May 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

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Inside the trenches: CNN joins Ukraine's army on the front lines
03:52 - Source: CNN

What we covered

  • Russian forces are intensifying their bombardment of areas in eastern Ukraine still under Ukrainian control. Ukrainian officials in the east admit their defenses are outmanned and outgunned.
  • Multiple officials said the US is preparing to offer advanced, long-range rocket systems that are now the top request from Ukrainian officials. A larger package of US military assistance could be announced as soon as next week, they said.
  • Nine people were killed and 19 others injured in Kharkiv on Thursday amid “dense shelling” of residential areas, according to a Ukrainian military official.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine reflect “an obvious policy of genocide.”
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39 Posts

Zelensky says Russian action in Donbas is "an obvious policy of genocide"

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during his evening video message on Thursday May 26.

Russia’s intensified offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region reflects “an obvious policy of genocide,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Thursday.

“The current offensive of the occupiers in Donbas can make the region uninhabited,” Zelensky said. “They want to burn Popasna, Bakhmut, Lyman, Lysychansk and Severodonetsk to ashes. Like Volnovakha, like Mariupol.”

In cities closer to the Russian border like Donetsk and Luhansk, Russian forces “gather everyone they can to fill the place of those killed and wounded in the occupation contingent,” Zelensky said.

Zelensky said putting pressure on Russia “is literally a matter of saving lives” and that every delay, dispute or proposal to “appease” Russia leads to “new killed Ukrainians” and new threats to everyone on the continent.

9 killed, including baby, in "dense shelling" of Kharkiv residential areas

A damaged residential building is seen in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 26.

Nine people, including a five-month-old baby, were killed in Kharkiv on Thursday amid “dense shelling” on residential areas near the city center, according to Oleh Synyehubov, head of the Kharkiv region military administration.

Among those killed was “a family who was simply walking down the street — a man was holding his five-month-old baby in his hands, whom he died holding. (The) mother of this baby is severely wounded and is now in the hospital,” Synyehubov said.

He also described the artillery used, and said the targeting of residential areas in Ukraine’s second-largest city could only be for the purpose of “terrorizing” local residents.

“The enemy shelled with MLRS SMERCH and URAGAN and with artillery, modification of which is being established now by our military experts. According to the available data. the shelling was conducted from the North of the oblast, where our troops are holding their positions and slowly pushing the enemy away to the borders. This was a solely residential area, so the aim of this shelling could only be terrorizing the local residents,” he said.  

The official added that it was the Shevchenkivskyi and Kyivskyi districts of Kharkiv that were “densely shelled.” He said in addition to those killed, 19 were injured, among them a nine-year-old child.

“As of now our armed forces holding their positions firmly and there is no question about possible seizure of Kharkiv city,” he said.

US is preparing to approve long-range rocket systems as it becomes Ukraine's top request

In this file image from 2020, A US soldier sits at a Multiple Launch Rocket System after an artillery live fire event by the US Army Europe's 41st Field Artillery Brigade at the military training area in Grafenwoehr, Germany.

Ukraine’s most urgent need is for multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) to counter Russian superiority in heavy weaponry, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

The military situation in the eastern regions is “as dire as people say — even worse than people say,” Kuleba said Thursday in Twitter live Q and A from Poland.

The only response that would work, he said, was with “more heavy weapons. Without these, we won’t be able to push them back.”

He called Washington’s decision on this “crucial.”

CNN has learned that the Biden administration is preparing to step up the kind of weaponry it is offering Ukraine by sending advanced, long-range rocket systems as they become the top request from Ukrainian officials, according to multiple officials.

The administration is leaning toward sending the systems as part of a larger package of military and security assistance to Ukraine, which could be announced as soon as next week. 

In addition to the foreign minister, other senior Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, have pleaded in recent weeks for the US and its allies to provide the MLRS. The US-made weapon systems can fire a barrage of rockets hundreds of kilometers — much farther than any of the systems Ukraine already has — which the Ukrainians argue could be a gamechanger in their war against Russia.

Another system Ukraine has asked for is the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, known as HIMARS, a lighter wheeled system capable of firing many of the same types of ammunition as MLRS.

Russia has in recent weeks pummeled Ukraine in the east, where Ukraine is outmanned and outgunned, Ukrainian officials have said.

The Biden administration wavered for weeks, however, on whether to send the systems, amid concerns raised within the National Security Council that Ukraine could use the systems to carry out offensive attacks inside Russia, officials said.

The issue was at the top of the agenda at last week’s two meetings at the White House where deputy Cabinet members convened to discuss national security policy, officials said. At the heart of the matter was the same concern the administration has grappled with since the start of the war — whether sending increasingly heavy weaponry to Ukraine will be viewed by Russia as a provocation that could trigger some kind of retaliation against the US.  

Ukraine is already believed to have carried out numerous cross-border strikes inside Russia, which Ukrainian officials neither confirm nor deny. Russian officials have said publicly that any threat to their homeland would constitute a major escalation and have said that western countries are making themselves a legitimate target in the war by continuing to arm the Ukrainians. 

Another major concern inside the Biden administration had been whether the US could afford to give away so many high-end weapons drawn from the military’s stockpiles, the sources said. 

Read the full report here.

Russia is depopulating parts of eastern Ukraine, forcibly removing thousands into remote parts of Russia 

People gather at a tent camp at the Matveyev Kurgan border checkpoint after evacuating from Donetsk on February 19.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been processed through a series of Russian “filtration camps” in eastern Ukraine and sent into Russia as part of a systemized program of forced removal, according to four sources familiar with the latest Western intelligence — an estimate far higher than US officials have publicly disclosed.

After being detained in camps operated by Russian intelligence officials, many Ukrainians are then forcibly relocated to economically depressed areas in Russia, in some cases thousands of miles from their homes, and often left with no means of returning, sources said.

Although some Ukrainians have voluntarily entered filtration camps to try to escape the fighting by entering Russia, many have been picked up against their will at check points and in bomb shelters. After spending an average of around three weeks at the camps — where sources and eyewitnesses say they are held in inhuman conditions, interrogated and sometimes tortured — some are sent across the border into Russia and given state documentation. 

From checkpoints in Rostov and other Russian towns, many Ukrainians are then relocated to far-flung corners across Russia, the sources said. In some cases, Ukrainians have been sent to Sakhalin Island, a distant spit in the Pacific Ocean on Russia’s far east — 10,000 miles from the Ukrainian border. If they are fortunate, sources tell CNN, Russia will provide housing in residential areas and perhaps a Russian SIM card and a small amount of money.

Others are simply dropped off with nothing and expected to survive on their own. Still other Ukrainians are stuck in filtration camps inside Russia, close to their own homes, with no way to leave, other sources added.

Taken together, western intelligence reporting described by CNN sources offers new details that go beyond scattered eyewitness accounts from the region and paints a disturbing picture of a comprehensive resettlement process.

Claims of cultural genocide: It’s all part of Russia’s effort to cement political control over occupied areas, sources say — in part by eliminating Ukrainians believed to be sympathetic to Kyiv and in part by diminishing the Ukrainian national identity through depopulation and what some human rights activists term “cultural genocide.” It’s an indiscriminate system that Russia has employed before, notably during both Chechen wars.

Intelligence officials believe all Ukrainians entering Russia are being processed through these filtration camps. Top US diplomats have already publicly condemned the practice and said these actions constitute war crimes.

“Ukrainians do not necessarily have to be thrown on a back of a truck but many are put in a situation where they don’t have a choice: You get on the bus and go to filtration and then to Russia or you die in the shelling,” said Tanya Lokshina, Europe and Central Asia associate director for Human Rights Watch. “These are forced transfers forbidden under the laws of war.”

Russia’s Ministry of Defense did not respond to requests for comment.

It’s difficult to confirm precise numbers, and officially, Western estimates vary from tens of thousands to 1 million people. 

But even the more conservative estimates hint at a massive program of forced dislocation on a staggering scale. And even as US officials have publicly cited much lower numbers, the sources say that in reality, it’s clear that at least hundreds of thousands of people have been pushed through the camp system and sent to Russia.

Late last week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russian armed forces are “doing everything to prevent deaths among the civilian population. Since the beginning of the special military operation, more than 1.37 million people have been evacuated from the dangerous regions of the people’s republic, as well as from Ukraine to Russia.” 

Read the full story here.

Ukrainian military acknowledges modest loss of territory in Donetsk region

Destroyed houses are seen after Russian shelling in Donetsk region of Soledar, Ukraine, on Tuesday, May 24.

Ukraine’s armed forces have acknowledged that Russian forces have made further advances in Donetsk region — capturing one district within 10 miles (about 16 kilometers) of the important town of Bakhmut.

In an operational update Thursday, the armed forces’ general staff said that while several Russian efforts to advance had been thwarted, “in the directions of Pokrovsky and Klynove, the enemy has partial success, capturing the village of Midna Ruda.”

Midna Ruda is some 10 miles (about 16 kilometers) southeast of Bakhmut, which has come under heavier artillery fire in the last week. Bakhmut is on a key resupply route for Ukrainian units on the frontlines, which would potentially be cut off by further Russian advances. 

“In the Donetsk direction, the enemy is shelling our troops, launching missile strikes, conducting surveillance, and increasing air support,” the general staff said.

The general staff also said that other Russian efforts to push west towards the Donetsk region border had been repulsed. It said the Russians continued to bombard Ukrainian troops south of the town of Lyman, much of which fell into Russian hands Tuesday. Video Wednesday showed the Russian flag flying above the town’s municipal offices. 

According to the Ukrainians, Russian efforts to advance into Donetsk from the north continue to be frustrated. The front lines in the area have changed little in recent weeks. The general staff said that “with the support of artillery, the enemy carried out an offensive in the direction of the village of Bohorodychne, had no success, and retreated to previous positions.”

Further east, as Ukrainian forces cling onto defensive positions around Severodonetsk, the general staff said Russian forces had enjoyed “partial success” in making slight advances on the ground.

Meanwhile in the south: The general staff said that Russian units in the Zaporizhzhia region were being reinforced by Soviet-era T62 tanks, which appear to have been brought out of storage.

Separately, the Ukrainian military released video and quotes from soldiers operating the US M777 howitzers. They praise its accuracy and range, with one saying, “The enemy feels the effectiveness of our artillery every day and every hour. We are doing everything possible and impossible to surpress and eliminate the enemy and give our infantry a chance for a counter-offensive to liberate our territories.”

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, has said that the town of Lyman in Donetsk region has fallen to the Russians, “according to unverified reports.”

“The Russian army — this must be checked — captured it,” Arestovych told Ukrainian television. 

In a rare admission, Arestovych also said: “The way they captured it shows that there is still a talented commander who correctly organized the operation, which shows the increased level of operational control and tactical skill of the Russian army.”

CNN’s Kostan Nechyporenko contributed reporting to this post.

Russian and Italian leaders discussed Ukraine and food crisis, according to government statements 

A drone image shows a military vehicle in a grain field previously mined with explosives in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine on May 24.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi held a telephone call on Thursday and discussed the situation in Ukraine and the issue of global food security, according to readouts of the call from both the governments. 

The Italian readout released following the call said the discussion between the two leaders focused on the situation in Ukraine and “efforts to find a shared solution to the ongoing food crisis and its serious repercussions on the poorest countries in the world.” 

The Kremlin in its readout said that Putin emphasized that Moscow is ready to make a “significant contribution” to avoid the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizers, if the West lifts “politically motivated restrictions” on Russia. 

“Noting the groundlessness of accusations with the supply of agricultural products to world markets, Vladimir Putin drew attention to the fact that the difficulties that have arisen are related, among other things, to disruptions in the operation of production and logistics chains, as well as the financial policy of Western countries during the coronavirus pandemic. The situation was aggravated due to anti-Russian restrictions imposed by the United States and the European Union,” the Kremlin statement said. 

Putin also informed Draghi about the “ongoing work to establish a peaceful life in the liberated cities of Donbas,” the Kremlin said, adding the Russian leader also gave “fundamental assessments of the negotiation process frozen by Kyiv.”

“When discussing energy security issues, the intention of the Russian side to continue to ensure uninterrupted supplies of natural gas to Italy at prices fixed in contracts was confirmed,” it said. 

"No room for impunity" in prosecuting alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, Finland's Prime Minister says 

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, meets with Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday, May 26.

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin visited Kyiv — as well as the cities of Irpin and Bucha — Thursday and meet with local residents and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

She announced plans for additional support for Ukraine, including an increase in arms deliveries.

After hearing testimonies about alleged atrocities committed by Russian soldiers, Marin emphasized that Finland supports Ukraine and the International Criminal Court bringing the perpetrators to justice, according to a Finnish government statement, and that there will be “no room for impunity.”

During the visit, Marin strongly condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine, calling them “a blatant violation of the UN Charter and international law,” the statement said.

“It is important for the European Union to be united, bold and determined in the face of Russia’s invasion,” Marin stressed, adding that “it is important to create concrete steps for Ukraine to become an EU Member State.”

US energy secretary: Russia is "weaponizing energy" amid war in Ukraine

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm during a CNN interview at a General Electric wind turbine facility in New Orleans on May 24.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing sanctions from the West have sent oil prices skyrocketing, lifting gasoline and diesel prices in the United States to unprecedented levels. Natural gas prices also have climbed around the world.

After the West imposed tough penalties on Russia, Putin warned that “unfriendly” nationswould need to pay for crucial Russian shipments of natural gas in rubles instead of euros. Following payment disputes, Russia has turned off the flow gas to Finland, Bulgaria and Poland.

“I wouldn’t trust them,” US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told CNN in response to a question about whether Russia will ever again be considered a reliable energy supplier. “They have to prove they are a reliable partner and they’re certainly not doing that.”

“They are weaponizing energy, which is another reason why as a nation, we should move to energy sources that cannot be weaponized,” Granholm said while speaking from a General Electric wind turbine testing facility in New Orleans.

Of course, Russia could argue that the West is also weaponizing energy. The United States and other countries have banned imports of Russian oil, natural gas and coal, while Europe is debating similar steps.

Keep reading here.

World oil prices hit two-month high above $117 as Russia's war in Ukraine continues 

A driver unloads raw crude oil from his tanker on May 24 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Brent crude oil climbed on Thursday to the highest level since late March, signaling more pain for drivers filling up at the gas pump.

Brent, the world benchmark, jumped 2.8% to $117.25 a barrel in recent trading. Brent hit an intraday high of $117.39 a barrel, the highest since March 28. 

Investors are watching nervously as European officials attempt to reach an agreement on phasing out Russian oil, a step that would further scramble energy flows. 

“Oil prices keep grinding higher and it’s tough to see how that doesn’t continue if an oil embargo is put into place,” said Matt Smith, lead oil analyst for the Americas at data and analytics firm Kpler.

Oil prices remain significantly below the recent peak set in March during the initial shock after Russia invaded Ukraine. Brent topped out at $139.13 a barrel in early March, while US oil hit $130.50 a barrel. 

“We have an orderly march higher, rather than some panic-induced price spike,” Smith said. 

Gas prices are at record highs, though they have begun to level out. The US national average for regular gasoline edged higher on Thursday to a fresh record of $4.60 a gallon, according to AAA. That’s 30% more expensive than the day before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Russian forces have lost about 1,000 tanks in Ukraine so far, according to senior US defense official

Destroyed Russian main battle tanks and armored vehicles lay beside a road on May 25 in Irpin, Ukraine. 

Russian forces have lost “nearly about 1,000 tanks” and “well over 350 artillery pieces,” as well as “almost three dozen fighter bomber fixed-wing aircraft and more than 50 helicopters” so far in the ongoing war in Ukraine, a senior US defense official told reporters Thursday.

Still, with all of that loss, the US assesses that Russians “still have the … majority of their capability left to them,” the official added. “They have invested an awful lot of their hardware and their personnel in this fight, and the Ukrainians have suffered losses, the Russians have suffered losses.”

“Russians do have a superiority here in terms of number of assets they can apply to this fight in terms of people, and equipment and weapons, and we just have to bear that in mind,” the official added.

US official: Russian forces have made "some incremental gains" in their push towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk

A man is seen inside his damaged apartment after a missile strike at a nearby abandoned building in the city of Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, on May 26.

There are now 110 operational Russian battalion tactical groups (BTGs) inside of Ukraine, which is an increase from 97 BTGs the US assessed were inside of Ukraine as of May 9, a senior US defense official told reporters Thursday. That is an increase of about 13 BTGs in about two and a half weeks. 

“The largest contingent remains in the south. But the western grouping, the central grouping and the eastern grouping each have roughly the same number of BTGs inside Ukraine,” the official said.

Russian forces have made “some incremental gains” in their push towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the official added, “not a lot but some incremental gains.”

Around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, the US assesses that Ukrainians have “continued to push Russian forces further away” in a range of “a few kilometers to more than 10 kilometers within the Russian border,” the official said, “so no major change there.”

Meanwhile, 85 of the M-777 howitzers that the US has provided to Ukraine over the course of the last three military assistance packages are “forward,” meaning they are being used on the frontlines of the war, the official told reporters Thursday. 

Out of the 209,000 155 mm projectiles that were promised to Ukraine from the US, 190,000 of them have been transferred to Ukraine, the official added. 

Nine of the 11 total Mi-17 helicopters the US promised to Ukraine have been transferred to Ukraine. The last two helicopters will arrive either “later this month or very early in June,” the official said.

US and NATO allies continue to train Ukrainian soldiers on US and NATO weapons systems outside of Ukraine, the official added. 419 Ukrainians soldiers have completed M-777 howitzer training, about 30 Ukrainians have completed the basic howitzer maintenance course, and another 17 have completed the more advanced 14-day maintainer course for the Howitzer systems, the official continued.

About 20 Ukrainian soldiers are completing the second iteration of the training on the Phoenix Ghost Unmanned Aerial Systems, or drones, that the US provided to Ukraine, the official added. 

The US is “also helping facilitate training” for Ukrainians on coastal defense missiles now that Denmark has agreed to contribute Harpoon launchers and vehicles to Ukraine, the official said.

“Some training that needs to be done on how to use the Harpoon was not designed for coastal defense, it was designed for anti-ship warfare, ship-to-ship warfare, so this is a relatively new application of the missile, and therefore we know they’re going to need a little bit of training on that,” the official said.

Zelensky slams peace proposals that "appease" Russia 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed peace proposals that would “appease” Russia in a speech Thursday to the parliament of Latvia. 

“There are people — and many of them among the powerful of this world — who believe that not all nations matter, who believe that a nation can simply be forgotten to try to keep peace,” Zelensky said. “Even the temporary peace, even the illusory one. Even peace at the cost of tens of thousands killed, hundreds of thousands deported, or millions deprived of their homeland. They are OK with that. Peace at the cost of the lives of others. But this should not be normal.”

Zelensky’s remarks follow remarks from former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who appeared to suggest at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that peace negotiations should be aimed at “status quo ante” boundaries that preceded the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 — in essence, conceding Crimea and parts of the Donbas to Russia. It also comes amid reports that Italy has concocted its own embryonic peace plan.

“Now we hear again that Russia should be given what it wants,” Zelensky said. “That supposedly it is necessary to accept that some nations may be deprived of part of their foreign policy rights, because certain — as they say — ‘historical force’ wants it. There are quite serious talks about drawing some dividing lines along the body of a sovereign state in order to allegedly ‘appease’ the aggressor. And allegedly concessions, concessions and concessions again are needed — of course, at the expense of the state, which was attacked, so that the aggressor allegedly mercifully stops.” 

In his remarks to the Latvian parliament, the Ukrainian president urged additional sanctions on Russia, particularly on its powerful energy sector exports. 

“It is necessary not only to finally agree on the sixth sanctions package against the Russian Federation, including the embargo on oil, oil blends and petroleum products,” he said. “But also prepare the seventh sanctions package, with even more powerful restrictions on Russia for terror against Ukraine. Just like Latvia, the whole of Europe must restrict Russia’s energy weapons. Fully.”

China's support of Putin "should raise alarm bells," US secretary of state says

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about US policy towards China during an event hosted by the Asia Society Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington, DC, on May 26.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed China for defending Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, saying that defense “should raise alarm bells for all of us who call the Indo-Pacific region home.”

“Even while Russia was clearly mobilizing to invade Ukraine, President Xi and President Putin declared that the friendship between their countries was, and I quote, ‘without limits,’” Blinken said in a speech on the Biden administration’s policy towards China at George Washington University.

He emphasized that the US is not seeking a conflict or a new Cold War with China.

“Our task is to prove once again, that democracy can meet urgent challenges, create opportunity, advance human dignity, that the future belongs to those who believe in freedom and that all countries will be free to chart their own paths without coercion,” said Blinken. “We are not looking for conflict or a new Cold War. To the contrary, we’re determined to avoid both.”

“Even as President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order – and that’s posed by the People’s Republic of China,” he added. 

Grain shortage caused by war now having "significant impact" in some African countries, US general nominee says

Grain shortages around the world caused by the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine are “being felt on the African continent,” the nominee to be the next top US general overseeing the US military presence in Europe, Gen. Christopher Cavoli, told lawmakers Thursday.

Cavoli, who currently serves as commander of US Army Europe-Africa, said he saw the impacts of the grain shortage on a recent trip to Kenya.

“There was a significant impact there already. We know that in other countries such as Tunisia, the prices have skyrocketed for basic foodstuffs. So there is food insecurity in Africa that is being provoked by the shortage of grain,” Cavoli said.

While the shortage is being experienced in Africa, this will “largely be a European concern, because of the close connection between African security issues and European security issues,” he added.

Some countries, like Germany and Romania, are already starting to try to alleviate the problem, Cavoli said. 

Romania has “made the port at Constanța available,” Cavoli said, but that port will only allow “about 90,000 tons” of grain a day through, while there’s about 22 million tons of grain backed up, he added.

The German national railroad agency, Deutsche Bahn, also recently announced a new plan called the Berlin train lift to “dedicate trains to pulling wheat right out of Ukraine into western Europe,” Cavoli said.

“Poland has established a new border crossing regime with Germany to facilitate that. So I think some efforts are taking place, much more remains to be done, senator,” he told lawmakers. 

He also addressed the NATO bids of Finland and Sweden, saying they will bring “quite a lot of capability and capacity” to the alliance if they join.

Cavoli is nominated to succeed the current US European Command Commander Gen. Tod Wolters.