May 31, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Andrew Raine, Jack Guy, Hannah Ryan, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, June 1, 2022
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2:58 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

The battle for Ukraine's eastern region continues to intensify. Here's what to know about the situation in Donbas

Fierce fighting continues in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine with constant shelling reported in several areas and the battle for the key city of Severodonetsk intensifying. It comes as Russia's foreign minister said pushing the Ukrainian army out of Donetsk and Luhansk is a priority for Moscow.

Here's what we know about the situation in the Donbas region:

  • "Maximum intensity" strikes: Ukraine's Defense Ministry says that Russian forces are carrying out artillery strikes along much of the frontline that runs through the Luhansk and Donetsk regions as they try to break through Ukrainian defensive positions.
  • The Donbas region encompasses the eastern areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukrainian lines are being attacked by the Russians from the south, east and north.
  • "The battles have reached maximum intensity. The Russian occupation forces engage along the entire frontline and try to shell our rear positions with artillery," said Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzianyk on Monday.
  • Russian forces, he said, "are trying encircle our troops in Donetsk and Luhansk regions."
  • The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported Monday additional Russian efforts to degrade Ukrainian defenses in Luhansk and Donetsk, saying that artillery, airstrikes and missiles have been used in several places — including Lysychansk and Soledar.

  • "Most difficult" situation in Severodonetsk: The eastern Ukrainian city and neighboring Lysychansk are being hammered with constant shelling as Russian forces try to encircle Ukrainian defenders.
  • Russian forces are trying to break through Ukrainian lines in this area and complete the seizure of Luhansk. They control about 90% of the region, according to most estimates.
  • Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk Regional Administration, said late Monday that while all parts of Luhansk region still under Ukrainian control are being attacked, "the situation in Severodonetsk is really the most difficult."
  • He said Russian forces had been able to "push through territory from the outskirts of the city, where the Myr hotel is, and move a little deeper into the city. In the city now, there are and will be street battles."
  • Earlier, Hayday said Russian forces are “advancing into the middle of the city” after consolidating "their hold on the northeastern and southeastern outskirts" of Severodonetsk.
  • Ukraine's Defense Ministry spokesperson Motuzianyk said street fights have broken out but the Ukrainians "are trying to prevent the enemy from encircling our units near Lysychansk and Severodonetsk and blocking the main logistics path."
  • About two-thirds of properties in Severodonetsk have been reported as destroyed.
  • On Monday, French journalist Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff was shot and killed in the area.
  • In neighboring Lysychansk, one resident told CNN, "we haven't slept in three months" as Russian strikes have increased in ferocity. Residents must decide between staying in their homes or fleeing for their lives.

  • Shelling "does not stop" in Donetsk: Three civilians were killed and several others wounded in fierce fighting in the Donetsk region on Sunday.
  • Russian forces shelled areas north of the city of Donetsk with small arms, tanks, artillery, mortars, and MLRS "Grad" rockets, according to the regional military administration for Donetsk.
  • On Monday morning, there was also shelling in areas to the southwest of Donetsk city.
  • "The situation is tense. The shelling along the front line does not stop," said the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko. "The hottest spots are (in the direction of) Avdiivka, Toretsk, and Lyman."
  • Kyrylenko said the key route from Bakhmut to Lysychansk is still under Ukrainian control, but the Russians are "constantly shelling the route." It is the main route for providing humanitarian goods and is important for evacuations, he added.
  • The General Staff said Russian efforts to degrade Ukrainian defenses continues, with artillery, mortar and multiple rocket systems being used against several towns and villages in the direction of Bakhmut.

WATCH:

11:19 p.m. ET, May 30, 2022

European Commission president: EU leaders have agreed "on principle" on new sanctions package against Russia

From CNN's Mitchell McCluskey

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks to the media in Brussels on Monday.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks to the media in Brussels on Monday. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

European Union leaders have agreed “on principle” on a new sanctions package against Russia, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said in a news conference on Monday following a summit in Brussels.

“I’m very glad that the leaders were able to agree in principle on the sixth sanctions package, this is very important. Thanks to this, (the) council should now be able to finalize a ban on almost 90% of all Russian oil imports by the end of the year. This is an important step forward,” von der Leyen said.

Von der Leyen added that the remaining 10% of imports of Russian oil is via a pipeline into Hungary and Slovakia. Those imports would be exempt from the sanctions, she said.

“Two-thirds of the oil that we have in the EU is seaborne and one-third in pipeline,” von der Leyen said, “We have agreed for the moment being for an exemption. We have agreed that the council will revert to the topic as soon as possible.”

Von der Leyen stated that the leaders agreed to remove Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, from the SWIFT network, as well as institute a ban on the insurance of Russian ships by EU companies and a ban on providing Russian companies with a range of services.

Von der Leyen added that there would be a suspension of broadcasting of three more Russian state outlets in the EU. She did not specify which broadcasters would be suspended.

“We are working on a mechanism to have an extraordinary macrofinancial assistance package of 9 billion (euros), which we will work on now in the next week — how to put it into place,” von der Leyen said.

The leaders also held intensive talks on the reconstruction of Ukraine. Von der Leyen emphasized that coordination across EU states is necessary to carry this out.

“It was good that we could discuss the proposal of the commission in the council to create a platform where we can channel all of the international initiatives to be clear together on the direction on travel, to raise the necessary investment, but also to be very clear that investment comes with reform,” she said.

11:19 p.m. ET, May 30, 2022

EU agrees on partial ban of Russian oil imports 

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London 

The European Union has agreed on a partial ban of Russian oil imports, according to European Council chief Charles Michel. 

"Agreement to ban export of Russian oil to the EU. This immediately covers more than 2/3 of oil imports from Russia, cutting a huge source of financing for its war machine," Michel announced in a tweet on Monday evening. 

Michel's announcement followed an extraordinary European Council summit attended by EU leaders in Brussels on Monday to discuss a sixth package of sanctions against Russia.  

"This sanctions package includes other hard-hitting measures: de-Swifting the largest Russian bank Sberbank, banning 3 more Russian state-owned broadcasters, and sanctioning individuals responsible for war crimes in Ukraine," Michel added. 

EU leaders will meet again in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss the bloc's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

More background: Officials first proposed joining the US and others in banning Russia's oil a month ago as part of a sixth package of EU sanctions over the country's invasion of Ukraine. But an agreement has been held up by some countries, like Hungary, that are particularly reliant on Russian crude delivered via pipeline.

An EU official told CNN earlier that banning all seaborne oil would cover more than two-thirds of imports from Russia.

Europe is the biggest buyer of Russian energy. Russian crude accounted for 27% of the bloc's imports in 2021, according to Eurostat. That's around 2.4 million barrels per day, data from the International Energy Agency shows. About 35% of that was delivered via pipelines to the bloc, according to the IEA.

But pipeline deliveries made up a much bigger share of Russian oil shipments to Hungary (86%), the Czech Republic (97%) and Slovakia (100%).

See the European Council chief's tweet:

CNN's Anna Cooban and James Frater contributed reporting to this post.

11:19 p.m. ET, May 30, 2022

US President Biden says he won't send rockets to Ukraine that could reach Russia

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden said he doesn't plan to ship any rockets to Ukraine that could reach Russian territory.

"I won't send anything that can fire into Russia," Biden said at the White House on Monday when asked whether he was planning to send long-range rockets to Ukraine.

CNN reported last week the Biden administration is preparing to step up the kind of weaponry it is offering Ukraine by sending advanced, long-range rocket systems that are now the top request from Ukrainian officials.

The administration is leaning toward sending the systems as part of a larger package of military and security assistance to Ukraine, which could be announced as soon as next week.

The administration has wavered on whether to send the systems amid concerns raised within the National Security Council that Ukraine could use the new weapons to carry out offensive attacks inside Russia, according to officials.

On Friday, after CNN first reported the news, Russians warned that the United States will “cross a red line” if it supplies the systems to Ukraine.

More background: The rocket systems the Biden administration is preparing to send to Ukraine are capable of firing different kinds of ammunition that reach a range of distances.

While some of the longer-range weapons can fire 300 miles (or about 500 kilometers) or more, the systems can also launch rockets with a range of just a few dozen miles — not considered long-range weapons but still able to reach a greater distance than the howitzers the US has already sent to Ukraine.

Biden's comments Monday leave open the possibility that the US could send the advanced, long-range rocket systems without the longest-range rockets.

CNN's Oren Liebermann and Alex Marquardt contributed reporting to this post.

11:19 p.m. ET, May 30, 2022

Ukrainian military reports advances in the south and intense fighting in eastern Donbas region

From CNN's Tim Lister

The Ukrainian military has reported advances during its counteroffensive in the south and continuing efforts to hold off Russian advances in the eastern Donbas region.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported Monday additional Russian efforts to degrade Ukrainian defenses in Luhansk and Donetsk, saying that artillery, airstrikes and missiles had been used in several places — including Lysychansk and Soledar.

Russian pressure on Severodonetsk, a city where two-thirds of properties have been reported as destroyed, continues — with the General Staff saying that hostilities persist in and around the city. 

As the Russians attack Ukrainian lines in Donbas from the south, east and north, there are conflicting claims about their progress. 

The General Staff said that fighting continues around the village of Komyshuvakha, to the southwest of Severodonetsk. Social media video geolocated by CNN appears to show a Chechen unit in the village, with drone footage suggesting Ukrainian soldiers retreating from the area. A Chechen commander says:  "This locality is now under our control, and we will begin storming all fronts. We have seized, completely, you could say, Komyshuvakha."

Ukraine has claimed some success in its offensive in the south, which began during the weekend. The General Staff said, "the enemy suffered losses and withdrew from the village of Mykolaivka, Kherson region, which led to panic among servicemen of other units of the armed forces of the Russian Federation." 

If Russian forces have withdrawn from Mykolaivka, it would represent a gain of several kilometers for Ukrainian units. 

The General Staff reported continued further cross-border shelling of settlements in the northern regions of Chernihiv and Sumy, as well as shelling of territory north of the city of Kharkiv which has recently been retaken by Ukrainian forces.

11:19 p.m. ET, May 30, 2022

Ukrainian official: Military victory against Russia "unlikely" if US holds back long-range artillery

From CNN's Katya Krebs and Matthew Chance in Kyiv, Ukraine

A military victory against Russia is “unlikely” if the United States holds back supplies of long-range artillery, a senior Ukrainian official tells CNN. 

Alexey Arestovych, a Ukrainian presidential advisor, told CNN the weapons are “essential for fate of Ukraine and its independence.” 

US officials said last week they are considering a Ukrainian request for deliveries of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, MLRS, which can strike targets as far as 300 kilometers, or about 186 miles, depending on the type of munition. 

Arestovych told CNN that even a small number of the weapons systems — as few as 20 — would be a “game-changer” in the conflict with Russia, as he said it would enable Ukrainian troops to defend themselves against long-range Russian attacks. 

Without MLRS, we would probably be able to stabilize the frontlines,” Arestovych said.

“But we would be looking at losing Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and parts of the Zaporizhzhia region,” he told CNN. 

But arming Ukraine with long-range rockets has raised concerns in the West that the MLRSs could be used to attack targets inside Russia, possibly escalating the conflict. 

Acknowledging those concerns, Arestovych told CNN that Ukraine would only use the weapons to defend their territory, not to attack Russia.