Fears grow for Ukrainian POWs Russia claims are neo-Nazis

  • Russia’s forces are intensifying efforts to capture Severodonetsk, the final Ukrainian strongpoint in the Luhansk region.
  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says his country is prepared to exchange its troops who surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for Russian prisoners.
  • A Russian negotiator says Moscow will consider exchanging prisoners from Ukraine’s Azov battalion for Viktor Medvedchuk, a wealthy Ukrainian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin. He did not specify the number of prisoners considered for the exchange.
  • Russian energy giant Gazprom says it has stopped all natural gas supplies to Finland as it has not received payment in roubles.

Here are all the latest updates:

Russian shelling in eastern regions continues

Russia’s ministry of defence, in its daily briefing, has said that Russian high-precision missiles have hit three command posts and 13 areas where Ukrainian soldiers and military equipment were located in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. It also said four ammunition deposits were hit in the Donbas.

In the southern region of Mykolaiv, read the ministry’s update on Telegram, Russian rockets hit a mobile anti-drone system near the settlement of Hannivka.


Ukraine extends martial law for three more months

The Ukrainian parliament has extended the period of martial law and general mobilization for an additional 90 days,
until August 23, a sign that Kyiv expects many more months of fighting.

Martial law gives the military expanded powers and restricts civil liberties such as the right to demonstrate. Able-bodied men aged 18 to 60 were prohibited from leaving the country and urged to join the fight against the Russians.

President Zelenskyy first imposed the drastic measures across the country on February 24, just hours after Russia invaded the country.


Zelenskyy promises reciprocal rights for Poles in Ukraine

Polish citizens in Ukraine will be granted the same rights that Ukrainian refugees in Poland are currently receiving, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during a visit to Kyiv by his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda.

Poland has granted the right to live and work and claim social security payments to more than 3 million Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


‘Fallen squarely’: Poland shows full support to Ukrainians

Polish President Duda, the first head of state to address the Ukrainian parliament since war started, has shown full support to Ukrainians, Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi has said.

“Unlike countries such as Germany and France – that have traditionally strong political and business ties to Russia and were trying to strike a far more balanced and diplomatic approach in terms of dealing with Russia and Ukraine – Poland has fallen squarely on the side of Ukraine because its leaders know that if Ukraine falls then suddenly the front line becomes the Polish border,” Basravi said.

Duda’s visit comes as Kyiv is resuming its profile as the country’s diplomatic hub. Embassies, such as the American and the Swiss one, have reopened in the past weeks and a flurry of European leaders have visited the city.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda gestures during a joint news conference with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy,
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda gestures during a joint news conference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, amid Russia’s invasion, in Kyiv, Ukraine [Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters]

Polish president in Kyiv: Ukrainians are our guests

Duda told Ukrainian parliament members that the “free world today has the face of Ukraine” according to a Ukrainian legislator.

Roman Hryshchuk tweeted a photo of Duda addressing the chamber and quoted him as saying: “Dear Ukrainians, your relatives — wives, parents, children — who were forced to leave for Poland, are not refugees in our country. They are our guests.”

Poland has allowed in approximately 3.5 million Ukrainians, making it the country that has taken the highest number of refugees.


Russia-Ukraine war looms large on Scholz’s Africa tour

Olaf Scholz will embark on his first trip to Africa as German Chancellor with Russia’s effect on energy prices, food prices and security in the backdrop.

The three-day tour of Senegal, Niger and South Africa kicking off on Sunday comes at a time when Germany is seeking to reduce its heavy reliance on Russia for gas following its invasion of Ukraine.

It could also help explore a gas field in Senegal, a government official said on Friday, as reported by Reuters. Senegal has billions of cubic metres of gas reserves and is expected to become a major gas producer in the region.


Poland’s president says Ukraine must decide own fate

Only Ukraine has the right to decide its future, Duda has said to parliamentarians in Kyiv.

“Worrying voices have appeared, saying that Ukraine should give in to Putin’s demands. Only Ukraine has the right to decide about its future,” he said.

The Polish president is the first foreign leader to give an in-person speech to the Ukrainian parliament since Russia’s invasion.


Biden to meet Modi in bid to isolate Russia

US President Joe Biden will meet this week with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Japan, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters as the US President flew from South Korea to Japan.

This comes at a time when the US is working to convince India to distance itself from Russia.

India is a major purchaser of Russian arms, and so far has resisted pressure to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine or join a chorus of states in isolating Russia.

Biden and his Indian counterpart will meet on the sidelines of the summit by the Quad, an informal alliance between the US, India, Japan, and Australia.

Biden disembarking from plane
US President Joe Biden arrives at Yokota Air Base in Fussa, Tokyo prefecture on May 22, 2022 [Kazuhiro NOGI/AFP]

Lithuania set to cut imports of Russian energy

Lithuania will have completely cut imports of Russian energy supplies including oil, electricity and natural gas from Sunday.

The Lithuanian Ministry of Energy said in a statement on Friday that the energy exchange operator Nord Pool had decided to stop trading Russian electricity with its only importer in the Baltic States, Russian utility Inter RAO – meaning the country would no longer be importing any Russian energy.

“Not only is it an extremely important milestone for Lithuania in its journey towards energy independence, but it is also an expression of our solidarity with Ukraine,” Lithuanian energy minister Dainius Kreivys said. “We must stop financing the Russian war machine.”

This move was hailed by Oleksandr Korniyenko, first deputy speaker of Ukraine’s parliament.


Russians attack Severodonetsk but are pushed back

The eastern city of Severodonetsk has been attacked from four different directions overnight, but the Russians were pushed back, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said on Sunday.

“Severodonetsk was assaulted from four sides at once, but the enemy was repelled and retreated to previous positions,” the presidential morning briefing said.

Seven houses in Severodonetsk and at least 27 houses in surrounding towns and villages were damaged, the statement said.

Severodonetsk and Sloviansk are essential to controlling the Luhansk region.


Mariupol facing health and sanitation ‘catastrophe’: mayor

The mayor of Mariupol Vadym Boychenko has said that mass burials in shallow graves and the breakdown of sewage systems could lead to a health crisis in the Ukrainian port city.

He added that summer rains threaten to contaminate water sources as he pressed Moscow to allow residents to leave the city safely.

“In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe created by the occupiers and collaborators, the city is on the verge of an outbreak of infectious diseases”, he said on Telegram.

A local resident walks past a heavily damaged building in Mariupol
A local resident walks past a building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, May 20, 2022 [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Russia bans more than 960 Americans from entering country

Russia has released a list of 963 Americans who have been “permanently banned” from entering the country in response to US sanctions related to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the top of the list is US President Joe Biden.

On the list also is Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, 84, who had appeared in a video in 2017 that accused the Russian government of meddling with American democracy.

Russia’s foreign ministry said the people on the list, which include several dead politicians, such as late senator John McCain, “incite Russophobia”.


Ukraine will likely become ‘federation’: Russian official

A Russian politician and Putin’s appointed representative to the annexed region of Crimea says Ukraine is unlikely to continue to exist in its current form, Russia’s state news agency RIA reports.

Georgy Muradov suggested Ukraine would likely become a federation, or a group of states.

He added that no country that respects itself would tolerate a flagrant violation of the rights of its own people in neighbouring states, invoking the argument Moscow commonly uses for having invaded Ukraine.

“And even more so if these attempts result in outright extermination of people, as happened in recent years with regard to Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine, where they lived for centuries in their native land,” he said.


Ukraine’s first lady in rare interview with Zelenskyy

Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska has given a rare interview with her husband on Ukrainian television, only the second time the couple have been seen together since the beginning of the war.

Zelenska described the night she woke up hearing “weird sounds outside” and saw her husband wasn’t near her. She said she walked into the next room and “he was already dressed in a suit, but without a tie.

“I asked him what was going on and he said, ‘It has started’,” Zelenska recalled.

“Our family was torn apart as every other Ukrainian family,” she said, adding the two had not seen each other for two and a half months and spoke only be telephone.

US First Lady Jill Biden greets Olena Zelenska, wife of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, outside a public school in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, May 8, 2022
US First Lady Jill Biden greets Olena Zelenska, wife of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, outside a public school in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, May 8, 2022 [Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters]

Poland’s Duda to deliver speech to Ukraine’s parliament

Poland’s president will be the first foreign head of state since the start of the war to speak directly to Ukraine’s parliament.

Andrzej Duda is due to deliver a speech to Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on Sunday, Interfax reports.


Sanctions ‘practically broken’ logistics in Russia: Minister

Russia’s transport minister has said that international sanctions have “practically broken” logistics in the country, the state news agency TASS has reported.

“The sanctions imposed on Russia… have practically broken all logistics in our country. And we have to look for new logistics corridors,” Vitaly Savelyev, said on a visit to Russia’s southern port city of Astrakhan, on the Caspian Sea

The new corridors for moving goods include a north-south route through two Caspian Sea ports: Olya and Makhachkala.

The minister’s comments were a rare admission from the Kremlin that sanctions intended to cripple Russia’s economy are having a significant effect.


Russia labels two high-profile critics as ‘foreign agents’

Russia has added two Kremlin critics, former chess champion Garry Kasparov and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, to its long list of “foreign agents”.

The designation applies to many independent media companies, journalists and NGOs. Everyone on the list is obliged to mark their publications with a disclaimer noting their “foreign agent” status.

Soviet-born former world chess champion Kasparov is a longtime opponent of Putin and has lived in the US for almost a decade.

Khodorkovsky, one of Russia’s most powerful businessmen in the 1990s, spent ten years in Russian prison on what many see as falsified charges, before going into exile.


Russia again accuses Ukraine of firing on Kursk region

The governor of Russia’s Kursk region has again accused Ukraine of firing on its settlements, TASS news agency reports.

“Tetkino and nearby residential areas were subjected to Ukraine’s fire once again,” Roman Starovoit said on Saturday, adding he would provide further details on the situation later.

The governor said there were no casualties or damage to infrastructure as a result of the attack.


Ukraine’s army deterring Russia’s attacks on Slovyansk, Severodonetsk: Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy has said that Ukraine’s army has for days been deterring Russia’s advances on Slovyansk and Severodonetsk.

“The situation in Donbas is extremely difficult. As in previous days, the Russian army is trying to attack Slovyansk and Severodonetsk. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are deterring this offensive,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime address.

Russia’s defence minister said on Friday that Moscow’s forces had almost taken full control of Luhansk. Russia is intensifying its offensive on Severodonetsk, which is the last Ukrainian stronghold in the region.


Russian separatist says six men died at Azovstal during surrender

A Russian separatist leader has said that six Ukrainian fighters were killed at the Azovstal steel plant during an evacuation procedure in which the fighters were surrendering to the Russians in groups.

The self-proclaimed leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Denis Pushilin, said that this happened due to Ukrainian men blowing up their own caches of ammunition.

“It is unclear who did this, no one is assuming responsibility, but after the main group walked out… someone ordered to blow up ammunition caches… six people died immediately, and, as far as I know, four were injured,” Pushilin said on the Soloviev Live YouTube channel on Saturday.

Pushilin also said that an unknown number of Ukrainian servicemen could still be at the Azovstal plant, adding that they had some stocks of food and water, but were short on medicines.


Russia has blocked 22 m tonnes of Ukraine’s food exports: Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy has said that Russia has blocked Ukraine from exporting 22 million tonnes of food products.

Speaking with media after a meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, Zelenskyy said if the global community didn’t help Ukraine unblock its ports, the energy crisis would be followed by a food crisis.

“You can unblock them in different ways. One of the ways is a military solution. That is why we turn to our partners with inquiries regarding the relevant weapons,” he added.


Nearly 60 people evacuated from Luhansk region: Governor

The Luhansk governor has said 57 people were evacuated from the region on Saturday, adding that it was very “hot” in Severodonetsk, Lysychansk and the village of Bilohorivka.

“The shelling does not stop even for an hour. The Russians use artillery day and night,” Serhey Haidai said.

“Every life of the 57 rescued from these communities is important to us today. They are intact and already safe,” he added.

A partially collapsed school building in the village of Bilohorivka, Luhansk
A partially collapsed school building in the village of Bilohorivka, Luhansk, Ukraine, May 8, 2022 [Luhansk Regional Military-Civil Administration/Handout via Reuters]

Ukraine says agreeing to ceasefire with Russia will only escalate war

Ukraine’s presidential advisor has dismissed as “very strange” calls in the West to negotiate an urgent ceasefire with Russia that would involve its forces remaining in territory they have occupied in Ukraine’s south and east.

Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters making concessions would backfire on Ukraine because Russia would hit back harder after any break in fighting.

“Any concession to the Russian Federation would instantly lead to an escalation of the war. So the war will not stop. It will just be put on pause for some time,” he said.

“After a while, with renewed intensity, the Russians will build up their weapons, manpower and work on their mistakes, modernise a little, fire many generals… And they’ll start a new offensive, even more bloody and large scale, taking into account all mistakes,” Podolyak added.


Russian forces intensify efforts to capture Severodonetsk: Think-tank

Russian forces have intensified efforts to encircle and capture Ukraine’s Severodonetsk city in Luhansk Oblast and will likely continue to do so in the coming days, the Institute for the Study of War has said.

“Russian troops in Luhansk will likely move to capitalise on recent gains made in the Rubizhne-Severodonetsk-Luhansk-Popasna arc to encircle and besiege Severodonetsk – the final Ukrainian strongpoint in Luhansk Oblast,” the US-based think-tank said.

According to ISW, Russian military bloggers are hypothesising on the success of Russian tactics in the area and have dubbed it the “Battle of Severodonetsk”.


Ukrainian director denounces Russian presence at Cannes

Ukrainian director Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk has criticised the Cannes Film Festival for including a Russian director in its line-up.

The festival has banned official Russian delegations from attending, but Russian dissident Kirill Serebrennikov, who has spoken out against the invasion of Ukraine, premiered his in-competition film “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” at the festival on Wednesday.

“When he’s here, he is part of the Russian propaganda, and they can use him,” Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk told Reuters.

The Russian director Serebrennikov had said earlier this week that Russian culture should not be boycotted, saying that his culture “has always promoted human values”.

The Ukrainian director Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk described the sensation of being in Cannes while his country fights against a Russian invasion as “alien”.


Women among Azovstal fighters now prisoners of Russia: TASS news agency

There are 78 women among the people captured by Russian forces from the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, a pro-Russian separatist leader said.

Russia’s TASS news agency reported the Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin as saying there were also foreigners among those taken prisoner from the Azovstal steelworks. He did not state how many foreigners were taken prisoner.

“They had enough food and water, they also had enough weapons,” Pushilin told TASS.

“The problem was the lack of medicine,” he said, referring to the Ukrainian forces that had held out at the steel plant.


Moscow may swap Ukraine prisoners for Putin ally Medvedchuk: Negotiator

Moscow will consider exchanging prisoners from Ukraine’s Azov battalion for Viktor Medvedchuk, a wealthy Ukrainian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin, a Russian negotiator has said.

“We are going to study the possibility,” said Leonid Slutsky, a senior member of Russia’s negotiating team on Ukraine, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Slutsky did not say the number of Azov fighters Moscow was considering for exchange.  A separatist leader in eastern Ukraine has said nearly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters were in custody and were sure to face tribunals.

Medvedchuk, 67, is a politician and one of Ukraine’s richest people and is known for his close ties to Putin. He escaped from house arrest after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February but was re-arrested by Ukrainian forces in mid-April.

Viktor Medvedchuk
Pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk in handcuffs after he was detained by security forces in Ukraine in April 2022 [Press service of the State Security Service of Ukraine/Handout via Reuters]

Russian troops responsible for 7 civilians’ deaths: Ukraine governor

Ukraine says Russian forces are responsible for the deaths of seven civilians in the area of Donetsk in the east of the country that is under Moscow’s control.

Three people were killed in the town of Lyman alone, regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko wrote on Telegram.

Meanwhile in Kherson, occupied by Russian forces, local administrators accused Ukraine of killing three civilians and injuring 10 in the village of Biloserka, in a statement on Telegram.


Ukraine ready to exchange its soldiers for Russian prisoners of war: Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy says his country is prepared to exchange its troops who surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for Russian prisoners.

In an interview with a Ukrainian television channel, Zelenskyy said the most important thing for him was to save the maximum number of people and soldiers. “We will bring them home,” he said.

Russia claims to have taken full control of the besieged city of Mariupol after the last group of Ukrainian soldiers surrendered.​​


Zelenskyy talks to Italian PM, urges more Russia sanctions

Zelenskyy has said he talked to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and stressed the importance of more sanctions on Russia and unblocking Ukrainian ports.

Zelenskyy tweeted that he had also thanked Draghi for his “unconditional support” of Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the EU. Draghi had initiated the call, he said.


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

Read all the updates from Saturday, May 21 here.

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