May 23, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Schams Elwazer, Christian Edwards, Ed Upright, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond and Leinz Vales, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, May 24, 2023
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10:35 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023

Part of Bakhmut still under Ukrainian control, top national security official says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen, William Bonnett and Svitlana Vlasova

Part of the beleaguered city of Bakhmut remains under Ukrainian control, the country’s national security adviser Oleksiy Danilov told CNN on Tuesday. 

“If they [Russians] believe they have taken Bakhmut, I can say that this is not true. As of today, part of Bakhmut is under our control,” Danilov told CNN Senior International Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. “I can't say that all of it, but part of Bakhmut is still under our fire.”

Danilov went on to defend Kyiv’s decision to hold on to the city for as long as possible.

 “When it came to Bakhmut, these were decisions made at the strategic level. The defense operation was constantly under control at the meetings of the Commander-in-Chief's staff. We understood why we were doing it,” he explained. “In the Bakhmut direction, a large number of Russian soldiers were killed, not only the Wagner troops, but also special forces, airborne troops and representatives of other branches of the Russian army. A huge amount of equipment was destroyed, and they spent a huge amount of ammunition there.”

“It was our strategic defense operation, which was successful for us, given that we held the territory for 10 months, where we were destroying them every day,” he added. “They could not take Bakhmut for 10 months. What can they boast about?”

Some background: Wagner group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed this weekend that his troops had captured “all the territories they promised to capture, to the last square centimeter.” But Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian forces still occupy “a small part of the city,” but that fighting had “decreased” on Tuesday.

On the timing of Ukraine's long-awaited counteroffensive, Danilov said President Volodymyr Zelensky will have the final say.

“We are working according to our plan, we have it. We are clearly aware of when, where, how and what should start,” he said. “The final decision is up to the President, meeting of (the Commander-in-Chief's) staff.”

“When the decision is made, Russia will definitely feel it,” he concluded.

10:15 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023

Some Russians want to deal with country's dark side, Ukrainian official says after Belgorod incident

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen, William Bonnett and Svitlana Vlasova

Ukraine’s top national security official told CNN that those responsible for the cross border-raid in Belgorod are Russians who want to get rid of the darkness in their country, denying any involvement from Kyiv.

“They are Russians, it is their country and they have the right to be there,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, told CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. “There are some Russians who are on the side of the light and who went to deal with the darkness that exists in Russia now.”

Danilov rejected accusations of Ukrainian involvement levied by Moscow against Kyiv and said the incident in Belgorod was solely a Russian matter.

“There are events happening there that are related to a sector that, in our opinion, should be commented on either by the supreme commander-in-chief, i.e. Putin, or by the Defense minister or someone else,” he said. “They are citizens of the Russian Federation.”

“If it was Russian guys who crossed the border, this is a question for the FSB, they have to protect this border, the military has to protect it,” he added. “I emphasize once again, this is a question for the Russians who are there today in the Belgorod region."

Remember: On Monday, Ukraine confirmed that the group behind the incursion was made up of Russian nationals. The attack was carried out by a group that was "part of the defense and security forces" in Ukraine but acting as “independent entities” in Russia, according to Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency.

10:49 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023

Belgorod governor says there have been no new cross-border incursions today

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Members of Russian Volunteer Corps pose for a picture atop an armoured vehicle at Graivoron border crossing in Kozinka, Belgorod region, Russia, in this handout picture released on May 23.
Members of Russian Volunteer Corps pose for a picture atop an armoured vehicle at Graivoron border crossing in Kozinka, Belgorod region, Russia, in this handout picture released on May 23. Russian Volunteer Corps/Reuters

There have been no new incursions by fighters crossing the Ukrainian border into the Borisovsky district in Russia's Belgorod region Tuesday, according to the Belgorod governor.

“Reports are coming from the Borisovsky district: the village of Bogun-Gorodok, the farm Lozovaya Rudka and the village of Tsapovka. According to our information, there was shelling from the Armed Forces of Ukraine, there were [strikes],” regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram.

“Some telegram channels are starting to interpret this information as the sabotage and reconnaissance group entry and trying to make people panic. There was no entry. The FSB, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Defense do not confirm this information. The military is working,” he said.

Some background: On Monday, a group of anti-Putin Russian nationals – who are aligned with the Ukrainian army – claimed responsibility for an attack in Russian’s southwestern region of Belgorod, as Moscow said it was fighting a group of saboteurs there.

In a Telegram post, groups calling themselves the “Freedom for Russia Legion” and “Russian Volunteer Corps” said they had “liberated” a settlement in the Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine.

9:29 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023

This footage shows why Russian nationals are fighting against their motherland

From CNN's Sam Kiley

On Monday, the Freedom for Russia Legion made its most decisive move since the war began, launching a cross-border attack on the Russian region of Belgorod.

But it has been defending Ukraine from Moscow’s invading troops for months. CNN’s Sam Kiley met members of the Legion fighting in Bakhmut in December to understand more about what has led Russian nationals to fight for Ukraine in the war.

One soldier, who goes by the call-sign Caesar, told CNN that defending Bakhmut against his Russian motherland is an almost religious imperative.

“From the first day of the war, my heart -- the heart of a real Russian man, a real Christian -- told me that I had to be here to defend the people of Ukraine,” Caesar said.

When he sees invading Russian troops in his gunsights, he feels no ties to his countrymen.

“I believe that these people have broken the law of man and the law of god. I have no pity for them. I take them prisoner if I can. But most often, I just have to kill them.”

And when the war is over, members of the Legion have more ambitious targets in sight.

When Ukraine is free, I will carry my sword to Russia to free it from tyranny,” Caesar said.

His claims echoed those made by members of the legion in a video posted Monday.

“We are Russians, just like you. We want our children to grow up in peace and be free, so they can travel, study and be happy. But this is not possible in Putin’s Russia.”

Read and watch our full report here.

9:20 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023

Around 100 civilians evacuated from Belgorod region during cross-border incursion, local officials say

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Around 100 civilians have been evacuated from the Russian border settlements of Glotovo and Kozinka in the Belgorod region, local authorities say. 

The regional governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said on his Telegram channel:

“Since yesterday evening, our task force, headed by the head of the regional security department, Yevgeny Vorobyov, has been evacuating civilians from Glotovo and Kozinka. In total, about 100 people have been taken out at the moment, among them there are bedridden and children.” 

On Monday, a group of anti-Putin nationalists claimed to have “liberated” the settlement of Kozinka, home to a crossing station close to Russia’s border with Ukraine. 

Earlier on Tuesday, Gladkov said that both Kozinka and Glotovo had come under mortar and artillery fire the previous day.

8:31 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023

This exclusive footage shows the devastating impact of Ukraine's "secret weapons"

From CNN's Nic Robertson

In an exclusive report, CNN joined a group of British explosives and counter-insurgency specialists as they passed on decades of bomb making know-how to frontline Ukrainian troops. But it’s not just their subversive skills and techniques that these British-Irish experts are bringing – it’s the bomb components too.

Much of the focus in recent months has been on Ukraine’s demand for heavy military hardware: tanks, jets, rocket launchers and missiles.

But sometimes the biggest help can come in the smallest packages: sophisticated switches, specialized microchips, night vision goggles, covert monitoring devices, even 3D printers.

An officer in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, known as “Skif,” told CNN this equipment is used “to produce explosive devices we can use on the ground, on the battlefield, or in the air as munition for drones.”

Watch Nic Robertson's report here:

9:05 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023

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

From CNN staff

Belgorod’s governor says the Russian region bordering Ukraine was hit by drone attacks overnight, following the cross-border attack launched by anti-Putin Russian nationals on Monday. Meanwhile, Ukraine says it’s still holding on to part of Bakhmut – despite Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s claims to the contrary.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Who attacked Belgorod?: The Freedom for Russian Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps – two anti-Putin groups of Russian nationals aligned with the Ukrainian army – claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack on Belgorod. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed they are “Ukrainian militants, from Ukraine” – but Andriy Yusov, a Ukrainian official, told CNN these “Russian citizens” acted independently of Kyiv. CNN met members of the Legion in December to learn more about their motives.
  • Belgorod incursion: Belgorod in southwestern Russia was hit by drone attacks overnight, its governor said. Two homes were struck by drones in the town of Grayvoron – the site of an earlier attack claimed by the insurgents. Administrative buildings in the village of Borisovka were also struck, but no casualties were reported in any of the drone attacks, according to the governor. The Russian Ministry of Defense said Tuesday the fighters who crossed into Belgorod on Monday have been pushed back into Ukrainian territory.
  • Battle for Bakhmut: Russia and Ukraine continued to make conflicting claims about the status of the eastern city of Bakhmut. Prigozhin claimed this weekend that his Wagner troops had captured “all the territories they promised to capture, to the last square centimeter.” But Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian forces still occupy “a small part of the city,” but that fighting had “decreased” on Tuesday.
  • F-16 jet coalition: Ukrainian pilots have started to undergo training on F-16 fighter jets in several European Union countries, according to the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. However, United States Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has warned it will take “several months at best” to get the jets to Ukraine.
  • Zelensky visits troops: After his whirlwind tour of Europe and Asia – which saw him visit Paris, Berlin, Rome, London, Jeddah and Hiroshima within two weeks – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is now back on home soil. He visited troops on Ukraine’s eastern frontline to mark the Day of Marines – an annual national holiday to celebrate the Ukrainian Navy.
  • Ukraine’s missing bodies: Ukrainian search teams found 50 bodies of missing people in the past month alone in areas formerly occupied by Russian forces, a Ukrainian official said. Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs said about 23,000 people have been officially deemed missing since the start of Russia's invasion.
  • Ukraine's "secret weapons": In an exclusive report, CNN joined a group of British explosives and counter-insurgency specialists as they passed on decades of bomb making know-how to frontline Ukrainian troops. But it’s not just their subversive skills and techniques that these British-Irish experts are bringing – it’s the bomb components too. This equipment is used “to produce explosive devices we can use on the ground, on the battlefield, or in the air as munition for drones," an officer in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, known as “Skif,” said.

9:55 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023

All remaining cross-border attackers have been driven back into Ukraine, Russian defense ministry says

From CNN’s Anna Chernova and Jo Shelley

The fighters who crossed from Ukraine into Russia’s western Belgorod region on Monday have been pushed back into Ukrainian territory, the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a daily briefing on Tuesday. 

The ministry said on Monday, “after intensive artillery shelling of the Kozinka international checkpoint, as well as a number of other civilian facilities in the Graivoronsky district of the Belgorod region, a unit of the Ukrainian nationalist formation invaded the territory of the Russian Federation.” 

Russia repelled the attackers using air strikes, artillery fire and military units, it said, adding: “The remnants of the nationalists were driven back to the territory of Ukraine, where they continued to be hit by fire until they were completely eliminated.” 

Some context: While Russia has referred to the group or groups that crossed into Russia as "Ukrainian," the attack has been claimed by the Freedom for Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps – two groups of anti-Putin Russian nationals who are fighting in Ukraine as part of Kyiv’s defense forces. Ukrainian officials have acknowledged that the groups crossed into Russia but say they were acting independently.  

Around two hours before the ministry’s briefing, the Freedom for Russia Legion posted on Telegram: “The Legion and the RDK [Russian Volunteer Corps] continue to liberate the Belgorod region!”

7:59 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023

Ukrainian pilots are now training on F-16 jets in several countries, EU's top diplomat says

From CNN's James Frater and Lindsay Isaac

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell makes a press statement ahead of the EU Defense Ministers' meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on May 23.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell makes a press statement ahead of the EU Defense Ministers' meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on May 23. (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Ukrainian pilots have started to undergo training on F-16 fighter jets in several European Union countries according to the bloc’s High Representative, Josep Borrell.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has been asking allies for the aircraft as Kyiv seeks to improve its defenses against Russian air attacks.

Speaking on his way into a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels Tuesday, Borrell said the training will “take time, but the sooner the better.”

While the idea was initially met by reluctance from Ukraine’s allies, Borrell said that the door is now open for the provision of jets, and he expects a similar outcome to that of the donation of Leopard 2 tanks which also went through a period of uncertainty.

At the start of talks about sending the German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv, Borrell said many countries were “reluctant.” But “at the end,” he added, “the decision comes to provide this military support because it is absolutely needed in order for Ukraine to continue defending.”

Jet coalition grows: The Dutch defense minister said that EU officials are working on a concrete timeline for training and said that there is agreement that it must happen urgently. 

“But we did need the green light from Washington, DC. And it is a co-effort with Denmark, Belgium, UK and other allies. So a coordinated effort. But we will speed up now that we know that we have the green light,” Kajsa Ollogren told reporters.

US President Joe Biden signaled his approval for Ukrainian pilots to be trained to fly them over the weekend.