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The Guardian - AU

Battles being fought in eastern Ukraine could determine the country’s fate, Ukraine’s defence ministry spokesperson says – as it happened

Destroyed buildings located near the Azovstal steel works in the southern port city of Mariupol.
Destroyed buildings located near the Azovstal steel works in the southern port city of Mariupol. Photograph: Pavel Klimov/Reuters

We will be pausing our live coverage of the war in Ukraine for the next few hours.

Before we return, here is a comprehensive rundown of where things currently stand.

  • Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine has entered its most active phase, according to Ukraine’s defence ministry spokesperson, Oleksandr Motuzyanyk. Battles being fought in eastern Ukraine could determine the country’s fate, he added. “The situation on the (eastern) front is extremely difficult because the fate of this country is perhaps being decided (there) right now.”
  • The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region said the situation there “is only getting worse” as Russian troops advance.“The situation is very difficult and unfortunately it is only getting worse. It is getting worse with every day and even with every hour,” said governor Sergiy Gaidai. “They are simply eliminating Severodonetsk from the earth.”
  • The bodies of more than 200 people have been discovered in the rubble of a high-rise apartment building in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, according to a Ukrainian official. Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor Vadym Boychenko, said workers found the bodies while digging through a basement underneath the collapsed building.
  • Ukraine is gathering the bodies of dead Russian soldiers found in formerly occupied towns in the hope of exchanging them for prisoners of war or for Ukrainian bodies. In Kharkiv, 60 bodies were retrieved and stacked in a refrigerated rail carriage, Reuters reports.
  • Ukrainian prosecutors have launched a war crimes investigation in Kharkiv’s Gorky Park which was hit by about 50 shells in three months of war. “Hitting civilian targets, civilian infrastructure, trying to kill civilians and destroy cultural heritage, are considered war crimes. An error can happen once or twice, but there are 56 hits recorded. It’s not an accident. They were targeting the park,” Ukrainian prosecutor Roman Petrenko said.
  • A Russian court has rejected an appeal from opposition leader Alexei Navalny against a nine-year prison sentence he is serving for large-scale fraud and contempt of court, charges which he denies. Navalny lambasted President Vladimir Putin during court hearing, casting him as a madman who had started a “stupid war” in Ukraine based on lies.
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to be the “beginning of the third world war” that could spell the end of civilisation, the veteran philanthropist and former financier George Soros has warned from the World Economic Forum in Davos. Soros added that autocratic regimes were in the ascendant and the global economy was heading for a depression.

Here are some of the latest images to come out of Ukraine today.

A Ukrainian national flag with a coat of arms is seen next to a burnt house in Moshchun, Ukraine.
A Ukrainian national flag with a coat of arms is seen next to a burnt house in Moshchun, Ukraine. Photograph: Alexey Furman/Getty Images
City workers collect the frames of desks and chairs as scrap metal at a school that was destroyed during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
City workers collect the frames of desks and chairs as scrap metal at a school that was destroyed during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images
Makeshift housing places in a metro station after the restart of the metro service in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Makeshift housing places in a metro station after the restart of the metro service in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photograph: Sergey Kozlov/EPA
Kateryna Shelikhova, widow of 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov who was shot dead by a Russian soldier, shows a picture of their wedding inside her house.
Kateryna Shelikhova, widow of 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov who was shot dead by a Russian soldier, shows a picture of their wedding inside her house. Photograph: Iván Alvarado/Reuters
Locals board a metro as city officials restarted the metro service in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Locals board a metro as city officials restarted the metro service in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photograph: Sergey Kozlov/EPA
People attach blankets they received as humanitarian aid to their bicycle, as a child holds a teddy bear in Moshchun, Ukraine.
People attach blankets they received as humanitarian aid to their bicycle, as a child holds a teddy bear in Moshchun, Ukraine. Photograph: Alexey Furman/Getty Images
Valentyna, 56, carries blankets she received as humanitarian aid, next to her heavily damaged house in Moshchun, Ukraine.
Valentyna, 56, carries blankets she received as humanitarian aid, next to her heavily damaged house in Moshchun, Ukraine. Photograph: Alexey Furman/Getty Images
A man rides his bicycle past a building of hotel Ingul, destroyed by a Russian air strike in March, in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.
A man rides his bicycle past a building of hotel Ingul, destroyed by a Russian air strike in March, in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv. Photograph: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images
Kateryna Kostiantynivna stands inside her shattered home in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Kateryna Kostiantynivna stands inside her shattered home in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images
Kateryna Kostiantynivna said three Russian shells hit her home during the first week.
Kateryna Kostiantynivna said three Russian shells hit her home during the first week. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Updated

Russia’s parliament has passed a bill giving prosecutors powers to shut down foreign media bureaus in Moscow if a western country has been “unfriendly” to Russian media.

The bill, passed in the first reading by the lower house of parliament on Tuesday, needs to undergo two more readings, be reviewed by the upper house of parliament, and signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law according to a Reuters report.

The journalists of a media organisation deemed to be an offender under the bill would have their foreign ministry accreditation withdrawn - meaning they could not work in Russia.

“In the current geopolitical situation, the mass media has become an instrument of influence on the informational state of society,” the lawmakers said in an official explanatory note on the bill, as seen by Reuters.

In accordance with the bill, a journalist and a foreign correspondent may lose their accreditation if the fact of unfriendly action is established through the imposition of restrictions on the distribution of Russian mass media operating in a foreign country.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to be the “beginning of the third world war” that could spell the end of civilisation, the veteran philanthropist and former financier George Soros has warned.

In a ferocious attack on Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Soros warned that autocratic regimes were in the ascendant and the global economy was heading for a depression.

Soros, who has become a hate figure for the hard right in the US, also heavily criticised the former German chancellor Angela Merkel for cosying up to Moscow and Beijing.

With the mood in Davos already downbeat due to the war in Ukraine, Soros ramped up the gloomy rhetoric to new heights.

“The invasion may have been the beginning of the third world war and our civilisation may not survive it,” he said.

“The invasion of Ukraine didn’t come out of the blue. The world has been increasingly engaged in a struggle between two systems of governance that are diametrically opposed to each other: open society and closed society.”

Ukraine gathers bodies of dead Russians for prisoner exchange

Ukraine is gathering the bodies of dead Russian soldiers strewn among the rubble of formerly occupied towns and using everything from DNA to tattoos to verify their identities in the hope of exchanging them for prisoners of war, Reuters is reporting.

Volunteers have helped the military gather 60 bodies in the northeastern region of Kharkiv where Russian forces have retreated in recent weeks, stacking them up in a refrigerated rail carriage.

Bodies are sometimes used as part of prisoner exchanges and other times in exchanges for Ukrainian bodies, according to Anton Ivannikov, captain of the Ukrainian armed forces military-civil cooperation branch, which is coordinating the effort.

We are gathering all the documents, all the credit cards. Anything which would help us identify the body” including tattoos and DNA, Ivannikov said.

In the future this will tell us which soldier, which brigade was in this region, for further exchange.”

The bodies will travel on the train to Kyiv where the team negotiating exchanges is based, he added.

Catch up

  • The bodies of more than 200 people have been discovered in the rubble of a high-rise apartment building in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, according to a Ukrainian official. Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor Vadym Boychenko, said workers found the bodies while digging through a basement underneath the collapsed building.
  • Three months into the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that the country has survived “thanks to the tens of thousands of feats of all those who defend the state.” He added: “And at the cost of tens of thousands of lives of Ukrainian men and women killed by the occupiers.” In his daily address, he said that the situation in Donbas remained dire, and called for more heavy weapons aid.
  • The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Lugansk region said the situation there “is only getting worse” as Russian troops advance.“The situation is very difficult and unfortunately it is only getting worse. It is getting worse with every day and even with every hour,” said governor Sergiy Gaidai. “They are simply eliminating Severodonetsk from the earth.
  • A Russian court has rejected an appeal from opposition leader Alexei Navalny against a nine-year prison sentence he is serving for large-scale fraud and contempt of court, charges which he denies. Navalny lambasted President Vladimir Putin during court hearing, casting him as a madman who had started a “stupid war” in Ukraine based on lies.

Léonie Chao-Fong, Maanvi Singh, Guardian staff

Ukrainian soldiers captured at Azovstal plant in ‘satisfactory’ conditions

Ukrainian soldiers captured by Russian forces after the three-month siege of the Azovstal steel plant are being held in “satisfactory” conditions, according to the unit commander’s wife, amid uncertainty over the fate of the prisoners.

Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov battalion, was able to briefly call his wife, Kateryna, who said she had also been told that the prisoners had not been subjected to violence. It was not immediately clear if Prokopenko had been able to speak freely during the conversation.

“He said he was ‘OK’ and asked how I was,” Kateryna Prokopenko told the Guardian on Tuesday. “I’ve heard from other sources that the conditions are more or less satisfactory.”

At least 1,000 Ukrainian fighters, including members of the Azov battalion, were transferred to Russian-held territory last week after the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol was taken by Russian forces.

Kateryna Prokopenko, the wife of the Ukrainian commander of the Azov regiment that led the defence of Mariupol, Denys Prokopenko.Photograph: Natacha Pisarenko/AP

The Azov battalion has played a central role in Russia’s justification for its invasion, which was originally launched with the supposed goal of “denazification”. Officials in Kyiv have suggested they could be swapped in a prisoner exchange, but some Russian officials have called for them to face trial or even execution on “terrorism” charges.

Previously, the only news of the fighters’ conditions had come via a news channel given access to the prison by the Russian Ministry of Defence. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is involved in monitoring the conditions for prisoners of war and has a long-held policy of not publicly commenting, has not issued a statement.

“They are being fed, given water. The conditions meet the requirements and they have not been subjected to violence during this short period,” said Kateryna Prokopenko. “What will happen next, of course, we don’t know but at the moment there are third parties – the UN and the Red Cross – who are controlling the situation.”

Most of the injured Azov fighters are being held in a prison in Olenivka, a village in Russian-occupied Donetsk, but a smaller group of severely injured fighters are in a hospital in the town of Novoazovsk, also in Russian-occupied Donetsk. Prokopenko said that to her knowledge none of the fighters have been taken to Russia.

Read more:

Zelenskiy calls for heavy weapons aid in nightly address

Three months into the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that the country has survived “thanks to the tens of thousands of feats of all those who defend the state. And at the cost of tens of thousands of lives of Ukrainian men and women killed by the occupiers.”

In his daily address, he said that the situation in Donbas remained dire. “The situation in Donbas is extremely difficult,” he said. “In fact, all the strength the Russian army still has was thrown there to attack. Lyman, Popasna, Severodonetsk, Slovyansk - the occupiers want to destroy everything there.”

He then reiterated a need for heavy weapons:

Therefore, the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine - MLRS, tanks, anti-ship and other weapons - is the best investment in maintaining stability in the world and preventing many severe crises that Russia is still planning or has already provoked.

We continue to work to ensure that Ukraine receives reliable security guarantees after this war. In particular, an international advisory group headed by Yermak and former NATO Secretary General Rasmussen has been set up. The group will include leading experts in the fields of security and defense, diplomacy. Their task is to develop a format of guarantees that will really work. And not for several months or years, but during the lifetime of many generations of our Ukrainians.

The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Lugansk region said the situation there “is only getting worse” as Russian troops advance.

“The situation is very difficult and unfortunately it is only getting worse. It is getting worse with every day and even with every hour,” said governor Sergiy Gaidai. “Shelling is increasing more and more.” He added that the Russians are focused on the key city of Severodonetsk.

“The city is being bombed by aviation, shelled by multiple launch rocket systems, artillery, mortars, tanks,” he said. “They are simply eliminating Severodonetsk from the earth.”

Updated

US to close avenue allowing Russia to pay debts via American banks

The US Treasury Department said it will not renew the license allowing Russia to pay debts via American banks.

The AP reports:

Since the first rounds of sanctions, the Treasury Department has given banks a license to process any dollar-denominated bond payments from Russia. That window expires at midnight May 25.

There had already been signs that the Biden administration was unwilling to extend the deadline. At a press conference heading into the Group of Seven finance minister meetings in Koenigswinter, Germany, last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the window existed “to allow a period of time for an orderly transition to take place, and for investors to be able to sell securities.”

“The expectation was that it was time-limited,” Yellen said.

Without the license to use U.S. banks to pay its debts, Russia would have no ability to repay its international bond investors. The Kremlin has been using JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup as its conduits to pay its obligations.

“The majority who wanted out have gotten out. The only issue is finding buyers,” he said.

The Kremlin appears to have foreseen the likelihood that the U.S. would not allow Russia to keep paying on its bonds. The Russian Finance Ministry prepaid two bonds on Friday that were due this month to get ahead of the May 25 deadline.

The next payments Russia will need to make on its debts are due on June 23. Like other Russian debt, those bonds have a 30-day grace period — which would cause default by Russia to be declared by late July, barring the unlikely scenario that the Russia-Ukraine war would come to an end before then.

Investors have been almost certain of Russia going into default for months now. Insurance contracts that cover Russian debt have priced a 80% likelihood of default for weeks and rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have placed the country’s debt deep into junk territory.

Russia has not defaulted on its international debts since the 1917 Revolution, when the Russian Empire collapsed and the Soviet Union was created. Russia defaulted on its domestic debts in the late 1990s during the Asian Financial Crisis, but was able to recover from that default with the help of international aid.

A Russian default this time will likely have little-to-minimal impact on the global economy, Auslander said, since Russia has been cut off from global financial markets for months now and investors have been expecting a default. Biden officials have made similar statements.

Here’s an exclusive from the Guardian’s Kate Connolly: Pete Buttigieg, the US transportation secretary, has backed a recovery programme for Ukraine in the style of the Marshall plan, which helped rebuild Europe after the second world war.

Connolloy writes:

With the memory of the Marshall plan in mind, what we’re talking about is not only about how we fund immediate needs and support their ability to maintain the war effort, but how we support the ability of Ukraine to be economically viable and generate a sustainable future for themselves, even as they’re under attack,” the former presidential candidate said in an interview with the Guardian.

Buttigieg admitted that while “the destruction of Ukrainian homes and infrastructure is still under way”, to talk about reconstruction might feel premature “and yet in my encounters with Ukrainian leaders, and particularly my counterpart [Oleksandr Kubrakov], who I speak to regularly, they are already thinking about reconstruction even as they’re thinking about defending their homeland and it’s inspiring to see and it deserves strong and unified support from us.”

He said a “major topic of conversation” among transport ministers at the world meeting in Leipzig this week for the International Transport Forum was how they could help to get grain and other produce out of Ukraine, which is stuck because of blocked and destroyed ports and railway lines and is threatening to create a global food shortage.

“This is not only something that concerns us, as friends to Ukraine, but also concerns us because the world needs that production, especially on the agricultural side,” he said.

“Without access to the Black Sea, it’s always going to be a major disadvantage. We’re committed to helping there in any way we can.

“But I really admire in my Ukrainian counterparts that they’re thinking about the short and the long term at the same time – how to shore up infrastructure in the immediate term – the heroic work by the railway workers to restore connections so that goods can be moved from west to east and people from east to west.

“But they’re also thinking about very long-term questions and recognising that what they rebuild towards will not simply be a reconstruction of the Soviet-era infrastructure that this generation of Ukrainians has inherited.”

Buttigieg was speaking on the sidelines of an event hosted by the German Marshall Fund NGO in Berlin to mark the 75th anniversary of the Marshall plan, a multibillion-dollar recovery programme initiated by the US in 1947 that provided humanitarian and economic assistance to millions of Europeans to ease their recovery after the second world war.

Read more:

This is Maanvi Singh in San Francisco, taking over the blog from my colleagues Maya Yang and Joanna Walters. I’ll bring you live updates for the next few hours.

Ukraine’s military said Russian troops had killed at least 14 civilians and injured 15 more on Tuesday during mass attacks in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the focus of Moscow’s latest offensive, Reuters reports.

In a Facebook post it said Russian troops had used aircraft, multiple rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles in their assault on the two regions, large parts of which are controlled by Russian-speaking separatists.

Destroyed houses are seen after Russian shelling in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 24, 2022.
Destroyed houses are seen after Russian shelling in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 24, 2022. Photograph: Andriy Andriyenko/AP

Ukrainian prosecutors have launched a war crimes investigation in Kharkiv’s Gorky Park, Agence France-Presse reports.

Prosecutors took up the case to ensure that the park, which was hit by around 50 shells in three months of war, could be open without the public being at risk and, above all, determine whether the attacks constitute a war crime.

Hitting civilian targets, civilian infrastructure, trying to kill civilians and destroy cultural heritage, are considered war crime. An error can happen once or twice, but there are 56 hits recorded. It’s not an accident. They were targeting the park,” said Ukrainian prosecutor Roman Petrenko.

The shells also hit a small theatre and a closed restaurant in the park. The shrapnel even reached and damaged bronze sculptures of children scattered around the park.

For John Culp, a retired US soldier and American de-miner from the US-based non-profit Bombs Tech Without Borders, there was no doubt the Russians were targeting the park deliberately:

“We are in Gorky Park.. With its paths, its stages etc.. We are investigating the fact that many rockets and shells were fired in and near the park. There is no military target here. It was done knowingly to cause terror and fear among the civilian population,” said Culp, who is helping advise his Ukrainian counterparts.

Investigators and bomb squad members search for unexploded devices in Gorky park in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, on May 24, 2022.
Investigators and bomb squad members search for unexploded devices in Gorky park in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, on May 24, 2022. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

The self-proclaimed leader of the Moscow-backed separatist region of Donetsk has said Russian and separatist forces were fighting to take full control of the town of Lyman and have already captured half of it, Agence France-Presse reports.

The active phase of the liberation of Krasny Liman is underway,” separatist leader Denis Pushilin said on the pro-Kremlin Solovyov Live YouTube programme.

Located in the north of the eastern Donetsk region, Krasny Liman is the old name of the Ukrainian town of Lyman.

Lyman lies on the road to Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the capital of the Ukrainian-controlled part of the region of Donetsk.

A damaged Ukrainian tank is transported out of the frontline, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine near the city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 24, 2022.
A damaged Ukrainian tank is transported out of the frontline, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine near the city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 24, 2022. Photograph: Carlos Barría/Reuters

Pushilin said the Russian army and separatist troops have entered the town and controlled around half of it.

Krasny Liman will also soon be a liberated settlement. Svyatogorsk will come afterwards and then Slavyansk.”

He said Russian and separatist forces have now taken control of 28 settlements in the north of the region of Donetsk.

Svyatogorsk (Svyatogirsk in Ukrainian) and Slavyansk (Sloviansk in Ukrainian) are also located in the region of Donetsk.

There was no immediate comment from Russia and Ukraine. Pushilin’s claims could not be independently verified.

Russia is focused on securing and expanding its gains in the eastern Donbas region, near the border and home to pro-Russian separatists, as well as the southern coast.

Separately, the Ukrainian army announced that Russians were now in control of town of Svitlodarsk, also in the Donetsk region.

Regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram that Ukrainian troops “have regrouped to take a more favourable position”.

Reuters adds that Russian forces were in the process of an all-out assault to encircle Ukrainian troops in twin cities straddling a river in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, a battle which could determine the success or failure of Moscow’s main campaign in the east.

Civilians had been evacuating from the area around Lyman earlier in May.

A woman from Siversk who was part of evacuations near Lyman on May 11, 2022.
A woman from Siversk who was part of evacuations near Lyman on May 11, 2022. Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Summary

It is 9pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:

  • The bodies of more than 200 people have been discovered in the rubble of a high-rise apartment building in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, according to a Ukrainian official. Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor Vadym Boychenko, said workers found the bodies while digging through a basement underneath the collapsed building.
  • A Russian court has rejected an appeal from opposition leader Alexei Navalny against a nine-year prison sentence he is serving for large-scale fraud and contempt of court, charges which he denies. Navalny lambasted President Vladimir Putin during court hearing, casting him as a madman who had started a “stupid war” in Ukraine based on lies.

Updated

Russian forces seize control of Svitlodarsk and two other Donetsk towns, says governor

Russian forces have taken control of three Donetsk region towns including Svitlodarsk, according to the regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko.

Svitlodarsk is 80km southwest of the besieged city of Sievierodonetsk, which has been under intense bombardment in recent days.

Earlier today, it was reported that Russian forces had entered Svitlodarsk and hung up a Russian flag over the city administration building.

Canada has purchased 20,000 artillery rounds of Nato standard ammunition for Ukraine to support it in its defence against Russia’s invasion, defence minister, Anita Anand, said.

The ammunition was purchased from the US for about C$98m (£61m) and would soon be delivered to Ukraine as a donation.

They can be fired from artillery cannons, including the M777 Howitzers that Canada has already sent.

Anand said the shipment of military aid will be “critical in Ukraine’s current struggle to defend its eastern territory,” and that “work is already underway to deliver this aid to Ukraine as soon as possible”.

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced a ban on 154 members of the British parliament’s House of Lords on entering the country, in a tit-for-tat move for sanctions against Russian officials over Ukraine.

The ministry said the 154 people “made a direct contribution to the development of London’s anti-Russian sanctions” aimed at creating conditions for the “political isolation of Russia and the destruction of its economy”.

It also accused them of having “used their authority to whip up anti-Russian hysteria in the UK” and “pandered to the Russophobic political course of the British Conservative government”.

Those blacklisted include William Hague, a former foreign minister and leader of the Conservative Party in opposition.

Notably, the list does not include Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian-born press baron who was controversially granted a peerage by Boris Johnson’s government in 2020.

Russian-born businessman Evgeny Lebedev during his introduction in the House of Lords in London, as Baron Lebedev of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond on Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation after being nominated for a life peerage.
Russian-born businessman Evgeny Lebedev during his introduction in the House of Lords in London, as Baron Lebedev of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond on Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation after being nominated for a life peerage. Photograph: PRU/AFP/Getty Images

Questions have been raised about Johnson’s close ties to Lebedev, who owns the London Evening Standard and Independent newspapers, as his father Alexander has admitted he was a KGB agent.

Here’s a bit more detail from Ukraine’s defence ministry spokesperson, Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, who said battles being fought in eastern Ukraine could determine the country’s fate.

During a televised briefing, Motuzyanyk said:

Now we are observing the most active phase of the full-scale aggression which Russia unfolded against our country.

The situation on the (eastern) front is extremely difficult, because the fate of this country is perhaps being decided (there) right now.

Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces members train on the outskirts of Odesa, Ukraine.
Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces members train on the outskirts of Odesa, Ukraine. Photograph: Max Pshybyshevsky/AP
Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces members train on the outskirts of Odesa, Ukraine.
Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces members train on the outskirts of Odesa, Ukraine. Photograph: Max Pshybyshevsky/AP
Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces members train on the outskirts of Odesa, Ukraine.
Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces members train on the outskirts of Odesa, Ukraine. Photograph: Max Pshybyshevsky/AP

Russia’s invasion in ‘its most active phase’, says Ukraine

Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine has entered its most active phase, according to Ukraine’s defence ministry spokesperson, Oleksandr Motuzyanyk.

Russian forces are trying to encircle Ukrainian troops in two cities straddling the Siverskyi Donets river in eastern Ukraine – Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.

Motuzyanyk said Russian forces had not given up attempts to cross the river, Reuters reports.

Today so far..

It is 6.30pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:

  • The governor of Luhansk has delivered a grim warning that it is too late for thousands of civilians to be evacuated from the besieged city of Sievierodonetsk. Surrounded on three sides by Russian forces who have been attempting to complete their encirclement of the pocket around the city, Sievierodonetsk and the towns and villages to its west have been under intense bombardment in recent days. Fifteen thousand residents were still believed to be in the city hiding in shelters.
  • The bodies of more than 200 people have been discovered in the rubble of a high-rise apartment building in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, according to a Ukrainian official. Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor Vadym Boychenko, said workers found the bodies while digging through a basement underneath the collapsed building.
  • A Russian court has rejected an appeal from opposition leader Alexei Navalny against a nine-year prison sentence he is serving for large-scale fraud and contempt of court, charges which he denies. Navalny lambasted President Vladimir Putin during court hearing, casting him as a madman who had started a “stupid war” in Ukraine based on lies.

Hello everyone. It’s Léonie Chao-Fong with you as we unpack all the latest developments on the war in Ukraine. Feel free to drop me a message if you have anything to flag, you can reach me on Twitter or via email.

Updated

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said Budapest was not in a position to agree to the EU’s proposed new sanctions, including an oil embargo on Russia.

In a letter to the European Council’s president, Charles Michel, Orbán said it was “unlikely” a solution could be found by next week’s summit of EU leaders and that leaders should not discuss the issue at the meeting.

The letter reads:

Looking at the gravity of the issues still open, it is very unlikely that a comprehensive solution could be found before the special meeting of the European Council on 30-31 May.

Orbán said he was “convinced” that discussing the sanctions package “in the absence of a consensus would be counterproductive”, adding that it would only highlight the internal divisions without offering a realistic chance of resolving them.

Hungarian President Katalin Novak (R) and Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Hungarian President Katalin Novak (R) and Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Photograph: Vivien Cher Benko Handout/EPA

Hungary relies on Russian oil from a single pipeline and its leader has argued that an embargo would devastate the country’s economy. The EU has offered Budapest, as well as Slovakia and the Czech Republic, lengthy exemptions from imposing the embargo.

Despite this, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said it was a only “matter of weeks” for the EU to agree on an embargo on Russian oil.

Speaking to CNN, she said:

We are working hard on it right now, it’s a matter of weeks but we really must find a solution for the investment needs.

Therefore, this is important, we have to tailor it in a way that we do not have the situation that Putin can take the oil. That he doesn’t sell it to us and [then] sells it at a higher price on the world market.

Updated

82% of Ukrainians against any territorial concessions in peace deal with Russia – poll

A new survey has found that 82% of Ukrainians believe that their country should not sign away any of its territories as part of a peace deal with Russia under any circumstances.

Researchers at the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology spoke to 2,000 adult citizens of Ukraine between 13 and 18 May.

They found that 82% of respondents said they did not support territorial concessions.

Only 10% believed that some territories could be abandoned in order to achieve peace and preserve independence, researchers said.

According to the poll, 77% of Ukrainians living in Russian-occupied territory opposed any land concessions.

In the east of the country where the most intense fighting with Russian forces is currently taking place, only 19% of respondents said they were ready to make territorial concessions; 68% said they were against.

In the south of Ukraine, 83% of respondents said they were against any territorial concessions and 9% found it acceptable for Ukraine to concede territory to achieve peace.

From Politico’s Christopher Miller:

Updated

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, and discussed potential ways to get Ukraine’s grain out of the country, a spokesperson for the US state department said.

The spokesperson said in a statement:

The Secretary noted the global food security crisis resulting from President Putin’s brutal war requires a global response, and they discussed potential means to export Ukraine’s grain to international markets.

Blinken also gave Kuleba details about the $40.1 bn in supplemental appropriations that was signed into law by President Joe Biden this weekend, the statement said.

The US secretary “underscored the United States’ strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Moscow’s aggression”, the spokesperson added.

Kuleba also tweeted about the call and said the pair “discussed ways to unblock Ukraine’s exports and ensure global food security”.

More than 200 bodies found in Mariupol basement, says official

The bodies of more than 200 people have been discovered in the rubble of a high-rise apartment building in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, according to a Ukrainian official.

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor Vadym Boychenko, said workers found the bodies while digging through a basement underneath the collapsed building.

Andryushchenko wrote on Telegram:

During the dismantling of the blockages of a high-rise building near the suburban gas station about 200 bodies were found dead in the basement under the blockages with a high degree of decomposition.

Due to the refusal of locals to collect and pack the bodies of the dead, the Russian ministry of emergencies left the work site.

Anton Gerashchenk, an adviser to Ukraine’s internal affairs ministry, said Russian forces had tried to force locals to take the bodies out. When they refused, the grave site was simply abandoned, he said.

It has not been possible to independently verify this information.

Updated

Russia’s ministry of defence has just issued a denial that its sailors are being forced to disassemble household appliances to use them for spare parts aboard Russian ships in the Caspian sea. It says:

Ukrainian propagandists find it difficult to explain what specific elements from household appliances can be used in the most complex electronics of a Navy ship. Also, not a single specific case is given where a washing machine would have to be disassembled to repair a combat unit.

The ministry compares what it says is the fake story to rumours that have previously circulated about using domestic machines for spare parts for tanks.

Perhaps more significant however than the attempt to debunk the tale, is the end of the statement. The ministry of defence asserts:

As for microelectronics manufacturers, there are enough resources in the Russian Federation. In addition, Russia intends to join efforts in the production of microelectronics with Belarus in order to fully provide for the military.

Russia’s parliament is to consider eliminating the upper age limit for signing up to join the army, in another sign the country is facing a shortage of infantry to continue its offensive in Ukraine.

Currently, Russians aged 18-40 and foreigners aged 18-30 can enter into a first contract with the army. A draft bill on the agenda of the lower house State Duma for today would completely lift that upper age limit.

Two members of the ruling United Russia party who introduced the law said the move would enable the military to utilise the skills of older professionals.

A note accompanying the draft bill reads:

For the use of high-precision weapons, the operation of weapons and military equipment, highly professional specialists are needed.

Such specialists usually acquire the necessary skills when they reach their early- to mid-40s, the note adds.

Military experts say Russia is facing unsustainable troop and equipment losses in Ukraine after a series of military setbacks that have forced Moscow to reduce its war aims.

The son of a Russian billionaire sanctioned for supporting the dictator who runs Belarus has been linked to a £160m portfolio of London properties.

Said Gutseriev, a 34-year-old businessman with British and Russian nationality, appears to have spent years amassing a collection of at least seven properties in central London, according to the findings of a joint investigation by the Guardian and the Belarusian Investigative Center, part of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

The portfolio ranges from large office buildings in the City to a pair of £17m townhouses in south Kensington knocked together to make one residence.

Said’s father, Mikhail Gutseriev, was blacklisted last year, by the EU in June and the UK in August, months after the violent repression of protests which threatened to bring to an end 26 years of autocratic rule by Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko. The UK government described Gutseriev as “a longstanding associate” of the president, and had used his business interests to support Lukashenko’s government.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Mikhail Gutseriev light candles at a new-build church in Shershuni town near Minsk, Belarus.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Mikhail Gutseriev light candles at a new-build church in Shershuni town near Minsk, Belarus. Photograph: Andrei Stasevich/BELTA POOL/EPA

All of the properties examined in the investigation were bought before Mikhail was sanctioned. Six were acquired between 2004 and 2012, when Said was either at school or university, or was just starting his career at the FTSE 100 commodities trader Glencore. Said attended £14,500 a term Harrow school before studying at Oxford.

Leaked documents suggest Said was given a head start thanks to his family’s wealth. One of the properties appears to ultimately belong to a trust established by his father in 2007. Said was listed as a beneficiary of the trust in official paperwork from 2008 and 2009 seen by the Guardian. The paperwork also names him as a beneficiary of a second trust, established in 2004 by his grandmother, Marem Gutserieva. Said controls a stake in Russneft, the Russian oil company that was part-owned by his father until the latter transferred his holding to his brother in August 2021.

Austin Friars House in the City of London.
Austin Friars House in the City of London. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

A spokesperson for Said Gutseriev said he has no financial or commercial links to his father, and always acts in accordance with applicable law, including on sanctions. The spokesperson did not dispute Said’s ownership of any of the properties.

The information about assets linked to him in the UK raises questions about whether sanctions should apply to family members.

The UK has no plans to send Royal Navy warships to the Black Sea to help get food exports such as grain out of the blockaded Ukrainian port of Odesa, according to a government spokesperson.

Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said he had spoken to his UK counterpart, Liz Truss, about creating a “protective corridor” from the port of Odesa, The Times reports. The operation would involve a “coalition of the willing” to provide ships to clear the port.

The UK government spokesperson said:

Putin’s despicable blockade of Odesa is preventing food getting to people who need it.

We will continue to work intensively with international partners to find ways to resume the export of grain from Ukraine.

However, there are no current plans to deploy UK warships to the Black Sea.

A couple wait on a platform at Kharkiv’s metro in eastern Ukraine.
A couple wait on a platform at Kharkiv’s metro in eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images
Residents live in a subway station still used as temporary shelter in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine.
Residents live in a subway station still used as temporary shelter in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Bernat Armangué/AP
After nearly three months of interruption, the Kharkiv metro, which for a long time hosted people protecting themselves from artillery fire, resumed on Tuesday.
After nearly three months of interruption, the Kharkiv metro, which for a long time hosted people protecting themselves from artillery fire, resumed on Tuesday. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey’s foreign ministry has confirmed that Turkish officials will meet with Swedish and Finnish delegations in Ankara tomorrow to discuss the Nato bids by the two Nordic countries.

Finland’s foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, said earlier that his country and Sweden would send delegations to the Turkish capital on Wednesday to try to resolve its opposition to their applications for membership of the military alliance.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, held separate phone calls with leaders of Finland and Sweden on Saturday and discussed his concerns.

Turkey says Sweden and Finland harbour people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey regards as a terrorist organisation, and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.

Ukraine will eventually be part of EU, says France

France’s minister for Europe, Clément Beaune, said he is “convinced” Ukraine will eventually be part of the European Union but that it will take time.

Earlier this month, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, suggested creating a new “European political community” that would create a new structure allowing closer cooperation with countries seeking EU membership.

Beaune, who earlier this week said it could take between 15 and 20 years for Ukraine to join the EU, was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters today:

We know with honesty that it takes time and in this time we can’t allow ourselves to simply wait. We have to nurture the European hope.

The European political community project would not be an alternative, he insisted at a joint press conference with Ukraine’s prime minister, Olga Stefanishyna.

The next step would be to discuss the details of the initiative with European partners, Beaune added.

The Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, claimed Moscow has not yet seen an Italian peace plan for Ukraine but that it hopes to receive it through diplomatic channels.

Last week, Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, presented a four-step peace plan to end the conflict in Ukraine and said he had discussed it with the UN secretary general, António Guterres, during a visit to New York.

The plan calls for local ceasefires to allow for civilian evacuation, the demilitarisation of the front lines, the possible neutrality of Ukraine, an agreement between Russia and Ukraine on the future of Crimea and Donbas, and the creation of a new European and international security pact.

Di Maio said the plan has also been proposed to senior officials representing G7 nations.

During his regular briefing with reporters today, Peskov said of the Italian peace plan:

We haven’t seen it yet, we hope it will be delivered to us through diplomatic channels and we will familiarise ourselves with it.

Earlier we reported that the former Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, was dismissive of the plan in a lengthy message on Telegram.

Lorenzo Tondo reports for us on the Ukrainian farmers devastated by war:

There was a gruelling artillery duel between Ukrainian and Russian troops, positioned just four kilometres apart. Right in the middle, between the two frontlines, stood Ivan Mishchenko’s farmhouse, with his dozens of cows and 100 hectares (247 acres) of wheat fields, transformed into a bloody battleground for five consecutive days in early March.

“Two kilometres on the right were the Russian troops, two kilometres on the left were our troops,” said Mishchenko, 66, whose farm lies in the countryside around Pochepyn, a small village north of Kyiv.

They were shooting so hard, as if it was some kind of computer game. The first two days I stayed in the house, but then it was so insufferable that I had to leave. When I returned, I was in shock. My house, the warehouse, the barns ... were all destroyed. I lost everything.

Ivan Mishchenko in the ruins of his farmhouse. Like other farmers in Ukraine, his wheat cannot be harvested due to a shortage of fuel and after his harvester was destroyed by shelling.
Ivan Mishchenko in the ruins of his farmhouse. Like other farmers in Ukraine, his wheat cannot be harvested due to a shortage of fuel and after his harvester was destroyed by shelling. Photograph: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

Mishchenko, who has livestock and grain fields, is one of hundreds of Ukrainian farmers whose businesses were devastated by a war that has unleashed economic devastation in the country and threatened famine elsewhere. And like other farmers in Ukraine, his few hectares of surviving wheat fields cannot be harvested due to the shortage of fuel in the region and after his harvester and other machinery were destroyed by shelling.

Silos and ports across Ukraine are brimming with more than 20 million metric tonnes of grain and corn that has nowhere to go, with Russia blockading the country’s Black Sea coast and the exit routes for Ukraine’s grain.

Skeletons of cows, killed in the fighting at the Mishchenko family farm. At least 20 of Ivan’s cows were shot.
Skeletons of cows, killed in the fighting at the Mishchenko family farm. At least 20 of Ivan’s cows were shot. Photograph: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

Ukraine used to export most of its goods through seaports but since Russia invaded the country, it has been forced to export by train or via its small Danube River ports. As a result, global wheat prices leaped by 20% in March, owing to the direct impact of the war on wheat production, with the world facing a worsening state of food insecurity and malnutrition, at a time when 42 million people were already one step away from famine.

David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme, which feeds 125 million people and buys 50% of its grain from Ukraine, appealed to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin:

If you have any heart at all, please open these ports.

“This is not just about Ukraine,” Beasley said last week. “This is about the poorest of the poor who are on the brink of starvation as we speak.”

Read more of Lorenzo Tondo’s story: ‘My house, the barns, I lost everything’: the Ukrainian farmers devastated by war

Russian attack in Donbas ‘largest one on European soil since WWII’, says Ukraine

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said the Russian offensive in the Donbas is “the largest one on European soil since WWII”.

Kuleba tweeted that it was “too early” to conclude that Kyiv already has all the weapons it needs to defend itself against the Russian offensive.

He urged allies to “speed up deliveries of weapons and ammunition, especially MLRS (multiple rocket launch systems), long-range artillery, APCs (armoured personnel carriers)“.

Kuleba later accused Russian “thieves” of stealing Ukrainian grain, loading it onto ships and then passing through the Bosphorus to try to sell it abroad.

He urged countries to “refuse such proposals” and to not buy the stolen grain adding:

Don’t become accomplices to Russian crimes. Theft has never brought anyone luck.

Hello. I’m Léonie Chao-Fong and I’ll be bringing you all the latest developments from the war in Ukraine. I’m on Twitter or you can email me.

Too late to evacuate civilians in face of Russian attack, says Luhansk official

The governor of Luhansk has delivered a grim warning that it is too late for thousands of civilians to be evacuated from the besieged city of Sievierodonetsk, as it faced a sustained Russian effort to take the city and the parts of the province still held by Ukraine.

Surrounded on three sides by Russian forces who have been attempting to complete their encirclement of the pocket around the city, Sievierodonetsk and the towns and villages to its west have been under intense bombardment in recent days.

Fifteen thousand residents were still believed to be in the city hiding in shelters.

Russian forces have been attempting to cut Ukrainian supply lines to Sievierodonestsk by attempting to control key roads to the west.

Ukrainian servicemen prepare to move toward the frontline at a checkpoint near Lysychansk in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on Monday.
Ukrainian servicemen prepare to move toward the frontline at a checkpoint near Lysychansk in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on Monday. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

“At this point I will not say: get out, evacuate. Now I will say: stay in a shelter,” Sergiy Haidai said on his Telegram channel. “Because such a density of shelling will not allow us to calmly gather people and come for them.”

“The enemy has focused efforts on the offensive operation to encircle Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk. Now, with the support of artillery, they are conducting assault operations in the direction of Toshkivka and Ustynivka, near Lysychansk,” Haidai wrote.

Ukraine’s defence ministry reported on Monday that Russian forces were attempting to break through Ukrainian defences around Popasna in an attempt to push west toward Bakhmut, a crucial junction that serves as a command centre for much of the Ukrainian war effort.

“I looked up from my prayers and heard a frightening sound,” said 82-year-old Maria Mayashlapak a resident of Bakhmut which has seen repeated airstrikes. “Every day I pray to God asking to avoid injuries. God heard me. God is watching over me.”

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny at a courtroom of the Moscow City Court via a video link from his prison colony during a hearing of an appeal against his nine-year prison sentence he was handed in March after being found guilty of embezzlement and contempt of court.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny at a courtroom of the Moscow City Court via a video link from his prison colony during a hearing of an appeal against his nine-year prison sentence he was handed in March after being found guilty of embezzlement and contempt of court. Photograph: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images
Navalny is already serving two-and-a-half years in a prison some 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow for violating parole on old fraud charges.
Navalny is already serving two-and-a-half years in a prison some 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow for violating parole on old fraud charges. Photograph: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

Today so far …

  • Russia’s foreign minister has said Moscow will focus on developing relations with China, though would consider offers from the west to re-establish ties. Sergei Lavrov, in a question and answer session at an event in Moscow, said western countries had espoused “russophobia” since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
  • Russia’s ministry of defence claims to have destroyed a warehouse full of ammunition in Razdolovka which was stockpiling 155mm shells manufactured for American-made M-777 howitzers supplied to Ukraine.
  • Russia has increased the intensity of its operations in the Donbas as it seeks to encircle Sieverodonetsk, Lyschansk, and Rubizhne in order to place the whole of Luhansk oblast under Russian occupation, the UK Ministry of Defence has said.
  • Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said that Russia will achieve its objectives in Ukraine and is not “chasing deadlines”. ““All the goals set by the president will be fulfilled. It cannot be otherwise,” he said.
  • The Russia-appointed administration of Ukraine’s Kherson region will ask Moscow to set up a military base on its territory, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reports. Russia successfully seized Ukraine’s southern Kherson region in mid-March which is adjacent to Crimea, the peninsula which Moscow has controlled since 2014.
  • The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said Vladimir Putin was the only Russian official he was willing to meet with to discuss how to end the war. “The president of the Russian Federation decides it all,” he said in a video address to the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I cannot accept any kind of meeting with anyone coming from the Russian Federation but the president.”
  • A team of Colombian soldiers will travel to Europe to train their Ukrainian counterparts on de-mining techniques, the South American country’s defence minister has said.
  • Finland and Sweden will send delegations to Ankara tomorrow to try to resolve Turkish opposition to their applications for membership of the Nato military alliance, Finland’s foreign minister Pekka Haavisto has said.
  • Poland has continued to signal its intent to bolster its defences in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Defence secretary Mariusz Blaszczak said the country intends to buy six additional Patriot missile batteries.
  • Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, says the war on Ukraine is putting the international order into question. She said the World Economic Forum at Davos should be talking about making the world better together, but instead they must talk about Putin’s invasion, where Russia’s playbook for the war “comes out of another century”. To rebuild Ukraine, she said “We should leave no stone unturned, including possibly using the Russian assets we have frozen.”
  • A Russian court has rejected an appeal from opposition leader Alexei Navalny against a nine-year prison sentence he is serving for large-scale fraud and contempt of court, charges which he denies. Navalny lambasted President Vladimir Putin during court hearing, casting him as a madman who had started a “stupid war” in Ukraine based on lies.
  • Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said there were about 13,000 cases of Russian alleged war crimes being investigated as of Monday. Another 48 Russian soldiers were due to face war crimes trials, she said, and Ukrainian officials have a list of about 600 suspects thought to have engaged in war crimes.
  • Twenty countries announced new security assistance packages and agreed to send more advanced weapons to Ukraine, including a Harpoon launcher and missiles to protect its coast, said Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary. The new security packages included “critically needed artillery ammunition, coastal defence systems and tanks and other armoured vehicles”.
  • The turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has underlined the need for a free Indo-Pacific region, Joe Biden has said, at a meeting with regional partners that Beijing has criticised as part of a US-led attempt to contain China.
  • “Low-level” discussions were under way on whether some US troops should be based in Ukraine and how the US may need to adjust its training of Ukrainian forces, said General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

Finland and Sweden will send delegations to Ankara tomorrow to try to resolve Turkish opposition to their applications for membership of the Nato military alliance, Finland’s foreign minister Pekka Haavisto has said.

“We are sending our delegations to visit Ankara, actually both Sweden and Finland. This will happen tomorrow so the dialogue is continuing,” Haavisto said during a panel discussion in Davos, Reuters reports.

Von der Leyen: EU could use frozen Russian assets to fund Ukraine reconstruction

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the Europen Commission, says Ukraine’s war is putting the international order into question, as she addresses the World Economic Forum’s Congress Hall.

She says Davos should be talking about making the world better together, but instead they must talk about Putin’s invasion, where Russia’s playbook for the war “comes out of another century”.

It is not just a question of Ukraine’s survival, or European security. It is putting the entire international order into question, says von der Leyen.

Ukraine must win this war. And Putin’s aggession must be a strategic failure.

Von der Leyen says Ukraine needs direct budget support now, which is why the EC proposed a $10bn package of financial assistance, its biggest ever package for a third country.

The same resolve will help Ukraine rise from the ashes, von der Leyen insists, which is the idea behind the reconstruction plan proposed to president Zelenskiy.

The work is colossal, but “together we can and will, master the challenge”.

Any country that cares about Ukraine, multinational institutions, companies. everyone, should contribute.

And Von der Leyen says that Russian assets frozen overseas could be used to fund reconstruction too:

We should leave no stone unturned, including possibly using the Russian assets we have frozen.

Dmitry Medvedev, a long-term ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and deputy chairman of the security council of Russia since 2020 has poured scorn on recent attempts to mediate peace between Russian and Ukraine in a lengthy message on Telegram.

Among his points, Medvedev says the peace plans being proposed by European powers would be “fine if it was about preparing options that somehow take into account the realities.”

He criticises the recent efforts by Italy as “prepared not by diplomats, but by local political scientists who have read a lot of provincial newspapers and operate only with Ukrainian fakes.”

He dismisses the possibility that Ukraine would ever become a full member of the European Union – “they know that this is a lie” because it would be “too costly and dangerous” for Ukraine to join either the EU or Nato.

Medvedev describes the concept of an autonomous Donbas “while maintaining it within the framework of Ukraine” as “obvious nonsense and cheap projecting”. He says “decisions about their fate of the Republic of Donbas were final and they will not be turned back.”

He also dismissed any peace deal involving Crimea, stating that even putting it on the table was “a threat to [Russia’s] territorial integrity and a pretext for starting a full-fledged war. There is not and never will be a political force in Russia that would even agree to discuss the fate of Crimea. It would be just a national betrayal.”

Sweden and Finland will attend the Nato summit in Madrid next month, Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sanchez has said during the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Reuters reports. The Nato summit will be held 28-30 June.

Navalny lambasts Putin's war on Ukraine as court appeal rejected in Moscow

A Russian court has rejected an appeal from opposition leader Alexei Navalny against a nine-year prison sentence he is serving for large-scale fraud and contempt of court, charges which he denies.

Reuters reports that Navalny lambasted President Vladimir Putin during court hearing, casting him as a madman who had started a “stupid war” in Ukraine based on lies.

“This is a stupid war which your Putin started,” Navalny, 45, told an appeal court in Moscow via video link from a penal colony. “This war was built on lies.”

“What do you want to achieve - do you want short-term control, to fight with future generations, fight for the future of Russia?” Navalny asked the court. “You will all suffer historic defeat.”

Navalny said Putin’s Russia was run by thieves and criminals who had become enemies of the Russian people.

“One madman has got his claws into Ukraine and I do not know what he wants to do with it - this crazy thief,” Navalny said of Putin.

Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said on Tuesday that Russia will achieve its objectives in Ukraine and is not “chasing deadlines”.

“All the goals set by the president will be fulfilled. It cannot be otherwise, because truth, including historical truth, is on our side,” Patrushev said in an interview with the Russian Argumenty i Fakty newspaper.

“We are not chasing deadlines,” Reuters report he added.

Updated

Deputy US defence secretary Kathleen Hicks has said the US is confident that Finland and Sweden will be able to resolve Turkish objections to their proposed membership of Nato. Asked about the issues while in Oslo, Reuters report she said the US is “confident that Finland and Sweden will be able to resolve those with the Turks directly”.

Updated

Serhiy Gaidai, Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk, has issued a further update via Telegram.

Four civilians died in one high-rise in Sievierodonetsk. The Russians are shelling the regional centre chaotically and uninterruptedly. The tragedy occurred in the old parts of the town.

When police arrived, they found the bodies of two men and a woman with no signs of life. Another woman was seriously wounded. She was given first aid and hospitalised, but died in the operating room. All four probably were living in the same apartment building. Yesterday, this street was shelled heavily – several houses were damaged. In the town overall at least six houses were damaged, as well as in Lysychansk, where a man was saved in one of the high-rises.

We received information that the enemy shelled again the building of the regional boarding school for children in Hirske two days late. There are also constant reports on destroyed housing in Popasna and Rubizne.

The claims have not been independently verified.

Updated

Poland has continued to signal its intent to bolster its defences in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Reuters report that it intends to buy six additional Patriot missile batteries. “I signed a letter of request concerning six Patriot batteries with omnidirectional radars, launchers and a supply of missiles,” defence secretary Mariusz Blaszczak wrote on Twitter.

Warsaw has vowed to raise its defence spending to 3% of GDP and more than double the size of its army to deter any possible attack. Poland already has two Patriot batteries.

Updated

Russia’s ministry of defence has issued its operation briefing for 24 May.

It claims:

High-precision air-based missiles hit: three command posts, 36 areas of concentration of manpower and military equipment … and six ammunition depots in the areas of Minkovka, Bakhmut, Nikolaevka, Disputed and Krasny Liman in Donetsk, including one large warehouse of 155mm shells for American M-777 howitzers in Razdolovka.

In addition, the report claims:

Rocket troops and artillery hit 84 command posts, 463 areas of concentration of manpower and military equipment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as 137 artillery and mortar units in firing positions.

Russia’s defence ministry says it killed over 200 Ukrainian soldiers overnight, and that in total since the latest invasion began in February 2022, “178 aircraft, 125 helicopters, 995 unmanned aerial vehicles, 320 anti-aircraft missile systems have been destroyed”.

The claims have not been independently verified.

Updated

The BBC is reporting that in the Kursk region of Russia, the governor Roman Starovoit has extended the “yellow” alert of a terror threat for another two weeks until 8 June.

Russian authorities have repeatedly claimed that villages on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine have been fired on. The neighbouring Russian regions of Bryansk and Belgorod also raised their terror-threat levels to “yellow” in April.

Ukraine’s Luhansk governor, Serhiy Gaidai, has given his morning report about Severodonetsk, the city which has been a focus of Russian operations and which lies around 110km (70 miles) from the city of Luhansk. Gaidai has posted to Telegram:

Severodonetsk holds the defence – the city is completely under the control of the Ukrainian authorities. The Russians concentrated almost all their forces, namely 25 battalion tactical groups to take the city. The number of shellings increased many times. Battles are taking place in the surrounding villages. It is very difficult to evacuate people.

Updated

Maksym Kozytskyi, the governor of Lviv, has reported on Telegram that there were no air alerts in the region overnight. Lviv is to the west of Ukraine, away from the main theatre of operations in the Donbas.

In the UK, transport secretary Grant Shapps has been interviewed on Sky News about the grain export situation with Ukraine. He said it was important for grain from the country to be able to get out.

Shapps said that he would not go into the specifics of any potential deployment of British ships into the Black Sea. He commented:

There are a lot of complexities to this, including mined waters near Odesa. Clearly, the situation with Russia and Putin – their approach to this – could be very difficult.

A team of Colombian soldiers will travel to Europe to train their Ukrainian counterparts on de-mining techniques, the South American country’s defence minister has said.

Colombia’s nearly 60 years of internal conflict between the armed forces, leftist rebels, rightwing paramilitaries and drug cartels has made it one of the world’s most-mined countries, according to the United Nations. Landmines have killed 2,342 people in Colombia and injured close to 10,000 since 1990, according to the government.

Russian soldiers and Ukrainian authorities both have said they will clear landmines from various locations in Ukraine amid the ongoing invasion launched by Russia in February.

The experts from Colombia, which is a Nato partner, were invited to give the training by the US, Colombian defence minister Diego Molano said in a statement as reported by Reuters.

“This training will be given by 11 military engineers who will go to a Nato member country which is a neighbour of Ukraine,” Molano said.

Updated

Russia’s invasion underlines need for ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific, Biden says

The turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has underlined the need for a free Indo-Pacific region, Joe Biden has said, at the start of a meeting with regional partners that Beijing has criticised as part of a US-led attempt to contain China.

Biden, and the leaders of a loose alliance known as the Quad – India, Japan and Australia – reaffirmed their commitment to a “free and open” Indo-Pacific during talks in Tokyo on Tuesday. The comments came one day after the US president said Washington would be ready to intervene militarily to defend Taiwan, prompting China to accuse him of “playing with fire”.

“This is about democracies versus autocracies, and we have to make sure we deliver,” Biden said at the start of the meeting with Modi, Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, and Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese.

Updated

EU to agree on Russian oil embargo 'within days', Germany says

The European Union will likely agree an embargo on Russian oil imports “within days”, Germany’s economy minister said on Monday, but making a dent in Russia’s war chest may require capping global oil prices.

“We will reach a breakthrough within days,” Robert Habeck told German broadcaster ZDF when asked about an EU oil embargo in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He warned, however, that an embargo would not automatically weaken the Kremlin. Rising global oil prices after the US announced an embargo on Russian oil enabled it to rake in more income while selling lower volumes.

Therefore, the European Commission and US were working on a proposal to no longer pay “any price” for oil, but to cap global prices, he said.

“It is obviously an unusual measure, but these are unusual times,” he said. “This path only works if many countries get onboard … and that’s proving to be the sticking point.”

Updated

Zelenskiy added that President Vladimir Putin is the only Russian official he is willing to meet with to discuss how to end the war.

In an earlier video address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Ukrainian president said:

The president of the Russian Federation decides it all.

If we are talking about ending this war without him personally, that decision cannot be taken.

I cannot accept any kind of meeting with anyone coming from the Russian Federation but the president.

And only in the case when there is one issue on the (table): stopping the war. There are no other grounds for any other kind of meeting.”

Zelenskiy added that arranging any talks with Russia was becoming more difficult in light of what he said was evidence of Russian actions against civilians under occupation.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy reiterated that the heaviest fighting in Ukraine is occurring in the Donbas region.

In his most recent late-night national address, he said:

The most difficult fighting situation today is in Donbas. Bakhmut, Popasna, Severodonetsk - in this direction the occupiers have concentrated the greatest activity so far. They organised a massacre there and are trying to destroy everything living there. Literally. Nobody destroyed Donbas as much as the Russian army does now.”

Russian forces are also fighting hard to not give up the occupied areas of the Kharkiv region, the Kherson region, the occupied territory of the Zaporizhzhia region and Donbas, Zelenskiy added. “They are going on the offensive in some areas. Reserves are being accumulated in some areas. Somewhere they are trying to reinforce their positions,” he said.

The coming weeks of the war will be difficult. And we must be aware of that. Yet we have no alternative but to fight. Fight and win. Free our land and our people. Because the occupiers want to take away from us not just something, but everything we have. Including the right to life for Ukrainians.”

Russia seeks to capture Severodonetsk to occupy Luhansk, UK MoD says

Russia has increased the intensity of its operations in the Donbas as it seeks to encircle Severodonetsk, Lyschansk, and Rubizhne in order to place the whole of Luhansk oblast under Russian occupation, the UK Ministry of Defence has said.

According to a recently published intelligence report, at present the northern and southern axes of Russia’s operation are separated by approximately 25km of Ukrainian-held territory.

There has been strong Ukrainian resistance with forces occupying well dug-in defensive positions. Ukraine’s long-established Joint Force Operation likely retains effective command and control of this front.

Russia has, however, achieved some localised successes, due in part to concentrating artillery units.

Russia’s capture of the Severodonetsk pocket would see the whole of Luhansk oblast placed under Russian occupation. While currently Russia’s main effort, this operation is only one part of Russia’s campaign to seize the Donbas.

If the Donbas front line moves further west, this will extend Russian lines of communication and likely see its forces face further logistic resupply difficulties.”

Updated

West pledges to send more advanced weapons to Ukraine

Twenty countries announced new security assistance packages and agreed to send more advanced weapons to Ukraine, including a harpoon launcher and missiles to protect its coast, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on Monday.

Among the countries that announced new packages are Italy, Denmark, Greece, Norway and Poland.

We’ve gained a sharper, shared sense of Ukraine’s priority requirements and the situation on the battlefield,” Austin told reporters.

Many countries are donating critically needed artillery ammunition, coastal defence systems and tanks and other armoured vehicles. Others came forward with new commitments for training.”

Denmark agreed to provide a harpoon launcher and missiles to “help Ukraine defend its coast” and the Czech Republic also agreed to send “substantial support” to Kyiv including “a recent donation of attack helicopters, tanks and rocket systems”, he added.

Other countries came forward “with new commitments for training Ukraine’s forces and sustaining its military systems”, Austin said but declined to say if the US will send Ukraine high-tech mobile rocket launchers, which it has requested.

Significantly, Harpoon anti-ship missiles could be used to push the Russian navy away from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, allowing exports of grain and other agricultural products to resume.

Harpoons are cruise missiles that can skim the surface of the sea to target ships as far as 300km (187 miles) offshore, depending on the type.

“The nature of the fight, as you’ve heard us describe a number of times is … really shaped by artillery in this phase,” Austin added.

Updated

Russia may set up military base in Ukraine's Kherson region - reports

The Russia-appointed administration of Ukraine’s Kherson region will ask Moscow to set up a military base on its territory, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reports.

Russia successfully seized Ukraine’s southern Kherson region in mid-March which is adjacent to Crimea, the peninsula which Moscow has controlled since 2014.

It has since installed a new administration there and started introducing the Russian rouble as a currency with plans to integrate the region as part of Russian territory.

There should be a Russian military base in the Kherson region,” Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of what Russia calls the ‘civil-military regional administration’ of Kherson, told RIA.

We will ask for this and this is what the whole population wants. This is essential and will be a guarantor of security for the region and its inhabitants.”

Stremousov added:

We do not plan to be a separate independent republic. Our main task is to be a subject within the Russian Federation.”

Stremousov noted that any results from a referendum “will not be recognised by western countries anyway” and concluded that “holding it today is a waste of time”.

“According to our plan for integration into the Russian Federation, we must complete the process of transition to all standards of Russian legislation by the end of the year, and only then we can decide on a referendum and our future status,” the deputy head of administration said.

“The Russian language, along with Ukrainian, will become the state language in the Kherson region. The Russian language will become the main language for office work, communication and all issues of national importance. We do not prohibit the Ukrainian language and will not play any language stories in any way.”

Outgoing Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has sharply criticised Russian president Vladimir Putin for the killings of innocent civilians in Ukraine.

“I kill criminals, I don’t kill children and the elderly,” Duterte said after acknowledging the leaders have been tagged as killers.

Duterte, who openly calls Putin an idol and a friend, voiced his rebuke for the first time over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in remarks aired Tuesday and reported by the Associated Press.

While stressing he was not condemning the Russian president, Duterte disagreed with Putin’s labelling of the invasion as a “special military operation,” and said it was really a full-scale war waged against “a sovereign nation.”

“Many say that Putin and I are both killers. I’ve long told you Filipinos that I really kill. But I kill criminals, I don’t kill children and the elderly,” Duterte said in a televised weekly meeting with key Cabinet officials. “We’re in two different worlds.”

Moscow to deepen ties with China, Lavrov says

Russia’s foreign minister has said Moscow will focus on developing relations with China, though would consider offers from the west to re-establish ties.

Sergei Lavrov, in a question and answer session at an event in Moscow, said western countries had espoused “russophobia” since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.

Russia was working to replace goods imported from western countries, he said, and in future, would depend only on “reliable” countries not beholden to the west.

If they [the west] want to offer something in terms of resuming relations, then we will seriously consider whether we will need it or not,” Lavrov said, according to a transcript on the foreign ministry’s website.

Lavrov set down grievances with western countries that he said were determined to change the rules of international relations to Russia’s detriment.

We must cease being dependent in any way on supplies of absolutely everything from the west for ensuring the development of critically important sectors for security, the economy or our homeland’s social sphere.”

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, pictured left, and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are seen during a meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2019.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, pictured left, and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are seen during a meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2019. Photograph: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Lavrov said Moscow’s goal now is to further develop ties with China.

Now that the west has taken a ‘dictator’s position’, our economic ties with China will grow even faster.

In addition to direct revenue for the state budget, this is a chance to develop (Russia’s) far east and eastern Siberia.”

China, he said, had information and communications technologies “that are in no way inferior to the west. A great deal here will ensure mutual benefits.”

Lavrov said Russia would count on “only ourselves and on countries which have proved themselves reliable and do not ‘dance to some other piper’s music’. If western countries change their minds and propose some form of cooperation, we can then decide.”

Speaking to Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency, Lavrov added:

Now the centre of world development has shifted to Eurasia. At the moment, we have the most extensive network of partnerships in the Eurasian region. We must rely on them in the further development of our country, its transport, transit, and logistics capabilities. I am convinced that this is the right way.”

“Our western partners have proved, and not for the first time, that they are incapable of negotiating,” he added.

Updated

Summary and welcome

Hello and welcome back to the Guardian’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine.

I’m Samantha Lock and I will be bringing you all the latest developments for the next short while before my colleague martin Belam in London take the reins a little later in the day.

Here are all the top lines so far:

  • The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said Vladimir Putin was the only Russian official he was willing to meet with to discuss how to end the war. “The president of the Russian Federation decides it all,” he said in a video address to the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I cannot accept any kind of meeting with anyone coming from the Russian Federation but the president.”
  • A veteran Russian diplomat in Geneva has resigned over the invasion of Ukraine, in a rare political protest from within the Russian foreign policy establishment. Boris Bondarev, a counsellor at the Russian permanent mission to the UN in Geneva, wrote in a public statement: “Never have I been so ashamed of my country.” He confirmed he had submitted his letter of resignation.
  • A court in Kyiv has sentenced a Russian soldier to life in prison for the killing of a Ukrainian civilian, in the first verdict in a trial related to war crimes by the Russian army during its invasion of Ukraine. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old sergeant, was found guilty of killing 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in the Sumy region during the first days of the invasion.
  • Twenty countries announced new security assistance packages and agreed to send more advanced weapons to Ukraine, including a Harpoon launcher and missiles to protect its coast, said Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary. The new security packages included “critically needed artillery ammunition, coastal defence systems and tanks and other armoured vehicles”.
  • Denmark pledged to send Harpoon anti-ship missiles that could be used to push the Russian navy away from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, allowing exports of grain and other agricultural products to resume.
  • “Low-level” discussions were under way on whether some US troops should be based in Ukraine and how the US may need to adjust its training of Ukrainian forces, said General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the west to intensify its economic sanctions against Russia as he said business leaders in Davos needed to decide whether “brute force” should rule the world. In a keynote video address to the World Economic Forum, Zelenskiy called for a full oil embargo, the severing of Russian banks from the global financial system, the complete isolation of the Russian IT sector and a ban on trade with Russia.
  • The European Union will likely agree an embargo on Russian oil imports “within days”, Germany’s economy minister said on Monday. Robert Habeck also told German broadcaster ZDF that the European Commission and the US were working on a proposal to cap global oil prices rather than pay “any price”.
  • Nearly 90 people were killed in a Russian airstrike on the village of Desna in the northern Ukrainian region of Chernihiv, according to Zelenskiy. Ukrainian authorities said eight people were killed in the strike, which took place last Tuesday. Zelenskiy’s figure would give the Desna attack Ukraine’s biggest military death toll in a single strike of the war so far.
  • The war in Ukraine could cause a recession in weaker economies, the head of the IMF has warned. Kristalina Georgieva predicted that 2022 would be a tough year and declined to rule out a global recession if conditions worsened markedly.
  • New satellite images reportedly show Russian theft of Ukrainian grain. The pictures released by Maxar Technologies seemingly back up claims from Zelenskiy that food had been gradually stolen from the country, CNN has reported. In the photos, taken from 19 and 21 May, two bulk carrier ships with Russian flags can be seen loading grain from the grain silos they are docked by.
  • Starbucks is leaving the Russian market, bringing an end to nearly 15 years of business there. The Seattle-based coffee company has 130 stores and nearly 2,000 employees in Russia. McDonalds is also pulling out, removing the “golden arches” from Moscow before leaving for good.