May 31, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sophie Tanno, Aditi Sangal and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 0405 GMT (1205 HKT) June 1, 2023
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2:44 p.m. ET, May 31, 2023

White House says it supports Ukraine peace summit — even without Russia

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby speaks during a  White House press briefing in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, May 31.
US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby speaks during a White House press briefing in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, May 31. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The White House voiced support Wednesday for a proposed summit to work toward peace in Ukraine, even if Russia is not involved.

“We've been talking to the Ukrainians for many, many months now,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said. “President Zelensky has a 10-point proposal for what he calls a just peace – and we're helping trying to work with his team to help actualize that.” 

The United States supports “moves toward peace,” but any proposal must have the support of the Ukrainian president to be “credible and sustainable,” he said. Russia’s current assault on Ukraine was “not the act of the nation that has any serious design on diplomacy right now," he added.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Ukraine and its allies were planning a peace summit for global leaders without Russian involvement. Asked what the value was in a summit like that without Russia’s participation, Kirby responded that "you've got to work with Ukrainians" before anything else.

“But where and when, or even if the Russians can be brought to the table, that's got to be President Zelensky, his decision,” Kirby said.

“He has to be ready to sit down and talk and the conditions have to be amenable to him, and then you can move forward with seeing whether the Russians can be a part of that,” Kirby said.

He added that Putin “has shown absolutely zero inclination” for peace, calling whether Russia should be at the table a “great academic question.” 

3:20 p.m. ET, May 31, 2023

Russian children evacuated from shelled border areas arrive at holiday camps

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Tim Lister

The first groups of children to be evacuated from border areas of the Belgorod region have arrived in the Voronezh area, according to Russian state media and other outlets.

"The first groups of children from Shebekino, Belgorod Oblast, which is being shelled by Ukraine, arrived at a recreation camp near Voronezh," state news agency RIA Novosti said.

The Shebekino area is one of several near the border with Ukraine that has come under more persistent mortar and artillery fire in recent days.

The governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said there was renewed shelling of border areas late Wednesday by Ukrainian forces. He said an industrial plant close to the city of Shebekino had been struck.

Gladkov said that some 300 children from the Shebekino and Grayvoron districts would be evacuated to Voronezh.

2:32 p.m. ET, May 31, 2023

Ukraine says Russia has stepped up shelling in front lines in Kharkiv region

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Tim Lister

Ukrainian officials say Russian forces have stepped up shelling in the Kupyansk area of Kharkiv, where the front lines have moved little since last autumn.

Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, said Russian strikes had damaged civilian infrastructure and civilian settlements rather than military positions. He said nine people were injured in missile strikes on the settlement of Kivsharivka on Tuesday, and the area had been struck again Wednesday.

"Today the north and north-east direction were fired upon again. 15 settlements have been fired upon," Syniehubov said on Ukrainian television. Northern Kharkiv borders the Russian region of Belgorod, which has come under fire from the Ukrainian side of the frontier.

Syniehubov also claimed that a Russian sabotage group had made an unsuccessful attempt to cross the border in northern Kharkiv.

He said they had been forced to retreat and had suffered losses. 

Russian shelling had also spread to the border town of Vovchansk on Wednesday, Syniehubov said. One man was killed and another person was injured. Vovchansk has regularly come under cross-border fire, while Ukrainian mortar and artillery fire in the other direction has recently increased, according to Russian authorities.

The area on the east bank of the Oskil River, near Kupyansk, has seen considerable combat in recent weeks, but Russian efforts to establish a bridgehead west of the river appear to have failed, Ukrainian officials said.

1:01 p.m. ET, May 31, 2023

UN nuclear watchdog chief believes Russia and Ukraine are committing to protecting Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

From CNN’s Eleni Giokos and Amy Cassidy

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi told CNN on Wednesday that he believes Russia and Ukraine are “committing” to the organization’s five principles for averting a nuclear accident at the Zaporizhzhia Power Plant. 

Grossi laid out the “five concrete principles” to ensure the plant’s safety and security on Tuesday at the UN Security Council in New York. They include “no attacks of any kind from or against the plant”, and a commitment against using it as a storage base for heavy weaponry. 

“They [Moscow and Kyiv] haven’t opposed what I said as an indispensable thing, and I am monitoring it,” Grossi told CNN’s Eleni Giokos on Wednesday. 

“So I believe that they are committing to it indeed, yes.” 

Some background: The Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia plant in southern Ukraine is Europe’s largest nuclear power station and has seen frequent military activity in and around the area, sparking concerns of a possible nuclear catastrophe. 

The area, and the nuclear complex, have been under Russian control since the beginning of the war, but the plant is still mostly operated by Ukrainian workers.

12:01 p.m. ET, May 31, 2023

Here's how drones are shaping the war in Ukraine

From CNN staff

From weaponized consumer quadcopters to loitering munitions that can cause devastation from nearly a thousand miles away, UN, NATO and UK Parliament drone adviser Dr James Rogers breaks down the role drones are playing in the war in Ukraine.

"It's hard to define a drone specifically because there are many different types," Rogers said. "The commonality is that they are remotely controlled. Traditionally, they have been used against nations that don't have their own systems — so you look at Afghanistan or Iraq. Ukraine is different. It is unique in the fact that it's a drone v. drone conflict. You have both sides that have very similar drone systems that are using them to gain an advantage and to make sure that advantage is maintained."

11:46 a.m. ET, May 31, 2023

There were a series of explosions in Russian-held town in southern Ukraine, local official says

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

A senior Russian-appointed official in occupied southern Ukraine says there has been a series of explosions in the town of Polohy close to the front lines.

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian-formed council of the civil-military administration of Zaporizhzhia, said on Telegram: "It's loud in Polohy. A series of explosions is heard in town."

Some context: Polohy has been regularly struck by Ukrainian fire. Last week it lost electrical power, according to Rogov, after Ukrainian shelling targeted the power substation.

Ukrainian officials have claimed that Russian infrastructure and concentrations of troops in the area have been repeatedly struck.

Polohy is in a part of Zaporizhzhia that many observers expect to be a focus of a Ukrainian counter-offensive.

11:15 a.m. ET, May 31, 2023

Ukraine has "legitimate" right to defend itself against Russian attacks under international law, Germany says

From Chris Stern in Berlin

Police work at the site of a drone attack in Moscow, Russia, on May 30.
Police work at the site of a drone attack in Moscow, Russia, on May 30. Bai Xueqi/Xinhua/Getty Images

Under international law Ukraine has a "legitimate" right to defend itself against Russian attacks, German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said.

His comments come in reference to Tuesday’s drone attacks that took place in Moscow that injured two people and damaged several buildings, according to Russian state media. Ukraine has denied any involvement. 

The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call on Tuesday, Hebestreit added. “The air defense worked well there and reacted well, but there was also damage, he said at a news conference in Berlin.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also acknowledged Tuesday Ukraine has the right to “project force” beyond its own borders for self-defense. “Legitimate military targets beyond its own border are part of Ukraine’s self-defense. And we should recognise that,” he had said.

What the US says: Earlier Wednesday, John Kirby, the White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, reiterated that the Biden administration has “been clear, privately and publicly, with the Ukrainians that we don't support attacks on Russian soil."

9:27 a.m. ET, May 31, 2023

US has been clear with the Ukrainians it doesn't support attacks on Russian soil, White House official says

From CNN's DJ Judd

The Biden administration has “been clear, privately and publicly, with the Ukrainians that we don't support attacks on Russian soil,” White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told CNN Wednesday following a spate of drone attacks in the Moscow region.

“We are going to continue to give them what they need to defend themselves and defend their territory, Ukrainian soil, but we don't support attacks on in Russia,” Kirby told CNN This Morning Wednesday. “We agree that Ukrainians has the right of self-defense — my goodness, over the last 15 months, we've been doing very little else other than helping them defend themselves and defend their territory against this Russian aggression. What we have said is we don't want to encourage or enable attacks inside Russia, because we don't want to see the war escalate beyond the violence has already visited upon the Ukrainian people.”

Kirby would not say, however, if the US had concluded that Ukraine was behind the drone incursions, telling CNN’s Poppy Harlow, “We're still trying to get information here and develop some sort of sense of what happened… but I can’t tell you that we have any definitive information at this point.”

Ukraine has denied involvement in Tuesday’s attack in Moscow, even as one top official made it clear that Russia was getting a taste of its own medicine after months of bombarding Ukrainian cities. 

“Of course, we enjoy watching and predicting an increase in attacks,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak. “But of course, we have nothing to do directly with it.”

But Kirby reiterated Wednesday that Ukrainian officials have assured the United States they will not use equipment contributed from the United States to strike inside Russia.

“I think we can all understand that if we give Putin what he's claiming, this is a war against the West, a war against the United States, a war against NATO, there's going to be a whole lot more suffering across the European continent, so we don't want to see this war escalate,” he said. “Now, look, once we provide systems to the Ukrainians, and this is an important point, they get to decide what they're going to do with them. They have given us assurances that they won't use our equipment to strike inside Russia. But once it goes to them, it belongs to them.”


9:36 a.m. ET, May 31, 2023

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

Shelling has continued to spill over into Russian territory, with four people injured in a "massive strike" in the town of Shebekino in the southwestern Belgorod region.

It follows a series of rare drone attacks on Moscow early Tuesday which reportedly left two injured and several buildings damaged.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Air defense: Russia has pledged to continue to improve its air defense system in the wake of the Tuesday drone attack on Moscow. President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday the city's air defenses worked normally but there was still “work to be done to make it better.” Asked to clarify the Russian President’s remarks, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, “The system worked effectively, but there is room for improvement. Work will continue to improve the air defense system.”
  • Weapons production: Russia is also ramping up the production of weapons and other military equipment, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Wednesday, according to state news agency TASS. "The defense-industrial complex is now operating under maximum pressure," Mishustin said in a video address to the participants of a board meeting of the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade. "In parallel with meeting the production targets, weapons and equipment continue to be improved nonstop," Mishustin added. 
  • Bryansk drone attack: Multiple drones have been shot down in Russia's Bryansk region, state news agency RIA Novosti reported. About 10 drones tried to attack the Klimovsky district overnight, RIA reported, citing emergency services. RIA did not report any damage and said some of the drones were shot down, while others were intercepted by electronic warfare.
  • Tripoint border explosion: Ukrainian officials said an explosion near the Three Sisters monument at the border with Belarus, Russia and Ukraine on Tuesday was due to Russian forces blowing up the Chernihiv-Bryansk road. Russian war bloggers shared a video of the explosion online Tuesday saying the explosion happened at the junction of the borders of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, “in a tank-hazardous direction."