Russia-Ukraine live: Moscow steps up its efforts for Donbass | Russo-Ukrainian War

  • Ukrainian forces in separatist-controlled eastern regions say fighting continues in four locations.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said his country is ready to exchange troops who surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for Russian prisoners.
  • Russian energy giant Gazprom said it had cut off all natural gas supplies to Finland because it had not received payment in roubles.

Here are all the latest updates:

Russian forces step up efforts to capture Severodonetsk: think tank

Russian forces have stepped up efforts to surround and capture the Ukrainian town of Severodonetsk in Luhansk Oblast and will likely continue to do so in the coming days, the Institute for the Study of Warfare said.

Russian troops in Luhansk are likely to capitalize on recent gains made in the Rubizhne-Severodonetsk-Luhansk-Popasna arc to surround and besiege Severodonetsk – the last Ukrainian strongpoint in Luhansk Oblast, the US think tank said.

According to ISW, Russian military bloggers speculate on the success of Russian tactics in the region and have dubbed it the “Battle of Severodonetsk”.

A Ukrainian director denounces the Russian presence in Cannes

Ukrainian director Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk has criticized the Cannes Film Festival for including a Russian director in its lineup.

The festival has banned official Russian delegations from attending, but Russian dissident Kirill Serebrennikov, who has spoken out against invading Ukraine, presented his competition film “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” at the festival on Wednesday.

“When he’s here, he’s part of Russian propaganda and they can use him,” Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk told Reuters.

Russian director Serebrennikov said earlier this week that Russian culture should not be boycotted, saying its culture “has always promoted human values”.

Ukrainian director Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk has described the feeling of being in Cannes as his country battles against a Russian invasion as “foreign”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses guests at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2022 [Christophe Simon/AFP]
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses guests at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2022 [Christophe Simon/AFP]

Women among Azovstal fighters now prisoners of Russia: TASS news agency

There are 78 women among those captured by Russian forces from the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, a pro-Russian separatist leader has said.

Russian news agency TASS reported that Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin said there were also foreigners among prisoners at the Azovstal steel plant. He did not specify how many foreigners were taken prisoner.

“They had enough food and water, they also had enough weapons,” Pushilin told TASS.

“The problem was the lack of medicine,” he said, referring to Ukrainian forces who had resisted the steelworks.

Moscow may swap Ukrainian prisoners for Putin ally Medvedchuk: negotiator

Moscow will consider swapping prisoners from the Ukrainian Azov Battalion for Viktor Medvedchuk, a wealthy Ukrainian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin, a Russian negotiator has said.

“We will study the possibility,” said Leonid Slutsky, a senior member of Russia’s negotiating team on Ukraine, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Medvedchuk, 67, is a politician and one of the richest people in Ukraine and is known for his close ties to Putin. He is also a politician.

He escaped house arrest after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, but was re-arrested by Ukrainian forces in mid-April.

Viktor Medvedchuk
Pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk in handcuffs after being arrested by security forces in Ukraine in April 2022 [Press service of the State Security Service of Ukraine/Handout via Reuters]

Russian troops responsible for the death of 7 civilians (Ukrainian governor)

Ukraine says Russian forces are responsible for the deaths of seven civilians in the Donetsk region in the east of the country, under Moscow control.

Three people were killed in the town of Lyman alone, regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko wrote on Telegram.

Meanwhile, in Kherson, occupied by Russian forces, local administrators accused Ukraine of killing three civilians and wounding 10 in the village of Biloserka, in a statement on Telegram.

Ukraine ready to exchange soldiers for Russian POWs: Zelenskyy

Zelensky says his country is ready to exchange its troops who went to the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for Russian prisoners.

In an interview with a Ukrainian television channel, Zelenskyy said that the most important thing for him was to save as many people and soldiers as possible. “We will bring them home,” he said.

Russia claims to have taken full control of the besieged city of Mariupol after the last group of Ukrainian soldiers surrendered.​​

Zelensky talks to Italian PM, calls for more sanctions against Russia

Zelenskyy said he spoke to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and stressed the importance of further sanctions against Russia and the unblocking of Ukrainian ports.

Zelenskyy tweeted that he also thanked Draghi for his “unconditional support” of Ukraine’s bid to join the EU. Draghi had made the call, he said.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Read all the updates from Saturday May 21 here.

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