Russia-Ukraine latest updates: Finland, Sweden to apply to NATO

News from May 15: Helsinki and Stockholm announce the decision to apply for NATO membership, setting aside decades of neutrality.

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Finland's President Sauli Niinisto attend a joint news conference on Finland's security policy decisions at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, May 15, 2022.
'A new era is beginning,' Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said alongside Prime Minister Sanna Marin, announcing a step that the two leaders called 'historic' [Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/Reuters]
  • Finland announces its intention to seek NATO membership, hours before Sweden’s governing party backed a plan to join the transatlantic alliance.
  • The decision comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Finland that joining NATO would be “a mistake”.
  • Speaking after top diplomats from the alliance’s 30 member states met in Berlin, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed hope that Ukraine could win the war as Russian military advances appeared to be faltering.

INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what Day 81

The live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us. Our coverage has now moved here.

Below are the updates for Sunday, May 15:

Nauseda: ‘Ukraine war opened Europe’s eyes to Putin’s intentions’

Talks have not produced much as Russia steps up its military campaign, especially in the east, and some neighbouring countries now fear possible Russian aggression against them.

NATO’s presence in Lithuania has increased to about 3,000 soldiers. But Vilnius has joined other Baltic states in asking for more forces.

Is a Russian attack against other states imminent? And what will it take to guarantee security in the region? Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda talks to Al Jazeera.

Sweden, Finland NATO membership will increase stability, deterrence: Analyst

As to what will NATO gain from Sweden and Finland’s membership, Robert Dalsjo, director of studies at the Swedish defence research agency told Al Jazeera, “it will increase stability and deterrence”.

“It will remove a source of uncertainty in this region and will facilitate the defence of both alliance members Norway and the Baltic states because Sweden and Finland will seize to be a white area that NATO cannot count on in wartime,” Dalsjo said.

“In the long run, it will increase stability and deference in this part of the world.”

Putin started a ‘counterproductive’ war: Analyst

Sweden and Finland’s decision to join NATO “shows how counterproductive the war that Vladimir Putin started is”, Robert Dalsjo, director of studies at the Swedish defence research agency, told Al Jazeera.

He was referring to Russia’s plan, which was to stop the creeping of NATO around its borders.

Sweden ‘can no longer rely on the old way of doing things’: Correspondent

Reporting on Sweden’s move towards joining NATO, Al Jazeera’s Paul Rhys from Stockholm said, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden “can no longer rely on the old way of doing things”, according to Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

“She [said] there is no desire to provoke Russia or to be Russia’s enemy, beyond the condemnation of Russia’s war with Ukraine, but that invasion itself is a turning point and they can no longer rely on the old way of doing things,” Rhys said.

“She did add that Sweden will have the condition that there will be no nuclear weapons on Swedish soil and no permanent NATO bases, but perhaps [this is] an indication of just how hard it’s been for Sweden to let go of this alliance-free status that they’ve had for two centuries.

“Even two weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Magdalena Andersson said that the security situation in Europe would be worsened if Sweden made an application to NATO. She’s obviously changed her mind on that, backed up by the security analysis that Sweden released on Friday,” Rhys said.

Serbia pledges to ‘fight as long as we can’ against Russian sanctions

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic says Serbia is suffering for its refusal to impose sanctions on Russia and that life would be “10 times better” if it did so. But, he said Serbia will still not impose sanctions because it has an independent policy, regional media N1 has reported.

“Everyone would say that Vucic is announcing the introduction of sanctions. No, we will fight as long as we can to maintain our policy and we are pursuing that policy not because we gain something from not imposing sanctions,” N1 quoted Vucic as saying.

“This is because I listen to experts who are pointing out the costs of natural gas, which would be a loss of a billion … not to mention the reduced direct investments and that seven American producers and actors refused to come to make films because we did not impose sanctions on Russia,“ Vucic said.

Click here to read more about Serbia’s predicament amid the war in Ukraine.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addresses the nation at a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia
‘We will fight as long as we can to maintain our [independent] policy,’ Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said [Darko Vojinovic/AP Photo]

NATO assures Ukraine of open-ended military support

NATO has pledged open-ended military support for Ukraine at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin.

Germany’s Annalena Baerbock said it would provide military assistance “for as long as Ukraine needs this support for the self-defence of its country”.

Eurovision win in hand, Ukraine band releases new war video

Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra, fresh off its Eurovision victory, has released a new music video of its winning hit “Stefania” that features scenes of war-ravaged Ukraine and women in combat gear, as the annual song contest took on ever more political tones given Russia’s war.

“This is how we see Ukrainian mothers today,” Kalush frontman Oleh Psiuk said of the video, which had already racked up millions of views within hours of its release.

“We were trying to deliver the message of what Ukraine looks like today.”

Where are people fleeing to:

INTERACTIVE Russia-Ukraine war Refugees DAY 80

Swedish PM to seek parliament backing for NATO bid on Monday

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has said she will go to Parliament on Monday to seek broad support for an application to join NATO.

“Tomorrow I will assure that there is a broad parliamentary support in the Riksdag for a Swedish membership application and after that, we will be set to take a government decision,” Andersson told a news conference.

Sweden’s security needs best served by NATO membership, PM says

Sweden’s security needs are best served by NATO membership, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has said, after her party abandoned decades of opposition to joining the US-led alliance.

“The best thing for the security of Sweden and the Swedish people is to join NATO,” Andersson told a news conference.

“We believe Sweden needs the formal security guarantees that come with membership in NATO.”

Turks protest against Russian attacks on Mariupol

Dozens of demonstrators in Istanbul have joined a protest against Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and the siege by Russian forces of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

Chanting slogans of support for Ukraine, the protesters called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide assistance with the plant’s evacuation.

Aliya Huseynova, a member of the Ukrainian diaspora in Turkey, also called on human rights organisations and world governments to recognise the dire humanitarian situation in the plant and offer help to its defenders.

Baerbock warns Moscow: Bombing must stop before dialogue can begin

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock has said that in order for dialogue with Moscow to begin, Russia must stop bombing Ukraine.

“We are ready at any time not only to talk, but to finally stop people from being killed,” Baerbock said after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin. “But for that to happen, these bombings have to stop.”

US Senate to hold vote on $40bn Ukraine aid bill on Wednesday

US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said he expects the Senate to vote on $40bn in proposed aid to Ukraine on Wednesday after holding a related procedural vote on Monday.

“We expect to invoke cloture – hopefully by a significant margin – on the motion to proceed on Monday, which would set us up to approve the supplemental on Wednesday,” McConnell told reporters on a conference call from Stockholm after visiting the Ukrainian capital on Saturday.

He was referring to a procedural “cloture” vote that caps further debate on a matter to 30 hours.

Sweden’s ruling party backs joining NATO

Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats have said they backed the country joining NATO, abandoning decades of opposition and creating a large parliament majority in favour of membership.

With neighbouring Finland already set to hand in its application, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is now all but certain to launch a formal application within days.

“The party board has at its meeting on May 15, 2022 decided that the party will work toward Sweden applying for membership in NATO,” the Social Democrats said in a statement.

Blinken: US to maintain pressure on Russia over war

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said NATO wants an end to the war in Ukraine “as soon as possible”.

Speaking in Berlin, Blinken said the US would continue to defend the country’s sovereignty.

Earlier on Sunday, on the sidelines of the meeting, Blinken met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, to discuss the effect of the war and how to get Ukraine’s grain to international markets.

NATO: Nordic shift shows ‘aggression doesn’t pay’

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said if Finland and Sweden decided to apply for NATO membership it would be a “historic moment”, proving that “aggression doesn’t pay”.

Stoltenberg, who did not attend the meeting in person but spoke by video link as he recovers from COVID-19, said the Nordic nations’ joining NATO would “increase our shared security” and demonstrated the bloc’s door was open.

Sweden has already taken steps towards joining the alliance, while Georgia’s bid is again being discussed despite dire warnings from Moscow about the consequences if its neighbour becomes part of NATO.


Sweden to continue talks with Turkey on NATO membership

Sweden was unable to reach a solution with Turkey about its expected NATO membership application, but will continue negotiations, the Swedish foreign minister has said, following an informal meeting in Berlin.

Noting that Sweden was unable to agree with the Turkish side “because of the formation in the north of Syria”, Ann Linde stressed: “We accept that the PKK is a terrorist organisation.

“We don’t think the same about the formation in northern Syria, and neither do many NATO countries.

“Like the US and other NATO countries, we have met with Kurdish organisations in northern Syria,” she said.

Stoltenberg: No delay in NATO expansion expected, despite objections

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said he does not expect the anticipated accession of Finland and Sweden to the defence alliance to be delayed by Turkey’s objections.

Turkey had made it clear that it did not want to block accession, Stoltenberg said at the end of a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin.

“I’m confident that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the membership or the accession process,” Stoltenberg said.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock stands next to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, seen on a screen speaking during a news conference
NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg is seen on a screen speaking during a news conference at a NATO meeting, while German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock stands at a podium, in Berlin, Germany [Michele Tantussi/Reuters]

Latest Putin talk on NATO ‘calm and cool’, Finnish leader says

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has said his latest talk with Putin about his country’s bid to join NATO was measured and did not contain any threats.

“He confirmed that he thinks it’s a mistake. We are not threatening you. Altogether, the discussion was very, could I say, calm and cool,” Niinisto said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union”.

Ukraine has deployed new US howitzers at front lines: Embassy

Ukraine has deployed many of its new US M-777 howitzers at the front lines and Washington has delivered all but one of the 90 artillery pieces they were due to send, the US embassy in Kyiv has said.

The M-777 is seen as particularly significant because of its long range and accuracy.

The US embassy reposted a Ukrainian military video of Kyiv’s soldiers training to use the weapons.

“M-777 Howitzers in action. Part of the United States’ most recent $800 million care package for the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” it tweeted.

Russia’s actions amount to repudiation of agreement with NATO, Germany says

Russia’s behaviour amounts to the unilateral repudiation of a 1997 cooperation agreement with NATO, Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock has said.

“The Russian government has made it clear that the NATO-Russia Founding Act is no longer worth anything to it. So we now have to acknowledge that this basic act was also unilaterally terminated by Russia, not by NATO,” Baerbock told reporters at the end of a NATO foreign ministers meeting.

The agreement was designed to build trust and limit both sides’ force presence in Eastern Europe. NATO suspended practical cooperation with Russia in 2014 following Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula. Russia suspended its mission to NATO and closed the alliance’s office in Moscow in October 2021 in response to the expulsion of Russian diplomats.

Russia accused of dropping phosphorus bombs on Azovstal

Ukrainian officials say Russia dropped phosphorus bombs on the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol in response to Ukraine’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC).

“Hell has come to earth. To Azovstal,” Mariupol city council deputy Petro Andriushchenko wrote on Telegram. He posted a video said to be of the attack, also showing artillery fire. The footage could not be independently verified.

Phosphorus bombs are incendiary bombs which ignite on contact with oxygen and cause devastating damage. Their use is banned under international law in populated areas. There was no evidence that phosphorus bombs were dropped.

Blinken confident on Finland, Sweden NATO bids

Blinken voiced confidence that Sweden and Finland would join NATO once they formally apply despite Turkey’s voiced concerns.

“The United States would strongly support the NATO application by either Sweden or Finland should they choose to formally apply to the alliance,” Blinken told reporters after NATO foreign ministers met in Berlin.

He said he heard “almost across-the-board very strong support” for the NATO bids. “I’m very confident that we will reach consensus,” he said.

NATO eyes providing security assurances for Finland, Sweden during candidacy period

NATO will look at providing security guarantees for Finland and Sweden during the interim period from their application for membership to accession, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg has said.

“Finland and Sweden are concerned about the interim period… we will try to speed up that process,” the NATO secretary-general said.

“We will look into ways to provide security assurances including by increasing NATO presence in the region.”

Turkey lays out demands as Finland, Sweden seek NATO membership

Turkey’s foreign minister said that Sweden and Finland must stop supporting “terrorists” in their countries, provide clear security guarantees and lift export bans on Turkey as they seek membership in NATO.

Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara was not threatening anybody nor seeking leverage but speaking out, especially about Sweden’s support for the PKK Kurdish group.

Finnish diplomat hails ‘historic decision’ to apply for NATO membership

Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto says Finland is making an “historic decision” after the country announced its intention to apply for NATO membership.

“By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and that of all of Europe,” the foreign minister cited Haavisto as saying. “We are making this historic decision for future generations,” he added.

Finland open to discussion with Turkey over its NATO bid

Finland is ready to talk with Ankara on problems raised by Turkey on NATO membership, says Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

Turkey has repeatedly criticised Sweden and Finland for their handling of organisations deemed to be “terrorists” by Ankara, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrives for a two-day NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin, Germany
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrives for a two-day NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin, Germany [Michele Tantussi/Reuters]

Before the start of NATO’s top diplomats’ meeting, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed that the two countries’ support of the PKK “negatively affects the feeling of our people”, Anadolu Agency quoted him as saying.

NATO sees Russia’s ‘brutal invasion’ faltering

A senior NATO official said Russia’s military advance in Ukraine appears to be faltering and expressed hope that Kyiv can win the war.

Top NATO diplomats are meeting Sunday in Berlin to discuss providing further support to Ukraine and moves by Finland, Sweden and others to join the Western alliance in the face of threats from Russia.

“The brutal invasion [by] Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana told reporters. “We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help Ukraine can win this war.”

Finland announces it wants to join NATO

Finland has announced it intends to apply for membership in NATO, paving the way for the 30-member Western military alliance to expand amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement at a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki.

The Finnish parliament is expected to endorse the decision in the coming days, but it is considered a formality. A formal membership application will then be submitted to the NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at some point next week.


Charity warns over risks of food shortages

German charity Welthungerhilfe chief Mathias Mogge warns of the consequences of food shortages around the world.

“Countries like Egypt, Kenya, South Sudan, Lebanon and many other states have been heavily dependent on Russian and Ukrainian exports, either directly or indirectly,” he told the RND media group. “These countries are not receiving the quantities they ordered any more or have to pay a lot more for them.”

Food prices had already risen to an all-time high before the war due to factors including climate change, conflict and the pandemic, Mogge said.

“When the UN World Food Programme (WFP) had to cut rations in refugee camps for Syrian refugees in 2015, this was one of the triggers for the large refugee movements to Europe. We should not forget that.”

NATO deputy chief lauds Ukraine’s Eurovision win

Eurovision and NATO might not usually be associated, but the military alliance’s deputy chief Mircea Geoana congratulated Ukraine for winning the annual music contest with a “beautiful song”, calling it a testament to its bravery in fighting Russia.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest. And this is not something I’m making in a light way. Because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery… Of course, the song was beautiful, it is beautiful,” the diplomat said.

Where are people fleeing to?


More weapons on the way to Ukraine: Kuleba

More weapons and support are coming to Ukraine, the country’s top diplomat Dmytro Kuleba has said following a meeting in the German capital, Berlin, with his American counterpart Antony Blinken.

“More weapons and other aid is on the way to Ukraine,” Kuleba said on Twitter.

The two countries also committed to work closely together to ensure “Ukrainian food exports reach consumers in Africa and Asia,” he added.

Russian attack destroys military target in Lviv: Ukraine

Maxim Kozitsky, Lviv’s regional governor, is providing more details about the Russian attack in the region in the early morning.

“Four enemy missiles hit a military infrastructure in Yavoriv district, near the border with Poland,” Kozitsky said on Telegram. “The object is completely destroyed,” he said, adding that there were no victims.

Germany says all ready for quick ratification of Finnish, Swedish NATO membership

Germany has taken all preparations for a quick ratification process should Finland and Sweden decide to apply for NATO membership, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said, while underlining both countries’ need for security guarantees.

“If they decide to join they can join quickly … We must make sure that we will give them security guarantees, there must not be a transition period, a grey zone, where their status is unclear,” she told reporters in Berlin.

She was referring to the ratification period that can take as long as a year, during which the two countries will not yet be protected by NATO’s Article 5 which guarantees that an attack on one ally is an attack on all.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock attends a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin, Germany
German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock attends a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin, Germany [Bernd von Jutrczenka/Reuters]

NATO deputy chief confident consensus can be found on Finland, Sweden membership

NATO’s Deputy Secretary Mircea Geoana said he was confident Turkey’s concerns over Finland and Sweden joining the defensive military alliance could be addressed.

“Turkey is an important ally and expressed concerns that are addressed between friends and allies,” Geoana said, adding he was confident allies will find “all conditions for consensus to be met” if the two countries decide to apply for membership.

His comments came as Sweden and Finland are poised to come out in favour of entering NATO – a move that Turkey, a member of the alliance, was opposed to. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Scandinavian countries of being “guesthouses for terrorist organisations”.

One person in Russian village wounded: Governor

One person was injured with a shrapnel wound after a Ukrainian strike hit the Russian village of Sereda, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the Belgorod region, said on his Telegram channel.

The town is in Shebekinsky district, next to the border with Ukraine.

Missile hits military infrastructure in Lviv: Official

The governor of Ukraine’s Lviv region has reported a missile attack in the western area.

Maxim Kozitsky said the missile attack early on Sunday hit some military infrastructure in the region.

“There is no information about dead or injured at this hour,” Kozitsky said. “The extent of the destruction is being clarified.”

Russia’s Donbas offensive has ‘lost momentum’: UK

The British Ministry of Defence says the Russian offensive in Ukraine’s Donbas region “has lost momentum and fallen significantly behind schedule”.

In its latest intelligence briefing, the ministry said Russia has “failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month whilst sustaining consistently high levels of attrition”.

It is likely that Russia has now suffered losses of one-third of the ground combat force it committed in February, the briefing said.

“Russian forces are increasingly constrained by degraded enabling capabilities, continued low morale and reduced combat effectiveness,” the ministry added. “Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days.”

Eurovision winners ready to return home and fight

The Kalush Orchestra frontman says he and his band members are “ready to fight” Russia once more when they return to their country.

Oleh Psiuk spoke during a news conference in Turin after Ukraine’s victory at the Eurovision Song Contest was confirmed in the early hours of Sunday.

“We have a temporary authorisation to be here and it ends in two days and exactly in two days we are going to be back in Ukraine,” Psiuk said. “It’s hard to say what exactly I am going to do, because this is the first time I win the Eurovision Song Contest, but like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go on until the end.”

Currently, an order from Ukraine’s government prohibits men aged between 18 and 60 from leaving the country, but the six members of the all-male band received special permission to go and represent Ukraine and Ukrainian culture at the music contest. One of the original members stayed to continue with the war effort.

UK’s Johnson congratulates Ukraine on Eurovision win

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has congratulated Ukraine on its Eurovision victory, describing the win as a reflection of European support for the war-torn country.

“Congratulations to Ukraine for winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2022,” the prime minister said in a tweet.

“It is a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom,” he said in a tweet.

Relatives of Azovstal troops ask China’s Xi for help

Relatives of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant have called on China’s President Xi Jinping to “save” the encircled troops, saying he was the last world leader that Moscow would listen to.

Five wives of the Ukrainian soldiers and one father gave a press conference in Kyiv on Saturday, in another desperate appeal to help the soldiers, holed up in underground tunnels in the huge factory that has been besieged by Russian forces for weeks.

“There is only one man left in the world that we can address, it is the Chinese leader,” said Stavr Vychniak, the father of one of the trapped soldiers. “China has a big influence on Russia and on Putin personally. We ask for him to intervene,” he said.

A woman reacts as relatives of Ukrainian service members who are besieged inside of the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol attend a protest to demand a rescue operation
Relatives of Ukrainian troops trapped in Azovstal attend a protest to demand a rescue operation, near the presidential palace in downtown Kyiv [File: Carlos Barria/ Reuters]

Turkey offers sea evacuation for wounded Mariupol fighters: Erdogan aide

A spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara has proposed carrying out a sea evacuation of wounded fighters holed up in the steel plant in Mariupol.

Ibrahim Kalin told the Reuters news agency he had personally discussed the proposal with Zelenskyy in Kyiv two weeks ago and that it remains “on the table” although Moscow has not agreed to it.

Under the plan, people evacuated from the vast Azovstal steel plant would be taken by land to the port of Berdyansk which, like Mariupol, is on the Sea of Azov, and a Turkish vessel would take them across the Black Sea to Istanbul, he said.

Zelenskyy hails Ukraine’s Eurovision win, pledges to host contest in Mariupol one day

Ukraine’s president has praised the Kalush Orchestra’s win in the Eurovision song contest.

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” Zelenskyy said in a Telegram post.

As winners of this year’s Eurovision, Ukraine will host next year’s contest. Zelenskyy said he hoped to one day host the participants and guests of Eurovision in a “free, peaceful and rebuilt” Mariupol.

Blinken arrives in Germany for NATO meeting

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Germany ahead of an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin.

The gathering will consider moves by Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance, as well as ways in which NATO can support Ukraine without being drawn into the conflict with Russia.

Mitch McConnell assures Ukraine of ‘sustained support’

The Republican leader of the US Senate has reaffirmed Washington’s support for Ukraine during a surprise visit to Kyiv.

In a statement, Mitch McConnel said he reassured Zelenskyy that the US “stands squarely behind Ukraine and will sustain our support until Ukraine wins this war”.

Ukraine wins Eurovision Song Contest

Ukraine has won the Eurovision Song Contest, riding a wave of public support across Europe for the embattled nation and buoyed by an infectious folk hip hop melody.

Kalush Orchestra’s song, Stefania, beat out 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event on Saturday. Sung in Ukrainian, the winning song fused rap with traditional folk music and was a tribute to band frontman Oleh Psiuk’s mother.

Ukraine’s president sent good luck wishes earlier in the night, saying that a Kalush Orchestra victory would have huge symbolic meaning.

Russia had been excluded from the competition in Turin because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine appear on stage after winning the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy on May 15, 2022 [Yara Nardi/Reuters]
Kalush Orchestra on stage after winning the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest on May 15 [Yara Nardi/Reuters]
Ukrainian service members watch the performance of Kalush Orchestra during the final of the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest on May 14, 2022 [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]
Ukrainian service members watch the Kalush Orchestra performance during the Eurovision final [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Mariupol convoy reaches safety, refugees recount ‘devastating’ escape

A large convoy of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol has arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia after waiting days for Russian troops to allow them to leave.

An aide to Mariupol’s mayor said earlier that the convoy on Saturday numbered between 500 to 1,000 cars and was the largest evacuation from the city since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The refugees who arrived first had to get out of Mariupol and then somehow make their way to Berdyansk – about an hour further west along the coast – and other settlements before the two-hour drive northwest to Zaporizhzhia.

Nikolai Pavlov, 74, said he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed. A relative, using “secret detours”, managed to get him out of Mariupol to Berdyansk.

Envoy says Russian diplomats in US threatened, enticed by FBI, CIA

Russia’s envoy to the US says Russian diplomats in Washington are being threatened and US intelligence services are trying to contact them, according to the TASS news agency.

“Basically, our embassy is operating in a hostile environment … Embassy employees are receiving threats, including threats of physical violence,” TASS quoted Ambassador Anatoly Antonov saying on Saturday.

“Agents from US security services are hanging around outside the Russian embassy, handing out CIA and FBI phone numbers, which can be called to establish contact,” the ambassador told TASS.

Russia and the US have been locked in a dispute over the size and function of their respective diplomatic missions since before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian Embassy in Washington DC in March 2022 [File photo: Susan Walsh/AP]
The Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, in March 2022 [File photo: Susan Walsh/AP] (AP Photo)

US’s Mitch McConnell meets Zelenskyy in Kyiv

Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the US Senate, paid an unannounced visit to Kyiv with other Republican senators and met the Ukrainian president for talks. Hel was accompanied by fellow Senators Susan Collins, John Barrasso and John Cornyn.

Zelenskyy hailed the visit as a powerful signal of US bipartisan support for Ukraine and the strength of relations between the two nations.

“We discussed many areas of support for our state, including in defence and finance, as well as strengthening sanctions against Russia,” Zelenskyy said in a video address, adding that he stressed to the senators the need for Russia to be designated a “terrorist” state.

McConnell is pressing Republican Senator Rand Paul to end his opposition to a $40bn aid package for Ukraine, which has overwhelming support from both major parties in the US.

In this handout photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, shakes hands with Senator Mitch McConnell in Kyiv, Ukraine on Saturday, May 14, 2022 [Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP]
In this handout photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, shakes hands with Mitch McConnell in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 14 [Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP]

Ukraine band makes plea for Mariupol at Eurovision

Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra made a plea for Mariupol and the fighters holding out at the Azovstal steel plant at the end of their appearance in the Eurovision Song Contest.

“Please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal right now,” lead singer Oleh Psiuk shouted from the front of the stage in the Italian city of Turin after the band performed its song, Stefania.

Russian forces have been bombarding the steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, the last bastion of hundreds of Ukrainian defenders in a city almost completely controlled by Russia after more than two months of siege.

Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine perform during the final of the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy, May 14, 2022 [Yara Nardi/Reuters]
Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra perform during the final of the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy, May 14 [Yara Nardi/Reuters]

Putin tells Finnish president: Joining NATO would be ‘a mistake’

Putin has told his Finnish counterpart that joining NATO would be “a mistake”, as Moscow cut off its electricity supply to the Nordic country earlier.

“Putin stressed that the end of the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake since there is no threat to Finland’s security,” the Kremlin said in a statement on Saturday.

“Such a change in the country’s political orientation can have a negative impact on Russian-Finnish relations developed over years in a spirit of good neighbourliness and cooperation between partners,” it said.

Read more here.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Read all the updates from Saturday, May 14 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies