May 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Andrew Raine, Tara John, Sana Noor Haq, Laura Smith-Spark and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 12:05 a.m. ET, May 16, 2022
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7:46 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

Finnish President “confused” over Turkish leader's comments about Finland and Sweden joining NATO

From CNN's Nic Robertson and Chris Liakos in Helsinki

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö gives a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on May 15.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö gives a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on May 15. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images)

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has said he is “confused” over comments from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he is not looking at the possibility of Finland and Sweden joining NATO “positively."

“To be frank, I’m a bit confused, because I had a telephone discussion with the President Erdogan approximately a month ago. And actually, he took up himself before I had the possibility to do that, that you're applying for NATO membership, and we will assess it favourable," Niinistö told CNN's Nic Robertson during a press conference Sunday in Helsinki.

"I thanked him and he was very pleased to receiving my thanks. So you got to understand that I'm a bit confused. What we heard two days ago was different then yesterday, we again heard that Turkey is open to our membership, but, it turned back to no or let's say negative side."

"I think that what we need now is a very clear answer. I'm prepared to have a new discussion with President Erdogan about the problems he has raised."

Erdogan said Friday he was not looking at Finland and Sweden joining NATO "positively," accusing both counties of housing Kurdish "terrorist organizations."

6:37 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

Finland will apply to join NATO, leaders say, ditching decades of neutrality despite Russia's threats of retaliation

From CNN's Tara John and Chandler Thornton

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Finland's President Sauli Niinistö give a press conference to announce that Finland will apply for NATO membership at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on May 15.
Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Finland's President Sauli Niinistö give a press conference to announce that Finland will apply for NATO membership at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on May 15. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images)

Finland's government announced Sunday it will apply to join NATO, ditching decades of wartime neutrality and ignoring Russian threats of possible retaliation as the Nordic country attempts to strengthen its security following the onset of the war in Ukraine.

The decision was announced at a joint press conference on Sunday with President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who said the move must be ratified by the country's parliament before it can go forward.

"We hope that the parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership during the coming days," Marin said during a press conference in Helsinki.

"It will be based on a strong mandate, with the President of the Republic. We have been in close contact with governments of NATO member states and NATO itself," Marin added.

The move would bring the US-led military alliance up to Finland's 830-mile border with Russia, but could take months to finalize as the legislatures of all 30 current NATO members must approve new applicants.

It also risks provoking the ire of Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Niinistö on Saturday that abandoning military neutrality and joining the bloc would be a "mistake."

CNN's Joshua Berlinger contributed reporting to this post.

Read the full story:

6:02 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

It's 1 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

NATO foreign ministers are meeting in Germany, while Finland and Sweden consider joining the US-led military alliance.

Here are the latest headlines from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Finland set to seek NATO membership: Finland's President Sauli Niinistö told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday that the Nordic nation will decide "to seek NATO membership in the next few days," Niinistö's office said in a statement. Putin called such a move a "mistake" as Russia suspended its power exports to Finland. Germany has “prepared everything to do a quick ratification process” if Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Sunday.

Where the fighting is happening: In the country's north, Ukraine continues to press on with a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, where its troops have made significant advances to the north and east towards the Russian border. The aim of the Ukrainian offensive is to cut Russia's supply lines to its forces trying to advance into the eastern Donetsk region. The pullback of Russian forces from areas around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has revealed new evidence of atrocities. Ukrainian officials say there were further air strikes on the Chernihiv and Sumy regions of northern Ukraine.

Several industrial towns in the east have seen relentless bombardment for weeks as Russian forces try to break down Ukrainian defenses. One is Severodonetsk, where a chemical plant and high-rise buildings have been hit, according to Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk regional military administration, who warns "Russians are gathering equipment and manpower closer to Severodonetsk and preparing to attack it."

On the southern front, Ukrainian regional authorities say the Russians have begun digging trenches in some front-line positions, while in the country's west, four missiles hit a military infrastructure facility in the Yavoriv district, Ukrainian officials said.

Russian losses: Russia may have lost as much as one third of the ground force it committed when it invaded Ukraine, according to an intelligence assessment from Britain's defense ministry. It added that Russian forces had sustained heavy losses in their Donbas offensive and that "under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days." It is unclear how the ministry has arrived at that assessment. Russia is thought to have committed about 100 battalion tactical groups to the offensive in eastern Ukraine, but Western officials say many of these groups are under strength.

Mariupol convoy: A convoy of 500 to 1,000 cars containing people evacuated from Mariupol entered the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday, Petro Andryushchenko, aide to Mariupol's mayor, said on his telegram channel.

Zelensky meets US delegation: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met a congressional delegation led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kyiv on Saturday, and called for Russia to be officially recognized as a "terrorist state."

Ukraine wins Eurovision: Ukraine's folk-rap group Kalush Orchestra has won this year's Eurovision Song Contest, surfing a wave of goodwill from European nations to clinch the country's third win at the glitzy event. The band's song "Stefania," written about the frontman's mother, beat competition from main rivals the United Kingdom and Spain at the competition in the Italian city of Turin.

5:49 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

“More weapons and other aid" on the way to Ukraine, Ukrainian foreign minister says after meeting US counterpart Blinken

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau in London

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Sunday that he'd met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Germany and that “more weapons and other aid (are) on the way to Ukraine.”

Kuleba and Blinken met in the German capital, Berlin, where NATO foreign ministers are holding an informal meeting over the weekend. Finland is expected to make a decision Sunday on whether it will make a formal application to join the bloc. It's widely anticipated that Sweden will follow the move.

“We agreed to work closely together to ensure that Ukrainian food exports reach consumers in Africa and Asia. Grateful to Secretary Blinken and the U.S. for their leadership and unwavering support,” Kuleba’s tweet read.

5:31 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

UK claims Russian losses may amount to one third of ground combat force in Ukraine

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

A destroyed pontoon bridge is seen on the Siverskyi Donets River near Bilohorivka, Ukraine on May 12.
A destroyed pontoon bridge is seen on the Siverskyi Donets River near Bilohorivka, Ukraine on May 12. (From Ukraine Armed Forces)

Russia may have lost as much as one third of the ground force it committed when it invaded Ukraine, according to Britain's defense ministry.

In its latest defense intelligence update, the ministry said Russian forces had sustained heavy losses in their Donbas offensive and that "under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days."

The ministry assessed that the offensive has "fallen significantly behind schedule. Despite small-scale initial advances, Russia has failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month whilst sustaining consistently high levels of attrition."

"Russia has now likely suffered losses of one third of the ground combat force it committed in February," the ministry added on Sunday.

It is unclear how the ministry has arrived at that assessment. Russia is thought to have committed about 100 battalion tactical groups to the offensive in eastern Ukraine, but Western officials say many of these groups are under strength.

The UK intelligence assessment says delays in Russian operations will "almost certainly be exacerbated by the loss of critical enablers such as bridging equipment and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drones."

"Russian bridging equipment has been in short supply throughout the conflict, slowing and restricting offensive manoeuvre. Russian UAVs are vital for tactical awareness and directing artillery but have been vulnerable to Ukrainian anti-air capabilities," it adds.

"Many of these capabilities cannot be quickly replaced or reconstituted and are likely to continue to hinder Russian operations in Ukraine."

Some background: In the past week, Russia has lost substantial bridging equipment while trying to cross the Siverskyi Donets river. The Russians have tried and apparently failed to put several pontoons across the river in an effort to encircle Ukrainian troops. Satellite imagery analyzed by CNN shows at least three bridges were destroyed this week and the Russians sustained heavy losses. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military claimed to have substantially degraded Russian drone capabilities. 

5:15 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

Germany has laid the groundwork for "quick ratification" if Finland, Sweden apply to join NATO, German foreign minister says

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau in London

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, right, talks to Mircea Geoana, Nato Deputy Secretary General prior to an informal meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers' session in Berlin on Sunday, May 15.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, right, talks to Mircea Geoana, Nato Deputy Secretary General prior to an informal meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers' session in Berlin on Sunday, May 15. (Michael Sohn/AP)

Germany has “prepared everything to do a quick ratification process” if Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said as she arrived for talks with NATO counterparts in Berlin on Sunday.

Baerbock said it was important not to have an in-between "gray zone," but that if these two countries decide to join the US-led military alliance, "they can join very quickly.”

Germany’s top diplomat added that if Sweden’s and Finland’s parliaments and societies decided to join NATO, their integration into the alliance would “make us even stronger, defense-wise but also with our values as democratic partners.”

“NATO was always an alliance for defense. It will stay always an alliance for defense, but before February 24, it was for some countries, not the most important thing to join," Baerbock told reporters.

“This has changed especially for our friends in Nordic Europe or Sweden and Finland. People didn't want to join NATO but now they are being pushed into NATO,” she added. 

Some context: The Finnish government is planning to issue a second white paper on Sunday proposing that the country joins NATO, Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters on Thursday. The proposal would then be put to a parliamentary vote with a plenary scheduled for Monday morning.

Russia has warned of retaliatory countermeasures, with Russian President Vladimir Putin telling his Finnish counterpart that ending decades of Finland's military neutrality would be a "mistake."

5:07 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

Ukraine says Russians intensifying attacks in east but retreating in north

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Presniakova

Ukrainian special task force police officers deliver bread to people living inside a basement bomb shelter in Severodonetsk, Ukraine on Friday, May 13.
Ukrainian special task force police officers deliver bread to people living inside a basement bomb shelter in Severodonetsk, Ukraine on Friday, May 13. (Leo Correa/AP)

Ukrainian officials have reported missile attacks and shelling in several regions, as Russian forces focus their efforts on the frontlines in Luhansk. But they claim further successes in the Kharkiv region. 

A rare missile strike was reported in the western Lviv region.

Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk regional military administration, said early Sunday that the "Russians are gathering equipment and manpower closer to Severodonetsk and preparing to attack it."

Severodonetsk is one of several industrial towns in the east that have seen relentless bombardment for weeks as Russian forces try to break down Ukrainian defenses.

Hayday said the city's chemical plant and high-rise buildings had been hit.

There is a lot of destruction: 11 high-rise buildings in the new and old districts of the city (were hit), in several of them apartments caught fire."

Several settlements to the south and west of Severodonetsk were also hit — including Vrubivka and Komyshuvakha — Hayday said. 

Russian forces are expected to advance further west if they can secure Severodonetsk, where 15,000 people are still living. Most residents have been evacuated. 

Ukraine has provided few details about its counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region, where its troops have made significant advances to the north and east towards the Russian border. The aim of the Ukrainian offensive is to cut Russian supply lines to its forces trying to advance into the Donetsk region.

The armed forces General Staff said Sunday only that "in the Kharkiv direction, enemy units did not conduct active hostilities." 

However, Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, said Ukrainian units "are constantly strengthening their positions, pushing the enemy from the borders of the city of Kharkiv to the borders of the Russian Federation. The northern and north-eastern directions are the hottest; there are active hostilities there."
He said the city of Kharkiv "has been relatively quiet for several days now, there has been no shelling of the city itself. About 2,000 people return to Kharkiv every day, and the number is growing every day."

This is partly because the city is now beyond the reach of many Russian artillery and rocket systems.

But further south, according to Syniehubov, several towns had come under fire. 

He said that "the enemy is constantly checking the positions of our armed forces near Barvinkove, trying to break through but has no success. The enemy suffered heavy losses of manpower and equipment."

The General Staff also said that Russian forces were intensifying efforts in this area, reporting that "the enemy tried to break through the defenses of our troops but was unsuccessful. It continues the regrouping of troops to resume the offensive in the direction of Barvinkove and Sloviansk," two key goals for Russian forces in the region.

Elsewhere, the General Staff reported further air strikes on the Chernihiv and Sumy regions of northern Ukraine. Dmytro Zhyvytskyy, head of the Sumy region military administration, said rockets and airstrikes overnight had damaged border villages but there had been no casualties.

On the southern front, regional authorities say the Russians have begun digging trenches in some front-line positions. 

The Zaporizhzhia regional military administration said the Russians "are digging trenches along the Molochna River" while continuing to shell towns in the area. 

In the western Lviv region, close to the Polish border, Maksym Kozytskyi, head of the Lviv regional military administration, said "four enemy missiles hit a military infrastructure facility in the Yavoriv district, near the border with Poland. The object is completely destroyed."

Kozytskyi did not specify the target, but a previous missile attack in Yavoriv targeted training grounds where some foreign fighters were present. 

3:25 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

Convoy of 500-1,000 cars carrying evacuees from Mariupol has arrived in Zaporizhzhia: mayor's aide

From CNN's Teele Rebane

Cars carrying Ukrainian refugees from Mariupol arrive at a registration and humanitarian aid center in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on May 14.
Cars carrying Ukrainian refugees from Mariupol arrive at a registration and humanitarian aid center in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on May 14. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

A convoy of 500-1,000 cars containing people evacuated from Mariupol entered the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday, Petro Andryushchenko, aide to Mariupol's mayor, said on his telegram channel.

The convoy had been waiting for more than three days to be allowed to enter Zaporizhzhia, he said.

12:23 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

Lethal Russian flechette projectiles hit homes in Ukrainian town of Irpin. 'They are everywhere,' say residents

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová, Oleksandra Ochman and David von Blohn

More than a month after the Ukrainian army retook Irpin from the Russians, Volodymyr Klimashevskyi is still finding the little nail-like projectiles scattered around his garden and embedded deep in the walls of his house.

You can't take them out with your hands, you need to use pliers," Klimashevskyi said, pointing to the wall dotted with the dark darts.

Called flechettes -- French for "little arrows" -- these razor-sharp, inch-long projectiles are a brutal invention of World War I when the Allies used them to strike as many enemy soldiers as possible. They are packed into shells that are fired by tanks. When the shell detonates, several thousands of the projectiles are sprayed over a large area.

Flechette shells are not banned, but their use in civilian areas is prohibited under humanitarian law, because of their indiscriminate nature. They cause severe damage as they rip through the body, twisting and bending -- and can be lethal.

Read the full story here: