May 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Andrew Raine, Matias Grez, Jeevan Ravindran, Ed Upright and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, May 21, 2022
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4:21 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

China's demand for Russian coal is making up for Western sanctions

From CNN's Laura He

The Borodinsky opencast coal mine, producing 22 million tonnes per annum, next to the village of Borodino, in the Rybinsk district of the Krasnoyarsk region, Russia on April 19.
The Borodinsky opencast coal mine, producing 22 million tonnes per annum, next to the village of Borodino, in the Rybinsk district of the Krasnoyarsk region, Russia on April 19. (Alexander Manzyuk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

China is buying record amounts of cheap Russian coal, even as Western nations slam Moscow with sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

In April, not only did the world's second largest economy buy more coal from Russia than ever before, it also eliminated import tariffs on all types of coal, a move analysts say will mainly benefit Russian suppliers.

China's coal imports from Russia nearly doubled between March and April, reaching 4.42 million metric tons, according to trade data from Refinitiv. Russia has overtaken Australia as China's second biggest supplier since last year and now accounts for 19% of its coal imports, up from the 14% share it had in March.

The booming coal trade boosts both sides. Despite bold pledges to tackle the climate crisis, China is now focused on getting its economy out of a slump and needs coal to fuel power stations and make steel for infrastructure projects. Russia desperately needs new customers for its fossil fuels as they are shunned by the West.

Read the full story here:

5:17 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Russian soldier’s war crimes trial resumes in Kyiv

From CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne and Daria Markina in Kyiv

A Russian soldier is back in a Kyiv court on Friday for a third day of hearings in his trial for war crimes.

Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old soldier, pleaded guilty Wednesday to shooting an unarmed 62-year-old civilian in Ukraine’s Sumy region on the fourth day of the war. 

Closing remarks by defence and the soldier's last statement to the court are expected during Friday’s hearing. 

Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin sits in the defendant's box on the second day of his trial on charges of war crimes for having killed a civilian, at a courthouse in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 19.
Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin sits in the defendant's box on the second day of his trial on charges of war crimes for having killed a civilian, at a courthouse in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 19. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Some background: The judges adjourned the trial on Thursday, saying that Shishimarin was not "ready" for a court "debate."

The prosecution team earlier asked for a life sentence for the soldier.

Shishimarin, the first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes in Ukraine since Russia's invasion began, told the man's widow on Thursday that he is sorry for killing her husband.

2:35 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

12 civilians killed in Russian bombardment of city in Luhansk, Ukrainian military says

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

Destruction in Severodonetsk, Ukraine, on May 19.
Destruction in Severodonetsk, Ukraine, on May 19. (Serhii Hayday/Telegram)

Ukrainian military officials say 12 people were killed in the eastern Luhansk region and 60 properties destroyed by Russian bombardments on Thursday.

But, they note, Russian forces do not appear to have made any headway on the main front lines in Luhansk and Donetsk in the past day. 

Civilian deaths: The 12 people were killed in the city of Severodonetsk, according to the head of the military administration in Luhansk, Serhii Hayday.

Hayday said many homes were destroyed throughout the area.

Lines holding: Despite the intense bombardment, the Ukrainians say their defensive lines are holding. "The assault on Severodonetsk was unsuccessful. The Russians suffered personnel losses and retreated," Hayday said.

State of the city: Oleksandr Striuk, head of the Severodonetsk city military administration, said there are up to 15,000 civilians still in the city, living in bomb shelters and basements. 

"The city has been without electricity, internet and communication for almost a week now," he said. "About 70% of the city's housing stock was destroyed."

Russians push on: South of Severodonetsk, Russian forces tried to break through around the town of Toshkivka, according to the Ukrainian General Staff.

In their efforts to complete the seizure of Luhansk, the Russians have also tried to push toward the small town of Vyskryva. If successful, they would also be closer to another objective: the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, which has become a hub for the Ukrainian military as it tries to resupply its defensive positions. 

On the Donetsk front, there was continued shelling of settlements north of Sloviansk.

Further north in the Kharkiv region, where Ukrainian forces have launched a counter-offensive in recent weeks, Russian shelling of areas retaken by Ukrainian forces continues, according to the Ukrainian military. The city itself has seen much less incoming fire.

1:13 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Ireland gives warm welcome to Ukrainians fleeing conflict. Asylum-seekers from elsewhere point to unequal treatment

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Donie O'Sullivan

Maria Kozlovskaya, who lives in Ballindooley Castle after fleeing conflict in Ukraine.
Maria Kozlovskaya, who lives in Ballindooley Castle after fleeing conflict in Ukraine. (CNN)

When 25-year-old Maria Kozlovskaya gazes out of the window, she sees the green fields of the west of Ireland. It’s a far cry from the shelled apartment buildings of her home city of Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine. Forced into exile by conflict, the young mother has found an unlikely refuge in a 15th-century castle in County Galway.

“I never dreamed that I could live in a castle in the future,” she says, still in awe after two months of living in Ballindooley Castle with her sons, 5-year-old Illya and 7-year-old Matvey.

Down south in County Cork, 31-year-old Vera Ruban finds herself in less regal surroundings. She was one of the first Ukrainian refugees to be placed in Irish government emergency accommodation after hotel rooms ran out. The interpreter from Hostomel, near Kyiv, now sleeps on a single bed inside the Green Glens Arena, an equestrian and entertainment venue in the small town of Millstreet.

Although their living situations could not be more different, both women have managed to settle quickly into life in Ireland. The smooth nature of the process has prompted questions from asylum-seekers fleeing conflicts in countries other than Ukraine who say they encountered an arduous asylum process that can take years to navigate.

Some context: Ireland, an island of just over 5 million people, has taken in more Ukrainian refugees than many of its larger Western European neighbors. Ukrainian refugees began arriving in early March and so far more than 30,000 refugees have arrived.

Read the full story:

12:00 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022

It's 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

There are "many dead" in a Russian missile strike near Chernihiv, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He has accused Russia of a "deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible."

Here are the latest developments on the war in Ukraine.

Donbas "completely destroyed": Zelensky said there are “constant strikes on the Odesa region, on the cities of central Ukraine, and the Donbas is completely destroyed." In the Chernihiv region north of Kyiv on Thursday, Russian missiles hit the village of Desna leaving many dead, Zelensky said. Desna is 40 miles from the border with Belarus.

Mammoth US aid bill: US President Joe Biden will sign a $40 billion emergency aid package to Ukraine into law while he is in South Korea, an official says. The package was approved by the US Senate on Thursday. The Biden administration also announced another $100 million security package for Ukraine. 

Food export crisis: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he discussed ways to "unblock" Ukrainian food exports with his UK counterpart, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. The blockade on Ukrainian exports was also discussed by Zelensky and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a call Thursday. A failure to open closed ports in Ukraine to ship grain out will bring millions of people to the brink of starvation, according to the World Food Programme.

Some Azovstal defenders still fighting: While hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers left the Azovstal plant in Mariupol this week, there are likely still hundreds inside the besieged complex — and they appear to include some senior commanders. Maj. Bohdan Krotevych, chief of staff of the Azov regiment, suggested that he would not be surrendering, saying that "the fight continues." Russia's defense ministry said over 1,700 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered at the complex since May 16.

Biden offers "strong support" for NATO bids: The leaders of Sweden and Finland met with US President Joe Biden at the White House after they submitted their NATO membership applications on Wednesday. The Biden administration will submit reports to the US Congress on the applications. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again maintained that his country “will say no" to the entry.

11:24 p.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Russian forces blocking more than 1,000 cars from evacuating to Zaporizhzhia, regional administration says

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Hira Humayun

More than 1,000 cars carrying Ukrainians have been prevented from crossing into Ukrainian-held territory in Zaporizhzhia, according to the regional military administration there.

The administration said on Friday that cars full of people trying to evacuate were stuck at a Russian checkpoint in the city of Vasylivka.

"In Vasylivka, the occupiers have not allowed more than 1,000 cars to enter the territory controlled by Ukraine for the fourth day in a row," the Telegram post read, adding that there are women and children in the cars, and that most of them no longer have money for food and water.

Several cars managed to break through to the city of Zaporizhzhia, in southeastern Ukraine, on Thursday.

"Business owners of Berdyansk are forced to buy goods from Crimea, and it is necessary to sign up for an escort convoy. Such registration helps local collaborators to collect information about who returns with the goods and from whom you can later collect 'tribute'," the regional administration said.

A video posted to Telegram by the Ukrainian government's Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security shows a long line of cars on the side of a road.

11:24 p.m. ET, May 19, 2022

"Many dead" following missile strike in a village in the Chernihiv region, Zelensky says in nightly address

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton

A uniformed soldier stands near a crater in the middle of a courtyard in Desna, Chernihiv, on Tuesday, May 17.
A uniformed soldier stands near a crater in the middle of a courtyard in Desna, Chernihiv, on Tuesday, May 17. (Courtesy of Operation Command North/Handout/Reuters)

In the Chernihiv region north of Kyiv, the village of Desna was hit with Russian missiles Thursday left many dead, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Thursday. Desna is 40 forty miles from the border with Belarus.  

“Russian strikes on Chernihiv region, in particular the terrible blow on the Desna, there is an analysis of debris, many dead,” Zelensky said in his nightly address on Thursday. 

There are “constant strikes on the Odesa region, on the cities of central Ukraine, the Donbas is completely destroyed — all this has no and cannot have any military explanation for Russia,” he continued.  

“This is a deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible,” he said. 

The Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to advance in the liberation of the Kharkiv region, Zelensky said. 

“In the Donbas, the occupiers are trying to increase pressure. There's hell, and that's no exaggeration. The brutal and absolutely senseless bombing of Severodonetsk ... There were 12 dead and dozens wounded in just one day,” he continued. 

“The bombing and shelling of other cities, the air and missile strikes of the Russian army — all this is not just fighting during the war.” 

“This is a deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible. Destroy as many houses, social facilities and enterprises as possible. This is what will qualify the genocide of the Ukrainian people and for which the occupiers will definitely be brought to justice,” he added. 

 “The first trial in Ukraine against a Russian war criminal has already begun. And it will end with the full restoration of justice within the international tribunal. I'm sure of it. We will find and bring to justice all those who give and carry out criminal orders,” he concluded. 

11:24 p.m. ET, May 19, 2022

The US Ukraine aid bill will be flown to Korea where Biden will sign it into law 

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

US President Joe Biden will sign the $40 billion aid package to Ukraine while he is in South Korea, an official says.

The bill has to be flown to Korea for the President’s signature.

Biden embarked on his trip to Seoul, South Korea on Thursday afternoon.

11:07 p.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Here's what you need to know about the meeting between the US, Sweden and Finland

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, US President Joe Biden and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö depart the Rose Garden of the White House after speaking on May 19.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, US President Joe Biden and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö depart the Rose Garden of the White House after speaking on May 19. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

On Thursday, leaders of Sweden and Finland met with US President Joe Biden at the White House after they submitted their NATO membership applications on Wednesday.

Here's what you need to know about what the leaders said at the press conference in the Rose Garden after their meeting in the Cabinet Room.

Biden offers "strong support" for Finland and Sweden's NATO bids

"Finnish and Swedish troops, they have already served shoulder to shoulder with US and NATO forces in Kosovo, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And both Finland and Sweden are already working in coordination with the United States and our other allies and partners to support the brave people of Ukraine," Biden said, adding that the countries already meet all of NATO requirements, "and then some."

The Biden administration will submit reports to the US Congress on this NATO accession for both countries

This is "so the Senate can efficiently and quickly move on advising and consenting to the treaty," Biden announced Thursday. Within the US, at least two-third of the Senate must vote to approve new member states in the defensive alliance. Similarly, the legislatures of all 30 current members must approve new NATO applicants.

Leaders of Finland and Sweden expressed their hopes for a quick ratification

"Russia's war in Ukraine has changed Europe and our security environment. Finland takes the step of NATO membership in order to strengthen not only its own security, but also in order to strengthen wider transatlantic security," Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said.

Finland shares an 800-mile-long border with Russia.

Sweden's government "has come to the conclusion that the security of the Swedish people will be best protected within the NATO alliance, and this is backed by very broad support in the Swedish parliament," Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said.

Turkey was also mentioned by every leader

As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated earlier on Thursday that his country “will say no to Sweden’s and Finland’s entry into NATO."

In explanation he has cited national security concerns. Earlier this week, Erdogan accused both countries of housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations."

He was mainly referencing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which seeks an independent state in Turkey. The group has been in an armed struggle with Ankara for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.