Ukraine morning briefing: Five key developments as Kyiv's Orthodox Church cuts ties with Russia

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 6, 2022, Russian Patriarch Kirill celebrates a Christmas service at the Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow. - The European Commission has proposed sanctioning the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in the latest wave of economic measures against Russia that also includes a phased-in oil import ban, according to a document seen by AFP on May4, 2022. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images) - Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP/
(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 6, 2022, Russian Patriarch Kirill celebrates a Christmas service at the Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow. - The European Commission has proposed sanctioning the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in the latest wave of economic measures against Russia that also includes a phased-in oil import ban, according to a document seen by AFP on May4, 2022. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images) - Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP/

The Moscow branch of Kyiv's Orthodox Church said on Friday it was cutting ties with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, declaring "full independence" in a historic move against Russia's spiritual authorities.

"We disagree with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow... on the war," the church said in a statement after holding a council focused on Russia's "aggression" and declaring the "full independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church".

The Moscow branch of Ukraine's Orthodox Church has until now formally pledged allegiance to Russia's Patriarch Kirill, who has expressed clear support for President Vladimir Putin's offensive in Ukraine.

Here's what happened overnight – and you can follow the latest updates in our live blog.

1. Ukraine could retreat from Luhansk

Ukraine said on Friday its forces may need to retreat from their last pocket of resistance in Luhansk to avoid being captured by Russian troops pressing an advance in the east.

A withdrawal could bring President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of capturing Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions in full. His troops have gained ground in the two areas collectively known as the Donbas while blasting some towns to wastelands.

Luhansk's governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said Russian troops had entered Sievierodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine, after trying to trap Ukrainian forces there for days. Gaidai said 90 per cent of buildings in the town were damaged.

2. Zelensky tells the West to stop playing around

President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the West to stop playing around with Russia and impose tougher sanctions on Moscow to end its "senseless war" in Ukraine, adding his country would remain independent, the only question was at what price.

Mr Zelensky's criticism of the West has mounted in recent days as the European Union moves slowly towards a possible Russian oil embargo and as thousands of Russian forces try to encircle two key eastern cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.

3. Russian separatists say they've captured railway hub as fears grow of another Mariupol

Moscow-backed separatists claim they have captured a railway hub as concerns grew that besieged cities in the region would undergo the same horrors experienced by the people of the port city Mariupol in the weeks before it fell.

Ukrainian officials warned that their forces wouldn't be able to stop the Russian offensive without more sophisticated Western-supplied weaponry.

The fighting on Friday focused on two key cities: Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk.

A satellite image shows damaged buildings and a tank on a road, in Lyman, Ukraine May 25, 2022. Picture taken May 25, 2022. Satellite image 2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. DO NOT OBSCURE LOGO. - MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES
A satellite image shows damaged buildings and a tank on a road, in Lyman, Ukraine May 25, 2022. Picture taken May 25, 2022. Satellite image 2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. DO NOT OBSCURE LOGO. - MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES

Authorities say 1,500 people in Sievierodonetsk have already died since the war's start scarcely more than three months ago. Russia-backed rebels also said they'd taken the railway hub of Lyman.

Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press that "the city is being systematically destroyed _ 90% of the buildings in the city are damaged."

Striuk described conditions in Sievierodonetsk reminiscent of the battle for Mariupol, located in the Donbas' other province, Donetsk. Now in ruins, the port city was constantly barraged by Russian forces in a nearly three-month siege that ended last week when Russia claimed its capture. More than 20,000 of its civilians are feared dead.

4. Draghi reassures Zelensky of Italian support

Italian Premier Mario Draghi spoke by phone Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnkyy, assuring him of "the support of the Italian government in coordination with the European Union."

Draghi's office said the leaders also discussed the prospects for opening Ukrainian ports to allow grain exports " to help combat the food crisis that is threatening the world's poorest countries."

Draghi spoke Thursday with President Vladimir Putin in a bid to reach an agreement to open the ports, and Zelensky expressed his appreciation for Italy's commitment to work on a possible solution. Draghi noted after speaking to Putin that many millions of tons of grain risk rotting in Ukrainian ports if there is no agreement to allow their passage.

5. Poland could be next after Ukraine, warns Chechen leader

The Kremlin-backed leader of Russia's southern province of Chechnya has posted a video in which he warns that Poland could be next after Ukraine.

Ramzan Kadyrov, who is famous for his bluster, said in the video he posted to his official Telegram page that Ukraine was "a done deal" and that "if an order is given after Ukraine, we'll show you [Poland] what you're made of in six seconds."

Poland, which borders Ukraine, has provided its neighbor with weapons and other aid since Russia invaded Ukraine. It has also welcomed in millions of Ukrainian refugees.

Mr Kadyrov later urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to "finally come to his senses and accept the conditions offered by our president [Vladimir Putin]."

Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov attends a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in the Chechen capital Grozny, Russia May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Chingis Kondarov - REUTERS/Chingis Kondarov
Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov attends a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in the Chechen capital Grozny, Russia May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Chingis Kondarov - REUTERS/Chingis Kondarov

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