Russia promises foreign ships safe passage out of Ukraine

  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy strongly rebuffs Henry Kissinger and others in the West who have suggested Ukraine should cede control of areas occupied by Russian forces for the sake of reaching a peace agreement.
  • The Russian Defence Ministry is promising to open a safe corridor to allow foreign ships to leave Black Sea ports, with another corridor to allow ships to leave Mariupol.
  • Ukraine’s military says Russian forces shelled more than 40 towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region on Wednesday.
  • The US State Department maintains evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine continues to mount.
  • “It’s hard right now to see how we avoid a recession,” says World Bank President David Malpass.
[Al Jazeera]

Here are all the latest updates:

Occupied Zaporozhzhia and Kherson won’t return to Ukraine: Russian-backed offical

Moscow’s decision to fast track Russian citizenship for Ukrainian residents of the occupied Zaporozhzhia and Kherson regions means these territories will not return to Ukraine, a Moscow-installed officer of the so-called ministry of internal affairs of Zaporozhzhia has said.

Alexei Selivanov said residents of the occupied regions “get the opportunity to work, get an education throughout the territory of great power, register in the territory to receive all social benefits and payments,” Russia’s Tass news reports.

“This means that the Zaporozhzhia and Kherson regions will no longer return to Ukraine,” Selivanov added.

Moscow looking to mobilise Ukrainians in occupied territories: Think tank

Moscow’s moves towards making Ukrainian residents in occupied regions Russian citizens may be laying groundwork to carry out mobilisation in these regions, the Institute for the Study of War suggests.

“…having a Russian passport would make conscription-eligible residents of occupied territories subject to forced military service,” the ISW said in its latest campaign assessment.

The institute noted other moves Russia had made to increase its diminishing pool of combat-ready reservists, such as Moscow raising to raise the maximum age of voluntary enlistment from 40 to 50.

“Russian Telegram channels also reported that Russian leadership forced operational officers and commanders of the Russian Border Guards of southern Russian regions including Rostov Oblast and occupied Crimea to indefinitely cancel all summer vacations … an indication of the next source of manpower to which Putin will apparently turn,” the ISW added.

Police in Luhansk burying people in mass graves: Governor

The governor of the Luhansk region has said that police are burying people in mass graves temporarily and relatives would be able to retrieve the bodies of loved ones after the war.

Serhiy Haidai said that police had buried 150 people in one mass grave in Lysychansk.

“After the war, relatives can be reburied. Police are issuing documents to the relatives of the victims, which will later provide the opportunity to obtain death certificates,” Haidai said on Telegram.

Russian forces shelled more than 40 towns in Donbas: Army

Russian forces shelled more than 40 towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s military has said, threatening to shut off the last main escape route for civilians trapped in the path of their invasion, now in its fourth month.

“The occupiers shelled more than 40 towns in Donetsk and Luhansk region, destroying or damaging 47 civilian sites, including 38 homes and a school. As a result of this shelling five civilians died and 12 were wounded,” the Joint Task Force of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Facebook.

Russia has poured thousands of troops into the region, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces holding out in the city of Severodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk. Their fall would leave the whole of Luhansk province under Russian control, a key Kremlin war aim.

A resident gathers up belongings from his heavily damaged house after a Russian strike in Pokrovske, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday
Two rockets struck the eastern Ukrainian town of Pokrovske, in the Donetsk region early Wednesday morning, causing at least four injuries [Francisco Seco/AP]

Russia promises safe corridor for ships to leave Black Sea ports

The Russian Defence Ministry is promising to open a safe corridor to allow foreign ships to leave Black Sea ports. A separate corridor will be open to allow ships to leave Mariupol by sailing from the port on the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.

Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who heads the National Defence Control Centre under the General Staff, said 70 foreign vessels from 16 countries are now in six ports on the Black Sea including Odesa, Kherson and Mykolaiv.

Mizintsev, whose comments at a briefing in Moscow on Wednesday were reported by the Interfax news agency, said the corridors would be open every day.

Earlier Wednesday, the Russian military said Mariupol’s port was functioning again after three months of fighting. The Defence Ministry spokesperson said the military first had to clear the port of mines.

‘Some progress’ made on Red Cross to visit POWs

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said some progress has been made on its right to visit prisoners of war, which is part of the Geneva conventions.

“There is agreement on both sides” on this right, “which is good news,” Director-General Robert Mardini said, but the biggest obstacle in the ICRC carrying out visits is the war itself and the logistical constraints.

Mardini said the ICRC registered all the Ukrainian fighters that held out until last week at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol before they were taken to Russian-controlled territory. Russia said there were 2,439 Ukrainian fighters.

“Registering prisoners of war or detainees amounts to nothing short of a life insurance,” Mardini said.

Red Cross gives 300 families answers on loved ones

The ICRC has said that it has been able to give answers to 300 families in Russia and Ukraine about the fate of their loved ones.

ICRC Director-General Robert Mardini told reporters on Wednesday that the organisation’s work trying to clarify the fate of missing persons “is very much on track”.

He did not disclose the fate of the 300 Russians and Ukrainians, saying only that their families had provided “very concrete questions about their loved ones”.

US will not lift Russia sanctions to ‘help’ unblock Ukraine ports

The United States says it will not consider lifting sanctions on Russia in exchange for Moscow helping Ukrainian exports leave Black Sea ports.

“We certainly won’t lift our sanctions in response to empty promises, and we’ve heard empty promises before from the Russian Federation,” US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said.

“I think we have – all have good reason to be skeptical when we hear various pledges and offers from Russia. This was the same country, of course, that for months maintained that it had no intention of invading its neighbor and taking on this brutal war,” he added.

Move to grant occupied Ukrainians Russian citizenship an attempt to ‘impose will by force’: US

The US has said that Moscow’s move to fast track Russian citizenship for residents of parts of southern Ukraine largely held by Putin’s forces is one element of Russia’s attempt to subjugate the people of Ukraine and impose their will by force.

“We have seen Russian forces forcibly remove individuals from occupied territory. We have seen Russia’s forces transport Ukrainians to the so-called filtration camps. We have seen Russia’s forces attempt through other ways to subjugate, otherwise subdue the Ukrainian people in these areas,” Ned Price told journalists.

“It is not entirely unlike Russia’s attempts to manufacture these fake referenda, referenda that are designed to offer the veneer of legitimacy to Russian rule over parts of what is sovereign Ukrainian territory; referenda where Russian-backed officials tend to somehow accrue 90-plus, 99 percent of the vote,” Price said, adding that this was something the US would reject.

He said Russian forces had used this tactic before in Crimea in 2014 and earlier in Chechnya. Analysts have warned Russia intends to stage a referendum in the occupied region of Kherson.

Austria to treat some severely wounded Ukrainian soldiers: Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy has held a meeting with the Chancellor of Austria, Karl Nehammer, on the situation in the Donbas and “other areas of hostilities”, Ukraine’s president has said.

“We agreed that Austria would take our severely wounded servicemen for treatment. Cooperation in the European integration of Ukraine was discussed in detail,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime address.

Zelenskyy in call with Liberian president on food crisis

Zelenskyy has held a meeting with the President of Liberia, George Weah, and “expressed gratitude for Liberia’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in particular within the UN,” he said in a tweet.

The two also “discussed ways out of the food crisis provoked by Russia”.

Liberia was one of about half of African countries that voted in favour of the UN resolution on March 2, 2022, to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Zelenskyy rebukes suggestions that Ukraine should cede territory

Zelenskyy has strongly rebuffed those in the West who have suggested Ukraine should cede control of areas occupied by Russian forces for the sake of reaching a peace agreement.

Those “great geopoliticians” who make that suggestion are disregarding the interests of Ukrainians, “the millions of those who actually live on the territory that they propose exchanging for an illusion of peace”, Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation.

“We always have to think of the people and remember that values are not just words,” he said.

“It seems that Mr Kissinger’s calendar is not 2022, but 1938, and he thought he was talking to an audience not in Davos, but in Munich of that time,” Zelenskyy said.

He added that in 1938, Kissinger was 15 years old and his family fled Nazi Germany. “And nobody heard from him then that it was necessary to adapt to the Nazis instead of fleeing them or fighting them.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejects the idea of giving up territory for what he called an ‘illusion of peace’ [File: Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo]

Ukraine will not make concessions on territorial integrity: Former MP

Former Ukrainian legislator Aliona Hlivco has said her country will not make concessions on territorial integrity, stressing that any Russian advances in the eastern Donbas region will be tactical – not strategic – victories for Moscow.

“Ukrainians have so far showcased an enormous bravery and resolve to do what we can and everything that we’re willing to sacrifice for our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Hlivco told Al Jazeera.

“So of course we are counting on the help from the West that we are getting quite extensively these days. We’ll still stand by our sovereignty and territorial integrity, and I don’t think there will be any concessions made.”

Putin announces minimum wage hike

Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a 10 percent raise to the minimum wage rate and pensions in the coming weeks, as the Russian economy faces an unprecedented wave of international sanctions.

The bump will bring the minimum wage to about $250 per month and the average pension to $320, according to the Interfax news agency.

“Our key and unchanging priority is to increase the welfare and quality of life of citizens,” Putin said.

He also tasked government officials with increasing pay for Russian soldiers serving abroad as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth month.

Evidence of Russian war crimes continues to mount, US says

The US State Department has said evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine continues to mount.

“In addition to continued bombardments and missile strikes hitting densely populated areas, causing thousands of civilian deaths, we continue to see credible reports of violence of a different order,” Spokesperson Ned Price said.

He said that includes reports of “unarmed civilians shot in the back; individuals killed execution-style with their hands bound; bodies showing signs of torture, and horrific accounts of sexual violence against women and girls”.

World Bank president says war in Ukraine may trigger global recession

World Bank President David Malpass has suggested that the war in Ukraine and its effects on food and energy prices could trigger a global recession.

Malpass told an event hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce that Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, has already seen a substantial economic slowdown due to higher energy prices. He also said limited access to fertiliser could worsen conditions elsewhere.

“As we look at the global GDP … it’s hard right now to see how we avoid a recession,” Malpass said.

Tractor in wheat field in Ukraine
Workers plough wheat in the village of Husakiv in western Ukraine [File: Nariman El-Mofty/AP Photo]

US, EU, UK announce new war crimes accountability initiative

The United States, European Union and the United Kingdom have announced they are launching a new mechanism to help ensure accountability for war crimes in Ukraine.

Dubbed the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA), the new initiative aims to support the office of the prosecutor general of Ukraine in its investigation of war-related crimes, the Western allies said in a joint statement.

“The ACA seeks to streamline coordination and communication efforts to ensure best practices, avoid duplication of efforts, and encourage the expeditious deployment of financial resources and skilled personnel to respond to the needs of the OPG [office of the prosecutor general],” the statement said.

Zelenskyy ends visa-free travel for Russians

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has ordered an end to visa-free travel to Ukraine for Russian citizens, citing the need to improve border security.

In an order posted on the presidential website, Zelenskyy said he backed a petition submitted by a citizen asking for this practice to end.

“Against the backdrop of full-scale Russian aggression, the issue raised is important and vital. I support the need to strengthen controls on the entry of Russian citizens,” he said.

With Russia in control of most of the border region, it is unclear whether Zelenskyy’s decision will have practical implications during the war.

Turkey demands ‘concrete steps’ from NATO hopefuls Sweden and Finland

A senior Turkish official has insisted after talks with Swedish and Finnish delegations that Turkey will not agree to the two Nordic countries joining NATO unless specific steps are taken to address Ankara’s objections.

“We have made it very clear that if Turkey’s security concerns are not met with concrete steps in a certain timeframe, the process will not progress,” Ibrahim Kalin said after talks in Ankara that lasted about five hours.

Turkey has accused the two European countries of harbouring “terrorists”, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gulen movement.

Kalin said Ankara’s proposal for the two countries to lift their arms export limits to Turkey was met with a “positive attitude”. Turkey also expects the extradition of 28 “terrorism” suspects from Sweden and 12 from Finland, he added.

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

Read all the updates from Wednesday, May 25 here.

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