May 17, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Rhea Mogul, Lianne Kolirin, Sana Noor Haq and Matias Grez, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022
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1:42 p.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Ukrainian man says Russian troops buried him alive after beating and shooting him and his brothers

From CNN's Saskya Vandoorne, Melissa Bell and Oleksandra Ochman

Mykola Kulichenko struggles to recount a tale he shouldn’t be alive to tell. But this Ukrainian man believes he was allowed to cheat death so he might speak for all those who cannot.

By the side of a remote road in the northern Chernihiv region of Ukraine, Mykola shows the unmarked grave in which he and his two brothers were buried three-and-a-half weeks after the war began, in land seized by Russian forces. All three had been shot; he was the only one to survive.

“It’s like being resurrected,” Mykola, 33, told CNN.

Until March 18, life for the Kulichenko family had changed little despite the Russians occupying their village of Dovzhyk since the start of the war. Then, when a Russian column was bombed, Russian soldiers fanned out looking for those responsible. They arrived at the wood-plank house where Mykola lived with his two brothers, Yevhen and Dmytro along with their sister, Iryna – who still hasn’t forgiven herself for not being home that day.

Three soldiers told the brothers to kneel in the front yard while they searched the home looking for anything that would link them to the bombed convoy, Mykola said. According to Mykola, once they found the military medals their grandfather owned and a military bag belonging to 30-year-old Yevhen, who had been a paratrooper, the soldiers were convinced they had something to hide.

Mykola, Yevhen and Dmytro were driven to a basement where they were interrogated for three days, he said. Mykola kept hoping the Russians would release them, but on the fourth day, he said, their mood changed.

“They beat my whole body with a metal rod, and they put the barrel of a gun inside my mouth,” he said.

Along with his brothers, Mykola was tortured until he lost consciousness. He says they were blindfolded, had their hands and legs bound with tape and were driven in a military vehicle by five Russian soldiers to a desolate plot of land. They were made to kneel, blindfolded, while a pit was dug, Mykola said.

First, he said, he heard a shot behind him, and 36-year-old Dmytro, the eldest of the three, fell to the ground. Next, he felt Yevhen, the youngest, drop by his side.

“I was thinking that I was next,” he said. But the bullet entered Mykola’s cheek and exited next to his right ear. He knew his only hope of survival was to play dead.

The soldiers kicked the brothers’ bodies into the pit, covered them with earth and left, according to Mykola. He can’t say how long he lay buried alive, only that with his hands and legs still bound he somehow managed to maneuver his way out from under his older brother’s corpse and back to the land of the living.

“It was hard for me to breathe, since Dima (Dmytro) was lying on top of me, but using my arms and knees, I was able to push my older brother off to the side of the pit, and then I climbed out,” he said.

In the dark, he staggered through fields to the nearest house, where a woman took him in and cared for him overnight before he was able to get back to his sister, who’d been anxiously waiting for days at their father’s home.

Read the full story here:

2:09 p.m. ET, May 17, 2022

France's Macron pledges more weapons to Ukraine during call with Zelensky

From CNN's Dalal Mawad in Paris

French president Emmanuel Macron speaks at a press conference in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, May 9.
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks at a press conference in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, May 9. (Stefanie Loos/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky additional weapons in the days to come in a phone call between the two leaders, according to an Elysée Palace statement. 

Macron confirmed that arms deliveries by France will “continue and increase in intensity in the days and weeks to come, as will the delivery of humanitarian aid,” said the statement.

Macron also said that Ukraine's application for membership of the European Union would be “examined” during a European Council session in June. The bloc’s consideration will be based on the “opinion that the European Commission would have given, and in the spirit expressed at the Versailles summit by all the member states who declared that Ukraine was part of the European family.”

The leaders also discussed the evacuations of the Azovstal plant as well as “the challenge of food security and possible ways to allow exports of Ukrainian grains, which a large part of the world depends on for its food.”

The telephone conversation between the two presidents lasted for an hour and 10 minutes, according to the Palace, and was “long and substantial.”

11:18 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

A town in the Donetsk region was hit by a missile, Ukrainian officials say 

From Tim Lister and Julia Presniakova 

Destruction after a Russian airplane launched a rocket in Bakhmut, Donbas, Ukraine on Tuesday May 17th.
Destruction after a Russian airplane launched a rocket in Bakhmut, Donbas, Ukraine on Tuesday May 17th. (Andoni Lubaki/Sipa USA/Reuters)

In an indication that Russian forces may be extending the range of their attacks, Ukrainian officials say the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region was hit by a missile Tuesday.

The missile strike destroyed a five-story building in the town, according to Donetsk regional police. One person had been killed and a 9-year-old child was seriously injured.

"The exact number of victims is being clarified," police said.

Bakhmut is an important hub for the Ukrainian military and its hospital treats wounded soldiers. It is roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the front lines around Popasna.

"The Russians do not stop the mass shelling along the entire front line from Vuhledar to Bakhmut," said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk region military administration.

Strikes on Tuesday morning had damaged a school in Bakhmut and several infrastructure facilities, he added.

Kyrylenko said there had been intense fire in several places along the front lines, including Toretsk and Ocheretyn.

11:37 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Finland and Sweden will submit their NATO application on Wednesday

From Per Bergfors Nyberg

Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, left, poses with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at the Adelcrantz Palace on May 17, in Stockholm, Sweden
Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, left, poses with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at the Adelcrantz Palace on May 17, in Stockholm, Sweden (Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

Finland and Sweden will hand in their NATO application Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Stockholm.

"Democracy has won," Niinistö said.

"This whole spring has been a triumph for democracy in Finland" he said, referring to the overwhelming support Finland's NATO application received in parliament today, and the support among the Finnish people.

"Sweden also looks forward to cooperating together with Turkey within NATO,”  Andersson said.

Her comment addressed Turkish president's prior statement on Monday that he would not approve Sweden and Finland's NATO membership over sanctions on Turkey and further accused both countries of housing Kurdish "terrorist organizations."

“We are looking forward to having a bilateral dialogue with Turkey, and we will of course also have bilateral dialogues with other NATO members during this process. And once we are in NATO, I see an opportunity to evolve our bilateral relationship even further,” Andersson said during the joint news conference.

Finland's Niinistö said that he also remains “optimistic” on forthcoming discussions with Turkey and that with dialogue the “problem will be solved.”

The Finnish president reacted to Erdogan’s hostility, saying that it was “very surprising,” and that at the beginning of April his support was “very clear.”

“He looked favorable on the Finnish membership application process. Now there are different views,” Niinistö said. 

“We have to discuss further. Our people stand ready to do almost anything to discuss with Turkish officials. We have both requested phone calls with Erdogan, and I remain optimistic," he continued.

Niinistö also mentioned his upcoming trip alongside the Swedish prime minister to visit US President Joe Biden on Thursday.

“We are on our way to Washington, and there we will have a joint discussion with Biden, and surely many other discussions in the Senate and Congress," Niinistö said.

10:43 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Swedish and Finnish leaders will visit White House as they seek to join NATO

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

US President Joe Biden on Thursday will welcome the prime minister of Sweden and the president of Finland to the White House in a key show of support days after both countries announced they would seek to join NATO.

The leaders are expected to discuss Finland and Sweden’s NATO applications, European security and support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Both countries are looking to join the military alliance after Russia’s assault on Ukraine sparked renewed security concerns across the region. Their historic bids to join NATO represent a dramatic evolution in European security and geopolitics.

Finland and Sweden will hand in their NATO application Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Stockholm.

The US and other NATO leaders have expressed support for Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the US would “strongly support” their NATO applications.

Both Finland and Sweden already meet many of the requirements to be a NATO member, which include having a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; treating minority populations fairly; committing to resolve conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and committing to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.

But the move has been met with resistance by Russia and Turkey. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO would not create a threat to Russia, but the “expansion of military infrastructure into this territory will certainly cause our response.”

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday that Russia “will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop the threats to its national security arising in this regard.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said this week that he would not approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership if they sanction Turkey and that delegations from the nations should not bother coming to Turkey to try to convince that nation to approve their country’s NATO membership.

10:32 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

ICC prosecutor announces largest field deployment of forensics and investigative team to Ukraine

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London

International Criminal Court Prosecutor, Karim A.A, Khan QC, speaks during an informal meeting of the United Nations Security Council at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, on April 27.
International Criminal Court Prosecutor, Karim A.A, Khan QC, speaks during an informal meeting of the United Nations Security Council at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, on April 27. (David 'Dee' Delgado/Reuters)

The "largest ever single field deployment" of an International Criminal Court forensics and investigative team has been sent to Ukraine, ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan said in a statement Tuesday.

"I can confirm that today my Office has deployed a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support personnel to Ukraine to advance our investigations into crimes falling into the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court ... and provide support to Ukrainian national authorities. This represents the largest ever single field deployment by my Office since its establishment," Khan said.

A "significant number" of Dutch national experts will support this mission, Khan said, adding that "this collaboration will significantly enhance the impact of our forensic and investigative actions on the ground."

Khan said the team will be able to "collect more testimonial accounts, support the identification of relevant forensic and digital materials and ensure that information and evidence is collected in a manner that strengthens its admissibility in future proceedings before the ICC."

"The team deployed by my Office today will also engage with a team of French forensic experts on the ground in Ukraine in order to ensure continuity and continuation of their work with respect to the identification of remains, ballistics analysis and the storage and preservation of forensic evidence," he said. "We will also be engaging with teams deployed by other States in Ukraine in order to comprehensively map existing activities and strengthen coordination across all actors. It is my intention to ensure that this collaborative work is then continued through the consistent presence of my Office on the ground."

The ICC formally opened an investigation into the situation in Ukraine on March 2.

Khan said that "now more than ever we need to show the law in action," adding "it is essential that we demonstrate to survivors and the families of victims that international law is relevant to their experience, that the ideals of the Rome Statute can be applied meaningfully in order to bring them some measure of solace through the process of justice."

In April, Khan visited the Ukrainian towns of Bucha and Borodianka, where mass graves and murdered civilians were discovered after Russian troops withdrew from the area around Kyiv. He called the whole country a "crime scene."

11:22 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Former Russian colonel criticizes the country's invasion of Ukraine on state television

From Tim Lister, Anastasia Graham Yooll and Taras Zadorozhnyy

Two girls sit in a a public square in front of destroyed buildings in Borodyanka outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Ukraine on May 16.
Two girls sit in a a public square in front of destroyed buildings in Borodyanka outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Ukraine on May 16. Jorge Silva/Reuters

In rare public criticism of the conduct of Russia's military operations in Ukraine, a former senior Russian officer has warned on state television that the situation will get worse.

"Let's not drink 'information tranquilizers,' because sometimes information is spread about some moral or psychological breakdown of Ukraine's armed forces, as if they are nearing a crisis of morale or a fracture," retired Col. Mikhail Khodarenok said on Monday’s edition of Rossiya One’s 60 Minutes show. "None of this is close to reality."

Despite pushback from the show’s presenter, Khodarenok said that Ukraine could arm one million people. 

"Considering that European aid will come into full effect and one million armed Ukrainian soldiers can join the fight, we need to see this reality of the near future, and we need to consider that in our operational and strategic calculations. The situation for us will frankly get worse," he said.

Khodarenok, a regular commentator in Russian media, also commented on Russia's broader isolation.

"Let's look at this situation as a whole from our overall strategic position," he said. "Let’s not swing missiles in Finland's direction – this just looks ridiculous. The biggest problem with our military and political situation is that we are in total geopolitical isolation. And the whole world is against us — even if we don’t want to admit it."

Khodarenok warned before the invasion started that it would be more difficult than many anticipated to wage war in Ukraine.

In an article in February, he said, "the degree of hatred (which, as you know, is the most effective fuel for armed struggle) in the neighboring republic towards Moscow is frankly underestimated. No one will meet the Russian army with bread, salt and flowers in Ukraine."

Expert claims that Russian forces will defeat Ukraine in a short period of time "have no serious grounds," he had said.

11:49 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

More buses reportedly leave Mariupol's Azovstal plant, according to Russian state media

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Buses carrying service members of Ukrainian forces who spent weeks holed up at the Azovstal plant drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 17.
Buses carrying service members of Ukrainian forces who spent weeks holed up at the Azovstal plant drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 17. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Another column of buses has left the besieged Azovstal steel plant, according to Russian state media.

The buses "allegedly with surrendered militants from the Azovstal plant, accompanied by armored vehicles, moved to the exit from Mariupol," RIA Novosti reported, adding that no shots were fired at the Azovstal plant for several hours before the column of buses left.

On Tuesday, the spokesperson of the Russian Defense Ministry, Major Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that 265 militants, including 51 seriously injured, surrendered at the Azovstal and had been evacuated on Monday night.

All those in need of medical care were sent for treatment to the Novoazovsk hospital in the Donetsk People's Republic, he said.

There's been no word from the Ukrainian side on another convoy leaving Tuesday. 

12:21 p.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Russia denies US Embassy permission to visit Brittney Griner for third time in month, ambassador says   

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury during the first half in Game Four of the 2021 WNBA semifinals at Footprint Center on October 6 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury during the first half in Game Four of the 2021 WNBA semifinals at Footprint Center on October 6 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Russian authorities denied the US Embassy in Moscow permission to visit detained American and WNBA star Brittney Griner for the third time in a month, US Ambassador John Sullivan said in a tweet posted by the embassy.

"This is unacceptable. We call on @mfa_russia to provide timely consular access, in line with Russia’s intl & bilateral obligations," Sullivan said.

The WNBA player's pretrial detention has been extended until June. She is considered wrongfully detained by the State Department. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Griner's wife on Saturday. According to a senior State Department official, the top US diplomat told Cherelle Griner that her wife's release is a top priority for the department and has his full attention.

Blinken said the State Department is working on the case day and night, and said that Cherelle Griner should not hesitate to reach out if there's anything she is not getting.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who has for years played for a Russian basketball team during the WNBA off-season, was arrested in February. Russian authorities said she had cannabis oil in her luggage and accused her of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance — an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.