Ukraine Stories #Week13: food takes centre stage in Russo-Ukrainian war

The sowing season in Ukraine. May 2022. (Credit: Alla Pavliuchenko)

In this live blog, at the heart of our project we’ve called “Ukraine Stories”, Ukrainian and Russian journalists write about the harsh living conditions that the Russian invasion has inflicted on them. We cannot always verify the events described in their articles, but their short reports and feature stories describe two countries in the turmoil of war.

This blog is also available in Ukrainian and Russian

A word from our editors

9 hrs., 20.05.2022

Good morning. We are into Day 86 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has reportedly accused Russia of using food as a weapon, saying it is "holding hostage" supplies not only to Ukrainians but to many countries around the world. The UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called on Russia to lift the blockade of Ukrainian ports that has made it impossible for conventional export routes. About a third of the world’s grain supplies come from Ukraine and Russia, including to countries like Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to grain, Ukraine is a leading exporter of corn, oats, sunflower and rapeseed oil, and Russia and Belarus account for more than 40 per cent of world exports of mineral fertilizers for agriculture.

The Russians have countered by saying food exports can resume if sanctions are eased, and that the Ukrainians have created the blockade themselves by mining the Black Sea. However Ukraine says that its merchant marine vessels in the Azov and Black Sea are being stopped by the Russian navy. Around 22 million tons of grains are currently sitting in warehouses in Ukraine, and some stockpiles have reportedly been stolen by Russian forces.

Meanwhile in the fields of Ukraine, reports our correspondent Alla Pavliuchenko.

Home front effort to save vital Ukrainian crops

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The sowing season in Ukraine. May 2022. (Credit: Alla Pavliuchenko)

by Alla Pavliuchenko, 20.05.2022

Probably for the first time in my 26 years, I saw people – tractor drivers, drivers, land surveyors – working in the field with such inspiration. Fertilizers were applied to spray the fields with such zeal.

I was born and raised in this village. My father used to work in agriculture. Probably because of this I can drive a truck and feel confident behind the wheel of a combine harvester. I also know from hearsay what sowing is, the period of harvest, or as they say in Ukraine - "toloka".

This year, due to the fact that Russia attacked Ukraine, sowing  was in danger of not happening altogether. I don’t think I need to explain what failure to sow means. This is a humanitarian crisis, for Ukraine and for the whole world.

So today in our Zhytomyr region in central Ukraine there are at least two fronts - military and agricultural. On both fronts men are desperately holding the defence line.

The Zhytomyr region borders Belarus, which is friendly with Russia. It is still dangerous in some areas. It is dangerous to walk in the woods, it is dangerous to go out into the fields. Territories are still being demined in some areas.

Fortunately, the area I am in has not been badly damaged by enemy troops. That's why farmers are already going to work in the fields. Or more precisely — they are running to the fields.

They are running because they have one last chance to save their crops, and accordingly - to save Ukraine from starvation.

They have a week to apply fertilizer. It is worth explaining. This area has two thousand hectares on which winter wheat is sown. This is the crop that is sown in the fall - and it is green in the fields when it is already snowing.

If you do not apply the necessary fertilizers in time the green shoots simply will not take. It is optimal to feed the culture by mid-April. This year, it was simply impossible.

The deadline for fertilizer application is 15-20 May. So everyone is in a hurry. They work without weekends from morning till late at night for at least 12 hours. Yes, we still have a curfew. But for farmers, as for workers in critical industries, there are special passes, both for in the streets, and in this case - in the fields after curfew.

Fortunately, the sowing was carefully prepared. They have stocks of fertilizers and appropriate equipment, as well as the most scarce product today – fuel.

For agricultural machinery, ambulances,  and military equipment, certain fuel stocks are set aside for them at gas stations. But now even these are in limited supply.

Fortunately, and most importantly, people have the strength and desire to do their jobs. Despite the fact that in some places Russian bombs are still falling, and only 50 kilometers away there are still battles – the men are not afraid.

In one voice they quarrel over Russia and curse Putin. But they don't have time to talk about politics or the situation in the country, let alone the Russian aggressor. After smoking a cigarette, they hurry to work again.

And we kick off Friday morning with the story of the dog who survived the invasion and is now taking part in Ukraine's defence effort.

Rescue dog nicknamed ‘Soldier’ became a local celebrity

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Credit: Maksym Khotilenko

by Maksym Khotilenko, 20.05.2022

This dog is recognised throughout the Kyiv region. After all, he is a symbol of the Irpin volunteer battalion.

“It simply came to our notice when he saved my life. We were fired upon and I was thrown away by the shock wave. I fainted and the shelling continued. So Soldier, by some miracle, dragged me into the bushes, where I was later found,” recounts one soldier.

Soldier also nearly became a casualty of war, as he was found in the bushes himself, exhausted, cut to pieces and barely alive.

“During the patrol, we saw something come out of the woods and fall on its side. When we got closer, we saw a dog that could barely breathe,” the military says.

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Credit: Maksym Khotilenko

Soldiers began to gradually revive Labrador with water and bring him back to life. The dog turned out to be strong – he was running again with the military within a week. They laugh that the Labrador has shown himself to be a born soldier from the beginning

“The Russian military came to the city as if at home. Solder went and calmly sat on an armored infantry vehicle. So our Labrador was the first to attack and even bit a soldier’s leg,” one soldier said.

Now Soldier continues his service. Together with the people he defends the northern borders of Ukraine.

Central Ukrainian villages ready homes for refugees

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Credit: Anna Dnistrovska

by Anna Dnistrovska, 20.05.2022

In four villages in the Kirovohrad region, 22 houses for internally displaced people are being readied. These are estates that were inherited or served as dachas. Everything is arranged so that the people who come are not short of anything say locals who are preparing rooms for their new owners.

Tetiana Gordienko, a resident of the village of Serhiivka, works as the head of the welcoming club. In her free time, she and the staff of a kindergarten in the village of Hannivka clean the houses where migrants from the regions where the fighting is taking place are to be housed. She says it takes two days to a week to prepare one house, showing off a two-room house, where they cleaned for four days.

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Credit: Anna Dnistrovska

“Some very elderly people lived here, one woman was 107 years old, the other 85 and there was a 90-year old man. They were actually blind, yet still loved cats and they had a lot of them here. It was very difficult to clean up after the animals and remove the smells. We took everything out, washed and flooded everything here”, says Gordienko.

A family from Kherson has to come here in a few hours. Locals prepared borsch, stewed potatoes and beet salad for them.

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Tetiana Gordienko cooks food for the IDPs. (Credit: Anna Dnistrovska)

Gordienko says that they do everything with love - as they would for themselves. There is a kitchen, gas stove, refrigerator, dining table, wardrobes for clothes, a mirror, TV, vacuum cleaner - everything works. There is a small bedroom for children.

Another house, also two-room, in the village of Hannivka is shown off by Svitlana Suvora, a volunteer of the second cleaning brigade. She says its owners left two years ago.

“They gave us this house so that the settlers could live here in such a difficult time. We did spring cleaning, whitewashed with emulsion paint. Washed and covered everything. There was not much work here. The only thing is that the stove in the kitchen is a little disappointing, but we will whiten it, we will do everything. The owners left beds, a sofa, wardrobes, a children's room, so people can come and live here,” says Suvora.

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Credit: Anna Dnistrovska

Houses for IDPs have been set up in four villages organised by the Hannivka mayor's office, says mayor Nina Tsapenko.

“These are the villages of Volodymyrivka, Ryadove, Serhiivka and Hannivka. These are houses that were being prepared for sale, which were inherited by children living in the city or coming to them as a dacha. The owners gave these houses away with great responsibility, knowing that there are people who do not have a roof over their heads, so we are grateful to everyone - the community, every grandparent who brought a blanket, pillow, bedding. It's all washed, clean and people come into the house and most importantly - have comfort,” says Tsapenko.

She added that if there are no vacant houses, the IDPs will be able to settle at the houses of local residents.

Meanwhile in Russian news…

20.05.2022

Russia demands removal of two articles on war in Ukraine from Wikipedia

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Russian invasion of Ukraine as of 13 May 2022. (Credit: Wikimedia)

Russia’s communications and information watchdog Roskomnadzor has demanded that two articles describing the war in Ukraine be removed from Wikipedia’s English language website, according to Russian Wikipedia's Twitter account.

Roskomnadzor believes the two articles, 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine” and “Rashism”, an entry about “Ruscism” or “Russian Facism” – represent inaccurate information about casualties, attacks on civilians, goals and the nature of the “special operation”.

At the end of April, a court in Moscow fined the non-profit organisation Wikimedia Foundation, which maintains the infrastructure for Wikipedia, three million rubles (€44,250) for failing to remove five articles about the war in Ukraine for the first time. The fine was the first one imposed on Wikipedia by a Russian court. The prosecutor general's office demanded that Wikimedia restrict access to five materials about the war in Ukraine, including articles about Mariupol, Bucha and Kyiv.

Russian Ministry of Defence: letters “Z” and “V” not official military symbols

In response to a request from Moscow MP Yevgeny Stupin, the Defence Ministry said that the letters “Z” and “V” are not official military symbols and do not carry any special burden. The letter also noted that these signs are “recognizable and positively accepted” by citizens of Russia, “LPR”, “DPR” and “many others”.

The MP believes that the official response of the Defence Ministry can be used as a defence in court in case of "unjustified prosecution when expressing one's attitude to the letters of foreign alphabets".

A word from our editors

9 hrs., 19.05.2022

While sirens in Ukraine sound throughout the country and the Ukrainian Armed Forces are trying to contain the enemy's offensive in the east, Ukraine's profile is rising steadily, this time at the world’s premiere international cinema event.

Ukraine war movies at Cannes: ‘Butterfly Vision’ and ‘Mariupolis 2’


On the evening of 17 May, the world-famous Cannes Film Festival started. The theme of the Russian invasion is central to the Ukrainian films on show here. The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the opening ceremony of the festival’s 75th-anniversary edition. In his video address, he quoted Charlie Chaplin from The Dictator: “Human hatred will pass, dictators will die, and the power they have taken from the people will return to them.”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival on 17 May 2022. (Credit: State Agency of Ukraine for Cinema, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International)

Today, 19 May, the Ukrainian film ‘Butterfly Vision’, directed by Maksym Nakonechny, will be screened in the Un Certain Regard contest. Russian-backed separatists in eastern Donbas began fighting in 2014. The film is based on a true story, when a Ukrainian woman, Lilya, an aerial reconnaissance expert, returns home to her family after serving in Donbas, where she has been held captive for months. She has to fight to overcome psychological trauma. The film brings together the famous playwright and director Natalka Vorozhbyt, and a cast of non-professional actors: real doctors and soldiers, some former prisoners, take significant roles.

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Maksym Nakonechnyi’s drama ‘Butterfly Vision’. 2022 (Credit: State Agency of Ukraine for Cinema, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International)

Another film about Ukraine that will be shown today and tomorrow will be shown out of competition - the final film of Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravičius ‘Mariupolis 2’, who was killed by Russian troops in Ukraine in late March. Kvedaravičius was reportedly shooting a sequel to his famous documentary about the Donbas conflict, ‘Mariupolis’, when he was captured and killed. His fiancée Anna Bilobrova who was with him in besieged Mariupol, took his footage out of the country, and it was assembled by their editor Dunya Sichova.

As usual individual stories about the Russian invasion cannot be verified, but from those we have seen and published, patterns are emerging of Russian military indiscipline resulting in the use of violence. In particular, we published a story of a teacher from Melitopol, in the neighboring Zaporizhzhya region, who gave similar testimonies of cruel treatment by Russian troops of one of her students, a young civilian. In addition, there was a similar story from an occupied village in the Kharkiv region. Other testimonies of civilians from near Bucha in the Kyiv region, published in our live blog this week, also have cross-references with Oleksandr’s story.

Russian torture and bribery escaping from occupied Kherson

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Oleksandr and his autogyro. Kherson before the war, Ukraine.

by Maksym Khotilenko, 19.05.2022

“We had to flee…If we hadn't done that, we don't know if we would be talking to you now.”

Oleksandr, (no surname for security reasons), repeats these words over and over again.   he recalls with horror every day spent in his now occupied Kherson.

“No one wanted to see them here. No one. People took to the streets and told them in their faces that they were not welcomed here.”

Before the war, Oleksandr managed several companies. Two small cafes on the outskirts of the city and a hardware store. His pride and joy was an autogyro.

“I had everything for happiness. Family, a lucrative business, and a lifelong hobby”, he says.

The Russian occupiers destroyed everything.

“One of my establishments was shot up. The shop was cleared out. The Autogyro was taken out of the garage. I don't even know what they’re going to use it for”.

The worst came later when the Russian military began summoning men for questioning.

“They came in a group of six people. They took me and my neighbor. Then they put bags on our heads and took us in an unknown direction.”

Many hours of interrogation awaited them.

“They beat us, of course. You tell them you know nothing, and they ask the same questions again and again. Some just tortured us and questioned us and let us go, but others simply beat us.

And so it went on for weeks. It was like a bad dream. Оnce Oleksandr was taken away at nightfall, he returned in the morning - all beaten and covered in blood.” After that, Oleksandr decided - it could not continue.

“We decided to run away. I decided to find out how to move out of Kherson. Then it became clear to us that no one was being allowed to leave the region anymore.”

Oleksandr began to look for other options on local Telegram channels, where people shared their experiences.

“We wrote to a man who said that he managed to move to the Crimea. This was the only evacuation route. And then by ferry to Georgia.”

So Oleksandr and his family quickly packed up and drove to the Crimea with their neighbors. But they were not alone. A whole convoy of cars with Ukrainian number plates stood at the entrance to the occupied peninsula. Every Ukrainian had to pass the FSB checks.

“First of all, all phones were checked. Then each bag. We were even asked to cut open children's soft toys and turn them inside out. Then I was interrogated for several hours, then my whole family, even the children.”

After that, he was told by the Russian military that the passage was not for free and it would cost three thousand dollars for each person.

“To make you understand, there were four of us, plus six of our neighbors. We took all our money out and paid thirty thousand dollars. And that's all we had.”

Only then were they released. The caravan of refugees went on without stopping. He has made it to Georgia along with his family and fulfilled his main task - saving his family.

And another escape story, this time from Kharkiv, a Ukrainian-Georgian family tells their experience of relocating from a war-torn city to a relatively quiet village in central Ukraine, reconnecting with nature and gardening.

‘Every day I wake up at 4 am, because that’s when the war began in Kharkiv’

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Evacuee Oksana Devadze, Kropyvnytskyi, Ukraine. May 2022. (Credit: Anna Dnistrovska)

by Anna Dnistrovska, 19.05.2022

Where there are no explosions, she cannot sleep peacefully, says Oksana Devadze from Kharkiv about the consequences of round-the-clock shelling. She says Russian troops shelled the city day and night. A month ago, she and her husband and brother moved to the village of Oboznivka near Kropyvnytskyi city. They took five cats and a dog with them. Now they have to get used to a new rhythm of life.

Oksana shows off a 10- acre plot of land near the house where they settled. She plants potatoes with her husband's cousin, Gia. - “For the first time in my life I have to plant potatoes”. They used to buy them in supermarkets, but now it is the war, you don't know when it will end, and what they will live on.

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Evacuee Oksana Devadze with her husband Mamuka, Kropyvnytskyi, Ukraine. May 2022. (Credit: Anna Dnistrovska)

Her husband Mamuka Devadze is tasked with collecting water from a well in the yard. He said that although he lived in an apartment in Kharkiv, it was not difficult for him in the village.

“I grew up in a private house in Georgia. We were just going to buy a house in Kharkiv and now you see… Ukrainian people, who can fight and help. Strong people. I am Georgian and thought we were hospitable, but it turns out that Ukrainians are more hospitable than us. I am grateful to the owner of the house who gave it to us. Thanks to such people we live well, with dignity.”

He says he and his brother registered with the military registration and enlistment office. They are ready to defend Ukraine from the Russian army. It was not Ukraine that called them up, they volunteered.

Oksana shows us the house where they settled with five cats and a 15-year-old dog. She says that in Kharkiv during the shelling the animals were very scared, they hid all the time, some of them had a hard time crossing the road and cried.

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Oksana’s husband Mamuka, Kropyvnytskyi, Ukraine. May 2022. (Credit: Anna Dnistrovska)

“It's scary what is happening in Kharkiv now, and what happened, it's a pity for residents, for their homes, they did not do anything wrong. There was a powerful explosion on 24 February. People were afraid. We lived there for 50 days, until they started shelling our area. The shelling was terrible, there were many mines, missiles, and planes. Such terrible things that cannot be conveyed. We were bombed on 12 April, our windows shattered, we lived in the basement, then we came out. People were wearing what they fled in or what they had left. We escaped at night to come here.”

She says he wakes up at four in the morning every day due to stress. It was at this hour, she says, that the war came to Kharkiv.

“Here I calmed down, here it is peaceful and quiet, but this fear, probably, will never pass. Every day I want to go back, every day I dream of our house, and as I come close… our windows are closed, that’s very scary.”

She says that after the victory she will return home with her family.

Roll up, roll up! Buy tickets online to save Mykolaiv zoo

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Russian rocket debris in bison enclosure. Mykolaiv, Ukraine. May 2022. (Credit: Oleksii Platonov)

by Oleksii Platonov, 19.05.2022

Mykolaiv Zoo is one of the best in Ukraine. The history of the zoo begins in 1901 with the then-mayor's private collection of animals, making it one of the oldest zoos in the country.

“Animals live the same way as humans, we are one family here, so we have similar problems. However, the animals have not been able to leave yet, although several employees have already been evacuated”, says director Volodymyr Topchy.

The zoo has been living at war for two months now. With no visitors and reduced public transport, the work schedule has changed so the animals can be cared for and allow staff to get home on time.

The zoo may be closed but virtual tickets can still be bought online by anyone wanting to make a donation.

“This action received a great response, so we are not asking for funds from the city budget. As a result, we were able to repay outstanding bills and salaries, which were large sums.

But we need money all the time. If anyone can help, please buy a ticket online on our website and support the zoo in difficult times.

Seven missiles actually hit the zoo. Thank God no one was hurt – neither animals nor humans. The rockets fell at night, we already have a whole collection of them”, says the director.

According to Volodymyr, he had friendly relations with many zoo directors in Russia. But after the start of the war, they never called. With a bite in his voice he remembered Ukrainian colleagues who had lost their lives in the past three months.

Read more about the Mykolaiv Zoo in the article.

Meet the Ukrainian business woman who rescued over 300 children from Bucha and Irpin

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Credit: Ksenia Brodovska

By Mariana Tsymbalyuk, 19.05.2022

“They’re coming to kill us,” “we’ve had no food for two days,” “we were bombed today,” “we just want to live” – all these phrases were said by children caught up in the middle of the heaviest fighting in the Ukrainian cities of Bucha and Irpin during the Russian occupation that lasted the month of March 2022.

More than 300 of them were rescued by Ksenia Brodovska, a financial business owner in Ukraine.

“These kids were between three months and 14 years old. These people went through horrible stuff. One 24-year-old woman that we evacuated, for example, was raped by three Russian soldiers. She was hiding in a basement with her three-year-old son. The Russians commanded that she leave the cellar and make some food for them. Then they hinted that they wanted sex.

When she refused, they took the child up by the throat and said “then we will twist your child’s neck”.

The three Russian soldiers ended up raping her for the entire night. The youngest of them was 19. In the morning, the woman took her son and ran away to avoid being shot down. When we picked her up, she couldn’t sit or walk”, says Ksenia.

She gathered a team of women and together they rescued more than 300 children from living in occupation. She took them to a small hotel she owned in the Carpathian mountains in Western Ukraine, where they’re receiving online schooling and psychological support.

Read the full article about how these brave women managed to save so many people here.

Meanwhile in Russia….

International Basketball Federation suspends Russia and Belarus from the world championships

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) announced it has suspended the national teams of Russia and Belarus from participation in the world championships.

The men's team was suspended from the qualifying round for the World Cup 2023. Russia, according to the business daily RBC, was in first place in Group H, which also includes teams from Italy, Iceland and the Netherlands. The results of the Russian national team were annulled. Team Belarus has been eliminated from Group B.

The Russian women's basketball team will also be barred from playing in this year's World Cup, to be held in Australia from 22 September to 1 October. Puerto Rico will play in its place.

Russian contract servicemen buy military uniforms at own expense

Russian servicemen taking part in the war against Ukraine have to buy shoes, body armour, first-aid kits and other uniforms at their own expense, The Moscow Times reported, citing contract servicemen.

According to one of the Rosgvardiya servicemen who will leave for Ukraine in the near future, the military will have to buy the uniforms at their own expense. The contract servicemen have been promised a monthly payment of around 200,000 rubles (€2,950).

“Body armour, helmet, shoes, unloading gear, first-aid kit – everything is at their own expense. If you are issued a military field kit, you have saved money. We still have to buy the jacket and trousers ourselves, at least as a change of clothes. We ask the command to issue at least some extra protection. They shake their hands. It's good if our outlay on uniforms pays off and we don't get screwed out of our paychecks,” a Rosgvardiya contract worker told The Moscow Times.

The Moscow Times estimates that the average wartime levy costs contract soldiers more than 200,000 rubles (€2,950). This is the amount of the promised pay per month.

A word from our editors

18.05.2022

Good morning, on Day 84 of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Russia has launched missiles on the Lviv region, while active fighting rages on in the Donetsk region. Many of the soldiers fighting near Donbas come from the area and were forced into fighting by Russia.

Our reporter Stanislav Kibalnyk has looked at the conditions under which this happens.

Donbas youth exploited by Russia in war against Ukraine

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A Russian tank in Ruska Lozova near Kharkiv. (Credit: Stanislav Kibalnyk)

A unit in the 138th Guards Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, a formation of the Russian Ground Forces, was sent home for recovery following the country’s big losses in the region. Many of the conscripts also wrote resignation letters.

The successes of the Ukrainian army in the north and north-east of Kharkiv can be explained by the fact that Russia is using Donbas residents to maintain its defence there. Russia’s Armed Forces units were transferred to the south of the region where most of the fighting is these days.

But what does the deployment of these Donbas units look like from the inside? Read the full article to find out.

Meanwhile in Russian news…

Russian policemen taught to understand the war in Ukraine correctly

According to Russian independent media outlet Mediazona, the Interior Ministry has stepped up propaganda among police officers since the start of the war. The “unified state legal information day” (UDLIN) classes, which used to cover new laws and discuss the work of the police department, now show propaganda films, discuss biolaboratories in Ukraine and Putin's phone conversations.

At the same time, police officers are still obliged to take notes on UDLIN discussions – and notes can be checked. At the same time, police officers claim that no one “seriously” does this - often their relatives or wives fill out the notebooks for them. According to Mediazone, similar “lectures” have taken place in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Volgograd, and the Rostov region.

“That's the vomit until you rewrite it, they won't let you go on holiday,” a St. Petersburg police officer told Mediazone.

Police in Moscow protect monuments from anti-war plaques

An anti-war action with the slogan “They didn't fight for this” has been held near monuments to Soviet soldiers and memorials dedicated to the Great Patriotic War, reports Telegram channel “Baza”. The meaning of the action is clear from the name – activists place signs with anti-war slogans near the monuments. The police are aware of the action, so some of Moscow’s famous memorials to the Great Patriotic War were placed under special protection: on Poklonnaya Hill, in Alexander Garden, Catherine's Square and in Izmaylovo Park.

A word from editors

17.05.2022

Good morning, on Day 83 of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, the world woke up to some positive news from Ukraine.

Azovstal soldiers evacuation

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Wounded soldiers inside the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Credit: @Kozatsky_D / Twitter)

by Olha Holovina, 17.05.2022

At long last, some Ukrainian soldiers have managed to leave the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol. Photos of the evacuation buses filled with the military were shared across the entire world.

The evacuation was later confirmed by Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister, Hanna Maliar.

“Fifty-three severely injured people were evacuated and admitted to a hospital in Novoazovsk for medical treatment. Another 211 people were taken to Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor,” Maliar said.

Both Novoazovsk and Olenivka are in the areas of the Donetsk region that are not under the Ukrainian government’s control. The defence ministry assures: the soldiers will return home as soon as the soldier exchange takes place. The people remaining inside Azovstal will be evacuated, too, it says. The government did not specify how many have stayed.

According to Maliar, there is no way to unblock Azovstal using military means.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has referred to 16 May as a “difficult day.”

“But this day – just like others – is aimed at saving our country and our people. Thanks to the work of the Ukrainian soldiers, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the intelligence services, and the negotiating group, the International Committee of Red Cross and the United Nations, we have hope that our boys will survive. I want to reiterate that Ukraine needs its heroes alive. This is our principle,” Zelenskyy said in a video address.

Azovstal defenders have helped Ukraine to save some time for forming reserve groups, regrouping, and receiving help from partners.

Natalia Zarytska whose husband is in the Azov regiment described the conditions her husband and other soldiers were in at the steelworks:

“They’re in hell. Every day there are new injuries. They have no legs or arms. They’re exhausted, and have no medicines,” Zarytska said.

According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the presence of the soldiers in Azovstal stopped Russia from transferring around 20,000 of their troops into other areas of Ukraine. This helped to prevent a fast seizure of Zaporizhzhia, which would give Russia immediate access to the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions and allow them to encircle Ukrainian military positions.

The Azovstal evacuation will likely signal the end of the longest and bloodiest battles of this war. Mariupol stands in ruins after Russia’s besiegement of it. Tens of thousands of civilians in the city became victims of Russian aggression.

As the evacuation of Azovstal defenders was taking place in Mariupol, military actions continued in the rest of Ukraine. Nine civilians were killed in Donetsk as a result of Russian attacks, according to the head of the region’s military administrative centre.

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A wounded soldier inside the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Credit: @Kozatsky_D / Twitter)

One of the biggest series of missile attacks was launched on Lviv, though not a single missile struck its intended target thanks to the work of Ukraine’s air defence. Lviv Mayor, Andriy Sadovyi, said that it’s hard to say whether Lviv was the intended target.

Mass bombings were reported in the Sumy region, while the village of Desna in the Chernihiv region, was shelled. This led to a number of deaths and injuries.

Ukrainian women get Kosovan expertise in demining Russian munitions

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Anastasia, Ukrainian deminer. Kosovo. May 2022. (Credit: Liudmyla Makei)

One of our correspondents, Liudmyla Makei, recently evacuated to Kosovo under a special programme for Ukrainian journalists displaced by the war, has visited a famous demining centre. It is training young Ukrainian women to return home and make their country safe. Demining Kosovo has taken over 20 years, and Ukraine faces a similar period of dangerous work, which is not the only parallel she found between Kosovo some 23 years ago, and Ukraine today.

Read the full article here.

Meanwhile, in news gathered by our Russian correspondents…

Peskov called the events in Bucha a ‘masterful bloodthirsty staging’

“These are fakes, these are staged, sometimes as monstrous as the human mind cannot imagine. I mean, for example, the masterfully bloodthirsty staging in Bucha near Kyiv,” Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said at the New Horizons forum. This is reported by Ksenia Sobchak's Telegram channel “Bloody barrynya.”

Peskov also noted that the president knows where the country is going. According to him, Russia's existence is an irritant for the collective West, which is “ready to do anything to prevent Russia from living the way it wants”.

Russian army removed about 500,000 tons of grain from Ukraine's occupied territories

At the end of April, the All-Ukrainian Agrarian Rada (AAR) reported that Russian occupiers were appropriating the property of farms, removing products from warehouses, and forcing employees to work. Those who refuse are threatened with physical violence. Novaya Gazeta Europe found out how farmers in the Kherson region live today.

“The occupiers are removing grain en masse from the temporarily occupied territories, said Nikolai Sokolsky, Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine, in an interview aired by Ukrainian media platform Ukrinform and cited by Novaya Gazeta Europe.  “We receive this information from various sources. They have already sent 400-500 thousand tons in the direction of the Crimea. This is a big business, which is supervised by people, not those who just steal TV sets from supermarkets. It is obvious that representatives of special services of the aggressor country, upper echelons of the military, are engaged in it. All the ships coming from Sevastopol are ships loaded with Ukrainian stolen grain. There were cases to which our Foreign Ministry responded, and some ships were turned around from Egypt and other countries.”

Agriculture is the engine of Ukraine’s economy. If farmers lose the opportunity to work now, it will cause a lot of problems. Community budgets were formed by 70 per cent of taxes and payments for lease of agricultural land – but this year these financial revenues will be lost, the article warns, impacting salaries among many other things.

New act allows Russian army to cut down and sell timber without any control

The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation has developed a legal act which will allow it to cut down any forest and bushes for defence purposes without land allotment on any lands (including the lands rented for needs of organisations and individual businessmen), the publication “We can explain” noticed. At the same time, the designated purpose of these forests does not matter.

In addition, the new rules will allow the army to dispose of the felled forest without the appropriate documentation.

“Since many details of the military sphere are classified, including purchases by the Defense Ministry, the scale of such logging will hardly be known to the public. It is likely that the government is using the agency's new option to conceal the scale of logging supplied to China,” We Can Explain notes.

Almost 2,000 cases opened for ‘discrediting’ the Russian army

The Russian human rights project OVD-info, recognised in Russia as a foreign agent, reports that since the beginning of March, 1,933 cases have been opened in Russia under the article on discrediting the Russian Armed Forces, the amount of all fines is €294,447 (19,949,000 rubles), the average fine is €505 (34,218 rubles).

“Although the article was introduced only in March, its application has already become a nationwide practice: we have recorded cases in 80 regions of Russia, as well as in Crimea and Sevastopol. Police did not find “discredit” only in Chechnya, Tyva, and the Magadan region,” the report said.

Leaders in terms of cases: Moscow - 295 cases, St. Petersburg - 103, the Krasnodar Territory - 92, the Kaliningrad Region - 76, the Tomsk Region - 60, the Crimea - 56, the Perm Territory - 53, Nizhny Novgorod Region - 50.

According to OVD-info, the data was collected from the websites of the courts, the state automated system “Justice”, press releases from the Interior Ministry, and from messages that come to the human rights project hotline.

Auction of Prymachenko painting raises half a million for Ukrainian army

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Maria Prymachenko's painting \"Flowers grew around the fourth block\". Paper, gouache. 1990. (Credit: auction house \"Dukat\")

by Vsevolod Kovtun, 16.05.2022

On 5 May a work by legendary Ukrainian artist Maria Prymachenko sold for a record 500,000 dollars to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine in a sensational ending to a charity auction.

Every Ukrainian knows her compatriot Kazimir Malevich. But he divides opinion, with many suspecting the modern master to be guilty of aesthetic hooliganism. It is a far cry from the paintings of Maria Prymachenko, (1908–1997), which are openly and unconditionally loved by everyone in Ukraine. They look at them endlessly, wear them as prints on bags and T-shirts, and just smile happily when they see her paintings. UNESCO even made 2009 her year.

People might be surprised to learn that at domestic auctions Prymachenko’s work barely exceeds four figures in euros. This has always been because the domestic art market did not reflect the artistic importance or the degree of spectator interest. Rather, it demonstrated the degree of solvency of art-buying Ukrainians and at the same time the aesthetic tastes of the wealthy.

Everything has changed radically in one day. In fact, in one hour, the very last hour of the auction, brilliantly organized by the famous Ukrainian auction house “Dukat”.

The previous record was broken decisively and impressively, the result a thousand times higher than the starting price and setting a record for the Ukrainian art market.

“Flowers grew around the fourth block”  was selected for sale because of its poignancy, the block in question being the emergency power unit of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. This is one of four works by the artist reflecting on this famous tragedy. Prymachenko’s own house was only a few tens of kilometers away.

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Maria Prymachenko. (Credit: Victor Marushchenko)

This February the Russian occupiers seized the long-preserved station and vandalised laboratories, stole radioactive samples and in a forever polluted environment, decided to dig trenches, raising clouds of radioactive dust. In the same period Russian forces destroyed her museum in Prymachenko's home village, her paintings only saved by the personal heroism of a local family.

Now the proceeds from the sale of Prymachenko's painting, donated for sale by the Ponamarchuk collecting family who along with Prymachenko’s heirs waive any rights, have gone to Serhiy Prytula (Ukrainian TV presenter and actor - ed.) Charitable Foundation to purchase a fleet of vehicles for the Ukrainian army. As a result, not only the charitable goal was achieved. With buyers deserting Russian art and the ugly bloodstains associated with sellers and dealers in the international auction houses, maybe its replacement is already lined up.

Read also: UN agencies, Geneva heritage fund mobilise to protect Ukrainian cultural sites by Geneva Solutions.

A word from our editors

Good morning, it is Monday 16 May and  Day 82 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And while the weekend saw many Ukrainians revel in joy about the country’s Eurovision victory, the war rages on in different regions.

In particular, there have been airstrikes on the Odesa region, which injured two adults and one child, according to Odesa City Official Telegram channel that quotes Operational Command South. Eleven Russian aircrafts were destroyed on 15 May, according to Air Force Command of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. And the Russian army continues trying to advance in the Donetsk region.

In more positive news, Ukraine military reports finding and detonating two Russian naval mines that were pushed out to a beach in the Odesa region.

And a story of a cat’s lucky escape from death…

Rescued cat in Mykolaiv

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Rescued cat (Credit: provided by Svitlana Vovk)

by Svitlana Vovk, 12.05.2022

Perhaps, a cat is not the guest that the supervisors of the main pumping station of the Mykolayiv Vodokanal water supply project would expect during the war, but it’s the guest they got on 11 May.

The employees think that the cat managed to survive thanks to the absence of water in the pipes caused by Russia's airstrikes in the neighbouring Kherson region.

One employee, Andriy Bondar, explained that the cat was spotted by the chief electrician at the water supply project. The cat was at the bottom of the canal normally used for removing wastewater.

Upon seeing the animal, Bondar decided to descend using a special harness and rescue him.

“The cat looked scared and emaciated. I petted him to help him calm down, then put the cat in my bag, and raised him up. I thought that he would not have more than a day left in him because he looked so weak, especially after inhaling the sewage gases that include methane. The Mykolayiv Vodokanal employees have to wear respirators when they work in that area, and still struggle to breathe, and it would be even harder for a small animal. Had this canal been full, the cat would have been pushed out with wastewater,” Bondar explained.

Bondar thinks that the cat could have been forced into the sewage system by the dogs in the area.

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Rescued cat (Credit: provided by Svitlana Vovk)

The Mykolayiv Vodokanal employees posted about the story on social media, which allowed the cat’s owners to recognise him.

On the following day, 12 May, Artem Havriushenko, his wife Olha and son Illia came to Mykolayiv Vodokanal to reunite with their animal. They say his torn ear is what made them recognise the cat in the photos they saw.

The family lives in Mykolaiv suburbs. They said that their cat often liked to wander off to the streets but would always return. He disappeared one month ago, and after the first week, the family got concerned and started asking their neighbours and other people in the area.

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The canal where the cat was found. (Photo: provided by Svitlana Vovk)

“We already lost hope but then saw the photo on the Mykolayiv Vodokanal social media page and recognised our Morkovych,” Olha said.

The family took up the cat when their grandmother spotted him in the teeth of a German shepherd. He was small and ginger, so they called him Morkovych (“Carrotson”).

The cat is very chatty. He likes to speak to the family, even on video calls. He is a real “Ukrainian cat,” the family said, as he likes to eat borshch, grains with fish, and mashed potatoes with chicken.

Meanwhile in Russian news …

‘Crimea is Ukraine’

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Yevpatoria administration building covered in yellow and blue paint (Credit: @talipovonline)

On the night of 16 May, the Yevpatoria administration building in Crimea was doused with yellow and blue paint, reports Russian independent media Meduza.

The acting head of Yevpatoria, Alexander Loskutov, said that a “reasonable suspect”. Loskutov wrote on social media that the FSB, the Interior Ministry, and the prosecutor's office were involved in the detention. According to him, “the motives and other circumstances” are being established. Loskutov did not name the detainee, promising details later.

Reuters: hundreds of bodies of Russian soldiers stored in refrigerated wagons near Kyiv

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Screenshots of video of Ukrainian servicemen loading bodies of Russian soldiers into refrigerated wagons. Right video subtitle: “There are several hundred bodies in this lineup alone” (Credit: Telegram Channel Present Time)

Ukrainian military loaded the bodies of Russian soldiers collected after fighting in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions onto refrigerated rail cars on Friday, Reuters reported.

The existence of such cars became known for the first time following reports by Al-Jazeera on 9 May. The military uniforms on the corpses were similar to those of the Russian Armed Forces, the story said.

Vladimir Lyamzin, head of the civil-military cooperation department of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said: “There are several hundred bodies of Russian occupants in this refrigerated train. Most of them are brought from the Kyiv region, there are from the Chernihiv region, there are from some other regions,” Lyamzin said.

Similar trains with the bodies of dead Russian soldiers stand in some other regions of Ukraine, Lyamzin claimed.

Telegram channel “Present Time” published a video showing people in white overalls loading the supposedly dead bodies of Russian soldiers into wagons.

Russia last announced the number of military personnel killed in the war in Ukraine on 25 March. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, 1,351 servicemen died. According to Ukraine, Russia's losses were about 25,000 servicemen. Ukraine insists that Russia does not take away the bodies of dead Russian soldiers.

A runner with an anti-war placard was met at the finish by riot police

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t-shirt inscription: “If you are for peace, say yes” (Credit: Telegram channel “Ostorozhno, Moskva”)

A participant in the “Moscow Half Marathon” entered the race on Sunday 15 May with a poster for peace attached to his uniform. He was met at the finish line by law enforcement officers, according to the Telegram channel Ostorozhno, Moskva.

The man was running in the 60+ age category. On his T-shirt on the front and back he pinned sheets with the inscription: “If you are for peace, say yes”, “If you are for peace, high five”.

The participant overcame the distance, but the security forces were already waiting for him at the finish line in Luzhniki.

The 2026 and 2028 Olympics will not be shown in Russia

Russia and Belarus have been barred from bidding to buy television rights to broadcast the Games taking place in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2026 and Los Angeles in 2028.

The International Olympic Committee accused Russia of violating the Olympic truce and Belarus of supporting Russia’s actions. The Committee recommended that sports organisations and international sports federations not allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete.

Meanwhile back in Ukraine….

Getting around Kyiv during war

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Parked up cars in Kyiv in early May 2022. (Credit: Uri Rogoza)

Despite the Kyiv government warning against coming back to the capital, many residents and guests are navigating a life in the war-era city. Writer and journalist Uri Rogoza explains the peculiarities of getting around Kyiv during the war.

by Uri Rogoza, 10.05.2022

Streets and highways busy with cars leaving Kyiv for Ukraine’s west or abroad became one of the symbols of the start of Russia’s all-out invasion. Many of these fleeing people were residents of high-rise buildings who hoped to escape the bombing by hiding in suburban houses or dachas. As a result, many of them found themselves in territories temporarily occupied by the enemy and experienced all the horrors of the Russian invasion.

By the end of the second day, traffic jams had moved to the outskirts of the city, and the streets were empty. And by the morning of the third day of the war, Kyiv looked like a besieged fortress with roadblocks at every intersection and anti-tank hedgehogs on the roadway. Heavy concrete structures were added to these fortifications, which were transported around the city and placed by special cranes.

Driving during those days through the empty city was accompanied by the howl of sirens and explosions happening on the horizon. I managed to get to Kyiv’s formal border by only showing my ID and driver’s license at the checkpoints. Soon Kyiv was partly besieged, and in the atmosphere of constant battle noises, most residents had no need or desire to travel anywhere.

When the Russian soldiers were thrown away from the capital, nothing changed on the Kyiv roads. It seemed that earth piles, concrete beams, and anti-tank hedgehogs would remain on them until the end of the war.

It still took a very long time to drive anywhere, but not due to document checks – those were rare and selective. It’s just that each checkpoint had to be passed in one lane, slowly and winding, and this created a kind of traffic jam.

Gradually, Kyiv came to life. Of course, there weren’t as many cars as there were before the war, perhaps, 20-30 times less. The streets were still empty, and most of the cars were sitting in the yards or parking lots. (which conveniently became free during the war, by the way).

Petrol was available at every station, with government-fixed prices, but you could not rely on shuttle buses, for example. Those operated with no schedule and no system, as luck would have it.

The third period (which is ongoing now) is unlike the first or the second. On the one hand, many of the barriers from the streets were removed or shifted to the side of the road to expand them and facilitate the passage. On the other hand, serious shortages of petrol have returned. At first, they would fill 10 litres into one tank, then many petrol stations closed down, while others saw kilometre-long queues forming outside them.

The metro – which acted as a bomb shelter throughout the war – resumed working. Partially at first, then in full mode, but the train schedule looks rather strange still.

The people of Kyiv are calm and reserved. Everyone understands that the war is going on, and its course is difficult to predict. Doctors, police and other services are provided with transport, the rest will just have to accept the fact that they should only travel for the most urgent matters, while remembering that filling up their tank can be quite difficult.

At the mercy of the Russian occupiers, one elderly man from near Bucha in the Kyiv region described his tragic experience to our correspondent Maksym Khotilenko.

Yuri Kobzev almost said goodbye to life

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Near Bucha, Kyiv region, Ukraine. (Credit: Yuri Kobzev)

By Maksym Khotilenko 16.5.2022

In 73 years Yuri saw a lot, but he could not imagine it even in a nightmare.

“It was hell. Shells explode above us. Debris was flying and we did not know where to hide. Houses burning, collapsing. If you’re coming in at that moment, you’d simply be suffocated and you would die.”

Pensioner Yuri’s first meeting with the Russian invaders came when he opened his front gate in the small village of Moshchun, near Bucha, thirty kilometers from Kyiv. He’ll remember it for a lifetime. In just a few seconds he found himself in mortal danger.

“I started to open the gate, and a Russian soldier was behind the corner. Stop! he said. I  raised my hands. He ordered me to lay down, but I have sciatica, I can not move quickly. I just started bending my back and he started firing from a machine gun.”

A neighbour rushed to the aid of the wounded Yuri.

“Serhii began to pull me away, but the soldier shouted ‘there’s another one’ and then a second soldier came out and they both started shooting at us with their guns.”

Serhii managed to hide behind the corner of the house, but the bloodied Yuri remained lying on the ground, not realising what would happen to him next.

“Serhii shouts at me - crawl! I began to crawl. He pulled me to a corner of the house and I fainted.”

Serhii bandaged the wounds and while Yuri regained consciousness, the Russians broke into the house.

“After half an hour they came in. Five people. “Lie down! On your knees!!! Hands behind your head!!” Serhii went on his knees.

The occupiers were looking for weapons and the Ukrainian military. After searching the house, they went to check the neighbour’s home. It seemed then that it would not get worse. But later that day the next Russian gang appeared on the doorstep.

“A group of 32 people came. The sabotage and reconnaissance group. Their uniforms were beautiful, dark. Everyone had grenade launchers on their backs. Machine guns. In general very well equipped.”

However, the goal of these “Russians” was completely different.

“Serhii had a bottle of alcohol for my wounds. And the military asks, is this your vodka? Can we try? We poured them one glass each. They started talking. ‘Good vodka.”

They did not get drunk. They quickly assembled and left – the Ukrainian military was constantly keeping the enemy on alert. But the ordeal for the pensioner was not over. A day later a rocket landed on his house, which he had built himself.

“The front of the house collapsed. There is no electricity, my tools do not work. How do we rebuild all that?”

Yurii with his wife Olena had been building this house with their own hands for five years. The house of their dreams in a quiet forest. An architect by education, Olena thought through every element of her home. An old dream had come true. But they did not enjoy it. A week after construction was finished, Russian aircraft flew over their village. And a day later, Russian missiles. Which turned the dream into ruins.

“I dreamt of drawing a fire bird on the pediment of the house with my friends. I woke up to explosions. The third was very serious, I started waking my husband and then our friends started calling us, saying – the war has begun.”

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