Ukraine latest updates: Moscow says Azovstal now ‘liberated’

Ukraine news from May 20: Azovstal steelworks plant was last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol and had been under weeks-long siege.

A view of the besieged Azovstav plant in Mariupol.
Russia's defence ministry said the group that had given up at Azovstal comprised 531 people [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]
  • Russia’s defence minister says Moscow’s troops are close to seizing full control of Ukraine’s eastern region of Luhansk.
  • The G7 group of industrialised nations pledges $19.8bn in support for Ukraine as it battles Russia’s invasion.
  •  Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the country’s eastern Donbas region has been “completely destroyed” by Moscow’s offensive.

This live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us.

Follow our continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine on our new blog.

These were the updates on Friday, May 20:

Moody’s cuts Ukraine debt rating, outlook negative

Moody’s has cut Ukraine’s debt rating for the second time in three months and lowered the outlook to negative due to the growing risk the Russian invasion will affect the nation’s debt sustainability.

The ratings agency cut the grade a notch to Caa3, after lowering it in early March, and said the country could face “a more protracted military conflict than Moody’s initially expected”.

Serb leader tells EU Bosnia cannot join sanctions against Russia

Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik has told European Council President Charles Michel that Bosnia needs to maintain neutrality and not join EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“I think it is of utmost importance for Bosnia to remain neutral,” Dodik said at a joint news conference with Michel and presidency Bosniak Chairman Sefik Dzaferovic. “In conditions in which we exist, it would be a problem for us to impose any kind of sanctions and join the EU or global sanctions.”

Russia says remaining Azovstal defenders have surrendered, siege is over

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

“The territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant … has been completely liberated,” the ministry said in a statement. It said the group that had given up comprised 531 people.

US says Turkey’s approach to Sweden, Finland NATO bid not a bilateral topic

Turkey’s approach to the NATO accession process of Sweden and Finland is not a bilateral issue between Washington and Ankara, the Department of State spokesperson has said, adding that the Biden administration remained confident that there will be consensus on the issue.

G7 countries to provide $19.8bn in economic aid to Ukraine

The G7 leading economies have agreed to provide $19.8bn in economic aid to Ukraine to ensure its finances do not hinder its ability to defend itself from Russia’s invasion.

Read more here.

Protester crashes Cannes Film Festival red carpet event

A woman stripped off her clothes at the Cannes Film Festival to reveal a message against rape and the war in Ukraine that was written on her body.

The unidentified woman tore off her clothes on the red carpet to reveal the message “Stop raping us” written across her torso next to the blue and yellow colours of the Ukraine flag.

The woman shouted, “Don’t rape us!” as security quickly encircled her and removed her from the red carpet.

The Cannes festival has barred Russians with ties to the Kremlin from attending and Zelenskyy delivered a surprise address to open the film festival on Tuesday.

Canada bans luxury goods trade with Russia, punishes more oligarchs

Canada has announced a ban on trade in luxury goods with Russia, and added 14 more Russian oligarchs and other associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin to its sanctions list.

The trade ban covers Canadian exports of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, some textile products and sportswear, footwear, luxury clothing and accessories, jewellery, kitchenware, and art, as well as imports from Russia of alcoholic beverages, seafood, fish and diamonds.

The trade in such goods represented $59m worth of goods in 2021, according to trade figures.

The Canadian government has sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and entities from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine since Moscow’s invasion on February 24.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attend a news conference in Kyiv.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a visit to Kyiv on May 8, 2022 [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Wives of Azovstal defenders ask Turkey to ensure safety of husbands help captive by Russia

The wives of Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have appealed to Turkey to help secure the safety of their husbands.

The women expressed hope on Friday that Turkey will become a guarantor of the security of the Ukrainian soldiers and return them home from captivity in Russia.

“We hope in God and Turkey that our defenders will come out alive,” Olga Kerod, the wife of a Ukrainian border guard, told media in Istanbul.

More than 1,900 Ukrainian soldiers in the now-flattened port city of Mariupol have surrendered in recent days, according to the latest figure from Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Zelenskyy meets Irish parliamentarians in Kyiv

The Ukrainian president has met with lawmakers from the Irish parliament in Kyiv.

Zelenskyy met Mark Daly, the chairperson of the upper house of the Irish parliament, and Sean O Fearghail, the chairperson of the lower house of the Irish parliament, in his office in Kyiv. The Irish delegation discussed the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine and sanctions against Russia with the Ukrainian leader.

Zelenskyy noted the importance of increasing coordinated, unified pressure on Russia and the introduction of a sixth package of EU sanctions against Moscow.

Polish PM voices support for Swedish, Finnish NATO bids

Poland’s prime minister has hailed the prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, the United States-led transatlantic military alliance.

“We believe these are sovereign decisions by the countries and we will be very happy if Finland and Sweden join NATO swiftly,” Mateusz Morawiecki said at a news conference alongside his Portuguese counterpart, Antonio Costa, who was visiting Warsaw for talks.

PKK central to Turkish opposition to Sweden, Finland joining NATO

Turkey views the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and all its affiliates as security threats, complicating its relationship with NATO aspirants Sweden and Finland, which it accuses of harbouring individuals with ties to the groups.

Read more here.

INTERACTIVE- NATO history and expansions Fin

Italy submits peace plan for Ukraine to UN

Italy’s foreign minister says Rome has submitted a peace plan for Ukraine to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Luigi Di Maio said during a Council of Europe meeting in Turin, Italy, that the proposal submitted on Thursday calls for local ceasefires to evacuate civilians along humanitarian corridors and creating the conditions for a more general ceasefire leading “to a long-lasting peace”.

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was aware of the plan, adding the European Union is “putting all our efforts into trying to bring this conflict to an end.”

Borrell added that it was up to Kyiv to decide the terms of any negotiations over ending the conflict. He said that he hopes that “when the time comes for negotiations to take place, Ukraine will be able to negotiate from a position of strength.”

As the Ukraine war rages, Montenegro’s juggling act gets harder

Close historic ties with Russia and deep internal divisions are undermining the formation of a unified national stance in Montenegro over the conflict.

Read more here.

A woman walks in front of graffiti depicting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in Podgorica, Montenegro
The war in Ukraine has shrunk the room for geopolitical neutrality in Europe, leaving Montenegro in a difficult spot [File: Stevo Vasiljevic/Reuters]

Gazprom says it will halt gas supplies to Finland, contest arbitration

Gazprom Export, the exporting arm of Russian gas giant Gazprom, has confirmed it will suspend gas sales for Finnish state-owned gas wholesaler Gasum starting from Saturday.

Gazprom Export said this was because Gasum had not settled up for gas delivered in April under new Russian rules requiring buyers to make their payments in roubles.

Gazprom also said it would defend its interests in arbitration proceedings initiated by the Finnish company.

Putin accuses West of carrying out barrage of cyberattacks

Russian President Vladimir Putin claims his country has faced a barrage of cyberattacks from the West amid Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine but has successfully fended them off.

Speaking to members of Russia’s Security Council, Putin said that “the challenges in this area have become even more pressing, serious and extensive.”

He charged that “an outright aggression has been unleashed against Russia, a war has been waged in the information space.”

Putin added that “the cyber-aggression against us, the same as the attack on Russia by sanctions in general, has failed.”

Russia to cut gas supplies to Finland on Saturday: Gasum

Russia will cut flows of natural gas to Finland on Saturday, Finnish state-owned energy wholesaler Gasum has said.

Gasum said on Friday that it had been informed by Russia’s state-owned energy corporation Gazprom that flows would be halted.

Read more here.

Russian strike wounds seven in Kharkiv

At least seven people have been wounded after Russian forces struck a building in the town of Lozova in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, according to Viktor Zabashta, a local doctor.

The regional emergency service said on the messaging app Telegram that its team members were working on putting out a fire and removing debris following the attack.

Lozova lies close to the neighbouring region of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has focused its offensive.

Berlin to deliver first 15 Gepard tanks to Ukraine in July

Germany will deliver the first 15 Gepard tanks to Ukraine in July, a German defence ministry spokesperson has said.

Petition to change Ukrainian streets named after Russian poet posted on Zelenskyy’s website

A petition to rebrand dozens of Ukrainian streets named after iconic Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, to the name of American author Stephen King, has been posted on Zelenskyy’s website.

King has come out in support of Ukraine on Twitter earlier this month.

The petition has already received more than 1,500 signatures. Zelenskyy’s administration will have to consider it, if it gets 25,000 signatures within a month.

Alexander Pushkin, an aristocrat of Ethiopian origin, visited the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol in 1820 after being banished from St Petersburg by Czar Nicholas I. Despite Pushkin’s criticism of Russian autocracy, some Ukrainians want to remove his name from their nation’s topography.

CEZ has made gas payment to Gazprom in euros

Czech utility CEZ has made its due payment for Russian gas in euros, a spokesman has said, declining to provide any further details.

“We have made the payment in euros, in line with the recommendation of the European Commission. We will not comment on details,” CEZ said, declining to specify whether the company, which takes a small fraction of gas from Gazprom, used a scheme demanded by Russia that includes converting foreign currency payments to roubles via accounts at Gazprombank.

INTERACTIVE - Russian gas imports into the EU - Europe's reliance on Russian gas

Canada imposes more sanctions on Russian oligarchs, bans some luxury goods trade

Canada has said it is imposing additional sanctions on Russian oligarchs and banning the import and export of targeted luxury goods from Russia.

The new measures would put restrictions on 14 individuals including Russian oligarchs, their family members, and close associates of 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 jewellery.

Qatar key to Germany’s future energy strategy, Chancellor Scholz says

Qatar will play a central role in Germany’s strategy to diversify away from Russian gas, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said.

“The energy security issue plays an important role for us. Germany will develop its infrastructure to be in a position to import liquefied gas by ship,” Scholz told journalists at a joint news conference with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Berlin. “It’s a big step and Qatar plays an important role in our strategy,” Scholz added.

Sheikh Tamim confirmed that Qatar plans to start supplying liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Germany in 2024.

Russia says ‘nearing’ full control of Ukraine’s Luhansk

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu says Moscow is close to taking full control of Ukraine’s southeastern region of Luhansk.

Pro-Russian separatists have controlled about a third of the region since 2014, and Russia recognised their “independence” days before invading Ukraine on February 24.

The Kremlin said it would “liberate” the Kyiv-controlled part of the region that has been heavily fortified amid a smouldering trench war with separatists.

“The liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic is nearing completion,” Shoigu said at a televised ministry meeting.

G7 mobilise $19.8bn for Ukraine

Finance ministers and central bank governors of the G7 wealthy democracies have said they are mobilising $19.8bn for Ukraine and pledged to give more financial support if needed.

The financial leaders of the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the UK – the G7 – held talks in Germany to finance Kyiv as it struggles to fend off Russia’s invasion and is running out of cash.

“In 2022, we have mobilised $19.8bn of budget support, including $9.5bn of recent commitments … to help Ukraine close its financing gap and continue ensuring the delivery of basic services to the Ukrainian people,” the G7 said in their communique.

Russia to halt gas flows to Finland on Saturday

Russia’s Gazprom has informed Finland that it will halt flows of natural gas from Saturday morning, according to Finnish state-owned gas wholesaler Gasum.

Gasum has refused to pay Gazprom Export in roubles as Russia has requested European countries to do.

“It is highly regrettable that natural gas supplies under our supply contract will now be halted,” Gasum CEO Mika Wiljanen said in a statement.

‘Russified’ schools to open in Mariupol: mayor

Russian authorities have forcibly herded public school teachers in the occupied city of Mariupol to launch a new curriculum based on Russian, according to a Ukrainian official.

Before the end of May, they plan to open four schools in each of the ruined and depopulated city’s districts, that, in September, will switch to “Russian standards”, fugitive city official Petro Andriyushchenko said on Telegram.

He said only history, mathematics, and Russian literature will be taught. Tens of thousands of civilians remain in the city that largely lacks power, water and gas supplies.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what in Mariupol Day 86 - May 20, 2022

Russia disperses protest near Europe’s largest nuclear station: official

Russian forces have beat up Ukrainian firefighters protesting the kidnapping of their boss in the Russia-occupied town of Enerhodar, according to a Ukrainian official.

The southern town accommodates the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, producing about a quarter of Ukraine’s electricity. Russians seized it in early March to secure power supply to energy-starved Crimea.

Chief firefighter Vitaly Troian was forcibly taken from his office on Thursday after refusing to collaborate with Russians.

Russian troops “used force” to disperse Friday’s rally against his abduction and damaged firefighting equipment, fugitive Enerhodar mayor Dmytro Orlov said on Telegram.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

Five wounded in Mykolaiv region: Official

Russian shelling wounded five civilians in the southern Mykolaiv region that borders Russia-occupied Kherson, according to an official.

“Luckily, there were no children among the victims,” regional legislator Galina Zamazeyeva said on Telegram.

Ukraine prevented attempted Russian river crossing in Donbas, Britain says

Ukrainian forces have successfully prevented an attempted Russian river crossing in the Donbas, according to a regular British defence ministry Twitter bulletin.

Images suggest that Russia has lost armoured manoeuvre elements of at least one battalion tactical group and the deployed pontoon bridging equipment while crossing the Siverskyi Donets river west of Severodonetsk, the UK said in its intelligence update.

Twelve killed in Russian attacks in Severodonetsk

Russian forces have attacked the cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk in Ukraine’s eastern region of Luhansk, according to the region’s governor.

Serhiy Haidai said in a Telegram post that 12 people were killed in Severodonetsk as a result of the assault, and more than 60 houses were destroyed across the region.

He added that the attack on Severodonetsk “was unsuccessful – the Russians suffered personnel losses and retreated”. His remarks could not be independently verified.

In Hirske, a town 30km south of Severodonetsk, one other person has been reported dead due to Russian attacks.

Revised_INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what in Donbas region Day 86_May20

‘15,000 hide in basements’ in sieged Severodonetsk: Official

Up to 15,000 civilians who could not leave the besieged eastern town of Severodonetsk are trying to survive intense shelling by Russian forces, an official says.

“These people live in bomb shelters, in the basements of apartment buildings, where it is possible to hid, to find shelter from the shelling,” district administration head Alexander Stryuk said in televised remarks.

He said that the shelling destroyed “up to 70 percent” of houses and apartment buildings in the town that lies only 100km northwest of rebel-held Luhansk and has been a focus of Russia’s offensive in recent weeks.

Slovak firm paid euros for Russian gas: CEO

Slovak state gas importer SPP has paid a bill for Russian natural gas in euros and conversion of the funds to roubles is outside its control, CEO Richard Prokypcak has said in a live interview on Slovak public television RTVS.

“The foreign exchange conversion is outside any control of SPP, for us really the important moment of fulfilling our commitment is the euro payment,” he said.

Three wounded in Kharkiv as Russians retreat: Governor

Russian shelling wounded three people in the city of Kharkiv as Russian ground forces keep retreating from around the Ukraine’s second-largest city, according to the regional governor.

The Russians used multiple-rocket launchers to pummel several Kharkiv districts and suburbs, Oleh Sinehubov said on Telegram.

He said that Ukrainian forces battled the Russians near the villages Ternova and Vesele which lie just kilometres south of the Russian border.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

A firefighter is seen trying to extinguish a blaze after a Russian bombing near Kharkiv
A firefighter tries to extinguish a fire after a Russian bombing near Kharkiv [File: Reuters]

Ukraine says it received $530m in US and UK grants from World Bank fund

Ukraine has received roughly $530m in US and British grants from a fund set up by the World Bank for donations to the Kyiv government in the wake of Russia’s invasion, according to the finance ministry.

The US donated around $50m and the UK 24 million pounds ($30m) and the money had now arrived in the state budget, the finance ministry statement said.

“These funds will be directed to providing urgent social, humanitarian and health spending, as well as supporting internally displaced people,” the statement said.

Germany could receive LNG from Qatar as early as 2024: Deputy minister

Qatar hopes to start sending liquefied natural gas to Germany in 2024, according to the Gulf state’s deputy prime minister who spoke to the German daily Handelsblatt.

“We want to have our US Golden Pass liquefied natural gas plant in Texas, in which Qatar Energy holds a 70 percent stake, ready to deliver to Germany as early as 2024,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who is also the Qatari foreign minister, was quoted as saying.

Later Friday, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is scheduled to hold talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin.

Qatar LNG gas
An LNG tanker ship being loaded up at Ras Laffan port, northern Qatar [File: AP]

Ukraine says 232 children dead amid war

Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman says that 232 children have died and 427 have been injured since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The numbers come from a register of pre-trial investigations and “other sources that need confirmation,” Lyudmyla Denisova said on Telegram.

Iryna Martsyniuk, 50, stands next to her house, heavily damaged after a Russian bombing in Velyka Kostromka village, Ukraine.
Iryna Martsyniuk, 50, stands next to her house, heavily damaged after a Russian bombing in Velyka Kostromka village, Ukraine, on Thursday, May 19, 2022 [Francisco Seco/AP]

Russia’s forces will likely redeploy to Donbas once Mariupol secured: UK

Russian forces are likely to shift focus to reinforcing their operations in the Donbas once they have secured Mariupol, the UK’s defence ministry has said.

“Staunch Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol since the start of the war means Russian forces in the area must be re-equipped and refurbished before they can be redeployed effectively,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence briefing.

“This can be a lengthy process when done thoroughly,” it added.

It added that because Russian commanders are under pressure to demonstrate effectiveness, their forces will likely redistribute without adequate preparation, which “risks further force attrition”.

13 dead in Luhansk as Russians advance towards Severdonetsk: Governor

The governor of the Luhansk region says 12 people died in Severodonetsk in the past day, and another in the Girske settlement, as Russian forces advanced towards the regional centre and Lysychansk, the governor has said.

“Across the Luhansk region more than 60 destroyed houses,” Serhiy Haidai said on Telegram adding these were in Zolote, Vrubivka and Rubizhne.

“It is impossible to count the damage in Toshkivka, where the hostilities continue,” Haidai said.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces has reported that Russia’s latest assault on Severodonetsk was unsuccessful and the Russians lost personnel, and then retreated.

Zelenskyy thanks US for $40bn aid bill

Zelenskyy has thanked the US for its approval of a $40bn aid bill for Ukraine.

“This is a demonstration of strong leadership and a necessary contribution to our common defence of freedom,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation.

Ukraine grain exports down 64 percent from last year: Ministry

Ukraine’s grain exports are down 64 percent so far in May compared with the same timeframe last year, the country’s agriculture ministry has said, according to Interfax.

Russian-backed hackers behind numerous disinformation campaigns to demoralise Ukraine: Report

Russian-backed actors have launched numerous disinformation campaigns seeking to, among other objectives, “demoralise” Ukrainians, incite internal unrest and divide Ukraine from its allies, a report by cybersecurity firm Mandiant has found.

In one of the campaigns, referred to as “Secondary Infektion,” the actors falsely claimed that Zelenskyy had died by suicide in a military bunker in Kyiv because of his failure to keep his country safe.

Another campaign spread falsehoods saying that Ukraine’s Azov regiment was seeking vengeance against Zelenskyy for abandoning his troops in Mariupol.

One operation disseminated an artificial intelligence-generated “deep fake” video of Zelenskyy stating that Ukraine had surrendered to Russia. The Ukraine 24 website and a news ticker in one of the channel’s broadcasts showed identical messages or screenshots from the deep-fake video.

Infighting between Russian-backed proxy authorities in Mariupol: Think-tank

Russian-backed proxy authorities in now occupied Mariupol are not collaborating with each other, which is likely exacerbated by the evacuation of Ukrainian fighters from Azovstal, the Institute for the Study of War has said.

In its latest campaign assessment, the institute said there had been complaints on pro-Russian Telegram channels that Moscow’s forces were removing its own servicemen from Donetsk hospitals to treat recently evacuated Azovstal soldiers.

The institute also noted that the adviser to Mariupol’s mayor had reported proxy authorities in Mariupol, who collaborate with the Russian occupiers, do not report to the leadership of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. Instead, they are guided by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the institute said.

“If confirmed, these reports indicate a continued lack of consistency in the way Russian and proxy authorities are handling the evacuation of Ukrainian forces from Azovstal and the overall capture of Mariupol,” the institute added.

Kherson will become region of Russia, self-proclaimed governor says

The Russian-appointed head of the Kherson region has said it 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, who was installed by Russian forces as the region’s “governor”, said on Telegram.

“We will become the Kherson region of the Russian Federation,” he added.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said earlier this month that whether or not Russia annexes the region depends on “the will” of the local people.

More than 4m medicine doses head from UK to Ukraine

A fourth tranche of aid left the UK for Ukraine over the last week carrying medicines such as painkillers and antibiotics as well as personal protective equipment and respirators.

According to a government statement, the tranche contains “4.2 million doses of medicines – including painkillers and antibiotics that are critical for treating infections caused by battlefield trauma and limited hygiene facilities – and 1.5 million items of other supplies.

“As one of the largest humanitarian donors, Britain will continue to help care for those bravely resisting Putin’s vile aggression until Ukraine succeeds,” the statement quotes foreign secretary Liz Truss as saying.

A man pets a dog in the city subway of Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, on Thursday, May 19, 2022.
A man pets a dog in the city subway of Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, on Thursday, May 19, 2022 [Bernat Armangue/AP]

Ukraine war and global financial situation ‘challenging’ for Asia: IMF

The International Monetary Fund’s deputy managing director has said the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and tighter global financial conditions would make this year “challenging” for Asia.

Kenji Okamura said the war was affecting Asia through higher commodity prices and slower growth in Europe.

He said Asian economies faced a choice between supporting growth with more stimulus policies or withdrawing it to stabilise debt and inflation.

Russia will fight Western attempts to steal its foreign assets: Kremlin spokesperson

Russia will fight attempts to steal its assets abroad, the Kremlin’s spokesperson has said.

“This could be a continuation of the very line that has become popular recently in a number of countries – stealing other people’s assets. We take this negatively, we will fight it, we will defend our assets,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday the EU was looking into ways of using the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs to fund the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Wednesday that the US did not have the legal authority to do so.

Xi calls on BRICS countries to help stabilise international relations

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – should help to stabilise international relations at a time of turbulence, Russia’s TASS state news agency reports.

“BRICS countries need to … take real action to promote peace and development, uphold fairness and justice, and advocate democracy and freedom, so as to inject stability and positive energy into international relations in a period of turbulence and transformation,” Xi was quoted as saying by China’s foreign ministry at a session of BRICS foreign ministers on Thursday, according to TASS.

Xi also warned against attempts to seek one’s own security at the expense of others, saying this will only create new tensions and risks, as both history and reality have proved, China’s English-language channel CGTN reports.

Ukraine to make university admission easier for students in occupied territories

Zelenskyy says he has instructed his education minister to introduce a “simplified mechanism” for young people living in temporarily occupied territories to gain admission to Ukraine’s universities, and not have to pay contract fees.

The government had already introduced such a mechanism in 2020 for students from the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as Crimea.

Zelenskyy has said it should extend to other temporarily occupied regions such as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

The president called on Ukrainian students to continue their studies despite hostilities “because Ukraine needs smart, educated, professional people,” a statement from his office said.

US plans to destroy Russia’s Black Sea Fleet: Official

A Ukrainian government adviser has said that the US is planning to destroy Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

In a post on Twitter, Anton Herashchenko said that the “effective” way Ukrainians handled Russian warships “convinced the US to prepare a plan to unblock the ports”.

“Deliveries of powerful anti-ship weapons (Harpoon and Naval Strike Missile with a range of 250-300 km) are being discussed,” Herashchenko added.

Al Jazeera was not able to independently verify Herashchenko’s claims. The Reuters news agency had earlier reported that, according to officials, the White House was working to put advanced anti-ship missiles in the hands of Ukrainian fighters to help defeat Russia’s naval blockade.

Azov commander says mission still ‘underway’ at Azovstal plant

The deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, which led the defence of the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, has said that he and other fighters are still inside the plant.

“An operation is under way, the details of which I will not announce,” Svyatoslav Palamar said in a brief video message.

It is unclear how many Ukrainian fighters remain in the warren of bunkers and tunnels in the sprawling plant. Russia says more than 1,700 have now surrendered.

Videos show Russian soldiers executing Ukrainian men in Bucha: NYT

An investigation by the New York Times, including previously unreleased videos, confirms witness accounts that Russian forces in Bucha took captive and executed several men.

In one of the videos, some of the Ukrainian captives are hunched over, holding the belts of those in front of them. Others have their hands over their heads. “Walk to the right, bitch,” one of the soldiers orders them. The men are then forced to the ground, with one wearing a bright blue shirt.

Witnesses then report soldiers took the men behind a nearby office building that the Russians had taken over and turned into a makeshift base. There were gunshots. The captives did not return.

A drone video taken later that day shows bodies lying on the ground by the side of the office building at 144 Yablunska Street as two Russian soldiers stood guard beside them. A flash of bright blue is visible among the dead bodies.

Who are the US senators who voted against Ukraine aid bill?

Eleven out of 100 US Senators voted against the $40bn aid package to Ukraine. All the “no” votes came from Republican senators.

The senators were: Rand Paul, Josh Hawley, Marsha Blackburn, John Boozman, Mike Braun, Mike Crapo, Bill Hagerty, Mike Lee, Cynthia Lummis, Roger Marshall and Tommy Tuberville.

Russian rock singer faces charges for anti-war remarks

A veteran Russian rock musician is facing charges over anti-war remarks made at a concert.

Yuri Shevchuk, singer for the band DDT, could face a fine of up to 50,000 roubles ($800).

After the war began, Russia passed a more severe law making the spread of so-called “fake news” about the conflict punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

“Old people, women and children are dying,” Shevchuk said during a concert. “The motherland, my friends, is not the ass of a president that you have to lick and kiss all the time. The motherland is a poor grandmother selling potatoes at the train station.”

Dozens of countries ‘knocking on famine’s door’: UN food chief

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

World Food Programme 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 that 49 million people in 43 countries are already “knocking on famine’s door”.

Donbas region has been completely destroyed: Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Russian forces had “completely destroyed” the eastern Donbas region and accused Moscow of carrying out senseless bombardments as it intensified its offensive.

“In the Donbas, the occupiers are trying to exert even more pressure. It is hell there – and that is not an exaggeration,” he said in a late-night video address.

“This is a deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible, to destroy as many houses, social facilities and enterprises as possible.”

A Russian soldier walks past a destroyed part of the steel mill in Mariupol, Ukraine.
A Russian soldier patrols a destroyed part of the steel mill in Mariupol in the Donbas region, May 18 [AP Photo]

Alexey Navalny’s team urges more US sanctions

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s team has urged a new round of US sanctions over the war in Ukraine that moves beyond wealthy oligarchs to spread the financial pain to Russian government officials, mid-level politicians and public figures.

The group, which visited Capitol Hill, is discussing with senators a list of 6,000 people for possible sanctions, including Russian defence and security officials, administrative employees, governors, members of parliament, and even editors and managers at state-aligned media operations.

Vladimir Ashurkov, the executive director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said the “avalanche of sanctions” so far from the West is having an effect in Russia.

“Let’s bring on, or at least announce, the next wave,” Ashurkov said.

Russia’s former president denounces ‘insane’ sanctions

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said the West should not expect Russia to continue food supplies if it slaps Moscow with devastating sanctions over the war.

“Our country is ready to fulfil its obligations in full. But it also expects assistance from trading partners, including on international platforms,” Medvedev, who now serves as deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said on messaging app Telegram.

“Otherwise, there’s no logic: on the one hand, insane sanctions are being imposed against us, on the other hand, they are demanding food supplies. Things don’t work like that, we’re not idiots,” he said.

His comments come as world leaders, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, have raised serious concerns over global food supplies, warning that curbs on grain exports from Ukraine ports could lead to shortages and even famine.

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.”

Washington announces additional $100m in military assistance to Kyiv

The Biden administration has announced an additional $100m in weapons and other military equipment for Ukraine.

Biden said in a statement that the aid includes additional artillery, radars, and other equipment.

“This brings total US military assistance to Ukraine to approximately $3.9 billion in arms and equipment since Russia launched its brutal and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said.

NATO membership for Sweden, Finland will ‘strengthen collective security’: Biden

NATO’s collective security will be strengthened by the membership of Sweden and Finland, Biden has said, after meeting with the leaders of the two Nordic nations at the White House.

In a statement after the discussions, the White House said the US president “warmly welcomed [Sweden and Finland’s] applications for NATO membership, which will strengthen our collective security”.

“At this historic moment for both Finland and Sweden, the President underscored his commitment to support both countries as they seek formal NATO accession, including by working with NATO Allies and Congress to welcome them into the Alliance as quickly as possible,” the statement read.

Biden says US aid package will help Ukraine ‘defend their democracy’

US President Joe Biden has applauded Congress for passing a nearly $40bn military and humanitarian assistance package for Kyiv, saying it sends “a clear bipartisan message to the world that the US stands with Ukraine”.

The bill, previously passed by the House of Representatives, passed in the Senate by an overwhelming 86-to-11 vote.

“This package will allow us to send even more weapons and ammunition to Ukraine as they defend their democracy and freedom.”

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

Read all the updates from Thursday, May 19 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies