Russia-Ukraine latest updates: US Congress passes aid package

Ukraine news from May 19: US Senate approves military and economic aid package by a vote of 86-11, sending the legislation to the White House.

Ukrainian service members load Javelin anti-tank missiles onto a truck
The US will send more military equipment to Ukraine as part of the new aid package [File: Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo]
  • The US Senate has overwhelmingly approved a $40bn infusion of military and economic aid for Ukraine and its allies.
  • Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says ‘no’ to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, as Turkish officials emphasised Ankara’s security concerns.
  • Russia claims that 771 Ukrainian fighters have surrendered in the past 24 hours, bringing the total who have laid down arms since Monday to more than 1,700.
  • The Red Cross has registered hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war in the past two days and is calling to interview them “without witnesses” as per the Geneva Conventions.

INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what Day 84

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These were the updates on Thursday, May 19:

Refugees from Ukraine protest in Tel Aviv

Ukrainian refugees and their relatives in Israel have protested in Tel Aviv by marching through the city with a 30-metre-long Ukrainian flag.

Some protesters carried banners with the names of Ukrainian cities.

US to ship $100M in military aid to Ukraine

The United States has announced a shipment of $100m in military equipment to Ukraine, separate from what will be coming from the $40bn approved earlier by Congress.

The latest package includes 18 more howitzers as well as anti-artillery radar systems, both of which the US has provided to Ukraine already since the invasion began.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the equipment will be in the hands of Ukrainian forces “very, very soon”.

Blinken accuses Russia of using food as a weapon in Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Russia at the United Nations Security Council of using food as a weapon in Ukraine by holding “hostage” the food supply for millions worldwide who rely on Ukrainian exports.

“The Russian government seems to think that using food as a weapon will help accomplish what its invasion has not – to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people,” he said.

“The food supply for millions of Ukrainians and millions more around the world has quite literally been held hostage by the Russian military.”

(Al Jazeera)

UN warns war in Ukraine adds to hunger woes

The UN food chief is warning the war in Ukraine has created “an unprecedented crisis” of escalating food prices that has sparked protests.

World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley said growing hunger will add at least 47 million people to the 276 million “marching to starvation” before Russia’s invasion of its smaller neighbour.

Beasley told a UN Security Council meeting Thursday that 49 million people in 43 countries are already “knocking on famine’s door”.

How the capture of Azov fighters affects the Russia-Ukraine war

For many Ukrainians, the Azov Battalion service members are the 300 Spartans.

Their resistance thwarted Moscow’s advance in Ukraine’s south and east, the way the Spartans put an end to the Persian conquest of Greece more than 2,500 years ago.

For almost three months, they repelled Russian attacks on the subterranean maze of Soviet-era bomb shelters and service tunnels under the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

Read more here.

US Senate approves $40bn Ukraine aid package

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a $40bn infusion of military and economic aid for Ukraine and its allies as both political parties rallied behind the US’s latest financial salvo against Russia’s invasion.

The 86-11 vote gave final congressional approval to the package, three weeks after President Joe Biden requested a smaller $33bn version and after a lone Republican opponent delayed Senate passage for a week. Every Democrat and all but 11 Republicans, many of them supporters of former President Donald Trump’s isolationist foreign policy, backed the measure.

Read more here.

Russia making gain in eastern region: Al Jazeera correspondent

Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from the eastern city of Bakhmut, said Russian forces had made several advances in the Donbas and the situation in the region had “deteriorated”.

“Last week we were here [in Bakhmut] and we could hardly hear any artillery fire. Now the streets are way more quiet. We’re hearing rockets, artillery fire and shelling all the time,” he added.

“Currently in Bakhmut, no place is safe, and the mayor who is in a bunker, has asked people to evacuate,” Baig said.

Moreover, Baig added that it was important to note that towns and villages in the Donbas were spread out so “when the Russians take a town or a small village, what remains ahead of them is just empty road fields so they gain significant territory.”

US, Russian generals speak for first time since Ukraine war began: Pentagon

Top US General Mark Milley has spoken by telephone with his Russian counterpart General Valery Gerasimov, their first discussion since before Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, the Pentagon said.

Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, “discussed several security-related issues of concern,” according to a spokesperson for the US Joint Staff, offering no other details.

UN urges Russia, Ukraine to resume talks

The UN has urged Russia and Ukraine to “build on” contacts and coordination that enabled the evacuation operations from Mariupol in order to resume stalled talks to end the war.

“Those operations could not have happened had it not been for cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Ukraine authorities,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva.

“I would like to think that the fact that this cooperation has worked relatively well, certainly better than in previous weeks of this war, suggests there is something to build on.”

Security of country best protected ‘within NATO’: Swedish PM

Swedish leader Magdalena Andersson has said her government has come to the conclusion that the “security of the Swedish people will be best protected within the NATO alliance”.

“This is backed by very broad support in the Swedish parliament. And with Sweden and Finland as members, NATO will also be stronger. We are security providers with sophisticated defense capabilities and we are champions of freedom, democracy and human rights,” she said during her visit to the White House.

U.S. President Joe Biden walks with Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland's President Sauli Niinisto
US President Joe Biden walks with Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto to deliver remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, US, May 19, 2022 [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

Finland leader ready to talk to Erdogan

President Sauli Niinisto of Finland says his country is open to discussing any concerns Turkey may have in regards to their application to join NATO in an “open and constructive manner”.

Niinisto made the remarks during a joint press conference with US President Biden and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden at the White House.

Twelve killed in Russian shelling of Severodonetsk: Governor

Russian shelling of the eastern Ukraine city of Severodonetsk left at least 12 people dead and another 40 injured, the region’s governor Sergei Gaiday has said on Thursday.

The Lugansk regional governor said on social media that there were “12 dead and more than 40 injured in Severodonetsk,” accusing Russian forces of “randomly” shelling the urban hub with heavy weapons, and that the toll could rise.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify Gaiday’s claims.

Ukrainian soldiers
Ukrainian soldiers walk through a Ukrainian front line in the Donbas region [File: Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency]

Finland, Sweden meet NATO requirements: Biden

US President Biden says Nordic hopefuls Sweden and Finland “meet every NATO requirement and then some”, and that their joining will enhance the “security of our alliances, deepen our security cooperation across the board”.

“Today I’m proud to assure them that they have the full total complete back of the United States of America. Today, my administration is submitted to the United States Congress reports on NATO accession for both countries. So the Senate can efficiently and quickly move on advising and consenting to the treaty,” he said at the White House.

Germany’s former chancellor loses office amid anger over Russia ties

German legislators have agreed to remove former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of his office and staff after he defended his longstanding ties with Moscow and its energy sector despite the invasion of Ukraine.

The parliament’s decision to strip Schroeder of an office and paid staff follows a lengthy effort to get him to turn his back on President Putin, amid the war in Ukraine.

EU lawmakers separately called in a non-binding resolution on the bloc to slap sanctions on Schroeder and other Europeans who refuse to give up lucrative board seats at Russian companies.

Gerhard Schroeder
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder [File: Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

NATO addressing Turkey’s ‘concerns’ over Nordic bids: Stoltenberg

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that “concerns” raised by Turkey about Sweden and Finland’s applications to the military alliance were being addressed.

“Of course, we are addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed,” to find “an agreement on how to move forward,” Stoltenberg told a Copenhagen conference, after Turkey opposed the applications of the two Nordic countries over what it considers leniency toward Kurdish armed groups.

UK and Ukraine leaders discuss future security, grain exports

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy discussed longer-term security proposals for Ukraine and ways to get grain exports out of the country, Johnson’s office said.

“The leaders discussed progress in negotiations and agreed to step up work with allies, including the US, France and Germany, to define the longer-term security architecture for Ukraine,” the spokesperson said after a telephone call between the two leaders.

“They looked at options to open up critical sea and land supply routes for Ukrainian grain stocks, and committed to direct their teams to work urgently on the next steps.”

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and British PM Boris Johnson
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walk along a street after a meeting in Kyiv [File: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters]

IMF chief optimistic G7 funds for Ukraine can stave off hyperinflation

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said she was “getting more optimistic” that a G7 agreement to provide new budget funding to Ukraine can be reached and can help the country avoid hyperinflation.

Georgieva said on the sidelines of a G7 finance ministers’ and central bank governors’ meeting that the main issue for the funding would be its timing – avoiding delays that may push the country into monetary financing, where its central bank effectively funds the government.

“You know, what happens if a country has to go into monetary financing. A war brings hyperinflation and then terrible, terrible, damage – which we think we can avoid,” Georgieva said.

‘No safe place in Donetsk’: governor

Donetsk’s governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, urges all residents to leave the region as Russian shelling intensifies.

“Now there are no absolutely safe places in Donetsk region,” he said on his Telegram channel. His remarks came after shells hit a five-story building in the village of Bakhmut whose majority of residents have already been evacuated, he said.

“The Russians continue to shoot at civilians, but timely evacuation allows us to save hundreds of lives,” he added.

Fire and rescue crews work at the site of a damaged five-storey residential building after it was struck, by what was reported to be rocket fire, during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Bakhmut,
Fire and rescue crews work at the site of a damaged five-storey residential building after it was struck, by what was reported to be rocket fire in Bakhmut, Donetsk region [State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Reuters]

WHO chief spoke with Russia FM over Ukraine

WHO’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says he spoke with Russian top diplomat Sergey Lavrov about Moscow’s participation in global matters and aid delivery.

“I request safe access to Mariupol, Kherson, Southern Zaporizhzhia & other besieged areas to deliver health aid. Civilians must be protected,” he said on Twitter.

‘We said no, and we will continue’: Erdogan over Nordic countries NATO bids

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stands firm on his opposition to Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, saying his government informed Turkey’s NATO allies that Ankara “will say no”.

“We will keep following this path,” he added while addressing a young crowd at the Presidential National Library.

Turkish authorities have repeatedly accused the two Nordic counties of hosting “terrorist” groups, including a Kurdish movement, that they say threaten Turkey’s security.

Erdogan’s comment came a day after US officials said to be confident about finding a solution to the matter.

Finland against hosting nuclear weapons, NATO military bases: PM

Finland is opposed to NATO deploying nuclear weapons or setting up military bases on its territory even if it succeeds in its bid to become a member of the military alliance, Prime Minister Sanna Marin has said.

Marin told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that such moves were not part of Helsinki’s membership negotiations with the military alliance.

Read the full story here.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaks at a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (not pictured) during her visit in Rome, Italy
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaks at a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (not pictured) during her visit to Rome, Italy [Remo Casilli/Reuters]

Opening Ukraine ports would need sanctions review: Interfax

Russia is hopeful that a solution for grain exports from Ukraine could be found, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency, adding that the removal of sanctions should also be considered.

“If our partners want to achieve a solution, then it is necessary, among other things, to solve problems related to the abolition of the sanctions restrictions that were imposed for Russian exports,” Rudenko reportedly told reporters.

Ukraine used to export most of its goods through seaports but since Russia’s invasion, it has been forced to export by train or via its small Danube River ports.

Mykolaiv on edge amid fear of a new Russian assault

Russia’s progress in Mariupol has sparked concerns it could widen its offensive to target more of southern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian army says it is fighting back against Russian troops suffering low morale. But in Mykolaiv, residents live in fear of renewed Russian assault.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid reports from the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.

Russia expels five Portuguese diplomats

In the latest tit-for-tat diplomatic move, Russia has expelled five employees of the Portuguese embassy in Moscow.

The decision comes after 10 Russian diplomats in Portugal were declared “persona non grata”, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. “This unfriendly step would have a negative impact on Russian-Portuguese relations,” it added.

European countries have expelled more than 300 Russian embassy employees since the start of the war. On Wednesday, Russia said it was expelling a total of 85 embassy staff members from France, Spain and Italy.

Biden to meet Finland, Sweden leaders

Biden is set to meet President Sauli Niinisto of Finland and Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in Washington, DC a day after he strongly endorsed their bid to join NATO.

Sweden and Finland are seeking to join the military alliance, renouncing decades of military non-alignment, over fears they could be future targets of Russian aggression.

But their applications face strong resistance from NATO member Turkey, which accuses the two countries of harbouring “terror” groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, blacklisted by Ankara, the European Union and the United States.

UK sanctions Russian airlines to prevent them from selling landing slots

The United Kingdom says it is introducing new sanctions against the Russian aviation sector to prevent state-owned Aeroflot, Ural Airlines and Rossiya Airlines from selling their unused landing slots at British airports.

“We’ve already closed our airspace to Russian airlines. Today we’re making sure they can’t cash in their lucrative landing slots at our airports,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

The British government said it estimated the landing slots were worth 50 million pounds ($61.9m).

Switzerland reopens embassy

Switzerland reopens its embassy in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, two and a half months after its closure.

During the next few days, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs has said, five staff members will return.

It added that in the coming weeks the embassy will start working on matters “such as the coordination of reconstruction and development projects and humanitarian aid, good offices, and the media coverage of the situation in Ukraine”.

The move comes a day after the American flag returned to fly over the US embassy in the capital as it resumed operations.

Russia says 1,730 fighters in Azovstal surrendered

More than 1,700 fighters who were in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant have laid down their arms, Russia’s defence ministry says.

“In the past 24 hours, 771 militants of the Azov nationalist unit have surrendered at the blockaded Azovstal plant in Mariupol,” the ministry said on its Telegram channel, bringing the total who have left to 1,730.

It added that 80 were wounded and that all those who needed hospital treatment received assistance in the hospitals of Novoazovsk and Donetsk in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

In Northern Ireland, Ukrainian refugees in limbo

Refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine have found themselves in limbo in Northern Ireland, caught between different approaches to the crisis by the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Ireland was the first country in the EU to waive visa requirements for Ukrainians and, to date, nearly 30,000 have sought shelter there.

The UK, which includes Northern Ireland, has instead opened sponsorship and family reunion schemes, which have been criticised for delays and complexity.

Read the full story here.

Red Cross registers hundreds of Ukrainian POWs

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it has registered in the past two days hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) leaving the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

The registration process, it said, allows the ICRC to track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families.

“The ICRC must have immediate access to all POWs in all places where they are held,” it said in a statement. “The ICRC must be allowed to interview prisoners of war without witnesses, and the duration and frequency of these visits should not be unduly restricted,” it added.

Italy calls for an urgent ceasefire

A ceasefire must be reached as soon as possible, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said, to avoid the worsening of a humanitarian crisis triggered by the war.

Speaking in the upper house of parliament, Draghi also stressed the need for the EU to coordinate member states’ military investments.

He touched upon the country’s energy policy as well, saying that Italy could cut its dependency on Russian oil by 2024’s second semester. “The first effects of this process will already be seen at the end of this year.”

Germany’s Scholz proposes EU solidarity fund to rebuild Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz says the EU must set up a solidarity fund to help rebuild Ukraine after the war.

“Rebuilding destroyed infrastructure and revitalising the Ukrainian economy will cost billions,” Sholtz told legislators before a meeting of EU leaders. “We as the EU must start laying the ground for a solidarity fund financed by contributions from the EU and its partners,” he added.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech ahead of the next EU summit during a session at the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) in Berlin on May 19
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech before the next EU summit during a session at the lower house of parliament in Berlin [Tobias Schwarz/AFP]

The German leader also commented on Ukraine’s bid to join the EU, noting that the bloc could not speed up the process. “There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU,” Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership.

Russian shelling in Donetsk continues: AJ correspondent

“The situation has deteriorated considerably here in the east over the last week or so,” said Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

“The major of the town has told residents to leave, the situation is very tense,” Baig said, after visiting a building that was hit by Russian forces. Rescue workers said six people, including one child, were pulled out of the rubble.

“While we are standing here, almost every second we can hear the fire coming in and out,” he added.

Donetsk’s governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said in an online message that of the 73,000 inhabitants of Bakhmut, a little more than 20,000 remained in the city.

Ukraine says Russian army lost 28,500 men

Ukraine’s army says the Russian military has lost 28,500 men since the start of the invasion.

In a Facebook post, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces also said Russia had lost 1,254 tanks and 3,063 armoured vehicles.

Ukraine’s figures of Russia’s losses are significantly higher than Moscow’s. On March 25, Russia said 1,351 of its soldiers had been killed in combat and has given no more information since. At the time, Ukraine had put the Russian death toll at 19,000.

Experts say figures by both parties cannot be trusted as Kyiv is likely to inflate them to boost the morale of its troops, while Russia is probably downplaying them.

Two men killed in mine explosion in Kyiv: Police

Two men died after a mine exploded in the Kyiv region, the police have said.

Between the villages of Lipovka and Korolovka, the men aged 52 and 48 “blew themselves up on an anti-personnel mini OZM-72 left on the field by the occupiers”, police said in a Facebook post.

Those injured were taken to hospital, they said.

Ukraine says 231 children killed amid war

Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman has said 231 children have died since, and as a result of, the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, while 427 children have been injured.

Lyudmyla Denisova said the figures were gathered from a register of pre-trial investigations and “other sources that need confirmation”.

School destroyed amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine in Avdiivka, Donetsk Region
A school was destroyed amid the continuing Russian invasion of Ukraine in Avdiivka, Donetsk region, on May 18, 2022 [Head of the Donetsk Regional Military Administration Pavlo Kyrylenko/Handout via Reuters]

Money for Ukraine to top G7 agenda

G7 financial leaders are likely to focus on Thursday and Friday on how to help Ukraine pay its bills. Reconstruction after the war, surging global inflation, climate change, supply chains and the impending food crisis will also be high on the agenda.

Ukraine estimates its financial needs at $5bn a month to keep public sector employees’ salaries paid and the administration working despite the daily destruction wrought by Russia.

A short-term financing package to be agreed by the G7 would cover three months of Ukraine’s needs.

Culture of scapegoating in Russia’s military likely hampers operations: UK

A culture of cover-ups and scapegoating is likely prevalent in Russia’s military and security system, the UK’s defence ministry has said.

In its latest intelligence briefing, the ministry listed some of Russia’s senior commanders who had recently been fired after being considered to have poorly performed in Ukraine. This includes Vice Admiral Igor Osipov who commanded the Black Sea Fleet and was suspended after the sinking of Moskva.

“Many officials involved in the invasion of Ukraine will likely be increasingly distracted by efforts to avoid personal culpability for Russia’s operational setbacks, the ministry said, adding this would likely place further strain on Russia’s centralised command model.

“It will be difficult for Russia to regain the initiative under these conditions,” the ministry added.

Former US President Bush calls Iraq invasion ‘unjustified’

Former US President George W Bush mistakenly described the invasion of Iraq as “brutal” and “unjustified” before correcting himself to say he meant to refer to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Bush made the comments in a speech during an event in Dallas on Wednesday while he was criticising Russia’s political system.

“The result is an absence of checks and balances in Russia, and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq,” Bush said, before correcting himself and shaking his head. “I mean, of Ukraine.”

He jokingly blamed the mistake on his age as the audience burst into laughter.

Ukraine shelling kills one in Russia’s Kursk region: Governor

One person has died in another attack from Ukraine on the village of Tetkino in the Kursk region, the TASS news agency reports, quoting its governor.

“Another enemy attack on Tetkino, which took place at dawn, unfortunately ended in tragedy. At the moment, at least one civilian death is known,” Roman Starovoit said on Telegram.

Several blows had been dealt to a distillery in the village and the killed person had been a truck driver delivering supplies there, the governor said.

TASS reports that the village of Tetkino, located on the border with Ukraine, had been shelled more than five times previously.

Four people killed in Severodonetsk on Wednesday: Governor

Shelling in Severodonetsk on Wednesday morning killed four people, the governor of the Luhansk region has said.

“Severodonetsk was shelled from the very morning. In some places, due to powerful shelling, rescuers were not able to go to the sites of fire for two hours. At least eight houses were damaged,” Serhey Haidai said on Telegram.

“Four people were killed, three more were injured. All in the morning and in the old districts of the city,” he added.

Russian occupiers plan to destroy Azovstal plant: Think-tank

Russian occupation authorities in the Donetsk region say they plan to destroy the Azovstal steel plant after capturing it and turn Mariupol into a “resort city”, the Institute for the Study of War has said.

“Azovstal was a major element of Mariupol’s economy before the war because of its unique function as a full-cycle metallurgical complex,” it said in the latest campaign assessment.

It added that the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, had stated that the DNR intends to rebuild Mariupol to be a “resort city”, admitting that 60 percent of the city’s structures have been destroyed to the point where they cannot be rebuilt.

“The announced plan to turn Mariupol into a centre of tourism and leisure following the complete destruction of a major centre of economic activity in Mariupol is indicative of the damage that Russian troops have inflicted on themselves through the destruction of Mariupol,” the institute said.

Shelling leaves part of Dnepropetrovsk village without electricity: Governor

Russian forces shelled the Zelenodolsk community of the Dnepropetrovsk region, which was partially left without electricity as a result, the regional governor has said.

“The invaders fired on the Zelenodolsk community five times … on [the village of] Velikaya Kostroma. No people were hurt. Houses were damaged and destroyed. The village is partly without electricity and gas,” Valentin Reznichenko said on Telegram.

Ukraine will not give up any territory to Russia: Adviser

Ukraine will not compromise with Russia and will not give up any territory, an adviser to Zelenskyy has said.

“The only option for reconciliation is Russia’s capitulation, the withdrawal of troops and talks on compensation. This is the principal position of the government,” Oleksiy Arestovych told 24 Channel.

Arestovych said he believed some countries wanted a repeat of the Minsk agreements, which had sought unsuccessfully to end the war in Ukraine’s Donbas region since 2014.

But he said, although some countries would try to negotiate, “there will be no option where we allow Russians to stay here”.

Red Cross must have access to Ukraine fighters taken to Russia: Amnesty

Amnesty International has said the Red Cross should be given immediate access to the Ukrainian fighters from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant who surrendered to the Russians and were taken to Russian-occupied territory.

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s deputy director for the region, cited lawless executions allegedly carried out by Russian forces in Ukraine and said the Azovstal defenders “must not meet the same fate”.

Russia said on Wednesday that nearly 1,000 last-ditch Ukrainian fighters who held out inside a pulverised steel plant had surrendered.

It was unclear how many fighters remained inside the plant’s labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers, where 2,000 were believed to be holed up at one point.

Ukraine war may involve other countries if it keeps going: Official

The head of Ukraine’s president’s office has said the longer the war lasts, the more risk there is that it will involve other countries.

“At first, it will affect states that have borders with Russia, and then it may be a war involving even more countries,” Andriy Yermak said in an interview with MSNBC.

US announces $215m in emergency food assistance for Ukraine

Blinken has said Ukraine will be getting $215m in emergency food assistance, with more aid expected in the future.

“Today, given the urgency of the crisis, we’re announcing another $215m in new emergency food assistance. And we’ll do much more,” he said during the UN meeting on food security on Wednesday.

Japan doubles Ukraine’s fiscal aid to $600m

Japan will double fiscal aid for Ukraine to $600m in a coordinated move with the World Bank to back the country’s near-term fiscal necessities damaged by Russia’s invasion, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said.

Japan, a member of the G7, had previously announced $300m in loans to Ukraine in April.

Villagers walk past unexploded artillery shells as they collect scrap metal from a bombed warehouse in the village of Malaya Rohan, Kharkiv region.
Villagers walk past unexploded artillery shells as they collect scrap metal from a bombed warehouse in the village of Malaya Rohan, Kharkiv region, May 18, 2022 [Bernat Armangue/AP Photo]

US unlikely to extend licence allowing Russian debt payments: Yellen

Janet Yellen has said it is likely that the special licence granted to allow Russia to make payments to its US bondholders would not be extended when it expires next week. This would leave Russian officials a fast-narrowing window to avoid its first external debt default since the 1917 Russian revolution.

Russia has some $40bn of international bonds. A temporary licence from the Treasury granted an exception allowing banks to accept dollar-denominated payments from Russia’s finance ministry despite crippling sanctions on Russia.

The licence expires on May 25, with the next big payment due that day.

“There’s not been a final decision on that, but I think it’s unlikely that it would continue,” Yellen said in Germany. She added that a technical default would not alter the current situation regarding Russia’s access to capital as the country is “already cut off from global markets”.

Not legal for US to seize frozen Russian assets: Yellen

The US does not have the legal authority to seize Russian central bank assets frozen due to its invasion of Ukraine, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said.

Some European officials have advocated that the EU, the US and other allies seize some $300bn in Russian central bank foreign currency assets frozen by sanctions to foot the bill for Ukraine’s reconstruction. The World Bank estimates Ukraine is suffering $4bn in weekly physical damage.

“I think it’s very natural that given the enormous destruction in Ukraine, and huge rebuilding costs that they will face, that we will look to Russia to help pay at least a portion of the price that will be involved,” Yellen told reporters in Germany ahead of this week’s meetings of the G7 finance ministers.

“While we’re beginning to look at this, it would not be legal now in the United States for the government to seize those” assets, Yellen said.

Bridget Brink confirmed as US ambassador to Ukraine

The US Senate confirmed Bridget Brink as the US ambassador to Ukraine as officials plan to return US diplomats to Kyiv.

The veteran foreign service officer, who has spent most of her career in the shadow of the former Soviet Union, was nominated to the position last month by President Joe Biden.

Brink was confirmed by the Senate unanimously without a formal roll call vote.

Employees of US embassy in Ukraine raise the US flag at the US embassy in Kyiv,
Employees of the US embassy in Ukraine raise the US flag at the US embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 18, 2022 [Efrem Lukatsky/AP]

Ukrainian acts of resistance in occupied Melitopol

The military administration for the region that includes Melitopol has reported more actions of resistance on Wednesday against the Russian troops who have occupied the southern city since early in the war, The Associated Press news agency reports.

It said a grenade exploded near a Russian command post, followed by an exchange of fire. No casualties were reported.

On Tuesday, the regional administration said Ukrainian resistance fighters killed several high-ranking Russian officers in the occupied city.

The report could not be independently confirmed.

Australia to send armoured personnel carriers, more Bushmasters to Ukraine

Australia is sending Ukraine an extra 20 Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles, 14 M113 armoured personnel carriers and radiation monitoring and personal protective equipment, pushing the nation’s contribution to Kyiv’s war effort above 285 million Australian dollars ($199m), the Australian newspaper has reported.

The support package includes 60 pallets of medical supplies donated by Australian citizens.

“The Australian government will continue to identify opportunities for further military assistance where it is able to provide a required capability to the Ukraine Armed Forces expeditiously,” Defence Minister Peter Dutton said.

Australia has previously sent Ukraine 20 Bushmasters following a request from Zelenskyy.

A Bushmaster PMV is loaded into a C-17 Globemaster.
A Bushmaster PMV is loaded into a C-17 Globemaster which is headed for Ukraine ahead of an announcement from Defence Minister Peter Dutton regarding defensive military assistance to Ukraine in Brisbane, Australia, April 8, 2022 [Russell Freeman/AAP Image via Reuters]

Ukraine officials give conflicting accounts of attack on Russian train: Reuters

Ukraine’s territorial defence force said on Wednesday that its fighters had blown up an armoured train carrying Russian troops, but an adviser to President Zelenskyy later said the attack had been confined to rails near the train, the Reuters news agency reports.

The defence force said that explosives had detonated under a rail car carrying military personnel in the occupied southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, in the Zaporizhzhia region. It did not elaborate on the extent of the damage.

But several hours later, presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych gave a conflicting account, saying Ukrainian forces had blown up the tracks ahead of the train.

“The partisans got it, although they did not blow up the armoured train itself,” he said in a video posted on social media, saying the Russians “got off lightly”.

Zelenskyy’s life story told in new comic book

Zelenskyy’s life story – from comedian to war-time leader – has been given the graphic novel treatment in TidalWave Comics’ latest biography: “Political Power: Volodymyr Zelenskyy”.

The 22-page glossy released on Wednesday tells the story of how Zelenskyy, who once played a fictional president in a TV show, swept to power in 2019 promising to end a war with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. He had no political experience when he took office as the country’s sixth president.

“Who is he? What makes him tick? Why is he the right leader for Ukraine at this moment? Those are the things I was curious about when I started the research,” said writer Michael Frizell.

A portion of sale proceeds will be donated to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

US intel shows Russians fear Mariupol abuse will backfire

The US has gathered intelligence that shows some Russian officials have become concerned that Russian forces in the ravaged port city of Mariupol are carrying out grievous abuses, a US official familiar with the findings has said, Associated Press reports.

The Russian officials are concerned that the abuses will backfire and further inspire Mariupol residents to resist the Russian occupation.

The US official, who was not authorised to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the Russians, who were not identified, also feared that the abuses will undercut Russia’s claim that they have liberated the Russian-speaking city.

The abuses include beating and electrocuting city officials and robbing homes, according to the intelligence finding.

Pentagon discusses Russia threats with Sweden, Finland: Officials

A senior defence official has said US Pentagon officials are having discussions with Sweden and Finland on their security needs to deter Russia as both move towards NATO membership, the Associated Press reports.

The official said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist on Wednesday and spoke about the interim period between when the NATO application is formally made and when it is approved.

There have been concerns about threats from Russia during that period, in which Sweden and Finland would not formally be covered by NATO’s Article 5 which says that an attack against one member is an attack against all and calls for collective defence.

Zelenskyy thanks EC for 9 billion euros loan

Zelenskyy has thanked European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for the EU’s 9 billion euros ($9.5bn) macro-financial aid and recovery programme for Ukraine.

“This step by the European Commission is a testament to the true leadership that the European Union is capable of. And it will definitely help us in the struggle for our common freedom,” he said in his late-night address.

The European Commission proposed on Wednesday a 9 billion euros loan to Ukraine to keep the country going as it struggles to fend off the Russian invasion and wants to set up a facility for post-war reconstruction.

The money for the loan would be borrowed by the Commission on the markets under the macro-financial assistance mechanism, backed by guarantees of EU governments.

Zelenskyy mocks Russia’s new ‘laser’ weapons

Zelenskyy has mockingly compared Russia’s news that it was using laser weapons in Ukraine to the so-called wonder weapons Nazi Germany unveiled in a bid to prevent defeat in World War Two.

“The clearer it became that they had no chance in the war, the more propaganda there was about an amazing weapon that would be so powerful as to ensure a turning point,” he said in a late-night video address.

“And so we see that in the third month of a full-scale war, Russia is trying to find its ‘wonder weapon’ … this all clearly shows the complete failure of the mission,” he added.

Russia says it is deploying ‘laser’ weapons in Ukraine

Russia has said it is using a new generation of powerful lasers in Ukraine to burn up drones.

Little is known about the specifics of the new laser. But Yury Borisov, the deputy prime minister in charge of military development, told a conference in Moscow that one prototype called Peresvet was already being widely deployed and it could blind satellites up to 1,500km (932 miles) above Earth.

He added there were already more powerful systems. “If Peresvet blinds, then the new generation of laser weapons lead to the physical destruction of the target – thermal destruction, they burn up,” he told Russian state television.

Asked if such weapons were being used in Ukraine, Borisov said: “Yes. The first prototypes are already being used there.” He said the weapon was called “Zadira”.

World Bank to offer $30bn as Ukraine war threatens food security

The World Bank has said it will make $30bn available to help stem the food security crisis threatened by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The total will include $12bn in new projects and more than $18bn in funds from existing food and nutrition-related projects that have been approved but have not yet been disbursed, the bank said.

The bank said the new projects are expected to support agriculture, social protection to cushion the effects of higher food prices on the poor, and water and irrigation projects.

The majority of resources are going to areas hardest hit by the crisis – Africa and the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia.

UN food chief appeals to Putin to open ports

The UN food chief has appealed to Putin to open Ukraine’s ports so that exports can reach the “poorest countries”.

“It is absolutely essential that we allow these ports to open because this is not just about Ukraine. This is about the poorest of the poor around the world who are on the brink of starvation as we speak,” David Beasley said at a UN meeting on global food security.

“So I ask President Putin, ‘If you have any heart at all, please open these ports. Please assure everyone concerned that the passageways will be clear so that we can feed the poorest of the poor and avert famine'” he added.

Zelenskyy says Russian-occupied cities ‘will return’ to Ukraine

Zelenskyy has said Ukraine is determined to reclaim control over the southern cities of Kherson, Melitopol, Berdiansk, Enerhodar and Mariupol, now occupied by Russian troops.

“All of our cities and communities under occupation – under temporary occupation – should know that Ukraine will return,” Zelenskyy said.

A view of a street in Mariupol, captured by Russian forces, with the Azovstal steel plant in the background.
A view of a street in Mariupol, captured by Russian forces, with the Azovstal steel plant in the background. Tuesday, May 17, 2022 [Alexei Alexandrov/AP]

Russia has fired more than 2,000 missiles in Ukraine: Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy has said Russia has fired more than 2,000 missiles during its attack on Ukraine.

He said the majority of the missiles hit civilian infrastructure and brought no strategic military benefit. In the past day, Russian missiles hit the southern cities of Mykolaiv and Dnipro, Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation.

Zelenskyy also noted Russia’s claims to have deployed new laser weapons in Ukraine, saying it reflected a desire to find an alternative to its missiles.

Google’s Russian subsidiary to file for bankruptcy after bank account seized

Google’s Russian subsidiary plans to file for bankruptcy after authorities seized its bank account, making it impossible to pay staff and vendors, but free services including search and YouTube will keep operating, a company spokesperson has said.

The Alphabet Inc unit has been under pressure in Russia for months for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal and for restricting access to some Russian media on YouTube, but the Kremlin has so far stopped short of blocking access to the company’s services.

“The Russian authorities’ seizure of Google Russia’s bank account has made it untenable for our Russia office to function, including employing and paying Russia-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors, and meeting other financial obligations,” a Google spokesperson said.

“Google Russia has published a notice of its intention to file for bankruptcy.”

US promises push to improve global food security

Blinken has promised to work with allies to improve global food security amid the war in Ukraine.

“President Putin is blocking export of Ukraine’s grain and foodstuffs. We will continue working with our allies and partners to build resilient, sustainable, and inclusive food systems to improve global food security,” the top US diplomat wrote on Twitter.

Croatia president wants to block new NATO members

President Zoran Milanovic of Croatia wants his country to follow Turkey’s example by trying to block Sweden and Finland from joining NATO.

Milanovic is in a bitter verbal dispute with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic over a number of issues, including whether to support the NATO applications Sweden and Finland submitted.

Before Croatia’s parliament ratifies NATO membership for the two Nordic nations, Milanovic wants a change in neighbouring Bosnia’s electoral law that would make it easier for their nationalist Bosnian Croat allies to get elected to leadership positions.

US national security officials ’emphatically’ support NATO expansion: Sullivan

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said President Joe Biden asked his national security team and cabinet members about the risks and benefits of Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

He said the team “emphatically supported the entry of Finland and Sweden”.

Sullivan said Finland and Sweden will not be covered by NATO’s mutual defence agreement until all 30 members have ratified their accession, but US and European allies are prepared to send the message “that we will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process”.

US in talks with Sweden, Finland: Defence official

A senior US defence official has said the Pentagon is having discussions with Sweden and Finland on their security needs, as both move towards NATO membership amid the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

The official said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist and spoke about the interim period between when the country’s NATO application is formally submitted and when it is approved, The Associated Press news agency reported.

There have been concerns about threats from Russia during that period, in which Sweden and Finland would not formally be covered by NATO’s Article 5, which states that an attack against one member is an attack against all and calls for collective defence.

UN chief ‘hopeful’ about averting global food shortage

UN chief Guterres has warned of a “global food shortage” in the coming months due to issues linked to the war in Ukraine, but said he is “hopeful” the crisis can be averted.

Guterres said he is in “intense contact” with Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, the US and the EU to try and resume Ukrainian grain shipments and revive Russian fertiliser exports.

“I am hopeful, but there is still a way to go,” he said during a food security meeting at the UN hosted by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “The complex security, economic and financial implications require goodwill on all sides.”

US, Turkey affirm support for ‘solution to end the war’

The US and Turkey have affirmed their support for finding a solution to end the war in Ukraine, reasserting that they back the country’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

After a meeting between Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Ankara and Washington released a joint statement pledging to “intensify consultations on a range of regional issues”.

“They also reiterated their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russia’s unacceptable war. Within this framework, the United States and Turkey reaffirmed their support to find a solution to end the war,” the statement said.

Mevlut Cavusoglu and Antony Blinken
Antony Blinken meets with Mevlut Cavusoglu at UN headquarters in New York [Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

US reopens embassy in Ukraine’s capital

The US has reopened its embassy in Kyiv after abandoning the diplomatic post shortly before the Russian invasion began three months ago.

“Today we are officially resuming operations at the US Embassy in Kyiv,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

“The Ukrainian people, with our security assistance, have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again,” he added, referring to the flag of the US.

Ukrainian forces had fended off a Russian offensive to capture the capital in the first weeks of the war.

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

Read all the updates from Wednesday, May 18 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies