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Most of Sievierodonetsk under control of Russian troops, regional authorities say

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP, Reuters
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A Ukrainian serviceman walks past a gypsum manufacturing plant destroyed in a Russian bombing in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine on 28 May 2022
A Ukrainian serviceman walks past a gypsum manufacturing plant destroyed in a Russian bombing in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine on 28 May 2022   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Francisco Seco

Governor of the Luhansk region Serhiy Haidai said on Tuesday that most of Sievierodonetsk, a key city in eastern Ukraine, was under the control of the Russian army, as heavy fighting between Russians and Ukrainians continued.

The fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces is ongoing "in the heart of the city," Haidai said.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia's blockade of Ukrainian seaports was preventing Kyiv from exporting 22 million tonnes of grain and accused the country of deliberately creating this problem to cause suffering elsewhere, as concerns grow about widespread shortages and price hikes across the African continent.

Review Tuesday's developments on the war in Ukraine as they unfolded in our blog below:

05.31.2022
10:21

Tuesday's key updates:

  • Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports could be "catastrophic" for Africa, according to the chair of the African Union.

  • Biden administration supports the shipment of Russian grain and fertilizer exports as fears of world hunger escalate, US ambassador to the UN said.

  • Ukraine has identified more than 600 Russian war crime suspects, says the country's top prosecutor.

  • Russian troops are in control of most of Sievierodonetsk, with Ukrainian authorities claiming that all key infrastructure in the city has been destroyed and evacuation of civilians is impossible.

  • Ukrainian court sentences two Russian soldiers to jail for war crimes.

  • Senior Ukraine official says EU sanctions on Russia are still "not enough".

  • Russian foreign minister is scheduled to travel to Turkey to discuss Black Sea "grain corridor".

  • The team investigating war crimes in Ukraine meets in The Hague today.

  • Finland refused to take Turkey's security concerns seriously, Ankara official says.

  • The first ship leaves Russian-occupied Mariupol, according to reports.

  • EU leaders agree to ban 90% of Russian oil by year-end.

05.31.2022
23:10

That's it for our live coverage on Tuesday as the blog comes to a close for the evening, 

We're back on Wednesday morning with all the latest developments. 

05.31.2022
23:05

US backs Russian grain and fertilizer exports amid hunger concerns

The US ambassador to the United Nations said on Tuesday that the Biden administration supports the shipment of Russian grain and fertilizer to address increasing global food insecurity sparked by the war in Ukraine.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters at UN headquarters that there are no US sanctions on Russian shipments of grain and fertilizer, but she said companies are “a little nervous” and have been holding back.

Thomas-Greenfield said the US is prepared to give “comfort letters” to grain and fertilizer exporters and insurance companies in an attempt to get badly needed agricultural products out of Russia.

She said the Biden administration is “very supportive” of efforts by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to allow grain exports out of Ukraine by train and the Black Sea, as well as his work to ensure Russian food and fertilizer have unrestricted access to global markets.

05.31.2022
21:44

Russian citizens' private debt reaches an all-time high

Russia's household debt reached an all-time high in the first quarter of this year, the country's central bank said in a report Tuesday. 

"Just before the onset (of the sanctions) the market for loans to individuals reached the highest level of household debt at a macro level since the beginning of the observations," at 10.6% of the population's disposable income, compared with 10.2% in the same period in 2021, the report said.

The central bank notes that in the context of the deteriorated economic situation, the issuance of new consumer loans has decreased.

In March and April, the issuance of new consumer loans fell by 3.4%. The bank does not note any significant deterioration in the quality of loans to individuals. 

"However, in March-April, a significant increase in the share of consumer loans for which the next payment was missed was recorded", from 5.3% to 7.5%, "which indicates a potential increase in non-performing loans in the future", the bank noted in its report.

In the wake of the first sanctions after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, the central bank had drastically increased its key rate from 10% to 20%, before starting a gradual decline. It is currently at 11%.

The Russian population is likely to suffer severely from the sanctions. Inflation -- at 17.8% annually in April -- combined with a drop in income and increased lack of access to steady employment will significantly reduce the purchasing power of Russians, especially as they have little savings.

05.31.2022
20:07

Russian troops now control most of Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk governor says

Governor of the Luhansk region Serhiy Haidai said on Tuesday that most of Sievierodonetsk, a key city in eastern Ukraine, was under the control of the Russian army, as heavy fighting between Russians and Ukrainians continued.

"Unfortunately, today, Russian soldiers (took) control of most of the city," he told Ukrainian television, stating that the city was "90% destroyed".

"The fighting is going on in the heart of the city," Haidai said.

Despite an increasingly complicated situation for Ukrainian soldiers in the face of the Russian push, "our soldiers will not be surrounded", he assured.

"Our soldiers are on the defensive but holding their positions," he said.

In Sievierodonetsk, "all critical infrastructure is completely destroyed", and "60% of the housing cannot be restored", Haidai said, adding that "there is no longer any water, gas or electricity".

The regional governor also said there was "no possibility of leaving Severodonetsk now" as the fighting was too dangerous to allow any evacuation of civilians.

05.31.2022
19:53

Ukraine FM praises EU decision to extend sanctions against Moscow

Ukraine has welcomed the European Union’s decision to block most imports of Russian oil.

“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.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry estimated the ban could cost Russia “tens of billions of dollars” and praised the European Union for “not only making it harder for the Kremlin to finance the (Russian Federation’s) aggression but also shoring up its own energy security.”

05.31.2022
19:02

Brussels urges world not to hinder farm products trade amid possible food crisis

The European Union has appealed to its international partners not to inhibit farm products with trade barriers, as Russia's war in Ukraine raises the risk of a potential food crisis. 

“We call on all partners not to restrict trade on agricultural products,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, following an EU summit on Tuesday in the Belgian capital.

Russia is blocking the export of 22 million tons of its grain, some of which is bound for Africa, Ukraine has claimed. 

Countries in Africa are heavily reliant on Ukraine for their wheat, which is the fifth largest producer of the crop in the world. 

They imported 44% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine between 2018 and 2020, according to the United Nations.

Von der Leyen said the EU is trying to help get food out of Ukraine by road and rail, instead of the traditional shipping routes, which are under Russian blockade.

However, she said land transport assistance may only provide for a fifth of Ukraine’s usual monthly exports.

“It is of course more tedious and expensive, but it is necessary to get this wheat out,” she said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pinned blame on the emerging food crisis on the EU’s sanctions, which he said are increasing prices. 

Putin said he is willing to help ease the situation if sanctions against his country are lifted. 

(AP)

05.31.2022
18:48

Airstrike hits chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk, say officials 

A chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk, a key city in eastern Ukraine, has been hit by an airstrike, Ukrainian officials wrote on Telegram late Tuesday afternoon.

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, said Russians hit “a tank with nitric acid at a chemical plant.”

He appealed to residents not to come out of hiding due to the acid’s toxic fumes.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Kyiv’s ministry of internal affairs shared a similar message on Telegram, alongside an image of plumes of smoke rising from a building.

Russian forces now control "around half" of the strategic city, a day after Ukrainian officials reported that Russian shelling was so intense that it was not possible to count casualties or assess the damage.

Reports have since confirmed that a huge rose cloud can be seen above the city, with the authorities urging the residents to use gas masks or makeshift nose-and-mouth masks soaked in soda solution. 

05.31.2022
17:59

Pussy Riot member arrested at Croatian border

Aisoltan Niyazova, a member of the Russian dissident performance and art group Pussy Riot, has been arrested by Croatian border police on Monday, according to domestic press.

Niyazova, who is originally from Turkmenistan, has been placed on Interpol's wanted persons' list since April 2003 for alleged embezzlement of $20 million (€18.6m).

She is accused of stealing the money from the Central Bank of Turkmenistan and siphoning it out of the country, which Niyazova rejects, claiming that the charges have been trumped up due to her opposition to the hermit country's government.

Niyazova has already been brought in front of the court in Croatia, and the country is now deciding on whether to extradite her, other group members told Večernji List.

With the group on tour, she was already questioned in Slovenia prior to trying to enter Croatia but was released.

The band members claim she was issued an affidavit by Slovenian authorities which should allow her to travel freely, as she fears extradition would lead to politically-motivated sentencing in her home country.

Pussy Riot and its members have been targeted by the Kremlin for their opposition to human rights abuses in Russia, with several members spending time in jail or house arrest due to their activism.

Earlier in May, another member of the group Maria Alyokhina fled Russia, claiming she was able to shake her police monitors by disguising herself as a meal courier.

05.31.2022
17:25

Macron: France will 'fight against impunity', Russia 'breaching all international laws'

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed his country will continue to “fight against impunity” after a French journalist was killed by shell shrapnel while covering a Ukrainian evacuation operation.

The French national anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office opened an investigation for war crimes.

Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, 32, was killed on Monday as he was covering a humanitarian operation near Sievierodonetsk, a key city in the Donbas region that is being hotly contested by Russian and Ukrainian forces, according to his employer, French news broadcaster BFM TV.

Macron, speaking after a European summit in Brussels, said “journalists, humanitarian workers must be protected in war zones. Civilians must be protected.”

Russia “is breaching all international laws,” he said.