May 25, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Joshua Berlinger, Hafsa Khalil and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022
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4:36 a.m. ET, May 25, 2022

UK government approves sale of Chelsea FC, says Abramovich will not benefit

From CNN's Sammy Mngqosini in London 

A general view of Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea FC, on Wednesday.
A general view of Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea FC, on Wednesday. (Jonathan Brady/PA Images/Getty Images)

The British government has approved the sale of Chelsea Football Club, saying Russian owner Roman Abramovich will not benefit from the $5 billion deal . 

"Last night the Government issued a licence that permits the sale of Chelsea FC," Britain's Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries, tweeted Wednesday. "Given the sanctions we placed on those linked to Putin and the bloody invasion of Ukraine, the long-term future of the club can only be secured under a new owner."
"We are satisfied the proceeds of the sale will not benefit Roman Abramovich or other sanctioned individuals," she added. 

On Tuesday, the English Premier League said its board had approved the sale of the club to a group led by American businessman Todd Boehly.

A UK government spokesperson said they will be "ensuring the proceeds of the sale are used for humanitarian causes in Ukraine, supporting victims of the war."

“The steps today will secure the future of this important cultural asset and protect fans and the wider football community," the spokesperson said. "We have been in discussions with relevant international partners for necessary licences required and we thank them for all their cooperation.”

Some context: The sale of Chelsea brings an end to nearly two decades of Abramovich's ownership of the club. The Russian oligarch has known ties to the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin and was sanctioned by the UK shortly after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. 

2:59 a.m. ET, May 25, 2022

Russian missile attacks on Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk regions, Ukrainian officials say

From CNN's Maria Kostenko

Ukrainian officials reported Russian missile attacks on the east-central Dnipropetrovsk region and southeastern Zaporizhzhia region on Wednesday, causing extensive damage in the city of Zaporizhzhia. 

The Russian military launched four cruise missiles on Zaporizhzhia Wednesday, a statement from the Zaporizhzhia Regional Council said. One missile was shot down by the city's air defense, it added.

In an update, the council added at least one person was killed and three others injured, and that 62 buildings were damaged in residential areas of the city.

In a separate statement Wednesday, Valentyn Reznichenko, head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration, said there had been constant air raid alarms overnight. 

"The enemy fired three missiles at Kryvyi Rih this morning," Reznichenko said. "An industrial enterprise was hit. There is severe destruction. We are clarifying the information on the victims."
12:00 a.m. ET, May 25, 2022

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

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has effectively halted all maritime trade at Ukrainian ports, according to declassified US intelligence, blocking grain exports and risking a global food crisis.

Here's the latest on Russia's war in Ukraine:

  • Food exports blocked: Russia has established an "effective blockade" in the northern third of the Black Sea, according to a US official who provided a declassified map of the region to CNN on the condition of anonymity. Ukraine provides about 10% of the world’s wheat exports, the official noted — the vast majority of which exit the country from Black Sea ports. The head of the UN's World Food Programme has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to reopen ports in Ukraine to exports to prevent children around the world from starving.
  • Mariupol death toll: At least 22,000 residents are believed to have died during Russia's three-month assault on Mariupol, according to an official from the Ukrainian port city. Petro Andriushchenko said the figure is based on the many contacts he and other town hall officials continue to have with officials trapped inside, and believes the true number could be much higher. The figures cannot be independently verified.
  • Ukrainian forces withdraw from contested town: Russian forces have taken the contested town of Svitlodarsk in the eastern Donbas region, and Ukrainian forces have withdrawn, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said Tuesday. About 10,000 civilians remain in occupied Svitlodarsk, according to Kyrylenko. He added it was “not a retreat” of the Ukrainian forces, but a “regrouping” and the “right and logical decision” to save lives.
  • Ukraine shows drone footage: The Ukrainian military has for the first time released footage of special forces using small, foreign-made drones to target Russian positions. The portable, so-called kamikaze drones carry warheads and detonate on impact.
  • Europe on alert: Hungary will enter a "state of emergency" due to the war in Ukraine, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Tuesday. "Hungary must stay out of this war and protect families’ financial security. To do this, we need room for maneuver and the ability to act immediately," he said. Meanwhile, Poland's foreign minister said Russia would remain a threat to peace in Europe even after any ceasefire in Ukraine.
9:51 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

Declassified US intelligence shows Russian blockade of Ukraine

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has effectively halted all maritime trade at Ukrainian ports, according to newly declassified US intelligence, cutting off a critical export commodity for Ukraine and risking a global food crisis.

In the months since Russia moved to invade in February, it has established an “effective blockade” in the northern third of the Black Sea, according to a US official who provided a declassified map of the region to CNN on the condition of anonymity. 

The map analyzes the density of ships coming in and out of Ukrainian ports before and after the start of the conflict, showing an almost total drop-off of commercial traffic to ports in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov after the start of the invasion. A third map provides a current visualization of the density of Russian naval vessels clustered in the Black Sea off Ukraine’s coast, highlighting “hotbeds of activity,” according to the US official. 

“The impact of Russia’s actions cannot be understated as Ukraine’s seaborne exports are vital to global food security,” the US official said, echoing the broad assessment of Western analysts and government officials.

Ukraine provides about 10% of the world’s wheat exports, the official noted, the vast majority of which exit the country from Black Sea ports. 

Some context: Before the war, Ukraine was the world’s fourth-largest exporter of corn and fifth-largest exporter of wheat, according to the US State Department. Almost 30% of global trade in wheat came from Russia and Ukraine alone.

The United Nations World Food Program which helps combat global food insecurity buys about half of its wheat from Ukraine each year and has warned of dire consequences if Ukrainian ports are not opened up.

Last week CNN reported that the US and allies are holding discussions on how to safely develop routes to transport grain from Ukraine amid concerns about global food supplies. New satellite images reported by CNN on Monday appear to substantiate Ukrainian claims that Russia is also stealing stores of grain that have been sitting idle at commercial ports. 

Since the start of the conflict, Russia has intimidated commercial traffic, occasionally impeded safe passage to Ukraine through the Kerch Strait and, most visibly, stationed warships off Ukraine’s coast and pummeled Ukrainian ports, the US official said. 

CNN's Alex Marquardt contributed to this post

1:51 a.m. ET, May 25, 2022

Mariupol death toll at 22,000, says mayor's adviser

From CNN's Saskya Vandoorne and Melissa Bell in Kyiv

People stand amid newly-made graves at a cemetery outside Mariupol, Ukraine on May 22.
People stand amid newly-made graves at a cemetery outside Mariupol, Ukraine on May 22. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

“Mariupol is now a city of ghosts,” an adviser to the mayor of the ruined Ukrainian port city said Tuesday.  

Speaking to CNN’s Melissa Bell, Petro Andriushchenko — who has fled to Ukrainian-held territory — said Mariupol town hall officials believe at least 22,000 residents of the city were killed during three months of war — a figure that cannot be independently verified, with the free press now unable to access the city and those still inside too scared to speak openly.

The figure of 22,000 is based, Andriushchenko said, on the many contacts he and other town hall officials continue to have with officials trapped inside. But he believes the actual figure could be much higher.

Andriushchenko said the process of reburying the dead has been complicated by Russian official insistence that reclaimed bodies be brought to a morgue and that a person claiming a body must agree to record a video in which the applicant says the deceased was killed by the Ukrainian military. 

Based on the information gathered from his network of sources, Mariupol has been thrown back to the Middle Ages, Andriushchenko said.

“It is absolutely dark inside the city. The only lights are from Russian troops and Russian patrols,” he said. “Everywhere it’s the smell of death and the smell of fire.”

The mayor's adviser said his contacts paint a picture of a city in the grips of a humanitarian catastrophe with very little contact to the outside world. Mobile phone connections are only just beginning to be re-established.

He said residents are unable to move freely, with special passes needed for any movement within the city and a filtration system keeping them from fleeing altogether.

Mariupol has been at the center of a ferocious, months-long battle between Ukrainian government forces and Russian soldiers and pro-Russian fighters. 

It officially fell to Russian forces Friday when the last group of the Azovstal fighters at the steel plant they had been holding out in for several weeks surrendered.

10:12 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

Regional military chief: Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from contested town of Svitlodarsk

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko

Russian forces have taken the contested town of Svitlodarsk in the eastern Donbas region and Ukrainian forces have withdrawn, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration.

"About 10,000 civilians remain in occupied Svitlodarsk," Kyrylenko said Tuesday. "No more than 30% of the population left the city. Today, May 24, the Russian army entered Svitlodarsk in the Donetsk region. Russian flags have already been hoisted there."

According to Kyrylenko, Svitlodarsk had been surrounded on three sides, and the city had not been under intense shelling, so much of the civilian population remained.  

"This is not a retreat [of the Armed Forces of Ukraine], but a regrouping," he said. "This is the right and logical decision in this situation to save the lives of [the military] and regroup."

Pro-Russian Telegram channels showed images of the Russian flag being hoisted over the city administration building in Svitlodarsk.

Kyrylenko also described the situation as "very difficult" in Lyman, a city further north in Donetsk region. "The situation there is now one of the tensest along the entire front line," he said.

8:33 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

200 bodies found in ruins of Mariupol high-rise, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Maria Kostenko

A Ukrainian official from the Russian-controlled port city of Mariupol claimed 200 bodies had been discovered in the rubble of a ruined high-rise building, another gruesome find in the city that has been devastated by months of Russian bombardment. 

Petro Andriushenko, adviser to Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko, said in a statement on Telegram Tuesday that around 200 bodies were found during the dismantling of the rubble of a high-rise building near a suburban gas station. The bodies were found in a basement underneath the wrecked building in an advanced state of decomposition, he added.

"Due to the refusal of locals to collect and pack up the bodies of the dead, the Russian Ministry of Emergencies left the site," Andriushchenko said. "The bodies of the dead remained in place. The stench can be smelled almost throughout the quarter due to partially dismantled debris."

CNN was not able to immediately verify Andriushchenko's claim. Andriushchenko is not in Mariupol but has served as a clearinghouse for information from residents remaining in the city. 

Residential buildings heavily damaged during the Russian attack on the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 11.
Residential buildings heavily damaged during the Russian attack on the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 11. (Pavel Klimov/Reuters)

Ukrainian officials say more than 20,000 residents of the city died during three months of war — a figure that cannot be independently supported — and many of the dead have been hastily buried in courtyards. 

Andriushchenko said the process of reburying the dead has been complicated by Russian officials' insistence that reclaimed bodies be brought to a morgue and that a person claiming a body must agree to record a video in which the applicant says the deceased was killed by the Ukrainian military. 

"The city has turned into a continuous cemetery," Andriushchenko said. 

8:27 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

Society "may not survive" Putin's war, says billionaire George Soros

From CNN's Jeanne Sahadi

Russia's invasion of Ukraine may have marked the start of "a third world war," and Russian President Vladimir Putin must be defeated "as soon as possible" if the world wants to preserve civilization.

That was the stark message that Hungarian-born billionaire and philanthropist George Soros delivered on Tuesday to attendees at the 2022 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"Even when the fighting stops, as it eventually must, the situation will never revert" to where it was before, warned the 91-year-old Soros.
"Other issues that concern all of humanity — fighting pandemics and climate change, avoiding nuclear war, maintaining global institutions — have had to take a back seat to that struggle. That's why I say civilization may not survive."

The former hedge fund manager, who is chair of Soros Fund Management LLC and founder of the Open Society Foundations, is famous for using his wealth to help foster open societies and create inclusive democracies with governments that are held accountable.

But after the events of September 11, he noted, the tide began to turn against open societies. As a result, "repressive regimes are now in the ascendance and open societies are under siege," he said Tuesday. "Today, China and Russia present the greatest threat to open society."

Read more:

11:05 p.m. ET, May 24, 2022

Ukrainian special forces release video of military using foreign-made kamikaze drones

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

The Ukrainian military has for the first time released footage of special forces using foreign-made kamikaze drones targeting Russian positions. According to the Ukrainian military, the drone was equipped with a powerful explosive that caused damage to a Russian tank after it flew into it. 

"The combat use of kamikaze UAVs is a constant practice for SOF of Ukraine in the war with Russian invaders," the Ukrainian military said. "This is a good example of how the help of foreign partners together with the training and professionalism of our soldiers give positive results at the front."

The US sent 100 Switchblade drones to the Ukrainian military in April. The small, portable, so-called kamikaze drones carry warheads and detonate on impact. The smallest model can hit a target up to 6 miles (about 10 kilometers) away, according to a company that produces the drones.

Watch: