Small pro-Russian events in Ukraine's Kherson region on Victory Day
From Tim Lister in Lviv
Pro-Russian social media accounts have begun circulating video shot in the Kherson region of Ukraine on Monday showing celebrations of Victory Day.
The events appear to have drawn small crowds waving red flags and carrying flowers.
Ukrainian activists in Kherson have claimed that Russia has brought in people from Crimea to bolster the numbers attending.
Russian state media have been quick to report on Victory Day celebrations in occupied parts of Ukraine.
State-run news agency RIA Novosti reported that in Kherson, a procession in memory of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War was taking place for the first time.
Vladimir Saldo, the head of the city administration, congratulated residents who gathered in the Park of Glory with portraits of their relatives who participated in the war, the news agency said.
People with Russian flags and a large banner with the inscription "Immortal Regiment" are walking from the park through the streets of the city, according to RIA Novosti.
The videos available so far suggest a modest turnout for the rally.
On Monday, Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-appointed deputy chairman of the region's military-civilian administration, told RIA Novosti that the Kherson region would strive for integration with Russia.
"We are not planning to hold a referendum and create a republic," he told the agency. "Today, based on the opportunities that we have, we will integrate as much as possible into the Russian Federation."
4:18 a.m. ET, May 9, 2022
Putin tries to defend Ukraine invasion in Victory Day speech
From CNN's Radina Gigova in London
In a speech marking Russia's Victory Day on Monday, President Vladimir Putin sought to link his country's struggle against Nazi Germany in World War Two with his invasion of Ukraine and baselessly claimed the West had given him no choice.
Putin said the intervention in Ukraine was necessary as the West was creating "threats next to our borders" and "preparing for the invasion of our land."
He also said the West didn't want to hear Russia's proposals for dialogue.
"NATO countries did not want to hear us," Putin said, adding that that means "they had very different plans and we could see that."
"Russia gave a preemptive rebuff to aggression -- it was a forced and sovereign decision," he said.
Putin told troops that "today you are defending what your grandfathers and great-grandfathers fought for."
He also addressed the soldiers of Donbas" who "together with Russian soldiers" are fighting for the "motherland." Donbas, a sprawling heartland region that blankets much of eastern Ukraine, has been the front line of Ukraine's conflict with Russia since 2014.
Fighting has intensified in the region in recent weeks as Putin refocused his war strategy following stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces.
"I address the servicemen of Donbas," Putin said in the speech. "You are fighting for the motherland, for its future, so that lessons of World War Two are not forgotten," he said, adding, "there is no place in history for the punitive divisions of Nazis."
"We bow our heads in the memory of our comrades in arms who died in the just struggle for Russia," he said.
After those remarks, a moment of silence followed.
3:24 a.m. ET, May 9, 2022
Air portion of Victory Day parade is canceled due to weather, Kremlin official says
From CNN's Brad Lendon
The air portion of the Victory Day parade in Moscow has been canceled because of weather, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
The ceremony was due to feature 77 aircraft flying over Moscow's Red Square, commemorating the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union defeating Nazi Germany in World War Two.
3:33 a.m. ET, May 9, 2022
What to expect at Russia's Victory Day parade
Russia's annual Victory Day parade in Red Square in Moscow has started. The commemoration, which marks the end of World War Two, got underway when Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived to take his seat in the grandstand with top officials.
Western officials speculate Putin could use the day to formally acknowledge Russia's war with Ukraine, allowing him to step up his campaign.
Here's what to expect:
Putin is expected to deliver remarks, pausing part-way through for a moment of silence.
Bands play the national anthem as guns fire after his speech, followed by a parade of troops through the square.
In previous years, ground-based weapons have been driven through the square, followed by aerial flypasts.
Bands process out of the square.
Putin leaves the stage with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other officials, then walks through the square.
Putin arrives at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for a separate commemoration ceremony where he will lay a wreath at the tomb.
2:40 a.m. ET, May 9, 2022
Russia's annual Victory Day parade to feature aerial "Z" formation, defense ministry says
From CNN's Brad Lendon
This year's Victory Day parade in Russia — marking the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union defeating Nazi Germany in World War II — is expected to feature 77 aircraft flying over Red Square in Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a report on the state-run TASS news agency.
Among those aircraft will be eight MiG-29 fighters flying in a “Z” formation to show support for Russian troops fighting in Ukraine, the ministry said, according to the report.
The letter “Z” has become the symbol for the war, which Russia calls a “special military operation,” and it has been emblazoned on most Russian military vehicles operating in Ukraine.
The parade's aerial portion will also include an Il-80 airborne strategic command and control aircraft, also known as a "doomsday plane" for its ability to be used as an airborne command center in the event of nuclear war.
In the ground portion of the parade, 131 weapons systems — including intercontinental ballistic missile launchers and T-72, T-90 and T-14 tanks — will be shown, the ministry said.
The parade is expected to begin at 10 a.m. Moscow time (3 a.m. ET).
Read more about Vladimir Putin's focus on this year's ceremony here:
Ukraine says Russia is holding back units as Ukrainian counterattack near Kharkiv unfolds
From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv
The Ukrainian military says that Russia is holding back some of its forces within its borders to prevent a Ukrainian counterattack that has made some headway east of Kharkiv.
In its latest operational update, the armed forces' general staff says that "in order to prevent the advance of units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the enemy has concentrated up to nineteen battalion tactical groups in the Belgorod region" of Russia.
The Russians are holding back units as Ukrainian units get closer to the Russian border, analysts say.
Inside Ukraine, the general staff says the most intense activity is in Donetsk region, where Russian forces are trying to advance towards the town of Lyman, a major transport hub.
In other parts of the region, it says, "the enemy has increased its firepower and is trying to break through the defenses of our troops." Even so, it says, Russian forces remain "focused on the regrouping of units, replenishment of ammunition, fuel, [and] maintenance of previously occupied positions."
The general staff says it expects the Russians to resume an offensive towards the village of Sulyhivka as they try to make progress from the Izium area. Over the past month, the Russians have made modest gains in the area but have taken no settlement of any consequence.
Luhansk: On the Luhansk front, the increase in Russian shelling has caused more civilian casualties and hampered rescue operations.
Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk region military administration, said rescuers had lost contact with 11 people hiding in a basement in Shypilovo. He said it was impossible to completely dismantle the wreckage of damaged buildings in Bilohorivka — where a school sheltering civilians was hit at the weekend — or Shypilovo.
"With the support of aircraft and artillery, the enemy focused its efforts on trying to take control of Rubizhne and prepare for the continuation of offensive operations in the direction of Lysychansk. The enemy increased firepower, trying to break through the defenses of our troops," he said.
Russian forces have made only minor territorial gains in Luhansk but now have control of the ruined town of Popasna.
Southern Ukraine: The general staff alleged that in occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia region in the south, the Russians are seizing the personal documents of civilians and will only return them if they attend ceremonial events to mark Victory Day. CNN is unable to verify the claim.
After a weekend of dueling claims about combat over Snake Island in the Black Sea, the Odesa military administration says: "There are [Russian] Black Sea Fleet ships and submarines with cruise missiles on board constantly maneuvering and regrouping."
"The number of boats has increased. So far, we know of six ships and two submarines," it said.
The Odesa military administration repeated the list of Russian units it says it destroyed over the weekend: a small landing craft, two patrol boats, and a vessel carrying anti-aircraft defenses to Snake Island, as well as a helicopter.
2:00 a.m. ET, May 9, 2022
EU should consider using Russian foreign exchange reserves to rebuild Ukraine, top diplomat says
From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie
The European Union should consider using billions of dollars’ worth of Russian foreign exchange reserves to rebuild Ukraine after the war, the bloc’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said in an interview with the Financial Times (FT) Monday.
“I would be very much in favor because it is full of logic,” Borrell said when asked by the FT whether frozen Russian reserves could help finance Ukraine’s reconstruction effort once the war ends.
“We have the money in our pockets, and someone has to explain to me why it is good for the Afghan money and not good for the Russian money,” he continued, referring to the United States’ decision to use $7 billion in frozen assets from Afghanistan’s central bank to provide humanitarian aid inside the country and compensate victims of terrorism after the Taliban seized power.
Western countries have frozen roughly $315 billion worth of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves in response to its invasion of Ukraine.
Since then, EU officials have been debating whether the sanctioned assets could somehow be deployed to reconstruct Ukraine when the war finally ends, however no concrete policy proposals have been tabled.
Some context: In April, Russia’s Central Bank threatened to take legal action against the US and EU in an attempt to try and unfreeze its gold and foreign reserves. However, it is unclear when or in what jurisdiction a legal challenge could be made.
8:10 a.m. ET, May 9, 2022
Analysis: Biden tests how much he can ratchet up the pressure on Putin
America's posture in providing a third country with that level of assistance to wound the US' nuclear superpower rival would have been unthinkable before the invasion, especially given Biden's desire to avoid a direct clash with Moscow.
The US role — at the vanguard of a broad Western front against Putin, which is resulting in heavy losses for the Russian army — is again raising questions about how far the Kremlin strongman can be pushed before he reacts.
US President Joe Biden virtually met the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during the G7 forum on Sunday. G7 leaders reassured Zelensky that they will continue to provide military and economic assistance.
Here are more of the latest headlines from the Russia-Ukraine war:
First lady Jill Biden makes unannounced trip to Ukraine: The first lady made an unannounced trip on Sunday to Uzhhorod, 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 Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska, who has not been seen in public since the start of the war. The first lady is the latest high profile American to visit the war torn country in recent weeks.
Dozens feared dead after Russia drops bomb on school sheltering Ukrainians: Ukraine has accused Russia of dropping a bomb on a school in the Luhansk region. Ninety people were said to be sheltering in the school; 60 are feared dead. Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk regional military administration, said the school building was destroyed.
Evacuations from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol: The Ukrainian government said "all women, children and elderly people" have been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Zelensky said more than 300 civilians have been rescued.
Acting US ambassador returns to Kyiv: Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine Kristina Kvien and a group of US diplomats returned to the embassy in Kyiv on Sunday for the first time since the war began more than two months ago. The US embassy was shuttered in mid-February as concerns grew of Russian military action.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ukraine: In a joint news conference with Zelensky in Kyiv on Sunday, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the reopening of the Canadian embassy in the Ukrainian capital. Trudeau also announced more military assistance for Ukraine, including drone cameras, satellite imagery, small arms, ammunition and funding for de-mining operations.
US State Department announces visa restrictions against Russian and Belarusian military officials: The US State Department on Sunday announced visa restrictions on more than 2,000 Russian and Belarusian military officials for violations related to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and a new visa restriction policy targeting Russian officials for human rights abuses, violations of international humanitarian law and corruption in Ukraine.