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May 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

Ukraine will fight until it gains all its territory back: President Zelensky
02:17

What we covered

  • Intense Russian shelling is pounding the key city of Severodonetsk in embattled Luhansk as Moscow attempts to consolidate its grip on eastern Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian officials say the city is “not cut off,” but its forces are in a “tough defensive position” as fighting rages on the outskirts of the city.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed that Ukraine will “take everything back” from Russia.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law scrapping the upper age limit for Russians and foreigners to join the military.
  • Having connection issues? Bookmark CNN’s lite site for fast connectivity.
25 Posts

Our live coverage of the war in Ukraine has moved here.

Pushing Ukrainian military out of Donbas region an "absolute priority," Russian foreign minister says

A Ukrainian serviceman walks in a trench in Donbas, on Sunday.

Pushing the Ukrainian army out of the Donbas region is a priority for Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with French broadcaster TFI.

Asked if Russia would annex the territories in Donbas, Lavrov responded: “It’s not about annexation. This is a military operation requested by the sovereign states of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, under the United Nations Charter, Article 51, which provides for the right of individual and collective self-defense. We defend the populations, and we help them to restore their territorial integrity,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov also told TFI that the other regions will be able to decide their fate.

“Our obvious objective is, of course, to push the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian battalions out of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. For the rest of the territories in Ukraine, where there are people who do not want to break ties with Russia, it will be up to the populations of these regions to decide,” Lavrov said.

Ukraine reports counterattack south of Kryvyi Rih

Ukrainian forces have launched a “successful counterattack south of Kryvyi Rih,” according to Oleksandr Vilkul, head of the Kryvyi Rih military administration in southern Ukraine.

He provided no further details, and the claim cannot be verified. But the Ukrainian military had earlier claimed significant advances south in the area where Kherson and Mykolaiv regions meet.

Vilkul also said the internally displaced from Russian-occupied areas or communities under attack continued to arrive in Kryvyi Rih.

“Refugees continue to arrive in the city. There are already more than 45,000 officially registered migrants in the city, but in reality, this number is more than 60,000.

Wives, girlfriend of Azovstal defenders say there's little information on whereabouts of loved ones

Damage at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, Ukraine on Friday, May 27.

Two wives and a girlfriend of Ukrainian troops captured by Russian forces or unaccounted for after defending the Azovstal factory in a lengthy siege told CNN they had little or no information about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

“I have not been in touch with my husband or got any information about him lately,” said Anna Ivleva, the wife of Anton, a marine who was seriously wounded in Azovstal. “The last time we spoke was on April 13. And then his brothers-in-arms would send me texts that he was still alive.”

Ivleva said Ukrainian government officials had been in touch but added that there was “no information” on where Azovstal fighters were being kept and under what conditions. ​She is holding out hope her husband is alive, even if in captivity. ​

“We all – families, wives and mothers of the marines, are sticking to each other, we are always in touch with each other 24/7,” she said. “We always exchange any available news, we are like a family.”

The besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol fell under complete Russian control earlier this month with the surrender of Azovstal, the ​city’s last bastion of Ukrainian defense. It is unclear how many Ukrainian troops are now in Russian custody, but the Russian military has claimed that over 2,000 Ukrainian servicemembers surrendered there. Russian state propaganda has demonized Azovstal defenders as “Nazis,” raising serious concerns about how they may be treated in captivity.

A woman named Yana helped organize events in Kyiv in support of Azovstal fighters. Her boyfriend is a marine who was in Azovstal. ​She spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing security concerns.

“I have not heard from him or anything about him,” she said. “Last time we were in touch was on May 11.”

She said the Ukrainian government had not provided any information on where her boyfriend might be. ​

“My boyfriend’s mother was contacted by the ICRC [the International Committee of the Red Cross], I can’t remember when exactly,” she said. “They only told her he was alive, that’s it.” ​

The ICRC has been involved in registering combatants leaving the Azovstal plant since May 17 ​– partly to help prisoners of war keep in touch with their families. The organization has been working in Ukraine since 2014, when the war in Ukraine’s Donbas region began.

Another wife of an Azovstal defender, Tetiana, said her husband managed to call her from an unknown number ​after the surrender and said some of his comrades were being held in a town in separatist-held Donetsk oblast. ​CNN agreed not to report her surname for the same reasons.

“His voice was calm and confident,” she said. “He said that the conditions they were being kept in were OK. He said it might be possible in ​the future that they would be allowed to receive some packages.”

Tetiana said she spoke with her husband for about 10 minutes, and that her husband said that he would try to call again.

“That’s it, no more calls or news,” she said.

Zelensky speaks about his visit to Kharkiv, says he fired local security chief

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has spoken of his visit Sunday to the city of Kharkiv, his first trip outside the region of the capital since the Russian invasion.

“Kharkiv suffered terrible blows from the occupiers. Black, half-ruined apartment buildings face east and north – where Russian artillery was firing from, where Russian combat aircraft were arriving,” Zelensky said. 

Zelensky praised authorities in Kharkiv but said: “Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the local leadership of the SBU [the security service].” 

He said he had dismissed the head of the regional SBU who “didn’t work to protect the city from the first days of a full-scale invasion and thought only of himself personally.”

Zelensky said that “one-third of the Kharkiv region is still under occupation. We will definitely unoccupy the whole territory.”

Turning to the fighting in Donbas, Zelensky said that 90% of the housing in Severodonetsk had been damaged. 

“Capturing Severodonetsk is a fundamental task for the occupying contingent. And they don’t care how many lives will have to pay for this attempt to raise the Russian flag.”

Ukrainian military reports more cross-border shelling and Russian attacks in Severodonetsk

Rubble next to the heavily damaged apartment building in Chernihiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, May 28.

The Ukrainian military says that Russian shelling across the border into the northern regions of Sumy and Chernihiv resumed Sunday.

In its operational note, the General Staff of the Armed Forces also said that in Donbas, “the main goal of the enemy is to surround our troops in the areas of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk and to block the main logistics routes.”

Ukrainian troops continue to maintain positions in Severodonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk, despite constant shelling and airstrikes.

The General Staff said Russian efforts to degrade Ukrainian defenses further west continued, with artillery, mortar and multiple rocket systems being used against several towns and villages in the direction of Bakhmut.

It said that Russian efforts to cross the Siverskyi Donets River in certain areas continued. 

Among several towns and villages in northern Ukraine that were hit by cross-border shelling were Hirsk and Hrinivka in Chernihiv and Bachivsk and Seredyna-Buda in Sumy. Analysts say Russian attacks on these areas are designed to prevent Ukrainian forces from being redeployed to the main fronts in Donbas. 

The military gave no further details about a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the southern regions of Kherson and Mykolaiv that was launched on Saturday. But it said Russian bombardments of settlements near the city of Kryvyi Rih, also in the south, had used mortars, air strikes and artillery. The front lines in that region have changed little in recent weeks.

Russian ship arrives in Syria with more grain allegedly stolen from Ukraine

New satellite imagery shows that a Russian freighter full of grain allegedly stolen from Ukrainian farms has arrived in the Syrian port of Latakia – its second trip within four weeks.

The new images – provided by Maxar Technologies – show the bulk carrier Matros Pozynich at Latakia on May 27.

It is one of three ships that have been loading grain in the Crimean port of Sevastopol since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was last seen in Sevastopol on May 19 and subsequently tracked transiting the Bosphorus strait and south along the Turkish coast. It’s estimated that the ship can carry about 30,000 tons of grain. 

The Matros Pozynich’s sister ship has also loaded grain at Sevastopol in the last two weeks. 

Some context: CNN has previously reported that convoys of trucks have been seen carrying grain from farms and silos in southern Ukraine into Crimea. Ukrainian authorities estimated earlier this month that Russian forces in occupied areas had seized more than 400,000 tons of grain. 

The grain thefts are threatening this year’s harvest in Ukraine – which is one of the most important grain-producing countries in the world.

For Russia, grain is an attractive commodity. The price of wheat is about $400 a ton on world markets and has moved sharply higher this year.

A satellite image from Maxar technologies shows grain being loaded into the hull of the Matros Pozynich in Crimea

Satellite images appear to show Russian ships loading up with Ukrainian grain in Crimea

Russia to continue to supply gas to Serbia, says state media

A pressure gauge on pipework at the Avala gas storage facility, operated by Srbijagas JP, in Avala, near Belgrade, Serbia, on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. 

Russia has agreed to continue supplying uninterrupted natural gas to Serbia, according to state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.

It comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic on Sunday.

“Putin and Vucic confirmed the desire of both Russia and Serbia to strengthen their strategic partnership on the basis of traditionally close connections between peoples of both countries,” Ria Novosti reported.

Serbia is not a member of the European Union or NATO. It is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, while its army maintains ties with Russia’s military.

Although the country backed two United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it refused to impose sanctions against Moscow.

The Kremlin also supports Belgrade’s opposition to the independence of Kosovo by blocking its membership to the United Nations.

CNN has reached out to the Serbian Presidency for comment.

Some background: Several European nations have committed to weaning themselves off of Russian oil and gas since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The European Union recently unveiled a €210 billion ($221 billion) plan to reduce consumption of Russian gas and oil.

Putin has previously warned that “unfriendly” nations will need to pay for crucial Russian shipments of natural gas in rubles instead of euros. Following payment disputes, Russia has turned off the gas flow to Finland, Bulgaria and Poland.

EU leaders have described Russia’s insistence that countries pay in rubles for gas as “blackmail.”

Ukraine's military says it's made advances in the southern Kherson region

The Ukrainian military says it has begun a counter-offensive against Russian forces in the south and has claimed significant advances in the direction of Kherson.

Serhii Hlan, a deputy who sits on the Kherson region council, said on Saturday Ukrainian forces “continued offensive operations and pushed the enemy back 9 kilometers (5 miles) in the Beryslav district.”

Hlan also claimed that Ukrainian units “broke the enemy grouping into two parts and actually encircled the enemy grouping in Davidiv Brid.” 

Davidiv Brid has been on the front lines for weeks and became an escape route for civilians trying to leave Kherson, often under fire.

The Ukrainian military published video of artillery strikes, purportedly against Russian positions. It said on Facebook that “the artillery war continues.”

“Ukrainian soldiers chase and burn the occupiers’ equipment on the lands of Kherson and Mykolaiv regions,” it said. “Kherson hold on, we’re close!”

There is no independent evidence of the Ukrainian advances.

Impossible to leave: Hlan said that now “it’s impossible to leave the Kherson region,” as exits are being blocked by Russian forces.

Russian forces continue to shell Ukrainian towns and villages in the Mykolaiv region, according to Ukrainian officials. They said there had been strikes against several communities but reported no injuries. The town of Bereznehuvate had been hardest hit, they said.

Some context on the fighting in southern Ukraine: Russia appears to consolidate its gains there and attack further afield in places like Mykolaiv, which is close to the front line but remains under Ukrainian control.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, assessed that Russian forces have “continued to fortify and equip their positions throughout southern Ukraine in an effort to retain permanent control over the territory.”

Zelensky visits Kharkiv's front line, in northeast Ukraine

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Sunday, May 29, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walks with his staff as he visits the war-hit Kharkiv region. 

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the “front line positions” of the Ukrainian military and met with soldiers during a trip to the Kharkiv region, his office announced on Sunday.

“I want to thank each of you for your service. You risk your life for all of us and our state. Thank you for defending Ukraine’s independence. Take care of yourself,” he said.

During the visit, Zelensky got an operational update on the situation there, and visited destroyed administrative and residential buildings in the city.

He also chaired a meeting with regional officials, including military leaders and the Kharkiv mayor.

The head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, Oleg Synegubov, said that 31% of the region’s territory is currently occupied, and 5% has been “liberated” back into Ukrainian hands.

“We are not yet able to fully inspect some of the liberated settlements, conduct full-fledged demining and begin rebuilding critical infrastructure, as shelling continues. Where we can do it remotely, we do it,” Synegubov said.

Synegubov added that 2,229 high-rise buildings have been damaged in Kharkiv, including 225 which were completely destroyed. In the northern and eastern districts of Kharkiv, 30.2% of the total housing stock has been damaged or destroyed.

Zelensky discussed plans for reconstructing the city, by building modern housing equipped with bomb shelters.                                                     

“We have to find funds, credit lines. The state must ensure this in terms of guarantees, and the leaders of cities and regions must find great projects and money,” Zelensky said.

troops fight streets ukraine defends kharkiv marquardt 0227

One battle in Kharkiv shows how Ukraine is fighting back against the Russian invasion | CNN

Around 400 cars carrying evacuees from southern Ukraine held at Russian checkpoint

Around 400 vehicles carrying evacuees from southern Ukraine have been held at a Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka for the past two or three days, Ukrainian broadcaster Suspilne reported Sunday.

The cars are carrying many families with children and small babies, according to the broadcaster. The vehicles came mostly from the cities of Kherson, Mariupol, and Berdiansk.

Vasylivka is the biggest Russian-controlled checkpoint that evacuees must pass to Ukrainian-controlled territory. It is located in southern Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region.

Oleksandr Staruh, the head of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia region military administration, said Russian forces “periodically close” the crossing, leaving families trapped there, “waiting in horrible conditions.” 

Berdiansk had seen an influx of residents from Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city subject to months of intense bombardment before falling to Russian forces. Now, however, many families are trying to head further west because conditions in Berdiansk “have deteriorated,” Staruh said.

Turkey's President says talks with Sweden and Finland on NATO bids did not happen "at the desired level"

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a ceremony in Ankara, Turkey on May 16.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that talks last week with Sweden and Finland regarding their NATO membership did not happen “at the desired level.”

“Unfortunately, the talks held by our delegation with Finland and Sweden were not at the desired level,” Erdogan said while speaking to reporters on his plane following a trip to Azerbaijan, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency. 

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, said on Friday after meeting with Swedish and Finnish delegations that Turkey is “not under time pressure to solve this issue until that summit.”

“We are determined to ensure that the process moves forward on a solid basis and that it progresses depending on the steps taken to meet Turkey’s security concerns,” Kalin said.

Some background: Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO earlier this month, driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 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.

Accession of new states, however, requires consensus among existing members – and that’s where Ankara comes in.

Turkey, which joined the alliance three years after it was established in 1949 and has the group’s second largest army, has said it won’t support the bids unless its demands are met.

Erdogan accused the two countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan’s Workers Party, also known as PKK. The PKK, which seeks an independent state in Turkey, has been in an armed struggle with that country for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Erdogan has repeatedly asserted that both countries are effectively supporting terrorists.

“We cannot say ‘yes’ to the countries supporting terrorism to join NATO,” Erdogan said in remarks published by the Turkish government.

Erdogan to speak with Putin and Zelensky on Monday: Meanwhile, the Turkish government said Erdogan will hold separate phone calls with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts on Monday to encourage the parties to maintain channels of dialogue and diplomacy to bring peace to Ukraine.

“I will have phone calls with both Russia and Ukraine on Monday. We will continue to encourage the parties to use the channels of dialogue and diplomacy,” Erdogan told reporters.

It's 2:30 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Ukrainian forces are in a “tough defensive position” in Severodonetsk, as intense fighting continues around the outskirts of the Luhansk city – the last major Ukrainian stronghold in the region. Russian troops are attempting to take control of Ukraine’s east.

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

  • Non-stop assaults in Severodonetsk: The eastern Ukrainian city is being hammered with heavy shelling as Russian forces try to encircle it, with the head of the Luhansk region military administration saying on Sunday that the situation grows “even more difficult.” Serhiy Hayday said in a statement that 60 houses were destroyed in the region, and two people were found dead in the rubble. Separately, in an operational update on Sunday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russia “carried out assault operations in the area of ​​the city of Severodonetsk” where “the fighting continues.” On Saturday, the head of the civil military administration in Severodonetsk said Ukrainian forces were in a “tough defensive position” as fighting raged on the outskirts of the city.
  • Russian ambassador dismisses war crime accusations: Allegations of war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha are a “fabrication,” Russia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom claimed on Sunday. Andrei Kelin made the comments during an interview on the BBC’s “Sunday Morning” program and denied that Russian forces were shelling civilians. Russia’s month-long occupation of Bucha and other districts around Kyiv resulted in hundreds of deaths, with its troops retreating in late March after failing to encircle the capital.
  • “No talks” on referendum: The deputy head of the Russian appointed administration in occupied Kherson says the region won’t hold a referendum on formally joining Russia until fighting ceases in the area and the nearby regions of Odesa and Mykolaiv. Kirill Stremousov said Saturday that currently there are “are no talks about a referendum,” but that “we’ll announce later when some kind of vote or plebiscite is taking place.” Ukrainian officials previously warned that Russian-installed administrators were readying a sham vote. 
  • Zelensky defiant: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Saturday that his country will “take everything back” from Russia. “This is an imperative,” Zelensky said, “And it’s just a matter of time. Every day at this same time, the time until liberation grows shorter. Everything we do is for this.” However, he acknowledged that the situation in the Donbas remains difficult, especially in the areas of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Bakhmut and Popasna.

Russian ambassador to the UK says war crime allegations are "fabrications"

Russia's ambassador to the United Kingdom Andrei Kelin speaks during an interview in London, on February 21.

Allegations of war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha are a “fabrication,” Russia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom claimed on Sunday.

Andrei Kelin made the comments during an interview on the BBC’s “Sunday Morning” program and denied that Russian forces were shelling civilians.

“The mayor of Bucha in his initial statement confirmed that Russian troops have left, everything is clean and calm, the town in a normal state. Nothing is happening, no bodies are on the street,” Kelin said. 

Russia’s month-long occupation of Bucha and other districts around Kyiv resulted in hundreds of deaths, with its troops retreating in late March after failing to encircle the capital.

Moscow has refused to accept responsibility for the atrocities, repeatedly claiming that the reports of indiscriminate killings, mass graves, disappearances and looting are false.

When pressed whether the evidence was made up, Kelin replied: “In our view it is a fabrication. It is used just to interrupt negotiations.”

Maintaining that Russia’s invasion was a “limited operation” and not a war, Kelin said: “I can assure you that it is not our idea to kill civilians.”

BUCHA, UKRAINE - APRIL 4: (EDITOR'S NOTE: Image depicts death) Civilians' bodies, which were found dead in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, were gathered to be buried on Monday, on April 4, 2022 in Bucha, Ukraine. The bodies of 5 civilians that had been killed in a kindergarten depot in Bucha, where the Ukrainian army retakes control, were placed in a vehicle for burying. Ukrainian authorities sent the bodies of civilians, who were killed with their hands tied, to the cemetery. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Bodies tied up, shot and left to rot in Bucha hint at gruesome reality of Russia's occupation in Ukraine

He added the Russian military was only targeting military infrastructure in order to “diminish Ukrainian capabilities.”

Kelin continued saying he does not believe Russia will use tactical nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine.

Russia has very strict provisions for their use, according to Kelin, adding they are used “mainly when the existence of the state is in danger.”

“It has nothing to do with the current operation,” he said.

"The enemy keeps assaulting" in Severodonetsk, says Ukrainian official

Smoke rises in the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine as it receives heavy shelling on Saturday May 28.

Fighting is continuing in the Severodonetsk area in eastern Ukraine, where the situation is “even more difficult” and “the enemy keeps assaulting,” the head of the Luhansk region military administration said Sunday.

Serhiy Hayday said in a statement that 60 houses were destroyed in the region, and two people were found dead in the rubble.

He said one of the victims was a girl who died when a Russian shell hit a high-rise building in Lysychansk on Saturday, in a strike that injured four others. A cinema and 22 houses were also damaged in an air strike.

Separately, in an operational update on Sunday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russia “carried out assault operations in the area of ​​the city of Severodonetsk” where “the fighting continues.”

In Sloviansk, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the west, Russia carried out “intensive reconnaissance” on the city, and on the outskirts, conducted air strikes on Dovhenke area, and also artillery shelling of civilian infrastructure in nearby Bohorodychne and Sviatohirsk, the Ukrainian army statement said.

Elsewhere, the military reported new Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure in towns and villages between Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and the Russian border. Ruski Tyshky, Petrivka and Ternova, were among the locations hit. The Russian army has also been conducting remote mining in those areas, according to the statement.

Several settlements close to the Black Sea coast in the south of Ukraine also suffered fire damage on civilian infrastructure, including Lymany, Stepova Dolyna, Luch, Partyzany, Chervony Yar, and Trudoliubivka.

What life is like in Severodonetsk, as Russian forces attempt to capture the city

Severodonetsk is in Putin’s crosshairs.

The eastern Ukrainian city is being hammered with constant shelling. There’s only one bridge in and out of the city, and almost anything that moves is being shelled.

Severodonetsk is the last major city held by Ukrainian forces in Luhansk, in the eastern Donbas region. Russian forces are trying to encircle the defenders of the city this weekend, with troops advancing in several directions around a pocket of Ukrainian-held territory.

Here is the latest from on the ground:

04:49

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

Smoke and dirt rise from Severodonetsk during shelling in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on May 26.

The Russian military is trying to encircle Ukrainian forces in the Luhansk city of Severodonetsk – the last major Ukrainian stronghold in the region – as Moscow’s troops press their offensive in the east of the country.

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

  • “Tough defensive position”: Constant Russian shelling is pounding Severodonetsk and fighting is raging on the outskirts of the city, according to Ukrainian reports. Oleksandr Striuk, the Ukrainian head of the regional civil military administration, said on national television that Ukrainian forces are in a “tough defensive position” in the city and that some of the most intense fighting is concentrated around the Mir Hotel. “A real battle can be heard in the main bus station area,” he said.
  • “No talks” on referendum: The deputy head of the Russian appointed administration in occupied Kherson says the region won’t hold a referendum on formally joining Russia until fighting ceases in the area and the nearby regions of Odesa and Mykolaiv. Kirill Stremousov said Saturday that currently there are “are no talks about a referendum,” but that “we’ll announce later when some kind of vote or plebiscite is taking place.” Ukrainian officials previously warned that Russian-installed administrators were readying a sham vote. 
  • Zelensky defiant: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Saturday that his country will “take everything back” from Russia. “This is an imperative,” Zelensky said, “And it’s just a matter of time. Every day at this same time, the time until liberation grows shorter. Everything we do is for this.” However, he acknowledged that the situation in the Donbas remains difficult, especially in the areas of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Bakhmut and Popasna.
  • Putin scraps age limit: The Russian President 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.
  • “Loot” metal: Ukraine on Saturday criticized Russia for sending a ship to the captured city of Mariupol to load a shipment of metal bound for Russia. The Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights Liudmyla Denisova said the Russians were “sending 3,000 tons of metal products by the first ship from Mariupol to Rostov-on-Don (in Russia).” She added that “for more convenient removal of the loot, the occupiers have begun to restore railway connections in Mariupol and Volnovakha.”
  • Shelling in Mykolaiv: At least one person is dead after shelling in the southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv, the regional state administration said Saturday. Mykolaiv is under Ukrainian government control, but is not far from the front lines of fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces. It is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Kherson, which has been under Russian control since the early days of the invasion.

Russian appointed Kherson official says referendum on joining Russia won't be held until fighting ceases

Russian troops guard an entrance of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in Kherson Oblast on May 20.

The deputy head of the Russian appointed administration in occupied Kherson says the region won’t hold a referendum on formally joining Russia until fighting ceases in Kherson and the nearby regions of Odesa and Mykolaiv.

Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Kherson Military Civilian Administration, told Reuters Saturday that currently there are “are no talks about a referendum.” 

“We’ll announce later when some kind of vote or plebiscite is taking place, but it won’t be today, and it won’t be tomorrow because our first task is to restore order and organize a system of administration in the Kherson region,” Stremousov added. 

Ukrainian officials previously warned that Russian forces and Russian-installed administrators were readying a sham referendum that would mirror similar Russian efforts in the Donbas to create separatist republics in 2014. 

The region in southern Ukraine has been under Russian control since the beginning of the invasion in late February. More than a dozen people spoke to CNN earlier this month about their terrifying journeys out of the occupied region, painting a vivid picture of the culture of fear that exists there now.

While referendum plans appear to have been scaled back, Stremousov recently said pro-Moscow authorities of Kherson would request a Russian military base. He also said the Russian backed administration is pressing ahead with plans to set up a new “banking system” that will be “fully integrated” into the Russian system.

Ukraine condemns arrival of Russian vessel in Mariupol port to load metal

Ukraine on Saturday criticised Russia for sending a ship to the captured Ukrainian city of Mariupol to load a shipment of metal bound for Russia. 

The Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights Liudmyla Denisova said the Russians were “sending 3,000 tons of metal products by the first ship from Mariupol to Rostov-on-Don (in Russia).”

Russian state news agency TASS reported Saturday that a Russian ship had entered the seaport of Mariupol. It quoted a representative of the port administration as saying the vessel would load 2,700 tons of metal and depart for Rostov-on-Don on Monday.

Denisova claimed that the Mariupol port housed about 200,000 tons of metal and cast iron worth $170 million prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Severodonetsk military chief says Ukraine's forces are in "tough defensive position"

Oleksandr Striuk, the head of the civil military administration in the embattled Ukrainian industrial city of Severodonetsk, said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were in a “tough defensive position” as fighting raged on the outskirts of the city.

In remarks on national television, Striuk said some of the most intense fighting was concentrated around the Mir Hotel on the outskirts of the city.

“A real battle can be heard in the main bus station area,” he said. “Our military is in a tough defensive position. The city is being constantly shelled. The humanitarian headquarters that is located in the city was practically immobilized today, because it is not safe to move around the city, and the work of the headquarters was suspended.”

Striuk described a dire situation, saying there were no mobile telephone communications and that electricity has been cut. His comments come just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Saturday that the time until Ukraine is liberated “grows shorter” every day, and that it is “just a matter of time” before Ukraine takes back Russian gains.

“We supplied water to the city with the help of electricity, pumping stations,” he said. “The water that is available is from open wells with generators. There are about six or seven wells in the city. It is extremely dangerous, as soon as people gather for water, shelling begins there.”

Striuk, however, expressed some confidence the city would be able to hold out with some limited supplies delivered over the road.

“The evacuation is very unsafe, few people, priority for the wounded. Only an initial level of medical care is available in the city.”

In a statement, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine claimed Russian forces had suffered losses and retreated to some previously occupied positions in the direction of Severodonetsk, but added that the Russians were continuing to conduct reconnaissance of the area to identify and strike elements of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Fedir Venislavskyi, a member of the Ukrainian parliament’s Committee for National Security, Defense and Intelligence, said the next few days “will be decisive” in the battle for Severodonetsk. 

“Our forces pushed the enemy back to the positions he had previously held,” he said. “But we must understand that Russian troops are practically on the outskirts of Severodonetsk.”

Zelensky vows that Ukraine will "take everything back" from Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Saturday that the time until Ukraine is liberated “grows shorter” every day, and that it is “just a matter of time” before Ukraine takes back Russian gains.

“Ukraine will take everything back [from Russia]. This is an imperative,” he said, “And it’s just a matter of time. Every day at this same time, the time until liberation grows shorter. Everything we do is for this.”

Zelensky said the situation in the Donbas remains difficult, especially in the areas of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Bakhmut and Popasna.

“Above all, in terms of weapons supply, every day we are getting closer to outnumbering our enemy,” the Ukrainian president claimed.

He added: “We will dominate the occupiers with technological and conventional striking power. A lot depends on our partners. They are ready to provide Ukraine with everything necessary to defend freedom. So I expect good news on this already, next week.”

Zelensky said Russian forces inflicted “barbaric blows” on the Sumy region using rockets and mortars. He also referenced Saturday’s Russian attack on Mykolaiv, which struck a residential area 20 meters from a kindergarten, killing one person and wounding seven others.

He said Russian forces are preventing Ukrainians from evacuating the Kherson region.

“Those who are confident in their position would certainly not make such decisions. This is clearly a sign of weakness. What it shows is that they have nothing to offer the people, and the people do not want to take anything from them. So, they resort to taking people hostage,” Zelensky said. 

Women's basketball association calls for release of Brittney Griner on 100th day of her detention in Russia

Basketball star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February.

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) on Saturday released a statement calling for the release of Brittney Griner and for Griner’s wife to be granted a meeting with US President Joe Biden.

Saturday marks 100 days since Griner was detained in Russia.

Earlier this month, a Russian court extended the WNBA star’s pretrial detention until at least June following her arrest in February. Russian authorities claim Griner had cannabis oil in her luggage, and she has been accused of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance – an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The statement in a series of tweets from the WNBPA reads: “Brittney Griner is our teammate, our friend, and our sister. She is a record-breaker, a gold medalist, a wife, a daughter, a champion, a role model, an all-star, and so much more.”
“Right now, BG is an American citizen who has been wrongfully detained in Russia for 100 days. That’s 144,000 minutes,” it added.

The statement went on to call for action from professional and amateur athletes alike, as well as the media and others.

“To our sisters, brothers and colleagues in professional sports: sign the petition, hold your own media blackouts, please. Help us reach the White House. To athletes of any age, ability level, team, sport, or country: this is OUR teammate. A member of OUR global sports community, we need to stand up and stand together to call for her release. Speak up, speak out, and do not stop until BG is home,” it said.  

The statement said Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, should meet with Biden.

“Her person, our sister has been wrongfully detained for 100 days. You’ve heard our pleas. You have heard BG’s wife Cherelle’s pleas. And now more than ever, we need you to stand with us, and get her person home,” it said.

Cherelle Griner earlier on Saturday posted on her Instagram pleading for action from Biden.

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to watch the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in Moscow on May 9.

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

1 dead in Mykolaiv shelling, according to Ukrainian regional administration

At least one person is dead after shelling in the southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv, the regional state administration said Saturday. 

Mykolaiv is under Ukrainian government control, but is not far from the front lines of fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces. It is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) away from Kherson, which has been under Russian control since the early days of the invasion.

“On Saturday morning, May 28, occupying troops of Russia once again fired at the city of Mykolaiv,” according to a statement. “And again the blow fell on residential areas. One person died on the spot. At least 6 civilians are also known to be injured.”

The statement said at least two rounds landed in the courtyards of residential high-rises, damaging several buildings.

“Mykolayiv city was shelled again this morning,” according to a previous statement. “The Russians hit the yard of a residential area, 20 meters away from a kindergarten. There are injured people due to the shelling.”

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

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.”

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