May 31, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Andrew Raine, Jack Guy, Hannah Ryan, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, June 1, 2022
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9:31 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Taiwan to donate $6 million to five Ukrainian cities, according to ministry of foreign affairs

From CNN’s Wayne Chang in Taipei

Taiwan announced Tuesday it will donate $6 million to five Ukrainian cities affected by Russia’s invasion – including Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city – as a token of support and to help rebuild schools and civilian infrastructure, according to a statement from its foreign ministry.

In a phone call with Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Taipei will donate $2 million to Kharkiv and an additional $500,000 each to Chernihiv, Mykolaiv, Sumy and Zaporizhzhia.    

“The people of Taiwan empathizes and stands with the people of Ukraine, as we have long faced the threats from China,” Wu said to Terekhov. “We hope our help in rebuilding severely destructed civilian infrastructure can alleviate impact brought on to the Ukrainian people by the war.”  

According to the statement, Terekhov expressed his gratitude and said he looks forward to inviting Wu to Kharkiv after the war.

The phone call with Kharkiv’s mayor follows a call with Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko in April, where Taipei announced a donation of $8.8 million to Ukraine.  

Taiwan does not have official diplomatic relations with Ukraine.  

Last Friday, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it had finished transporting 582 tons of aid and supplies to the Ukrainian people.  

9:18 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Several southern cities of Ukraine are in a "complete information blockade," officials say

From CNN's Julia Presniakova, Bex Wright and Ukrainian journalists

A “complete information blockade” is being imposed in several Russian-held cities of southern Ukraine, and Russian troops are now selling SIM cards to residents, Ukrainian officials said Tuesday.

“There is no internet and no mobile connection in Kherson region for almost 24 hours,” according to Hennadii Lahuta, the head of Kherson's regional military administration. “The occupiers are selling Russian SIM cards in the city. You need to provide your passport data in order to purchase a SIM card. I urge you not to do so and not to provide your personal data to the occupiers.”

Lahuta said loudspeakers in Kherson are telling residents that the Ukrainian authorities are to blame for the lack of communication, but he denied that, saying, “Ukraine is doing everything possible to bring mobile communication and the internet back to the Kherson region.”

Separately, the Ukrainian press center Ukrinform said that Ihor Kolykhaiev, the mayor of Kherson, didn't get in touch today despite a planned online briefing at 1 p.m. local time. The press center said it will try to reconnect with him on Wednesday.

The Ukrainian military’s Operational Command South said fighting and shelling continue in the entire Kherson region.

"Many settlements are without electricity, water and gas supply. The region is in need of medicine and humanitarian aid,” it said.

Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported Tuesday that the Kherson region will become part of the Russian Federation in the near future, according to the Russian-appointed local official Kirill Stremousov.

RIA-Melitopol, a Ukrainian news website, also reported that Stremousov said the Russian ruble has been put into full circulation as currency in Kherson as of Monday, along with the Ukrainian hryvnia.

To the east of Kherson in the Russian-held city of Melitopol, Russia has “made another complete information blockade,” said Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol.

“Today, the Internet and communication of Ukrainian mobile operators are completely disconnected,” Federov said. “It is impossible to contact relatives and friends, only the way is an unknown Russian operator. Queues for (SIM) cards for 100-200 people.”

In the Zaporizhzhia region, which includes Melitopol, three out of the five districts are without communications, according to Oleksandr Staruh, head of the regional military administration.

7:49 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Two Russian soldiers sentenced to 11.5 years in prison for "violating the laws of war" in Ukraine

From CNN's Bex Wright

Russian soldiers Alexander Ivanov and Alexander Bobykin, center, in the courtroom after their trial hearing in Kotelva, Ukraine, on May 26.
Russian soldiers Alexander Ivanov and Alexander Bobykin, center, in the courtroom after their trial hearing in Kotelva, Ukraine, on May 26. (Bernat Armangue/AP)

Two Russian soldiers were sentenced at a Ukrainian court to 11.5 years in jail on Tuesday for "violating the laws of war."

Oleksandr Bobykin and Oleksandr Ivanov pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.

"The court found no evidence of coercion. The defendants pleaded guilty. The court ruled that their guilt has been fully proven," said the court in an online livestream of the hearing at the Kotelevsky district court in the Poltava region Tuesday.

The soldiers were accused of firing Grad rockets from Russia’s Belgorod region towards Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on February 24.

They fired artillery and damaged "objects of civil and critical infrastructure, including private homes" in Kazacha Lopan and Veterynrne in the Kharkiv region, according to case details published on the court website.

The soldiers were captured by Ukrainian forces in the Kharkiv region, according to the court memos.

Last Monday, 21-year-old Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin was sentenced to life in prison for killing an unarmed man in Ukraine's first war crimes trial since Russia's invasion.

Shishimarin pleaded guilty to shooting a 62-year-old civilian to death on the fourth day of the conflict in late February.

2:26 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

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

People examine a destroyed Russian tank outside Kyiv, on May 31.
People examine a destroyed Russian tank outside Kyiv, on May 31. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Part of Severodonetsk is now "controlled" by Russia, with troops "moving towards downtown," according to the head of Luhansk regional military administration. But Serhiy Hayday has denied Russian reports that Moscow's forces have captured the whole city. Meanwhile, European Union leaders have agreed to ban most Russian oil imports as part of a new sanctions package against Moscow.

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

  • Battle for Ukraine's east: Russian forces are "focused on establishing control over the city of Severodonetsk," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its daily update on Tuesday morning, as fierce fighting continues in the region. The key city in the eastern Luhansk region is being hammered with constant shelling as Russian forces try to encircle Ukrainian defenders and move into the city. Around 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Severodonetsk, in the Lyman area, Russia is regrouping and "prepares for the offensive." The General Staff said Russian troops had to withdraw after suffering losses following a reconnaissance operation.
  • Civilians caught in crossfire: The Norwegian Refugee Council said on Tuesday that up to 12,000 civilians remain trapped and in need of aid in Severodonetsk. The refugee agency called on "parties to the conflict to immediately allow all humanitarian organizations to access Severodonetsk with lifesaving assistance and to enable safe evacuations of civilians who wish to leave the city."
  • EU moves on Russian oil: The European Union agreed to ban 90% of Russian oil imports by the end of the year, the leaders of the European Council announced on Monday. Russian oil delivered by tankers would be banned, while an exemption will be made for the southern segment of the Druzhba pipeline, which accounts for 10% of imports on Russian oil, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said Monday following a summit in Brussels.
  • EU oil ban will cut Russia's resources: The EU's oil ban will cut the financial resources Russia can spend on the war in Ukraine, the bloc's chief diplomat has said. "Certainly we cannot prevent Russia selling their oil to someone else. We're not so powerful, but we are the most important client for Russia," Josep Borrell said on Tuesday. "The purpose is for the Russians to get less resources, less financial resources to feed in the war machine. And this certainly will happen," he added.
  • Gazprom to cut supply: Russian state energy giant Gazprom confirmed that it will cut off natural gas supply to Dutch gas trading firm GasTerra starting Tuesday, May 31. On Monday, Danish energy company Ørsted and Dutch gas trading firm GasTerra warned Russia could turn off the taps soon because they had refused to make payments in rubles. Weeks earlier, Moscow had done the same to Poland, Bulgaria and Finland.
  • Russian FM to visit Turkey: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Turkey with a military delegation on June 8 to discuss creating a potential sea corridor for Ukrainian agricultural exports, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.
7:13 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Russia will ensure grain ships passage if Ukraine demines coastal waters, says Russian foreign minister

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Russian naval forces will guarantee the passage of grain ships to the Mediterranean Sea as long as Ukraine removes mines from its coastal waters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday.

"It is crucial that the Ukrainian representatives cleared the coastal waters from mines," Lavrov said at a press conference during a visit to Bahrain.

"If this problem is solved ... then on the high seas, the Russian naval forces will ensure the unhindered passage of these ships to the Mediterranean Sea and further to their destinations," Lavrov added.

He went on to say that "everything that depends on [Russia] is guaranteed."

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted grain supplies from Ukraine, causing global grain shortages.

On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that 22 million tons of grain, accounting for nearly half of Ukraine’s grain export supply, is being held up by Russia's blockade of the main export routes through the Black Sea and Azov Sea.  

The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected accusations that it has blocked grain supplies from Ukraine, and has accused the West of causing the crisis.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin assured Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Moscow will support an "unimpeded" export of Ukrainian grain from Ukrainian ports, according to a Kremlin readout of a call between the two leaders.  

Russia is also ready to "export significant volumes of fertilizers and agricultural products" if the sanctions placed on the country "are lifted," Putin added, according to the readout.

6:44 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Bulgaria exempt from Russian oil embargo until end of 2024, says prime minister

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov speaks to the press in Brussels, on May 31.
Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov speaks to the press in Brussels, on May 31. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

Bulgaria has been exempted from the European Union embargo on Russian oil until the end of 2024, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday. 

Further details on the exemption will be revealed in a couple of days, Petkov said as he arrived for the second day of an extraordinary European Council meeting on Ukraine. 

Petkov said the exemption would give Bulgaria time to adapt its refinery to process other oil. 

He also said he is "glad" the sixth round of EU sanctions on Russia "will pass" and that Russia's "financial flows will stop."

European Union leaders agreed on Monday to ban most Russian oil imports as part of a new sanctions package against Moscow. 

6:36 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Russian foreign minister due to visit Turkey to discuss Ukraine exports corridor

From CNN's Isil Sariyuce and Sharon Braithwaite

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Turkey with a military delegation on June 8 to discuss creating a potential sea corridor for Ukrainian agricultural exports, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.

Speaking to the state-owned Anadolu news agency, Cavusoglu said that the humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food is among topics that will be discussed.

Some background: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky during a call on Monday that Ankara places "particular importance" on efforts to establish a safe corridor to export Ukrainian agricultural products by sea.

On Friday, Zelensky said that 22 million tons of grain, accounting for nearly half of Ukraine’s grain export supply, is being held up by Russia's blockade of the main export routes through the Black Sea and Azov Sea.  

Erdogan told Zelensky that Turkey was making every effort to continue negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv and is ready to provide more support, including mediation, according to a Turkish readout of the call.

6:20 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Ship leaves Mariupol port heading for Russia for the first time since Moscow troops took the city

From CNN's Julia Presniakova and Bex Wright

A ship has left the southern Ukrainian port of Mariupol, the first to depart since Russia took the city, according to the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, who was speaking on behalf of the Russian authorities.

The RM-3 vessel carrying "2,500 tons of hot-rolled sheets" is headed for Rostov in western Russia, Denis Pushilin said on his Telegram channel.

Separately, an update from the press service of the People's Militia Department of the Donetsk People's Republic said the ship was loaded under the protection of special forces and the Russian navy.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of looting products such as grain and metal from the country.

Some background: On Saturday, Ukraine criticized Russia for sending a ship to Mariupol to load a shipment of metal bound for Russia. The Ukrainian parliament's commissioner for human rights Liudmyla Denisova said at the time that Russian troops were planning to send a ship carrying "3,000 tons of metal products" from Mariupol to Rostov-on-Don (in Russia).

Denisova said that the Mariupol port housed about 200,000 tons of metal and cast iron worth $170 million prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

6:42 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

The EU's Russian oil ban is a big achievement, but the limits of Western unity will face further tests down the road

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee

The European Union’s historic agreement to ban the vast majority of imports of Russian oil by the end of the year is without question a major achievement.

Getting 27 countries, many of whom have historically been utterly reliant on Russian energy, to agree on a package that will almost certainly damage their own economies on the behalf of Ukraine, a country that isn’t even in the EU, was unthinkable even a few months ago.

The deal, however, does have flaws that both reveals the limitations of European unity and nods to headaches for the bloc further down the road.

First and foremost, the deal does not include oil that is imported via the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline to Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Vladimir Putin’s key ally in the EU, started Monday by criticizing the EU Commission and calling it "irresponsible" for putting the economies of these countries at risk. He ended the day with a video message claiming: "We have managed to defeat the Commission's proposal to ban the use of oil from Russia in Hungary."

Needless to say, one EU leader celebrating the defeat of a key EU institution is a fly in the ointment for those claiming the deal was a triumph for European unity.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the pipeline issue would be discussed again, but didn’t predict a timeframe.

Given how difficult the oil pipeline issue has been, it’s reasonable to assume that Europe is some way off discussing what to do about Russian natural gas, on which the continent is even more reliant than Russian oil.

There will be other issues on which the member states will disagree that are either directly or tangentially related to the war in Ukraine. Should Ukraine join the EU? Should the EU have a more aggressive foreign and defense policy? Should countries like Hungary be able to hold the rest of the bloc to ransom with its veto, and how can the EU reform that?

It’s been a difficult few days in Brussels and EU officials can breathe a sigh of relief that this deal got there in the end. But there are going to be many more arguments before this crisis ends – and the limits of European unity could still be stretched to breaking point.