Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian forces had “completely destroyed” Ukraine’s Donbass region as they stepped up their offensive in eastern Ukraine.

Speaking in a video speech late on May 19, Zelenskiy also accused Russian forces of trying to kill as many Ukrainians as possible and repeated his charge that Russia was committing genocide.

“It’s hell out there – and that’s no exaggeration,” he said, adding that 12 people were killed in the “brutal and absolutely senseless shelling” of Severodonetsk on May 19.

There are “constant strikes on the Odessa region, on the cities of central Ukraine. Donbass is completely destroyed,” he said.

Zelenskiy also said he spoke on May 19 with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on a range of issues, including financial aid to help Ukraine’s crumbling economy, agricultural exports and “the evacuation of our heroes from Azovstal”. .”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said earlier that it had started registering hundreds of Ukrainian fighters who left the Azovstal factory in Mariupol as prisoners of war (POW).

“Over the past two days, we have registered hundreds of POWs leaving the Azovstal factory in Mariupol. The registration of POWs is an essential part of our work. It is essential to ensure that ‘they are taken into account and treated with humanity and dignity’, the ICRC declared the Twitter May 19.

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The ICRC said in a statement that the registration process, which is ongoing, involves the documentation of personal data such as name, date of birth and next of kin.

This “allows the ICRC to track those captured and help them stay in touch with their families,” the statement said.

He added that under the Geneva Conventions, the ICRC is authorized to interrogate prisoners of war “without witnesses” and that visits with them should not be “unduly restricted”.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on May 19 that the number of prisoners who had “surrendered” since May 16 was 1,730. All of them, including 80 wounded, were reportedly transferred to territory in eastern Russia. Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists. .

It’s unclear how many soldiers remain holed up in the sprawling industrial complex, but the city of Mariupol is now under Russian control.

The Ukrainian army announced earlier this week that the men had been ordered to stand down for their lives after weeks in the underground steelworks complex.

kyiv has expressed hope that the fighters will be exchanged for Russian prisoners, but pro-Russian authorities in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region have hinted that some of them may face trial.

On May 19, the UN humanitarian chief urged Russia and Ukraine to step up the cooperation needed to end the siege and allow evacuation. Martin Griffiths said initial evacuation operations of civilians and then of combatants pave the way for broader peace negotiations.

“These operations could not have taken place without the cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Ukrainian authorities,” he told reporters in Geneva. Cooperation “suggests that there is something to lean on”.

Griffiths called for the resumption of stalled talks hosted by Turkey, which invited negotiators from Kyiv and Moscow to meet for two rounds of talks in March.

On the battlefield, Serhiy Hayday, the governor of the Luhansk region, said the Russian army had started shelling Severodonetsk, where he said 12 people had been killed and more than 40 injured, with heavy weapons early May 19.

Casualty information was incomplete as it is impossible to access the area under fire. Hayday’s report could not be independently verified.

Oleksiy Gromov, deputy head of the Ukrainian army’s main operations department, told a briefing that a group of Russian troops were trying to carry out offensive operations along the entire line of contact in Donetsk and that there was active hostilities in Severodonetsk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiiv and Kurakhiv regions.

Gromov also reported that Ukrainian forces have liberated 23 settlements in the Kharkiv region since May 5.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian army mentioned earlier that Russian forces had launched counterattacks around Kharkiv in an attempt to regain lost ground after being pushed back towards the border.

In the area of ​​the Velyka Komyshuvakha settlement, Russian forces suffered significant losses and were forced to retreat to previously occupied positions, the Ukrainian General Staff mentioned May 19.

The governor of Russia’s Kursk region said on May 19 that one person was killed and several injured after what he said was a Ukrainian attack on a village near the border.

The British Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence newsletter on May 19, Lieutenant General Sergei Kisel, who commanded the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, was suspended for his failure to capture Kharkiv.

The British intelligence report said Kisel was just one of senior Russian officers who were fired in recent weeks for their poor performance at the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

Other Russian commanders likely to have been removed include Vice Admiral Igor Osipov, who commanded Russia’s Black Sea Fleet following the sinking of the cruiser Moskva in April, British intelligence reported.

Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of the Russian army, is likely to remain in his post, the bulletin said, adding that it is unclear whether he retains the confidence of President Vladimir Putin.

A culture of cover-up and scapegoating is likely to be pervasive within Russia’s military and security system, the UK bulletin said, concluding that this could put further strain on Russia’s centralized command-and-control model and make it more difficult for Moscow to regain the initiative. in the conflict.

Meanwhile, an unnamed NATO military official with knowledge of the intelligence said CNN that the momentum of the conflict had shifted significantly in favor of Ukraine, although the alliance does not expect significant gains for either side in the coming weeks.

On the diplomatic front, US President Joe Biden welcomed the Finnish and Swedish leaders on May 19 and hailed their candidacy for NATO membership.

Biden expressed strong support for the candidacies of Sweden and Finland, calling them “great democracies” and “highly capable partners.”

With reporting from Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, BBC and TASS