Our coverage of the war in Ukraine has moved here.
The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) is lending its support to efforts to get basketball player Brittney Griner released from custody in Russia, according to USA Today.
“The resources between us, between USA Basketball, the NBA as a league, the WNBA — all of us have leaned on every friendship and resource we have from the State Department to the people that we all work with,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said in an interview with USA Today on Monday.
“If we felt like there was something we could do to be helpful, we would, in a heartbeat,” she said.
Hirshland said USOPC has had talks with the International Olympic Committee regarding Griner. Hirshland said she hasn’t spoken with IOC president Thomas Bach, but added that "the IOC has an acute focus on her and her health and safety as well."
When reached by CNN, a USOPC spokesman verified USA Today's reporting but declined to comment further.
Some context: Griner, who plays for Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason, was arrested by Russian authorities in February at a Moscow airport and accused of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance – an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Civilians and Ukrainian forces sheltering at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol are facing "nonstop" bombardment, with basic supplies running low as Ukrainian officials race to evacuate those inside, according to a captain in the plant.
"The strikes (are) going on nonstop, it's been tank artillery, volley artillery, and every three to five minutes there were air bombardments," said Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Ukrainian Azov Regiment. "There are still civilians sheltering in the plant, and yet the enemy continues this bombing."
About 100 civilians were evacuated from the plant Sunday, but a further planned evacuation for Monday did not take place. Meanwhile, the mood inside is grim, with the regiment reporting low supplies of water and food.
"I cannot tell you for sure how much is left for how many days, but I can assure you that we are saving -- very fearful without water and food, and especially ammunition," Palamar said. He added that the regiment was sharing "whatever we have with the civilians."
"If (worst) comes to worst and we run out of food, we'll be catching birds, and we'll be doing everything just to stand firm," he said.
Last site of defense: Russia has claimed that its soldiers have reached the outskirts of the plant and are carrying out a “step by step clearing mission," which Palamar denied.
“As of now, the entire plant territory is under our control and our defense is along the perimeter of the Azov steel plant, we are holding the defense,” he said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he has no plans to visit Ukraine, after Germany’s president offered to go last month but was reportedly told that he was “not wanted” by Kyiv.
“This stands in the way,“ Scholz said in an interview Monday with German public broadcaster ZDF. “This cannot be done.“
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on April 12 while on a visit to Warsaw that he had planned to visit Ukraine, but that the trip was “not wanted” by Kyiv.
The German President, long an advocate of Western rapprochement with Russia, has expressed regret for his earlier stance. Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who served as Foreign Minister under Chancellor Angela Merkel before becoming president, has said Russia's invasion of Ukraine meant he and others had to reckon honestly with what they had got wrong.
Meanwhile, German opposition leader Friedrich Merz said he would visit Kyiv this week.
Also in the Monday interview, Scholz said the financial and military assistance from Germany and other countries was why the Ukrainian army could now "hold out for so long against such an overpowering opponent."
We have been delivering quite dangerous weapons right from the beginning,“ Scholz said. "And we will continue to support them."
The alliance will defend every centimeter of NATO territory if attacked, said Scholz.
“Many citizens in this country are severely worried about an escalation of the war spreading beyond Ukraine and they are justifiably worried over this,“ Scholz said, reiterating: “There will be no direct participation of Germany and NATO in this war."
The Chancellor also vowed there would be no lifting of sanctions against Russia unless a peace deal was reached between Ukraine and Russia.
“Without consensus with Ukraine, we will not lift sanctions. (Putin) must come to an agreement with Ukraine, and he will not be able to do that with a dictatorial peace and his conditions,“ Scholz said. “Our target must be that Russia may not succeed with their intentions.“
“Russia may not win and Ukraine may not lose.“
A Russian missile strike on a dormitory in Odesa killed a 14-year-old boy and wounded a 17-year-old girl, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a nightly address on Monday.
For what? What did these children and the dormitory threaten the Russian state with?” Zelensky said.
Zelensky said 220 Ukrainian children have been killed since the start of the Russian invasion.
At least 1,570 educational institutions have been destroyed or damaged by shelling, Zelensky added.
Zelensky’s claims have not been independently verified by CNN.
The Mariupol mayor’s office told the US that Russia has around four so-called “filtration camps” in and around Mariupol reportedly used for processing Ukrainian civilians before they are sent to Russia, according to the US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
“Of course this would be in violation of international humanitarian law, and a war crime if people were forcibly being displaced from Ukraine to Russia,” said Ambassador Michael Carpenter at a news briefing at the State Department responding to a question by CNN’s Jennifer Hansler.
A CNN investigation in April revealed that Russian forces and allied separatist soldiers were taking Mariupol residents to a so-called “filtration center” set up in Bezimenne, where they were registered before being sent on to Russia, many against their will. Ukrainian government and local Mariupol officials say that tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens have been forcibly deported to the Donetsk People’s Republic and Russia since the war began.
Carpenter said he expected there would be additional such camps in the south and east of Ukraine, and said the OSCE will continue to look at the issue despite limited access from the ongoing war.
Last week, Carpenter said in remarks to the OSCE that the world also “should expect Russia to intensify its ongoing forced transfers of local populations from areas of Ukraine’s south and east to Russia or Russia-controlled parts of the Donbas via so-called ‘filtration camps.’”
Carpenter said that “what these reports describe brings back horrific memories of a bygone era.”
“Invading a neighboring country, removing its legitimately elected government, herding its population into ‘filtration’ camps, and holding sham referenda in a transparent attempt to cover its aggression with a false veneer of legitimacy is a wholly barbaric enterprise,” he said, calling on the world to “act with a greater sense of urgency.”
Russia has “forgotten all the lessons of World War II,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a nightly address on Monday, following comments from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Sunday alleging that Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood” and that “the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews.”
“Such an anti-Semitic thrust by their minister means Russia has forgotten all the lessons of World War II. Or maybe they never studied those lessons,” Zelensky said.
Lavrov’s remarks also prompted a furious response from Israel, with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid calling them “unforgivable and outrageous,” adding that “Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust.”
“Of course, there is a big scandal in Israel today as regards [to] these words. However, no one hears objections or excuses from Moscow. There is silence,” Zelensky said.
“How could this be said on the eve of the anniversary of the victory over Nazism? These words mean that Russia's top diplomat is blaming the Jewish people for Nazi crimes. No words,” Zelensky said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin could move to formally declaring war on Ukraine as soon as May 9, which would allow for the full mobilization of Russia’s reserve forces as they attempt to conquer eastern and southern Ukraine, US and Western officials believe.
May 9, known as Russia’s “Victory Day,” commemorates the Russians’ defeat of the Nazis in 1945. Western officials have long believed that Putin would leverage the symbolic significance and propaganda value of that day to announce either a military achievement in Ukraine, a major escalation of hostilities — or both.
Officials have begun to hone in on one scenario, which is that Putin formally declares war on Ukraine on May 9. To date, Russian officials have insisted that the conflict was only a “special military operation” with the central goal of “denazification.”
"I think he will try to move from his 'special operation,’” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told LBC Radio last week. “He's been rolling the pitch, laying the ground for being able to say 'look, this is now a war against Nazis, and what I need is more people. I need more Russian cannon fodder.’”
Wallace added that he “would not be surprised, and I don't have any information about this, that he is probably going to declare on this May Day that 'we are now at war with the world's Nazis and we need to mass mobilize the Russian people.’”
More context: A formal declaration of war on May 9 could galvanize Russian citizens and surge popular opinion for the invasion. It would also, under Russian law, allow Putin to mobilize reserve forces and draft conscripts, which officials say Russia desperately needs amid a growing manpower shortage. Western and Ukrainian officials have estimated that at least 10,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the war since Russia invaded just over two months ago.
Other options for May 9 include annexing the breakaway territories of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, making a major push for Odesa in the south, or declaring full control over the southern port city of Mariupol.
The US has “highly credible” intelligence reports that Russia will try to annex Luhansk and Donetsk “some time in mid-May,” the US Ambassador to OSCE Michael Carpenter said on Monday. There are also indications that Russia could be planning to declare and annex a “people’s republic” in the southeastern city of Kherson.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday that there is “good reason to believe that the Russians will do everything they can to use” May 9 for propaganda purposes.
“We've seen the Russians really double down on their propaganda efforts, probably, almost certainly, as a means to distract from their tactical and strategic failures on the battlefield in Ukraine,” Price said at a State Department briefing.
Price added that he had “seen the speculation that Russia may formally declare war” on May 9, and said, “that would be a great irony if Moscow used the occasion of 'Victory Day' to declare war, which in itself would allow them to surge conscripts in a way they're not able to do now, in a way that would be tantamount to revealing to the world that their war effort is failing, that they are floundering in their military campaign and military objectives."
“I'm quite confident that we'll be hearing more from Moscow in the lead up to May 9,” Price added. “I'm quite confident that you will be hearing more from the United States, from our partners, including our NATO partners, in the lead up to May 9 as well.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to tell the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, that Ukraine is living through its “finest hour.”
Johnson will address the parliament via video link on Tuesday, according to a Downing Street news release.
In his speech, the prime minister will draw a parallel between the Ukrainian parliament and the British parliament which during World War II “continued to meet throughout the conflict.”
“The British people showed such unity and resolve that we remember our time of greatest peril as our finest hour," Johnson will say, according to the news release. “This is Ukraine’s finest hour, an epic chapter in your national story that will be remembered and recounted for generations to come."
He will also tell Ukrainian lawmakers how Britain is “proud to be among Ukraine’s friends.”
“Your children and grandchildren will say that Ukrainians taught the world that the brute force of an aggressor counts for nothing against the moral force of a people determined to be free,” Johnson will say.
The prime minister will also lay out Tuesday a new package of $375 million (300 million pounds) in support for Ukraine, according to Downing Street.
The package will include electronic warfare equipment, a counter battery radar system, GPS jamming equipment and thousands of night vision devices, according to the news release.
Johnson’s address is set to coincide with the reopening of the British embassy in Kyiv which closed in late February just before the war started.