Ukraine war: Macron, Scholz ask Putin to free captured Azovstal fighters

Russian President Vladimir Putin Putin chairs a meeting of the State Council in the Kremlin on 25 May 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin Putin chairs a meeting of the State Council in the Kremlin on 25 May 2022   -  Copyright  Sergei Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
By Euronews  with AP, AFP

Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pledged that the Donbas will remain Ukrainian as fighting intensified around several cities and towns in the eastern region.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron had an 80-minute telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin on Saturday. The two asked for the release of some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters who surrendered at the Azovstal steel mill, ending the siege of the southern port city of Mariupol.

While Moscow claims to have taken the strategic town of Lyman and the fighting for Sievierodonetsk continues to rage, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Russia should not think that it will be holding the cities as they will eventually return to Ukraine. 

Follow Saturday's developments as they unfolded in our blog below:


Saturday's key events:

  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron held a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin on Saturday, calling for "serious direct negotiations" with Kyiv and the release of Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at Azovstal.

  • "The Donbas will be Ukrainian", President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a speech on Friday night, commenting on Russian claims of taking control of Lyman and attempts to seize Sievierodonetsk.

  • Kyiv fears a repeat of the horrors of Mariupol as a Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas region makes progress amidst intense fighting. 

  • In Lithuania, ordinary citizens rallied around a donation drive to buy a Bayraktar drone for the Ukrainian forces, with most of the money collected within three days, organisers said.

  • Russian Orthodox Church denied that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has declared independence or gained autocephaly, stating on Saturday that its unity is "preserved".

  • Earlier, the Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church announced on Friday that it was breaking with Russia, declaring its "full independence" from Russian spiritual authorities -- in what is widely seen as a a historic move.

  • Boris Johnson said Russia is making 'palpable' progress in eastern Ukraine, despite the cost to the Russian military. Continuing to support Ukraine militarily was "absolutely vital," the UK PM stated.

  • Nearly 3 million Ukrainian refugees have left the countries bordering Ukraine, where they flocked after the Russian invasion, to move to other non-neighbouring European countries, according to the UNHCR.


Our Ukraine live blog is coming to a close for today. We are back on Sunday morning with all the latest developments.


Two doctors recall life and work in Bucha during Russian occupation

It has been over a month since Bucha was last under Russian control, but the Kyiv suburb is still reeling from the war -- and stories of life under occupation keep coming out of the now well-known site of alleged war crimes by Russian forces.

Dr Ihor Kovalchuk, head of neurology at the Irpin City Hospital and Dr Yevhen Repyov, orthopedist and traumatologist, recount life in Bucha during the fighting, under Russian occupation and the flood of patients they received during that time.

Read more here:


Russian Orthodox Church denied its Ukrainian branch is now independent

The unity between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is “preserved”, Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Moscow church's external relations department, said on Saturday.

The Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church announced on Thursday it was breaking its affiliation with Russia on Friday, saying it was “fully independent” in what was widely seen as a historic move. 

However, this was also understood by some as a message of intent, as gaining complete independence or autocephaly is a long and often complex process that needs approval from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Orthodox "mother church" seated in Istanbul.


Ukraine accuses Moscow of stealing its metal products from Mariupol

Russia had started transporting stolen metal products from Mariupol, shipping 3,000 tonnes on the first ship to Rostov-on-Don according to Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova, Kyiv Independent reported on Saturday.

The port housed about 200,000 tonnes of metal and cast iron worth close to €160 million before the occupation, she Denisova.

The city's Azovstal metal processing compound was one of the largest steel rolling companies in Ukraine. The plant was reportedly almost completely destroyed during the months-long siege of the southern port city.


Russia tests long-range Zircon cruise missile

Russia test-fired a hypersonic Zircon cruise missile over a distance of about 1,000 kilometres, the country's defence ministry said on Saturday.

The missile was fired from the Barents Sea and hit a target in the White Sea, it said. Video released by the ministry showed the missile being fired from a ship and blazing into the sky on a steep trajectory.

Zircon can travel at speeds of up to Mach 9 or nine times the speed of sound, and Russia has conducted previous test launches of the missile from warships and submarines in the past years.

However, Saturday's test showed that the missile has doubled its previous range, estimated to a maximum of 500 km.

Russia's military has suffered heavy personnel and equipment losses during its three-month invasion of Ukraine, but it has continued to stage high-profile weapons tests.

Last month it test-launched a new intercontinental missile, the Sarmat, capable of carrying 10 or more nuclear warheads and reaching the US.


Find a diplomatic solution to the war, Scholz and Macron tell Putin

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron called for "serious direct negotiations" with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin on Saturday.

During an 80-minute meeting with the Russian president, the two leaders "insisted on an immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian troops," a statement from the German chancellery said.

Macron and Scholz "called on the Russian president to hold serious direct negotiations with the Ukrainian president and to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict".


Norway's oil and gas sales surge, prompting allegations of making a profit from Ukraine war

Europe's frantic search for alternatives to Russian energy has dramatically increased the demand — and price — for Norway's oil and gas.

But the continent's second-biggest natural gas supplier is now fending off accusations that it is profiting from the war in Ukraine.

Read more here:


Former President Poroshenko blasts decision banning him from leaving Ukraine

The former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday he had been refused permission to leave the country for a trip to Lithuania, blasting the decision as breaking the "political ceasefire" in the midst of a Russian invasion.

Poroshenko, Ukraine's president from 2014 to 2019, now heads the European Solidarity, the second-largest party in the Rada and the main opposition to the current leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with whom he has a fierce rivalry.

According to his press service, Poroshenko "was refused permission to cross the border into Ukraine" when he was due to take part in the NATO parliamentary assembly in Vilnius and had received "all formal permissions to leave the country" as a permanent member of the Ukrainian delegation.

The former president was also due to hold talks in Vilnius with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and a group of Lithuanian and European MPs. He was then supposed to travel to Rotterdam in the Netherlands for a summit of European parties.

The turmoil in Ukrainian politics had ceased since Russia invaded the country on 24 February, with most political forces uniting in defence of the country. Eleven parties deemed pro-Russian have been banned.


Ukraine fears Donbas cities might suffer same fate as Mariupol as Russian offensive escalates

The advance of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine's industrial Donbas region raised fears that cities in the region would undergo the same horrors inflicted on the people of Mariupol in the weeks before it fell.

The fighting Friday focused on two key cities — Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk — the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas, where Russia-backed separatists have already controlled some territory for eight years. 

Authorities say 1,500 people in Sievierodonetsk have already died since the Russian invasion began three months ago. Russia-backed rebels also said they'd taken the railway hub of Lyman.

Read more here:

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