Timeline: Week 12 of Russia’s war in Ukraine

Al Jazeera recaps key events in week 12 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Damaged residential buildings are seen in Kharkiv
Damaged residential buildings are seen in the Saltivka neighbourhood, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

The 12th week of the Russian invasion of Ukraine saw Kyiv’s forces continue to press their counteroffensive against Russian forces in the east of the country, and reportedly all the way to the Russian border north of Kharkiv. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the number of Ukrainian refugees has passed the six-million mark.

The evacuation of wounded fighters from the Azovstal steel plant begins under a prisoner-swap agreement with Russian POWs. It is then extended to hundreds of fighters as Ukraine’s military declares an end to the Azovstal operation in Mariupol. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says negotiators are trying to secure the release of all the remaining defenders of the Azovstal plant – an estimated 600. Russia’s defence ministry confirms that 265 Ukrainians have surrendered, 51 of them injured.

Here, Al Jazeera looks at the major events that marked the 12th week of the war in Ukraine:

May 11

Ukrainian troops continue to press the offensive northeast of Kharkiv, taking the village of Pytomnyk and pushing Russian forces into defensive positions. The Ukrainian general staff claims that Russian forces are also going on the defensive around Izyum, transferring troops east to Luhansk.

The Russian military continues to bombard the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. Ukraine says it is offering an exchange of badly wounded defenders there for Russian prisoners of war (POWs). It is later clarified that discussions concern the exchange of 38 people on each side of the conflict.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says Russia has deported around 460,000 Ukrainians to 6,500 camps across Russia. “We are talking about more than 10,000 children. We know where they are,” she told France’s BFMTV. Mariupol mayoral advisor Petro Andryushchenko says missing citizens are being taken to “former correctional colony No. 52” in the village of Olenivka in Donetsk.

Ukraine for the first time limits Russian gas transiting its territory to Europe, cutting by a quarter the flow of gas through one of two major pipelines.

Protesters douse Russian Ambassador to Poland Sergey Andreev with red paint as he lays a wreath for Russian war dead on the 77th anniversary of the end of World War II.

May 12

Russian forces use artillery to slow down Ukrainian troops advancing north of Kharkiv.

Russian troops complete their takeover of Rubizhne in Ukraine’s east, and say they have secured Voevodyvka, a southern suburb of Rubizhne, suggesting they will strike out at neighbouring Severodonetsk next. But their attempts to fan out from Izyum are losing momentum.

Russia continues air and artillery strikes against the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

Ukraine says that since the beginning of the war it has identified 88 sabotage groups and detained 750 saboteurs.

Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko says the war has so far cost $8.3bn in military and humanitarian expenditures – money that would have been spent on the country’s development. Ukraine’s total spending in 2021 stood at $62.28bn.

Finland announces it will seek NATO membership.

Journalists uncover more evidence of extrajudicial killings by Russian soldiers in Bucha.

Ukraine is accused of being behind an attack on the Russian border village of Solokhi, where one person is killed and seven wounded. It is the first Russian death on Russian soil as a result of the war.

The UNHCR says the number of Ukrainian refugees has passed the six-million mark.

May 13

The Ukrainian general staff reports for the first time that Russian units are focusing on retreating from Kharkiv. Russian forces make unsuccessful attempts to break out on two fronts, outwards from Izyum and towards Slovyansk.

Russian forces take control of the western entrance of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. While retreating, Ukrainian defenders continue to resist.

European Union high representative Josep Borrell announces another 500 million euros ($524m) in military aid to Ukraine, bringing the EU total to two billion euros ($2.1bn). The money will be spent on tanks, armoured vehicles, heavy artillery and ammunition, he says.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara cannot support NATO membership for Sweden and Finland, because those countries are “guesthouses for terrorist organisations”.

Turkey accuses members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units of being terrorists. Erdogan has also outlawed followers of the Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen.

Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia says it will hold a referendum on joining Russia on July 17. Moscow sent troops to back the region’s independence in a 2008 war with Georgia. Since then, only Russia and a few other countries and regions have recognised the breakaway territory, including other Russian breakaway regions: Transnistria, the Luhansk People’s Republic, and the Donetsk People’s Republic.

May 14

The Ukraine general staff say two Russian battalion tactical groups have been moved up to the Severodonetsk region in the Donbas, and are preparing for an assault on that town as well as Soledar and Bakhmut.

In Kharkiv, Russians are trying to prevent the advance of counterattacking Ukrainian forces to the Russian border.

The Ukraine general staff say 600 wounded soldiers are in need of medical evacuation at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

Russian President Vladimir Putin tells his Finnish counterpart that joining NATO “would be a mistake” because there is no threat to Finnish security from Russia.

“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,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

May 15

Russian forces continue to amass material for a battle to take Severodonetsk in the east.

Sweden announces it will apply for NATO membership, ending two centuries of neutrality.

NATO foreign ministers gather in Berlin to discuss the candidacies of Finland and Sweden. Turkey confirms its opposition to their membership.

May 16

Ukraine’s defence ministry says its troops have advanced to the Russian border 40km north of Kharkiv, and Russian defensive efforts are focusing on preventing an incursion towards Belgorod in Russia. The Institute for the Study of War believes Russian troops may deliberately maintain a position just inside Ukraine to prevent shelling of Russian civilian areas from the border.

Ukrainian general staff report that United States M777 howitzers are in use in the field.

Ukraine says it has evacuated 53 injured fighters from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol to a medical facility in Novoazovsk. Another 211 people are evacuated to Olenivka, controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

Putin says Russia has no objection to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, as long as no NATO bases and assets are placed on their soil.

May 17

Ukraine’s military declares an end to the Azovstal operation in Mariupol. Zelenskyy says negotiators are trying to secure the release of all the remaining defenders of the Azovstal plant – an estimated 600.

“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive,” he says in a national address. Russia’s defence ministry confirms that 265 Ukrainians have surrendered, 51 of them injured.

Source: Al Jazeera