June 1, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Andrew Raine, Lianne Kolirin, Jack Guy, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, June 2, 2022
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5:42 a.m. ET, June 1, 2022

Pope Francis says wheat should not be used as a "weapon of war," urges lifting of blockade on exports

From CNN's Hada Messia and Sharon Braithwaite

Pope Francis arrives to lead his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on June 1.
Pope Francis arrives to lead his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on June 1. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis has called for the lifting of a blockade on wheat exports from Ukraine, saying the staple food should not be used "as a weapon of war."

Speaking at the end of his weekly audience on Wednesday, the Pontiff said that he is following "with great concern" the situation at Ukrainian ports.

The lives of millions of people depend on the export of wheat, "especially among the poorest countries," he said.

"I make a heartfelt appeal that every effort be made to resolve this issue, to guarantee the universal human right be nourished," the Pontiff said.
"Please do not use wheat, a staple food, as a weapon of war," he added.

Some context: Ukraine is working on a "UN-led naval operation" with navies of partnering countries to ensure a safe trade route for exporting its agricultural products, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky previously 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.

The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected the accusations that it has blocked grain supplies from Ukraine, and has accused the West of actions that have led to this crisis.  

5:07 a.m. ET, June 1, 2022

Russians now control 70% of Severodonetsk, says Ukrainian official

From CNN's Oleksandra Ochman and Bex Wright

Russian forces now control 70% of the city of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration said Wednesday.

Serhiy Hayday said "part of the Ukrainian troops" have now "retreated to more advantageous, pre-prepared positions" while other troops continue "fighting inside the city."

Evacuation is still suspended from Severodonetsk, and it is "not possible to import humanitarian aid," he said.

Neighboring Lysychansk is "completely under Ukrainian control," but all "free settlements" of the Luhansk region are "constantly under fire," he said.

If Russian forces gain control of Severodonetsk, the neighboring city of Lysychansk will be the only urban area of any size in Luhansk to remain under Ukrainian control. 

6:57 a.m. ET, June 1, 2022

Danes vote on joining EU shared defense policy

From CNN's Susanne Gargiulo in Copenhagen

Danish voters cast their ballots at a polling station in Viborg, Denmark, on June 1.
Danish voters cast their ballots at a polling station in Viborg, Denmark, on June 1. (Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images)

Polling stations are now open across Denmark, as the Scandinavian country votes on whether to join the European Union shared defense policy.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a significant reason for calling a referendum, saying it is an important value-based decision and a way to signal support for a stronger EU.

The referendum will determine whether Denmark maintains its nearly three-decade old opt-out from EU defense policy. The opt-out keeps the Scandinavian nation of nearly 6 million from taking an active part in EU defense policy and missions.

Saying 'yes' to cancel the opt-out would be a significant shift in Denmark’s EU policy on Europe, but Frederiksen emphasized the importance of the vote on Wednesday morning.

"This is the right decision for our future," she said. "We are facing an era with even more uncertainty than what we see now, and we need to stand together."

The government has spent several weeks campaigning for a 'yes' vote.

Polling stations close at 8 p.m. local time, and results are expected after midnight local time.

Some context: Denmark has been a member of the EU since January 1973 but it has four derogations -- or "opt-outs" -- from EU cooperation. These, which include the Common Security and Defense Policy, were agreed among the then-12 member states after the Danish population initially rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

The Danish defense opt-out means the country cannot participate in EU military operations or provide military support for EU-led efforts in conflict areas. It is the only member of the 27-nation bloc to be exempt from the policy.

Read the full story here:

7:45 a.m. ET, June 1, 2022

War has killed more than 240 children and "shattered" the lives of millions

From CNN's Oleksandra Ochman and Bex Wright

People attend a funeral ceremony of 3-month-old girl, her mother and grandmother, who were died during missile attack by Russia, at a cathedral in Odesa, Ukraine, on April 27.
People attend a funeral ceremony of 3-month-old girl, her mother and grandmother, who were died during missile attack by Russia, at a cathedral in Odesa, Ukraine, on April 27. (Vladimir Shtanko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

At least 243 children have died and 446 others have been injured in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February, the Ukrainian prosecutor general's office said on Wednesday, which marks Children's Day in Ukraine.

In addition to the deaths and casualties, at least 1,937 educational institutions in Ukraine have been damaged, with 181 of them completely destroyed, the prosecutor's statement said.

The figures are "not final" as they do not include casualties in places where "active hostilities" are ongoing and in those occupied by Russian forces.

Meanwhile, UNICEF said 3 million Ukrainian children need humanitarian assistance inside the country, as do more than 2.2 million in refugee-hosting countries.

The war has wrought "devastating consequences for children at a scale and speed not seen since World War II," said the UN children's agency in a statement.

Nearly two-thirds of children have been displaced by the conflict, added UNICEF.

"June 1st is International Day for the Protection of Children in Ukraine and across the region," said UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell in the statement.

"Instead of celebrating the occasion, we are solemnly approaching June 3 -- the 100th day of a war that has shattered the lives of millions of children," she added.

"Without an urgent ceasefire and negotiated peace, children will continue to suffer -- and fallout from the war will impact vulnerable children around the world."

The conflict has caused an acute child protection crisis, said UNICEF, with those displaced "at significant risk of family separation, violence, abuse, sexual exploitation, and trafficking."

12:23 p.m. ET, June 1, 2022

Russian troops have "consolidated in the city center" of Severodonetsk, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Oleksandra Ochman and Bex Wright

Smoke rises in the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine during heavy fighting on May 30.
Smoke rises in the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine during heavy fighting on May 30. (Aris Messings/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian troops are “storming” the eastern city of Severodonetsk and have “consolidated in the city center,” said Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk regional military administration on Wednesday.

Russia carried out assaults on Tuesday in the “northern, southern and eastern districts of Severodonetsk,” Hayday said.

And Russians now control “most” of the city, he said.

“The Russians are storming, consolidating in the center of Severodonetsk, while continuing to destroy infrastructure and industrial facilities,” and also destroying residential homes in and around the city, he said.

Hayday said a Russian air strike hit a tank of nitric acid at a chemical plant in Severodonetsk at 6:55 p.m. local time on Tuesday. The militia of the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic has blamed Ukrainian forces for the explosion.

1:11 a.m. ET, June 1, 2022

Ukraine pins hopes on national team playing on "football’s front line" in World Cup quest to lift spirits

From CNN's Ben Church

It’s approximately 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) from Severodonetsk to Glasgow.

As Russian pressure increases in the strategic eastern Ukraine city, an international football match in the Scottish city would seem somewhat irrelevant.

Ukrainian Taras Berezovets, who worked as a political analyst before the Russian invasion started on Feb. 24 but has since joined Ukraine’s special forces, would disagree.

Like many other of his "brothers in arms" – given football has always been the number one sport in Ukraine – Berezovets will be doing his best to keep across developments in his country’s World Cup playoff against Scotland on Wednesday.

If Ukraine does get past Scotland at Hampden Park and then beats Wales in Cardiff on Sunday, the country will have remarkably secured qualification for the World Cup in Qatar later this year.

Berezovets says fighters are keen to find a broadcast of the match. But even if watching is impossible for those on the front line, he says those fighting will still gather together and listen on the radio if they can.

When the football team is playing, the whole country is watching. Football is the number one sport in Ukraine, it’s extremely popular,” Berezovets told CNN Sport over the phone from the country’s embattled south.

Read the full story:

12:00 a.m. ET, June 1, 2022

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

US President Joe Biden has pledged more advanced rocket systems and munitions to Ukraine that would "enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield," Biden wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

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

New US rocket systems: Following Biden's op-ed, senior US administration officials confirmed the US will send Ukraine US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS, as part of the country's 11th package of security assistance. The officials said the HIMARS will be equipped with munitions that will allow Ukraine to launch rockets about 80 kilometers (49 miles). That is far less than the maximum range of the systems but far greater than anything Ukraine has been sent to date.

Russians control "most of Severodonetsk": Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, said Russian troops now control most of the city of Severodonetsk — but he has dismissed suggestions that Ukrainian troops in the area will be surrounded. If Russian forces gain control of Severodonetsk, the neighboring city of Lysychansk will be the only urban area of any size in Luhansk to remain under Ukrainian control. Hayday earlier said a Russian air strike in Severodonetsk had hit a tank of nitric acid at a chemical plant and warned people in the city to stay in shelters. 

Ukrainian progress: Ukrainian forces have made progress in the regions of Kherson and Kharkiv and are holding back Russian forces in Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday. “Our defenders show extreme bravery, despite the fact that Russia has a substantial advantage in force and weapons,” Zelensky said.

NATO chief visit: Jens Stoltenberg is traveling to Washington, DC, on Tuesday for a working visit, the alliance said in a statement. Stoltenberg will be in the US capital until Friday and is expected to meet top US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

US welcomes Ukrainian refugees: More than 23,000 Ukrainians have been authorized to come to the US as part of the Biden administration’s streamlined process for Ukrainian refugees seeking to enter the country, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The Biden administration has committed to accepting up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Playing "hunger games with the world": Ukraine is working on an “UN-led naval operation” with navies of partnering countries to ensure a safe trade route for exporting its agricultural products, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. Zelensky previously said 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.

Moscow cuts more gas supplies: Danish energy firm Ørsted has confirmed that Russian state energy giant Gazprom will halt gas supplies starting on June 1 after Ørsted refused to pay for gas in rubles. Finland, Poland and Bulgaria have already been cut off from Russian gas supplies for the same reasons.

11:50 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Ukraine is losing up to 100 soldiers every day, Zelensky says

Ukrainian soldiers carry the coffins of the fallen during the funeral in Lviv, Ukraine on May 26.
Ukrainian soldiers carry the coffins of the fallen during the funeral in Lviv, Ukraine on May 26. (Adri Salido/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Ukraine is losing 60 to 100 soldiers every day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Newsmax in an interview that aired on Tuesday.

The situation in the east [of Ukraine] is very difficult. We are losing 60 to 100 soldiers every day and something like 500 wounded in combat,” Zelensky said.

The President also told Newsmax that shipments of grain are being blocked by Russia in the Black Sea.

"Currently, 22.5 millions tons of grain are blocked by Russia," Zelensky said. "In order to de-block this territory with an exit to the sea, with an exit to water, with an exit to our people, we need to fight and we need to have weapons with effective range as far as 120-140 kilometers."

Some context: Earlier on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden announced a new package of rocket systems to be sent to Ukraine. Senior administration officials said the rocket systems would have the capability to launch rockets as far as 80 kilometers, far less than the long range weaponry Zelensky has asked for, but far greater than anything Ukraine has been sent to date.

In the interview with Newsmax, Zelensky was adamant the rockets would be used in Ukraine – not on Russian soil.

"I know some of the people in the United States are saying, or people in the White House are saying, we might be using them to attack Russia: Look, we're not planning to attack Russia. We're not interested in the Russian Federation. We're not fighting on their territory,” Zelensky said.
“We have the war on our territory. They came to our country. We want to de-block our cities. For that purpose, we need ammo that can reach as far as 100 kilometers."

11:48 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

New US rocket systems will enable Ukraine to hit targets 50 miles away — its greatest range yet, US administration officials say

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System during a live-fire training mission in Florida on May 10.
A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System during a live-fire training mission in Florida on May 10. (Senior Airman Joseph P. LeVeille/U.S. Air Force)

Senior US administration officials confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that the United States will be sending Ukraine US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS, as part of the country's 11th package of security assistance to Ukraine. 

The officials said the HIMARS will be equipped with munitions that will allow Ukraine to launch rockets about 80 kilometers (49 miles).

Some context: That is far less than the maximum range of the systems, which is around 300 kilometers (186 miles), but far greater than anything Ukraine has been sent to date. The M777 Howitzers the US sent to Ukraine last month, for example, marked a significant increase in range and power over previous systems, but even those top out at around 25 kilometers (18 miles) in range.

Further weapons: The new security assistance package, to be announced officially on Wednesday, will also include air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank weapons, anti-armor weapons, artillery rounds, helicopters, tactical vehicles, and spare parts to help the Ukrainians continue maintenance of the equipment, the officials said.

CNN previously reported that US officials were debating for weeks whether to send Ukraine the advanced rocket systems, because they can strike so much further than any weapons they already have. The weapons’ long range, technically capable of striking into Russian territory, raised concerns that Russia might view the shipments as provocative. 

The officials said on Tuesday that the US is “not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders,” and is “not seeking to prolong the war.”

They also said they had received assurances from Ukraine that they would not use the systems to launch attacks inside Russia. But they emphasized that as the conflict evolves, the US will “continue to tailor” its assistance to Ukraine’s most urgent needs. 

The officials also said the new rocket systems will help put Ukraine “in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table” with Russia, and reiterated that the US will “not pressure the Ukrainian government in public or in private to make any territorial concessions.”