Russia-Ukraine war live updates: Russians push to encircle Ukrainian troops, Pentagon says

Russia-Ukraine war live updates: Russians push to encircle Ukrainian troops, Pentagon says

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on May 26 that the war in Ukraine, which has continued for more than three months, has felt like “one long, long day, nonstop.” (Video: Reuters)Updated May 26, 2022 at 7:48 p.m. EDT|Published

May 26, 2022 at 2:45 a.m. EDT

Russians are attempting to surround Ukrainian forces defending key towns — and appear to have seized the northeastern part of Severodonetsk — as they make slow progress in eastern Ukraine, the Pentagon said Thursday.

A senior U.S. defense official said Russian forces, which have recently scaled down ambitions and shifted to smaller objectives, are working on an “encirclement effort” meant to cut Ukrainian forces off from any reinforcement, including from additional supplies of Western weapons. As attacks continues to ravage the eastern Donbas region, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar warned Thursday that “fighting has reached its maximum intensity.”

Meanwhile, Russia said it will open ports on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov to let foreign ships through, but that Western governments must cancel their sanctions for exports of Ukrainian grain to resume. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has accused Russia of “weaponizing hunger” and said Thursday that sanctions should not be lifted, as Russian blockades of seaports in Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, fuel fears of a global food crisis.

Here’s what else to know

The Pentagon estimates that as the war enters its fourth month, Russian forces have lost about 1,000 tanks, which are either destroyed or inoperable; about 350 artillery pieces; three dozen fighter-bomber aircraft; and more than 50 helicopters.Russia’s economy is growing dependent on poor substitutes under the weight of Western sanctions, with shortages stirring memories from the Soviet Union.The Kremlin announced a plan to raise Russia’s pension and minimum wage by 10 percent to tackle rising living costs. Putin also noted that the ruble has strengthened significantly against the dollar in recent months.As Finland looks to join NATO, Prime Minister Sanna Marin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv and visited the capital’s destroyed suburbs.The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel.WHO members condemn Russia, warn its voting rights could be strippedReturn to menu

The World Health Assembly on Thursday voted in favor of a resolution that condemned Russian attacks on the health-care system in Ukraine, casting doubt on the success of a parallel proposal presented by Moscow that Kyiv’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva had called a “subterfuge” that presented a “twisted alternative reality” of the conflict.

Ukraine’s successful resolution, which was backed by member states 88-12 with 53 abstentions, raises the possibility that Russia could be suspended from the assembly if attacks on hospitals and clinics continue — cutting Moscow out of decision-making for the World Health Organization, the top global health body.

A counterproposal put forward by Russia and Syria, which had suggested Kyiv bears the blame for civilian deaths, was to be voted on immediately afterward. Ukrainian diplomats have accused Russia of copying the language that condemned an “ongoing health emergency in and around Ukraine” while stripping any language that said Russia was to blame.

White House says no talks on lifting sanctions to allow grain exportsReturn to menu

When asked whether the United States is discussing sanctions relief in exchange for Russia easing its blockade on grain exports, the White House said no such conversations are taking place.

“This is Russia who is actively blocking the export of food from Ukrainian ports and is increasing world hunger. This is on them,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a news briefing on Thursday.

Russia’s naval blockade has stopped maritime trade at Ukrainian ports, according to recently declassified U.S. intelligence. The halting of grain exports has raised worries of a growing food security crisis, with Western officials accusing Moscow of using food as a method of blackmail.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Ukrainian ships carrying grain would not be allowed to leave until nations lift sanctions on Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has attributed the food crisis to the sanctions.

Saying she wanted to clarify something that was the “subject of Russian disinformation,” Jean-Pierre said sanctions imposed by the United States and its partners are not preventing the export of Ukrainian or Russian agriculture goods, including food and fertilizer. The sanctions are also not preventing the ordinary transactions related to these exports, such as banking or shipping, she added.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said earlier that Putin had agreed in principle to liberate several million tons of Ukrainian wheat sitting at Black Sea seaports.

Analysis: Russians look to Iran for lessons on life under long-term sanctions Return to menu

Independent Russian journalist Alexey Pivovarov wondered what life under years of economic sanctions could come to look like. So he went to Iran to find out.

He found sky-high inflation, a bewildering system of multiple exchange rates, an expansive black market and entrepreneurs developing apps and alternatives for nearly everything. The resulting 80-minute episode for his Russian YouTube channel, Redaktsiya, posted last month, racking up more than 8.3 million views.

It’s not hard to see why Russians are interested: In a matter of months, Russia has outstripped Iran as the country under the most sanctions. Moscow appears to be on track to keep that title, barring any radical change in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

“The question is not whether one can survive under sanctions for long. Of course, one can!” Pivovarov told his Russian-speaking audience. “The main question is, ‘What for?’”

At the United Nations, what about the war in Ukraine?Return to menu

When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his invasion of Ukraine in February, diplomats gathered at the U.N. Security Council responded by evoking lofty principles of global order and solemnly urging him to stand down.

Three months after Russia’s assault began, thousands of Ukrainians have been killed and millions more forced from their homes. As Russian forces concentrate their fighting power on the country’s east, there are few signs that Putin will soon abandon his goal of controlling much of Ukraine.

Diplomatic observers believe the failure of the United Nations, with its mandate to keep the global peace, to do more to halt the fighting in Ukraine is rooted in rules embedded at the body’s founding. Decades ago, global powers emerging victorious from World War II endowed the Security Council with the power to issue binding decisions while also granting its five permanent members — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and the Soviet Union, succeeded by the Russian Federation in 1991 — the power to block such moves.

“The U.N. is at one level the great leveler, where all states are sovereign equals,” said Richard Gowan, U.N. director at the International Crisis Group. When it comes to conflicts in Afghanistan or Somalia, where the interests of the United Nations’ biggest players don’t collide, Gowan said, the Security Council has used its heft to make a difference. “But when it comes to a big-power conflict like this, the structure of the U.N. always means that it’s going to be a place for theater rather than for serious diplomacy,” he said.

Outgunned, undermanned: Ukrainian volunteers in the east feel abandoned Return to menu

DRUZHKIVKA, Ukraine — Stuck in their trenches, the Ukrainian volunteers lived off a potato per day as Russian forces pounded them with artillery and Grad rockets on a key eastern front line. Outnumbered, untrained and clutching only light weapons, the men prayed for the barrage to end — and for their own tanks to stop targeting the Russians.

“They [Russians] already know where we are, and when the Ukrainian tank shoots from our side it gives away our position,” said Serhi Lapko, their company commander, recalling the recent battle. “And they start firing back with everything — Grads, mortars.”

“And you just pray to survive.”

Putin agreed in principle to free wheat from blocked seaports, Italian PM saysReturn to menu

ROME — Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in principle during a phone call to liberate several million tons of Ukrainian wheat that are sitting in Black Sea seaports.

The Italian premier said during a later news conference that he decided to make the call “because of the gravity of a humanitarian crisis, which can strike at the world’s poorest. … Millions and millions of lives are at stake.” Draghi said he was hurrying to fend off the risk that the wheat could rot.

According to Draghi, Putin blames Ukraine for blocking its own seaports by laying floating mines, something that Draghi attributed to the Ukrainians’ efforts to prevent Russian warships from attacking.

The proposal, as Draghi described it to the Italian media, involves a collaboration between Russia and Ukraine, “on the one hand on demining, and on the other on guaranteeing” that no attacks are launched while the operation is being carried out.

Draghi said he would soon call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and see whether he, too, would agree to it.

A Kremlin statement, as quoted by Russian outlet Tass, framed the exchange between the two leaders only as “steps taken to ensure the safety of navigation, ‘including the daily opening of humanitarian corridors for the exit of civilian ships from the ports of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, which is hindered by the Ukrainian side.’ ”

Putin, said Draghi, attributes the food crisis to sanctions, because of Russia not being allowed to export its wheat grains, and asked that they should be lifted to allow for it. “Of course,” Draghi said, “sanctions are there because Russia attacked Ukraine.”

“This may very well be a fruitless endeavor,” Draghi said, “but there has been an actual willingness to go down this road.”

British university criticized for rejecting Russian studentReturn to menu

Britain’s University of West London came under fire for rejecting the application of a Russian student, having cited the “situation in Ukraine” for its decision.

Elena Ledneva, 33, applied to study hospitality at the university last month, after meeting course leaders, the Times of London reported. She said she was “shocked” to receive an email which said staff would “not be in a position to process the application further” because of the conflict.

The email, which was sent May 24, said the decision was “per university policy.” It sparked anger on social media, where users said the incident reflected growing anti-Russian sentiment known as Russophobia amid the invasion of Ukraine.

The university has since apologized for what it called an “error” and claimed Ledneva’s application is still being handled by staff.

The university told The Washington Post that “an email declining an application was sent in error to a prospective student and due to an internal miscommunication.” It did not elaborate further.

Ledneva, who said she does not support the invasion, told British media that she is no longer sure she wants to study at the university — should she receive an offer.

Annabelle Timsit contributed to this report.

Macron urges Erdogan to respect ‘sovereign choice’ of Sweden, Finland Return to menu

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke on the phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the war in Ukraine and the NATO bids by Sweden and Finland, which Turkey is resisting.

According to a statement from Macron’s office, the French leader asked his Turkish counterpart to respect “the sovereign choice” of Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance — a decision “resulting from a democratic process and in response to changes in their security environment.”

Macron said he hoped the discussions would continue to find a solution quickly,” his office added.

Turkey’s directorate of communications said in a statement after the call: “President Erdogan stressed that Sweden’s and Finland’s links with individuals and so-called organizations controlled by the PKK/YPG terrorist organization didn’t comply with the spirit of alliance at NATO.”

The claim refers to the leader’s objection to Sweden’s granting of asylum to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK — a guerrilla group that has fought a decades-long separatist insurgency in some areas of Turkey.

Erdogan said Turkey wished for “the establishment of a just peace between Russia and Ukraine as soon as possible,” the Turkish statement said, adding that Turkey continued to encourage “dialogue and diplomacy.”

The two leaders also spoke of the urgency needed to restart Ukrainian grain exports, which many countries depend on for food security, the Macron readout said. They discussed different possible solutions and agreed to stay in touch, according to the statement from Macron’s office.

U.S. senators compare treatment of Afghan, Ukrainian refugeesReturn to menu

A group of Democratic senators on Thursday called on the Biden administration to account for what they said was “disparate” treatment of Afghans who have sought to flee their country since the U.S. withdrawal compared with Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

President Biden’s recent creation of a program to ease a pathway to the United States for Ukrainian war refugees cast the administration’s more restrictive policy toward Afghans and others into “stark” relief, Democratic Sens. Edward J. Markey (Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) wrote in an open letter to Biden and the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday.

“While the U.S. response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis has been admirable, it is unfortunate that this welcoming and accommodating model is not the standard for all humanitarian crises, wherever they occur, whether in Haiti, throughout Central America, in Africa, the Pacific, and elsewhere,” the senators wrote.

Russians pushing to encircle Ukrainian troops, Pentagon saysReturn to menu

Russian troops have made slow, grinding progress in eastern Ukraine in their attempt to entrap Ukrainian forces defending key towns, the Pentagon said Thursday, as it tabulated estimated Russian combat losses.

The northeastern part of Severodonetsk, a strategic city in the region, appears to have been seized by Russian forces in the area, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters. It is among other modest gains in the region as Russian commanders scale down their ambitions and mass to attack smaller objectives.

Collectively, the defense official said, the strategy amounts to “an encirclement effort” meant to cut off Ukrainian forces from reinforcement and resupply of Western weapons. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon.

The war, entering its fourth month, has been a bloody endeavor for the Russians, the official said. Their forces have lost about 1,000 tanks, either destroyed or inoperable; about 350 artillery pieces; three dozen fighter-bomber aircraft; and more than 50 helicopters, according to Pentagon estimates.

More than 80 percent of Russia’s go-to fighting units — battalion tactical groups — have been committed to the war effort, according to the official, who stressed that Russian forces “still have a significant amount of their capability” left to fight. Ukrainian defense officials claim to have taken nearly 30,000 Russian troops out of the fight. The Pentagon has declined to provide an estimate of casualty figures.

Ukrainian fighters take to electric bikes in the war against RussiaReturn to menu

During World War II, motorcycles were widely used by militaries to conduct reconnaissance missions. Japanese forces took to pedal-powered bicycles during the conflict’s Malayan campaign, using them to outmaneuver British troops moving more slowly on foot — in what became known as the “Bicycle Blitzkrieg.”

Now, Ukrainian fighters are using electric bikes in the battle against Russia, mostly in support of reconnaissance missions, demining operations and medical deliveries, according to one of the Ukrainian e-bike makers involved. They’ve reportedly also been used for carrying out sniper attacks. The bikes have a top speed of 55 miles per hour and are relatively silent — helping their riders evade Russian fire.

Ukrainian e-bike firm Eleek initially gave a few bikes to the military when the war began, according to manager Roman Kulchytskyi. Soon after, they began to mass-produce bikes — kitted out in military green, with a small Ukrainian flag on the rear wheel — for Ukraine’s fighters.

“When the war started, we were shocked at first. … Everyone was worried and thought about what to do,” Kulchytskyi told The Washington Post. “But we all rallied.”

Ukrainian official warns of heightened fighting; shelling of Kharkiv resumesReturn to menu

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said that more than 90 days into the war, the situation “remains difficult and shows signs of further aggravation” — with fighting reaching its highest intensity.

“The enemy has deployed all [its] forces and means to capture territory and encircle our troops,” Hanna Malyar wrote in a post on Facebook, adding that there is an “extremely difficult and long stage ahead of us in the struggle for the complete liberation of our territories within internationally-recognized borders.”

The sober assessment of this stage of the war comes as local officials describe continued shelling in parts of Ukraine.

Oleh Synyehubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, said Thursday that multiple people were killed following shelling there. He urged residents of the area to “stay sheltered” and noted that while information was still preliminary, at least four people had died and several were injured. In a separate post, Nataliia Popova, the adviser to the head of the regional council, said at least five had been killed.

Synyehubov wrote, “Do not leave [your] places of shelter!”

The city’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, also urged residents to seek shelter on Thursday, warning that it is “loud and dangerous in Kharkiv today.”

Finnish prime minister visits Kyiv, meets with ZelenskyReturn to menu

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin visited Kyiv on Thursday, making stops in the destroyed suburbs of the capital and holding talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Ukrainian president’s office shared photos of the meeting, thanking Marin for her support and for Finland’s military assistance. She made the trip as her country, along with Sweden, looks to join NATO, a major shift for the two Nordic nations, triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

During the visit Zelensky thanked Finland for its various forms of support, and Marin discussed a push to prepare further humanitarian and financial aid for Ukraine.

After talks about Turkey’s objections to Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO applications, a senior Turkish official said Wednesday that the meeting yielded “positive” signs but no immediate breakthrough.

Ukrainian media reported that the Finnish prime minister also went to Irpin and Bucha, just northwest of Kyiv, where investigators have accused Russian forces of torturing civilians and carrying out summary executions before their retreat. Moscow has dismissed the accusations.

Marin joins a list of high-profile American and European officials who have traveled to the Ukrainian capital during the war, including European Council President Charles Michel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Paulina Firozi contributed to this report.

Kyiv mayor says war has felt like ‘one long, long day, nonstop’Return to menu

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on May 26 that the war in Ukraine, which has continued for more than three months, has felt like “one long, long day, nonstop.” (Video: Reuters)Vitali Klitschko, a former champion boxer turned mayor of Kyiv, has thanked the leaders of other cities for offering their support for rebuilding the capital, adding that hundreds of buildings there have been destroyed.

Klitschko added that it was difficult to convey, in a peaceful setting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, just how intense and difficult the conflict was for residents of Kyiv, who could lose their homes, or their friends and relatives, in just “one moment.” The war of the last three months felt like “one long, long day, nonstop,” he added.

While people have been returning to Kyiv, it is not possible to guarantee anyone’s safety in the capital given the security situation, he said.

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