May 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Nectar Gan, Andrew Raine, Joshua Berlinger, Hannah Ryan and Kathryn Snowdon, CNN

Updated 0411 GMT (1211 HKT) May 30, 2022
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3:58 a.m. ET, May 29, 2022

What life is like in Severodonetsk, as Russian forces attempt to capture the city

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Sloviansk, Ukraine

Severodonetsk is in Putin's crosshairs.

The eastern Ukrainian city is being hammered with constant shelling. There's only one bridge in and out of the city, and almost anything that moves is being shelled.

Severodonetsk is the last major city held by Ukrainian forces in Luhansk, in the eastern Donbas region. Russian forces are trying to encircle the defenders of the city this weekend, with troops advancing in several directions around a pocket of Ukrainian-held territory.

Here is the latest from on the ground:

3:36 a.m. ET, May 29, 2022

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

Smoke and dirt rise from Severodonetsk during shelling in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on May 26.
Smoke and dirt rise from Severodonetsk during shelling in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on May 26. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian military is trying to encircle Ukrainian forces in the Luhansk city of Severodonetsk -- the last major Ukrainian stronghold in the region -- as Moscow's troops press their offensive in the east of the country.

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

  • "Tough defensive position": Constant Russian shelling is pounding Severodonetsk and fighting is raging on the outskirts of the city, according to Ukrainian reports. Oleksandr Striuk, the Ukrainian head of the regional civil military administration, said on national television that Ukrainian forces are in a "tough defensive position" in the city and that some of the most intense fighting is concentrated around the Mir Hotel. "A real battle can be heard in the main bus station area," he said.
  • "No talks" on referendum: 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 the area and the nearby regions of Odesa and Mykolaiv. Kirill Stremousov said Saturday that currently there are "are no talks about a referendum," but that "we'll announce later when some kind of vote or plebiscite is taking place." Ukrainian officials previously warned that Russian-installed administrators were readying a sham vote. 
  • Zelensky defiant: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Saturday that his country will "take everything back" from Russia. "This is an imperative," Zelensky 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." However, he acknowledged that the situation in the Donbas remains difficult, especially in the areas of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Bakhmut and Popasna.
  • Putin scraps age limit: 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.
  • "Loot" metal: Ukraine on Saturday criticized Russia for sending a ship to the captured city of Mariupol to load a shipment of metal bound for Russia. The Ukrainian parliament's commissioner for human rights Liudmyla Denisova said the Russians were "sending 3,000 tons of metal products by the first ship from Mariupol to Rostov-on-Don (in Russia)." She added that "for more convenient removal of the loot, the occupiers have begun to restore railway connections in Mariupol and Volnovakha."
  • Shelling in Mykolaiv: 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) from Kherson, which has been under Russian control since the early days of the invasion.
11:57 p.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Russian appointed Kherson official says referendum on joining Russia won't be held until fighting ceases

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London

Russian troops guard an entrance of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in Kherson Oblast on May 20.
Russian troops guard an entrance of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in Kherson Oblast on May 20. (AP)

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.

11:57 p.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Ukraine condemns arrival of Russian vessel in Mariupol port to load metal

From CNN's Nathan Hodge

Ukraine on Saturday criticised 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 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," Denisova added.

Russian state news agency TASS reported Saturday that a Russian ship had 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.

11:57 p.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Severodonetsk military chief says Ukraine's forces are in "tough defensive position"

From CNN's Julia Presniakova and Nathan Hodge

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."

12:17 a.m. ET, May 29, 2022

Zelensky vows that Ukraine will "take everything back" from Russia

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Hira Humayun

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Volodymyr Zelensky/Youtube)

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. 

11:57 p.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Women's basketball association calls for release of Brittney Griner on 100th day of her detention in Russia

From CNN’s Matt Foster

Basketball star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February.
Basketball star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) on Saturday released a statement calling for 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.

11:57 p.m. ET, May 28, 2022

Putin signs law scrapping upper age limit to enlist in Russian military, says Russian state media

From CNN's Manveena Suri in New Delhi

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to watch the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in Moscow on May 9.
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to watch the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in Moscow on May 9. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images/File)

Russian President Vladimir Putin 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.

The changes were drafted by the head of the State Duma Defense Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, and his first deputy, Andrei Krasov. According to TASS, they believe the abolition of an upper age limit will attract specialists in areas such as medical support, engineering and communications.

The explanatory note to the draft law also notes that the use of high-precision weapons and military equipment requires specialists and they gain the experience by the age of 40 to 45.

The changes in law come amid serious Russian casualties in Ukraine, where Moscow is waging what it euphemistically calls a "special military operation."

Russia also has a system of military conscription. The Kremlin initially said draftees would not serve in Ukraine but subsequently acknowledged they were serving in combat

11:57 p.m. ET, May 28, 2022

1 dead in Mykolaiv shelling, according to Ukrainian regional administration

From CNN's Nathan Hodge

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."