CULTURE

Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 20

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

Recap of May 20
FIGHTING
* Russia says the country’s forces have taken full control of the steel plant in Mariupol that was the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the city.
* The Pentagon said on Friday there were no indications that Russia had used laser weaponry in Ukraine, following claims by Moscow that it was fielding a new generation of powerful lasers there to strike enemy drones.
* Ukrainian authorities said Russian forces shelled a vital highway and hit a school on Friday while keeping up attacks on Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.
* Russia stepped up its assault on eastern Ukraine on Friday, using artillery, rocket launchers, and aircraft to pound the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
* Ukraine on Friday ordered its remaining troops holed up in Mariupol’s besieged Azovstal steelworks to lay down their arms after nearly three months of desperate resistance.
* Russia’s defense minister says 1,908 Ukrainian fighters who had been holed up at the Azovstal steelworks, the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the port city of Mariupol, have surrendered so far.
ECONOMY
* The finance ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) nations have pledged $19.8 billion to support Ukraine’s finances during Russia’s invasion, a statement from the group said on Friday. The G7 said the funds will be used to help Ukraine “close its financing gap and continue ensuring the delivery of basic services to the Ukrainian people.”
* The Russian ruble rallied to its strongest levels against the euro and dollar since June 2015 and March 2018 respectively on Friday, which analysts attributed to EU countries preparing to pay Russia for gas and to capital controls imposed by Moscow.
HUMANITARIAN
* The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned on Friday that countries focused on helping Ukraine should not ignore other crises, which were likely to worsen due to the war.
* The international Red Cross says it has been visiting prisoners of war on “all sides” since the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine almost three months ago.
SANCTIONS
* Finland has agreed to a 10-year charter for a floating storage and regasification vessel with U.S. based Excelerate Energy to help replace Russian gas supplies.
* Canada said on Friday it was imposing additional sanctions on Russian oligarchs and banning the import and export of targeted luxury goods from Russia.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

10:03 p.m.: The legislation authorizing $40 billion in U.S. assistance to Ukraine as it fends off Russia’s invasion is hitching a ride on a commercial flight to South Korea so it can be signed by President Joe Biden.

The Senate passed the bill Thursday as Biden was making his way to Asia for meetings with the leaders of South Korea, Japan and members of the Indo-Pacific group known as the Quad, The Associated Press reported.

A White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, said the bill is being flown to South Korea by a U.S. government official who had already planned to travel to the region on a commercial flight as part of the individual’s official duties. It was not clear when the bill would arrive, but the president was expected to sign it before he heads to Tokyo on Sunday.

For decades, bills that needed an urgent signature were routinely flown by White House aides to the president if he was abroad.

8:48 p.m.: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has revealed the answer to a weeks-long mystery about the siege of the Azovstal in the strategic port city of Mariupol: How were supplies delivered to the steel mill’s defenders?

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 published Friday on the third anniversary of his inauguration as president. He said the effort also included retrieval of bodies and picking up the wounded.

To save what he called heroes holed up in the massive, ruined remains of the steel mill, “a very large number of people, our pilots, were killed” flying in on the operation.

“They are absolutely heroic people, who knew that it would be difficult, knew that to fly would be almost impossible,” Zelenskyy said, according to The Associated Press.

He said the airlift couldn’t be reported earlier because no safe air corridor to the plant had been established, and that powerful anti-aircraft weapons were in place.

8:19 p.m.: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan that Finland and Sweden would be valuable additions to the NATO alliance, Reuters reported.

A spokesperson for Johnson said the prime minister also asked Erdogan to work with Swedish, Finnish and NATO counterparts to address any concerns ahead of a leaders summit in Madrid next month.

Johnson and Erdogan also agreed to work to unlock supply routes for Ukrainian grain stocks and alleviate rising global food prices.

7:50 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy devoted his nightly video address to Ukraine’s demand that Russia pay for the damage it’s inflicting on Ukraine.

He noted that on Friday alone, the Russian army fired a missile at the northeastern Kharkiv region, destroying a cultural center in Lozova, and also hit the cities of Odesa in the south, Poltava in the east and Zhytomyr in the west.

In the eastern Donbas, where the Russian attack has been fiercest, he said Russian troops have turned towns into ruins, just as they did with Mariupol.

Zelenskyy called for partner countries to sign on to an agreement to seize Russian funds and property in their countries and direct the money to a special compensation fund, he said in his video address.

“That would be fair. And Russia will feel the weight of every missile, every bomb, every shell which it has fired at us,” he said.

7:10 p.m.: Moody’s cut Ukraine’s debt rating on Friday to Caa3, the second time in three months it has lowered the rating because of the growing risk the Russian invasion will affect the nation’s debt sustainability.

Despite large financial support from the international community to help with immediate needs, “the resulting significant rise in government debt is likely to prove unsustainable over the medium term” and could “impede further access to official financing.”

6:40 p.m.: German will ship 15 Gepard anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine in July, according to the y news agency dpa.

The delivery, which includes training and almost 60,000 rounds of ammunition, was agreed on after talks between Germany’s defense minister and her Ukrainian counterpart, Dpa reported Friday.

Gepard — German for “cheetah” — was decommissioned in 2012 but about 50 units are being restored for use by Ukraine.

6:05 p.m.: Canada imposed more sanctions Friday on 14 Russian oligarchs, their families and close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The import ban targets luxury goods from Russia, such as alcoholic beverages, seafood and diamonds, and the export ban targets luxury footwear, clothing and jewelry, according to Reuters.

5:20 p.m.: Russian military progress in Ukraine is slow, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday during a press briefing. And according to U.S. assessments, “We don’t have any indication of the use of lasers … weaponized lasers” by Russian forces in Ukraine. Read more of VOA’s Jeff Seldin’s notes from the press briefing.

4:45 p.m.: The Russian Justice Ministry on Friday added ex-world chess champion Garry Kasparov and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, both prominent critics of the government, to the list of individuals acting as foreign agents, Reuters reported, citing the ministry’s website.

According to the website, Ukraine was mentioned as a source of financing for Khodorkovsky, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It said Kasparov’s funds have been sourced from Ukraine and the Human Rights Foundation.

4:15 p.m.: A U.S. consular officer visited Brittney Griner on Thursday, U.S. State Department said on Friday. The Women’s National Basketball Association star has been detained in Russia since February.

FILE - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner.

FILE – Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner.

“I can confirm that a Consular Officer visited Brittney Griner in detention yesterday on Thursday, May 19th. The consular officer found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances,” Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing.

The U.S. State Department earlier this month determined that the 31-year-old two-time Olympic champion was wrongfully detained. She was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February, allegedly cannabis-infused vaporizer cartridges in her possession.

3:23 p.m.: Russia says the country’s forces have taken full control of the steel plant in Mariupol that was the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the city, marking the end of a nearly three-month siege that left over 20,000 people feared dead, AP reports.

3:14 p.m.: A Russian missile struck a Ukrainian cultural center in the Kharkiv region on Friday, injuring seven people, including an 11-year-old child, the AP reported. The newly renovated Palace of Culture was severely damaged and the roof caught fire. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the attack “absolute evil.” The Kharkiv region is close to the border with Russia, and Ukrainian troops have been pushing back some Russian forces from the area.

2:55 p.m.: The Pentagon said on Friday there were no indications that Russia had used laser weaponry in Ukraine, following claims by Moscow that it was fielding a new generation of powerful lasers there to strike enemy drones. “We don’t have any indication of the use of lasers, at least weaponized lasers, in Ukraine. Nothing to confirm on that,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told a news briefing.

2:03 p.m.: Ukrainian authorities said Russian forces shelled a vital highway and hit a school on Friday while keeping up attacks on Luhansk, a key city in in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, AP reported. Luhansk is in a mostly Russian-speaking area with coal mines and factories that Russian President Vladimir Putin is bent on capturing. “The liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic is nearing completion,” Russia’s Defense Minister declared, referring to the breakaway state proclaimed by pro-Moscow separatists in 2014 and recognized by the Kremlin.

1:33 p.m.: The finance ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) nations have pledged $19.8 billion to support Ukraine’s finances during Russia’s invasion, a statement from the group said on Friday. According to The Associated Press, the G7 said the funds will be used to help Ukraine “close its financing gap and continue ensuring the delivery of basic services to the Ukrainian people.” “While also addressing Ukraine’s humanitarian and other material needs, we recognize, in particular, Ukraine’s urgent short term financing needs,” the statement said, adding that the proposed fund of $19.8 billion is “in addition to recent announcements on further military and humanitarian support.”

1:00 p.m.: Liberated Ukrainians have told the truth behind a propaganda video they were forced to take part in while their village was occupied by pro-Kremlin Chechen fighters. Borys Sachalko with Current Time, a co-production of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and VOA, has this story.

12:38 p.m.: Theater director Mikhail Durnenkov and actor Aleksey Yudnikov are both longstanding enemies of the Kremlin. For decades, their performances have parodied the Russian government and its leader, President Vladimir Putin, testing the boundaries of expressive freedom under constant state surveillance. Despite regular run-ins with the police and authorities, the Moscow-based Teatr.doc company managed to keep going. But, following a severe clampdown on political opposition and civil society in Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, Durnenkov and Yudnikov are among many artists who have fled the country. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell has this story.

12:10 p.m.: Germany will deliver the first 15 Gepard tanks to Ukraine in July, a defense ministry spokesperson in Berlin said on Friday, confirming a media report. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht had agreed this in a conversation with her Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, via video link, he added.

12:02 p.m.: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned on Friday that countries focused on helping Ukraine should not ignore other crises, which were likely to worsen due to the war, Reuters reported. Filippo Grandi said the “colossal crisis” in Ukraine would raise the number of displaced people globally well above the 84 million it reached in late 2021, with some 6 million refugees from Ukraine and 8 million people displaced inside the country.

11:56 a.m.: The international Red Cross says it has been visiting prisoners of war on “all sides” since the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine almost three months ago. A Red Cross statement Friday said the POW visits had enabled it to pass on information to hundreds of families about their loved ones.

11:48 a.m.: Russia’s defense minister says 1,908 Ukrainian fighters who had been holed up at the Azovstal steelworks, the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the port city of Mariupol, have surrendered so far. “Nationalists blocked off at the plant started to surrender. As of now, 1,908 people have laid down arms,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted by the Russian media as saying Friday, according to The Associated Press. It remains unclear how many fighters are still holed up in the giant steel plant’s maze of underground tunnels and bunkers. Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov Regiment, said Friday that the defenders of Mariupol — a group of Ukrainian fighters from various military and law enforcement units — have received an order to “cease the defense of the city.” The intention is to “save lives and health of the servicemen of the garrison,” he said.

11:40 a.m.: Finland has agreed to a 10-year charter for a floating storage and regasification vessel with U.S. based Excelerate Energy to help replace Russian gas supplies, finance minister Annika Saarikko said on Friday. “The LNG terminal will make it possible for us to break free from Russian gas,” Saarikko said in a statement. The announcement coincided with Finland’s state-owned energy group Gasum saying Russia’s Gazprom Export had informed it that natural gas supplies from Russia to Finland would be cut on Saturday, May 21, Reuters reported.

11:23 a.m.:

10:56 a.m.: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says Moscow will create new military bases in its western regions and form 12 new units and divisions in response to Sweden and Finland’s move to join the NATO military alliance. “Tension continues to grow in the zone of responsibility of the Western Military District. We are taking adequate countermeasures,” Shoigu said at a meeting in televised remarks. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

10:38 a.m.: Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder plans to leave the board of directors of Russian state energy company Rosneft as a backlash over his ties with Russia and its energy sector mounts, The Associated Press reported. Schroeder, 78, is the chairman of Rosneft’s board. Rosneft said Friday that Schroeder announced “the impossibility of extending his powers on the board of directors of the company.” The announcement came a day after German lawmakers agreed to strip Schroeder of his taxpayer-funded office and staff.

10:22 a.m.: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday tweeted his appreciation for the support of 42 countries that took Ukraine’s side in the case against Russia at the International Court of Justice.

10:17 a.m.: Canada said on Friday it was imposing additional sanctions on Russian oligarchs and banning the import and export of targeted luxury goods from Russia in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reported. The new measures would put restrictions on 14 individuals including Russian oligarchs, their family members, and close associates of Vladimir Putin, according to an official statement. The import ban would target Russian goods including alcoholic beverages, seafood, and non-industrial diamonds, while the export ban would target luxury goods such as footwear, luxury clothing and jewelry.

10:00 a.m.:

9:52 a.m.: President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that the number of cyber attacks on Russia by foreign “state structures” had increased several times over and that Russia must bolster its cyber defenses by reducing the use of foreign software and hardware. “Targeted attempts are being made to disable the internet resources of Russia’s critical information infrastructure,” Putin said, adding that media and financial institutions had been targeted.

9:40 a.m.: The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Friday shared the comments from one Ukrainian woman who received cash assistance from a program intended to help refugees and displaced persons.

9:37 a.m.: U.S. authorities on Friday moved to ground additional aircraft believed to be in violation of sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, including a second airplane owned by businessman Roman Abramovich, Reuters reported. The Commerce Department said a 787 Dreamliner owned by Abramovich had likely violated U.S. export controls, after having identified in March a first aircraft owned by the Russian businessman suspected to be in violation of restrictions.

9:32 a.m.:

9:16 a.m.: Ukraine on Friday ordered its remaining troops holed up in Mariupol’s besieged Azovstal steelworks to lay down their arms after nearly three months of desperate resistance, Agence France-Presse reported.

8:37 a.m.: The commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment said in a video published on Friday that civilians and heavily wounded fighters had been evacuated from Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks, giving no further clue about the fate of the rest of its defenders, Reuters reported. “We have constantly emphasized the three most important conditions for us: civilians, wounded and dead,” Lieutenant Colonel Denys Prokopenko, the commander, said in the video shared on the Telegram messaging app. “The civilians have been evacuated. The heavily wounded received the necessary assistance and they were evacuated, to be later exchanged and delivered to territory controlled by Ukraine,” Prokopenko said.

7:24 a.m.: In a sign of Russia’s urgent need to bolster its war effort in Ukraine, parliament said on Friday it would consider a bill to allow Russians over 40 and foreigners over 30 to sign up for the military, Reuters reported. The website of the State Duma, parliament’s lower house, said the move would enable the military to utilize the skills of older professionals. “For the use of high-precision weapons, the operation of weapons and military equipment, highly professional specialists are needed. Experience shows that they become such by the age of 40–45,” it said.

7:12 a.m.: Vladislav Inozemtsev is a Russian academic and the director of the Moscow-based Center for Research on Post-Industrial Studies. In a wide-ranging interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Georgian Service, the veteran analyst discusses the health of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whether Russians should feel collective guilt, and predicts how the Putin

6:47 a.m.:

6:26 a.m.: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that almost 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers holed up in Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks have surrendered so far, TASS news agency reported on Friday. Reuters was not able to independently verify the report. Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters have surrendered from the labyrinth of bunkers and tunnels below the plant, though Moscow and Kyiv have given different estimates on numbers.

6:12 a.m.: Ukraine has an in-built weapon against the destruction wrought by conflict. With 55 gigawatts (GW) of installed power capacity, the war-torn nation can produce more electricity than it currently needs. That presents an opportunity for both Kyiv and the energy-starved European Union.

6:03 a.m.: Breaking its recent silence on prisoners of war, the Red Cross said Thursday it has registered “hundreds” of Ukrainian prisoners of war who left the giant Azovstal steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol after holding out in a weeks-long standoff with besieging Russian forces. The announcement by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which acts as a guardian of the Geneva Conventions that aim to limit “the barbarity of war,” came shortly after Russia’s military said 1,730 Ukrainian troops at the steel mill have surrendered. Attention now is turning to how those prisoners of war might be treated and what rights they have. The Associated Press takes a look at some key questions about POWs in Russia’s nearly three-month-old war on Ukraine.

5:57 a.m.: The Russian ruble rallied to its strongest levels against the euro and dollar since June 2015 and March 2018 respectively on Friday, which analysts attributed to EU countries preparing to pay Russia for gas and to capital controls imposed by Moscow, Reuters reported.

5:54 a.m.:

5:51 a.m.: In the latest sign of growing frustration over the poor performance of its forces in Ukraine, the Russian military has fired or replaced several field commanders recently, according to the British Defense Ministry. The British findings suggest growing setbacks and disarray for the Russian military in its nearly three-month war. Despite its litany of problems and shortcomings, Russian forces still maintain an advantage in terms of numbers and firepower and appear to be adapting to Ukrainian tactics by shifting towards smaller-unit attacks, the Pentagon said on May 18. To better understand what’s to come on the battlefield, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty spoke with Liam Collins, a retired U.S. Special Forces colonel and the executive director of the Madison Policy Forum.

5:48 a.m.:

5:46 a.m.: U.S. lawmakers of both major political parties are ramping up pressure on the Biden administration to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. A resolution urging the secretary of state to make the designation has been introduced in the House of Representatives at a time when Congress is eager to punish Moscow for its war on Ukraine. VOA’s Tatiana Vorozhko has this story.

5:44 a.m.:

5:42 a.m.: Russia stepped up its assault on eastern Ukraine on Friday, using artillery, rocket launchers, and aircraft to pound the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukrainian civilian and military officials said, as British intelligence predicted that Moscow’s offensive would intensify even further after securing Mariupol. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia has “completely destroyed” Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, accusing Russian forces of attempting to kill as many Ukrainians and do as much damage as possible. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

5:40 a.m.:

5:38 a.m.: CNN reports that Vadim Shishimarin, 21, the Russian soldier charged with war crimes in Ukraine, was in court in Kyiv on Friday.

In the third day of hearings, his lawyer argued that Shishimarin “had no direct intent for the murder,” of which he’s accused, saying that his client “was in a state of stress caused by the combat situation and the pressure from his commander.”

The trial has adjourned until Monday.

5:16 a.m.: Al Jazeera reports that the Russian-appointed leader of the Kherson region says the region will “soon become part” of the Russian Federation.

“We are looking at the Russian Federation as our own country because it is under the control of the [Russian] Armed Forces and later will be transformed into a federal subject,” Volodymyr Saldo, said on Telegram, adding, “We will become the Kherson region of the Russian Federation.”

4:09 a.m.: The U.K.’s defense ministry has released its latest intelligence update. It notes that as many as 1,700 Ukrainian troops have likely surrendered from the Mariupol Azovstal steel factory and says that once Mariupol is secured, Russia will likely turn its attention to the Donbas region.

Russian forces, however, will need to be re-equipped and refurbished to successfully attack Donbas, the update says. But the pressure on Russian commanders means the troops probably won’t get this preparation, “which risks further force attrition.”

3:05 a.m.: Ukraine’s grain exports are down 64% from last year, Al Jazeera reports.

2:01 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says the Donbas region of his country is “completely destroyed,” the BBC reports.

In his nightly address from Kyiv, the president described the region as “hell” and said, “This is a deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible. Destroy as many houses, social facilities and enterprises as possible.”

1:04 a.m.: CNN reports that a Russian checkpoint has blocked more than 1,000 cars carrying people trying to flee to Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian-controlled area.

12:02 a.m.: U.S. think tank the Institute for the Study of War, says that Russian troops have withdrawn from the Kharkiv region and have been sent to the Donetsk region, The New York Times reports.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.




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