May 8, 2022: Russia-Ukraine news

By Maureen Chowdhury, Mike Hayes, Helen Regan and Brad Lendon, CNN

Updated 0528 GMT (1328 HKT) May 9, 2022
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11:08 a.m. ET, May 8, 2022

First Lady Jill Biden makes unannounced trip to Ukraine

From CNN's Kate Bennett

US first lady Jill Biden receives flowers from Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, on May 8.
US first lady Jill Biden receives flowers from Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, on May 8. (Susan Walsh/AP)

US First Lady Jill Biden made an unannounced trip on Sunday to Uzhhorod, Ukraine, a small city in the far southwestern corner of Ukraine. 

At a converted school that now serves as temporary housing for displaced citizens, Biden met with Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska, who has not been seen in public since the start of the war on Feb. 24.

The first lady is the latest high profile American to visit the war torn country in recent weeks. 

US first lady Jill Biden and Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska make Mother’s Day crafts with children at a school in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, on May 8.
US first lady Jill Biden and Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska make Mother’s Day crafts with children at a school in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, on May 8. (Susan Walsh/AP)

“I wanted to come on Mother’s Day,” said Biden to her Ukrainian counterpart, the two women seated at a small table in a classroom of a former school that is now a source of temporary housing for displaced Ukrainians, including 48 children.

“We thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people this war has to stop. And this war has been brutal.” Biden added, “The people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine.”

Zelenska, who early on in the Russian invasion sent a letter to Biden, has exchanged correspondence in recent weeks, US officials tell CNN.

View video from the first lady's visit here:

9:25 a.m. ET, May 8, 2022

15-year-old Ukrainian drove herself and others through battlefield to safety, despite leg wounds

From CNN's Maryna Marukhnych and Tim Lister

In the midst of fierce shelling by Russian forces, a 15-year-old drove several people who had been injured out of the frontline town of Popasna in Luhansk. 

During the journey, the car was shot at and she was wounded in the legs, but she kept driving.  

The girl's first name is Anastasia; as she is a minor CNN is not giving her full name. One of her teachers confirmed her identity to CNN.

Not only did Anastasia have to drive through a battlefield; there were mines and bodies on the road out of the town, which was on the verge of falling to Russian forces.

She was among the last civilians to try to escape Popasna, much of which has been destroyed in weeks of fighting.   

Anastasia said she wanted to help evacuate two men who had been wounded. Two other people were also in the car.

“And I had to get behind the wheel and drive to Bakhmut,” she said — a journey of some 20 miles through countryside that is often under fire by Russian artillery and planes. 

She had driven before; her deceased mother had taught her, she said. But it was hardly any preparation for the escape from the hellish situation in Popasna. 

“We have a bridge, then you go down, and then up. And there were mines there in a checkerboard pattern. There was no way to get through,” she said. 

“But I somehow drove through. Further along there was the corpse of a woman,” she said in an interview conducted in by the Lviv hospital and provided to CNN. 

Anastasia added, “And then there was a turn to the right and we were fired upon, my feet [were hit]. There was almost nothing I could do, the car stalled.” 

“When they started shooting, the car stopped and they fired. Then I started the car and we drove on again," she said.

The car staggered forward a short distance but then stalled again because the battery had been shot through by a bullet. 

The teenl and the other occupants of the car were picked up by the Ukrainian military and taken to the hospital in Bakhmut. 

She said she had two bullet wounds to her knee and foot. 

9:16 a.m. ET, May 8, 2022

First Lady Jill Biden marks Mother's Day by visiting with Ukrainian refugees in Slovakia

From CNN's Sam Fossum

US first lady Jill Biden meets with Ukrainian refugees in Kosice, Slovakia, on Sunday, May 8.
US first lady Jill Biden meets with Ukrainian refugees in Kosice, Slovakia, on Sunday, May 8. (Susan Walsh/AP)

First Lady of the US Jill Biden visited the Tomasikova Street School in Slovakia on Sunday to mark Mother's Day and meet with students and teachers. 

Dr. Biden was met with bread in salt, a welcome tradition in Slovakia and other Slavic countries.

Students can be seen making art projects for Mother's Day and one student gave Dr. Biden what he made. Biden then stopped by different tables around the classroom, meeting with the children and their mothers.  

"The hearts of the American people are with the mothers of Ukraine," Biden said, according to the pool, as she wished one table a happy Mother's Day. 

The First Lady asked the mothers if they had support, to which one woman responded, per the pool (which was translated): "We have the support of Slovakia. Slovakia helped us a lot.”

Jill Biden visits Slovak and Ukrainian mothers and their children in Kosice, Slovakia, on Sunday.
Jill Biden visits Slovak and Ukrainian mothers and their children in Kosice, Slovakia, on Sunday. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Reporters, after being invited to ask questions, asked what they tell their children about what is going on.  

“They need to understand why we are here and why we receive help — why are we separated from our husbands. They need to understand what is going on," one woman said through a translator, according to the pool. 

Asked what it means to them to have the first lady of the US visiting, one woman said, per the pool, with the help of a translator: "It means support for us."

She added: "We are very tired. This is emotional support for us.”

Prior to her visit to the school, Dr. Biden visited the Kosice Aid Center where she met with Ukrainian refugees and volunteers. 

8:53 a.m. ET, May 8, 2022

Workers get Ukraine's railways running again after Russian forces destroyed bridges

From CNN's Scott McLean and Daria Tarasova

The first electric train in weeks arrived at the Irpin railway station from Kyiv on Saturday, after crossing a newly rebuilt bridge that was destroyed in the war.

The bridge, destroyed during the Russian occupation, was one of many key links between Kyiv and western Ukraine — its destruction forced trains to take a longer detour. The steel bridge was rebuilt in a matter of weeks, a process that would have taken months before the urgency of war. Hundreds of railway workers and military worked on the restoration.

(CNN)
(CNN)

The restored span is only wide enough for one set of tracks. A second bridge next to the newly-rebuilt one is still under construction. Workers told CNN they worked for 25 days, with crews on site virtually around the clock.

The inaugural train across the span carried the infrastructure minister, the mayor of Irpin and a senior rail executive on a 25-minute journey from Kyiv. According to Oleksandr Kubrakov, minister of infrastructure of Ukraine, more than 300 rail and road bridges across the country have been destroyed since the war began.

Work is currently underway to rebuild at least 50 of them. Ukrainian Railways has been indispensable during the war — shuttling supplies in, and civilians out of the more dangerous parts of Ukraine. It has taken an enormous effort to keep trains on the tracks; the railway says that 20% of the system is either no longer controlled by Ukraine, or cut off by bombing.

Among the workers are not only railway workers from Kyiv and Irpin, but also workers from Lviv, who came to help their colleagues.

"These are not someone’s bridges, they are all Ukrainian and we have to restore them all," said one worker.

Almost everyone CNN spoke to knows of railroad workers who died during the occupation. During the war, 118 employees of Ukrzaliznytsia were killed — some while fighting on the front lines, others were just showing up for their regular jobs.

One worker, Vadim Levitsky, 45, hardly held back tears while explaining that many of his colleagues were under occupation.

"We tried to help them at every opportunity. We were very glad that they survived. I’m happy that these days I can meet with them and talk to them," Levitsky said.

"We carried out surveys of stakes under shelling and more than once heard explosions not far from them," Levitsky added.

8:52 a.m. ET, May 8, 2022

UK prime minister pays tribute to victims in Ukraine on Victory in Europe Day

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sent his thoughts to Ukrainians in a video message published on the occasion of Victory in Europe day on Sunday. 

Dedicated to “those who’ve died and suffered in Russia’s illegal invasion,” Johnson sent his “respect and gratitude” to those who have fought in previous conflicts which “strengthens our determination to support the people of Ukraine in their struggle.”

“We won’t forget the sacrifices that have been made over the generations to ensure peace and freedom in Europe,” his message concluded.

Victory in Europe (VE) Day is observed by several European states on May 8 of each year, marking the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s capitulation, on May 8, 1945.

8:36 a.m. ET, May 8, 2022

Ukrainian fighters vow to keep fighting at besieged steel plant

From CNN's Anastasia Graham Yooll in London

Ukrainian fighters battling Russian armed forces at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have vowed to continue fighting.

"Surrender is not an option," members of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment said, speaking at an online news conference.

The fighters called on the international community to help evacuate injured soldiers from the plant, which is the last holdout from Russian forces in the port city. 

Reportedly speaking from a hideout location within the Azovstal premises, Azov soldier Illia Samoilenko, said “surrendering is unacceptable for us. And chances of surviving for us if surrender to Russians tends to zero.” 

He said that there are “dozens” of civilians still inside the plant.

 

8:17 a.m. ET, May 8, 2022

Several dead after civilian convoy escaping fighting near Kharkiv fired on, police say

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

A convoy of civilian vehicles trying to escape fighting near the city of Kharkiv was fired upon, killing several people, the Kharkiv region police said. Others are missing.

Serhiy Bolvinov, chief of the investigation department, said police had lost contact with the convoy a few days ago.

There were 15 cars traveling near the village of Staryi Saltiv, which has seen heavy fighting in recent days as Ukrainian forces launch a counter-attack against the Russians east of Kharkiv.

At the time, the convoy was trying to reach territory controlled by the Ukrainians, Bolvinov said.

"Due to the ongoing combat, it was not possible to reach the place of the column," Bolvinov said.

The wreckage of the convoy was found on Friday, he said. Having arrived at the scene, investigators found a broken enemy tank and the bodies of two Russian soldiers.

A further 300 meters away, six cars with bullet holes were found. Four corpses were found in the cars and, according to Bolvinov, they appeared to be some of the civilians who had been in the convoy.

The remains of a 13-year old girl had been positively identified, he said.

Bolvinov gave no details about what may have happened to other vehicles in the convoy.

3:01 p.m. ET, May 8, 2022

Ukrainians reject Russia’s Victory Day as they rebuild their shattered homes

From CNN's Gul Tuysuz in Kyiv and Rob Picheta in London

Olga Teterska has worked to save what remains of her vegetables and flowers, after Russian forces destroyed her home.
Olga Teterska has worked to save what remains of her vegetables and flowers, after Russian forces destroyed her home. (CNN)

Ukrainians once celebrated Victory Day on May 9, in the Russian tradition. But now, as they piece through the rubble of their homes and mourn lost friends and relatives, many pointedly mark the occasion a day earlier.

"This house, I have lived here for 40 years. Both my kids were born here," Olga Teterska, a 48-year-old accountant from Borodianka, near Kyiv, told CNN as she looked at her destroyed home. "It is impossible to describe with words how I feel being back here and seeing what has happened."

"The flower garden is still growing," she added. "We’ll save the ones we can."

"We celebrated May 9 until 2014," Teterska said. "Now I will only observe May 8 as a day to remember the soldiers who fought and also as a way to be closer to Europe."

The surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945 marked the end of the largest land war in Europe until this February, when Russian forces launched an all-out assault on Ukraine.

But the timing of that surrender — late in the evening in Germany, and after midnight in Russia — symbolically split Europe in two, creating separate commemoration days on the continent. 

Most of Europe marks VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) on May 8. But in Russia and a clutch of ex-Soviet states, the anniversary falls on the 9th. In Moscow, it is celebrated with an extravagant military parade and a speech by President Vladimir Putin.

Valentina Torghunshko, a retiree, outside her destroyed home.
Valentina Torghunshko, a retiree, outside her destroyed home. (CNN)

"Now May 8 is more important," Valentina Torghunshko, from Borodianka, told CNN. "May 9 for me is Russia’s day now. It used to be Victory Day but everything has changed now. The Russians want us on our knees."

"When the building was shelled, I was in the bunker," the 68-year-old added, describing the day Russian forces struck her home. "Everything I had is destroyed. I was able to save my cat after. She was without food or water but she is alive."

This year, there are fears the Russian leader will use his Victory Day parade speech to formally declare war on Ukraine. Until now, the Kremlin has euphemistically referred to their invasion as a "special military operation."

That could bring yet more destruction for many in Ukraine’s east, and around the country. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has urged citizens to stay inside from Sunday into Monday, and Western officials have warned the Russian invasion may be ramped up.

Vadim Bozhko, a farmer from the village of Andriivka, said his house was occupied by Russians, then destroyed in shelling as he and his wife hid in the cellar. 

Vladim Bozhko said his son was killed in fighting in April.
Vladim Bozhko said his son was killed in fighting in April. (CNN)

His son was fighting in Ukraine’s military and was killed in April near Hostomel, he told CNN.

"I feel nothing now," he said, reflecting on the significance of May 9.

"It used to be about celebrating the victory of our grandparents. This year there is nothing to celebrate."

"I will always remember what my grandparents did in World War II," he added. "But with what the Russians have done to my son, to my house, I will not celebrate Victory Day."

"To the Russians: Don’t bring your sons here," he warned. "We have nothing left to lose anymore. We will fight you."

12:25 p.m. ET, May 8, 2022

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

A school in Bilohorivka, Ukraine was bombed by Russia, on Saturday, May 7.
A school in Bilohorivka, Ukraine was bombed by Russia, on Saturday, May 7. (From Luhansk Regional Governor Serhiy Haidai)

Sixty people are feared dead following an airstrike Saturday on a school in the Luhansk region where 90 people were sheltering, according to a local official. While rescuers are dismantling the debris "as quickly as possible," the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, Serhiy Hayday, said the chances of finding anyone still alive -- beyond the 27 survivors already rescued -- are "very small."

Here are the latest developments:

Luhansk school shelter bombing: The bodies of two people were found in the debris of a school building where 90 people were sheltering in Luhansk, Hayday said in a Telegram post Sunday. There are 27 survivors, according to Hayday, and "60 people most likely died." He added that heavy fighting overnight had disrupted the rescue operation.

Azovstal rescue operation: All women, children and elderly people have now been evacuated from Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant complex, the Ukrainian government has said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his government is now preparing for the second stage of the evacuation mission, focusing on "the wounded and medics." They are also working to evacuate Ukrainian military personnel from the plant, which has been blockaded by Russian forces. Zelensky said the government would try to establish humanitarian corridors for all residents of Mariupol and surrounding settlements on Sunday.

G7 meeting with Zelensky: On Sunday, US President Joe Biden will meet virtually with the Ukrainian President and his G7 counterparts during a meeting of the G7 forum, deliberately scheduled ahead of Russia's "Victory Day." Sanctions will be on the agenda for the meeting.

Kyiv warning: The mayor of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv has urged citizens to "be aware" and stay inside Sunday into Monday, around Russia's symbolic annual Victory Day. Western officials have warned that Putin could formally declare war on May 9, allowing him to step up his campaign and mobilize reserves.

Black Sea combat: Both the Russian and Ukrainian militaries have claimed successes in what appears to be ongoing combat in the Black Sea, and especially over Russian-occupied Snake Island. Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odesa region military administration, said Sunday that about 40 Russian soldiers had been killed. The Russian Ministry of Defense gave a very different version of events, claiming to have shot down several Ukrainian aircraft and drones.

Pressure at Izium and Kharkiv: Russian forces have made minor advances on one front near the city of Izium, capturing the northern outskirts of the village of Shandryholove, according to the Ukrainian military. However, it added that they are also on the defensive near Kharkiv as a Ukrainian counter-attack continues.

UK's $1.6 billion package: The UK will provide a further £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) in military support and aid to Ukraine, according to the country's Treasury. The pledge marks "the highest rate of UK military spending on a conflict, since the height of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan," the Treasury said in a statement. The new pledge almost doubles the UK’s previous spending commitments on the war in Ukraine.