May 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Hannah Ryan, Luke McGee, Adrienne Vogt and Joe Ruiz, CNN

Updated 0413 GMT (1213 HKT) May 22, 2022
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6:11 p.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Russia bans more than 960 Americans from entering country, including members of Congress and Morgan Freeman

From CNN's Gabby Gretener in London   

Russia published its updated “stop list” on Saturday, banning a total of 963 American officials and figures from entering the country.

The updated list included the majority of US senators and members of the House of Representatives, former and current government officials, journalists, military personnel, advocates, citizens, CEOs — and even a few deceased individuals.

Longtime Arizona. Sen. John McCain and Defense Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Melissa Drisko, who both died in 2018, were included on the list.

Russia also targeted Hollywood, with actor Morgan Freeman and actor/filmmaker Rob Reiner making the list. In 2017, Reiner was involved in promoting the group The Committee to Investigate Russia, and Freeman was featured in a video on the site.

Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State under President Donald Trump, was also listed. He previously spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin about its election interference in US elections.

In a statement, the ministry said the people “incite Russophobia” and added the Russian “counter sanctions are of necessity and directed to make the ruling US regime, which tries to impose a neocolonial 'rules-based world order' to the rest of the world, to change its behavior by realizing a new geopolitical reality.”   

In March, in addition to President Joe Biden, the Russian government added the following individuals to the “stop list” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan, CIA Director William Burns, former White House press secretary Jen Psaki and others. The list also included the President’s son, Hunter Biden, and former US presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In April, Russia banned others, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Bank of America head Brian Moynihan. 

In a separate announcement on Saturday, the Russia's foreign ministry also announced the names of 26 Canadians barred from entering the country, in addition to the previous banning of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March.

12:18 p.m. ET, May 21, 2022

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine approaches its 3-month mark, here's what's happened in key areas

From CNN's Joshua Berlinger

It is nearly three months since Russia invaded Ukraine – a 12-week period in which Russian forces have wrought devastation on the country and its people, resulting in death on a vast scale and causing millions to flee.

But the invasion has not been the military success Moscow hoped, and is now deep into its second phase.

The bulk of fighting has moved to the east after failed Russian advances in central Ukraine. The Ukrainians are focusing on retaking some key areas closer to the Russian border, while Moscow is seeing its troops beaten back in a few key battles.

Western aid is also flowing into Ukraine, NATO is set to be strengthened as Nordic countries seek to join, and the first Russian soldier accused of war crimes has stood trial.

Here’s what has happened in several key areas since the war began.

Donbas

After weeks of intense fighting, Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region is “completely destroyed,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday.

He accused Russia of a “deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible” after a village in Chernihiv was hit with missiles, leaving many dead.

Officials in the region say the front line is being shelled “day and night,” with Russian forces attempting to break through Ukrainian lines.

A NATO military official told CNN Wednesday that the alliance expects something of a stalemate over the next few weeks. But the official said NATO believes momentum has shifted significantly in favor of Ukraine and the debate within NATO circles is now over whether it is possible for Kyiv to retake Crimea and the Donbas territories seized by Russia and Russian-backed separatists, respectively, in 2014.

Kharkiv

Ukrainian forces have beaten back Russia’s assaults in Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, and advanced toward the border in several places north and east of the city.

Ukrainian officials said last week they were liberating villages on the outskirts of the city. Their advances led to the symbolic and embarrassing expulsion of the Kremlin’s forces back to their own border while posing the strategic threat of cutting Russia’s supply lines into Ukraine and its forces further south in Donbas.

Anastasia Paraskevova recently returned to her home in Kharkiv for the first time since fleeing the city two months ago. It had been under constant bombardment since then until Russian forces were repelled.

Paraskevova said overall the experience was good.

“The city was much more alive. People were walking the streets. And some shops were working. It felt like some life was back, much better than it was when I was here in March.”

Kherson

Every day, hundreds, or even thousands, of people are trying to flee the Russian-occupied region of Kherson in southern Ukraine.

The city has been under Russian control since early in the invasion. Ukrainians are leaving for many reasons: to avoid being detained or to escape the heavy-handed actions of Russian forces, or because of the chronic shortages of medicine and other basics in Kherson, which fell under Russian control soon after the invasion.

Last week, a convoy of about 1,000 vehicles tried to leave Kherson. The Russians ultimately let the convoy move in batches – but only after holding it in one place for most of the day.

Keep reading here:

12:16 p.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Ukraine recovers bodies, including a senior Russian officer, from graves dug by locals in Kharkiv region

From Olga Voitovych in Kyiv 

Ukrainian officials have recovered the bodies of at least six Russian military personnel, including a lieutenant colonel, buried by local people in the Kharkiv region, a police official said Saturday.

The bodies were buried and marked only with handmade crosses, regional police official Serhii Bolvinov said in a statement on Facebook. Local residents had buried them out of religious respect, he said. 

Police dug up the graves in the settlement of Zolochiv “to identify the buried and to transfer them in accordance with international procedures,” he said. 

Ukrainians have been saying since the early days of the invasion that the Russian military is leaving large numbers of their dead unburied and abandoned. 

Russia has been tight-lipped on the numbers of troops killed in Ukraine, with the last update provided by the Russian military back in March standing at more than 1,300. US, Ukrainian and NATO estimates put estimates of Russian troop losses much higher.  

CNN has not been able to independently verify the number of casualties in the nearly 3-month-old conflict.

Barely a month into the invasion, an adviser to Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs Viktor Andrusiv, told CNN that “the problem with Russian bodies is really huge. It's thousands of them.”

Andrusiv said in March that the issue would only get worse as the weather warmed.

“I actually don't know what we will do in the next weeks with their bodies,” Andrusiv had said.

CNN’s Eliza Mackintosh contributed earlier reporting to this post.

1:11 p.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Russian ruble not being used in occupied region of Kherson, regional Ukrainian official says

From Maria Kostenko in Chernivtsi

A Russian military vehicle moves down a road in Kherson, Ukraine on May 19.
A Russian military vehicle moves down a road in Kherson, Ukraine on May 19. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian ruble is not being used in the occupied Ukrainian region of Kherson, the head of the regional council said Saturday. 

“All payments are made in Ukrainian hryvnia. The occupiers’ stories about the ruble’s circulation are not true,” Kherson regional council head Oleksandr Samoilenko said on Ukrainian television.

A Russian-backed local official said last month that the region would start using the Russian ruble as currency starting May 1.

The official, Kirill Stremousov, told the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti on April 28 that there would be a transition period of up to four months during which both the Russian ruble and the Ukrainian hryvnia would be in circulation.

After that, only the ruble would be in use in the Kherson region, the agency quoted him as saying.

But Samoilenko said Saturday that Kherson had been financially reconnected to the rest of Ukraine, with state benefit payments resuming on Monday.

CNN's Masha Angelova contributed reporting to this post.

11:36 a.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Woman storms Cannes red carpet denouncing sexual violence in Ukraine, video shows

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau in London 

Security guards cover a topless protester after she ran onto the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20.
Security guards cover a topless protester after she ran onto the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20. (Daniel Cole/AP)

A topless protester with blue and yellow colors painted across her chest and stomach ran onto the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday, protesting against sexual violence in Ukraine, according to video taken at the festival.

The unidentified woman is seen emerging from behind photographers and quickly removing her dress before making her way onto the carpet and shouting at cameras.

The activist had the colors of the Ukrainian flag painted on her upper body, as well as the words “stop raping us” painted on her chest and abdomen. She was also wearing white underwear covered by red paint that resembled blood. 

Since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, Ukrainian officials have noted multiple instances of sexual abuse of women, children and men by Russian forces who, they say, are using rape and other sexual offenses as weapons of war.

At Cannes, security guards quickly circled the woman and wrapped her in a jacket before removing her from the event. 

The French feminist group SCUM, self-described as “radical feminist activists and universalist blasphemers,” said on Instagram that one of their members went to the festival to “denounce the sexual torture suffered by Ukrainian women in the war.”

CNN has reached out to the organizers of the festival for comment.

11:16 a.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Portugal's prime minister visits Kyiv and makes a joint appearance with Zelensky

From Victoria Butenko

Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 21.
Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 21. (Sergei Supinksky/AFP/Getty Images)

Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa visited Kyiv on Saturday, making a joint appearance with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the president’s office announced.

Costa is the latest in a line of Western leaders and officials to visit Kyiv since Ukrainian forces pushed the Russian military back from the outskirts of the city.

Zelensky said he hoped Portugal would back Ukraine’s efforts to join the European Union.

"We hope that the state vote of Portugal will be in support of our country on the status of a candidate for accession to the European Union during the consideration of this issue at the European Council in June," Zelensky said.

The two leaders also discussed military aid to Ukraine, sanctions against Russia, war crimes and how Portugal could help in the rebuilding of Ukraine, Zelensky’s office said.

9:30 a.m. ET, May 21, 2022

On the ground: CNN team sees death and destruction left behind after attack in villages near Kharkiv

CNN arrives on the scene of an incendiary attack.
CNN arrives on the scene of an incendiary attack. (CNN)

CNN was on the scene in a village near the front lines of Kharkiv soon after an incendiary munitions attack.

One Tsyrkuny resident, Valentina, told CNN's Nick Paton Walsh that there was an explosion near her home, and her husband had climbed into the attic to see if it was on fire. She heard another explosion and shouted her husband's name, looking in the attic and their yard but not finding him. Her husband, Viktor, had gone to their neighbor's house to check on it.

He was killed, and Valentina showed the CNN team his place of death — behind a tree with a large hole in his chest and his ear torn off.

"He's my husband," Valentina said, then letting out a heavy sigh.

Valentina speaks with CNN.
Valentina speaks with CNN. (CNN)

Vera, another resident of the village, said she saw "bright sparks" following a bomb that destroyed three homes.

The incendiary munition, which burns through everything in its path, came after heavy normal shelling, according to Paton Walsh.

Ukrainian officials said over the past two weeks that they continue to push toward the Russian border, freeing tiny villages on the outskirts of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city before the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. Russian shelling of areas retaken by Ukrainian forces continues, according to the Ukrainian military.

Close, constant shelling can be heard surrounding the CNN crew as they are embedded with a Ukrainian rapid response team.

In the next village over, Cherkaski Tyshky, a woman named Valentina lives across from what once was a Russian base. Her husband died in shelling weeks ago and her home is ruined.

"I have no strength or patience left after my husband was torn to pieces. You must understand how hard it is," she said in translated remarks.

Near the former Russian base, Paton Walsh said the smell of corpses fills the air, there's a constant threat of mines and it's impossible to truly know who controls the area.

Russian troops used a forest as cover, and foxholes and ammunition boxes are strewn everywhere.

It was clearly hit hard by Ukrainian troops, Paton Walsh said, and one destroyed tank has a sign that reads "The tomb of the unknown Russian soldiers."

Watch the report:

9:36 a.m. ET, May 21, 2022

Zelensky hails Ukrainian people as "people of the year" in anniversary interview

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Chernivtsi

(Office of the Ukrainian Presidency/Telegram)
(Office of the Ukrainian Presidency/Telegram)

Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the people of Ukraine as the "people of the year" in an anniversary interview marking his three years as President.

Asked about coming first in a Time magazine reader poll of most influential people of 2022, Zelensky replied: "I refer it to the Ukrainian people – they are people of the year. This is due to our united stand now."

"Constant respect for people," he said. "This war, our unification, is a proof that we have such people. I'm proud of that."

In the wide-ranging interview, he also talked about the defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, who surrendered this week after holding out for months against the Russian invasion.

"We will bring them home," he said of the Ukrainian fighters who are now held by Russia.

He described victory as Ukrainian forces reaching the lines of control from before the invasion without unnecessary losses.

"We broke the backbone of one of the strongest armies in the world. They won't get back on their feet in the next few years," Zelensky said.

He insisted he was confident of victory, saying there were no alternatives.

And asked if he felt like a politician, the former TV comedian replied: "I feel like a President. That’s for sure."

7:44 a.m. ET, May 21, 2022

After bloody battles, Ukraine war will end with diplomacy, Zelensky vows in anniversary interview 

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Chernivtsi

Ukraine will battle to a bloody victory but the Russian invasion will end with diplomacy, Ukrainian's Volodymyr Zelensky said in an hour-long TV interview to mark his third anniversary as President.

"We did not start this war. But we have to finish it," Zelensky said in an interview that was recorded Friday and broadcast Saturday.

"Victory will be bloody in battle. But the end will be in diplomacy. We want everything back. Russia does not want to give anything away," Zelensky said.

The broadcast also included an interview with Zelensky’s wife Olena Zelenska, who said the war had not changed her husband.

"I can't say that he has changed. As he was a reliable husband and man, so he is," she said.

But she lamented not being able to see him for months.

"Our family, like all Ukrainian families, is now torn. We didn't see each other for two and a half months, we only talked on the phone. Thank you for this opportunity [this interview], because we are spending time together now -- dating on TV," she said.