May 12, 2022: Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Jessie Yeung, Travis Caldwell, Adrienne Vogt, Seán Federico O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Jack Guy and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 3:21 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022
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1:02 p.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Nearly 100 children killed in Ukraine in April alone and actual figures could be higher, UNICEF says

From CNN's Hande Atay Alam 

UNICEF has verified that almost 100 children were killed in Ukraine in April alone, but actual figures could be significantly higher with the conflict creating a child protection crisis, a top UNICEF official told the UN Security Council on Thursday.

"In just this past month, the UN verified that nearly 100 children were killed, and we believe the actual figures to be considerably higher," UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Omar Abdi said. 

During his remarks at the UN Security Council Meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine, Abdi said, "More children have been injured and faced grave violations of their rights, millions more have been displaced," and added, "The war in Ukraine, like all wars, is a child protection and child rights crisis."

Abdi also said that "education is also under attack" and "schools continue to be used for military purposes."

"As of last week, at least 15 of 89 — one in six — UNICEF-supported schools in eastern Ukraine had been damaged or destroyed since the start of the war." he said and added, "Hundreds of schools across the country are reported to have been hit by heavy artillery, airstrikes, and other explosive weapons in populated areas." 

"Schools are a lifeline for children, especially in conflict. Schools are a safe spaces, with routines providing protection from harm and a semblance of normalcy. Schools are also critical conduits for information about the risks of deadly explosive ordnance. And they are a connector to essential health and psychosocial services," he continued.

12:39 p.m. ET, May 12, 2022

UN urges all parties in Ukraine to remove barriers blocking movement of humanitarian staff to save lives

From CNN's Hande Atay Alam 

The United Nations on Thursday urged all parties in the Ukraine conflict to remove any barriers blocking the free movement of humanitarian staff to allow for the delivery of life-saving assistance across Ukraine. 

Speaking at the United Nations Security Council meeting Thursday on Ukraine's maintenance of peace and security, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya said that under international humanitarian law, the parties must respect all civilians as well as civilian homes.

"This includes allowing civilians to leave areas of hostilities voluntarily and safely," she added.

Msuya also said that the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross were able to evacuate 174 civilians on Monday from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol and other parts of the city. Msuya added that this was the third operation in the past week out of Mariupol, "bringing the total number of civilians evacuated from the steel plant Mariupol and neighboring towns to over 600." 

Msuya said that almost 14 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. Of that number, 8 million have been internally displaced. Nongovernmental organizations have provided assistance to more than 5.4 million people, she said, the majority of whom are in eastern Ukraine.

Msuya also emphasized the importance of the UN in exploring all options to save lives in Ukraine, saying, "We remain firmly committed to leaving no stone unturned." 

"The world expects this of us; the people of Ukraine deserve this," Msuya added. 

1:17 p.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Ukrainian woman whose boyfriend died at Mariupol's Azovstal plant says she still texts him every day

From CNN's Daria Markina

During a news briefing in Kyiv with relatives of soldiers who died or are still trapped in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, CNN spoke with Nastya Bilousova, 21, whose boyfriend Dmytro Chornyi was killed by a sniper.

Bilousova said she was told that he died via an Instagram message, and she didn't believe it at first. But three days later, she received official confirmation.

Bilousova said she and Chornyi, also 21, were together for four years and dreamed of going to the country of Georgia.

Even though she received the last text messages from him on March 1, she still texts him every day, telling him about her life and how she cannot accept his death.

Nastya Bilousova shows a conversation she had with her boyfriend, Dmytro Chornyi, who was killed in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, Ukraine. In the message, Chornyi tells Bilousova that he is getting a rest from fighting, and she tells him she loves him. She also told him that she went out for the first time in days to buy food.
Nastya Bilousova shows a conversation she had with her boyfriend, Dmytro Chornyi, who was killed in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, Ukraine. In the message, Chornyi tells Bilousova that he is getting a rest from fighting, and she tells him she loves him. She also told him that she went out for the first time in days to buy food. (Daria Markina/CNN)

Nicole, 21, who only provided CNN with her first name, attended the briefing with her 5-year-old nephew, Kirill, on her lap.

She, her nephew and her sister spent five days escaping from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia. She said they walked for two days and spent a night in a church to hide from shelling. They arrived in Zaporizhzhia on April 6.

21-year-old Nicole wipes away tears at a briefing about soldiers in Mariupol's Azovstal plant, as her 5-year-old nephew Kirill sits on her lap. She said that yesterday, she found out one of her good friends had died in the plant.
21-year-old Nicole wipes away tears at a briefing about soldiers in Mariupol's Azovstal plant, as her 5-year-old nephew Kirill sits on her lap. She said that yesterday, she found out one of her good friends had died in the plant. (Daria Markina/CNN)

Yesterday, she was told that her close friend Olexandr, who was fighting at Azovstal, had died. But she refuses to believe it.

“We were very good friends. He was a wonderful, kind man. He loved the guys he fought with. He often told me not to worry, that everything would be OK. Now I feel nothing," she said.

She had been getting fewer and fewer messages from him. The last time they messaged was on May 8.

"I believe and hope this is a mistake, that he is alive," she said.

On Thursday, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that "very difficult negotiations" are ongoing on the evacuation of seriously wounded fighters from the Azovstal steel plant in exchange for Russian prisoners of war.

8:26 a.m. ET, May 14, 2022

A Ukrainian revisits the site where she survived a missile attack: In my nightmares, "nobody hears my cries"

From CNN's Natalie Gallón, Nick Paton Walsh and Dennis Lapin

(Dennis Lapin/CNN)
(Dennis Lapin/CNN)

Ayuna Mozorova recently returned to the site of a blast that left her buried under rubble for several hours and recalled the harrowing moments to CNN.

She remembered where she was standing that day at the Kharkiv regional administration building in Ukraine. Seventy-two days earlier, she had been standing next to a cupboard, distributing coffee and cookies to Ukrainian soldiers, when the building was bombed.

"I feel a physical manifestation of fear. I don’t like cookies any more. A box fell on me and I remember the smell," she told CNN.

Her husband Andrei had scoured the place, looking for her for three hours.

(Dennis Lapin/CNN)
(Dennis Lapin/CNN)

"When I heard her voice, I was crawling across the rubble, and the emergency services were trying to kick me out. I pulled a man out and then heard her. I did not plan to leave her here," he said.

The multiple-rocket attack was an early sign of the brutality Russia would unleash on civilian targets.

The soldiers waiting in the corridor outside from her died. The young women in the basement below her died — their bodies were not found for three weeks.

Yet where Mozorova stood, somehow the concrete fell in a way that it shielded her.

(Natalie Gallón/CNN)
(Natalie Gallón/CNN)

"I knew I was alive, in pain but nothing broken. But I was worried I would be left and never be heard. The first time they heard me, they started to get me out and then the second missile came, and I was properly trapped," she said.

When her husband found her, he cried.

"It got easier to breathe. I was surprised as I thought I was still at ground level. The ambulance guys said, 'It’s your second birthday. You are alive.'”

The trauma lives on. Mozorova said she now sleeps with lights on, and when she hears a loud car or a jet plane, she braces.

"The nightmares are that I am again lying there and shivering cold. And that nobody hears my cries. That’s also stop me sleeping," she told CNN.
(courtesy Ayuna Mozorova)
(courtesy Ayuna Mozorova)

Mozorova was born in Russia, but can no longer talk to her relatives there. She said they believe Russian state media’s absurd claims that this is a limited operation against Nazis.

"They say it was my stupidity, and I don't need to be here," Mozorova said. "I hope when time passes, our children can talk, but I can’t talk to them now. Russia has lost its mind and cannot control its president. They are all each responsible, every citizen."

11:26 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

More than 6 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian invasion began, UN refugee agency says

From CNN's Benjamin Brown in London

More than 6 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion in late February, according to the latest data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

In addition, more than 8 million people – nearly one in five of Ukraine’s pre-war population – are internally displaced in the country after having been forced to flee their homes, according to the latest report by the International Organization for Migration.

A projected 8.3 million refugees are expected to flee Ukraine, the UNHCR said in late April.

11:26 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Here's what you need to know about NATO and how it works

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová and Bryony Jones

A soldier with the Polish Army sits in a tank as a NATO flag flies behind him during military exercises in 2015 in Zagan, Poland.
A soldier with the Polish Army sits in a tank as a NATO flag flies behind him during military exercises in 2015 in Zagan, Poland. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Finland – which shares an 800-mile border with Russia – is one step closer to joining NATO after the nation's president and prime minister announced their support for being a part of the US-led military alliance. The Kremlin said the move would be a threat to Russia.

Here's what you need to know about NATO and how it works:

NATO is a European and North American defense alliance that was created as the Cold War escalated and is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. The aim of the alliance was to protect Western European countries from the threat posed by the Soviet Union and to counter the spread of Communism after World War II.

Remember: An armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty guarantees that the resources of the whole alliance can be used to protect any single member nation. This is crucial for many of the smaller countries who would be defenseless without its allies. Iceland, for example, has no standing army. Since the US is the largest and most powerful NATO member, any state in the alliance is effectively under US protection.

The alliance started with 12 founding countries, but over the decades since, the alliance has grown to include a total of 30 members.

In alphabetical order, they are: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the US.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but has long hoped to join the alliance. This is a sore point for Russia, which sees NATO as a threat and vehemently opposes the move.

Amid ongoing tensions with the West, Russia has asked for iron-clad guarantees that the alliance won't expand further east — particularly into Ukraine.

But the US and NATO have resisted those demands. The alliance has always had an "open door policy," which states that any European country ready and willing to undertake the commitments and obligations of membership is welcome to apply for membership. Any decisions on enlargement of the alliance must be agreed unanimously.

Following the end of the Cold War, NATO made it clear it would welcome expansion to the east and in 1997, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were invited to begin accession talks.

Since then, more than a dozen countries from the former Eastern bloc, including three former Soviet republics, joined the alliance.

Read the full explainer on NATO here and see a map of its current members below:

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

"Difficult negotiations" on evacuation of badly wounded from Azovstal are ongoing, Ukrainian deputy PM says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk speaks during an interview in Kyiv in April 11.
Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk speaks during an interview in Kyiv in April 11. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that "very difficult negotiations" are ongoing on the evacuation of seriously wounded fighters from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol in exchange for Russian prisoners of war.

"To be clear: we are currently negotiating only about 38 severely wounded (bedridden) fighters. We work step by step. We will exchange 38, then we will move on. There are currently no talks on the exchange of 500 or 600 people, which is being reported by some media outlets," she said.

She asked others to stop speculating about the process.

"I beg you. It's about people's lives. Refrain from public comments about what you do not know," she said.

11:07 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Apprehending perpetrators of war crimes is a "long game," says top US official for global criminal justice

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Beth Van Schaack, the US ambassador at large for global criminal justice, said one of the biggest challenges to ensuring accountability for those who are responsible for war crimes in Ukraine will be getting them into custody. But, she added, that “those of us in this business are playing a long game” to try to apprehend them.

“Eventually people, perpetrators will want to travel — they will have family members abroad, they will want to visit the capitals of Europe, and international prosecutors around the world will be ready with indictments in hand,” Van Schaack said at a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday.

She told lawmakers that the world has “never seen this type of international coordination around the imperative of accountability, frankly, since World War II and then in the 1990s when the two ad-hoc criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were created.”

“There is a huge international effort to document crimes that's being done on multilaterally through partnerships and also individually at the civil society level and a huge effort with prosecutors from different systems, working together,” she said.

The Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova has alleged that the Russian army had committed more than 9,800 war crimes as of May 5.

10:41 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

US Foreign Relations Committee working for "swift consideration" of possible Finland and Sweden NATO bids

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Democratic US Sen. Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday that his committee is “already working to ensure swift consideration” of Finland’s and Sweden’s memberships in NATO should they choose to apply.

At least two-thirds of the US Senate must vote to approve new member states in the defensive alliance.

In a tweet, Republican ranking member of the committee Sen. Jim Risch said that Finland’s “announcement today marks a tremendous step forward in the future of transatlantic security.”