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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6:13 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Ukrainian parliament dismisses human rights ombudsman

From CNN's Tim Lister, Victoria Butenko and Olga Voitovych

Ukraine's human rights ombudsman, Liudmila Denisova, in July 2019.
Ukraine's human rights ombudsman, Liudmila Denisova, in July 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

The Ukrainian parliament voted to dismiss the country's human rights ombudsman, Liudmila Denisova, saying she failed in her main roles.

The parliament overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in Denisova, with 234 in favor and 9 against, plus 28 abstentions. 

"Ms. Denisova has hardly exercised her authority to organize humanitarian corridors, protect and exchange prisoners, oppose the deportation of people and children from the occupied territories, and other human rights activities," said Pavlo Frolov, a Ukrainian minister of parliament with the governing Servant of the People party.

Frolov said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk "was forced to do all this work."

Vereshchuk led the organization of evacuation corridors for Ukrainian civilians trying to escape the fighting and negotiated several exchanges of prisoners.

He added that the decision to seek Denisova's dismissal followed a meeting of the governing party in the Ukrainian parliament led by presidential adviser David Arakhamia.

CNN has reached out to Denisova for comment. 

In a brief statement on her Telegram channel, Denisova described her dismissal as unconstitutional.

"Today is the last day of my work as the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights," she said "I was fired in violation of the Constitution, laws of Ukraine and international standards. I will appeal this decision in court," she added.

"The law is the same for everyone!" she continued.

11:22 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Ukraine has identified more than 600 Russian war crime suspects, top prosecutor says

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London

Nadiya Trubchaninova, 70, observes volunteers as they load a body bag containing a civilian killed by Russian soldiers into a truck, in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 12.
Nadiya Trubchaninova, 70, observes volunteers as they load a body bag containing a civilian killed by Russian soldiers into a truck, in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 12. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Ukraine has identified more than 600 Russian war crime suspects and has started prosecuting around 80 of them, Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said at a presser Tuesday. 

Venediktova spoke alongside International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan and other counterparts following a meeting in The Hague to discuss investigations into alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

She said high level military officials, politicians and "propaganda agents of the Russian Federation" are among the more than 600 Russian suspects. 

Venediktova said the investigations have been complicated by the fact that fighting is still ongoing. 

Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia have joined the international team investigating suspected war crimes in Ukraine, which was originally formed by Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland on March 21 to enable the exchange of information and resources, Venediktova said. 

Speaking at the same presser, Khan said ICC "will be working towards opening an office in Kyiv" in the next few weeks. 

10:06 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Ukraine “completely dependent” on fuel imports after biggest oil refinery destroyed, industry group chair says

From CNN's Bex Wright

Ukraine is in a state of fuel “price shock” and is now “completely dependent” on fuel imports after the country’s biggest oil refinery in Kremenchuk was destroyed by Russian missiles last month, Andrii Zakrevskyi, chair of Ukraine’s Oil and Gas Association, said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

“We are now completely dependent on fuel imports. Railway supply chains have also come under pressure. There are queues at the borders, and if you add 3,000 fuel trucks, the burden on the logistics routes will increase,” Zakrevskyi said.

He said the war has reduced national consumption by 30-40%, but it still lacks four to five million tons of fuel a year. He said before the war, 75% of all fuel came from Belarus. 

“We are now in a situation of price shock. In order to really improve the situation with fuel shortages, we need to deploy mobile oil refining complexes in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Zakarpattia regions. We need to increase oil production,” Zakrevskyi said.

Zakrevskyi said the country needs to “build pipelines from the Baltic Sea ports to Ukraine," but “there are many difficulties.”

11:52 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

India increases flow of heavily discounted Russian oil as West continues to place sanctions on Moscow

From CNN's Diksha Madhok

India’s appetite for cheap Russian oil is swelling, even as the West continues to hit Moscow with unprecedented sanctions.

Russian crude flows to India are expected to reach 3.36 million metric tonnes in May, according to estimates from financial market data provider Refinitiv. This is nearly nine times higher than the 2021 monthly average of 382,500 metric tonnes.

Overall, the country has received 4.8 million metric tonnes of discounted Russian oil since the Ukraine war started, Refinitiv added. Urals oil from Russia currently trades at about $95 a barrel, while the global benchmark Brent crude is above $119 a barrel.

Part of the reason for the price disparity: The West has shunned Russian oil. On Monday, the EU agreed to ban 90% of Russian oil imports by the end of the year. Europe is the biggest buyer of Russian energy.

The United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia have already banned imports.

The embargo from a huge importer like Europe would pile pressure on the Russian economy, but Moscow has found other buyers in Asia.

India, which imports 80% of its oil, usually buys only about 2% to 3% from Russia. But with oil prices shooting up this year, the government has steadily increased its intake from Moscow, taking advantage of the heavy discounts.

According to Refinitiv, Russia crude flows to India soared to 1.01 million metric tonnes in April from 430,000 metric tonnes in March.

India’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas did not immediately respond to a query on the impact EU’s partial ban will have on the South Asian economy’s oil ties with Moscow.

Earlier in May, India played down the import spike. In a statement, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas said the country imports oil from all over the world, including a significant volume from the United States.

“Despite attempts to portray it otherwise, energy purchases from Russia remain minuscule in comparison to India’s total consumption,” the ministry said in a statement. “India’s legitimate energy transactions cannot be politicized,” it added.

The world’s biggest democracy has refrained from taking a tough stance against Moscow over the war in Ukraine. Russia and India have a long history of friendly relations, which stretch back to the Soviet era when the USSR helped India win its 1971 war with Pakistan.

India isn’t the only Asian giant buying Russian oil. China, historically the single biggest buyer of Russian oil, is expected to go on a shopping spree, too.

Read more here:

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.