Ukraine latest updates: Zelenskyy says only talks can end war

Ukraine news from May 21: The Ukrainian president says diplomacy, not military victory can end Russia’s war on his country.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends an interview with some of the Russian media via video link.
President Zelenskyy says only a diplomatic breakthrough rather than an outright military victory could end Russia's war on his country[Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters].
  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says only a diplomatic breakthrough rather than an outright military victory could end Russia’s war on his country.
  • British foreign secretary Liz Truss tells The Telegraph she wants to see Ukraine’s neighbour Moldova “equipped to NATO standard”, to guard against any threats from Russia.
  • Russian energy giant Gazprom says it had stopped all natural gas supplies to Finland as it had not received payment in roubles.
  • Washington says it is “confident” that Turkey’s concerns about the admission of Sweden and Finland into NATO will be addressed.
  • Russia’s defence ministry says the last group of Ukrainian forces holed up in Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks has surrendered.
INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what Day 87
(Al Jazeera)

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These were the updates on Saturday, May 21:


Ukraine’s Zelenskyy talked to Italian PM, urged more Russia sanctions

Zelenskyy says he talked to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and stressed the importance of more sanctions on Russia and unblocking Ukrainian ports.

Zelenskyy tweeted that he also thanked Draghi for his “unconditional support” of Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the European Union.

Draghi initiated the call, he added.

Ukraine ready to exchange its soldiers for Russian prisoners of war: Zelenskyy

The Ukrainian president says his country is prepared to exchange its troops who surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for Russian prisoners.

In an interview with a Ukrainian television channel, Zelenskyy said the most important thing for him was to save the maximum number of people and soldiers.

Russia claims to have taken full control of the besieged city of Mariupol after the last group of Ukrainian soldiers surrendered.​​

Shattered city of Irpin back in Ukrainian control

Some of the worst street battles of the war were around Ukraine’s capital.

Attacking Irpin, north of Kyiv, was part of Russia’s failed attempt to encircle the city.

Now it is back in Ukrainian control, people there are trying to move on.

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy says only talks can end Russia’s war

Zelenskyy says only a diplomatic breakthrough rather than an outright military victory can end Russia’s war on his country.

“There are things that can only be reached at the negotiating table,” Zelenskyy said, just as Russia claimed its long-range missiles had destroyed a shipment of Western arms destined for Ukraine’s troops.

Zelenskyy also appealed for more military aid, even as US President Joe Biden formally signed off on a $40bn package of aid for the Ukrainian war effort.

Portugal PM Costa visits Ukraine, meets Zelenskyy

Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa says he supports Ukraine’s EU accession bid.

Speaking alongside Zelenskyy during a visit to Kyiv, Costa said: “The worst thing the European Union could do to Ukraine would be to divide itself now over any decision regarding the future.”

Costa reaffirmed Portugal’s commitment to the reconstruction of Ukraine, stating it should be a priority in the next European Councils to find a collective response on how to rebuild the war-torn country.

Erdogan: Turkey expects concrete Swedish steps on ‘terrorism’

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says he told Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson Ankara expects concrete steps regarding its concerns about “terrorist organisations”, the state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.

Ankara says Sweden and Finland harbour people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) armed group and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.

In a phone call, Erdogan also said an arms embargo imposed on Turkey after its 2019 Syria incursion should be lifted, according to Anadolu.

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO on Wednesday, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; Turkey objected to their membership, but Western leaders say Ankara’s objections will not block the process.

Finland’s president holds talks with Turkey’s Erdogan

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto says he held “open and direct” talks with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan to discuss Finland’s bid for NATO membership.

Erdogan has publicly questioned whether Finland and Sweden should be allowed to join the military alliance.

“I stated that, as NATO allies, Finland and Turkey will commit to each other’s security and our relationship will thus grow stronger,” Niinisto tweeted after the call. “Finland condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Close dialogue continues.”

Russia taking control of Mariupol ‘significant’: AJ correspondent

Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from near the eastern city of Bakhmut, says Russia gaining full control of port city Mariupol was a “significant” blow for Ukraine and allows Moscow to have a “landbridge” to the annexed Crimea.

“For Ukrainians, it’s a significant loss in terms of territory, but also in terms of morale,” he said.

“As long as those fighters were holding in Mariupol, it gave the forces here and the Ukrainian people a sense of hope … but now those Ukrainian fighters are in the hands of Russia, and that could be used in future negotiations and a possible prisoner exchange.”

Russia declares travel ban on Biden, Blinken

Russia has announced it was banning entry to 963 Americans including President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA chief William Burns.

Biden signs Ukraine funding bill: White House

Biden has signed a bill to provide nearly $40bn in aid for Ukraine as part of efforts to boost military support, the White House said.

The bill, which will funnel support to Ukraine for the next five months or so, includes about $6bn for armoured vehicles and air defences.

Ukraine ambassador says Poland needs money to help refugees: Associated Press

Ukraine’s ambassador to neighbouring Poland, in an interview with AP, says he hopes the EU will soon release billions of euros to Poland so assistance to Ukrainian refugees does not come “at the cost of the Polish people”.

Ambassador Andrii Deshchytsia said that while there have been no real social tensions and his country was grateful to Poland, he worries they could appear in the future.

Children from Ukraine sleep on luggage at a railway station in Przemysl, southeastern Poland
Children from Ukraine sleep on luggage at a railway station in Przemysl, Poland [File: Sergei Grits/AP Photo]

Donbas experiencing heavy fighting: Governor

Ukraine’s eastern Donbas province is experiencing heavy fighting, a regional governor has reported.

The eastern Ukrainian town of Severodonetsk has been under fire for days, with several dead and injured, according to Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk.

“The Russians are wiping out Severodonetsk like Mariupol,” Haidai said on the Telegram news channel.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify Haidai’s claims.

‘Large’ shipment of western weapons to Ukraine destroyed: Russia

Russian forces have destroyed a large shipment of Western-supplied weapons in northwestern Ukraine with long-range missiles, Moscow’s defence ministry said.

“High-precision long-range sea-based Kalibr missiles destroyed a large batch of weapons and military equipment near the Malin railway station in Zhytomyr region delivered from the United States and European countries,” it said.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the ministry’s claims.

INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what in Donbas region Day 87
(Al Jazeera)

Only ‘diplomacy’ can end Ukraine war: Zelenskyy

The war in Ukraine can only be resolved through “diplomacy”, Zelenskyy says, amid a deadlock in negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow.

He told a Ukrainian television channel the war “will be bloody, there will be fighting, but will only definitively end through diplomacy”.

UK wants to arm Moldova: Local media

The UK is exploring the possibility of sending modern weaponry to Moldova to protect it from any threat of invasion from Russia, foreign secretary Liz Truss said in an interview.

“How do we ensure that there is deterrence by denial, that Ukraine is permanently able to defend itself and how do we guarantee that happens? That’s what we are working on at the moment,” Truss told The Telegraph.

Ukrainian refugee being aided by UNHCR staff
UNHCR staff speak to an elderly Ukrainian refugee woman during a visit by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to a refugee facility housing Ukrainian refugees in Chisinau, Moldova [File: Aurel Obreja/AP Photo]

US, others walk out of APEC talks over Ukraine war: Reuters

Representatives of the US and other nations have walked out of an Asia-Pacific trade ministers meeting in Bangkok to protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, officials said.

Representatives from Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand joined the Americans in walking out of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, two Thai officials and two international diplomats told Reuters news agency.

Russia-Ukraine war: List of key events, day 87

Here are the key events so far on Saturday, May 21.

Get the latest updates here.

A local resident walks past a heavily damaged building in Mariupol
A local resident walks past a building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

INSIDE STORY: How is Russia’s economy performing under Western sanctions?

Moscow says the economy is weathering the storm, but analysts warn of a steep future decline.

Western nations imposed some of their strongest ever sanctions on Russia as punishment for invading Ukraine.

They include freezing the central bank’s foreign reserves, banning oil and gas exports and suspending Russia’s banks from global financial systems.

Watch here.

Russia stops gas supply to Finland

Russia’s Gazprom has halted gas exports to Finland, the Finnish gas system operator has confirmed.

Imatra is the entry point for Russian gas into Finland.

Finnish state-owned gas wholesaler Gasum also confirmed supplies had stopped and that it will seek supplies through Estonia’s grid instead.

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder resigns from Rosneft board

Gerhard Schroeder, German chancellor between 1998 and 2005, has resigned from the board of Russia’s Rosneft.

He has been under growing pressure over his links with Russia, with the European Parliament urging he be blacklisted and Germany this week closing his taxpayer-funded office.

The 78-year-old, who counts the Russian president as a personal friend, was also in line for a top job at gas giant Gazprom. German businessman Matthias Warnig also stepped down from Rosneft.

Russia may open military to older recruits

Russia’s parliament is considering new legislation that would allow Russians over the age of 40 and foreigners who are older than 30 to join the military as contract soldiers.

The proposals were introduced by two members of the United Russia party on Friday.

Russia “digging in” for protracted war: Institute for the Study of War

In its latest update on the fighting in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) says Russian forces appear to be “digging in” around Kharkiv and along the southern axis in preparation for Ukrainian counteroffensives and protracted war.

The key developments on May 20, according to the ISW:

  • Fighting was focused on the area between Izyum and the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts
  • Significant Russian offensives continue around Severodonetsk with “marginal gains” in the north, west and south of the city, especially near Popasna
  • Russia could be overstating the number of soldiers evacuated from Azovstal in order to “maximise” any POW exchange with Ukraine. It said 2,439 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in the past few days, including 531 in the final group.
People take shelter in a metro station in the city of Kharkiv
Residents take shelter in the Kharkiv metro. Ukraine has forced the Russians back from the city [Bernat Armangue/AP Photo]

Russia removes bodies from bombed Mariupol theatre

An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol says Russia on Friday removed the last bodies from the theatre where hundreds of civilians had been sheltering when Russian forces bombed it in March.

“Today, the occupiers completed the removal of the bodies of the dead,” Petro Andriushchenko wrote on Telegram, adding that he felt “rage” and “anger” over what he said was a war crime.

“Now we will never know how many civilians were actually killed,” he said, adding that the bodies had been buried in a mass grave.

Ukraine Contact Group to meet again on May 23

The Ukraine Contact Group, led by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and made up of more than 40 countries, will meet again – online – on May 23.

They will discuss further military support for Ukraine.

Wimbledon relegated over ban on players from Russia, Belarus

Tennis’s governing agencies have said players who take part in Wimbledon will not get ranking points because the UK tournament’s organisers banned athletes from Russia and Belarus.

The world’s most prestigious tennis tournament excluded Russian and Belarusian players after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, citing UK government guidance.

It is the first time Wimbledon has excluded players on the grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War II era when German and Japanese players were banned.

Russia should pay for destruction, Zelenskyy says

Zelenskyy devoted his nightly video address to Ukraine’s demand that Russia be held financially responsible for the damage its forces are inflicting on Ukraine.

In the eastern Donbas, where the Russian attack has been fiercest, he said Russian troops turned the towns of Rubizhne and Volnovakha into ruins, just as they did with Mariupol and were trying to do the same with Severodonetsk.

Zelenskyy said Russia should be made to pay for every home, school, hospital and business it destroys through a legal mechanism which would allow everyone who suffered from Russia’s actions to receive compensation.

Top EU official decries ‘unspeakable crimes’ by Russian forces

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has decried what he called “unspeakable crimes”, including sexual violence, by Russian forces being reported in areas recently recaptured by Ukraine.

“Perpetrators must be held accountable,” Borrell wrote on Twitter.

More than 2,400 Ukrainian fighters surrendered in Mariupol: Russia

Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti has quoted the country’s defence ministry as saying a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters who had been holed up at Mariupol’s steel plant had surrendered since Monday, including more than 500 on Friday.

Mariupol steel mill
A destroyed facility on the territory of the Azovstal steel mill, on May 20, 2022 [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Blinken to discuss Ukraine during Japan visit: US state department

The US Department of State says Blinken will travel to Japan to accompany Biden on his Asia trip.

“While in Tokyo, the Secretary will meet with Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and other senior Japanese officials,” the department said in a statement.

“The Secretary and the Foreign Minister will discuss our global response to President Putin’s continued brutal war on Ukraine, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s increasingly destabilizing behavior, and US-Japan cooperation under the new Economic Policy Consultative Committee (EPCC), including on regional economic development.”

Zelenskyy says high-risk flights delivered supplies to besieged Azovstal

Zelenskyy has revealed a weeks-long mystery about the siege of the Azovstal in Mariupol: How were supplies delivered to fighters in the steel mill?

Ukrainian pilots risked Russian anti-aircraft fire to fly medicine, food and water to the steel mill on helicopters, suffering a large number of casualties, Zelenskyy said in an interview on the third anniversary of his inauguration as president.

He said the effort also included the retrieval of bodies and picking up the wounded.

Russian missile hits cultural centre in Kharkiv region, Ukraine says

A Russian missile has struck a Ukrainian cultural centre in the Kharkiv region, injuring seven people, including an 11-year-old child, Kyiv has said.

Zelenskyy’s social media channel released a video showing a large explosion hitting the newly renovated Palace of Culture in Lozova. The building was partly destroyed and the roof caught fire, Ukraine’s emergency services reported.

“The occupiers identified culture, education and humanity as their enemies,” Zelenskyy wrote. “What is in the minds of people who choose such targets? Absolute evil, absolute stupidity.”

US says basketball star detained in Russia received consular visit

A US consular official has visited detained basketball star Brittney Griner in Russia, the US Department of State has said, while urging Moscow to allow more regular consular access.

Griner, 31, a two-time Olympic champion and member of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February on accusations of carrying vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil in her luggage.

“I can confirm that a consular officer visited Brittney Griner in detention yesterday on Thursday, May 19th,” spokesman Ned Price said in a briefing. “We continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all US citizen detainees.”

Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February [File: Rick Scuteri/AP Photo]

Germany to ship anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine: Report

German news agency DPA has reported that the country will ship the first 15 Gepard anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine in July.

DPA reported that the delivery, which includes training and nearly 60,000 rounds of ammunition, was agreed upon following talks between Germany’s defence minister and her Ukrainian counterpart.

Gepard – German for cheetah – are considered highly effective against low-flying aircraft and lightly armoured ground targets. They were decommissioned by the German military in 2012 but some 50 units are being restored by manufacturer KMW for Ukraine.

US ‘confident’ Turkey’s concerns on NATO expansion will be addressed

The US state department says Washington is “confident” Turkey’s concerns about the admission of Sweden and Finland into NATO will be addressed.

“Turkey is a longstanding, valued NATO ally,” said spokesperson Ned Price. “We understand Turkey’s longstanding concerns, and we’ll continue to work together in our efforts to end the scourge of terrorism.”

Turkey has accused Finland and Sweden of harbouring people associated with the PKKand the Gulen movement.

Last Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol steel mill surrender: Russia

Russia’s defence ministry says the last group of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks has surrendered, marking an end to a weeks-long siege.

“The territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant … has been completely liberated,” the ministry said in a statement.

Read more here.

A Russian soldier is seen on patrol in Mariupol
A Russian soldier patrolling a destroyed part of the steel plant in Mariupol, May 18 [AP Photo]

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

Read all the updates from Friday, May 20 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies