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Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 31

Rescuers work at a residential building damaged by shelling in the past, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 31, 2022.
Rescuers work at a residential building damaged by shelling in the past, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 31, 2022.

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

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

9:17 p.m.: VOA’s chief national correspondent, Steve Herman, reports: U.S. President Joe Biden, in a New York Times opinion article published online Tuesday evening, said he had decided to “provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine.” This comes a day after the president said he was rejecting a request from Kyiv for advanced missile systems that could potentially strike inside Russia.

A senior administration official told reporters that the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is to be “used by the Ukrainians to repel Russian advances on Ukrainian territory “but not to hit targets in Russian territory.”

7:37 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has thanked the European Union for banning nearly all oil from Russia.

Speaking in a nightly video address, Zelenskyy said, “European countries have agreed to significantly limit oil imports from Russia. And I am grateful to everyone who worked to reach this agreement. The practical result is minus tens of billions of euros, which Russia will now be unable to use to finance terror.

“But it is also important to understand that European countries' abandonment of Russian oil and other fossil fuels will accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources. Strategically, this leaves the Russian state on the sidelines of the modern economy. With such an aggressive policy and a course of isolation from the civilized world, Russia simply will not be able to adapt. So, it will lose. Lose economically. that the EU's decision to cut the bulk of Russian oil imports means that Russia won't be able to spend tens of billions of euros "to finance terror,” he added. "As soon as the sixth package starts working, we will immediately start working on the seventh one."

6:18 p.m.: Ukrainian soccer star Oleksandr Zinchenko teared up he tried to explain what it means to represent his country's national team, with a spot at the World Cup within reach, The Associated Press reported. Ukraine is two games away from qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar, starting with a match against Scotland in Glasgow on Wednesday, AP reported. The game, which had been scheduled for March, was postponed after Russia invaded Ukraine. The winner of the Ukraine-Scotland match will play Wales on Sunday.

Ukraine's Oleksandr Zinchenko reacts during the press conference, Glasgow, Scotland, May 31, 2022. (Action Images/Reuters)
Ukraine's Oleksandr Zinchenko reacts during the press conference, Glasgow, Scotland, May 31, 2022. (Action Images/Reuters)

“We want to give incredible emotions to the Ukrainian people because Ukrainians deserve it so much at this very moment,” Zinchenko, the Manchester City defender, said at a news conference. “Our mood, I would describe as a fighting mood, because everyone understands what is going on in Ukraine these days.”

Zinchenko put soccer in perspective, saying the one thing Ukrainians want is “to stop this war” but that those who could follow the game at home would do so, AP reported.

“I’m pretty sure that all Ukraine who has this opportunity is going to watch us, and we are going to feel this support 100 percent,” he said.

5:13 p.m.: U.S. officials say the Biden administration is expected to announce it will send Ukraine a small number of high-tech, medium-range rocket systems, The Associated Press reported. Ukrainian leaders have said the weapons are critical in their struggle to stall Russian progress in the Donbas region. The U.S. plan tries to strike a balance between the desire to help Ukraine battle ferocious Russian artillery barrages while not providing arms that could allow Ukraine to hit targets deep inside Russia and escalate the war, AP reported. President Joe Biden has said the U.S. would not send Ukraine “rocket systems that can strike into Russia.”

4:25 p.m.:

3:30 p.m.: A senior U.N. official had "constructive discussions" in Moscow with Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov on facilitating Russian grain and fertilizer exports to global markets, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday, according to VOA’s U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer. The U.N. official, Rebecca Grynspan, is now in Washington for talks on the same issue with U.S. officials.

3:05 p. m.: The Ukrainian military on Tuesday said Russia is preparing to resume its offensive at several areas in Eastern Ukraine. The Associated Press reports that General Staff spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun said in a daily operational update the Russian army is readying operations in Izium and Sloviansk, and conducting assault operations around Sievierodonetsk and Bakhmut, aiming to encircle the Ukrainian army.

Shtupun also claimed that Belarus hardware, including tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, was moved out from country's storage bases and could be used by Russian forces.

2:45 p.m.: The Biden administration will give details on potential new security assistance for Ukraine "before too long," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a press briefing Tuesday, according to Reuters. Washington also remains concerned about Russian attempts to institutionalize its control over Ukrainian territory it has seized, including the city of Kherson, Price added.

2:30 p.m.: “We have been clear from day one that we will provide Ukraine with weapons to defend itself from Russian aggression – to defend itself inside its borders to fight against Russia. We’re not providing any weapons that will allow the Ukrainians to attack Russia from inside of Ukraine and President Biden has been very clear on that,” United States Ambassador to the United Nations’ Linda Thomas-Greenfield reiterated at a press stakeout in New York as she reflected on U.S. presidency of the U.N. Security Council, which concludes tonight. She also said the U.S. is prepared to give "comfort letters" to shipping and insurance companies “if that will help to encourage them, to support those efforts to get grain out of Russia,” VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer reported.

2:07 p.m.: Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on Tuesday shared footage of people in Melitopol applying for Russian passports, according to The Associated Press. Russian President Vladimir Putin had also issued an order last week to allow a fast track to Russian citizenship for people in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south of Ukraine, which are largely held by Russian forces.

2 p.m.: The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports on the number of school-age children affected by the war in Ukraine.

1:34 p.m.: Russian forces now control most of the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk but have not surrounded it, the governor of Ukraine's Luhansk province said Tuesday after days of fighting, Reuters reports. Serhiy Gaidai said in an online post that Russian shelling had made it impossible to deliver humanitarian supplies or evacuate people.

1:25 p.m.: The wives of Ukrainian soldiers who were the last defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol reveal the "horrors" that their husbands endured before being taken prisoner by Russia. Kateryna Prokopenko and Yulia Fedosyuk told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that their husbands were "brave" members of the Azov Regiment but they're concerned about their fate after Russian officials said they could be tried as "terrorists." Moscow refers to the Azov Regiment as Nazis. Ukraine says the regiment has been reformed from its radical nationalist origins.

1:10 p.m.: The Vatican says Pope Francis will travel to Kazakhstan in September for an interfaith conference, The Associated Press reports. The visit may give him a chance to meet with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, which would be significant given Kirill’s justification for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Francis called off a planned encounter with Kirill in June in Jerusalem because of the diplomatic fallout it would have created.

12:40 p.m.: Ukrainian lawmakers have fired Ombudswoman Lyudmila Denisova almost one year before her term's end, saying she failed to help organize humanitarian corridors and citing other alleged inaction related to Russia's invasion. Lawmakers Yaroslav Zheleznyak and Oleksiy Honcharenko said the move was approved by parliament on May 31. Denisova said the move to fire her was initiated by the office of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Andriy Smyrnov, deputy chief of the presidential office, rejected the accusation. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports.

12:25 p.m.:
A digital camera retrieved by fighters in eastern Ukraine holds images of a family in peacetime and invading Russian soldiers that apparently looted the device during war. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has published the photos here.

12:03 p.m.:
Ukraine: Latest Internal Displacement Report by International Organization for Migration (IOM).

12 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday welcomed a sixth package of European Union sanctions against Russia but criticized what he called an "unacceptable" delay in the bloc agreeing the latest measures, according to Reuters. "When over 50 days have passed between the 5th and 6th sanction packages, the situation is not acceptable for us," Zelenskyy said, speaking alongside Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova in Kyiv.

11:46 a.m.: Ukraine has welcomed the European Union’s decision to block most imports of Russian oil according to The Associated Press. “The oil embargo will speed up the countdown to the collapse of the Russian economy and war machine,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement.

11:15 a.m.: Russia's economy will contract less than expected this year and inflation will be lower than previously thought, a Reuters poll showed on Tuesday, after the war in Ukraine enters its fourth month. The average forecast among 18 analysts polled in late May suggested the Russian economy was on track to shrink by 7.6% this year. A similar poll in late April predicted economic contraction of 8.4%.

11:06 a.m.: Russian company Gazprom said on Tuesday it would cut off gas flows to Denmark's Orsted, as well as to Shell Energy for its contract on gas supplies to Germany, after they failed to make payments in rubles, Reuters reports. In response the Danish group said it would be able to source natural gas from the European gas market.

11 a.m.: The Associated Press reports three more nations have joined an international investigation team probing war crimes in Ukraine. Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia signed an agreement during a two-day coordination meeting in The Hague to join Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine in the Joint Investigation Team that will help coordinate the sharing of evidence of atrocities through European Union judicial cooperation agency Eurojust. Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan said Tuesday that he plans to open an office in Kyiv.

10:42 a.m.: The European Commission has been given a full mandate to examine the possibility of setting a price cap on gas imports from Russia, Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Tuesday according to Reuters. "The Commission received a mandate to study the feasibility of a gas price cap," Draghi told reporters in Brussels after the EU summit.

10:30 a.m.: It's billed as an escape from anxiety for children who have been evacuated from war-torn parts of Ukraine. The Odesa Youth Theater is staging special performances in bomb shelters. The play is also topical: It tells the story of how people unite to drive out a stranger who is occupying someone's home, in this report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

10 a.m.: Since the war started in Ukraine in February until May 30th, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 9,029 civilian casualties in the country: 4,113 killed and 4,916 injured. Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes.

OHCHR believes the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration.

9:45 a.m.: Canada said Tuesday it was imposing new sanctions on Russia and putting restrictions on 22 individuals and four entities in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. The restrictions will affect individuals and entities including senior officials of Russian financial institutions and their family members, as well as key financial institutions and banks, according to an official statement cited by Reuters. Since the war started, Canada has imposed sanctions on more than 1,050 individuals and entities from and in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

9:30 a.m.: “I am horrified to see Sievierodonetsk, the thriving city where we had our operational headquarters, become the epicenter of yet another chapter of the brutal war in Ukraine, Jan Egeland, The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Chief said on Tuesday. He says the “fear is that up to 12,000 civilians remain caught in crossfire in the city, without sufficient access to water, food, medicine or electricity.”

9:05 a.m.: Tennis great John McEnroe said Wimbledon was wrong to ban Russian and Belarusian players after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine but wished the sport's governing bodies had not retaliated by stripping the Grand Slam of ranking points according to Reuters.

9 a.m.: Across eastern Ukraine, hospitals near the front lines of Russia's war are increasingly coming under pressure. Many staff have fled and those who remain have to deal with an influx of wounded on top of their usual flow of sick patients, The Associated Press reports.

8:30 a.m.:
After a shock exit from the Russian market earlier this month, McDonald’s, the ubiquitous Western burger brand, appears to be getting a new name in Russia. “That’s it,” “Exactly It” and “Compass” are among the new names that are being registered in Russia according to the Washington Post.

8:22 a.m.: Ukraine has identified more than 600 Russian war crime suspects and has started prosecuting around 80 of them, Kyiv's top prosecutor said Monday according to Reuters. The list of suspects includes "top military, politicians and propaganda agents of Russia," prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova told a news conference in The Hague.

8 a.m.: “Next package of Russia sanctions won’t include gas embargo,” says Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer, The Kiyv Independent reports.

7:35 a.m.: Russian forces in a “frenzied push” have seized half of the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk that is key to Moscow’s efforts to quickly complete the capture of the industrial Donbas region. The city's mayor also told The Associated Press today that Sievierodonetsk "is essentially being destroyed ruthlessly block by block."

7:22 am: European Union leaders are wrapping up a two-day summit Tuesday with discussions on energy, defense, and food security - key issues with the war in Ukraine - after striking a groundbreaking, if watered-down deal on a Russian oil ban. Europe will also be sending nearly $10 billion in much-needed aid to Ukraine.

7:20 a.m.: European Union leaders handed Hungary concessions to agree an oil embargo on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, sealing a deal in the early hours of Tuesday that aims to cut 90% of Russia's crude imports into the bloc by the end of the year according to Reuters. The deal excludes from the embargo shipments by pipeline, which Hungary relies on for Russian oil.

6:45 a.m.: The European Union's sanctions against seaborne imports of Russian oil will be imposed with a phase-in period of six months for crude oil and eight months for refined products, a European Commission spokesperson said on Tuesday according to Reuters.

That timeline would kick in once the sanctions are formally adopted, with EU country ambassadors aiming to adopt them this week, after EU leaders agreed in principle to the sanctions at a summit on Monday.

6 a.m.: European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Tuesday that an EU embargo on most Russian oil imports will mean Russia gets “less financial resources to feed the war machine.”

Borrell said that while the EU cannot stop Russia from selling to other customers, European countries were its “most important client,” and it will have to accept lower prices.

5 a.m.: A Ukrainian court sentenced two captured Russian soldiers to 11 and a half years in jail on Tuesday for shelling a town in eastern Ukraine, the second war crimes verdict since the start of Russia’s invasion in February, Reuters reported.

Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov, who listened to the verdict standing in a reinforced glass box at the Kotelevska district court in central Ukraine, both pleaded “guilty” last week.

4:45 a.m.: Helga Maria Schmid, the secretary-general of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, said Tuesday she is “very relieved” following news about the release of a national mission member of monitoring mission to Ukraine. In a Twitter post, Schmid further called on the release of three others detained in Donetsk and Luhansk.

4:15 a.m.: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to go to Turkey with a military delegation on June 8 to discuss creating a potential sea corridor for Ukrainian agricultural exports, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Speaking to the state-owned Anadolu news agency, Cavusoglu said work was still underway with the United Nations to reach an agreement on creating the corridor from the Black Sea, but that issues between Moscow and Kyiv remained. He said the U.N. had proposed forming a joint observation mechanism to monitor the shipping route, and that Turkey was open to the idea. He said Russia wanted some Western sanctions targeting its insurance sector lifted, as it would impact the ships that will participate in the potential shipping network, while Ukraine did not want Russian warships to approach its docks in Odesa.

In a phone call with Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia was ready to facilitate the unhindered export of grain from Ukrainian ports in coordination with Turkey. The Associated Press has the story.

4:05 a.m.: The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud held a call to discuss regional developments including the Ukraine crisis.

3:20 a.m.: The head of Sievierodonetsk administration Oleksandr Stryuk said Tuesday that Ukraine is still in control of the city as soldiers continue to fight Russian troops.

“The city is still in Ukrainian hands and it’s putting up a fight,” Stryuk said speaking to a Ukrainian television. However, he added that civilian evacuation is impossible due to continued fighting.

2:45 a.m.: According to the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense daily battleground report:

“Heavy shelling continues, while street fighting is likely taking place on the outskirts of Sieverodonetsk town,” the ministry update said. “Russia has achieved greater local successes than earlier in the campaign by massing forces and fires in a relatively small area. This forces Russia to accept risk elsewhere in occupied territory.”

Russian troops were slowly advancing towards the city center in Sievierodonetsk, the governor of Luhansk region said earlier in the day, according to Reuters.

2:05 a.m.: A ship has left the Ukrainian port of Mariupol for the first time since Russia took the city and is headed east to Russia, Interfax quoted the Russian-backed separatist leader of the Ukrainian breakaway region of Donetsk as saying on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

A spokesperson for the port said last week that the ship would be loading 2,700 tons of metal in Mariupol before traveling east to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Ukraine said the shipment of metal to Russia from Mariupol amounted to looting.

1 a.m.: Japanese industry minister said on Tuesday that his country will not leave the Sakhalin 2 liquefied natural gas (LNG) project even if asked to leave, Reuters reported.

The land for the project is Russia’s but the plant is owned by the Japanese government and companies, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda told a parliamentary committee.

12:30 a.m.: Moscow backed separatist leader said Tuesday that Russian forces had not advanced as rapidly as they had hoped in the battle for Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost city still in Ukraine’s hands, Reuters reported citing state-run TASS news agency.

As the Russian offensive continued across Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the European Union agreed to ban most imports of Russian oil, a move intended to blow a hole in the Kremlin’s war finances.

12:15 a.m.: Russian troops continue to battle Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country, according to The Associated Press.

12:01 a.m.: European Union leaders agreed late Monday to ban two-thirds of Russian oil imports as part of a compromise deal to increase pressure on Russia while accounting for the economic effects on some EU nations that are more reliant on Russian oil supplies. The embargo cuts off Russian oil delivered by sea, while exempting oil imported through pipelines.

Landlocked Hungary had threatened to oppose restrictions on oil imports, a move that would have scuttled the effort that requires consensus of all EU members. European Council President Charles Michel said he expects EU ambassadors to formally endorse the embargo, which is part of a larger sanctions package, on Wednesday.

Combined with pledges from countries such as Germany to phase out their Russian oil imports, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement will “effectively cut around 90% of oil imports from Russia to the EU by the end of the year.”

Other parts of the sanction package include assets freezes and travel bans on individuals, and excluding Russia’s biggest banks, Sberbank, from the SWIFT global financial transfer system. The EU is also barring three Russian state-owned broadcasters from distributing content in EU countries. EU leaders also agreed to provide Ukraine with $9.7 billion in assistance for the country’s economy and reconstruction efforts.

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