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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7:09 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Zelensky and Scholz discuss situation at Ukrainian front

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on May 16.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on May 16. (Michael Sohn/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a tweet Tuesday that he and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have discussed the situation at the military front.

The two leaders also spoke about strengthening sanctions and pressure on Russia, as well as the prospect of peace, he added.

Zelensky said in a post published to his verified Twitter account that he and Scholz had "productive talks."

"We look forward to Germany's further assistance on Ukraine's path to full EU membership," he added.

Some background: The meeting between Zelensky and Scholz follows earlier tensions between Kyiv and Berlin. In recent months, the German government and Scholz came under pressure from Ukraine and politicians at home for not doing enough to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian invasion.

But at the end of April, Germany agreed to deliver Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine, and later said it will supply Kyiv with seven self-propelled howitzers.

Last week, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Germany had now moved in "the right direction."

Kuleba said last Thursday that the decision about Ukraine's membership of the European Union, due to be taken at the European summit at the end of June, will largely define the future of Europe.

''The EU needs Ukraine as much as Ukraine needs the EU,'' Kuleba said. 

7:00 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

It's 2 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

A pro-Russian soldier stands guard before the evacuation of wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 16.
A pro-Russian soldier stands guard before the evacuation of wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 16. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The battle for the massive Azovstal steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol appears to be nearing an end, after hundreds of the remaining Ukrainian soldiers were evacuated overnight.

Here's the latest:

  • Mariupol on the brink: Commanders of Ukrainian units stationed in Mariupol's massive Azovstal steelworks plant have been ordered "to save the lives of their personnel," according to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine as they announced the end of their "combat mission" in the besieged southern city. Hundreds of people were evacuated on Monday from the steel plant, the final holdout in a city that had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine's deputy prime minister, said Ukraine expects to carry out an exchange of Russian prisoners of war for the severely injured soldiers evacuated.
  • Western Ukraine: Russian missiles targeted western Ukraine overnight, damaging railway infrastructure close to the border with Poland, according to the head of the Lviv regional military administration. Maksym Kozytskyi said the location hit was near the town of Yavoriv, which is also home to a large military base. He said there were no reports of casualties. 
  • NATO application: Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde on Tuesday morning signed an application declaring the country wants to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In Finland, the country's parliamentary foreign affairs committee said it must apply for membership of NATO "to strengthen its security." The European Council "strongly supports" the application of both countries to join NATO, the bloc's chief diplomat Josep Borrell reiterated Tuesday.
  • Zelensky: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky discussed the situation at the military front with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, he tweeted. The two leaders also discussed strengthening sanctions and pressure on Russia, as well as the prospect of peace. 
  • Kharkiv: Ukrainian soldiers are advancing to the north and northeast of Kharkiv, according to the head of the northeastern city's regional military administration, as a weeks-long counter-attack gathers pace. Oleh Syniehubov told Ukrainian television Tuesday that fighting was underway northeast of Ukraine's second-largest city, toward the town of Vovchansk, along the Russia-Ukraine border.
  • Missile strikes: Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday there had been heavy casualties in Russian missile strikes far from the front lines, but on the ground Russian efforts to advance were being repulsed.
  • Kalush Orchestra: The Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra, which won the Eurovision Song Contest 2022, will tour Europe to raise funds for the needs of the army and charitable foundations of Ukraine, the band's frontman Oleg Psyuk said Tuesday.
6:24 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Kalush Orchestra will tour Europe to raise funds for Ukraine

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Oleg Psiuk, center, the frontman of Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra, the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2022, speaks to the press at a news conference in Lviv, Ukraine, on May 17.
Oleg Psiuk, center, the frontman of Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra, the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2022, speaks to the press at a news conference in Lviv, Ukraine, on May 17. (Mykola Tys/AP)

The Ukrainian winners of the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 have said they will tour Europe to raise funds for the needs of the army and charitable foundations of Ukraine.

The band Kalush Orchestra won Saturday's contest, surfing a wave of goodwill from European nations to clinch the country's third Eurovision win.

Frontman Oleg Psyuk said during a press conference at the Lviv Media Center Ukraine on Tuesday: "We are going to tour Europe to raise funds for Ukraine and the Armed Forces. We will soon announce on our Instagram page the city where we will perform."

According to Psyuk, the band members plan to popularize Ukrainian language in music and want to promote the country's culture.

He added that the band is going to put the statuette of the Eurovision winner up for auction, and donate the proceeds to support the army.

5:50 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Finland "must apply" for NATO membership, foreign affairs committee says

From CNN's James Frater and Benjamin Brown in London

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (3rd L) speaks during a plenary session at the Finnish parliament in Helsinki, Finland, on May 16, as legislators debate Finland's Nato membership.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (3rd L) speaks during a plenary session at the Finnish parliament in Helsinki, Finland, on May 16, as legislators debate Finland's Nato membership. (Emmi Korhonen/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images)

Finland "must apply for membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to strengthen its security," the country's parliamentary foreign affairs committee has said.

The committee's recommendation marks the completion of another legislative step required for Finland to formally seek NATO membership.

Russia's long-standing aggressive policies and the goal of dividing Europe into new spheres of influence took on a new dimension after the country's invasion of Ukraine," the committee said Tuesday.

It added that a "failure to respond would lead to a narrowing of Finland's foreign, security and defence policy."

NATO presents the "strongest possible additional protection" for Finnish security, the committee said.

The committee's stance signals their agreement with the Finnish government’s intention for Finland to join NATO.

Some background: Last week, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced their intentions to join NATO.

Marin formally presented that desire at a press conference on Sunday, ditching decades of neutrality and ignoring Russian threats of possible retaliation as the Nordic country attempts to strengthen its security amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Finland’s accession to NATO 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.

The Swedish government has also signaled that it wants to apply for NATO membership.

NATO has what it calls an "open door policy" on new members -- any European country can request to join, so long as they meet certain criteria and all existing members agree.

5:29 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

European Council "strongly supports" application of Sweden and Finland to NATO

From CNN's Alex Stambaugh

The European Council "strongly supports" the application of Sweden and Finland to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the bloc's chief diplomat Josep Borrell reiterated Tuesday.

"They will receive a strong support I'm sure from all member states because it increases our unity and it makes us stronger," Borrell told reporters ahead of a European Council meeting on defense in Brussels, adding that he "hopes" NATO will be able overcome Turkey's objections.

I am sure the council will support extremely ... the membership of Sweden and Finland to NATO. I know that Turkey has put some objections. I hope NATO will be able to overcome them."

Turkey, which has presented itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, has expressed reservations about integrating Sweden and Finland into the alliance.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey, on May 16.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey, on May 16. (Aytac Unal/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Some background: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that he would not approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership if they sanction Turkey. 

It follows comments by Erdogan last week that he was not looking "positively" at the prospect of the two Nordic countries joining NATO, accusing both Sweden and Finland of housing Kurdish "terrorist organizations."

7:12 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Railway infrastructure damaged as Russian missiles target western Ukraine, say regional officials 

From CNN's Andrew Carey, Tim Lister, Roman Tymotsko, Taras Zadorozhnyy and Sofiya Harbuziuk in Lviv

Russian missiles targeted western Ukraine overnight damaging railway infrastructure close to the border with Poland, according to the head of the Lviv regional military administration. 

Maksym Kozytskyi said the location hit was near the town of Yavoriv, which is also home to a large military base. He said there were no reports of casualties. 

Air defense systems shot down three missiles, he added. 

City mayor Andriy Sadovyi said that no sites in the city of Lviv itself had been struck. 

On Twitter, Sadovyi said there had been two missile salvos on the region overnight. Air defenses had worked well, Sadovyi said, adding that it was not clear if the city itself had been a target. 

A series of explosions were heard in central Lviv around 00:45 local time (5:45 p.m. ET), shortly after air raid sirens had sounded in the city. A member of CNN’s team in the city saw air defenses lighting up to the northwest -- in the direction of Yavoriv about 25 miles away. 

Yavoriv has been struck at least three times since the start of the war. In the first attack, on the military base there, on March 13, more than 30 people were killed. 

Sites in Lviv have also been hit by Russian missiles strikes in recent weeks, including an aircraft parts plant, a fuel depot and several electrical substations. 

5:05 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Sweden signs application for NATO membership

From CNN's Per Bergfors Nyberg 

Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ann Linde signs Sweden's application for NATO membership at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stockholm on May 17.
Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ann Linde signs Sweden's application for NATO membership at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stockholm on May 17. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AP)

Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde on Tuesday morning signed an application declaring the country wants to join NATO.

The move marks a formal step by Stockholm toward joining the US-led military alliance — ending decades of military neutrality — as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparks a dramatic evolution in European security and geopolitics.

"It feels very big, very serious, and it feels like we have arrived at a conclusion which is the best for Sweden," Linde said.
"We don’t know how long it will take, but we calculate that it could take up to a year.
“Now this week, this application will be submitted, together with Finland, in a day or so, and then it will be processed by NATO.” 

Some context: Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Monday that the country should join NATO together with neighboring Finland to "ensure the safety of Swedish people."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the entry of the two Nordic countries into NATO will not create a threat to Russia, but military expansion into the territory will "certainly cause our response."

3:22 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Kharkiv official says Ukrainian forces are advancing in the northeast

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

Ukrainian service personnel ride on top of an armoured vehicle amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 16.
Ukrainian service personnel ride on top of an armoured vehicle amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 16. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

Ukrainian soldiers are advancing to the north and northeast of Kharkiv, according to the head of the northeastern city's regional military administration, as a weeks-long counter-attack gathers pace.

Oleh Syniehubov told Ukrainian television Tuesday that fighting was underway northeast of Ukraine's second-largest city, toward the town of Vovchansk, along the Russia-Ukraine border.

The town has become a resupply route for Russian forces as they try to sustain their offensive into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions further south. Disrupting that supply line could compromise the Russians' ability to reinforce their offensive towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

"Active hostilities are taking place in settlements north of the region," Syniehubov said. "The enemy is focused on holding positions. Our troops have to repel (them on) every inch of our territory."

Syniebuhov added that Ukrainian advances had helped reduce — but not eliminate — Russian artillery attacks on Kharkiv. There had been "relative silence for the last two weeks," Syniebuhov said. "However, the enemy sometimes hits with artillery strikes."

There were strikes in the Saltivka and Shevchenkivskyi districts close to Kharkiv on Monday, Syniebuhov added.

"Two people were killed and nine were injured in the past 24 hours," he said.

Syniebuhov said Russian shelling of other parts of the Kharkiv region continued.

3:14 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Ukraine says many casualties in Russian missile strikes north of Kyiv, but attacks in east repulsed

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday there had been heavy casualties in Russian missile strikes far from the front lines, but on the ground Russian efforts to advance were being repulsed.

In the Chernihiv region north of Kyiv, Vyacheslav Chaus, head of the military administration, said the Russians "fired missiles at the village of Desna this morning. There are dead and many wounded."

It's unclear what the target was. Chaus gave no further details. Desna is some 40 miles (about 64 kilometers) from the border with Belarus. 

Russian missile and artillery strikes have increased in several border areas recently as a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the northeast gathers momentum.

In the northeastern Sumy region, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said Tuesday that Russia had fired artillery across the border.

Dmytro Zhyvytskyy, head of the Sumy region military administration, said Russian sabotage and reconnaissance groups had tried to cross the border. "There was a very serious battle. Mortars, grenade launchers, small arms were used," he said.

Russian officials also reported exchanges in the area. Roman Starovoit, governor of Russia's Kursk region, said that at dawn Tuesday, large-caliber weapons were fired at a border village and several houses were damaged. He said there were no casualties and Ukrainian border guards had fired back.

Along the front lines in Luhansk and Donetsk, Ukraine reports continuing efforts by Russian forces to advance in several areas but all claims were repelled. The General Staff said in the heavily contested area around Severodonetsk, the Russians had attacked the town of Syrotne but "suffered losses during the fighting and withdrew its forces."

But artillery fire and airstrikes continued.

The head of the Luhansk military administration, Serhii Hayday, said the Russians hit two hospital buildings and a production facility in Severodonetsk and there were also airstrikes in the Popasna area. Altogether, he said, 10 civilians were killed in the latest shelling.

The main hospital in Severodonetsk had been hit again, Hayday said, while airstrikes in villages further west had destroyed several homes. Video from the area shows large craters among heavily damaged houses. 

Russian casualties: Vadym Denysenko, an adviser at the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, told Ukrainian television Tuesday that "enemy losses are numerous."

"The main events are now around Severodonetsk. The enemy is trying to make an operational encirclement," he said.

He also said overnight missile strikes in the far west of Ukraine had struck a district near Lviv, but provided no further details.