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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1:23 p.m. ET, May 29, 2022

Zelensky visits Kharkiv's front line, in northeast Ukraine

From CNN's Victoria Butenko in Kyiv and Bex Wright in Hong Kong

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Sunday, May 29, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walks with his staff as he visits the war-hit Kharkiv region. 
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Sunday, May 29, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walks with his staff as he visits the war-hit Kharkiv region.  (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the "front line positions" of the Ukrainian military and met with soldiers during a trip to the Kharkiv region, his office announced on Sunday.

"I want to thank each of you for your service. You risk your life for all of us and our state. Thank you for defending Ukraine's independence. Take care of yourself," he said.

During the visit, Zelensky got an operational update on the situation there, and visited destroyed administrative and residential buildings in the city.

He also chaired a meeting with regional officials, including military leaders and the Kharkiv mayor.

The head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, Oleg Synegubov, said that 31% of the region's territory is currently occupied, and 5% has been "liberated" back into Ukrainian hands.

"We are not yet able to fully inspect some of the liberated settlements, conduct full-fledged demining and begin rebuilding critical infrastructure, as shelling continues. Where we can do it remotely, we do it," Synegubov said.

Synegubov added that 2,229 high-rise buildings have been damaged in Kharkiv, including 225 which were completely destroyed. In the northern and eastern districts of Kharkiv, 30.2% of the total housing stock has been damaged or destroyed.

Zelensky discussed plans for reconstructing the city, by building modern housing equipped with bomb shelters.                                                     

"We have to find funds, credit lines. The state must ensure this in terms of guarantees, and the leaders of cities and regions must find great projects and money," Zelensky said.

9:47 a.m. ET, May 29, 2022

Around 400 cars carrying evacuees from southern Ukraine held at Russian checkpoint

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Bex Wright in Hong Kong

Around 400 vehicles carrying evacuees from southern Ukraine have been held at a Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka for the past two or three days, Ukrainian broadcaster Suspilne reported Sunday.

The cars are carrying many families with children and small babies, according to the broadcaster. The vehicles came mostly from the cities of Kherson, Mariupol, and Berdiansk.

Vasylivka is the biggest Russian-controlled checkpoint that evacuees must pass to Ukrainian-controlled territory. It is located in southern Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region.

Oleksandr Staruh, the head of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia region military administration, said Russian forces "periodically close" the crossing, leaving families trapped there, "waiting in horrible conditions." 

Berdiansk had seen an influx of residents from Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city subject to months of intense bombardment before falling to Russian forces. Now, however, many families are trying to head further west because conditions in Berdiansk "have deteriorated," Staruh said.

9:39 a.m. ET, May 29, 2022

Turkey's President says talks with Sweden and Finland on NATO bids did not happen "at the desired level"

From Yusuf Gezer in Istanbul

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a ceremony in Ankara, Turkey on May 16.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a ceremony in Ankara, Turkey on May 16. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that talks last week with Sweden and Finland regarding their NATO membership did not happen "at the desired level."

"Unfortunately, the talks held by our delegation with Finland and Sweden were not at the desired level," Erdogan said while speaking to reporters on his plane following a trip to Azerbaijan, according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency. 

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, said on Friday after meeting with Swedish and Finnish delegations that Turkey is "not under time pressure to solve this issue until that summit."

"We are determined to ensure that the process moves forward on a solid basis and that it progresses depending on the steps taken to meet Turkey's security concerns," Kalin said.

Some background: Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO earlier this month, driven by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The decision represents a setback for Moscow, with the war in Ukraine triggering the kind of enlargement of the alliance that it invaded Ukraine to prevent.

Accession of new states, however, requires consensus among existing members -- and that's where Ankara comes in.

Turkey, which joined the alliance three years after it was established in 1949 and has the group's second largest army, has said it won't support the bids unless its demands are met.

Erdogan accused the two countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan's Workers Party, also known as PKK. The PKK, which seeks an independent state in Turkey, has been in an armed struggle with that country for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Erdogan has repeatedly asserted that both countries are effectively supporting terrorists.

"We cannot say 'yes' to the countries supporting terrorism to join NATO," Erdogan said in remarks published by the Turkish government.

Erdogan to speak with Putin and Zelensky on Monday: Meanwhile, the Turkish government said Erdogan will hold separate phone calls with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts on Monday to encourage the parties to maintain channels of dialogue and diplomacy to bring peace to Ukraine.

"I will have phone calls with both Russia and Ukraine on Monday. We will continue to encourage the parties to use the channels of dialogue and diplomacy," Erdogan told reporters.

7:30 a.m. ET, May 29, 2022

It's 2:30 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Ukrainian forces are in a "tough defensive position" in Severodonetsk, as intense fighting continues around the outskirts of the Luhansk city -- the last major Ukrainian stronghold in the region. Russian troops are attempting to take control of Ukraine's east.

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

  • Non-stop assaults in Severodonetsk: The eastern Ukrainian city is being hammered with heavy shelling as Russian forces try to encircle it, with the head of the Luhansk region military administration saying on Sunday that the situation grows "even more difficult." Serhiy Hayday said in a statement that 60 houses were destroyed in the region, and two people were found dead in the rubble. Separately, in an operational update on Sunday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russia "carried out assault operations in the area of ​​the city of Severodonetsk" where "the fighting continues." On Saturday, the head of the civil military administration in Severodonetsk said Ukrainian forces were in a "tough defensive position" as fighting raged on the outskirts of the city.
  • Russian ambassador dismisses war crime accusations: Allegations of war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha are a "fabrication," Russia's ambassador to the United Kingdom claimed on Sunday. Andrei Kelin made the comments during an interview on the BBC’s "Sunday Morning" program and denied that Russian forces were shelling civilians. Russia's month-long occupation of Bucha and other districts around Kyiv resulted in hundreds of deaths, with its troops retreating in late March after failing to encircle the capital.
  • "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.

7:19 a.m. ET, May 29, 2022

Russian ambassador to the UK says war crime allegations are "fabrications"

From CNN's Manveena Suri in New Delhi

Russia's ambassador to the United Kingdom Andrei Kelin speaks during an interview in London, on February 21.
Russia's ambassador to the United Kingdom Andrei Kelin speaks during an interview in London, on February 21. (Aaron Chown/PA Images/Getty Images)

Allegations of war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha are a "fabrication," Russia's ambassador to the United Kingdom claimed on Sunday.

Andrei Kelin made the comments during an interview on the BBC’s "Sunday Morning" program and denied that Russian forces were shelling civilians.

"The mayor of Bucha in his initial statement confirmed that Russian troops have left, everything is clean and calm, the town in a normal state. Nothing is happening, no bodies are on the street,” Kelin said. 

Russia's month-long occupation of Bucha and other districts around Kyiv resulted in hundreds of deaths, with its troops retreating in late March after failing to encircle the capital.

Moscow has refused to accept responsibility for the atrocities, repeatedly claiming that the reports of indiscriminate killings, mass graves, disappearances and looting are false.

When pressed whether the evidence was made up, Kelin replied: "In our view it is a fabrication. It is used just to interrupt negotiations."

Maintaining that Russia’s invasion was a "limited operation" and not a war, Kelin said: "I can assure you that it is not our idea to kill civilians."

He added the Russian military was only targeting military infrastructure in order to "diminish Ukrainian capabilities."

Kelin continued saying he does not believe Russia will use tactical nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine.

Russia has very strict provisions for their use, according to Kelin, adding they are used "mainly when the existence of the state is in danger."

"It has nothing to do with the current operation," he said.

5:07 a.m. ET, May 29, 2022

"The enemy keeps assaulting" in Severodonetsk, says Ukrainian official

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Bex Wright in Hong Kong

Smoke rises in the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine as it receives heavy shelling on Saturday May 28.
Smoke rises in the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine as it receives heavy shelling on Saturday May 28. (Rick Mave/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Fighting is continuing in the Severodonetsk area in eastern Ukraine, where the situation is "even more difficult" and "the enemy keeps assaulting," the head of the Luhansk region military administration said Sunday.

Serhiy Hayday said in a statement that 60 houses were destroyed in the region, and two people were found dead in the rubble.

He said one of the victims was a girl who died when a Russian shell hit a high-rise building in Lysychansk on Saturday, in a strike that injured four others. A cinema and 22 houses were also damaged in an air strike.

Separately, in an operational update on Sunday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russia "carried out assault operations in the area of ​​the city of Severodonetsk" where "the fighting continues."

In Sloviansk, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the west, Russia carried out "intensive reconnaissance" on the city, and on the outskirts, conducted air strikes on Dovhenke area, and also artillery shelling of civilian infrastructure in nearby Bohorodychne and Sviatohirsk, the Ukrainian army statement said.

Elsewhere, the military reported new Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure in towns and villages between Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, and the Russian border. Ruski Tyshky, Petrivka and Ternova, were among the locations hit. The Russian army has also been conducting remote mining in those areas, according to the statement.

Several settlements close to the Black Sea coast in the south of Ukraine also suffered fire damage on civilian infrastructure, including Lymany, Stepova Dolyna, Luch, Partyzany, Chervony Yar, and Trudoliubivka.

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.