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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10:36 p.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Russia claims it has control of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Here's why that matters

Russia on Friday claimed its troops have "completely liberated" the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol — the final holdout of Ukrainian resistance in the otherwise Russian-occupied southern city.

CNN cannot independently verify that all Ukrainian troops have left the steel plant.

Ukraine is yet to confirm Russia's claims, which, if true, would mark a symbolic military victory for Moscow.

Here's what you need to know:

The siege of Mariupol: The strategically important port city was one of the first to come under Russian attack after Moscow's invasion began on Feb. 24. By early March, it had been surrounded by Russian forces, leaving residents facing dire shortages of food and water — and constant bombardment that hit a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians were sheltering.

The plant: By mid-April, most of the last Ukrainian defenders were fighting to hold Russian forces back from the Azovstal steel plant — which had also become a shelter for as many as 1,000 civilians, including some seriously injured who were stranded without medical care.

In late April, Russia claimed it had achieved the "liberation" of Mariupol — which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied, saying soldiers were still resisting in the city.

Evacuation attempts: Evacuations of civilians from Azovstal began on May 1. On May 16, Ukraine's military said its forces had completed their "combat mission" at the steel plant, with hundreds of soldiers evacuated from the facility.

Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from the plant were taken to a pre-trial detention center, while the severely injured were receiving medical treatment, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Ukraine said it expects to carry out an exchange of Russian prisoners of war for the severely injured soldiers.

The situation on the ground: If true, Russia's claim on Friday would suggest the entire city of Mariupol has fallen to Russian control after nearly three months of brutal fighting.

A spokesperson from the Russian Defense Ministry claimed the “last group of 531 militants surrendered" in the plant. Earlier, the Ukrainian commander of the Azov regiment had issued an order for soldiers to preserve their "life and health ... and stop defending the city."

Videos posted online appear to show the remaining Azov fighters walking out of the steel plant. CNN cannot independently verify the number of fighters left in the plant.

Russian gains: If confirmed, the fall of the Azovstal steel plant means Russian forces are in full control of Mariupol, paving the way for them to establish a land corridor between Russia and the annexed territory of Crimea.

The symbolic victory would also secure a key port on the Sea of Azov for Russia and release Russian troops to fight on the front lines of the war in the Donbas region.

9:20 p.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Tennis tours strip ranking points at Wimbledon over decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players

From CNN's Jill Martin

Wimbledon, the third of the four majors on the tennis calendar, is arguably the most famous tennis tournament in the world.

This year, however, the men's and women's professional tours, along with the International Tennis Federation (ITF), have opted to strip its ranking points for the grand slam event.

The announcements to remove the ranking points, which were made separately Friday by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the ITF, come following the decision from the tournament's organizers to ban Russians and Belarusians from playing in this year's event.

"The stance we are taking is about protecting the equal opportunities that WTA players should have to compete as individuals," a statement from WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said.
"If we do not take this stance, then we abandon our fundamental principle and allow the WTA to become an example to support discrimination based on nationality at other events and in other regions around the world."

In a statement, ATP said, "Discrimination by individual tournaments is simply not viable on a Tour that operates in more than 30 countries."

Read the full story:

5:33 p.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Zelensky calls Russian actions "absolute evil, absolute stupidity," after strike decimates cultural center

From CNN’s Victoria Butenko in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday called Russian air strikes the epitome of “absolute evil, absolute stupidity," after the destruction of a cultural center that left at least seven people injured.

Zelensky posted video on Telegram of the airstrike which wrecked the “newly renovated House of Culture," causing a massive cloud of dust and debris, and also injured at least seven people including a child, in the city of Lazova in the Kharkiv region.

“The occupiers identified culture, education and humanity as their enemies. They do not spare missiles or bombs for them. What is in the minds of people who choose such targets? Absolute evil, absolute stupidity," he said underneath the video of the strike.

4:36 p.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Russia claims it has "completely liberated" the besieged Azovstal plant in Mariupol

From CNN’s Darya Tarasova and Pierre Meilhan

An aerial view of damaged residential buildings and the Azovstal steel plant in the background in the port city of Mariupol, on Wednesday, May 18.
An aerial view of damaged residential buildings and the Azovstal steel plant in the background in the port city of Mariupol, on Wednesday, May 18. (Andrey Borodulin/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia claimed Friday that its troops have “completely liberated” the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. 

In a statement, Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov said that the “last group of 531 militants surrendered,” referring to the Ukrainian fighters who for several weeks had been resisting the Russian assault on the plant.

Earlier, the Ukrainian commander of the Azov Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Denis Prokopenko, gave the order to stop defending the city of Mariupol and issued a short video message from inside the Azovstal steel plant saying that the top military leadership had "issued an order to preserve the garrison soldiers' life and health and stop defending the city."

Konashenkov said the Azov Regiment commander “was taken out of the territory of the plant in a special armored car.”

New video just posted online appears to show the remaining Azov fighters walking out of the steel plant. 

CNN cannot independently verify that all Ukrainian troops have vacated the steel plant.

2:03 p.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Ukraine aid bill is "being carried by someone who was already traveling" to South Korea

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond

The $40 billion Ukraine aid bill is being flown to South Korea for US President Joe Biden's signature, a National Security Council spokesperson confirmed to CNN. 

The bill is "being carried by someone who was already traveling to the region as part of their official duties," the spokesperson said.

"The bill is being flown to South Korea for the President to sign, and it’s being carried by someone who was already traveling to the region as part of their official duties," the spokesperson said.  

The legislation provides money for military and humanitarian aid, including funding to assist Ukrainian military and national security forces, help replenish US equipment sent to Ukraine, and provide public health and medical support for Ukrainian refugees.

1:56 p.m. ET, May 20, 2022

German ambassador: Ukraine war "pulverized" Germany's assumptions on engaging Russia

German Ambassador to the US Emily Haber
German Ambassador to the US Emily Haber (CNN)

German Ambassador to the US Emily Haber said that a strategy of interdependence when engaging Russia has now been "pulverized" by the invasion of Ukraine and resulting fallout.

When asked by CNN's Jim Sciutto whether "Germany fundamentally misread Vladimir Putin" in past years, here's how Haber responded:

"It is true that for many decades our strategy rested on the fundamental assumption ... that interdependence would produce stability, predictability, and to some extent of a time, even alignment. It was, if you will, our experience with regard to the GDR [the former East Germany] and with reunification and even with regard with the implosion of the Soviet Empire. We now do see that interdependence can actually also produce vulnerability. So this assumption, in effect, has been pulverized."

Haber also reiterated that the West needs to be united in its messaging against Russian President Vladimir Putin, because "we know, in effect, probably very little about the inner dynamics of his circle."

Haber also discussed Germany reducing dependence on Russian energy, saying that the country is working at "breakneck speed" and the result will be "irreversible."

"We have to reduce our dependence on Russian fossil fuels as quickly as we possibly can. ... We are now discussing an oil embargo. And Germany is actually pressing for it. There are other options on the table as well, but all of them designed to make sure we are getting out of that dependence. Gas is a more complicated story, because, other than the oil market, it's not a global market. But we are diversifying — Germany is — at breakneck speed. We are ordering big contracts of LNG, we are building LNG facility storage ... And our intention is to get out of Russian gas, let alone oil and coal, as quickly as we possibly can. We need to end that dependence, and it will be irreversible," she said.

Germany and Qatar on Friday agreed on an energy partnership that may see Doha start supplying liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Berlin in 2024. Earlier this month, Germany started construction works for its first floating LNG terminal in Wilhelmshaven, a city and port located in Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany.

1:26 p.m. ET, May 20, 2022

Russian missile destroys cultural building in Ukrainian city of Lozova, injuring 7, president's office says

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy, Tim Lister and Celine Alkhaldi

(Ukrainian community channel/Telegram
(Ukrainian community channel/Telegram

A Russian missile destroyed the House of Culture in the Ukrainian city of Lozova on Friday, injuring seven people, including an 11-year-old child, according to Ukraine's Office of the President.

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the video, which was shared on Telegram by the president's office. 

Lozova is located roughly 45 miles (about 73 kilometers), southwest of Izium, a Russian-occupied city in the Kharkiv region.

The missile was seen in the video milliseconds before it destroyed the building. When the missile hit the building, there was a large flash and a smoke plume as it exploded.

The president's office claimed that the building had been newly renovated. CNN could not independently confirm the injuries that the office said resulted from the missile strike.

1:24 p.m. ET, May 20, 2022

The US is expected to keep 100,000 troops in Europe for foreseeable future, officials say

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman and Barbara Starr

The US is expected to keep 100,000 troops stationed in Europe for the foreseeable future unless Russia escalates and threatens Sweden and Finland or NATO members, according to multiple US officials.

The numbers could temporarily increase if NATO carries out more military exercises in the region, and the US could add additional bases in Europe if the security environment changes, the officials added.

The plans are being considered following Thursday's meeting of NATO's military chiefs in Brussels, the officials said. The military chiefs are making the recommendations to a NATO defense ministers meeting planned for June, and NATO leaders including US President Joe Biden will meet in Madrid at the end of that month.

The US increased its overall force posture in Europe from about 60,000 troops before Russia's invasion of Ukraine to about 100,000 now, adding troops and military assets to countries along Europe's eastern flank to support NATO and to further deter Russia. The US contributed thousands of troops to NATO's Response Force, which was activated for the first time in NATO's history earlier this spring.

Read the full story here.