May 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Andrew Raine, Amy Woodyatt, Hafsa Khalil, Ed Upright and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:27 a.m. ET, May 24, 2022
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12:03 a.m. ET, May 24, 2022

Our live coverage of the war in Ukraine has moved here.

11:37 p.m. ET, May 23, 2022

Japan's Kishida says war in Ukraine puts extra emphasis on need for a "free and open Indo-Pacific"

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at the Quad Summit in Tokyo on Tuesday.
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at the Quad Summit in Tokyo on Tuesday. (Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool/AP)

In his opening remarks at the Quad Summit, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida highlighted the war in Ukraine as a major focus of the meeting.

"A grave incident which has fundamentally shaken the rule of law-based international order we value has happened since we met last September," Kishida said.

"(The) Russian invasion into Ukraine squarely challenges the principles which are enshrined in the United Nations Charter. We should never, ever allow a similar incident to happen in the Indo-Pacific. Because of the harsh reality unfolding, it is extremely significant for us to get together and show to the international society, the four countries' solidarity and our firm commitment toward a shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific."

US President Joe Biden also condemned Russia's invasion in his opening remarks, pledging US support for Ukraine.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi —  who has so far resisted condemning the Russian invasion or imposing sanctions on Moscow —  did not mention the war in Ukraine during his opening comments. Instead, Modi emphasized the importance of "mutual cooperation."

"Despite the difficult circumstances of Covid-19, we have increased mutual coordination in several areas such as vaccine delivery, climate action, supply chain resilience, disaster response and economic cooperation," he said. "This will continue to strengthen the image of the Quad as a force for good."
11:09 p.m. ET, May 23, 2022

"We’re navigating a dark hour in our shared history," Biden tells Quad Summit

From CNN's Betsy Klein

US President Joe Biden attends the Quad Summit in Tokyo, Japan on May 24.
US President Joe Biden attends the Quad Summit in Tokyo, Japan on May 24. (Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool/Reuters)

President Joe Biden made opening remarks to the Quad Summit on Tuesday in Tokyo, addressing the importance of the alliance amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“We’re navigating a dark hour in our shared history,” Biden said as he sat facing the leaders of India, Australia and Japan.
“The Russian brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe. And the innocent civilians have been killed in the streets and millions of refugees are internally displaced, as well as exiled. And this is more than just a European issue, it’s a global issue.”

Biden warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “trying to extinguish a culture,” pointing to Russia’s targeting of Ukrainian schools, churches and museums.

The US, he said, will continue its work with partners to “lead a global response.”

Russia’s invasion, Biden later added, “only heightens the importance” of the Quad’s goals and shared values.

“Fundamental principles of international order, territorial integrity and sovereignty, international law, human rights must always be defended, regardless of where they’re violated. So the Quad has a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.

The comments come as the White House has said Biden intends to speak during the summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- who has resisted US pressure to punish Russia -- about how to strengthen US-India ties, a suggestion he hopes to wean Delhi off its reliance on Russian-made arms.

Biden reiterated his belief that the world is at a “transformative moment” and a question of whether democracies can prevail over autocracies.

He commended Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s “extraordinary leadership” as he thanked his host.

Biden also welcomed and congratulated Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese -- who was sworn into office this week -- into the group of world leaders, joking that it was “okay” if he fell asleep during the summit.

“We greatly appreciate your commitment to being here so soon after taking office,” Biden said.

Follow CNN's live coverage of the Quad Summit here.

7:02 p.m. ET, May 23, 2022

Ukraine's first lady launches national psychological support program

From CNN's Lauren Kent in Lviv

Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska announced Monday that she is launching a national psychological support program, given the crisis of mental health and shock in Ukraine.

“None of the Ukrainians, neither an adult or child can be sure that they will wake up tomorrow,” Zelenska said in a video statement posted on social media. “All the things Ukrainians experienced in the occupation, at the front, at the bomb shelters, under shelling, abroad, they need rehabilitation just as the physically wounded.”

The Ukrainian government will "quickly" develop the mental health support program in partnership with World Health Organization, according to her statement.

“Russia’s war has shown horrors we could not have imagined,” Zelenska said. “WHO is committed to protecting the most crucial human rights — to life and health. Now they are both violated in Ukraine.”

She added that the country plans to set an example to strengthen global support for the psychological well-being of war survivors. 

Kostan Nechyporenko contributed to this post.

10:32 p.m. ET, May 23, 2022

Former US soldier says he's faced the most intense fighting of his life in Ukraine

From CNN's Mick Krever and Sam Kiley

Kevin, a former US soldier, said he and his team were trapped for days inside a "house of hell."
Kevin, a former US soldier, said he and his team were trapped for days inside a "house of hell." (Mick Krever/CNN)

Kevin, a stocky American in his early 30s, climbs over the charred rubble of a former sauna and shines the light from his iPhone through the dust.

"We're not going to go any further, because this wire is intentionally tied off to something and then buried right here," he warns. "A lot of the Russians came back through some of these places and re-mined them, put [in] booby traps."

Kevin is part of a group of elite foreign special forces veterans, primarily American and British, who have enlisted to help the Ukrainian cause.

He says that back in March, the group spent four days in the health spa — they called it "the house from hell" — often just 50 meters from Russian troops. It was, he says, the furthest-forward Ukrainian-held position in Irpin, a suburb on the outskirts of Kyiv, as Russian forces tried to push on through to seize the capital.

The once-affluent suburb is now synonymous with alleged Russian war crimes — a pilgrimage site for visiting dignitaries who've beaten a path to its shell-scarred streets. Kevin says he and his men were among the first to witness attacks on Ukrainian civilians here.

Despite a former career as a top-level US counter-terrorism operative, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kevin says it is here in Ukraine that he has faced the most intense fighting of his life.

He says he and his new comrades-in-arms have implemented many of the guerrilla tactics that were used against the American military in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. They are the insurgents now.

"Everything is much more decentralized," he explains. "Small group tactics is definitely a huge advantage here."

We are not using Kevin's full name because of the nature of his work in Ukraine.

"Being on this side now, and hearing their conversations on their radio — and them knowing, okay, they're out there somewhere, we don't know where or who it is — there's definitely an advantage to that," he says.

"Real combat experience": Like many military veterans, Kevin says he had felt adrift since originally leaving the battlefield several years ago. He had a full-time job in the US, but quit when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky put out a call for experienced foreign fighters at the beginning of the war. He arrived in western Ukraine, was driven to Kyiv, and was on the frontlines of the battle for the capital within a matter of hours.

He joined Ukraine's International Legion, launched by the government in the first days of the war. The government pays him and his colleagues a modest salary of between $2,000 and $3,000 a month, though Kevin says they have spent far more than that buying equipment. The International Legion even got its own website, instructing would-be foreign recruits on everything from how to contact the Ukrainian embassy to what to pack.

In those first weeks, the government struggled to weed out the pretenders and war tourists who were out of their depth. By March 6, they had received more than 20,000 applications, according to the foreign minister.

The number of foreign fighters now in Ukraine is a state secret, but a spokesperson for the International Legion told CNN that the "symbiosis" means Ukraine's "chances of winning are greatly increased."

"The best of the best join the Armed Forces of Ukraine," Colonel Anton Myronovych told CNN. "These are foreigners with real combat experience, these are foreign citizens who know what war is, know how to handle weapons, know how to destroy the enemy."

For the first time in his life, Kevin was defending against invasion by a better-equipped enemy. He, not the enemy, was the one who had to worry about airstrikes. There was no master plan, no air support — and there would be no evacuation in case of disaster.

"It was like a movie," he says. "It was insanity from the start. We started taking indirect fire driving in — small arms fire driving in. And I was in a pickup truck, just driving down the street."

"There's tanks, and above us there's helicopters. And you can hear the Russian jets flying by. And out in the open fields the Russians were dropping troops off in helicopters. And so you're like: 'Woah, wow!' It's a lot."

Read more here.

6:11 p.m. ET, May 23, 2022

Russia's theft of Ukrainian grain appears to be ramping up as it continues war, news satellite images show 

From CNN's Alex Marquardt and Tim Lister

A satellite image from Maxar technologies shows grain being loaded into the hull of the Russia-flagged ship Matros Pozynich in Crimea.
A satellite image from Maxar technologies shows grain being loaded into the hull of the Russia-flagged ship Matros Pozynich in Crimea. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)

Russia's theft of Ukrainian grain appears to be ramping up as it continues its war on the country, according to new satellite photos of the Crimean port of Sevastopol. 

Two Russia-flagged bulk carrier ships are shown docking and loading up with what is believed to be stolen Ukrainian grain in the images. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of "gradually stealing" Ukrainian food products and trying to sell them.

The new images from Maxar Technologies, dated May 19 and 21, show the ships — the Matros Pozynich and the Matros Koshka — docked next to what appear to be grain silos with grain pouring off of a belt into an open hold. Both ships have now left the port, according to the ship tracking site, with the Matros Pozynich sailing through the Aegean Sea claiming to be on its way to Beirut and the Matros Koshka still in the Black Sea.

It's difficult to know for certain whether the ship is being loaded with stolen Ukrainian grain, but Russia-annexed Crimea produces little grain itself, unlike the agriculturally rich Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia immediately to the north. Ukrainian officials and industry sources have told CNN that Russian forces in occupied areas have emptied several silos and trucked the grain south. 

Earlier this month, the Matros Pozynich carried out a similar mission: loading up with grain and setting sail out of the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean. It was initially bound for Egypt with its cargo, but it was turned away from Alexandria after a warning from Ukrainian officials, according to the country's government. It was also barred entry to Beirut, eventually docking in Latakia, in Syria, where Russia has for years been propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad. 

At the same time, Russia has been blocking Ukraine from exporting goods from its ports, fueling fears of a global food crisis.

Keep reading here.

5:11 p.m. ET, May 23, 2022

Russian missiles struck railway infrastructure in Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko

Valentyn Reznichenko, head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration, said Monday that Russian missiles had struck railway infrastructure in the region, causing serious damage.

"A troubled day with endless alarms," Reznichenko said on Telegram. "We have four evening 'arrivals' at once. The missiles hit the railway infrastructure in Pavlograd and Synelnykiv districts. There is serious damage to the railway track and overhead lines. It is unclear when we will resume movement there."

Russian forces have targeted Ukraine's railway infrastructure in an apparent bid to interrupt the supply of Ukrainian forces.

4:53 p.m. ET, May 23, 2022

Ukrainian military governor reports "heavy fighting" around Lyman

From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Julia Presniakova

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, reported "heavy fighting" in the direction of Lyman, where Russians have pressed an offensive in recent days. 

"In the direction of Lyman, there is heavy fighting," Kyrylenko said. "Over the past 12 hours, among the civilian population, there is one dead and four people were injured."

Kyrylenko said several other towns — Avdiivka, Sviatohorsk, Bakhmut and Soledar — have been under heavy shelling or rocket and bomb attacks. The regional military governor has reported heavy Russian shelling all along the region's front lines in recent days, with Russian forces attempting breakthroughs in several locations. 

3:34 p.m. ET, May 23, 2022

It's Monday night in Kyiv. Catch up on the latest developments on Russia's war in Ukraine. 

From CNN Staff

A 20-year veteran of Russia's diplomatic service announced his resignation Monday in protest of his country's war on Ukraine, multiple media outlets reported.  

In a rare public protest by a Russian official, Boris Bondarev, a diplomat posted to Russia's mission to the United Nations in Geneva, posted a statement on a LinkedIn account condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine and criticizing the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for complicity in what he described as an an "aggressive war" — language that is proscribed in Russia under wartime censorship laws. 

"For twenty years of my diplomatic career I have seen different turns of our foreign policy, but never have I been so ashamed of my country as on February 24 of this year," Bondarev wrote, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine. "The aggressive war unleashed by Putin against Ukraine, and in fact against the entire Western world, is not only a crime against the Ukrainian people, but also, perhaps, the most serious crime against the people of Russia, with a bold letter Z crossing out all hopes and prospects for a prosperous free society in our country."

The respected Russian business newspaper Kommersant reached out to Bondarev, who confirmed the authenticity of the post. The New York Times confirmed the receipt of a resignation sent by email to diplomats in Geneva.

Here are more of the latest headlines from Russia's war in Ukraine:

  • Kharkiv subway will resume operations after months of serving as a shelter: Ihor Terekhov, the mayor of the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, said the city's subway system would resume operations Tuesday, after months of serving as a shelter for citizens looking to escape Russian bombardment. "Tomorrow, on May 24, we will open the subway," Terekhov said in remarks on television. "All lines will be launched. Subway traffic will be from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. The intervals won't be the same as in peacetime. The subway depot was damaged during the bombing and shelling, so the intervals will be longer." During the height of the Russian bombardment of Kharkiv — Ukraine's second-largest city — many residents took refuge in the city's metro system.
  • EU can reach a deal on Russia sanctions, German vice chancellor says: Robert Habeck, Germany's vice chancellor and economy minister, spoke to CNN on Monday about the war in Ukraine and Europe’s efforts to lessen dependence on Russian energy. Asked whether the European Union could reach an agreement on the next round of sanctions, including an oil embargo, he said he was confident a deal could be reached and could be done within days. “I expect everyone — also Hungary — that they work to find a solution and not saying 'OK we have an exception and then we will lay back and build on our partnership with Putin,'" he said while speaking earlier on a panel at Davos.
  • More security aid for Ukraine: US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at the conclusion of the second Ukraine Contact Group meeting on Monday that 20 countries “announced new security assistance packages" for the country. Denmark has agreed to provide Ukraine with a Harpoon launcher and missiles to “help Ukraine defend its coast.” The Czech Republic also agreed to send “substantial support” to Ukraine including “a recent donation of attack helicopters, tanks and rocket systems,” Austin said at a news conference at the conclusion of the meeting. “Others came forward with new commitments for training Ukraine’s forces and sustaining its military systems,” Austin added. A total of 47 countries participated in the contact group’s second meeting, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.
  • Biden administration is considering sending US Special Operations Forces to protect its embassy in Kyiv: The Biden Administration is in the early stages of potentially sending special operations forces (SOF) into Ukraine for the very limited mission of helping guard the US Embassy in Kyiv, according to several US officials. The idea of using SOF is in very preliminary stages and has not yet been presented to US President Joe Biden for a decision, the sources said. The embassy was reopened last week after being closed for about three months. For now, the embassy and its limited number of personnel are protected by State Department diplomatic security officials. US Marines typically guard US embassies around the world but in Kyiv, for now, there is a general agreement that the typical Marine Corps embassy guard personnel may not be suited to the uncertain security picture in Ukraine without additional forces, officials say.
  • Putin claims Russia is "withstanding the impact of sanctions": President Vladimir Putin said Monday that the Russian economy is "withstanding the impact of sanctions" despite a gloomy economic outlook for the country following the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. "Despite all the difficulties, the Russian economy is withstanding the impact of the sanctions, and withstanding it quite well," Putin said in a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. "This is according to all the main macroeconomic indicators." Russia's Central Bank said in late April the Russian economy is expected to shrink by 8 to 10% in 2022, noting a decline in economic activity in March after the imposition of international sanctions on Russia. Earlier the same month, the World Bank predicted that Russian GDP would shrink by 11.2% in 2022.
  • Global food crisis could worsen if Ukrainian port of Odesa is not opened, UN official says: The world faces a “perfect storm within a perfect storm” when it comes to the food crisis, according to the head of the UN World Food Programme, David Beasley. He explained that the world is currently facing a food pricing problem but with issues over fertilizer and food production, we could “very well have a food availability problem." He added that if the port of Odesa is not opened, it will only compound the problem. There are 49 million people in 43 countries who are “knocking on famine’s door,” and the world would face famine, destabilization and mass migration if we don’t get ahead of the problem, the UN official said while speaking on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos.