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Zelenskiy thanks visiting US senators and says Donbas situation is ‘very difficult’ – as it happened

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Sat 14 May 2022 19.04 EDTFirst published on Sat 14 May 2022 00.46 EDT
Zelenskiy: Ukraine retakes more ground as Russia suffers 'worst aviation losses in decades' – video

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Zelenskiy thanks visiting US senators, warns Donbas situation 'very difficult'

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday thanked a slew of US politicians for coming to Kyiv, and warned that the situation in the eastern Donbas region, under an onslaught from the Russian military, “remains very difficult”.

Zelenskiy was speaking in a series of Instagram videos released on the 80th day of Russia’s invasion.

The visit by US Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and a small group of Republican senators, the latest in a growing list of US politicians coming to the Ukraine capital, was a powerful signal of bipartisan support for his country, he said.

Zelenskiy welcomes Mitch McConnell and US delegation to Kyiv – video

He added that his discussions with McConnell, and a delegation including Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas, covered a range of topics, including repeating his call for Russia to be designated a terrorist state:

We discussed many areas of support for our state, including in defence and finance, as well as strengthening sanctions against Russia.

Earlier, he praised the politicians directly for their visit:

Thank you for your leadership in helping us in our struggle not only for our country, but also for democratic values and freedoms. We really appreciate it.

Russia is committing genocide against the Ukrainian people. [Russian president Vladimir Putin] commits war crimes that horrify the whole world – torture, mass executions, rape. Europe has not seen such crimes since world war two.

Their trip came as a $40bn US military, economic and humanitarian aid package remains stalled in the Senate over demands issued by the Kentucky senator Rand Paul for a watchdog to track the spending.

Moscow’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, told Russian TV on Saturday that closer American cooperation with Ukraine was “extremely dangerous”, Reuters reported:

The US is getting dragged ever deeper into a conflict with the most unpredictable consequences for relations between the two nuclear powers.

Meanwhile, in a Saturday night Instagram post, Zelenskiy blasted Russia’s continued assault on the Donbas region as “insane”:

The situation in Donbas remains very difficult. Russian troops are still trying to show at least some victory. On the 80th day of the full-scale invasion, it looks especially insane, but they do not stop all these efforts.

I am grateful to everyone who holds the line and brings closer to Donbas, Pryazovia and Kherson the same thing that is happening now in the Kharkiv region. Step by step we are forcing the occupiers to leave our land. We will make them leave the Ukrainian sea as well.

This blog is now closed but our live coverage will resume again in a few hours. Until then you can catch up with all our stories on the war here.

Mariupol evacuation convoy reaches safety

A large convoy of hundreds of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday night after waiting days for Russian troops to allow them to leave, Reuters reports.

Mariupol, now mostly Russian-controlled, has been flattened during the 80-day-old war. Ukraine has gradually been evacuating civilians from the devastated city for more than two months.

Ukrainian refugees from Mariupol hug after they arrive at humanitarian aid centre in Zaporizhzhia.
Ukrainian refugees from Mariupol hug after they arrive at humanitarian aid centre in Zaporizhzhia. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Refugees first had to get out of Mariupol and then somehow make their way to Berdyansk – 50 miles further west along the coast – and other settlements before the 125-mile drive northwest to Zaporizhzhia.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed. A relative using “secret detours” managed to get him out of Mariupol to Berdyansk.

“We barely made it, there were lots of elderly people among us. The trip was devastating. But it was worth it,” he said after the convoy arrived in the dark.

An aide to Mariupol’s mayor had earlier said the convoy numbered between 500 to 1,000 cars, representing the largest single evacuation from the city since Russia’s 24 February invasion.

Here’s more of Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s comments from his Instagram post tonight recalling his earlier meeting with US politicians, including the Senate minority speaker Mitch McConnell.

Zelenskiy said he was especially grateful for Joe Biden signing into law this week an update to the second world war era Lend-Lease act, which allows for faster production and delivery by the US of weapons and munitions to allies engaged in conflicts it is not itself a direct participant:

I believe that this visit once again demonstrates the strength of bipartisan support for our state, the strength of ties between the Ukrainian and American nations.

I expressed gratitude for the historic decision to renew the Lend-Lease program. I called for the official recognition of Russia as a terrorist state.

More and more countries around the world are realizing that Russia, by blocking the Black Sea for us and continuing this war, puts dozens of other countries at risk of a price crisis in the food market and even famine.

This is another incentive for our anti-war coalition to act more decisively together.

Russia’s ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov says his country’s diplomats in Washington DC are being threatened with violence and harassed by US intelligence services, Reuters is reporting, citing the Tass news agency of Russia.

Anatoly Antonov.
Anatoly Antonov. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Antonov told Russian TV on Saturday that face-to-face meetings with US officials ended on 24 February, the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and that his staff were facing an impossible situation:

It’s like a besieged fortress. Basically, our embassy is operating in a hostile environment. Embassy employees are receiving threats, including threats of physical violence.

Agents from US security services are hanging around outside the Russian embassy, handing out CIA and FBI phone numbers, which can be called to establish contact.

Reuters said the CIA, the FBI, the office of the director of national intelligence and the US state department did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Russia’s ambassador to Poland, Sergey Andreev, was pelted in red paint by war protestors at a VE day commemoration in Warsaw on Monday.

Reuters notes that Russia and the US were already in dispute over the size and functioning of their respective diplomatic missions before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Moscow expelled a number of US diplomats in March after Washington said it was kicking out 12 Russian diplomats at the country’s UN mission in New York.

Zelenskiy thanks visiting US senators, warns Donbas situation 'very difficult'

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday thanked a slew of US politicians for coming to Kyiv, and warned that the situation in the eastern Donbas region, under an onslaught from the Russian military, “remains very difficult”.

Zelenskiy was speaking in a series of Instagram videos released on the 80th day of Russia’s invasion.

The visit by US Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and a small group of Republican senators, the latest in a growing list of US politicians coming to the Ukraine capital, was a powerful signal of bipartisan support for his country, he said.

Zelenskiy welcomes Mitch McConnell and US delegation to Kyiv – video

He added that his discussions with McConnell, and a delegation including Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas, covered a range of topics, including repeating his call for Russia to be designated a terrorist state:

We discussed many areas of support for our state, including in defence and finance, as well as strengthening sanctions against Russia.

Earlier, he praised the politicians directly for their visit:

Thank you for your leadership in helping us in our struggle not only for our country, but also for democratic values and freedoms. We really appreciate it.

Russia is committing genocide against the Ukrainian people. [Russian president Vladimir Putin] commits war crimes that horrify the whole world – torture, mass executions, rape. Europe has not seen such crimes since world war two.

Their trip came as a $40bn US military, economic and humanitarian aid package remains stalled in the Senate over demands issued by the Kentucky senator Rand Paul for a watchdog to track the spending.

Moscow’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, told Russian TV on Saturday that closer American cooperation with Ukraine was “extremely dangerous”, Reuters reported:

The US is getting dragged ever deeper into a conflict with the most unpredictable consequences for relations between the two nuclear powers.

Meanwhile, in a Saturday night Instagram post, Zelenskiy blasted Russia’s continued assault on the Donbas region as “insane”:

The situation in Donbas remains very difficult. Russian troops are still trying to show at least some victory. On the 80th day of the full-scale invasion, it looks especially insane, but they do not stop all these efforts.

I am grateful to everyone who holds the line and brings closer to Donbas, Pryazovia and Kherson the same thing that is happening now in the Kharkiv region. Step by step we are forcing the occupiers to leave our land. We will make them leave the Ukrainian sea as well.

Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said Saturday that Russia must take responsibility for the damage caused by its invasion of Ukraine, CNN reports.

Annalena Baerbock.
Annalena Baerbock. Photograph: Morris MacMatzen/Getty Images

Baerbock was speaking at the concluding press conference at the G7 meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin, at which the group also warned millions could starve if Russia does not lift its Black Sea blockade of Ukrainian grain exports.

Germany has been one of the most outspoken countries at the summit, with Baerbock slamming Russia’s “illegal war”:

Russia is solely responsible, not only for this war, which is contrary to international law, but also for all this massive damage, which is also massive in Russia itself.

The Canadian foreign minister Melanie Joly said on Saturday that her country could legally use Russian money seized by sanctions to pay for the damages, CNN said. But Baerbock said Europe’s legal framework made it more difficult:

Access to frozen money is legally anything but simple. When we put people on sanctions lists, we have to ... provide explanations for them so that they are also valid before the European court of justice.

That applies all the more to this path, if we were to take it, for which there are some good reasons. It must of course be such that it stands up before our law; we are defending international law.

Read my colleague Daniel Boffey’s report on the G7 summit here:

Summary

It’s midnight on Sunday in Kyiv after the 80th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Here’s what we’ve been following:

  • The US Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, joined the growing list of US politicians making visits to Kyiv. The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed McConnell’s visit as a powerful signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine.
  • Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, told Vladimir Putin Helsinki plans to join Nato. Niinistö delivered the news during a phone call with the Russian leader.
  • In response, Putin said abandoning neutrality would be a mistake and that there are no current threats to Finland’s security. Russia has described Helsinki’s bid to join Nato as a hostile move that “definitely” would represent a threat – to which Moscow will respond.
  • Ukraine says Moscow is planning to hold a referendum, perhaps as early as Sunday, on whether Mariupol wants to become part of Russia. It follows news of a similar poll in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia and allegations from western allies that Russia is planning sham referendums to justify military actions.
  • Russian troops have withdrawn from the Kharkiv city area, its mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said. He said that, “due to the efforts of Kharkiv territorial defence and Ukrainian armed forces, the Russians have withdrawn out far from the city area in the direction of the Russian border”.
  • The war will be over by the end of 2022, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence said. Major general Kyrylo Budanov claimed Moscow was suffering heavy casualties and predicted a turning point by mid-August – adding his belief that “most of the active combat actions will have finished by the end of this year”.
  • Moscow is failing to reach its political aims in Ukraine, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said. The fact Russia has only succeeded in imposing a pro-Russia local leadership in the city of Kherson “highlights the failure of Russia’s invasion to make progress towards its political objectives”, the latest intelligence update said.
  • “Very difficult negotiations” on the next stage of evacuations from Mariupol were ongoing, Zelenskiy said. The city’s last remaining Ukrainian defenders are holed up in the Azovstal steel plant.

Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra made a plea for the city of Mariupol and its besieged Azovstal steel plant at the end of their appearance in the Eurovision 2022 song contest.

The group’s lead singer Oleh Psiuk made the comments at the conclusion of its performance in Turin of the song Stefania, Reuters reports. Ukraine is a heavy favourite to win this year’s competition:

Please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal right now.

In a video address released before the event, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he believed the Kalush Orchestra would win.

Follow our live blog of the Eurovision song contest here:

Russia is denying Ukraine’s claim that it damaged a navy support ship in a missile strike in the Black Sea, Reuters is reporting.

The Russian defence ministry published online photographs it said were taken of the auxiliary vessel Vsevolod Bobrov in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on Saturday.

“It is now clear from the photographs that the ship is not damaged at all,” a statement accompanying the images claimed.

On Thursday, military authorities in Ukraine’s southern Odesa region said its navy had made a direct hit on the Vsevolod Bobrov, setting it alight, and stating Russia had “lost” the 95-metre logistics vessel.

Last month the missile cruiser Moskva, flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, sank after catching fire. Ukraine said it hit the ship with a missile fired from the coast, while Moscow blamed an ammunition explosion.

It emerged earlier this month that the US shared information about the Moskva’s location with Ukraine prior to its sinking.

Here’s a selection of images from Ukraine on Day 80 of Russia’s invasion.

In Irpin:

A boy rides a scooter in a bomb-damaged residential neighbourhood of Irpin, northern Ukraine.
A boy rides a scooter in a bomb-damaged residential neighbourhood of Irpin, northern Ukraine. Photograph: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

In Dnipropetrovsk:

Members of Ukraine’s territorial defence forces fire an anti-tank grenade during a training exercise in Dnipropetrovsk region.
Members of Ukraine’s territorial defence forces fire an anti-tank grenade during a training exercise in Dnipropetrovsk region. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

In Bucha:

A couple sit in a car at a storage area for civilian vehicles damaged and destroyed by Russian attacks in Bucha.
A couple sit in a car at a storage area for civilian vehicles damaged and destroyed by Russian attacks in Bucha. Photograph: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

In Kyiv:

Full moon rises over a sculpture in Independence Square, Kyiv.
Full moon rises over a sculpture in Independence Square, Kyiv. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In Lysychansk:

An unexploded ordnance lies in the ground outside a kindergarten in Lysychansk, eastern Ukraine.
An unexploded ordnance lies in the ground outside a kindergarten in Lysychansk, eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine: Moscow 'planning Mariupol referendum'

Daniel Boffey
Daniel Boffey

Moscow is preparing to hold a referendum in Mariupol on whether the city will join Russia, Ukrainian officials have claimed, following the announcement of a similar poll in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the port city’s mayor, who is operating in exile, said sources among those remaining among its ruins believed a vote on its future was in the making, even as residents were going without food and water.

The ruins left of Mariupol, a sea resort once home to 400,000 people, are largely occupied by Russia, although as many as 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers are holding out in the sprawling Azovstal steelworks by the port in the face of remorseless shelling.

Andryushchenko told the Observer that an announcement of a referendum could come as early as Sunday, although he said there was no evidence yet of polling stations being established:

We have some information that the Russian authorities are preparing a referendum and could even call it tomorrow, but we don’t know yet if this is the case. But we see lots of integration of Mariupol into the Russian system, the education system, the banking system.

South Ossetia leader Anatoly Bibilov had announced on Friday he would hold a referendum on joining Russia on 17 July, claiming “we are coming home” and citing his people’s “historic aspiration” to join Russia.

Moscow’s initial plan to seize the whole of Ukraine failed after they lost the bloody battle of Kyiv. The Kremlin has since focused on securing a swathe of land around the east and south-east of the country.

Read more:

Relatives of wounded Ukrainian soldiers holed up in a besieged steel plant in the port city of Mariupol have been talking with the US news network CNN, saying: “Our children are in hell.”

Earlier today, Turkey proposed carrying out a sea evacuation of hundreds of wounded fighters from the Azovstal plant in the city under Russian control, although Moscow has not yet agreed to the plan.

Speaking with CNN, Stavr Vishnyak, whose son Artem, 21, is among the cut-off Ukrainian troops, called on Turkey and China to facilitate the safe removal of the fighters before it was too late:

Our children are in hell. We ask the world community again and again to make the extraction procedure. The petition to save Mariupol has collected one-and-a-half million signatures. We have already reached out to everyone.

Only Xi Jinping remained. We ask [the] president of China to mediate, intervene and become a peacemaker in this war. Our heroes have almost no time left. Our warriors have already been to hell. Give them the opportunity to step on the earth and see the sun.

A number of civilians who were sheltering in the steelworks were evacuated earlier this month with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN.

Under the Turkish plan, evacuees would be taken by land to the port of Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov, and be picked up by a Turkish vessel that would take them across the Black Sea to Istanbul.

Ukraine has not commented on a possible sea evacuation, but the country’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said talks were under way to evacuate a large number of wounded soldiers from the steelworks in return for the release of Russian prisoners of war.

According to CNN, a Ukrainian soldier inside the plant described horrific and unsanitary conditions for the wounded on Ukrainian TV on Saturday:

Fighters are simply lying without limbs, without arms, without legs.