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The deputy head of the Russian appointed administration in occupied Kherson says the region won't hold a referendum on formally joining Russia until fighting ceases in Kherson and the nearby regions of Odesa and Mykolaiv.
Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Kherson Military Civilian Administration, told Reuters Saturday that currently there are "are no talks about a referendum."
"We'll announce later when some kind of vote or plebiscite is taking place, but it won’t be today, and it won’t be tomorrow because our first task is to restore order and organize a system of administration in the Kherson region," Stremousov added.
Ukrainian officials previously warned that Russian forces and Russian-installed administrators were readying a sham referendum that would mirror similar Russian efforts in the Donbas to create separatist republics in 2014.
The region in southern Ukraine has been under Russian control since the beginning of the invasion in late February. More than a dozen people spoke to CNN earlier this month about their terrifying journeys out of the occupied region, painting a vivid picture of the culture of fear that exists there now.
While referendum plans appear to have been scaled back, Stremousov recently said pro-Moscow authorities of Kherson would request a Russian military base. He also said the Russian backed administration is pressing ahead with plans to set up a new “banking system” that will be “fully integrated” into the Russian system.
Ukraine on Saturday condemned Russia for sending a ship to the captured Ukrainian city of Mariupol to load a shipment of metal bound for Russia.
The Ukrainian parliament's commissioner for human rights Liudmyla Denisova said in a statement that the Russians were "sending 3,000 tons of metal products by the first ship from Mariupol to Rostov-on-Don (in Russia). In addition, for more convenient removal of the loot, the occupiers have begun to restore railway connections in Mariupol and Volnovakha."
Russian state news agency TASS reported Saturday that a Russian ship entered the seaport of Mariupol. It quoted a representative of the port administration as saying the vessel would load 2,700 tons of metal and depart for Rostov-on-Don on Monday.
Denisova claimed that the Mariupol port housed about 200,000 tons of metal and cast iron worth $170 million prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Oleksandr Striuk, the head of the civil military administration in the embattled Ukrainian industrial city of Severodonetsk, said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were in a "tough defensive position" as fighting raged on the outskirts of the city.
In remarks on national television, Striuk said some of the most intense fighting was concentrated around the Mir Hotel on the outskirts of the city.
"A real battle can be heard in the main bus station area," he said. "Our military is in a tough defensive position. The city is being constantly shelled. The humanitarian headquarters that is located in the city was practically immobilized today, because it is not safe to move around the city, and the work of the headquarters was suspended."
Striuk described a dire situation, saying there were no mobile telephone communications and that electricity has been cut. His comments come just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Saturday that the time until Ukraine is liberated “grows shorter” every day, and that it is “just a matter of time” before Ukraine takes back Russian gains.
"We supplied water to the city with the help of electricity, pumping stations," he said. "The water that is available is from open wells with generators. There are about six or seven wells in the city. It is extremely dangerous, as soon as people gather for water, shelling begins there."
Striuk, however, expressed some confidence the city would be able to hold out with some limited supplies delivered over the road.
There are still opportunities for reaching the city," he said. "There are opportunities for delivery of minimum loads. This is extremely difficult, but still possible.
"The evacuation is very unsafe, few people, priority for the wounded. Only an initial level of medical care is available in the city."
In a statement, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine claimed Russian forces had suffered losses and retreated to some previously occupied positions in the direction of Severodonetsk, but added that the Russians were continuing to conduct reconnaissance of the area to identify and strike elements of the Ukrainian armed forces.
Fedir Venislavskyi, a member of the Ukrainian parliament's Committee for National Security, Defense and Intelligence, said the next few days "will be decisive" in the battle for Severodonetsk.
"Our forces pushed the enemy back to the positions he had previously held," he said. "But we must understand that Russian troops are practically on the outskirts of Severodonetsk."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Saturday that the time until Ukraine is liberated “grows shorter” every day, and that it is “just a matter of time” before Ukraine takes back Russian gains.
“Ukraine will take everything back [from Russia]. This is an imperative,” he said, “And it's just a matter of time. Every day at this same time, the time until liberation grows shorter. Everything we do is for this.”
Zelensky said the situation in the Donbas remains difficult, especially in the areas of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Bakhmut and Popasna.
“Above all, in terms of weapons supply, every day we are getting closer to outnumbering our enemy,” the Ukrainian president claimed.
He added: “We will dominate the occupiers with technological and conventional striking power. A lot depends on our partners. They are ready to provide Ukraine with everything necessary to defend freedom. So I expect good news on this already, next week.”
Zelensky said Russian forces inflicted “barbaric blows” on the Sumy region using rockets and mortars. He also referenced Saturday’s Russian attack on Mykolaiv, which struck a residential area 20 meters from a kindergarten, killing one person and wounding seven others.
“Such was the target that the Russian Federation chose. Over and over [such actions] will remind the world that Russia must finally be officially recognized as a terrorist state, a state sponsor of terrorism,” Zelensky said.
He said Russian forces are preventing Ukrainians from evacuating the Kherson region.
“Those who are confident in their position would certainly not make such decisions. This is clearly a sign of weakness. What it shows is that they have nothing to offer the people, and the people do not want to take anything from them. So, they resort to taking people hostage,” Zelensky said.
The Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) on Saturday released a statement calling for action regarding the release of Brittney Griner and for Griner’s wife to be granted a meeting with US President Joe Biden.
Saturday marks 100 days since Griner was detained in Russia.
Earlier this month, a Russian court extended the WNBA star’s pretrial detention until at least June following her arrest in February. Russian authorities claim Griner had cannabis oil in her luggage, and she has been accused of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance – an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The statement in a series of tweets from the WNBPA reads: “Brittney Griner is our teammate, our friend, and our sister. She is a record-breaker, a gold medalist, a wife, a daughter, a champion, a role model, an all-star, and so much more."
“Right now, BG is an American citizen who has been wrongfully detained in Russia for 100 days. That’s 144,000 minutes," it added.
The statement went on to call for action from professional and amateur athletes alike, as well as the media and others.
“To our sisters, brothers and colleagues in professional sports: sign the petition, hold your own media blackouts, please. Help us reach the White House. To athletes of any age, ability level, team, sport, or country: this is OUR teammate. A member of OUR global sports community, we need to stand up and stand together to call for her release. Speak up, speak out, and do not stop until BG is home," it said.
The statement said Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, should meet with Biden.
“Her person, our sister has been wrongfully detained for 100 days. You’ve heard our pleas. You have heard BG’s wife Cherelle’s pleas. And now more than ever, we need you to stand with us, and get her person home,” it said.
Cherelle Griner earlier on Saturday posted on her Instagram pleading for action from Biden.
As Russia pummels the eastern city of Severodonetsk with heavy shelling, authorities are moving to evacuate the remaining neediest civilians of neighboring Lysychansk.
For 74-year-old Ekaterina, it is almost unimaginable that she is leaving her home, a one-room apartment she shares with her husband.
"I didn't collect any of my things. I don't know where I will live. It's better they kill me," she said, crying, via translated remarks. "You know, I have nowhere to hide. We have one room. I lie opposite the shelling. In the last minute, I thought if I'm going to suffer like this, better they kill me."
After she and her husband get into authorities' vehicle, she asks, "when is this grief going to end?"
Elsewhere in Lysychansk, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh met a large family with young children that is staying put, despite the shelling. Children play on swings outside as blasts can be heard in the background. They cook on an outdoor stove and spend nights in their basement.
Many people in the Luhansk region have ties to Russia, with relatives in both countries.
"I don't understand this war," one older man told Paton Walsh.
At a cemetery in the city, there are three types of mass graves: In one, dirt has been poured upon the bodies of an estimated 160 people whose families cannot bury them yet; in another, white body bags have the names of the dead collected daily written on them; and the third is empty in preparation for even more dead.
Watch CNN's reporting here:
At least one person is dead after shelling in the southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv, the regional state administration said Saturday.
Mykolaiv is under Ukrainian government control, but is not far from the front lines of fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces. It is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) away from Kherson, which has been under Russian control since the early days of the invasion.
"On Saturday morning, May 28, occupying troops of Russia once again fired at the city of Mykolaiv," according to a statement. "And again the blow fell on residential areas. One person died on the spot. At least 6 civilians are also known to be injured."
The statement said at least two rounds landed in the courtyards of residential high-rises, damaging several buildings.
"Mykolayiv city was shelled again this morning," according to a previous statement. "The Russians hit the yard of a residential area, 20 meters away from a kindergarten. There are injured people due to the shelling."
Russian forces are seeking to encircle the defenders of the Luhansk city of Severodonetsk -- the last major Ukrainian stronghold in the region -- as Moscow's troops continue to press their offensive in the east of the country while outnumbered Ukrainian forces attempt to hold them off.
Here's the latest on Russia's war in Ukraine:
- Ukrainian military says Severodonetsk "not cut off:" Serhiy Hayday, the head of Luhansk's regional military administration, said on Saturday the key eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk was "not cut off," as Russian troops press a concerted offensive in the Luhansk region. Hayday said intense Russian shelling was underway in Severodonetsk, an industrial center which is the last major stronghold of Ukrainian control in Luhansk. Ukrainian forces are fighting to stave off an apparent effort by Russian forces to encircle the defenders of Severodonetsk, while Russian troops make advances from several directions.
- France and Germany's leaders urge Putin to agree to a ceasefire: The leaders of Germany and France held a phone call with Vladimir Putin on Saturday, in which they pressed the Russian President to agree to an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and withdraw Russia's troops from the country, German officials said. A statement from the French presidential office, the Elysee Palace, said: "Any solution to the war must be negotiated between Moscow and Kyiv." The two leaders also urged Putin to lift the blockade of Odesa to allow the export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea in order to avoid a world food crisis, according to the statement.
- Putin signs law scrapping upper age limit to enlist in Russian military: The Russian President has signed a law scrapping the upper age limit for Russians and foreigners to join the military as contract service members, according to Russian state news agency TASS. Russia’s State Duma passed the bill on Wednesday but Putin's signature was needed for it to become law. Previously, citizens aged 18 to 40 and foreigners aged 18 to 30 could enlist in the Russian military.
- Zelensky and UK PM discuss global food crisis: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke by phone on Saturday morning to discuss several issues related to the war in Ukraine, Zelensky tweeted. Among the matters the two discussed was the growing global food supply crisis, which has been exacerbated by Russia's blockade of Ukrainian ports. Zelensky said Friday that some 22 million tons of grain meant for export were sitting in silos, as Russia is blocking export routes through the Black Sea and Azov Sea.
- Kharkiv district shelled, says regional official: Russian forces have shelled a district of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, the regional military governor said in a statement Saturday. Oleh Syniehubov, head of Kharkiv regional military administration, said the Kyiv district of Kharkiv city had been subjected to Russian shelling over the past 24 hours, and that several shells hit the suburb of Mala Danylivka overnight -- with no casualties. A 65-year-old woman was killed by Russian fire in the village of Slatyne, he added. Ukrainian troops have in recent weeks pushed back Russian forces from around Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. But it has remained in range of some Russian weaponry.