Ukraine: Russia amps up pressure in Donbas and confirms capture of key town — as it happened | News | DW | 28.05.2022

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Ukraine: Russia amps up pressure in Donbas and confirms capture of key town — as it happened

Russia has confirmed the capture of the strategic town of Lyman after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed resistance in the Donbas region.

Soldiers looks at the smoke coming from the oil refinery of Lysychans k — a city in the Luhansk region

Russian forces are also closing in on two other key cities, Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk, which have been the site of heavy fighting in recent days

  • Russia confirms seizure of key town of Lyman
  • Germany's Scholz, France's Macron talk to Russia's Putin
  • US president says Russia trying to eliminate Ukrainian culture
  • Zelenskyy vows resistance to Russian assault on Donbas

This live updates article has been closed. For the latest developments in Ukraine, please click here. 

Analyst: Capturing Lyman 'opens the way' towards Sloviansk for Russians

Andras Racz, an expert on Russian defense and security police at the German Council on Foreign Relations think tank, told DW that seizing Lyman is a strategically important step for Russia as it seeks to take control of all of Ukraine's Luhansk region. 

Racz said Russia now held "approximately 95%" of Luhansk. 

"And the fall of Lyman, a crucial railway hub, unfortunately, seems to open the Russians' way to advance towards Sloviansk and other key cities of the Donbas region," Racz said. 

Although Racz said that Ukraine's retreat had been orderly and that its forces were not on the brink of collapse, he cautioned "the situation there is getting increasingly critical." 

Racz said that taking control of Luhansk and Donetsk in their entirety "might enable Russian President Vladimir Putin to claim some kind of victory. Because anyway, the whole war has started [with] Russia recognizing the independence of the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk Republics." 

Racz said he believed Putin would not be ready for negotiations with Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy until more battlefield developments swung his way.

 

Putin scraps age limit for military recruits

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ratified a bill that scraps the age limit for the Russian army to contract soldiers, in a move that might show the strain on the country's military.

Previously, Russians signing their first voluntary contract with the military had to be under 40, and foreigners under 30.

The new law, which was passed by parliament days ago, allows individuals up to 50 years of age to sign up. They can then serve until the legal retirement age, which is 65 for men and 60 for women.

A note accompanying the draft bill said that "highly professional specialists" were needed to operate high-precision weapons and equipment, and that such specialists might only acquire the necessary skills when they reach their early- or mid-40s.

Exiled businessman Khodorkovsky called on West to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons

Former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky said Western leaders were afraid of Russia's Vladimir Putin and were mistaken to believe they were not already in a kind of war. 

"That is why they also believe that sending in certain weapons can lead to an escalation or make them a party to war," Khodorkovsky said, according to the German-language article.

Russia steps up battle for eastern Ukraine

Khodorkovsky decried this attitude as "very stupid," saying that Putin already views Western politicians and countries as being at war with Russia. He also said Ukraine should receive heavy weapons.

"If the Ukrainians are not supplied with the weapons they are asking for, there will soon be fighting around Kyiv again," he told Germany's daily Bild.

Pro-Russian officials in Kherson region close off Ukrainian-held territory

Officials controlling the Russian-occupied city of Kherson and the surrounding area closed off access to Ukrainian-controlled territory for refugees.

"The border crossing in the direction of the Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions is extremely dangerous on account of systematic bombardment by Ukrainian fighters," the deputy head of the pro-Russian military administration, Kirill Stremoussov, said.

The eastern Ukrainian city has been under Russian control since early March.

Stremoussov offered refugees alternative routes through Crimea or via the city of Zaporizhzhia. Both the peninsula and the city of Zaporizhzhia are controlled by Russia.

Germany's Scholz, France's Macron urge Russia's Putin to talk to Zelenskyy

The leaders of France and Germany called for an immediate ceasefire in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two Western leaders also urged Putin to hold "direct, serious negotiations" with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, German officials said.

In turn, Putin said Moscow was ready to resume dialogue with Kyiv. At the same time, he warned Macron and Scholz that arms supplies to Ukraine were "dangerous" and could further destabilize the situation and escalate the humanitarian crisis.

The topic of grain exports also came up during the 80-minute phone call, with Putin saying that issues around the supply of grain stemmed from "erroneous economic and financial policies of Western countries."

Together, Russia and Ukraine produce 30% of the world's grain supply, but the war and the economic sanctions have disrupted the sales of fertilizer, wheat, and other commodities.

Talking to Scholz and Macron, the Kremlin said that Russia was "ready to help" with exporting grain, "including the export of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports."

"An increase in the supply of Russian fertilizers and agricultural products will also help reduce tensions on the global food market, which, of course, will require the removal of the relevant sanctions," the Kremlin said.

According to the French presidency, Macron and Scholz also urged Putin to release the Ukrainians captured at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol after a lengthy siege.

Ex-President Poroshenko says he was blocked from leaving Ukraine

Petro Poroshenko, the former president of Ukraine and the leader of the country's second biggest party, said on Saturday that he had been blocked from leaving the country while on his way to take part in a NATO parliamentary assembly meeting.

Poroshenko accused President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government of violating a so-called political ceasefire that has been in place since Russia invaded.

"There is a risk that by this decision, the authorities have broken the 'political ceasefire' in place during the war... which one of the pillars of national unity in the face of Russian aggression," his office said.

Zelenskyy banned several pro-Russian parties at the beginning of the war and allowed others to continue with the understanding that domestic disagreements would be put on hold.

Poroshenko was en route to Lithuania to meet President Gitanas Nauseda ahead of the NATO meeting, for which he had been given official permission to travel.

Ukraine military admits setback in key Donbas town, as Russia confirms seizure

The Russian military confirmed on Saturday the capture of the town of Lyman in the eastern Donbas region. The confirmation comes a day after pro-Russian separatists had on Friday claimed full control of the strategically important town.

"Through the joint action of units of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Russian Armed Forces, the town of Krasny Liman was completely liberated from Ukrainian nationalists," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Saturday, using the old Soviet name of Krasny Liman to refer to the town.

The Ukrainian army said on Saturday that it had faced heavy setbacks in the battle to maintain control over Lyman.

Ukraine's General Staff said that the Russian side was "trying to establish itself in the Lyman area" and was now attacking the villages of Ozerne and Dibrova, south of the town, with rocket launchers and grenades.

Lyman holds strategic importance due to its rail and road connections to the east and southwest of the region.

A satellite image shows closer view of destroyed homes, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Lyman. DW cannot independently verify the image.

A satellite image shows a view of damaged homes in the Ukrainian town of Lyman

Russian ship loads metal from occupied city of Mariupol

A Russian ship has entered the occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and begun to load metal cargo, the Russian TASS news agency said on Saturday.

The ship is set to transport some 2,700 tons of metal 160 kilometers (100 miles) east to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Monday a port spokesperson told TASS.

It was not clear where the metal had been produced. Mariupol is home to the Azovstal steelworks that made headlines for weeks while Ukrainian civilians and soldiers took refuge there against a siege from Russian forces.

Ukraine's Human Rights Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova said the move equated to looting, writing on Telegram that "looting in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine continues."

"Following the theft of Ukrainian grain, the occupiers resorted to exporting metal products from Mariupol," she said.

The Azovstal iron and steelworks in Mariupol following attacks by Russian forces

Ukrainian soldeirs held out in the Azovstal plant for weeks while under siege

Europol warns of weapons falling into the wrong hands after the war

The European police agency Europol is planning to launch an international working group to prevent criminals from getting hold of the masses of weapons that have been sent to Ukraine, once the war is over.

"At some point the war will be over. We want to avoid a situation like the one that followed the war in the Balkans 30 years ago," Europol Director Catherine De Bolle told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, referencing the wars that broke out after the collapse of Yugoslavia.

"The weapons from this war are still being used by criminal groups today," she added.

Europol aims to keep track of journeys made by terrorist and violent extremist groups to and from Ukraine.

"The situation is highly dynamic and fragmented and we're receiving different figures from our European partners," De Bolle said. People traveling to Ukraine have different experiences and ideologies. But she said that even those who become disillusioned by the violence they witness there will be under observation.

What's behind eastern Germans' empathy for Russia?

For decades, many in former East Germany felt closer to Russia than their western compatriots. Russian culture was at least as present in the East as US culture was present in West Germany.

But now, opposition to Russia's war on Ukraine now outweighs historical grievances about the West.

DW's Ben Knight went to the eastern city of Erfurt to see how officials and members of the local German-Russian Friendship Society are approaching the conflict. Click here to read more on the story.

Starting over: A Ukrainian family in Berlin

Russia likely pushing to cross Siverskyi Donets River, UK intelligence says

The UK's military intelligence said in its daily update on Saturday that the Russian focus on the cities of Lyman and Severodonetsk in the Donetsk Oblast was "likely a preliminary operation for the next stage of Russia's Donbas offensive."

It predicted that Russian troops will try to cross the Siverskyi Donets River in order to advance deeper into the Donetsk Oblast.

UK intelligence added that a Russian conquest of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, along with a potential referendum by Russian-backed separatists to join Russia, "would highly likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantive political achievement and be portrayed to the Russian people as justifying the invasion."

Russian communist official expresses rare criticism of war

A legislative deputy from Russia's Communist Party in the far east city of the country called for an end to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in a rare show of open opposition to the central government.

"We understand that if our country doesn't stop the military operation, we'll have more orphans in our country," Leonid Vasyukevich said during the Primorsk Legislative Assembly in the pacific port city of Vladivostok.

His comments were shared over Telegram and received support from another deputy, but were denounced by the head of the local Communist faction who promised to take "the toughest measures" against the two deputies.

The Russian Communist Party is the second-biggest party in the Duma, but has often supported President Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party.

Thousands of teachers needed in Germany to support Ukrainian students

Germany will need to hire tens of thousands of new teachers to boost the country's capacity after around 242,000 school-aged children fled to Germany from Ukraine, according to a study from the German Institute for Economic Research (IW) published by the Welt am Sonntag newspaper on Saturday.

In order to maintain the current teacher-student ratio, Germany would need 13,500 extra teaching staff. Teaching support for welcome classes, based on 15 students per class, would see that number rise to 20,200.

The study said the total number of necessary full-time teaching staff could rise to 28,900 as more Ukrainian children enter the country.

German states have already started to call on retired teachers to help fill in. The study said that so far 84 teachers in the city-state of Hamburg and 60 in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg had already come out of retirement to help meet the increased demand on schools.

Urgent demining works at lake outside Kyiv ahead of bathing season

Ukrainian deminers are racing against time to collect unexploded shells and missiles from Horenka on the fringes of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

In the past week, the team found 10 heavy projectiles, the remains of heavy fighting in this area which was the frontline in the early days of the war.

None exploded due to the "soft landing" on the water, Serhii Reva, head of the pyrotechnical unit of the State Rescue Service of Ukraine, told the French news agency AFP.

"If an item falls into water, it does not explode because it's not hitting something very hard," he said.

Reva said with summer approaching, picnickers will flock here, and "they will start diving" despite being warned of the risks.

Trump says US aid to Ukraine could have been spent at home

Former President Donald Trump said if the US could donate money to Ukraine, it should be able to improve the security of its own schools.

"This is not a matter of money. This is a matter of will. If the United States has $40 billion to send to Ukraine, we can do this," he told a meeting of the National Rifle Association.

Former president Donald Trump speaks during the Leadership Forum at the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting

Trump, along with other US Republicans, have expressed skepticism towards US aid to Ukraine amid problems at home

There was large bipartisan support for the nearly $40 billion (€37 billion) in military aid the US Congress approved earlier this month, but Trump said the money would have been better spent at home.

"Before we nation-build the rest of the world, we should be building safe schools for our own children in our own nation," Trump told a crowd just days after a school shooting in the Texan city of Uvalde.

He also claimed the war in Ukraine would have never happened if he was still president.

"What did they have left, with all the shooting, all the rockets, every city is being leveled, what are they going to have, there is no win here for anybody," he said.

Zelenskyy defiant over Russian advance in Donbas

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy struck a defiant tone in his nightly video address on Friday, insisting "Donbas will be Ukrainian."

"If the occupiers think that Lyman or Severodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong,'' he said.

Russian forces captured the eastern city of Lyman, the Donetsk region's large railway hub on Friday.

Severodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk told the Associated Press news agency that "the city is being systematically destroyed — 90% of the buildings in the city are damaged.''

According to the US-based Institute for the Study of War, Russian forces continued steady advances around Severodonetsk and would likely encircle the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area in the coming days completely.

"We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves," Luhansk regional Governor Serhiy Haidai said. "However, it is possible that in order not to be surrounded we will have to retreat."

Biden says Putin trying to 'wipe out' Ukrainian identity

US President Biden accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of working to eradicate Ukrainian identity. 

"Not only is he trying to take over Ukraine, he's literally trying to wipe out the culture and identity of the Ukrainian people. Attacking schools, nurseries, hospitals, museums, with no other purpose than to eliminate a culture," he said.

Biden was speaking at the US Naval Academy. He told 1,200 graduating cadets that they are entering military service at a time of many global challenges and they will be charged with helping "preserve stability in an uncertain world."

Summary of Friday's events in the war in Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said while Ukraine was not particularly keen on speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin, talks would be necessary to end the war.

"What do we want from this meeting... We want our lives back... We want to reclaim the life of a sovereign country within its own territory," Zelenskyy said, but added that Moscow did not seem to be ready for serious peace talks.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said Russian leader Vladimir Putin sent "positive signals" about the prospect of an exchange of Russian and Ukrainian prisoners. "If he is really ready to negotiate is a complex question," Nehammer said.

The war caused the Moscow-backed branch of Ukraine's Orthodox Church to sever ties with Russia, in a historic move against the Russian spiritual authorities. A church council that focused on Russia's "aggression" condemned the pro-war stance of Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church and declared "full independence."

Moscow-backed separatists on Friday claimed on Telegram to have captured the strategic eastern Ukrainian town of Lyman. The town is a transport hub that links up with the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.

Naftogaz, Ukraine's state gas firm, has called on Germany to halt or cut back gas flow being channeled through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Makogon said Ukraine could provide an alternate transport route to the pipeline in the Baltic Sea.

The UN says almost 3 million Ukrainian refugees out of more than 6.6 million have made their way to other European states after having fled the country.

According to UNHCR figures, most have made their way to Germany, Czech Republic and Italy. Of the 6.5 million who have fled, 3.5 million traveled west to Poland.

You can revisit our live updates from May 27 here.

ab, lo/wd, rs (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)