May 11, 2022: Russia-Ukraine news

By Ben Church, Joshua Berlinger, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 0418 GMT (1218 HKT) May 12, 2022
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3:02 a.m. ET, May 11, 2022

Russia "very worried" about counterattacks near Kharkiv, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

Ukrainian soldiers next to a destroyed Russian tank on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on 8 May.
Ukrainian soldiers next to a destroyed Russian tank on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on 8 May. (Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russia has assembled about 20 battalion tactical groups in Belgorod — a Russian city close to the Ukrainian border — and is concerned about the possibility of Ukrainian counterattacks, according to a senior Ukrainian official.

"According to the General Staff [of the Ukrainian armed forces], they are very worried about our counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region, in the north of the Kharkiv region, to be precise," Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine's Interior Minister, told Ukrainian television.

Russian forces, however, have enough strength for another attack on the area, he said.

Skirmishes to the south: The most active battles Wednesday are farther south, Denysenko said, "in the Luhansk direction. This is Rubizhne, Severodonetsk."

He denied a claim by the Russian Ministry of Defense on Tuesday that Russian forces had reached the border of Luhansk.

Russian forces are trying to break south from Izium to take other parts of the Donetsk region, but there's been little movement on the ground.

"In the Izium direction, they conduct a fairly massive air reconnaissance, first of all. It's more about drones than aviation," Denysenko said.
2:33 a.m. ET, May 11, 2022

Missiles strike Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine, mayor says

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

Missiles struck two areas of the city of Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine, according to the city's mayor.

No casualties have been noted so far, Mayor Vadym Liakh said, and authorities are assessing the resulting damage.

Some context: Sloviansk is the main goal of Russian forces trying to push south into the Donetsk region, and has been a key focus since Russia revised its strategy away from northern Ukraine in early April.

According to a report from the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on Tuesday, Russians were trying to break through Ukrainian defenses north of Sloviansk, around the settlements of Oleksandrivka and Shandryholove.

This area has seen almost constant fighting for around two weeks, but the Russians appear to have made minimal progress on the ground.

2:15 a.m. ET, May 11, 2022

Ukraine advances to finals of the Eurovision Song Contest

From CNN's Sandra Gonzalez

Kalush Orchestra are seen on the turquoise carpet of the 66th Eurovision Song Contest on May 8, in Turin, Italy.
Kalush Orchestra are seen on the turquoise carpet of the 66th Eurovision Song Contest on May 8, in Turin, Italy. (Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images)

Musicians representing Ukraine were selected Tuesday to advance to the finals of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Kalush Orchestra, performing on behalf of Ukraine, is heavily favored to win, according to Johnny Weir, who hosted the US coverage of the competition on the streaming service Peacock.

The group's song is called Stefania.

The run-up to Eurovision featured controversial decisions determining whether musicians from Russia would be able to participate following the invasion in February.

The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the contest, had initially decided it would allow a performer to represent Russia but changed course less than 24 hours later following public outcry.

"The decision reflects concern that, in light of the unprecedented crisis in Ukraine, the inclusion of a Russian entry in this year's Contest would bring the competition into disrepute," a statement released at the time said in part.

Ukraine and others had petitioned the European Broadcasting Union to bar Russia from participating.

Ten countries in all advanced from the competition's first semi-final on Tuesday.

The Grand Final will take place Saturday following the second semifinal, which is set to happen Thursday in Turin, Italy.

Read more about Ukraine and the competition here:

1:16 a.m. ET, May 11, 2022

US House passage of Ukrainian aid sends "a clear, bipartisan message" of support, says White House

From CNN's Andrea Cambron

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily briefing at the White House on Tuesday.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily briefing at the White House on Tuesday. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

The US House of Representatives passing a bill to send $40 billion in additional aid to Ukraine sends “a clear, bipartisan message to Ukraine, to Russia, and to the world that the United States stands with the people of Ukraine as they defend their democracy against Russian aggression,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday.

"Our assistance to date, together with the contributions of our Allies and partners, has been critical in helping Ukrainians win the battle for Kyiv and defend their freedoms," Psaki said.
"The additional resources included in this bill will allow us to send more weapons, such as artillery, armored vehicles, and ammunition, to Ukraine. And they will help us replenish our stockpile and support US troops on NATO territory."

The bill was approved in the House with broad bipartisan support by a vote of 368-57. The Senate will next take up the measure, and upon approval is expected to be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

"As the President said yesterday, we cannot afford any delay in this vital effort," Psaki said. "We look forward to continuing to work with Senate leadership to get this bill to the President’s desk quickly and keep assistance flowing to Ukraine without interruption."

Read more about the aid package here:

12:42 a.m. ET, May 11, 2022

Leonid Kravchuk, first president of Ukraine, has died

From CNN's Teele Rebane

The first president of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk speaks in in Parliamentary Hall in Kyiv, Ukraine on July 16, 2020.
The first president of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk speaks in in Parliamentary Hall in Kyiv, Ukraine on July 16, 2020. (Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Leonid Makarovych Kravchuk, Ukraine's first president who served from 1991 to 1994, died on Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement.

In an on-camera address, Zelensky paid homage to the late president, calling the news tragic.

"Leonid Makarovych knew the cost of freedom. With all his heart, he wanted peace for Ukraine. I'm sure we are going to realize his dream, by achieving victory and our own peace," Zelensky said.

Kravchuk was a key figure in Ukraine's independence movement in the late 1980s amid the collapse of the Soviet Union. He later became Ukraine's first president when the country declared independence in 1991.

7:42 a.m. ET, May 11, 2022

Analysis: Putin's current dilemma was JFK's worst fear

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Getty Images)

Reflecting on the Cuban missile crisis, US President John Kennedy once warned that nuclear powers "must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war."

The showdown with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine does not yet mirror the one-minute-to-midnight brinkmanship that brought the Soviet Union and the West to the cusp of Armageddon in October 1962.

But Kennedy's superpower logic is resounding poignantly as Putin gets backed into a corner by the strategic disaster of his war, Ukraine's heroic resistance and an extraordinary multibillion-dollar allied conveyor of arms and ammunition.

Read the full analysis here:

8:15 a.m. ET, May 11, 2022

The ordinary Ukrainians fighting back against Russia

From CNN's Mick Krever

Ukraine’s fierce resistance to the Russian invasion has resonated around the world.

At the center of that fight are ordinary citizens who left behind comfortable lives to answer a call of duty — people such as a software engineer, a logistics manager and even a poet.

The area south of Izium is a key point of resistance against Russian attempts to completely encircle the Donbas region.

Most civilians have left, and the artillery battles are near-constant. These are some of the people trying to ensure it does not fall into Russian hands.

Anna Arhipova, 22

(Mick Krever/CNN)
(Mick Krever/CNN)

Anna Arhipova was a logistics manager in her hometown of Poltava, northeast Ukraine, before the war began.

At the time, her overriding fear was not of the violence, but of "not being useful," she says. So she signed up, and now drives a pickup truck to some of the most dangerous areas of the conflict.

In a world of bearded, stocky young men, her slight frame cuts an uncommon figure. But she says it’s the men, not her, who are troubled by her presence.

"Everybody tells me that I have to give birth, cook, clean, and do the housekeeping, not be here," she says. "It irritates me very, very much. I answer that if I would like to give birth, I would not be here."

Alex, 34

(Mick Krever/CNN)
(Mick Krever/CNN)

Alex, who wanted to use only his first name out of privacy concerns, is a software engineer from Kharkiv. Last year, he built his own countryside log cabin.

Now his house, which was on a strategically located hill, has been reduced to a hole five meters deep, and he spends many of his nights sleeping in a tank named ‘Bunny,’ which was stolen from the Russian military in the opening weeks of the war.

"This is like my personal tank," he explains. "I am like tank commander and tank owner," he says with a laugh.

Vlad Sord, 27

(Mick Krever/CNN)
(Mick Krever/CNN)

Vlad Sord was still a teenager when he signed up to fight for Ukraine in 2014.

"A lot of strange things happen there," explains Sord, as he chain smokes cigarillos. "Things that I could not explain, I collected them, compiled them, wrote them down."

He’s now a published author and poet. He fights for his country, and gathers material to document what's happening.

"I have a very good memory for the dialogues themselves and I use that. I write everything down."

12:08 a.m. ET, May 11, 2022

It's 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

As intense fighting continues in the eastern and southern portions of Ukraine, Russia's ally Belarus announced it will deploy its special forces along the border it shares with Ukraine’s north, claiming opposing military buildups from the US and its allies.

Meanwhile, a United Nations agency has reported that more than 8 million people — roughly one in five of Ukraine’s pre-war population — are internally displaced, with needs "growing by the hour."

Here are some of the latest developments:

  • US moves forward with aid bill: The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted on Tuesday evening to pass a roughly $40 billion bill to deliver humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine, and the bill will head to the Senate for its expected approval before being signed by President Joe Biden into law.

(House TV)
(House TV)

  • Putin is preparing for a long conflict, US intel director says: The US intelligence community believes that the war is likely to become "more unpredictable and escalatory" in the coming months, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said Tuesday. President Vladimir Putin’s next move will be difficult to predict in part because he "faces a mismatch between his ambitions and Russia’s current conventional military capabilities," Haines said.
  • Russian regime must be removed, says Lithuanian FM: Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the removal of Putin along with his entire regime are necessary to stop Russia's "warmongering" and predicted the Kremlin leader will become increasingly erratic as his battlefield losses grow in Ukraine.
  • UN Security Council meeting set: The UN Security Council is expected to hold a public meeting Thursday morning on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine at the request of France and Mexico. The UN Humanitarian Office and officials from UNICEF are expected to brief the council at that time though no vote is scheduled.
  • Food transport problems: The intelligence arm of the Ukrainian defense ministry has said grain stolen by Russian troops in occupied areas is already being sent abroad, with much of it "on dry cargo ships under the Russian flag in the Mediterranean." Bridget Brink, the nominee for US ambassador to Ukraine, said Tuesday that the US is "trying to work with international partners and others to help find alternative routes for grain and corn out of Ukraine" due to Russian forces blocking ports in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

12:05 a.m. ET, May 11, 2022

Freed US citizen detained in Ukraine by Russian forces says he feels "relieved"

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton

Bryan Stern, co-founder of Project Dynamo, left, and Kirillo Alexandrov, a 27-year-old American citizen who was held captive by Russians for alleged espionage.
Bryan Stern, co-founder of Project Dynamo, left, and Kirillo Alexandrov, a 27-year-old American citizen who was held captive by Russians for alleged espionage. (CNN)

CNN’s Erin Burnett spoke with Kirillo Alexandrov, a 27-year-old American citizen who was held captive by Russians for alleged espionage. 

Bryan Stern, co-founder of Project Dynamo, told CNN that Alexandrov and his Ukrainian wife and mother-in-law were taken by Russian forces more than a month ago in Kherson Oblast. They had been held in a building occupied by the Russians and the Russian security services would not allow them to leave until today, Stern said.    

Sitting next to Stern, Alexandrov told Erin, “I feel relieved, nothing more, nothing less, just relieved.”  

When asked how he was treated by Russian soldiers while in captivity he said he is a victim of war crimes. 

“Some individuals were very cordial with me, some were violent. I was cuffed and beaten a few times. My wife was assaulted. Not high end professionalism as far as military personnel goes. But we are victims of war crimes here,” Alexandrov said. 

Alexandrov did not know negotiations for his release were happening. 

“I was ignorant to basically everything. I was just held in a room for however many days. It just felt like one long day or a lifetime,” he said. 

His wife was assaulted during their time in captivity but she is a strong person and doing much better, he said. 

“She’s great. She’s held me up ... she’s got a strong grip, she’s a strong person and she’s doing a lot better,” he said of his wife. 

The US government was aware and helped when they could, Stern told CNN. 

“We were close to getting them out pretty much every day for the last two and a half weeks,” he said. “A lot of people told us this was a losing case, this is not gonna work, this is too hard, he’s an alleged spy in captivity there’s just no way ... A lot of people told us it was impossible but we get told that a lot in Dynamo and it always seems to work out.” 

Alexandrov says he’s indebted to Stern for his teams work securing his released. 

“Incredibly brave, honorable, he’s a very good man and I’m not gonna forget any of this ever, I don’t know how I can ever repay him and his team because I would be dead if it wasn’t for him,” Alexandrov said of Stern and his team.