Timeline: Week 13 of Russia’s war in Ukraine

Al Jazeera recaps key events in week 13 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Local resident Viacheslav walks on debris of a residential building damaged by a military strike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region
A man walks through the debris of a residential building hit by Russian fire in Ukraine's Severodonetsk city in the Luhansk region [File: Serhii Nuzhnenko/Reuters]

The 13th week of Moscow’s war on Ukraine saw Russian forces respond to Ukraine’s recent counteroffensives by mounting a series of attacks and military advances in the east of the country. The advances followed the complete surrender of almost 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers who had held out at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol city.

As Russia advances on Severdonetsk in the Luhansk region, the focus on this key city has involved attacks on the nearby town of Popasna and has formed part of the Russian southern offensive on Severdonetsk and other locations in the east, where fighting is fierce.

Ukraine’s military leaders said this week that Russian forces have suffered heavy losses and have been forced to replenish battlefield equipment with damaged heavy armour and old T-62 tanks.

The United Nations officially records that almost 4,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the war – a figure that Kyiv believes is far higher – and 6.5 million Ukrainians have become refugees in Europe. Ukraine also estimated this week that more than 29,000 Russians have died in the war to date.

Here, Al Jazeera looks at the major events that marked the 13h week of the war in Ukraine:

May 18

In the east, Russian forces conduct a series of unsuccessful breakout operations: From Izyum, they attempt to reach Devhenke, 30km to the south, ostensibly to secure access to the Izyum-Sloviansk highway. From Popasna, they attempt to advance southwest and north, to secure access to the highways to Bakhmut and Lysychansk. And from Donetsk, they attempt to advance to Sloviansk. A direct assault on the lower reaches of Severdonetsk fails, and Russia conducts heavy artillery and aerial bombardment of the Severdonetsk area.

The Russian defence ministry says 694 Ukrainian fighters at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol city have surrendered in the past 24 hours, bringing the total since May 16 to 959.

The European Commission announces a 220-billion euro ($235bn) plan to allow member states to ditch Russian fossil fuels over the coming five years. The plan involves massive spending on gas infrastructure to promote liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from alternative sources, and a deepening and speeding up of existing plans to install renewable energy capacity.

May 19

Russian forces suffer heavy losses after a failed assault on Velyka Komyshuvakha, 23km southwest of Izyum. Russian troops launching attacks north and west of Popasna also fail to take a series of settlements, but claim to have surrounded Ukrainian forces in Zolote and Hirske. The Popasna offensive is part of a Russian effort to assault Severdonetsk from the south.

Russian forces conduct artillery strikes in an unsuccessful effort to regain lost ground around Kharkiv, although Russian forces manage to retake Rubizhne. Ukraine says it has liberated 23 settlements since May 5. Missile strikes from Russian soil in the directions of Sumy and Chernihiv suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin may not have entirely given up on ambitions to seize the north of Ukraine.

May 20

Russian forces reportedly break through Ukrainian defences north and west of Popasna. To the north, they are said to take Volodymyrivka, Lypove and Komyshuvakha. Mercenaries of the Russian Wagner Group reportedly take Trypillya and Vyskrivka to the west. Russian forces are also said to claim Troitske, south of Popasna – and to be encircling Lyman and storming Yarova and Svyatohirsk, both west of the city.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu claims 1,908 Ukrainian fighters at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol have surrendered. The number cannot be verified. The Red Cross says it has registered hundreds of evacuees from the plant.

In the north, Russian forces are attempting to recapture settlements northeast of Kharkiv, and claim to be fighting in Vesele, Tsyrkuny, Zolochiv, and Ternova.

Germany and Qatar sign an agreement to deepen their energy partnership. “The energy security issue plays an important role for us. Germany will develop its infrastructure to be in a position to import liquefied gas by ship,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tells journalists at a joint news conference with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Berlin.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder bows to pressure to resign his seat on the board of Russian oil giant Rosneft. He also says he declined a position on the board of gas monopoly Gazprom. Schroeder was instrumental in paving the way for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was to carry Russian gas to Germany.

May 21

Ukraine says Russian forces are launching an offensive from Donetsk to encircle the rest of the Luhansk region from the west. Russians continue to make small advances southeast of Izyum. Russian forces shell Velyka Komyshuvakha and Dovehenke, southeast of Izyum, suggesting they are preparing a ground offensive in these directions.

The battle for Severdonetsk begins in earnest. Russian forces continue to try to fan outward from Popasna, in an effort to drive towards Severdonetsk from the south.

Ukraine’s general staff says pontoon-placing equipment near the Seversky Donets River suggests Russia plans to resume the offensive from Yampil towards Lyman.

Russia’s defence ministry says it has full control of Mariupol, following the evacuation of the last defenders of the Azovstal steel plant there.

Russia reinforces its positions north and east of Kharkiv, guarding against any possible Ukrainian counteroffensives.

May 22

The Ukrainian general staff says Russian forces continue to shell front-line settlements southeast of Izyum as they prepare for a full-scale assault. Russian forces continue a ground assault on Lysychansk and Severdonetsk from the east, accompanied by heavy bombardment, without any reported advances.

A supporting line of attack from Popasna also persists, with Ukraine confirming fighting in Toshkivka, Komyshuvakha, Trypillya, and Vasylivka. Ukraine also confirms Russian advances around Popasna in previous days.

Ukraine says Russian forces in the south are building secondary lines of defence, and conducting rocket and artillery strikes on the Zaporizhia, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, and Mykolaiv regions.

May 23

Russian forces intensify shelling around Izyum, as they prepare for a renewed ground offensive towards Sloviansk. Reports suggest Russian forces are marching west from Popasna, capturing Myronovsky, a key point on the highway to Bakhmut and Sloviansk. The Russian assault on the outskirts of Severdonetsk makes marginal gains.

The Ukrainian general staff says Russia is preparing to replenish battlefield losses with damaged tanks and aged T-62 tanks currently in storage.

Ukraine sentences the first Russian soldier convicted of war crimes to life in prison. Tank commander Vadim Shishimarin, 21, was found guilty of shooting to death 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in the northeastern village of Chupakivkha four days into the invasion.

Denis Pushilin, head of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, says the Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at Mariupol’s Azovstal plant will stand trial in the Donetsk region.

In the south, the Zaporizhia local government says Russian troops are gathering in preparation for a Ukrainian counteroffensive and possibly a renewed offensive.

Russian diplomat Boris Bondarev publicly resigns in protest against the war.

“For twenty years of my diplomatic career I have seen different turns of our foreign policy, but never have I been so ashamed of my country as on February 24 of this year,” Bondarev wrote on social media. The resignation echoes that of United States diplomat John Brady Kiesling, who resigned in February 2003 in protest against George W Bush’s second Gulf War.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights officially records 3,930 Ukrainian civilian deaths, though Ukrainian authorities believe the number of dead to be in the tens of thousands. And the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees says there are more than 6.5 million Ukrainian refugees in Europe.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that since the start of the war, Russia has launched 2,275 missiles and 3,000 aerial strikes against Ukraine.

The Russian rouble has rebounded, becoming 30 percent stronger against the US dollar than it was before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Bans on exports of Western goods and services to Russia have given the country a healthy current account surplus and very low demand for foreign currencies, market analysts say. At the same time, soaring global energy prices have given Russia a windfall for its oil and gas exports, which are not yet sanctioned in most of the world.

Zelenskyy asks leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland to tighten sanctions against Russia.

Germany’s economy minister says the European Union is close to agreement on a Russian oil embargo.

“We will reach a breakthrough within days,” Robert Habeck tells broadcaster ZDF at the Davos WEF.

May 24

Intense fighting continues in the east, especially around Severdonetsk and Lysychansk, Ukraine’s general staff says: “The enemy is carrying out intense fire impact along the entire line of encounter … The greatest combat activity is observed in the Donetsk operational area, namely the vicinity of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.”

Russian forces are reported to be advancing towards Severdonetsk, towards Bakhmut and towards Lyman, in the eastern, central and northern sectors of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, respectively.

“Now we are observing the most active phase of the full-scale aggression which Russia unfolded against our country,” says Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, Ukraine’s defence ministry spokesman.

Workers in Mariupol have found 200 decomposing bodies under the rubble of a single building, municipal advisor Petro Andryushchencko says, without specifying when the bodies were found. The dead are presumed to be civilians who were sheltering in the basement when the building was bombed by Russian forces.

Ukraine estimates more than 29,000 Russians have died in the war so far.

Zelenskyy says his government’s top priority is the exchange of thousands of prisoners of war.

“Several thousand of our people are in captivity after the blockade of Mariupol, Azovstal … These are absolutely brave people, I am immensely grateful to them. They did a great job. Confident, heroic, historical. We have to exchange them,” Zelenskyy tells world leaders gathered at the Davos WEF, saying this will require international pressure on Russia.

Ukraine says it is readying charges of war crimes, including the murder and torture of civilians, against 48 Russian soldiers, and has a list of 600 other suspects.

The Kyiv School of Economics reports that damage to Ukrainian infrastructure from the war amounts to an estimated $100bn.

A third of this is damage to highways, and another third to residential buildings. Forbes magazine tallies Russia’s material cost through losses of equipment to $13bn.

South Africa says sanctions against Russia are hurting third countries.

“Even those countries that are either bystanders or not part of the conflict are also going to suffer from the sanctions that have been imposed against Russia,” South African President Cyril Ramophosa said during a news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Pretoria.

Source: Al Jazeera