What happened in the Russia-Ukraine war this week? Catch up with the must-read news and analysis | Ukraine

Every week we wrap up the must-reads from our coverage of the Ukraine war, from news and features to analysis, visual guides and opinion.

The battle for Mariupol

Peter Beaumont charted the high-profile siege of Mariupol, the key southern port city that – eventually – became a victory for the Kremlin, leaving a city in ruins and perhaps thousands of civilians dead.

The battle for Mariupol came to define one of the most brutal episodes in Russia’s war against Ukraine. It was one of the first major cities to be encircled and was viewed as one of the Kremlin’s key objectives both for its economic importance and as a stepping stone in building a land bridge from Russia to Russian-occupied Crimea.

This week, Pjotr Sauer reported claims by Moscow that more than 1,700 Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the Azovstal steelworks “surrendered” and had been taken to Russian-held territory. Russia said more than 900 of the soldiers had been sent to a former prison colony. It is not clear how many soldiers remain inside the plant, and Ukraine has not commented on the evacuation of the soldiers since Tuesday.

The deputy commander of the Azov regiment, Capt Svyatoslav Palamar, released a video on Thursday evening in which he said he had not surrendered and remained in the steelworks. “The operation is continuing. I can’t give more information now,” Palamar said. He did not say how many other fighters were with him.

Inside Russia, the fate of the evacuated soldiers is being decided. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the combatants would be treated in line with international norms for prisoners of war, though several senior Russian politicians demanded they be put on trial and one even called for their execution.

Monsters in the basement

Timofiy Seidov draws next to his aunt Yana Sotnikova in the basement in Kutuzivka, Ukraine. Photograph: Ed Ram/The Guardian

Daniel Boffey wrote a powerful dispatch from Kutuzivka in north-east Ukraine detailing the life spent underground of eight-year-old Tymofiy Seidov, the last child remaining in his village.

He spends much of his time drawing at a little table, dimly illuminated from above by a tiny LED light, in the corner of the otherwise almost completely dark 40-by-five-metre basement he shares with 23 others including his mum, aunt and grandmother.

Tanks feature a lot in his pictures. The day of Boffey’s visit, he is working on some Dalek-like monsters that he says he remembers from a cartoon he watched on YouTube before the war. He also draws happier scenes, sometimes, of houses under the sun and rainbows in the sky. But the world outside has been out of bounds to him for months.

Tymofiy’s mum, Rita, says: “Tymofiy is calm today but during the heavy fighting he would become hysterical.”

Putin the colonel

Defence and security editor Dan Sabbagh reported how western military sources believe Vladimir Putin has become personally involved in the war, making decisions “at the level of a colonel or brigadier”.

The sources said they believed the Russian president was making tactical decisions in the east, helping determine the movement of forces in the Donbas, where last week his invading forces suffered a bloody defeat as they repeatedly tried to cross a strategic river in the east of Ukraine. The attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces resulted in nearly 500 killed and the loss of more than 70 armoured vehicles in the disastrous attempt to cross the Siverski Donets river in broad daylight.

Russian president Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin is believed by some to be involved in tactical decision-making. Photograph: Sputnik/Reuters

Ben Barry, a former brigadier in the British army and a land warfare expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, said: “A head of government should have better things to do than make military decisions. They should be setting the political strategy rather than getting bogged down in day-to-day activity”.

Prof Sir Lawrence Freedman from King’s College London said he judged the claim about Putin’s level of involvement to be plausible: “Putin has chased the military operation, first by giving very little notice he would launch an attack and then pushing hard for quick wins. That’s particularly been the problem with the second stage of the war, in the Donbas.”

This week Sabbagh also looked at Russia’s claims it was using laser warfare in Ukraine. As one expert he quoted put it: “I believe this is just a lot of hype”.

Reality of war seeps through to Russians

As Russia continues to hide the scale of its losses in Ukraine, more and more information has leaked out, angering the families of Russian soldiers and discouraging even previous supporters of the invasion, write Andrew Roth and Pjotr Sauer.

“I look at my government totally different since the war started,” said Tatyana Efremenko, 39, whose son Nikita Efremenko was a conscript on the Moskva missile cruiser when it was sunk in a Ukrainian missile strike a month ago. She is still searching for her son. “There are some very harsh things I would like to say about our leadership, but maybe best if I don’t because they would put me in prison for it.”

Kyiv has said that it has the remains of thousands of Russian soldiers but Moscow won’t accept them because that would force it to admit the high death toll in the war.

Criticism has even reached Russian state television. In a rare condemnation of Kremlin policy on a political talk show, defence columnist Mikhail Khodaryonok suggested that the government was in denial about the war and the chance for victory against highly motivated Ukrainian forces armed by the west.

“The main deficiency of our military-political position is that, in a way, we are in full geopolitical isolation and that, however much we would hate to admit this, virtually the entire world is against us,” he said. “And it’s that situation we need to escape.”

Fresh battleground emerges in Nato

US president Joe Biden promised full support for the Finnish and Swedish applications to join what he called a “revived Nato”, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg warmly welcomed them and Finland’s president Sauli Niinistö said its armed forces were one of the strongest in Europe, but one crucial problem remains: Turkey is not happy.

“We have told allies that we will say no to Finland and Sweden’s Nato membership,” president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Turkish students this week. All 30 alliance members of Nato have to approve the acceptance of a new ally.

US president Joe Biden made a show of support for the prime minister of Sweden, Magdalena Andersson, and the president of Finland, Sauli Niinisto, in Washington.
US president Joe Biden made a show of support for the prime minister of Sweden, Magdalena Andersson, and the president of Finland, Sauli Niinisto, in Washington. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour explored the reasons behind Erdoğan’s repeated opposition, which could tangle Nato up in knots for months.

On Monday, Erdoğan made two key demands: that Finland and Sweden end their supposed support for the Kurdish Workers’ party (PKK), which Turkey regards as a terrorist organisation, and that they lift their ban on arms exports imposed in October 2019 after the Turkish incursion in northern Syria.

The Nordic political class initially appeared sceptical about Erdoğan’s seriousness. But that assessment is changing. Jonathan Eyal, the associate director of the Rusi thinktank, said Erdoğan “lives on the edge and operates through brinkmanship”. The Turkish president, Eyal noted, “has domestic reasons to be standing up to America. The economy is in tatters and his popularity is at an all-time low.”

With inflation at 66.9% and facing elections next summer, there is no harm galvanising the nationalist vote, but that is not to say Erdoğan’s complaints are entirely synthetic.

The Guardian asked Swedish and Finnish readers to share their thoughts on what Nato membership would mean for them, and how they felt about the Russia-Ukraine war. Here’s what they said.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/21/what-happened-in-the-russia-ukraine-war-this-week-catch-up-with-the-must-read-news-and-analysis

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