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Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 15

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Ukrainian flags flutter outside a destroyed cultural center in Derhachi, eastern Ukraine, May 15, 2022. A Russian airstrike destroyed the venue on May 12.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

Recap of May 15
FIGHTING
* The U.K.'s defense ministry says Russia's assault on Donbas has "lost momentum."
* According to @KyivIndependent, Russia plans to send up to 2,500 reservists to Ukraine.
* Russian forces were withdrawing from around Kharkiv, Ukraine, the Associated Press reports.
ECONOMY
* Ukraine currently has 30 million tons of grain in storage that could rot if a way to export it cannot be found.
DIPLOMACY
* NATO pledged open-ended military support for Ukraine, AFP reports.
* CNN reports that the Indian Embassy will return to Kyiv on Thursday.
* Talks to overcome Turkey's misgivings about the expected NATO membership bids of Finland and Sweden were on a "good track," Croatia said Sunday, as several members of the alliance eye swift accession for the Nordic states.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

9 p.m.: In his nightly video address, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, “This week, as always, there will be a lot of international activity in which I will take part. The key is weapons and financial support for Ukraine. Finances not only to maintain stability now, but also to begin rebuilding what Russia has ruined.” He said work needed to be done on strengthening sanctions about Russia, and “now the priority is the oil embargo.”

“Another task, which becomes even more important the longer the war lasts, is to do everything to maintain the world's maximum attention to us, to Ukraine. Information about our needs should be in the news of all countries that are important to us constantly and every day,” Zelenskyy said.

8:15 p.m.: Ukraine President Volodymr Zelenskyy warns that the military situation in Ukraine's southeastern Donbas region is "very difficult,” Agence France-Presse reports. Russia has increasingly turned its attention to the country's south and east since the end of March, after failing to take the capital Kyiv, AFP reported. It added that Western analysts believe President Vladimir Putin has his sights on annexing southern and eastern Ukraine in the months ahead but his troops appear to be encountering stiff resistance.

7:30 p.m.: Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra, fresh off its Eurovision victory, released a new music video Sunday of its winning hit "Stefania" that features scenes of war-ravaged Ukraine and women in combat gear, as the annual song contest took on ever more political tones given Russia's war, The Associated Press reported. "This is how we see Ukrainian mothers today," Kalush frontman Oleh Psiuk said of the video, which had already racked up millions of views within hours of its release, according to AP. "We were trying to deliver the message of what Ukraine looks like today."

5:27 p.m.: President Voldymyr Zelenskyy warned that the war in his country risks triggering global food shortages as he calls for more international backing, Agence France-Presse reported. "Now support for Ukraine -- and especially with weapons -- means working to prevent global famine," Zelenskyy says. Before the invasion, Ukraine exported 4.5 million tonnes of agricultural produce per month through its ports -– 12% of the planet's wheat, 15% of its corn and half of its sunflower oil, AFP reported. ​

4:13 p.m.: Ukraine's gas transit system operator said it had resumed operations at two distribution stations in the Kharkiv region and restarted gas supply to more than 3,000 consumers, Reuters reported. Ukraine has scored a series of successes since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, forcing Moscow's commanders to abandon an advance on the capital Kyiv before making rapid gains to drive them from Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-biggest city, Reuters reported.

"Both stations were shut down due to damage to the main gas pipeline in the Kharkiv region as a result of hostilities," the operator said in a statement, reported by Reuters. The operator added that the damages have now been repaired.

3:25 p.m.: Ukraine currently has 30 million tons of grain in storage that could rot if a way to export it cannot be found. RFE/RL reports the U.N. could organize a “Humanitarian Corridor" for Ukrainian Black Sea shipping. The closure of the Black Sea to Ukrainian shipping has been a harsh blow to the country’s economy.

3:05 p.m.: Ukrainians react with tears and joy to Eurovision 2022 win by Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra. The Washington Post reports the band’s victory, which gives Ukraine the right to host the hugely popular spectacle in 2023, was secured by audience votes and cheered by world leaders, in a sign of the strong public support for Ukraine as its war with Russia approaches its three-month mark.

3:00 p.m.: NATO pledged open-ended military support for Ukraine, Agence France-Press reports. The promise came after Finland’s bid for NATO membership, a move that jettisoned decades of military non-alignment, redrawing the balance of power in Europe and angering the Kremlin.

1:55 p.m.: Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Sunday that the decision to move forward in supporting an application for NATO membership came after weighing whether the Nordic nation’s long-standing nonalignment still serves its best interests, The Washington Post reports.

Andersson said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which she described at a news briefing as “illegal and indefensible” also “undermines the European security order that Sweden builds its security on.”

She said the Kremlin has shown “they are prepared to use violence to achieve their political objectives, and that they don't hesitate to take enormous risks.”As a member of NATO, Andersson said the country will be able to achieve more of its own security “but also contribute to more security.”

1:45 p.m.: According to @KyivIndependent, Russia plans to send up to 2,500 reservists to Ukraine. The new recruits are being trained at training grounds in Russia’s Voronezh, Belgorod, and Rostov oblasts, according to Ukraine’s General Staff.

1:00 p.m.: Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said she will go to parliament on Monday to seek broad support for an application to join NATO, after her party dropped its long-standing opposition to membership in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reports.

"Tomorrow I will assure that there is a broad parliamentary support in the Riksdag for a Swedish membership application and after that we will be set to take a government decision," Andersson told a news conference.

According to Reuters, there is already overwhelming support in parliament for a Swedish membership bid. Neighbor and close ally Finland said on Sunday it will apply for membership.

12:55 p.m.: A Polish Nobel Prize-winning author says that Russia presents a threat to the “free world” and its attack on neighboring Ukraine had echoes of the Second World War, The Associated Press reports. Olga Tokarczuk, known for her humanist themes and playful, subversive streak, spoke at a writers' festival in Jerusalem and said that Poles share Ukrainians' feelings about Russia. Tokarczuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018 for her 18th-century epic “The Books of Jacob.”

12:00 p.m.: Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra has released a new music video, hours after its hit “Stefania” led it to victory in the Eurovision Song Contest. The video features scenes of war-ravaged Ukraine and women in combat gear in a sign that the annual song contest has taken on ever more political tones.

11:50 a.m.: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and a delegation of GOP senators are due to visit Helsinki on Monday for talks with Finland’s president as the previously neutral Nordic nation bordering Russia seeks NATO membership, Associated Press reports. McConnell is a staunch supporter of the Western military alliance, and the visit by the Republicans who made a surprise stop over the weekend to Ukraine’s capital delivers a show of American support for the region as Ukraine battles the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, shakes hands with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in Kyiv, May 14, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, shakes hands with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in Kyiv, May 14, 2022.

11:40a.m.: White brightly burning munitions were shown in a video by Reuters, cascading down on the Azovstal steel works in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in what a British military expert said looked like either an attack with phosphorus or incendiary weapons.

Reuters was not able to immediately identify the type of munitions being used or when the video was taken. It was posted on Sunday on the Telegram messaging application by Alexander Khodakovsky, a commander of the pro-Russian self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk. Russia has not commented on what specific weapons it has used to attack the plant. The Russian defense ministry did not reply to a written request for comment about the video.

A view of a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works damaged during showers of brightly-burning munitions, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this undated still image obtained from a handout video released on May 15, 2022.
A view of a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works damaged during showers of brightly-burning munitions, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this undated still image obtained from a handout video released on May 15, 2022.

11:35 a.m.: According to Reuters, U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on Sunday he expected the Senate to vote on $40 billion in proposed aid to Ukraine on Wednesday after holding a related procedural vote on Monday.
"We expect to invoke cloture - hopefully by a significant margin - on the motion to proceed on Monday, which would set us up to approve the supplemental on Wednesday," McConnell told reporters on a conference call from Stockholm after visiting the Ukrainian capital on Saturday. He was referring to a procedural "cloture" vote that cap further debate on a matter to 30 hours.

11:25 a.m.: Sweden's ruling Social Democrats said on Sunday they backed the country joining NATO, abandoning decades of opposition in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and creating a large parliament majority in favor of membership.

With neighboring Finland already set to hand in its application, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is now all but certain to launch a formal application within days, Reuters reports.

11:15 a.m.: According to the Kyiv Independent, the wives of the last Ukrainian soldiers holding out at the Avostal steel mill in Mariupol, held a joint press conference via Zoom and called on the world to help save their husbands. “The most important thing is to save the lives of the heroes of Ukraine, not to give (them) posthumous awards,” Yulia Fedosiuk, one of the wives said. “We keep hearing about how big of a tragedy ‘happened’ at Azovstal. But it’s not over yet. We believe it’s still possible to get our defenders out of there.”

A service member of Mariupol's unit of the Ukrainian Sea Guard reads inside a bunker of the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this handout picture released on May 15, 2022.
A service member of Mariupol's unit of the Ukrainian Sea Guard reads inside a bunker of the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this handout picture released on May 15, 2022.

11:00 a.m.: Eurovision and NATO might not usually be associated, but on Sunday the military alliance's deputy chief congratulated Ukraine for winning the annual music contest with a "beautiful song," calling it a testament to its bravery in fighting Russia, Reuters reports.

Foreign ministers from the 30-member alliance NATO gathered in Berlin on Sunday to discuss Finland and Sweden's possible membership to the alliance and its strategy in the face of what NATO deputy secretary general Mircea Geoana said was Russia's "unjustified" invasion of Ukraine.

10:30 a.m.: At a NATO meeting, U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken told reporters that he spoke to his Turkish counterpart but did not want to give details. He said Turkey has not said it plans to block Finland from joining the alliance. When asked about Turkey stating conditions, he said: "This is a process. NATO is a place for dialogue, it's a place for discussion." VOA’s Cindy Saine reports from Berlin.

10:25 a.m.: Russia’s war on Ukraine poisons the environment for generations, The Washington Post reports. “With every battle and attack immeasurable amounts of toxic pollutants are dispersed into Ukraine’s soil, water and air, making, Ukraine’s environment the latest victim in Russia’s war,” the report says.

10:10 a.m.: Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said on Sunday his latest talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin about his country's bid to join NATO was measured and did not contain any threats, Reuters reports.

"He confirmed that he thinks it's a mistake. We are not threatening you. Altogether, the discussion was very, could I say, calm and cool," Niinisto said in an interview with CNN's "State of the Union."

10:05 a.m.: Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations appealed to Russia to free up sea export routes for Ukrainian grain and agricultural products critical to feeding the world, as food prices rise and the World Food Program warns of “catastrophic” consequences if Ukrainian ports remain blocked, The Washington Post reports.

9:45 a.m.: At an informal meeting of NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană told reporters, "We are at a moment of significant changes in European security, and NATO stands strong in support of Ukraine, and in defending the one billion people living in our Allied Nations."

9:35 a.m.: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Ukraine can win in the war against Russia, and Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance would strengthen global security. He added, "Ukrainians are bravely defending their homeland."

9:25 a.m.: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters via video link today that the addition of Finland and Sweden into the North Atlantic alliance would be a “historic moment.”

9:15 a.m.: NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters by video link today NATO plans to address Turkey’s concerns and find consensus regarding Finland’s application to join NATO. Turkey's foreign minister said on Sunday that Sweden and Finland must stop supporting terrorist groups in their countries, provide clear security guarantees and lift export bans on Turkey as they seek membership in NATO.

9:00 a.m.: At an Informal meeting of NATO ministers of Foreign Affairs, NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg Russia's told reporters by video link today, that Russia’s offensive in Ukraine is failing and its operation in the Donbass region has stalled.

"Russia's war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow had planned. They failed to take Kyiv," he said. "They are pulling back from Kharkiv and their major offensive in Donbass has stalled," Reuters reports.

8:40 a.m.: Finland’s president and government have announced that the Nordic country intends to apply for membership in NATO, paving the way for the 30-member Western military alliance to expand amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, The Associated Press reports. The president and prime minister made the announcement at a joint news conference in the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. Top NATO diplomats are meeting Sunday in Berlin to discuss providing further support to Ukraine and moves by Finland, Sweden and others to join the western alliance in the face of threats from Russia. NATO Deputy-Secretary General Mircea Geoana told reporters that “with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help, Ukraine can win this war.”

5:53 a.m.: Russian forces were withdrawing from around Kharkiv, Ukraine, The Associated Press reports.

The city, the second largest in Ukraine, has been under attack for weeks. Russia appears to be concentrating on guarding supply routes, AP reports, while attacking the eastern province of Donetsk.

4:54 a.m.: Ned Price, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Sunday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Berlin. They discussed the recent G-7 and NATO meetings. Blinken, Price said, emphasized the strong support for Ukraine and spoke of U.S. security assistance to bolster Ukraine’s defenses. Other topics included global food security and the U.S. commitment to Ukrainian sovereignty.

4:05 a.m.: Kyiv is shortening its curfew, The Washington Post reports. It'll start an hour later and will now run from 11 p.m.-5 a.m. Additionally, public transit will extend its hours and run from 6 a.m.-10 p.m.

3:04 a.m.: The New York Times reports that a missile hit military infrastructure in the Lviv region early Sunday.

2:04 a.m.: In its latest intelligence update, the U.K.'s defense ministry says Russia's assault on Donbas has "lost momentum."

"Despite small-scale initial advances, Russia has failed to achieve substantial territorial gains," the update says. Russia's losses have been considerable; the update says it's likely lost a third of the ground combat force it committed in February.

Russia's also dealing with low morale, equipment shortages and "reduced combat effectiveness," the update says. "Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days."

1:11 a.m.: The members of the Eurovision Song Contest-winning Kalush Orchestra are ready to return to Ukraine and fight against Russia, Al Jazeera reports.

“We have a temporary authorization to be here and it ends in two days and exactly in two days we are going to be back in Ukraine,” frontman Oleh Psiuk said. “It’s hard to say what exactly I am going to do, because this is the first time I win the Eurovision Song Contest, but like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go on until the end.”

12:02 a.m.: CNN reports that the Indian Embassy will return to Kyiv on Thursday. It had relocated to Warsaw in March amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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