200 bodies found in bombed Mariupol building; Kissinger urges Ukraine to give up disputed territory to end war: May 24 recap

·9 min read

This page recaps the news from Ukraine on Tuesday, May 24. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Wednesday, May 25, as Russia's invasion continues.

The decomposing bodies of 200 people were found in the basement of a bombed-out apartment building in battered Mariupol, authorities said Tuesday, marking the latest in a series of dismal discoveries since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began three months ago.

Mayoral adviser Petro Andryushchenk said local residents had refused Russian demands to collect the bodies of the dead, so Russia's Ministry of Emergencies left the bodies amid the rubble.

Mariupol has been left in ruins by weeks of missile attacks. Last week the last Ukrainian fighters surrendered, giving Russia complete control of the city that was home to 450,000 people before the war. An estimated 100,000 remain. Mayor Vadym Boychenko claims the Russian bombardment of the city killed thousands of civilians.

Earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of attempting to inflict as much death and destruction as possible on his country.

“There has not been such a war on the European continent for 77 years,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address.

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Latest developments:

►Denys Prokopenko, the top military commander who fought at the steel mill until last week to keep Ukrainian control of the southern port city of Mariupol, is alive in Russian-controlled territory, his wife said Tuesday after they had a brief phone conversation.

►The U.S. will close the last avenue for Russia to pay its billions in debt to international investors on Wednesday, making Russia's first default on its debts in more than a century all but inevitable. The Treasury Department said it does not intend to renew the license for Russia to keep paying its debtholders through American banks.

►Ukrainian authorities have informed Cyprus about Ukraine's seizure of $420 million worth of shares and securities linked to the island nation that belong to a Russian billionaire and other businessmen. Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova identified the billionaire as Mikhail Fridman of Alfa Bank.

►Mariupol's port has been cleared of mines and work is underway to restore operations, said Eduard Basurin, militia spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. Mariupol is Ukraine's largest port on the Azov Sea.

►Vladimir Saldo, installed by Russia as governor of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, said the area will have dual currency – Russian rubles and Ukrainian hryvnyas.

Zelenskyy: Send more weapons to fend off Russian offensive in Donbas

As Russia focuses on making gains in the eastern Donbas region in an effort to salvage a troubled war effort, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is asking for more help – namely, more weapons to fight off the assault on four cities.

“The situation in the Donbas now is very difficult,” Zelenskyy said Tuesday in his nightly video address. “Practically the full might of the Russian army, whatever they have left, is being thrown at the offensive there. Liman, Popasna, Sievierodonetsk, Slaviansk – the occupiers want to destroy everything there.”

He lauded the efforts of the Ukrainian army against a much larger enemy but said continued supplies of arms from the West would be required to overcome the Russian advantage. Among the equipment needed, he said, are multiple-rocket launchers and tanks.

On Saturday, President Joe Biden signed a $40 billion aid package that included more than $20 billion for the Pentagon to provide weapons, intelligence and training to Ukraine.

European Commission chief says Russia's 'using hunger and grain to wield power'

Russian troops continue to block about 22 million tons of grain in the Ukrainian ports intended for export, an action that will aggravate the global food crisis, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen went a step farther Tuesday, accusing Russia of deliberately bombarding grain warehouses across Ukraine and weaponizing food supplies.

“And on top of this, Russia is now hoarding its own food exports as a form of blackmail – holding back supplies to increase global prices, or trading wheat in exchange for political support,” she said. “This is using hunger and grain to wield power.”

Von der Leyen said fragile countries and populations suffer the most, pointing out bread prices in Lebanon increased by 70%, and food shipments from Odesa have been blocked from reaching Somalia. Before the war, Ukraine was one of the world's leading exporters of wheat.

Kissinger urges Ukraine to concede occupied territory to end war

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is urging Ukraine to concede its occupied territory and telling the West not to pursue a crushing defeat of Russia to facilitate an end to the war.

Kissinger, a longtime advocate of the doctrine of realpolitik -- politics of the possible -- said during a video appearance Monday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that keeping an unyielding stance in peace talks with Russia could jeopardize European stability.

“Negotiations need to begin in the next two months before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not be easily overcome. Ideally, the dividing line should be a return to the status quo ante,” said Kissinger, who turns 99 on Friday. “Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the return of Ukrainian territory controlled by Russia -- Crimea, illegally annexed in 2014, and the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk areas, under dispute since that same year -- are a precondition for negotiations.

Ukrainians support that position overwhelmingly, according to a recent poll that shows 82% of them refuse to concede any land to end the war.

Americans still favor punishing Russia, but economy more important, poll shows

Americans still support sanctioning Russia for invading Ukraine but not at the expense of the U.S. economy, a shift from previous months that reveals increasing concern about inflation, according to a new poll.

The survey from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicates 51% of U.S. adults believe the nation’s bigger priority should be limiting damage to the economy, while 45% say it should be sanctioning Russia as effectively as possible. Those numbers were reversed in April.

Some respondents said the rising cost of goods and services amid an inflation rate of more than 8% – the highest in 40 years – is having a significant impact on their lives, likely contributing to the slight change in attitudes about the U.S. involvement in the war.

Kremlin reacts to diplomat who quit after blasting war: 'He is against us'

A day after a Russian diplomat resigned with a fiery letter slamming the "aggressive war unleashed by Putin," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Boris Bondarev as a malcontent who had no support within his own country.

"Mr. Bondarev is no longer with us, rather, he is against us," Peskov said. "He condemns the actions of the Russian leadership, and the actions of the Russian leadership is supported by almost the entire population of our country."

Bondarev worked for Russia's U.N. office in Geneva. His resignation letter accused the Russian ministry of being "all about warmongering, lies and hatred. It serves interests of few ... thus contributing to further isolation and degradation of my country.”

Russian leaders defend progress of war

The war reached the three-month mark Tuesday, and Russian leaders went public to make their case that all is well. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu brushed aside claims that his troops have made little headway, saying the offensive was slowed deliberately "to avoid civilian casualties." This despite relentless shelling of cities that reportedly has killed thousands of civilians.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia's Security Council, told Russian media that the Kremlin “is not chasing deadlines” to end the war. He raised the Kremlin's recurring theme that the war would end Nazism in Ukraine, whose government is democratically elected and led by a Jewish president.

“Nazism must either be 100% eradicated or it will raise its head in a few years, and in an even uglier form,” he said.

Austin: This is 'not the United States' fight'

The U.S. has sent tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, much of it in military assistance, including a newly signed a $40 billion aid package.

But the U.S. has refrained from sending American troops to the war-torn country, and President Joe Biden has shown no interest in doing so.

“I think this is Ukraine's fight,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday at a press conference. "It's not the United States' fight. We are doing everything that we can to make sure that we are supporting them in their effort to defend their sovereign territory.”

Meanwhile, Biden told fellow Indo-Pacific leaders assembled for a four-country summit Tuesday that they were navigating "a dark hour in our shared history" because of Russia’s brutal war, and he urged the group to make a greater effort to stop President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

"This is more than just a European issue. It’s a global issue," Biden said as the “Quad” summit with Japan, Australia and India got underway. While he did not directly call out any countries, Biden's message appeared to be pointed, at least in part, at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with whom differences persist over how to respond to the Russian invasion.

Blinken discusses food security with Ukraine foreign minister

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday, discussing the global food security crisis resulting from the war and potential means to export Ukraine’s grain to international markets. Blinken spokesman Ned Price said Blinken conveyed details on the $40 billion supplemental appropriations act signed by President Joe Biden on Saturday.

"The secretary again underscored the United States’ strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Moscow’s aggression," Price said.

Navalny unbowed: Putin 'will be defeated in ... the stupid war"

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's nine-year prison sentence for fraud was upheld by an appeals court Tuesday, but the Vladimir Putin foil remained unbowed. Navalny was convicted of defrauding supporters by seeking donations to run for president even though he knew a previous sham conviction disqualified him from being a candidate.

Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh wrote on Twitter that the prison where Navalny will be transferred to is notorious for inmates being tortured and killed.

"But as Navalny said in his final words today, 'Putin can break a lot of lives, but sooner or later he will be defeated in both this and the stupid war he is waging,'" Yarmysh wrote.

US, Britain accuse Russia of cyberattacks, spreading disinformation

The United States and Britain accused Russia of manipulating public opinion and spreading disinformation about the war in Ukraine by conducting cyberattacks and censoring content.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Russian government “continues to shut down, restrict and degrade Internet connectivity, censor content, spread disinformation online and intimidate and arrest journalists for reporting the truth about its invasion.”

Russia has passed strong censorship laws, threatening individuals with up to 15 years of prison for publishing information that runs counter to Russia's narrative about the invasion.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: 200 bodies found in Mariupol basement