a.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Russia successfully tests its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile at sea 

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie in Hong Kong

A still image taken from a video released on May 28 by the Russian Defense Ministry shows what it said was a test firing of its hypersonic Zircon cruise missile from Russia's Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate in the Barents Sea.
A still image taken from a video released on May 28 by the Russian Defense Ministry shows what it said was a test firing of its hypersonic Zircon cruise missile from Russia's Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate in the Barents Sea. (Russian Defense Ministry/Handout/Reuters)

Russia successfully tested its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile over a distance of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) on Saturday, its Ministry of Defense reported. 

The missile was fired from the waters of the Barents Sea towards a “target in the White Sea,” a southern inlet on Russia’s northwest coast.

The missile was fired as part of a broader test of new weapons, according to a ministry statement. 

Video of the test shared by the Ministry of Defense showed the Zircon missile being fired at a steep trajectory from Russia’s Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate at sea. 

The Zircon cruise missile is part of a new generation of hypersonic arms systems that Russia has been developing since at least 2018. 

The Ukrainian military has claimed that Russian units have "suffered significant losses in manpower and equipment" since President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in late February. 

In a show of force, the Kremlin has continued to conduct high-powered weapons tests, including a test of its new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile last month. 

6:59 a.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Regional military governor claims key Luhansk city of Severodonetsk "not cut off" as Russia presses offensive

From CNN's Nathan Hodge

 Smoke rises above Severodonetsk, during shelling on May 26.
Smoke rises above Severodonetsk, during shelling on May 26. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Serhiy Hayday, the head of Luhansk regional military administration, said Saturday the key eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk was "not cut off," as Russian troops press a concerted offensive in the Luhansk region. 

Hayday said intense Russian shelling was underway in Severodonetsk, an industrial center which is the last major stronghold of Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region. 

"The shelling continues," he said. "The Russian army is destroying the city, shelling with all kinds of weapons. Russian troops entered the outskirts of the city, the Mir Hotel. We can't get them out of the hotel yet, but they have a lot of dead. Our guys are holding them back."

Severodonetsk, added Hayday, "is not cut off but, by and large, trucks will not pass there, only cars. Many cars were shot on the Lysychansk-Bakhmut route. It is dangerous to pass along that route."

Ukrainian forces are fighting to stave off an apparent effort by Russian forces to encircle the defenders of Severodonetsk, with Russian troops advancing in several directions around a pocket of Ukrainian-held territory.

Hayday said Russia had 25 battalion tactical groups in the Luhansk region -- numbering 10,000 soldiers -- and substantial amounts of military hardware. He said Russian commanders had committed a range of forces to the fight, including conscripts from the self-proclaimed separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, fighters from Russia loyal to Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov and private military companies, or PMCs.

3:01 a.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Russian-occupied Kherson closes borders to Ukrainian-held territory, Russian state media says

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie in Hong Kong

An aerial view of the city of Kherson, Ukraine is seen on May 20.
An aerial view of the city of Kherson, Ukraine is seen on May 20. (Andrey Borodulin/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian occupied region of Kherson has closed its borders to surrounding Ukrainian areas, state media RIA-Novosti quoted Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-installed administration in Kherson as saying Saturday.

"The border is now closed for security reasons … we do not advise travel to Ukraine at all, regardless of the pretext," Stremousov said according to RIA.

Kherson’s border crossings with the Ukrainian regions of Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk are closed, while travel from Kherson to Crimea or the Russian-controlled areas of Zaporizhzhia remains possible, Stremousov added.

Nearly all of Kherson — located in Southern Ukraine — has been occupied by Russia since the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Some context: Exit points from Kherson have been unofficially blocked off for weeks, according to Ukrainian officials, who allege that anyone wanting to leave the area has been sent to Crimea.

CNN has spoken to dozens of Ukrainian families at length about their difficult journeys in and out of the region.

Efforts by the Russian-installed administration in Kherson to install military bases and advance a referendum to make the region a “Republic” — mirroring other separatists statelets in eastern Ukraine — are ongoing.