May 4, 2022: Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Maureen Chowdhury, Adrienne Vogt, Brad Lendon, Andrew Raine, Jack Guy and Ben Church, CNN

Updated 0411 GMT (1211 HKT) May 5, 2022
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7:26 a.m. ET, May 4, 2022

Kremlin says no chance of Putin declaring war on Ukraine on Victory Day

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Russian military vehicles attend rehearsal of Victory Day military parade marking the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, in Moscow, Russia, on April 28.
Russian military vehicles attend rehearsal of Victory Day military parade marking the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, in Moscow, Russia, on April 28. (Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday there was no chance of Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring war on Ukraine on May 9, Russia’s Victory Day, dismissing those reports as “nonsense.”

When asked by CNN on a regular conference call what the chances were of Putin declaring war on Victory Day, Peskov said “none,” adding: “No, this is nonsense.”

Peskov also rejected reports that Putin may use Victory Day to announce mobilization in the country, which would allow the government not just to assemble troops but also to put the economy on a war footing.

Analysts and Western officials previously said they believe that on May 9, after over two months of calling the Ukraine invasion a “special military operation,” Putin could formally declare war.

Some background: May 9, known as "Victory Day" inside Russia, commemorates the country's defeat of the Nazis in 1945.

It is marked by a military parade in Moscow, and Russian leaders traditionally stand on the tomb of Vladimir Lenin in Red Square to observe it.

Putin has a keen eye for symbolism, having launched the invasion of Ukraine the day after Defender of the Fatherland Day, another crucial military day in Russia, leading Western officials to believe he would use May 9 to either announce a military achievement in Ukraine, a major escalation of hostilities -- or both.

8:45 a.m. ET, May 4, 2022

Russia bans entry of 63 Japanese citizens, including prime minister

From CNN’s Jake Kwon and Alex Stambaugh

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on April 26.
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on April 26. (David Mareuil/Reuters)

Russia "indefinitely" banned 63 Japanese citizens including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida from entry, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported Wednesday.

Members of Kishida's cabinet, including Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, and Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki have also been barred from entering the country, as well as members of the parliament, and the military, RIA reported.

"The administration of Fumio Kishida launched an unprecedented anti-Russian campaign, allows unacceptable rhetoric against the Russian Federation, including slander and direct threats," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, according to RIA.

"It is echoed by public figures, experts and media representatives of Japan, who are completely engaged in the attitudes of the West towards our country."

Since March, Japan has introduced a series of sanctions against Russia including freezing the assets of President Vladimir Putin and his family members in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Pedestrians walk past a screen displaying Russian President Vladimir Putin during a news broadcast about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan, on May 4.
Pedestrians walk past a screen displaying Russian President Vladimir Putin during a news broadcast about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan, on May 4. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)

Some background: Last week, Russia warned Japan of "retaliatory measures" if it expands joint naval exercises with the United States near Russia's eastern borders.

The threat was the latest salvo from Moscow, which has been angered by Japan's support for Ukraine and its growing ties with NATO countries.

6:55 a.m. ET, May 4, 2022

More than 5.6 million refugees have fled Ukraine, says United Nations

From CNN's Benjamin Brown in London

A young girl clutches her backpack as she sits on a bus in Lviv, Ukraine, leaving for Warsaw in Poland, carrying refugees from regions of southern and eastern Ukraine, on May 3.
A young girl clutches her backpack as she sits on a bus in Lviv, Ukraine, leaving for Warsaw in Poland, carrying refugees from regions of southern and eastern Ukraine, on May 3. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

More than 5.6 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion in late February, according to the latest United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data. 

In addition, at least 7.7 million people are internally displaced in Ukraine having been forced to flee their homes, according to the latest report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

A projected 8.3 million refugees are expected to flee Ukraine, the UNHCR said last week.

7:48 a.m. ET, May 4, 2022

Russian separatists say more than 500 evacuated from Mariupol through their center in one day

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Pro-Russian troops stand guard next to a bus for transporting evacuees near a temporary accommodation center in the village of Bezimenne in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine, on May 1.
Pro-Russian troops stand guard next to a bus for transporting evacuees near a temporary accommodation center in the village of Bezimenne in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine, on May 1. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) says that in the 24 hours to 8 a.m. Wednesday (local time) a total of 517 people have been evacuated from the besieged city of Mariupol to its center some 15 miles (25 kilometers) to the east.

It said 61 of the evacuees were children but it's unclear how many, if any, of the total were evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant.

CNN is unable to verify the numbers reported.

The DPR has set up a tented reception center at Bezimenne, where people leaving Mariupol are screened.

Ukrainian officials have described the facility, and three other similar facilities around Mariupol, as filtration centers where people are often subjected to abuse and harassment, as well as long delays.

The DPR's Ministry of Emergency Situations manages the center at Bezimenne, which has seen more than 27,000 people pass through since the beginning of March, according to the DPR.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has previously commented on the number of civilians being evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, and says a number of them have decided to stay in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic.

When evacuees emerge from sprawling complex, they are given a choice of traveling to Ukrainian or Russian-held territory.

Those willing to enter Ukrainian territory are delivered to representatives of the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, state news agency TASS reported.

Some background: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.

In April, CNN interviewed 10 people, including local Mariupol residents and their loved ones, who were taken by Russian and DPR soldiers to Russian-held towns against their will before being deported to the Russian Federation.

CNN spoke with two people who were brought to Bezimenne before being sent to Russia. They described a massive military tent, where Russian and DPR soldiers were processing hundreds of people -- they were fingerprinted, photographed, their phones searched, interrogated, passports reviewed and registered into databases.

6:16 a.m. ET, May 4, 2022

EU considers ways to ramp up military support to Moldova

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in London

Moldovan President Maia Sandu shows the way to European Council President Charles Michel during a meeting in Chisinau, Moldova, on May 4.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu shows the way to European Council President Charles Michel during a meeting in Chisinau, Moldova, on May 4. (Vladislav Culiomza/Reuters)

The European Union is considering ways to further boost Moldova’s military, EU Council President Charles Michel said Wednesday, following recent attacks in the country’s pro-Moscow breakaway region of Transnistria.

Speaking alongside Moldova’s president Maia Sandu in Chisinau, Michel said “some decisions” have already been taken to enhance support in the fields of logistics and cyber defense.

The pair discussed what further military support could be provided, he said, but would not go into detail “to avoid any escalation.”

“We don't think that it is smart or intelligent to express provocative statements about [the] situation in Moldova or in Transnistria,” he said. “We want to prevent any incident.”

The Defense Ministry in Ukraine described the unexplained explosions in the Transnistria region as a "planned provocation" by the Russian secret services.

The ministry's defense intelligence department said in a statement on its Telegram channel that three days before the incident, the leaders of the breakaway region "were already preparing for it and took care to install a secure and comfortable bunker" at the Ministry of State Security, which was damaged in the explosions. 

Russia's supposed "peacekeeping" presence in Transnistria has mirrored Moscow's pretext for invasions in Georgia and Ukraine, sparking fears the disputed territory is now included in Vladimir Putin's war strategy.

Some background: Transnistria is a breakaway republic in eastern Moldova that borders Ukraine. It has a population of nearly 500,000 and is internationally recognized as part of Moldova.

Russia has maintained a military presence in Transnistria since the early 1990s.

5:44 a.m. ET, May 4, 2022

Russian defense minister says Azovstal defenders "reliably blocked" and repeats warning to NATO

From CNN's Tim Lister

Damage at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 3.
Damage at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 3. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday the "remnants of the Ukrainian military group" located in the Azovstal steel plant are "reliably blocked along the entire perimeter of the plant."

His comments, made on a conference call in Moscow, were reported by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

"Repeated proposals to the nationalists to release civilians and lay down their arms with a guarantee of life and dignified treatment in accordance with international law have been ignored. We continue these attempts," Shoigu said.

The Azovstal steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol is under "constant fire," Ukrainian officials say as they race to evacuate the remaining civilians holed up in bunkers within the sprawling complex.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said more than 150 people had been evacuated from the complex and are now safe in the city of Zaporizhzhia Tuesday.

In Wednesday's conference call, Shoigu added that the Russian army, together with units of the Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, is expanding control over the territories of both regions, according to RIA Novosti.

He also repeated Moscow's warning that it will consider NATO equipment arriving in Ukraine as a legitimate target, according to RIA Novosti.

His latest warning came after Russian cruise missiles hit several locations Tuesday in western and central Ukraine, which Ukrainian officials said were an attempt to destroy the country's transport infrastructure.

Shoigu warned that NATO vehicles with weapons and ammunition for Ukrainian troops will be destroyed in the country.

"The United States and its NATO allies continue to pump weapons to Ukraine," Shoigu said.

"I note that any transport of the North Atlantic Alliance that arrived on the territory of the country with weapons or materiel for the needs of the Ukrainian armed forces is considered by us as a legitimate target for destruction."
5:32 a.m. ET, May 4, 2022

Don't be "Putin's altar boy": Pope slams pro-war Russian patriarch

 From CNN’s Delia Gallagher in Rome

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill visit the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow on May 25, 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill visit the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow on May 25, 2017. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Pope Francis warned the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, not to become “Putin’s altar boy,” he said in an interview this week. 

In his strongest words to date against the pro-war Patriarch, Francis also slammed Kirill for endorsing Russia’s stated reasons for invading Ukraine.

“I spoke to him for 40 minutes via Zoom,” the Pope told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published Tuesday. “The first 20 minutes he read to me, with a card in hand, all the justifications for war.”

“I listened and told him: I don’t understand anything about this," said the Pope. "Brother, we are not clerics of state, we cannot use the language of politics but that of Jesus.”

“The Patriarch cannot transform himself into Putin’s altar boy,” the Pope said.

Francis said the conference call with Kirill took place on March 16, and that both he and the Patriarch had agreed to postpone a planned meeting on June 14 in Jerusalem.

“It would be our second face-to-face meeting, nothing to do with the war,” the Pope said. “But now, he too agrees: let’s stop, it could be an ambiguous signal.”

In March Kirill Patriarch Kirill said that the conflict was an extension of a fundamental culture clash between the wider Russian world and Western liberal values, exemplified by expressions of gay pride.

Experts say that Kirill's comments offer important insights into Putin's larger spiritual vision of a return to a Russian Empire, in which the Orthodox religion plays a pivotal role.

But the hardline stance of the Russian patriarch is costing him followers.

In March the Russian Orthodox church in Amsterdam announced it was severing ties with the leader, joining a growing number of priests and churches who are abandoning Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

5:21 a.m. ET, May 4, 2022

One killed as Ukrainian shelling causes fire at oil depot in Donetsk, say local authorities 

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie, Katie Polglase and Gianluca Mezzofiore

Vehicles on fire at an oil depot after missiles struck the facility in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Makiivka, Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on May 4.
Vehicles on fire at an oil depot after missiles struck the facility in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Makiivka, Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on May 4. (AP)

One person is dead after Ukrainian shelling caused a fire at an oil depot in the separatist-held Donetsk region, the Russian-backed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) Territorial Defense Headquarters claimed Wednesday.

“According to preliminary data, as a result of the shelling of the oil depot in Makiivka, one person was killed and two were injured,” the post from the DPR Defense HQ said, adding that “four large capacity tanks” containing 5,000 cubic meters of oil had been ignited. 

The Ukrainian Armed forces are yet to respond to the accusation. 

CNN has verified social media videos of the fire which show large plumes of black smoke coming from the area on Wednesday, as flames engulf the depot. 

Some context:

Russian-backed leaders in the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have repeatedly accused Ukraine of launching attacks on fuel depots and military installations, claims that Ukrainian officials say are intended to stoke “anti-Ukrainian sentiment.”

Russian forces are aiming to take control of all of the Donestk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.

They have been trying to push south from the Kharkiv region in an effort to surround Ukrainian units defending the Donetsk region, but with limited success, according to the Ukrainian military.

Despite heavy artillery fire on a number of fronts, Russian forces have made few advances, according to their Ukrainian counterparts.

5:30 a.m. ET, May 4, 2022

Ireland condemns Russian TV simulation of nuclear attack

From CNN's Ben Church

Irish politicians have condemned a report from Russian-state media that simulated the devastation caused by a nuclear attack off the coast of Ireland.

The report from Russia's Channel One, presented by Kremlin ally Dmitry Kiselyov, shows a video simulation of an underwater missile which it said would cause a “gigantic tsunami wave up to 500 meters high” to sweep across Ireland and the UK. 

Neale Richmond, a politician from the ruling Fine Gael party in Ireland, said the propaganda report was another reason to expel Russia’s ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov.

“With Russian state media broadcasting blatant threats against Ireland supported by a continuing campaign of disinformation, it’s clear we need to expel Russia’s Ambassador from Ireland,” he wrote on Twitter.

“He is just another patsy in their propaganda machine as they wage war in #Ukraine.” 

Irish MEP Billy Kelleher replied to a video of the report saying that such "wild language is simply unacceptable to us" while urging the Irish government to convey its disgust at the blatant nuclear threat.

Russia has been angered by countries supporting Ukraine since the start of the invasion. The UK has provided resources to the Ukrainian military and imposed numerous sanctions on Moscow in recent months.