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June 2, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

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What we covered

  • After 100 days of war, about 20% of Ukraine’s territory is now under Russian control, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, adding the Donbas region is “almost entirely destroyed.”
  • Zelenksy said Ukrainian forces are withstanding the Russian onslaught around the key eastern city of Severodonetsk, where about 800 people are hiding in bomb shelters underneath a chemical factory that was hit by Russian missiles.
  • Ukrainian forces say they have made significant progress during an offensive against Russian positions in the occupied southern region of Kherson.
  • The US military’s hacking unit has conducted offensive cyber operations in support of Ukraine, the head of the command confirmed.
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Analysis: After 100 days of war, Putin is counting on the world's indifference

Rewind the clock to February 23, the day before Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine, and one might be tempted to guess that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s days in office were numbered.

After all, Russia’s military outspent that of Ukraine by roughly 10 to one. Moscow enjoyed a twofold advantage over Kyiv in land forces; and the nuclear-armed power had 10 times the aircraft and five times the armored fighting vehicles of its neighbor.

A visibly angry Russian President Vladimir Putin had appeared on television just days before, delivering a rambling historical monologue that made clear he expected nothing less than regime change in Kyiv.

The Kremlin leader seemed to be gambling that Zelensky would flee his capital, much as the US-backed president of Afghanistan had left Kabul just a few months earlier, and that Western outrage would subside, albeit with the temporary pain of new sanctions.

100 days later, whatever plans Putin may have had for a victory parade in Kyiv are on indefinite hold. Ukrainian morale did not collapse. Ukrainian troops, equipped with modern anti-tank weaponry delivered by the US and its allies, devastated Russian armored columns; Ukrainian missiles sank the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the pride of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet; and Ukrainian aircraft stayed in the air, against the odds.

In late March, Russia’s military began withdrawing its battered troops from around the Ukrainian capital, claiming they had shifted focus to capturing the country’s eastern Donbas region. Three months after its invasion, Russia no longer appears to be aiming for a short, victorious war in Ukraine — nor does it seem to be capable of achieving one.

Read the full analysis:

Russian President Vladimir Putin seen during the Summit of Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) at the Grand Kremlin Palace, May,16,2022, in Moscow, Russia. Leaders of post-Soviet states have gathered at the Kremlin for the summit of CSTO marking its 30th anniversary this year.

After 100 days of war, Putin is counting on the world's indifference | CNN

Zelensky says Ukrainian troops have "some success" in battles in Severodonetsk

Smoke and dirt rise in the city of Severedonetsk, the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, on Thursday.

President Volodymyr Zelenksy said that Ukrainian forces are withstanding the Russian onslaught around the city of Severodonetsk in the eastern region of Donbas.

“We have some success in the battles in Severodonetsk. But it’s too early to tell. It’s the hardest thing there now. As in the cities and communities nearby — Lysychansk, Bakhmut and other cities where [there is] such a powerful attack by Russia,” Zelensky said in his daily video message.

Reports from Thursday said that street fighting continued in Severodonetsk. 

“The Russian army uses all its armed capabilities and does not count people at all. It is especially cynical that in the first line of attacks, the occupiers very often use those people who were recruited into their army in the previously occupied territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” Zelensky said, referring to the militia of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.

“The longer the war lasts, the more vile, shameful and cynical things Russia will forever write in its history,” he said. 

Zelensky also addressed the new rockets and munitions that the US will be sending Ukraine.

“The United States has confirmed that modern HIMARS fire missile systems are being sent to our country. These weapons will really help save the lives of our people and protect our land. I am grateful to President Biden, all our American friends, and the people of the United States for their support,” he added.

On the issue of Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union, Zelensky said: “It is very important that now — in a few weeks — we are waiting for the answer of the European Union on the issue of candidate status for Ukraine. We are very much looking forward to it.”

Here’s a look at the areas Russian forces control in Ukraine:

Ukrainian forces claim significant progress in southern offensive

Ukrainian forces say they have made significant progress during an offensive against Russian positions in the occupied southern region of Kherson.

“In the Kherson region, the Armed Forces have liberated 8 kilometers (about 5 miles) of occupied territory,” the Territorial Defence AZOV Dnipro unit posted on Telegram late Thursday.

Ukrainian forces launched the offensive into Kherson from several vantage points to the north last weekend. Since then, there has been little information about the operation, but Ukrainian forces appear to have taken a number of villages in the northern part of Kherson and consolidated a bridgehead across the river Inhulets.

On Wednesday, the head of the Kherson Regional State Administration, Gennady Laguta, said 20 settlements had been liberated.

It's 10 p.m. in Kyiv. Here are the latest developments from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sergiy Tarasyuk, 49, sits on his bed after a missile strike in the city of Sloviansk, the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, on Wednesday. Tarasyuk survived since he felt asleep in the living room the night before.

One-fifth of Ukrainian territory is under Russia’s control, with Donbas “almost entirely destroyed,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said while addressing Luxembourg’s lawmakers on Thursday.

“As of today, about 20% of our territory is under the control of the occupiers, almost 125 thousand square kilometers. This is much larger than the area of all the Benelux countries combined,” Zelensky said to the Chamber of Deputies of Luxembourg via video link.  

If you’re just joining us, here is what you need to know about Thursday’s developments in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Severedonetsk holding out: Ukraine’s army has carried a series of counterattacks in the eastern city of Severodonetsk, but Russian forces still control “most” of the city, said Serhiy Hayday, head of Luhansk regional military administration. Severodonetsk is one of the last remaining strongholds held by Ukraine in Luhansk.

Areas of Donetsk region “under constant rocket fire”: The cities of Bakhmut and Slovyansk are among the areas under bombardment, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk military administration, on Thursday. Russian troops are also “moving along Lyman-Izyum direction to capture Sloviansk and Kramatorsk territories,” and the highway from Bakhmut to Lysychansk “remains under enemy fire,” he said.

At least seven people have been killed and 10 more wounded in the last 24 hours in the Donetsk region, Kyrylenko said. Just 340,000 of the 1.6 million people who used to live in the region remain.

Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian seaports could spark a global food crisis: “About 22 million tons of grain are stuck in ports and cannot reach consumers, especially in Africa and Asia,” said Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko on Thursday, adding that land routes alone won’t solve the problem. Russia is also “stealing Ukrainian grain in the occupied territories in order to sell it illegally to third countries,” Nikolenko said.

CNN has previously reported on multiple Russian ships carrying stolen Ukrainian grain.

US confirms it conducted offensive cyber operations in support of Ukraine: Cyber Command, the US military’s hacking unit, has conducted offensive cyber operations in support of Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s invasion, the head of the command has confirmed. The disclosure underscores how important projecting power in cyberspace has been to the Biden administration as it continues to avoid directly engaging Russia in a shooting war. 

It’s a rare public acknowledgment from US military officials of hacking operations that are often shrouded in mystery. 

Angela Merkel speaks out for the first time since leaving office: Speaking to 200 people, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia is waging a “barbaric war of aggression” in Ukraine. The invasion constitutes blatant breach of international law and ”a profound break” in the history of Europe after the end of World War II, she added.

US confirms military hackers have conducted cyber operations in support of Ukraine

Cyber Command, the US military’s hacking unit, has conducted offensive cyber operations in support of Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s invasion, the head of the command has confirmed. 

The disclosure underscores how important projecting power in cyberspace — in support of Ukraine’s defenses and to potentially deter Russia from conducting cyberattacks against US infrastructure — has been to the Biden administration as it continues to avoid directly engaging Russia in a shooting war. 

“We’ve conducted a series of operations across the full spectrum: offensive, defensive, [and] information operations,” Gen. Paul Nakasone said in an interview with Sky News. A spokesperson for the command did not dispute the accuracy of the article but declined to elaborate on what the command’s operations in Ukraine have entailed. 

It’s a rare public acknowledgment from US military officials of hacking operations that are often shrouded in mystery. 

Read more here.

Oil prices climb after OPEC agrees to boost supply

Oil prices moved solidly higher on Thursday as investors react to OPEC’s production hike with a collective shrug.

US crude jumped 1.9% to $117.45 a barrel in recent trading. That’s about $5 to $6 above where oil was trading at in the hours before the announcement by OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+. 

Brent crude, the world benchmark, gained 1.5% to $118 a barrel, up from around $113 a barrel earlier in the day.

This comes after OPEC+ announced it will increase supply by 648,000 barrels per day in July and August, about 200,000 barrels per day more than scheduled.

Yet the reaction in the market underscore a sense that the extra supply from OPEC+ won’t be enough to solve the supply crunch.

“It’s too small to move the needle,” said Robert McNally, president of consulting firm Rapidan Energy Group. 

McNally said the shift from OPEC+ — and Saudi Arabia in particular – is very important symbolically. But it won’t be enough to arrest the upward move in oil prices. 

More is needed given the scale of the problem. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and sanctions from the West – has distorted global energy markets. Russia is not just the world’s largest oil exporter, but the biggest natural gas exporter. 

New numbers released Thursday from the Energy Department show that US commercial oil inventories tumbled by 5 million barrels last week, nearly four times more than expected and another sign of the supply-demand imbalance. 

Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, described the OPEC decision as a “diplomatic triumph” for both Saudi Arabia and the Biden administration.

However, the former CIA analyst is skeptical that this OPEC production hike – or any OPEC production hike, for that matter – will significantly ease strained energy markets.  

“The problem is I’m not sure OPEC can solve for a war involving a global commodity superstore,” she said. “This is probably beyond OPEC’s ability to solve. The burden is too high.”

NATO chief says he believes war will "end at the negotiation table" after meeting with Biden

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media following a meeting with President Joe Biden on June 2, in Washington, DC.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday he had a “great meeting” with US President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Stoltenberg commended the US for its leadership and support of Ukraine and leadership in support of the Transatlantic alliance. US support is “making a difference on the battlefield every day,” he said. 

They also discussed preparations for the late June NATO summit in Madrid, which he said “takes place at a pivotal time for security.” He said he looked forward to welcoming Biden to Spain. 

Asked by CNN’s MJ Lee about his assessment of the endgame of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, he said, “wars are, by nature, unpredictable and therefore we just have to be prepared for the long haul.” He added that it has become a “war of attrition,” where the Ukrainians are “paying a hard price for defending their country on the battlefield” but also “Russia is taking high casualties.” 

He said he believes the war will “end at the negotiation table,” and Ukraine continues to need NATO’s support. 

When asked about Turkey’s block on Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership applications, Stoltenberg expressed confidence it will get resolved.

“When an ally, Turkey, raises concerns, we have to do what we always do and that is to sit down, address those concerns, then find a united way forward. We are in close contact with Ankara, leadership there,” he said, as well as close contact with Sweden and Finland. 

Stoltenberg said he would be convening a meeting with senior officials from Stockholm, Helsinki and Ankara in the coming days. 

Turkey, he noted, is an “important ally.” 

Ukrainian military reports heavy fighting north of Sloviansk as Russians continue bombardments

The Ukrainian military said Thursday that fighting continues in multiple parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, with Russian forces trying to advance from several directions as they seek to take more of the area. 

Much of the fighting has been on the approaches to the city of Sloviansk. The nearby town of Sviatohirsk — which is home to a historic monastery on the banks of the Siverskiy Donets river — was shelled, and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine said three monks were killed. 

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that three other settlements in the area were under fire, and there was fighting underway in several more places. The locations named by the Ukrainians — Studenok, Sosnove and Yarova — suggest that Russian forces have made modest progress toward reaching the river. Observers said, however, that Ukrainian forces have prepared defenses around Sloviansk.

The military said that “in the Severodonetsk direction, the occupiers continue to fire on the Armed Forces positions in the districts of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.”

There has also been Russian airstrikes in adjacent communities. Ukrainian troops continue to hold the western edges of Severodonetsk, but the rest of the city is now in Russian hands.

The military said Russians were also continuing efforts to close in on the town of Bakhmut, a supply hub for Ukrainian forces, and fighting continued around settlements to the east and south of the town.

Oleksandr Zaika, head of Lysychansk City Military-Civil Administration, said that Thursday was “very difficult” in the city, which is across the Siverskiy Donets river from Severodonetsk. 

“The shelling has become more powerful. They are firing all over the city. They are firing continuously. Almost every minute, something arrives, so the situation is very difficult,” Zaika told Ukrainian television.

He said that the highway linking Lysychansk with Bakhmut is under Ukrainian control, but said “they fire there all time, so it is very difficult to drive there, but it is possible. There is an alternative road on which you can move, but it is also dangerous.”

He said 80,000 people — out of a population of about 100,000 — had left Lysychansk, and that 60% of the infrastructure and housing had been destroyed.

Russian invasion could contribute to 1970s-style energy crisis, current and former energy officials say

The world is grappling with gravity-defying energy price spikes on everything from gasoline and natural gas to coal. Some fear this may just be the beginning.

Current and former energy officials tell CNN they worry that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the wake of years of underinvestment in the energy sector have sent the world careening into a crisis that will rival or even exceed the oil crises of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Unlike those infamous episodes, this one is not contained to oil.

“Now we have an oil crisis, a gas crisis and an electricity crisis at the same time,” Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency watchdog group, told Der Spiegel in an interview published this week. “This energy crisis is much bigger than the oil crises of the 1970s and 1980s. And it will probably last longer.”

The global economy has largely been able to withstand surging energy prices so far. But prices could continue to rise to unsustainable levels as Europe attempts to wean itself off Russian oil and, potentially, gas. Supply shortages could lead to some difficult choices in Europe, including rationing.

Joe McMonigle, secretary general of the International Energy Forum, said he agrees with this depressing forecast from the IEA.

“We have a serious problem around the world that I think policymakers are just waking up to. It’s kind of a perfect storm,” McMonigle, whose group serves as a go-between for energy producing and consuming nations, told CNN in a phone interview.

The extent of that perfect storm — underinvestment, strong demand and supply disruptions from the war — will have wide-reaching consequences, potentially threatening the economic recovery from Covid-19, exacerbating inflation, fueling social unrest and undermining efforts to save the planet from global warming.

Birol warned of supply bottlenecks of gasoline and diesel, especially in Europe, as well as rationing of natural gas next winter in Europe.

“It is a crisis for which the world is woefully unprepared,” said Robert McNally, who served as a top energy adviser to former US President George W. Bush.

Continue reading the full story here:

The facilities of the oil refinery on the industrial site of PCK-Raffinerie GmbH are illuminated in the evening in Brandenburg, Schwedt, on May 4, 2022. Crude oil from Russia arrives at the oil refinery via the "Friendship" pipeline. The Russian energy company Rosneft took over a large part of the refinery last year. Rosneft is Russia's largest oil producer. According to its own information, the plant in the Uckermark region processes 12 million tons of crude oil annually, making it one of the largest processing sites in Germany.

The world may be careening toward a 1970s-style energy crisis -- or worse

African Union chief will hold talks with Putin on Friday over food security

Senegalese President Macky Sall speaks during a press conference on May 1.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is also the head of the African Union, is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi on Friday to discuss the “liberation of the stocks of grain and fertilizers,” Sall’s office said Thursday. 

Sall is traveling to Russia as “the blockage of [grain and fertilizer exports] particularly affects African countries,” his office added. The talks were also set to center on the African Union’s efforts “to contribute to the lull of the war in Ukraine.” 

The Kremlin said that Sall and Putin would discuss Russia’s interaction with the African Union, “including the expansion of political dialogue and economic and humanitarian cooperation.” 

On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that 22 million tons of grain, accounting for nearly half of Ukraine’s grain export supply, was being held up by Russia’s blockade of the main export routes through the Black Sea and Azov Sea.   

The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected the accusations that it has blocked grain supplies from Ukraine and has accused the West of actions that have led to this crisis.   

Ukrainian military says there are no immediate plans for withdrawing forces from Severodonetsk

A senior officer in the Ukrainian military said that fierce fighting continues in the city of Severodonetsk in Luhansk region. 

Speaking at a briefing in Kyiv, Oleksii Hromov, deputy head of the Operations Directorate of the General Staff, said, “Regarding the withdrawal of our troops. At the moment, our troops, which are engaged in the defense of Severodonetsk, do not face such a task. The units will carry out tasks with all the available forces and means, with the available resources.”

Hromov acknowledged that the danger of Severodonetsk falling to the enemy exists. “In case of the taking of Severodonetsk, we will be forced to defend along the river bank and will also fight from urban areas.” The river Siverskiy Donets runs close to Severodonetsk, dividing it from the nearby city of Lysychansk. 

“The enemy is trying to encircle our troops,” Hromov said. “All activities, all actions carried out by both military personnel and units as a whole, consist in the implementation of a single plan. At this time, in the plans of the command, the General Staff, there is no need for our military units to withdraw from the [Severodonetsk] area.”

Resistance in Russian-occupied Melitopol is growing, according to Ukrainian mayor

Underground resistance in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol in southern Ukraine is growing, Mayor Ivan Fedorov said, adding that a number of Russian soldiers have been killed.

Fedorov is no longer in the city himself but said that according to intelligence data, more than 100 Russians had been “eliminated by the Melitopol guerrilla movement and special services cooperation. But I’m sure that this number is higher.”

There is no way to verify the figure, and there has been no visual confirmation of Russians being killed in Melitopol.

Fedorov claimed on Ukrainian television that, according to information he received, the Russians “abduct people and hold them captive, and very few people know how people are being treated while held captive.”

Since the beginning of the occupation, around 500 people had been detained by Russian forces — some for weeks — Fedorov said.

“If we try to categorize those who are under the threat of captivity — first of all, these are the dissidents, those who do not want to become part of Russia, those who condemn the occupation and those who simply disagree. Some people voice their disagreement, some only talk about it in their kitchens at home, but everyone is under threat,” he said.

He noted that people held by the Russians were forced to sign documents saying that they would no longer attend rallies against the occupation or make statements in support of Russian forces.

Some had been tortured, he claimed. “It’s not just dangerous to go out for the pro-Ukrainian rallies — it’s dangerous to simply stay in the city. So as of today, over 50% of residents have left Melitopol. That’s over 70,000 people.”

The latest theft by occupying forces was of Melitopol’s cherry harvest, Fedorov said.

“They are taking it from our farmers, promising that one day they will give them some money in exchange. They also tell our farmers, that according to Russian legislation, one cannot have more than four hectares of fruit trees; anything in excess, they will confiscate,” he said.

US targets Russian elite, along with yachts and aircraft belonging to Putin associates, in latest sanctions

The White House on Thursday announced the latest round of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, targeting Russian government officials and elites with a slew of new financial and diplomatic sanctions. 

The latest sanctions, issued by the Treasury and State departments, take aim at the luxury assets of several prominent Russian elites – including several yachts and aircraft belonging to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s associates – and “luxury asset management and service companies” working to evade US sanctions, according to a White House statement. The Commerce Department also issued new sanctions restricting Russia’s ability to secure military technologies. 

The sanctions target several prominent Russian elites and government officials, including Russian businessman God Nisanov, whom US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls “one of the richest men in Europe and a close associate of several Russian officials” and Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova. 

The White House said in a statement that the latest sanctions are designed “to crack down on evasion and tighten our sanctions to enhance enforcement and increase pressure on Putin and his enablers.” 

“President Putin’s war against Ukraine is also an attack on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, enshrined in the UN Charter. Ukraine is fighting valiantly to defend its people and its independence with unprecedented assistance from the United States and countries around the world. The United States will continue to support the people of Ukraine while promoting accountability for President Putin and those enabling Russian aggression,” Blinken said in a statement announcing the sanctions. 

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control identified two yachts, the “Russia-flagged Graceful and the Cayman Islands-flagged Olympia,” as “blocked property in which President Vladimir Putin has an interest.”  

Putin, according to Treasury, has “taken numerous trips” on the yachts as recently as last year. It also designated several management companies and other owners associated with the yachts, as well as other yacht brokerage companies associated with Putin. 

The sanctions also target two other yachts, the Shellest and the Nega, both owned by Russian companies. 

“Shellest periodically travels to the coast where President Putin’s infamous Black Sea Palace is located, and President Putin uses Nega for travel in Russia’s North,” the Department of Treasury said. 

Thursday’s sanctions also take aim at a “close friend” of Putin, Sergei Pavlovich Roldugin, who, according to the Treasury Department, is “the godfather to one of Putin’s daughters,” as well as Roldugin’s wife, Elena Yuryevna Mirtova. Roldugin is the artistic director of the St. Petersburg Music House and Mirtova is a soprano opera singer. 

The administration also sanctioned a series of other yachts and aircraft belonging to Putin associates. 

Five additional Russian government officials were placed on the Department of Treasury’s sanctions list, including Yury Slyusar, the president of a Russian state-owned aircraft company; Vitaly Savelyev, the minister of transport; Maxim Reshentnikov, the minister of economic development; Irek Envarovich Faizullin, the minister of construction, housing, and utilities; and Dmitriy Yuryevich Grigorenko, the deputy prime minister. 

Severgroup, a “multi-billion-dollar Russia’s investment company with holdings and subsidiaries in metallurgy, engineering, mining, tourism, banking, technology, media, and finance, among other sectors” is also being sanctioned, along with its leader Alexey Mordashov and three members of his family.

Ukrainian helicopter pilot describes risky mission to fly into Azovstal plant to rescue the wounded

Smoke rises from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 10.

A Ukrainian helicopter pilot has given a detailed account of a daring mission to fly deep into Russian-held territory and rescue some of the injured in Mariupol’s Azovstal plant.

The steel plant became the last bastion of resistance by Ukrainian forces in the eastern port city, but dozens of badly wounded people were trapped there for weeks.

The pilot, in an interview released by the Ukrainian military, said that there had been a number of flights to deliver badly needed supplies to Azovstal — and in some cases, the crews had received just a few hours notice. 

He said the main difficulty was layers of anti-aircraft defenses.

“There were three different anti-aircraft missile systems that covered the landing area,” he said, and according to all calculations, the missions should have been impossible.

The pilot, whose identity is disguised during the interview, added that, like President Volodymyr Zelensky said, “In 90% of cases, everyone understands that they will not come back … But we all realized what was going on there. That people didn’t even have medicine there to provide some basic care, there was no ammunition. It was extremely necessary to do it. That is why everyone took this risk.’”

Video of one mission showed views from the helicopter flight deck as the aircraft flew very low over the sea and Mariupol’s docks, as well as a brief shot of a helicopter on the ground at the Azovstal plant. 

“At that moment, when we were already in Mariupol, and there was a landing, unloading of people and cargo, there was such a feeling of euphoria,” the pilot said.

However, the pilot said that three minutes after takeoff on the return journey, his helicopter was hit by a man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) missile and one engine failed. But he decided against making an emergency landing with 20 wounded on board. “How to pick them up, how to evacuate them? We would need another helicopter,” he said.

The pilot said he managed to fly to the designated landing site.

“Unfortunately, the other helicopter behind was less fortunate and the whole crew died,” he said. 

More: A video was published Wednesday by a Telegram channel linked to the Ukrainian security services that showed helicopters flying supplies into Azovstal.  

“This unique special operation was carried out by specialists of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense and the Azov Regiment. 16 Mi-8 military helicopters loaded with the necessary equipment flew to the defenders of Mariupol blocked by Russia in Azovstal,” it said.

“There were 7 such missions in total. Each time, helicopters successfully delivered food, drinking water, medicines and ammunition to the defenders of the city to a depth of more than 100 kilometers [from Ukrainian-held areas],” it added.

Zelensky referred to the previously undisclosed missions on May 20: “Unfortunately, a large number of people died, our pilots. Absolutely heroic people who knew that it was difficult, that it was almost impossible to fly to Azovstal and bring there medicine, food, water, pick up the bodies of the wounded.”

“A large number of weeks pilots on helicopters [flew], knowing that 90% of them will not come back. Imagine what these people were doing — they were flying there. We lost a lot of pilots,” Zelensky said. 

Russian blockade could lead to famine in some regions of the world, Ukraine's foreign ministry warns

Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian seaports “could lead to a global food crisis and, in some regions, a famine,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on Thursday.

“About 22 million tons of grain are stuck in ports and cannot reach consumers, especially in Africa and Asia,” Nikolenko said, adding that land routes alone won’t solve the problem.

Russia is also “stealing Ukrainian grain in the occupied territories in order to sell it illegally to third countries,” Nikolenko said.

CNN has previously reported on multiple Russian ships carrying stolen Ukrainian grain.

The foreign ministry called on Russia to “withdraw its forces from the territorial waters of Ukraine” and provide security guarantees against attacks on ports and ships.

“We call on countries whose food security may suffer most from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine to use their contacts with Moscow to force it to lift the blockade of Ukrainian seaports and end the war,” Nikolenko said.

Ukraine is also discussing with partners “ways to establish an international mission” under the United Nations to “take over the functioning of maritime routes,” Nikolenko said.

Ukrainian and US officials held call about military aid, according to the Ukraine President's Office

Senior officials from Ukraine and the United States held a phone call on Wednesday about the new military aid package for Ukraine, according to Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.

“Good news. Today, together with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi, we had a telephone conversation with the US President’s national security adviser Jacob Sullivan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley,” Yermak said.

“We discussed a new US military aid package for Ukraine, which includes HIMARS MLRS and ammunition, Mi-17 helicopters, Javelin missiles, tactical vehicles, radars and other ammunition,” he said.

“We also discussed future surprises that the enemy definitely will not like,” Yermak said.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov publicly thanked US President Joe Biden and the US military for including High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems in the next round of security assistance to Ukraine. In a statement on Wednesday, Biden formally announced the inclusion of the US-made HIMARS as part of the package to Ukraine.

The systems will have a range of about 70 kilometers (44 miles), a US defense official told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday, which is further than anything Ukraine has been sent to date. Ukraine had sought longer-range weapons, but the US resisted due to concerns they would be capable of striking Russian territory, thereby potentially escalating the war.

20% of Ukraine is under Russian control, President Zelensky says

One-fifth of Ukrainian territory is under Russia’s control, with Donbas “almost entirely destroyed,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said while addressing Luxembourg’s lawmakers on Thursday.

“As of today, about 20% of our territory is under the control of the occupiers, almost 125 thousand square kilometers. This is much larger than the area of all the Benelux countries combined,” Zelensky said to the Chamber of Deputies of Luxembourg via video link.   

Zelensky also said fighting continues along the front line that is stretched over “more than a thousand kilometers” along the territories of Kharkiv region to Mykolaiv in the country’s south. He added Ukraine’s Donbas region is “simply devastated,” calling it “once one of the most powerful industrial centers in Europe.” 

Zelensky claimed that more than 30,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the war began over three months ago. CNN cannot verify those numbers. “That’s greater than the death toll of the Soviet Union in 10 years of war in Afghanistan, greater than Russia’s death toll in two Chechen wars,” according to Zelensky.

In his remarks to the lawmakers, the Ukrainian president urged additional sanctions on Russia, asking for more weapons to support Ukraine’s fight along the front line. The Ukrainian president also invited Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel to visit Kyiv and asked for the deputies to support Ukraine’s ambition to join the EU, calling Ukraine a “de facto part of the European Union.” 

Zelensky spoke to chamber on the 99th day of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Since February, the Ukrainian president has addressed dozens of parliament assemblies and institutions around the world, gathering support for Ukraine.

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's son-in-law quit as Putin adviser, Kremlin confirms

Valentin Yumashev, right, is seen with his wife Tatyana Yumasheva in Moscow in 2019.

The son-in-law of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin has quit his role as an unpaid adviser to President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday. 

When asked to comment on reports that Valentin Yumashev, who is married to Yeltsin’s younger daughter Tatyana Borisovna Yumasheva, no longer serves as an adviser to Putin, Peskov said during a daily call with journalists that “indeed, yes, I can confirm that about a month ago he stopped being a pro bono adviser.”

“In terms of staff, this has been formalized,” Peskov added. He also said “it was decided not to publish the document” on the Kremlin’s website, which is not required. 

Peskov didn’t say why Yumashev has left the post. 

Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin as prime minister in August 1999. When Yeltsin stepped down amid scandal on December 31, 1999, Putin became acting president.

In the intervening years, Putin has remained close to Yeltsin’s family. 

Yumashev’s daughter, Maria, posted a picture of the Ukrainian flag on February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine with the caption “no to war” and a broken-heart emoji. 

Areas of Donetsk region “under constant rocket fire," says Ukrainian official

Several areas of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine are “under constant rocket fire,” said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk military administration, on Thursday.

The cities of Bakhmut and Slovyansk are among the areas under bombardment, Kyrylenko said via videolink at a press briefing in Kyiv.

Russian troops are also “moving along Lyman-Izyum direction to capture Sloviansk and Kramatorsk territories,” and the highway from Bakhmut to Lysychansk “remains under enemy fire,” he said.

At least seven people have been killed and 10 more wounded in the last 24 hours in the Donetsk region, Kyrylenko said.

Just 340,000 of the 1.6 million people that used to live in the region remain.

Angela Merkel calls Russia's invasion "barbaric" in first public speech since leaving office

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen at the farewell to German Trade Union Confederation Chairman Reiner Hoffmann in Berlin on June 1.

In her first public speech since leaving office in December, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia is waging a “barbaric war of aggression” in Ukraine.

Speaking to 200 people at the farewell ceremony for the outgoing head of a prominent trade union, Merkel said the invasion constitutes blatant breach of international law and ”a profound break” in the history of Europe after the end of World War II.

”My solidarity is with Ukraine, which was attacked and invaded by Russia, and with supporting its right to self-defense,” Merkel said. “Never should we take peace and freedom for granted.”

Merkel said that now that she no longer holds office, she will not make political assessments from “the sidelines.” She did, however, say that she supports the current efforts by the West – including her successor, Olaf Scholz – to find an end to the conflict.

Merkel said that the consequences of the war would be far-reaching, including in terms of human rights.

”Bucha is representative of this horror,” she said, referring to the atrocities committed against civilians in the Kyiv suburb.

Merkel said she found a small ray of hope in the tremendous support being given to Ukrainians in neighboring countries such as Poland and Moldova.

It's just past 2 p.m in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know.

A woman inspects damage from an overnight missile strike in Sloviansk, Ukraine, on June 1.

Russia has taken control of most of the eastern city of Severodonetsk despite a series of counterattacks by Ukrainian forces, while at least seven people have been killed in Russian strikes on targets across Ukraine in the past 24 hours.

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

  • Severedonetsk holding out: Ukraine’s army has carried a series of counterattacks in the eastern city of Severodonetsk, but Russian forces still control “most” of the city, said Serhiy Hayday, head of Luhansk regional military administration. Severodonetsk is one of the last remaining strongholds held by Ukraine in Luhansk.
  • Hundreds sheltering in chemical factory: Around 800 people are hiding in several Soviet-era bomb shelters underneath the Azot chemical factory in Severodonetsk, which has been targeted by Russian missile attacks, Hayday told CNN on Thursday.
  • Russian strikes across Ukraine: At least seven people have been killed and 26 more injured in the past 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said Thursday. In addition to attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, Russian forces fired on targets in Mykolaiv in the south, Sumy in the northeast and Lviv in the west.
  • Ukrainian children sent to Russia: Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky says more than 200,000 Ukrainian children have been forcibly taken to Russia since the start of the war. The aim is “to steal people” and “make deportees forget about Ukraine and not be able to return,” he said. Meanwhile, Russian state news agency TASS reported that 1.6 million people from Ukraine and breakaway republics in the Donbas region have crossed into Russia since the start of the Kremlin’s invasion.
  • Ukrainian first lady rules out giving up territory to Russia: Conceding territory to Russia would be “conceding a freedom” and would not end President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, said Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska. “Ukrainians can’t take normally all those statements that we are sometimes hearing from leaders of countries — in some cases the leaders of big and influential countries,” Zelenska said during an interview with ABC News previewed on Thursday. “You can’t just concede parts of your territory, it’s like conceding a freedom.”
  • Ukrainian football team one game away from World Cup: Ukraine’s mens national football team will qualify for the World Cup in Qatar if they can beat Wales in Cardiff on Sunday. The team beat Scotland 3-1 on Wednesday night.

Hundreds of people hiding in bomb shelters under chemical plant in Severodonetsk

Around 800 people are hiding in several bomb shelters underneath the Azot chemical factory in Severodonetsk, which has been targeted by Russian missile attacks, said Serhiy Hayday, the head of Luhansk region military administration.

Hayday told CNN Thursday that local residents have sought shelter in the Soviet-era bomb shelters under the factory.

“There are locals there, who were asked to leave the city,” Hayday said. “But they refused. There are also children there, but not many of them.”

In a separate update on Thursday, regional Ukrainian officials said the Russians have again fired on Azot factory and “hit one of the administrative buildings and a warehouse where methanol was stored,” although it’s unclear how much methanol remained there.

The Ukrainians still maintain control of the Severodonetsk industrial zone, the statement said, one of the remaining parts of the city Russia has not taken.

“Most” of Severodonetsk, one of the last cities to hold out in Luhansk, has been taken by Russia, Hayday said earlier.

Hayday said a Russian airstrike hit a tank of nitric acid at the Azot factory on Tuesday. Images that day showed a thick orange-colored cloud of smoke rising from the area. But Hayday said the people sheltering under the factory were not in danger.

Hayday said that the factory is privately-owned, and the owners say there are only small amounts of chemicals left at the plant.

Hayday added that the factory is not significant from a military point of view, therefore “Azot is definitely not Azovstal” – referring to the steel plant in Mariupol which Russia took after a weeks-long siege.

More than 1.6 million people have crossed into Russia from Ukraine, Russian state media reports

More than 1.6 million people from Ukraine and breakaway republics in the Donbas region have crossed into Russia since the start of the Kremlin’s invasion, Russian state news agency TASS reported Thursday, citing a law enforcement source.

“As of Wednesday morning, more than 1.6 million people, including almost 263,000 children, crossed the border,” said the source.

CNN cannot independently confirm the number of border crossings, but the numbers are similar to official Ukrainian estimates.

Earlier Thursday Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of pursuing a “consistent criminal policy of deporting [Ukrainian] people” into mostly remote areas of Russia, adding that more than 200,000 children had been taken to Russia so far.

The aim is “to steal people” and “make deportees forget about Ukraine and not be able to return,” said Zelensky. 

According to TASS, 33,000 people, including 11,000 children, are currently being kept in 559 temporary accommodation centers across Russia.

The rest “have been placed with relatives and privately,” it added.

Four sources familiar with the latest Western intelligence assessments told CNN in late May that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have now been processed through a series of “filtration camps” in eastern Ukraine.

They were then sent across the border to Russia as part of a systemized program of forced removal and resettlement, the sources said.

Some context: In April a CNN investigation revealed that Russian forces and allied separatist soldiers were taking residents of the city of Mariupol to a so-called “filtration center” set up in Bezimenne, where they were registered before being sent on to Russia, many against their will.

At the time, Mariupol’s city council accused Russian forces of bringing Ukrainians to these centers as part of a broader effort to cover up potential war crimes by “destroying” potential witnesses.  

Zelensky has also alleged that Ukrainians have been forced to move to Russia.

“Their documents and means of communication are confiscated,” he said on May 6.   

According to Michael Carpenter, US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the practice “would be in violation of international humanitarian law, and a war crime if people were forcibly being displaced from Ukraine to Russia.”

At least 7 killed, 26 injured in the past 24 hours in Ukraine 

A woman collects belongings from rubble in Sloviansk on June 1.

The war in Ukraine has left at least 7 people dead and 26 injured in the past 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said.

Here is where much of the fighting is taking place:

Donbas: Ukraine’s military said it has repelled 13 enemy attacks in the direction of Donetsk and Luhansk – the two regions that make up Donbas – in the past 24 hours.

Northeast of Sloviansk in the Lyman area, Russian forces tried to advance but “suffered losses and withdrew,” an update from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.

“Most” of Severodonetsk, one of the last cities to hold out in Luhansk, has been taken by Russia, a Ukrainian military official there said.

Southern Ukraine: Two people were killed and two other were injured Wednesday in Mykolaiv, a southern city not far from the front line, after Russia “fired on residential quarters,” damaging two high-rise buildings and four homes, regional officials said.  

Mykolaiv is not far from Kherson, which has been under Russian control since early in the invasion. Kim said reports have emerged that Russian forces in Kherson “have started looting stores in Kherson” and “they are taking everything out in the direction of Crimea,” in the event that Ukrainian forces re-take the city.

Regional officials said the situation in Kherson is “stably tense” with “fighting and shelling” continuing. Many areas are “without electricity, water and gas,” and in need of “medicine and humanitarian aid.”

Further west in South Buh, six areas were targeted by mortars and artillery, and air strikes were also launched from Mi-24 helicopters, regional officials said.

Zaporizhzhia: Two people received shrapnel wounds after Russian troops fired artillery on residential homes in the Polohy district, the Zaporizhzhia Military Administration said.

Northeast Ukraine: Russia’s main efforts in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, were “focused on maintaining the occupied borders,” the military said. Regional officials said one woman was found dead under the rubble of a school after shelling overnight; one man was also injured. Six other civilians were also injured after shelling to two areas southeast and northeast of Kharkiv.

Russian forces retreated from the city in May, leaving behind evidence of potential atrocities.

Three civilians in Sumy, a city northwest of Kharkiv, were injured after a Russian plane “fired three missiles” around midnight during an air raid, destroying one house and damaging several others.

Western Ukraine: In Lviv, the city in western Ukraine that is housing countless internally displaced Ukrainians, five people were injured after Russia carried out a missile strike on Wednesday night, targeting railways. Train services have been impacted.

Ukraine's football team preparing for World Cup playoff final on Sunday