Latest Ukraine updates: Russia controls ‘most’ of Severodonetsk

Latest Ukraine news from May 31: Luhansk governor says Russian forces are all set to take over the eastern Ukrainian city after days of fighting.

A man walks next to heavily damaged buildings and destroyed cars following Russian attacks in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine.
Russian forces are bombarding towns and cities in eastern Ukraine [Francisco Seco/AP]
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has welcomed a sixth package of European Union sanctions against Russia but criticised what he called an “unacceptable” delay in the bloc agreeing with the latest measures.
  • A Ukrainian court sentences two captured Russian soldiers to 11-and-a-half years in jail for war crimes.
  • Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai says a Russian airstrike has hit a nitric acid tank in Severodonetsk, which is mostly under Russian control.
  • The mayor of Mariupol says city staff have discovered 25 new grave trenches where bodies were being placed in “layers” and that Russian occupiers have buried at least 16,000 residents in mass graves near the city since the middle of April.
  • The Kremlin reveals Russia’s Vladimir Putin told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Moscow is ready to facilitate the unhindered export of grain from Ukrainian ports in coordination with Turkey.

INTERACTIVE Russia-Ukraine War Who controls what in Donbas DAY 97 (1)

This live blog is now closed, thanks for joining us. Here are the updates for May 31.

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Biden closing in on new weapons package for Ukraine

US President Joe Biden and his team are still considering the sending of longer-range rocket systems to Ukraine but do not want them used to launch attacks inside Russian territory, the White House has said.

US officials said Biden and his national security aides are in the final stages of preparing a new weapons package for Ukraine with an announcement expected soon, possibly as early as Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Biden earlier had told reporters that “we’re not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that strike into Russia.”

Ukrainian officials report ‘shutdown of all communications’ in Kherson region

Ukrainian officials have reported a “shutdown of all communications” in the Russian-occupied southern region of Kherson.

Ukraine’s State Service for Special Communication and Information Protection said in a statement that an unspecified intrusion “by the occupation regime” had taken place and that equipment had been powered down and cables disconnected.

“The residents of the region are currently left without Ukrainian mobile communication and Internet access, as well as with no means to make national and international phone calls using landline phone devices,” the agency said.

The Russian-backed occupation regime of the Kherson region said earlier on Tuesday that the region had switched over to Russia’s mobile and Internet networks.

Ukrainian forces making some progress in southern region: Zelenskyy

Ukrainian forces have had some success near the southern city of Kherson and are advancing in parts of the Kharkiv region to the east of Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

“Our defenders are showing the utmost courage and remain masters of the situation at the front despite the fact the Russian army has a significant advantage in terms of equipment and numbers,” he said in a late-night address.

US to discuss new security assistance for Ukraine ‘before too long’

The Biden administration will give details on potential new security assistance for Ukraine “before too long,” Department of State spokesperson Ned Price has said at a news briefing.

Washington also remains concerned about Russian attempts to institutionalise its control over Ukrainian territory it has seized, including the city of Kherson, Price added.

US can offer ‘comfort letters’ to help Russia grain, fertiliser exports

The United States is prepared to give “comfort letters” to shipping and insurance companies to help facilitate exports of Russian grain and fertiliser, the US ambassador to the United Nations has said.

“Companies are a little nervous and we’re prepared to give them comfort letters if that will help to encourage them,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, noting that Russian grain and fertiliser were not under US sanctions.

A comfort letter is a business document intended to assure the recipient that a financial or contractual obligation with another party can and will be met.

UN says it had ‘constructive’ talks in Moscow on Russian grain, fertiliser exports

A senior UN official had “constructive discussions” in Moscow with Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov on facilitating Russian grain and fertiliser exports to global markets, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric has said.

“The objective of her discussions is focused on facilitating Russian grain and fertiliser to global markets, with the key aim of addressing growing global food insecurity,” Dujarric said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who visited Moscow and Kyiv last month, is trying to broker what he calls a “package deal” to resume both Ukrainian food exports and Russian food and fertiliser exports.

Air raid hits acid tank in Severodonetsk as Russian forces advance

A Russian air raid has hit a nitric acid tank in Severodonetsk, local governor Serhiy Haidai has said.

In a post on Telegram, he urged local residents not to leave bomb shelters due to the risk posed by toxic fumes from the acid tank. He did not provide information on any casualties.

Haidai added that Russian forces were in control of most of the eastern city but had not surrounded it after days of fighting.

Egypt bans third party trading in local wheat until end of August

Egypt has banned the trading of wheat by third parties until the end of August, the cabinet has said, preventing any sales other than to the government.

Cairo, one of the world’s biggest wheat importers, is targeting six million tonnes of domestic wheat this year after the Ukraine war cut it off from much of the Black Sea wheat it relied on.

Zelenskyy welcomes new sanctions, criticises ‘unacceptable’ delay

Zelenskyy has welcomed a sixth package of EU sanctions against Russia but criticised what he called an “unacceptable” delay in the bloc agreeing on the latest measures.

“When over 50 days have passed between the 5th and 6th sanction packages, the situation is not acceptable for us,” Zelenskyy said, speaking alongside Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova in Kyiv.

Russia playing ‘hunger games’: Kuleba

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has accused Russia of deliberately blocking food exports and playing “hunger games with the world”.

Kuleba said on Twitter that Ukraine was working on a United Nations-led operation to ensure a safe trade route for food exports.

AU leader warns EU bank sanctions hit food purchases

The chairman of the African Union has warned EU leaders that their decision to expel Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system risks hurting food supplies to the continent.

Senegalese President Macky Sall said “when the SWIFT system is disrupted, it means that even if the products exist, payment becomes complicated, if not impossible”.

“I would like to insist that this issue be examined as soon as possible by our competent ministers in order to find appropriate solutions,” he said.

Gazprom to cut gas supplies to Denmark, Germany

Russia’s Gazprom has said it would cut off gas flows to Denmark’s Orsted and to Shell Energy for its contract to supply gas to Germany after both companies failed to make payments in roubles.

The cuts will be effective from June 1, Gazprom said. Orsted had said on Monday that Gazprom Export could stop supplying gas but said such a move would not immediately put Denmark’s gas supplies at risk.

“The gas for Denmark must, to a larger extent, be purchased on the European gas market. We expect this to be possible,” Orsted Chief Executive Mads Nipper said in a statement.

Russia has already cut off gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland and the Netherlands, which refused to make payments in line with a demand that requires rouble accounts to be set up in a Russian bank.

Spain expects EU to pay for gas connections with neighbours

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said the EU ought to pay for natural gas interconnections between Madrid and its neighbours after the country heavily invested during the past decades into the capacity to unload and regasify imported liquefied natural gas (LNG).

“We are talking about capacities that were financed by the efforts of the Spanish taxpayer and that we will make available to the European Union,” Sanchez told a news conference in Brussels after a meeting of EU heads of states and governments.

France, Germany propose UN resolution to end Odesa blockade

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have urged Putin to end Russia’s blockade of the Ukrainian port of Odesa under the terms of a UN resolution.

“I proposed, in the discussion we had with Olaf Scholz last Saturday, to President Putin that we take the initiative for a resolution at the United Nations to give a very clear framework to this operation,” Macron said after a European summit in Brussels.

Jailed Kremlin critic says new criminal case opened against him

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny says he has been charged in a new criminal case and faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.

In a post on Instagram, Navalny said he had been accused of creating an extremist organisation and inciting hatred towards the authorities. The charge comes on top of a nine-year sentence he received in March for fraud and contempt of court.

Alexey Navalny gestures in the Moscow City Court
Opposition leader Navalny was sentenced to nine years in a maximum-security penal colony [File: Moscow City Court/AP Photo]

Germany to supply IFVs to Greece, Athens to deliver Soviet weapons to Kyiv: Chancellor

Germany will deliver infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) to Greece so that the government in Athens can pass on Soviet-style weapons to Ukraine, Chancellor Scholz has said.

“We will provide Greece with German infantry fighting vehicles,” he told reporters, without specifying what kind of IFVs Berlin will hand over to Greece or what kind of weapons Athens will pass on to Kyiv.

“The defence ministries will work out the details and quickly implement this agreement,” he said.

Germany to end Russian oil imports by end of 2022: Chancellor

Germany is sticking to its goal of becoming independent from Russian oil imports by the end of the year, Chancellor Scholz has said.

He added that options on how to handle refineries in eastern Germany, where thousands of employees worried about losing their jobs, were still to be determined.

“For now, it is important that we find a perspective that safeguards the jobs in Leuna and Schwedt,” Scholz told journalists in Brussels after a summit with EU leaders that agreed on a gradual embargo on Russian oil imports.

Macron ‘not excluding’ additional EU sanctions against Russia

French President Macron has said following a sixth EU package of sanctions against Russia nothing could be ruled out in terms of additional measures in the coming weeks.

Speaking to reporters following an EU summit in Brussels, he expressed hope for an agreement with Russia on Ukrainian food exports in the coming weeks, adding that recent talks between the Russian and Turkish presidents on the matter were a “positive sign”.

ICC to open office in Kyiv: Prosecutor

International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan has said he is working toward opening an office in Ukraine’s capital “in the next few weeks”.

The ICC cannot prosecute the crime of aggression because neither Russia nor Ukraine is its member. However, the ICC is taking part in a joint investigation along with Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania.

Khan said the united front of nations “hopefully can provide some modicum of accountability for the crimes that we are seeing in Ukraine and that really should no longer be tolerated”.

Three more nations join international team probing Ukraine war crimes

Three more nations have joined an international investigation team probing war crimes in Ukraine.

Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia signed an agreement during a two-day coordination meeting in The Hague to join Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine in the Joint Investigation Team that will help coordinate the sharing of evidence of atrocities through the EU judicial cooperation agency, Eurojust.

The team, which met on Monday and Tuesday at Eurojust’s headquarters in The Hague, was established in late March after the ICC opened an investigation in Ukraine.

Tombs of people who died after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russia is accused of having carried out mass killings in Bucha on the outskirts of Kyiv [File: Natacha Pisarenko/AP Photo]

Severodonetsk mayor says Russian forces seized half of city

Russian forces have seized half of the eastern city of Severodonetsk, its mayor said.

“The city is essentially being destroyed ruthlessly block by block,” Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press news agency.

He said heavy street fighting continues and artillery bombardments threaten the lives of the estimated 13,000 civilians still sheltering in the ruined city that was once home to more than 100,000.

Evacuation efforts have been halted because of shelling. “There are food supplies for several more days, but the issue is how to distribute them,” he added.

Ukraine has identified 600 Russian war crime suspects: Prosecutor

Ukraine has identified more than 600 Russian war crime suspects and has started prosecuting about 80 of them, according to Kyiv’s top prosecutor.

The list of suspects includes “top military, politicians and propaganda agents of Russia”, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told a news conference in The Hague.

Venediktova said Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia had decided to join an international investigation team in Ukraine.

Russian MP suggests kidnapping NATO defence minister

A senior Russian legislator has suggested kidnapping a NATO defence minister in Ukraine and bringing them to Moscow for questioning about what “orders” the West has been giving to Kyiv.

Oleg Morozov, first elected to the Russian parliament in 1993 and a member of the dominant United Russia party, said the supply of Western arms to Ukraine posed a direct threat to Russia and might require Moscow to review its military aims.

“You know, perhaps it is a fantastical plot that I have brewing … that in the near future, at some stage, a war minister of some NATO country will go by train to Kyiv to talk with Zelenskyy,” Morozov told the 60 Minutes talk show on Rossiya-1 state TV late on Monday.

EU oil sanctions on Russia to have ‘months-long phase in’

The EU’s sanctions against seaborne imports of Russian oil will be imposed with a phase-in period of six months for crude oil and eight months for refined products, according to a European Commission spokesperson.

That timeline would kick in once the sanctions are formally adopted, with EU country ambassadors aiming to adopt them this week, after EU leaders agreed in principle to the sanctions at a summit on Monday.

The timings would follow the deadlines originally proposed by the Commission when it suggested the oil sanctions earlier this month.

Turkey, Russia to discuss Ukraine exports corridor in talks on June 8

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will come to Turkey with a military delegation on June 8 to discuss creating a potential sea corridor for Ukrainian agricultural exports, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

In a phone call with Turkey’s Erdogan on Monday, President Putin said Russia was ready to facilitate the unhindered export of grain from Ukrainian ports in coordination with Turkey.

Cavusoglu said work was still under way with the UN to reach an agreement on creating the corridor from the Black Sea, but that issues between Moscow and Kyiv remained. He said the UN had proposed forming a joint observation mechanism to monitor the shipping route, and that Turkey was open to the idea.

Senior Ukraine official says EU sanctions on Russia still ‘not enough’

The latest EU sanctions on Russia, which ban most imports of its oil, are “not enough” and the pace of sanctions so far has been too slow, according to a senior official in the Ukrainian president’s office.

In the bloc’s toughest reprisals against Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine three months ago, an EU summit in Brussels on Monday agreed measures that officials said would immediately cut more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia, and 90 percent by the end of the year.

“If you ask me, I would say far too slow, far too late and definitely not enough,” Ihor Zhovkva, deputy head of the president’s office, said.

OSCE says one of four Ukrainian staff held in eastern Ukraine is free

One of four Ukrainians who had been working for an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission and were detained in eastern Ukraine has been released, according to the OSCE’s secretary-general.

“Very relieved about the release of one national mission member,” Helga Schmid said on Twitter. “I urge for the release of the three colleagues who remain in detention in Donetsk and Luhansk.”

The mission’s mandate expired at the end of March.

Ukrainian court sentences two Russian soldiers to jail

A Ukrainian court has sentenced two captured Russian soldiers to 11 and a half years in jail for shelling a town in eastern Ukraine, the second war crimes verdict since the start of Russia’s invasion in February.

Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov, who listened to the verdict standing in a reinforced glass box at the Kotelevska district court in central Ukraine, both pleaded ‘guilty’ last week.

Russia says it downed Ukrainian jet

Russia’s defence ministry has said that its forces had downed a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet in Ukraine’s Mykolaiv region and bombed a radar station and two ammunition depots in eastern Ukraine.

Latvia welcomes EU ban on most Russian oil

Latvia’s Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins has praised the EU’s deal to ban most Russian oil imports, saying the bloc moved together on the sixth package of sanctions to starve Moscow of money to wage war against Ukraine.

“We move as quickly as we can move all together to make it more difficult for Russia to fund this war of aggression in Ukraine,” Karins said after the 27 national leaders sealed the deal, overcoming Hungarian resistance.

EU oil ban would cut money Russia has to spend on Ukraine war: Borrell

The EU deal to cut most of Russian oil imports would force Moscow to offer crude at a lower price to others, according to the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell.

“We are the most important client for Russia,” Borrell said on arriving to second day of EU leaders talks about the latest in Russia’s war against Ukraine. “The purpose is to make Russia have less financial resources to feed its war machine.”

Russian-backed separatists to own ships left in Mariupol port: TASS

The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) will have its own “merchant navy” after ships in the port of Mariupol, including some foreign ships, are to be transferred into the ownership of the DNR, the separatist head of the republic has said, Russian state news agency TASS reports.

“Some of the ships will be transferred to the jurisdiction of the DNR. The relevant decisions have already been made. The flags that will be on them are also already clear,” Denis Pushilin said.

Earlier, the head of Russia’s national defence management centre had said that six foreign ships remain in the port of Mariupol: “Princess” (Bulgaria), “Azburg” (Dominican Republic), “Smart” (Liberia), “Blue Star” (Panama), “Azov Concord” (Turkey) and “Lady Augusta” (Jamaica).

TASS reported that Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev said the countries that owned the ships have not taken measures to withdraw them.

Russia’s Gazprom says it cut off gas to Dutch GasTerra

Russian energy giant Gazprom says it has fully cut off gas supplies to Dutch gas trader GasTerra after it had failed to make payments for gas delivered in April.

It said the payments should be done in line with the gas-for-roubles scheme, ordered by the Russian president, the Reuters news agency reports.

Three killed, four injured in Donetsk: Governor

Three civilians were killed in the Donetsk region, and four more were injured on Monday, Ukraine’s regional governor has said.

Pavlo Kyrylenko said that two people died in the town of Toretsk and one in the town of Avdiivka.

“It is currently impossible to determine the exact number of victims in Mariupol and Volnovakha,” Kyrylenko said on Telegram.

Russia would need territory beyond Severodonetsk to fully control Donbas: UK

Russia will need to capture territory beyond Severodonetsk, including the key city of Kramatorsk and the M04 Dnipro-Donetsk main road, if it wants to fully occupy the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has said.

In its latest intelligence briefing, the ministry noted that Russia’s capture of the town of Lyman supported its main operational effort of encircling Severodonetsk and closing the pocket around Ukrainian forces in Luhansk.

“Heavy shelling continues, while street fighting is likely taking place on the outskirts of Severodonetsk town,” the ministry said.

It added that Russia’s progress had been slow but it was holding gains, likely due to the fact it had massed forces and fires in relatively small areas, which forced it to accept risk elsewhere in occupied territory.

First ship leaves Mariupol since Russia took city: Separatist leader

A ship has left the port of Mariupol for the first time since Russia took the city and is headed east to Russia, the Interfax news agency quoted the Russian-backed separatist leader of the Ukrainian breakaway region of Donetsk as saying.

A spokesperson for the port said last week that the ship would be loading 2,700 tonnes of metal in Mariupol before travelling east to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

Ukraine said the shipment of metal to Russia from Mariupol amounted to looting.

Children walk among buildings destroyed during fighting in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Children walk among buildings destroyed during fighting in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, May 25, 2022 [AP Photo]

Russian troops advancing towards Severodonetsk centre

The governor of Luhansk has told Ukrainian television that Russian troops were slowly advancing towards the centre of Severodonetsk.

Serhiy Haidai said Ukrainian troops defending Severodonetsk were not at risk of being encircled as they could retreat to Lysychansk across the river.

Chechen leader posts video of troops in Severodonetsk city centre

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has posted a video of what look to be Chechen troops walking in the middle of the city of Severodonetsk, speaking with residents and taking a Ukrainian flag off one of the city’s central buildings.

Explosions can be heard in the background as residents happily thank the fighters for “liberating” them.

The governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Haidai, said that some fighters from the opposing side had entered the city, but that the scenes of residents welcoming them were staged.

“For the most part, these are stage scenes. Thousands who remain in the city are afraid of revenge or massacre for no reason, as was the case in Bucha,” Haidai said.

Two people killed in Lysychansk and three wounded: Governor

Two people have died and three have been wounded in Lysychansk, the governor of the Luhansk region has said.

Serhiy Haidai said it was unclear how many people had died in the city of Severodonetsk over the past two days, in which he said fierce fighting was continuing.

Japan will not leave Sakhalin-2 project even if asked: Minister

Japan will not leave the Sakhalin-2 LNG project even if asked to leave, the Japanese industry minister has said.

The land for the project is Russia’s but the plant is owned by the Japanese government and companies, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.

Kherson and Zaporizhia switch to Russia’s internet and mobile networks: RIA

The Kherson and Zaporizhia regions, now under Russian control, have switched over to Russia’s mobile and internet network, state news agency RIA reports citing an adviser to the Moscow-installed head of information policy in the annexed territory of Crimea.

“In the liberated territories, it is now exclusively Russian Internet and communications. In fact, this is the end of Ukrainian propaganda. Zelenskyy’s towers of lies have fallen,” Oleg Kryuchkov said.

RIA reports that the occupying military-civilian administration in Kherson asked Moscow whether it could use the capabilities of Russian telecommunications companies to restore cellular communications in the region. The request reportedly came after shelling by Ukrainian forces caused a network blackout.

Blinken and Saudi Arabia’s FM discuss Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, on Tuesday, which included discussions on international support for Ukraine, according to a statement from the state department.

“The Secretary underscored the importance of international support for Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty and territorial integrity and emphasised the need for a global response to the food security crisis resulting from President Putin’s brutal war,”  the statement said.

The two ministers reportedly also discussed the truce in Yemen, the consequences of the Safer oil tanker in the Red Sea region and Iran’s nuclear program.

Russian forces control one-third of Severodonetsk: Moscow-backed separatist

Russian forces have seized control of about a third of Severodonetsk, but their assault is taking longer than they had hoped, according to a Moscow-backed separatist leader quoted in a TASS state news agency report.

“We can say already that a third of Severodonetsk is already under our control,” TASS quoted Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic, as saying in a report on Tuesday morning.

Pasechnik told the Russian state news agency that fighting was raging in the city, but Russian forces were not advancing as rapidly as might have been hoped. “But we want, above all, to maintain the city’s infrastructure,” he said.

The advance of Russian troops was complicated by the presence of several large chemical plants in the Severodonetsk area, TASS reported.

Russian forces gaining ground in Severodonetsk: ISW

Russian forces reportedly control the northeast and southeast outskirts of the city of Severodonetsk and are continuing to gain ground within the city, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has said.

“Ukrainian and Russian sources reported ongoing fighting to the south of Severodonetsk in Toshkivka, Ustynivka, Voronove, Borivske, and Metolkine, as Russian forces continue efforts to complete the encirclement of Severodonetsk from the south,” the ISW said in its latest campaign assessment.

It added that there had been reports Russian forces were transferring large quantities of personnel and equipment to the area to strengthen operations against Severodonetsk.

“A Russian Telegram channel claimed that Russian forces control the entire southern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, except for the part of the river that runs through Severodonetsk. ISW cannot independently confirm this claim, though it is consistent with previous reporting on persistent, incremental Russian advances in and around the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area,” the institute said.

Russians buried 16,000 Mariupol residents in mass graves since April: Mayor

The Ukrainian mayor of the now Russian-controlled city of Mariupol has said that since mid-April, Russian occupiers have buried at least 16,000 city residents in mass graves near the villages of Staryi Krym, Manhush and Vynohradne.

Vadym Boychenko also said on Telegram that 25 new trench areas had appeared at the Staryi Krym cemetery in the past month. He said the bodies had been placed in the trenches in layers, and then “masked” with plates as individual burial sites.

“We estimated the death toll at 22,000 people in Mariupol. But more and more facts show that the consequences of the Rashist crime are much worse. This and the dire state of the local population under occupation need special attention of the global community,” Boychenko said.

He said thousands of bodies still remained under rubble, in natural cemeteries and in temporary mortuaries.

People stand amid newly-made graves at a cemetery in the town of Staryi Krym outside Mariupol, Ukraine May 22, 2022
People stand amid newly-made graves at a cemetery in the town of Staryi Krym outside Mariupol, Ukraine May 22, 2022 [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]


EU backs 9 billion euros of loans for Ukraine

EU members have backed a package of loans worth 9 billion euros ($9.7 billion), with a small component of grants to cover part of the interest, for Ukraine to keep its government going and pay wages for about two months.

Leaders also backed the creation of an international fund to rebuild Ukraine after the war, with details to be decided later.

The European Council President Charles Michel said in a tweet that the council “will continue helping #Ukraine with its immediate liquidity needs, together with @G7.”

Russia’s FM denies rumours of Putin’s ill-health

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has denied rumours that President Putin is ill, Russia’s TASS news agency has reported.

“You can watch him on screens, read and listen to his speeches,” Lavrov said in an interview on French TV, according to TASS

“I don’t think that sane people can see in this person signs of some kind of illness or ailment,” he added.

British intelligence sources were quoted telling media outlets that Putin was seriously ill in the last week.

Relatives of Ukraine’s surrendered Azovstal fighters seek news

Relatives of Ukrainian fighters who remained for weeks under the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol have said that they had received no news of the whereabouts of their loved ones since they were evacuated to Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine.

The relatives, all women, said they had formed a Council of Wives and Mothers, to ensure the fighters were treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war.

Natalia Zarytska, wife of an Azov regiment soldier, said she had been contacted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which helped oversee the mass evacuations.

“I was informed that it has been registered that he left the Azovstal plant but none of my questions – whether he is still alive, what condition he is in, where they have been taken – have been answered,” Zarytska said.

Russian troops pushed further into Severodonetsk Monday

Russian troops pushed farther into the key city of Severodonetsk, in the Luhansk region, on Monday and fought street by street with Kyiv’s forces.

The mayor said the battle has left the city in ruins and driven tens of thousands from their homes.

Military analysts have painted the fight for Severodonetsk as part of a race against time for the Kremlin.

The city is key to Russian efforts to complete the capture of the eastern industrial region of the Donbas quickly — before more Western arms arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defence.

Ukrainian tanks move in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Monday, May 30, 2022
Ukrainian tanks move in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Monday, May 30, 2022 [Francisco Seco/AP]

Russia stole half a million tonnes of grain: Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy has said that Russian occupiers have stolen “at least half a million tonnes of grain” from Ukraine.

They “are now looking for ways to illegally sell it somewhere. To sell it in a way to make money on what was stolen and to keep the deficit in the legal market,” he said in his nighttime address.

On Monday, CNN reported that satellite imagery showed a Russian merchant ship loaded with stolen Ukrainian grain had arrived in the Syrian port of Latakia. It was carrying nearly 30,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat, according to Ukrainian officials.

Zelenskyy says 32 media workers killed since invasion began

The killing of French journalist Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff brings the number of media workers killed in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion to 32, Zelenskyy has said.

Zelenskyy said: “A little more than a month ago I gave an interview to this very TV channel. It was my first interview to the French media during the full-fledged war. My sincere condolences to colleagues and family of Frederic.”

Belarus to conduct military mobilisation exercises near Ukraine border

Belarus will conduct military mobilisation exercises in June and July in the Gomel region, which borders Ukraine to the south and Russia to the east, state news agency BelTA has reported.

“Events of this kind are traditionally held to increase the combat and mobilisation readiness of military commissariats, and improve military knowledge and practical skills of those liable for military service,” BelTA quoted Andrey Krivonosov, military commissar of the Gomel region, as saying.

EU agrees to ban most Russian oil imports: Official

The president of the European Council has announced an agreement among EU countries to ban most Russian oil imports to the 27-nation bloc.

“This immediately covers more than 2/3 of oil imports from Russia, cutting a huge source of financing for its war machine,” Charles Michel wrote on Twitter.

It remains unclear when the ban will go into effect or whether countries heavily dependent on Russian energy exports, which previously opposed the embargo, will be exempt from the measure.

The ban would be part of a sixth EU sanction package against Moscow that Kyiv had been seeking. Michel said the measures also include blocking Russia’s largest bank Sberbank from the SWIFT financial messaging service, banning three Russian state-owned broadcasters and sanctions against individuals responsible for war crimes.

Russia ‘clearly’ seeking global food crisis, Zelenskyy says

Zelenskyy has said the Russian blockade of Ukrainian seaports prevents Kyiv from exporting 22 million tonnes of grain.

In his nightly address, Zelenskyy said the result is the threat of famine in countries dependent on the grain and could create a new migration crisis. “This is something the Russian leadership clearly seeks,” he said.

Zelenskyy accused Moscow of “deliberately creating this problem so that the whole of Europe struggles and so that Ukraine doesn’t earn billions of dollars from its exports.”

Moscow has blamed Western sanctions for the crisis – a claim Zelenskyy dismissed as “cynical”.

WNBA star calls for bringing Brittney Griner ‘home’

Basketball star Breanna Stewart has called on Washington to bring home her fellow Women’s NBA player Brittney Griner who has been detained in Russia since February.

“We are paying attention and we are counting on you,” Stewart said in a tweet addressing the White House.

France opens war crimes probe into killing of journalist: Reports

France has announced the opening of a war crimes probe into the killing of journalist Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff and the wounding of his colleague Maxime Brandstaetter during Russian shelling in eastern Ukraine, French media outlets have reported.

The French journalist was working for the BFM television news channel, which said he was 32 years old and on his second Ukraine reporting trip since the war began on February 24.

France’s national anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said it was also investigating five other incidents involving French citizens, AFP reported.

Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff
Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff, 32, was killed in shelling in eastern Ukraine [BFM TV via Reuters]

Zelenskyy warns against succumbing to Russian ‘blackmail’ on food supplies

The Ukrainian president has asked France not to succumb to Russian “blackmail” over food supplies at a meeting with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, his office has said.

In its summary of the talks, the Ukrainian presidency accused Russia of using food security issues in an attempt to have international sanctions eased. Kyiv has said Moscow is looting grain and farm equipment from regions its troops hold in Ukraine and of obstructing Ukraine’s exports of grain.

Zelenskyy’s office said he and Colonna discussed sanctions, weapons supplies and Ukrainian aspirations to join the EU.

The war in Ukraine has contributed to a global rise in food prices, raising fear of worsening the hunger crises in many places around the world.

German politicians agree to $107bn deal to boost military

Germany’s government and conservative opposition have agreed on a deal that will release 100bn euros ($107bn) to modernise the country’s army in response to Russia.

An agreement was reached to create a special fund for military procurement that will also allow Berlin to achieve NATO’s target spending of two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defence.

The deal, which involves amending budgetary rules in the national constitution, was struck after weeks of difficult negotiations between the parties in the governing coalition and the conservatives of former chancellor Angela Merkel, representatives of these groups told the AFP news agency.

Erdogan holds separate talks with Putin, Zelenskyy

Turkish President Erdogan has held talks with Zelenskyy and Russia’s Putin, offering to facilitate the reopening of Ukrainian ports.

“During the discussion of the situation in Ukraine, emphasis was placed on ensuring safe navigation in the Black and Azov seas and eliminating the mine threat in their waters,” the Kremlin said of Putin’s call with Erdogan.

For its part, Ankara said Erdogan told Putin that peace needed to be established as soon as possible and that Turkey was ready to take on a role in an “observation mechanism” between Moscow, Kyiv and the UN if an agreement is reached.

Erdogan later said he “especially valued the project to create a secure sea route for exporting Ukrainian agricultural products”, according to his office, adding the Turkish leader welcomed, in principle, the idea of making Istanbul a headquarters for the “observation mechanism”.

No EU agreement on Russian oil embargo

EU countries meeting in Brussels to discuss more sanctions on Moscow have failed to agree on a ban on Russian oil imports, despite last-minute haggling before the two-day summit.

The EU has rolled out five packages of sanctions against Russia since its troops invaded Ukraine, but an agreement on an oil embargo has proved elusive because so many countries depend on Russian crude.

“There is no compromise for this moment at all,” said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose country has been the main holdout for a deal.

Welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Read all the updates from Monday, May 30 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies