May 17, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 7:53 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023
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9:17 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

Patriot system has minimal damage following Russian attack near Kyiv on Tuesday, US officials say

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Jim Sciutto

The damage to a Patriot air defense system following a Russian missile attack near Kyiv on Tuesday morning is minimal, three US officials tell CNN, with one official describing it as "minor" damage. 

The US sent inspectors to examine the system on Tuesday, after being told by the Ukrainians that the system appeared to have been damaged, one official said.

The system itself is still operational, the officials said, and the radar component of the Patriot, one of its most important elements, was not damaged. US officials do not believe the Patriot will need to be removed from the battlefield for repairs. 

A complete Patriot battery has six major components: generators, a radar set, a control station, antennas, a launcher station and interceptor missiles. The components operate together to fire a Patriot missile and successfully guide it to its target.

It is not clear what part of the Patriot was damaged or if it was damaged by an actual missile strike or falling debris. The Ukrainians said they successfully intercepted all six Russian Kinzhal missiles on Tuesday morning. 

Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force Command, has told Ukrainian TV that the US-made Patriot air defense system could not be destroyed by a Kinzhal missile. 

"Do not worry about the fate of the Patriot. From a technical point of view, Patriot is a ... system," he said, noting that it consisted of components that can be located at a distance from one another.

 

8:36 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

Ukrainian troops are still advancing in areas of Bakhmut, deputy defense minister says

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Ukrainian servicemen ride atop a tank on a road to the frontline town of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on May 12.
Ukrainian servicemen ride atop a tank on a road to the frontline town of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on May 12. Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters

Ukraine is holding on to the substantial areas around Bakhmut that it claims to have taken back from Russian troops, and Ukrainian forces are still advancing in certain areas, according to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar.

"Almost 20 square kilometers liberated in the suburbs in recent days have not been lost. We are moving on. We are advancing in some areas," Maliar said on her Telegram account.

She said "fierce fighting" continues around the embattled eastern city, adding that Russian troops are also "advancing somewhat."

Maliar’s statement cannot be verified, and many observers think Ukrainian progress has been more modest than claimed.

On Tuesday, Maliar said Ukrainian troops "liberated about 20 square kilometers (more than 7 square miles) of the Bakhmut suburbs in the north and south of the city."

CNN's Tim Lister contributed reporting to this post.

8:31 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

Ukraine edges a step closer to receiving F-16 fighter jets as UK, Netherlands pledge support

From CNN's Lauren Kent, Julia Kesaieva and Brad Lendon

F-16 fighter jets during the NATO international air force exercise Frisian Flag, at Leeuwarden Air Base, Netherlands, on March 28, 2022.
F-16 fighter jets during the NATO international air force exercise Frisian Flag, at Leeuwarden Air Base, Netherlands, on March 28, 2022. Jeffrey Groeneweg/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

Britain and the Netherlands are working on an “international coalition” to help Ukraine procure F-16 fighter jets that Kyiv says are vital to its defense as Russia ramps up its its aerial strikes, a spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday.

The two NATO allies are trying to get the US-made warplanes to Ukraine as well as training Kyiv’s pilots to fly them, according to the Downing Street readout following a meeting between Sunak and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Council of Europe Summit in Iceland.

Ukraine, which has been saying the fighter jets are essential to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks, welcomed the announcement from the British and Dutch leaders.

“We need F-16s, and I am grateful to our allies for their decision to work in this direction, including training our pilots,” said Andriy Yermak, head of the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Yermak said Belgium, another NATO ally, in particular, had “confirmed its readiness to train” Ukrainian pilots.

Britain does not have F-16s in its air force, but the Netherlands and Belgium do. The US Air Force has almost 800 F-16s in its fleet.

Read the full story here.

8:07 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

US Army Special Forces veteran killed in "barrage" of Russian artillery in Bakhmut

From CNN's Haley Britzky and Alex Marquardt 

Nicholas Maimer, left, is pictured with Senator James Risch.
Nicholas Maimer, left, is pictured with Senator James Risch. Senator James Risch

A retired US Army Special Forces soldier has been identified as the American citizen killed by Russian artillery in the embattled city of Bakhmut this week, according to a close friend and the founder of a non-profit group working in Ukraine.

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Nicholas Maimer was in a building in Bakhmut that collapsed after being hit by artillery fire, according to Retired Lt. Col. Perry Blackburn, founder of the non-profit AFGFree, with which Maimer was working in Ukraine.

Ukrainians who were with Maimer believed he was either trapped in the collapsed building or killed by a “barrage” of Russian artillery fire, Blackburn said.

“They got in the position that they were, artillery started coming in heavy and the building started to collapse. That’s when most of the Americans and Ukrainians there were able to escape. Unfortunately, Nick was not able to escape,” an American friend of Maimer in Ukraine also told CNN.

Confirmation of Maimer’s death comes after the leader of Russian private military company Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed to show the body of an American in a video posted on the Wagner Telegram group on Tuesday. 

Read more here.

8:23 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

It’s mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here’s what you need to know

From CNN staff

Rescuers work at the site of a shopping mall that was heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on May 17.
Rescuers work at the site of a shopping mall that was heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on May 17. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout/Reuters

At least one person has died and several were injured in the latest Russian shelling to hit frontline regions in eastern and southern Ukraine. But in Kyiv, air defenses are looking virtually impenetrable – in defiance of the expectations of Western analysts and Russian military commanders.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Strikes in the south: Missile strikes on the city of Mykolaiv late Tuesday injured one person and damaged a shopping mall, according to the regional governor. Russia also fired 400 shells in the nearby Kherson region, injuring seven people, including three children.
  • And in the east: In Donetsk region, one person was killed and another wounded in Kurakhove in the latest Russian missile strike. Russia also shelled 16 towns and villages close to the southern frontline in the Zaporizhzhia region, governor Yuri Malashko said.
  • Kyiv’s robust air defenses: Until recently most analysts doubted Ukraine’s air defenses would be able to withstand a sustained Russian assault. And yet Kyiv has claimed to have escaped from Russia’s latest barrage – which involved at least 18 types of missiles and a swarm of drones on Tuesday – left them with barely a scratch. We report on what’s made Ukraine’s air defenses so impenetrable all of a sudden.
  • US inspects damage: However, the United States is investigating reports that one of Kyiv’s US-made Patriot air defense systems was likely damaged, but not destroyed, as a result of Tuesday’s missile barrage. Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that a Kinzhal hypersonic missile hit the Patriot system.
  • Ukraine investigates leakers: Ukraine’s security service has registered criminal proceedings against six “bloggers” in Kyiv who it alleges took photos and videos showing the country’s air defense systems at work during Russia’s missile strike on Tuesday and posted them on social media. The six suspects face up to eight years in prison, amid fears that the material could be used by Russia to breach Kyiv’s defenses.
  • Gains in Bakhmut: Ukrainian forces have liberated substantial areas to the north and south of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, according to deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar. She claimed their troops have liberated “about 20 square kilometers (more than 7 square miles) of the Bakhmut suburbs,” although her claim cannot yet be verified.
  • Grain deal deadline: The last ship under the current Black Sea grain deal left Ukraine on Wednesday, according to the Joint Coordination Center. The deal – which allows Ukraine to export grain by sea – has been extended multiple times but is set to expire on Thursday if not renewed again, amid fears of global food security.
  • Zelenska in South Korea: Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska asked South Korea to provide air defense systems as well as non-lethal military hardware when she met with President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday, both countries have reported. Zelenska told Yoon that her country needed help with technologies South Korea “is famous for.”
7:48 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

Last ship leaves Ukraine under Black Sea grain deal as world waits for Russia to agree to extension

From CNN’s Jo Shelley and Anna Chernova 

The last ship under the current Black Sea grain deal left Ukraine on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Joint Coordination Centre told CNN, as last-ditch talks to extend the pact continue.

The vessel was the DSM Capella, according to Ismini Palla, a spokesperson for the JCC, which facilitates the deal’s implementation. Data from the UN show it left the port of Chornomorsk on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast — carrying 30,000 metric tons of corn — and was on its way to Turkey. 

The Black Sea Grain Initiative is an arrangement that allows Ukraine to export grain by sea. The deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, was signed by Russia and Ukraine last July and has been extended multiple times. 

The agreement is set to expire on Thursday if not renewed again. 

The hold on the UN-chartered vessel MV Valsamitis is loaded to deliver Ukrainian wheat to Kenya and Ethiopia, at the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk, Ukraine, on February 18.
The hold on the UN-chartered vessel MV Valsamitis is loaded to deliver Ukrainian wheat to Kenya and Ethiopia, at the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk, Ukraine, on February 18. Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP/Getty Images/File

UN secretary-general spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said on Tuesday that there were negotiations ongoing to renew it.

"Contacts are going on at different levels. We’re obviously in a delicate stage," he said. 

In his regular press briefing on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was asked what would happen if the deal was not extended.

"I do not think that any hypothetical reasoning is appropriate here," Peskov said. "You know that so far the decision has not been announced." 

The Black Sea Grain Initiative has allowed the export of more than 30 million tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs from Ukraine – one of the world’s top grain exporters – since it first began in July last year.

As negotiations have continued in the past few months about extending the deal, exports have dipped by nearly 30%, the UN said last week. 

The International Rescue Committee has said the expiration of the deal would be "likely to trigger increased levels of hunger and malnutrition, spelling further disaster for East Africa." It said that shipments of Ukrainian and Russian grain represent "as much as 90% of imports for countries in East Africa going through a food security crisis." 

7:38 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

“Impossible” to destroy Patriot system with Kinzhal missile, says Ukrainian air force spokesperson

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Jo Shelley in London

Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force Command, is pictured during a briefing in Kyiv, Ukraine, in June 2022.
Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force Command, is pictured during a briefing in Kyiv, Ukraine, in June 2022. Pavlo Bagmut/Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images

The US-made Patriot air defense system could not be destroyed by a Kinzhal missile, Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force Command, has told Ukrainian TV.

Inhat said Ukrainians should “not worry about the fate of the Patriot,” as it is made up of components that are not all positioned in the same location. Hence, a single missile could not destroy the whole system.

“This is how it works on air targets,” he explained. “It can operate in three modes: manual, semi-automatic and automatic. It is Patriot's automatic mode that allows it to shoot down air targets without human interference, as it did last night. Next, there is a radar that provides information, it is located at a distance, and up to 8 launchers, each with four transport and launch containers, which are also located at a certain distance and do combat work – launching missiles,” Ihnat said.

He added: “To destroy the system with some kind of Kinzhal, it's impossible. Everything that they [the Russians] say, it can remain in their propaganda archive.”

More on the Kinzhal hypersonic missile: The Kinzhal's main advantage is that it can be launched from MiG-31 fighter jets, giving it a longer range and the ability to attack from multiple directions, according to a report last year from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Some context: The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that one of its Kinzhal missiles had hit a US-made Patriot system in Kyiv during strikes that morning.

A US official told CNN that the system had likely been damaged, but not destroyed, as a result of the Russian missile salvo. 

The Patriot is an advanced, surface-to-air missile defense system.

Ukraine has received at least two Patriot systems, one from the United States and one from Germany, to enhance its air defenses.

CNN's Brad Lendon contributed to this post.

5:58 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

Ukraine’s security service initiates criminal proceedings against air defense leakers

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Jo Shelley in London

Traces of explosions are seen in the sky over Kyiv during a Russian missile strike on May 16.
Traces of explosions are seen in the sky over Kyiv during a Russian missile strike on May 16. Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Ukraine’s security service has registered criminal proceedings against six “bloggers” in Kyiv who it alleges took photos and videos showing the country’s air defense systems at work during Tuesday’s Russian missile strike and posted them on social media.

“The Security Service of Ukraine [SBU] has identified six residents of Kyiv who illegally disseminated information about the work of air defense forces during Russia's massive attack on Kyiv,” it said in a statement on Telegram.  

“On the night of May 16, they took unauthorized photos and videos of Ukrainian air defense and posted them on social media. Among other things, they recorded the results of Russian cruise and ballistic missile strikes. In this way, they could reveal the location and specifics of the Ukrainian air defense system. In a matter of minutes, these videos were picked up by numerous Telegram channels and Russian propaganda publics. Among them are internet resources controlled by the special services of the aggressor country.”

“The occupiers could use the information obtained in this way to adjust repeated air strikes on the capital of Ukraine,” it alleged.

The “unauthorized dissemination of information” about the Ukrainian Armed Forces is illegal under martial law, which was instituted when Russia invaded Ukraine last year. 

The SBU said it had seized mobile phones and computers at the suspects’ homes and that they face up to eight years in prison. 

The SBU also said it had blocked online cameras operated by several commercial enterprises in the capital that had automatically recorded images showing Ukraine’s air defenses at work on Tuesday morning. It claimed, “access to the footage was open to a wide range of ‘users’ who posted videos of the night attack on Kyiv on YouTube.”

Some context: In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Russia launched a salvo of missiles at Ukraine in an attack that Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city administration, described as “exceptional in its density.” 

A US-made Patriot system was likely damaged, but not destroyed, as the result of a Russian missile barrage in and around Kyiv on Monday night, a US official told CNN.

5:36 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

How Ukraine turned the tables on Russia’s aerial assault with these Western weapons

From CNN's Brad Lendon

The explosion of a missile is seen in the sky over the Kyiv during a Russian missile strike on May 16.
The explosion of a missile is seen in the sky over the Kyiv during a Russian missile strike on May 16. Gleb Garanich/Reuters

It’s the big question that has Russian military commanders scratching their heads: What’s made Ukraine’s air defenses so impenetrable all of a sudden?

This month alone, Russia launched eight waves of missile attacks on the Ukrainian capital, the latest of them a bombardment in the early hours of Tuesday that involved at least 18 missiles of various types and a swarm of drones.

Yet Kyiv claims to have escaped with barely a scratch, denying any of the missiles or drones hit their targets. 

That may be an overstatement – US officials believe a US-made Patriot defense system was likely damaged – but even allowing for hyperbole, experts say it’s clear something remarkable is going on.

Until recently most analysts and even US defense officials simply doubted Ukraine’s air defenses would be up to the job of repelling a sustained Russian assault.

Just last month, leaked US government documents detailed how Ukrainian stocks of Soviet-era medium-range air defense missiles were severely depleted, while even Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy, has recently admitted to CNN that his country’s air defenses were “not coping well enough.”

Those assessments followed a March 9 onslaught in which Russia launched 84 missiles at major cities across Ukraine. On that occasion, even Kyiv admits six Kinzhal ballistic missiles managed to elude its air defenses.

So what’s changed in the space of just a few weeks?

Read the full report here.