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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3:43 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Thousands of civilians caught in Severodonetsk crossfire in dire need of aid, refugee agency says

The Norwegian Refugee Council said on Tuesday that up to 12,000 civilians remain trapped and in need of aid in the eastern city of Severodonetsk, where Russian troops are advancing.

“I am horrified to see Severodonetsk, the thriving city where we had our operational headquarters, become the epicenter of yet another chapter of the brutal war in Ukraine," said Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
"We fear that up to 12,000 civilians remain caught in crossfire in the city, without sufficient access to water, food, medicine or electricity. The near-constant bombardment is forcing civilians to seek refuge in bomb shelters and basements, with precious few opportunities for those trying to escape."

Egeland said intensified fighting in the city has made it impossible to deliver aid.

We cannot save lives under the hail of grenades," he said.

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."

3:21 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Part of Severodonetsk “controlled” by Russia with troops “moving towards downtown,” Ukraine military official says

From Ukraine journalists and CNN's Bex Wright

Smoke rises in the city of Severodonetsk during heavy fightings between Ukrainian and Russian troops on Monday, May 30.
Smoke rises in the city of Severodonetsk during heavy fightings between Ukrainian and Russian troops on Monday, May 30. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Part of the city of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine is “already controlled by the Russian army” and Russian troops are “gradually moving towards downtown Severodonetsk,” Serhiy Hayday, head of Luhansk regional military administration said on Tuesday.

But Hayday denied Russian reports that they have captured the whole city.

“The situation is extremely complicated,” Hayday said.
“Unfortunately, part of Severodonetsk city is already controlled by the Russian army. They [the Russians] reported a couple of days ago that they had already captured the entire city. This is not the case, there are our guys in the city. The Russians cannot move freely.”

Hayday said he didn't think there was a risk troops would encircle Severodonetsk though fighting continues in the city.

“The Russians do not control the Lysychansk-Bakhmut route, but they are shelling it,” Hayday added.

Civilians trapped and supplies halted: Approximately 15,000 civilians remain in Severodonetsk city, Hayday said, and evacuation is now “suspended due to danger.” They can only deliver humanitarian goods to nearby Lysychansk and Hirske to the south.

“Thousands who remain in the city are afraid of revenge or massacre for no reason,” Hayday said, adding that video clips of locals welcoming Russian troops were “staged scenes.”

The military official said the Russians are “planning a military operation to clear the area around Severodonetsk” with a battalion “being launched to go to the surrounding villages” armed with heavy flamethrowers to “burn our military along with the civilian population."

"They just don't care," he said.

In nearby Lysychansk: Two people were killed and three injured, Hayday said, but “we do not know how many civilians have been killed” in Severodonetsk since the Russian troops began entering the city two days ago. 

The rest of Luhansk region, controlled by the Ukrainian government, is under shelling completely,” Hayday said.

In the past 24 hours, “eight enemy attacks have been repulsed at the front of the region” and air defense units shot down an X-59MK cruise missile, Hayday said.

In Slovyansk: Around 85 kilometers (52 miles) west of Severodonetsk, three people were killed and six injured after a Russian air strike hit a school and several multi-story buildings overnight, Vadym Liakh, head of the Slovyansk city military administration, said in a separate update. He urged everyone to evacuate.

2:48 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Russia is “focusing on establishing control” over Severodonetsk, Ukraine military says

From Ukraine journalists and CNN's Bex Wright

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.

There are “ongoing hostilities” in the area as Russia continues its “assault operations,” and “electronic warfare” is also being used, the military said.

Severodonetsk, a city in 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.

There was also an “attempt to assault the area of Dovhenke” to the west of Lyman, but “the enemy was unsuccessful,” and “retreated to previously occupied positions.”

To the southwest of Severodonetsk: In the Bakhmut area, Russia conducted “combat and assault operations” in six areas without success and “the fighting continues," the General Staff said.

In the Donetsk area: Further to the southwest, Russia is “firing units of our troops with mortars, artillery and rocket-propelled grenade launchers along the line of contact,” the statement said.

Further west near Zaporizhzhia: Russia “inflicted air strikes on civil infrastructure” in two areas to the southeast of the city.

In the northeast of Ukraine: In the Kharkiv area, Russian forces “fired on civilian infrastructure” in more than five areas, the General Staff said.

In the northern Sumy and Chernihiv areas, Russia “carried out mortar shelling of settlements in the border areas," it said.

12:02 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

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

European Union leaders agreed on Monday to ban most Russian oil imports as part of a new sanctions package against Moscow, the European Council chief said. It comes as the battle for the east of Ukraine intensifies, with Russian forces trying to surround Ukrainian troops in the Lysychansk and Severodonetsk areas of Luhansk.

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

  • 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.
  • Further sanctions: Von der Leyen also said EU leaders agreed to remove Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, from the SWIFT network, as well as institute a ban on the insurance of Russian ships by EU companies and a ban on providing Russian companies with a range of services. She added there would be a suspension of broadcasting of three more Russian state outlets in the EU but did not specify which broadcasters would be suspended.
  • Battle for Donbas: Fierce fighting continues in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine with constant shelling reported in several areas and the battle for the key city of Severodonetsk intensifying. It comes as Russia's foreign minister said pushing the Ukrainian army out of Donetsk and Luhansk is a priority for Moscow. The Ukrainian military has reported advances during its counteroffensive in the south and continuing efforts to hold off Russian advances in Donbas.

  • 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.
  • French journalist: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has sent his condolences to the family of French journalist Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff who was killed in Ukraine on Monday. Zelensky said he is the 32nd journalist killed in the war. Leclerc-Imhoff, a 32-year-old journalist with French news channel BFMTV, was shot and killed "onboard a humanitarian bus, alongside civilians forced to flee to escape the Russian bombs," French President Emmanuel Macron said.

12:18 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Latest round of EU sanctions includes a ban on 90% of Russian oil imports by end of 2022

From CNN's Mitchell McCluskey and Hira Humayun 

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, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference. 

The northern segment of the pipeline serves Poland and Germany, which have agreed to the embargo. The southern part goes to Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. Von der Leyen said an exemption will be made for the southern segment, which accounts for 10% of imports on Russian oil.

“We have a clear political statement by Poland and Germany that they will, as the others, wind down Russian oil, until the end of the year. We have covered overall 90% of Russian oil being wound down during this time frame. Leftover is the roundabout 10 or 11% that is covered by the southern Druzhba. We have agreed for the moment an exemption,” von der Leyen said.

Von der Leyen added that EU leaders would continue to meet to discuss details of the oil embargo and other parts of the sanctions package.

“The European Council agrees that the sixth package of sanctions against Russia will cover crude oil, as well as petroleum products, delivered from Russia into member states, with a temporary exception for crude oil delivered by pipeline,” the European Council said in a statement.
“The European Council will revert to the issue of the temporary exception for crude oil delivered by pipeline as soon as possible."

Alternatives to Russian supply: Von der Leyen said it would be possible to increase usage of the Adria oil pipeline in Croatia to supply oil to Hungary without Russia. She added that Hungary’s refineries would need to be updated to accommodate oil from Croatia.

“It is big step forward what we did today. Because we have now gotten rid of coal – and this was already very difficult. Now we basically have the political agreement, how to phase out oil in a clear timeframe,” von der Leyen said.

Some context: Earlier this month when Europe proposed the ban on Russian oil, it stopped short of sanctioning Russia's natural gas. According to Rystad Energy, Russia's natural gas exports are predicted to generate about $80 billion in tax revenues for Moscow this year.

In recent weeks, Russia has been cutting off gas supply to countries such as the Netherlands, Poland, Finland, Bulgaria which have refused to comply with its demand for gas to be paid for in rubles. 

VIDEO: Ivan Watson explains the ramifications

2:58 a.m. ET, May 31, 2022

The battle for Ukraine's eastern region continues to intensify. Here's what to know about the situation in Donbas

Fierce fighting continues in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine with constant shelling reported in several areas and the battle for the key city of Severodonetsk intensifying. It comes as Russia's foreign minister said pushing the Ukrainian army out of Donetsk and Luhansk is a priority for Moscow.

Here's what we know about the situation in the Donbas region:

  • "Maximum intensity" strikes: Ukraine's Defense Ministry says that Russian forces are carrying out artillery strikes along much of the frontline that runs through the Luhansk and Donetsk regions as they try to break through Ukrainian defensive positions.
  • The Donbas region encompasses the eastern areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukrainian lines are being attacked by the Russians from the south, east and north.
  • "The battles have reached maximum intensity. The Russian occupation forces engage along the entire frontline and try to shell our rear positions with artillery," said Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzianyk on Monday.
  • Russian forces, he said, "are trying encircle our troops in Donetsk and Luhansk regions."
  • The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported Monday additional Russian efforts to degrade Ukrainian defenses in Luhansk and Donetsk, saying that artillery, airstrikes and missiles have been used in several places — including Lysychansk and Soledar.

  • "Most difficult" situation in Severodonetsk: The eastern Ukrainian city and neighboring Lysychansk are being hammered with constant shelling as Russian forces try to encircle Ukrainian defenders.
  • Russian forces are trying to break through Ukrainian lines in this area and complete the seizure of Luhansk. They control about 90% of the region, according to most estimates.
  • Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk Regional Administration, said late Monday that while all parts of Luhansk region still under Ukrainian control are being attacked, "the situation in Severodonetsk is really the most difficult."
  • He said Russian forces had been able to "push through territory from the outskirts of the city, where the Myr hotel is, and move a little deeper into the city. In the city now, there are and will be street battles."
  • Earlier, Hayday said Russian forces are “advancing into the middle of the city” after consolidating "their hold on the northeastern and southeastern outskirts" of Severodonetsk.
  • Ukraine's Defense Ministry spokesperson Motuzianyk said street fights have broken out but the Ukrainians "are trying to prevent the enemy from encircling our units near Lysychansk and Severodonetsk and blocking the main logistics path."
  • About two-thirds of properties in Severodonetsk have been reported as destroyed.
  • On Monday, French journalist Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff was shot and killed in the area.
  • In neighboring Lysychansk, one resident told CNN, "we haven't slept in three months" as Russian strikes have increased in ferocity. Residents must decide between staying in their homes or fleeing for their lives.

  • Shelling "does not stop" in Donetsk: Three civilians were killed and several others wounded in fierce fighting in the Donetsk region on Sunday.
  • Russian forces shelled areas north of the city of Donetsk with small arms, tanks, artillery, mortars, and MLRS "Grad" rockets, according to the regional military administration for Donetsk.
  • On Monday morning, there was also shelling in areas to the southwest of Donetsk city.
  • "The situation is tense. The shelling along the front line does not stop," said the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko. "The hottest spots are (in the direction of) Avdiivka, Toretsk, and Lyman."
  • Kyrylenko said the key route from Bakhmut to Lysychansk is still under Ukrainian control, but the Russians are "constantly shelling the route." It is the main route for providing humanitarian goods and is important for evacuations, he added.
  • The General Staff said Russian efforts to degrade Ukrainian defenses continues, with artillery, mortar and multiple rocket systems being used against several towns and villages in the direction of Bakhmut.

WATCH:

11:19 p.m. ET, May 30, 2022

European Commission president: EU leaders have agreed "on principle" on new sanctions package against Russia

From CNN's Mitchell McCluskey

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks to the media in Brussels on Monday.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks to the media in Brussels on Monday. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

European Union leaders have agreed “on principle” on a new sanctions package against Russia, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said in a news conference on Monday following a summit in Brussels.

“I’m very glad that the leaders were able to agree in principle on the sixth sanctions package, this is very important. Thanks to this, (the) council should now be able to finalize a ban on almost 90% of all Russian oil imports by the end of the year. This is an important step forward,” von der Leyen said.

Von der Leyen added that the remaining 10% of imports of Russian oil is via a pipeline into Hungary and Slovakia. Those imports would be exempt from the sanctions, she said.

“Two-thirds of the oil that we have in the EU is seaborne and one-third in pipeline,” von der Leyen said, “We have agreed for the moment being for an exemption. We have agreed that the council will revert to the topic as soon as possible.”

Von der Leyen stated that the leaders agreed to remove Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, from the SWIFT network, as well as institute a ban on the insurance of Russian ships by EU companies and a ban on providing Russian companies with a range of services.

Von der Leyen added that there would be a suspension of broadcasting of three more Russian state outlets in the EU. She did not specify which broadcasters would be suspended.

“We are working on a mechanism to have an extraordinary macrofinancial assistance package of 9 billion (euros), which we will work on now in the next week — how to put it into place,” von der Leyen said.

The leaders also held intensive talks on the reconstruction of Ukraine. Von der Leyen emphasized that coordination across EU states is necessary to carry this out.

“It was good that we could discuss the proposal of the commission in the council to create a platform where we can channel all of the international initiatives to be clear together on the direction on travel, to raise the necessary investment, but also to be very clear that investment comes with reform,” she said.

11:19 p.m. ET, May 30, 2022

EU agrees on partial ban of Russian oil imports 

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London 

The European Union has agreed on a partial ban of Russian oil imports, according to European Council chief Charles Michel. 

"Agreement to ban export of Russian oil to the EU. This immediately covers more than 2/3 of oil imports from Russia, cutting a huge source of financing for its war machine," Michel announced in a tweet on Monday evening. 

Michel's announcement followed an extraordinary European Council summit attended by EU leaders in Brussels on Monday to discuss a sixth package of sanctions against Russia.  

"This sanctions package includes other hard-hitting measures: de-Swifting the largest Russian bank Sberbank, banning 3 more Russian state-owned broadcasters, and sanctioning individuals responsible for war crimes in Ukraine," Michel added. 

EU leaders will meet again in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss the bloc's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

More background: Officials first proposed joining the US and others in banning Russia's oil a month ago as part of a sixth package of EU sanctions over the country's invasion of Ukraine. But an agreement has been held up by some countries, like Hungary, that are particularly reliant on Russian crude delivered via pipeline.

An EU official told CNN earlier that banning all seaborne oil would cover more than two-thirds of imports from Russia.

Europe is the biggest buyer of Russian energy. Russian crude accounted for 27% of the bloc's imports in 2021, according to Eurostat. That's around 2.4 million barrels per day, data from the International Energy Agency shows. About 35% of that was delivered via pipelines to the bloc, according to the IEA.

But pipeline deliveries made up a much bigger share of Russian oil shipments to Hungary (86%), the Czech Republic (97%) and Slovakia (100%).

See the European Council chief's tweet:

CNN's Anna Cooban and James Frater contributed reporting to this post.

11:19 p.m. ET, May 30, 2022

US President Biden says he won't send rockets to Ukraine that could reach Russia

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden said he doesn't plan to ship any rockets to Ukraine that could reach Russian territory.

"I won't send anything that can fire into Russia," Biden said at the White House on Monday when asked whether he was planning to send long-range rockets to Ukraine.

CNN reported last week the Biden administration is preparing to step up the kind of weaponry it is offering Ukraine by sending advanced, long-range rocket systems that are now the top request from Ukrainian officials.

The administration is leaning toward sending the systems as part of a larger package of military and security assistance to Ukraine, which could be announced as soon as next week.

The administration has wavered on whether to send the systems amid concerns raised within the National Security Council that Ukraine could use the new weapons to carry out offensive attacks inside Russia, according to officials.

On Friday, after CNN first reported the news, Russians warned that the United States will “cross a red line” if it supplies the systems to Ukraine.

More background: The rocket systems the Biden administration is preparing to send to Ukraine are capable of firing different kinds of ammunition that reach a range of distances.

While some of the longer-range weapons can fire 300 miles (or about 500 kilometers) or more, the systems can also launch rockets with a range of just a few dozen miles — not considered long-range weapons but still able to reach a greater distance than the howitzers the US has already sent to Ukraine.

Biden's comments Monday leave open the possibility that the US could send the advanced, long-range rocket systems without the longest-range rockets.

CNN's Oren Liebermann and Alex Marquardt contributed reporting to this post.