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Fighters evacuate Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant

The apparent surrender of the final stronghold in the key port city would cede full control of Mariupol to Russia.

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Ukraine said the last defenders of Mariupol have completed their mission and are being evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant, where they have been holed up under bombardment for weeks.

The apparent surrender of Ukraine's final stronghold in the port city would cede full control of Mariupol to Russia, ending a deadly battle that has come to symbolize the brutality of Russian President Vladimir Putin's war.

Here's what to know today:

  • The "Mariupol garrison has fulfilled its combat mission," the general staff of Ukraine's armed forces said in a statement.
  • More than 50 of the most severely wounded fighters have already been evacuated from the sprawling steel plant.
  • Russian authorities said they “will interrogate the surrendered militants who were hiding in Mariupol’s Azovstal plant” as part of a bigger investigation into allegations of war crimes committed against civilians.
  • Turkey raises objections to Sweden's and Finland's NATO bids. The countries plan to hand in their applications Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said, according to Reuters.

Read full coverage of the war here.

Ukraine first lady: Millions in country will need psychological help

Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, said Tuesday that millions of people in her country will need psychological help after Russia’s attack and invasion, according to a readout of her call with Israel's first lady.

Zelenska made the comments in a phone call with Israel’s Michal Herzog, in which she thanked Israel for its medical support, the office of Ukraine’s president said in a statement.

Zelenska said she is spearheading a national program for psychological assistance, according to the statement. "The brutality of the Russian military, which has deeply shocked the entire civilized world, means that millions of Ukrainians also need urgent professional psychological help. And here I am very grateful for the support of the state of Israel," she said in part.

More than 6 million people are believed to have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, according to the U.N. refugee office. More than 8 million have been displaced internally, and millions more are trapped or stranded, it said.

3,000 civilians from Mariupol held at penal colony, Ukraine says

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman said the Russian military was holding more than 3,000 civilians from Mariupol at another former penal colony near Olenivka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

Seven buses carrying an unknown number of Ukrainian soldiers who were evacuated from the Mariupol steel plant were seen arriving Tuesday at former penal colony No. 120 near Olenivka.

Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova said on Telegram earlier Tuesday that the civilians were being held at former penal colony No. 52, also near Olenivka.

She said most civilians are held for a month but that those considered “particularly unreliable,” including former soldiers and police, are held for two months.

Denisova said those being held include about 30 volunteers who delivered humanitarian supplies to Mariupol while it was under Russian siege.

State Department says Russian authorities have denied embassy visit to Griner for third time in a month

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with the wife of detained American basketball player Brittney Griner, a senior State Department official confirmed.

Blinken told Cherelle Griner that her wife’s case has his full attention and that the State Department is working on it day and night, the official said.

Griner, a star center for the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested in February on drug charges after a search of her luggage at the Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow was alleged to have turned up vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis.

Last week, Moscow extended Griner’s pretrial detention by a month. State Department officials say they have been denied embassy visits three times.

A consular official who spoke with Brittney Griner on Friday "came away with the impression that Brittney Griner is doing as well as might be expected under conditions that can only be described as exceedingly difficult," Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, told reporters.

"Sporadic contact is not satisfactory," he added.

Ukraine says nearly 28,000 Russians killed since start of invasion

The Russian army has lost 27,900 soldiers since it invaded Ukraine in February, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said Tuesday in a video posted to Telegram.

Ukrainian forces have taken back control of heavily bombed Kharkiv near the Russian border. But Ukraine appears to be on the brink of ceding Mariupol to Russian forces after more than 200 soldiers who had been trapped inside a steel plant during a monthslong battle were freed Monday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his evening address Tuesday that evacuation efforts continued.

“They [Russian forces] are not able to demonstrate success in the general military actions on those directions where they try to advance. That is why they try to show success with their rockets and other activity, but also without any results," he said.

NATO chief to meet with alliance's ambassadors from Finland, Sweden

With Sweden and neighboring Finland moving ahead in their bids to formally join NATO, alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced he would meet Wednesday with the nations' ambassadors to the organization.

Stoltenberg has said the membership process could be expedited in a larger move that would signal a diplomatic blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

7 killed, 6 wounded in Donetsk region

At least seven civilians were killed and six more people were wounded Tuesday in Ukraine's Donetsk region, Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a message on Telegram.

He said it was "impossible" to determine the exact number of victims in Mariupol and Volnovakha and added that medical care was provided to nine people wounded in the Luhansk region.

"Every war criminal will be punished!” Kyrylenko said.

Zelenskyy gives emotional Cannes opening night speech: ‘The dictator will lose’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy outshone all of the stars at the Cannes Film Festival after he addressed the opening night crowd of actors and filmmakers, delivering an emotional plea on behalf of his war-torn country. Appearing via video link, Zelenskyy had festivalgoers dabbing their eyes.

“We continue fighting,” Zelenskyy said. “We have no choice but to continue fighting for our freedom.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses guests during the Opening Ceremony of the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 17, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses guests during the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival in southern France on Tuesday.Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images

Zelenskyy spoke shortly before the premiere of “Final Cut,” a wacky zombie comedy that seems far removed from the brutality on display in Ukraine after Russia’s illegal invasion. He sounded a passionate rallying cry.

“I’m sure that the dictator will lose,” Zelenskyy said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding: “We will win in this war. Glory to Ukraine.”

The war looms large over this year’s film festival. Several related films featured at the festival, such as “The Natural History of Destruction,” the latest documentary from Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, as well as the final movie from the Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravičius, a Ukraine-set documentary the director was shooting in the city of Mariupol when he was killed in early April.

Festival organizers also waded into the political situation in other ways, banning Russians with ties to Putin’s government.

Russia seeks to declare Ukraine’s Azov Regiment a 'terrorist organization'

A Russian investigative committee will interrogate Ukrainian soldiers recently freed from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, now a Russian-occupied territory, as part of a bigger investigation into allegations of war crimes committed against civilians.

In a statement posted Tuesday to Telegram, Russian authorities said they "will interrogate the surrendered militants who were hiding in Mariupol’s Azovstal plant" and "identify the nationalists, check their involvement in crimes committed against the civilian population, and the information obtained during interrogations will be compared to other data available in criminal cases’ materials.”

Earlier Tuesday, the Russian prosecutors sought to declare Ukraine’s Azov Regiment a terrorist organization. A hearing is scheduled for May 26, the Russian Justice Ministry said a day after Ukraine ceded control of the Mariupol steel plant to Russian forces after a bloody monthslong struggle.

The Azov Regiment began as a small militia comprising volunteers who banded together against pro-Russian separatists nearly a decade ago, Reuters reported. Mariupol is the "spiritual home" of the regiment, which helped Ukraine recapture the southeastern port city from pro-Russian fighters in 2014.

The militia is alleged to have emerged from an organization with ties to white nationalist and extreme-right ideologies, Reuters reported. Azov members deny neo-Nazi affiliations.

Zelenskyy has 'meaningful' call with Macron about Mariupol plant evacuations

The evacuation of Ukrainian troops from the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol was one of several key topics in a "long and meaningful" phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted Tuesday.

The two leaders spoke about several issues, which France's Élysée Palace said included the assurance of humanitarian aid to Ukraine and security guarantees that France could provide "within the framework of an international agreement" to ensure Ukraine's ongoing sovereignty and territorial integrity.

International Criminal Court deploys team to investigate alleged crimes in Ukraine

The International Criminal Court said Tuesday that more than 40 investigators, forensic experts and other personnel are traveling to Ukraine to collect potential evidence of war crimes and other crimes against humanity.

Chief prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan said in a statement that the team is the largest ever sent by his office for a single field deployment. In the days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Khan announced that he would open an investigation to determine what international laws might have been broken.

While Russia is not a member of the International Criminal Court, Khan said the intergovernmental organization still has authority regardless of the nationalities of those accused of carrying out any criminal activity.

"It is essential that we demonstrate to survivors and the families of victims that international law is relevant to their experience ... in order to bring them some measure of solace through the process of justice," Khan said.

Blinken speaks to wife of detained WNBA star Brittney Griner

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reached out to the wife of Brittney Griner, the American basketball player jailed in Russia, after a court last week extended her pre-trial detention for another month.

A senior State Department official said Tuesday that Blinken spoke with Cherelle Griner on Saturday to assure her that her wife's case is a priority that has his full attention. Blinken also told Cherelle Griner that if there was something she was not getting from his team, she could contact him, the official said.

Griner, a star center for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, was arrested in February on drug charges after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage at a Moscow-area airport allegedly turned up vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis. Griner, 31, also plays for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Griner has made no public comments about the circumstances surrounding her arrest, but the State Department has determined she is being "wrongfully detained."

Sweden and Finland to hand in NATO applications on Wednesday, Swedish PM says

Sweden and Finland will on Wednesday hand in their respective applications to NATO to join the organization, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Tuesday.

“In Sweden and Finland we also agree to go hand in hand through this entire process and we will tomorrow together file the application,” she told a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the Swedish capital.

Finland’s parliament on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a proposal to apply for membership of the NATO military alliance. Niinisto and the government decided officially on Sunday that Finland would apply for membership but the decision was pending parliament’s approval. Of the 200 lawmakers, 188 voted in favor and eight against the application, Speaker Matti Vanhanen said.

Biden to host leaders of Sweden, Finland amid NATO bids

President Joe Biden will host Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland at the White House for a meeting Thursday amid their push to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The White House said they would discuss the two countries’ applications to join the mutual defense alliance, as well as European security broadly. The requests by the long-neutral nations to join NATO have been widely lauded within the alliance as a rebuke of Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, though Turkey has expressed reservations.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that the administration is “very confident” that an agreement would be reached for the two countries to join the alliance.

Zelenskyy and his wife make joint public appearance

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena Zelenska, lay flowers on the coffin of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk during the funeral ceremony in Kyiv on Tuesday. Sergei Supinsky / AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his wife Olena Zelenska attended the funeral of the first Ukrainian president in what appeared to be their first joint public event since Feb. 20.

The two laid flowers at the coffin of President Leonid Kravchuk, who was in office from 1991 to 1994, and spoke with members of Kravchuk’s family to express their condolences, according to a statement on the president’s website.

On Feb. 20, days before the outbreak of war, Zelenskyy and his wife attended a memorial together in Kyiv. Since then, Zelenskyy has declined to mention in interviews where his family was due to concerns over their security.

Presidential couple pays tribute to Heavenly Hundred Heroes
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and first lady Olena Zelenska attend a memorial in Kyiv on Feb. 20. Evgen Kotenko / Future Publishing via Getty Images file

Russian forces shell Sumy region, next to Russian border

Russian forces shelled the Sumy region, in Ukraine’s northeast next to the border, throughout the morning on Tuesday, according to the governor of the region.

The intense shelling has sparked fires along the border, Gov. Dmmytro Zhyvytskiy said in a post on Telegram.

There were around 70 explosions in Boyaro-Lezhachi, a town near the border, and five hits in Esman, another town near the border. Zhyvytskiy didn’t give details on what exactly was hit, and NBC News was not able to independently verify the claims. 

Russian helicopter remains in Kharkiv

Local residents check the remains of a destroyed Russian helicopter in the village of Malaya Rohan, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on May 16, 2022.
Local residents check the remains of a destroyed Russian helicopter in the village of Malaya Rohan, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on May 16, 2022. Bernat Armangue / AP

Eurovision winners plan to sell trophy to raise money for Ukraine

Kalush Orchestra, Ukraine's winning entry in the Eurovision Song Contest 2022, said Tuesday that it intends to sell its trophy to raise money for their country as the war continues.

"There are many people who can afford to donate a lot of money in support of Ukraine, and this trophy will be an additional prize," frontman Oleg Psyuk said at a news conference in Lviv on Tuesday.

The band plans to put out more details about the planned auction on its Instagram account.

Kalush Orchestra's win in Turin, Italy, on Saturday was expected by many, as the competing countries aimed to show solidarity with Ukraine in its attempt to beat back Russia's invasion.

Sweden formally applies to become NATO member

Russia expels two Finnish diplomats from Moscow embassy

Russia expelled two Finnish diplomats on Tuesday from Finland’s embassy in Moscow, its Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Finnish Ambassador to Russia Antti Helantera was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.

The Foreign Ministry pointed to Finland’s support for sanctions against Russia, as well as its “confrontational course towards Russia, including arms supplies to the Kyiv regime.”

Finland, which shares an 810-mile-long border with Russia, said Sunday that it intends to apply for membership in the NATO security alliance. Neighboring Sweden said Monday that it also intended to apply for NATO membership. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that it “does not pose an immediate threat” if the two countries would join NATO and that Moscow would consider its response. 

Ukrainian soldiers cheer in Kharkiv

Ukrainian serviceman wave a flag which reads "Glory to Ukraine" in the Kharkiv region on May 16, 2022.
Ukrainian serviceman wave a flag which reads "Glory to Ukraine" in the Kharkiv region on May 16, 2022.Bernat Armangue / AP

‘Massive waves’ of rockets target western Ukrainian city of Lviv

Two “massive waves” of rockets targeted Lviv in western Ukraine, the city’s mayor said early Tuesday.

None of the strikes landed in Lviv and the city’s air defenses “worked well,” Mayor Andrii Sadovyi said in a post on Telegram. Railway infrastructure was damaged and windows were blown out in a local village, he added, noting that the village is only around 16 miles from the border with Poland.

It was one of the largest attacks to hit the region, he said. Since the invasion began in February, the city has become a refuge for Ukrainians who have fled their homes.

More than 50 severely wounded soldiers among those evacuated from Azovstal, deputy PM says

Of the more than 260 fighters evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol late Monday, 52 had severe injuries, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a post on Telegram Tuesday.

“In the interests of saving lives, 52 of our severely wounded servicemen were evacuated yesterday,” she wrote on Telegram. “After their condition stabilizes, we will exchange them for Russian prisoners of war.”

A unknown number of fightenrs are still inside the steel plant, the last stand of Ukrainian fighters in the southern city of Mariupol that has otherwise been taken over by Russian forces.

“We are working on the next stages of the humanitarian operation,” Vereshchuk said in the post.

Wounded troops from Azovstal steel plant evacuated for medical treatment

Ukraine says combat mission ‘fulfilled’ at Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol

Ukraine’s military has declared an end to its defense of Mariupol, saying that the last remaining pocket of resistance in the besieged southern port city had “fulfilled its combat mission.”

The military hailed the fighters’ efforts in defending the Azovstal steel plant and gave them credit for preventing Russian forces from capturing other areas of Ukraine, including Zaporizhia.

Calling them “the heroes of our time,” the military said in a post on Facebook late Wednesday that the fighters “gave us the opportunity to prepare and create defensive lines, where our troops are today and give a decent rebuff to the aggressor,” the military said in a post on Facebook. “We received critical time to form reserves, regroup forces, and receive assistance from partners.”

A first set of wounded fighters were evacuated from the steel plant late Monday, with an unknown number still awaiting evacuation. 

Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from Azovstal plant

DPR Russia Ukraine Military Operation
Russian-backed fighters escort a bus carrying wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol on Monday.Alexey Kudenko / Sputnik via AP

G7 warns Russia-Ukraine war is stoking global food crisis