Ukraine news – live: Putin’s forces claim control of key town Soledar as Kyiv says troops holding on

Russia‘s defence ministry today said that its forces had taken control of the Ukrainian salt-mining town of Soledar on Thursday, according to state media reports.

It added that the capture would allow Russian units to cut off Ukrainian forces from the nearby, much larger town of Bakhmut.

However, Ukraine said on Friday its forces were still holding out in Soledar, the site of fierce battle over the past weeks.

“Our units are there, the town is not under Russian control,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, told Reuters by telephone.

Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine‘s eastern military command, and a Ukrainian officer in the area both told Reuters Soledar had not been captured.

“Last night artillery fire was like from hell, both sides.

“From what I know, our boys have managed to exit some parts in an orderly manner and now (assault) groups are counterattacking, but we still hold the town,” the officer said by telephone.

Key Points

  • ‘We still hold the town’: Ukraine denies Russia has claimed control of Soledar

  • Russia says it has taken control of Ukraine's Soledar

  • Fierce battle continues to rage in Soledar after a ‘hot’ night of fighting

  • Putin looking for scapegoats as Russian troops suffer weapons shortage

  • Russia using prison convicts as labour to meet war’s demands - MoD

  • Unexploded grenade removed from chest of Ukrainian soldier

‘We still hold the town’: Ukraine denies Russia has claimed control of Soledar

14:40 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Ukraine has refuted claims that Russia has taken control of salt-mining town Soledar, the site of fierce battle over the past weeks.

Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine‘s eastern military command, and a Ukrainian officer in the area both told Reuters Soledar had not been captured.

“Last night artillery fire was like from hell, both sides.

“From what I know, our boys have managed to exit some parts in an orderly manner and now (assault) groups are counterattacking, but we still hold the town,” the officer said by telephone.

 (AP)
(AP)

Taiwan ready to assist Ukraine with digital reconstruction

14:15 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Taiwan is ready to help Ukraine upgrade its digital infrastructure in fields such as remote learning as part of rebuilding efforts after the war, the island’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang told Reuters.

Tang was visiting Vilnius in her first foreign visit since being appointed as digital minister in August 2022. She pointed to the digitalisation of Taiwan’s education system as an area where the island could help.

“Taiwan has already provided humanitarian aid (to Ukraine) in terms of generators, equipment and so, but we are also thinking about the digital layer,” Tang told Reuters on Friday.

“We want to provide what has enabled the various people in Taiwan to be a transcultural learning community, despite very different backgrounds.”

Tang said there are no official talks with Ukraine‘s government on digital cooperation, but she is in contact with personal connections.

Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year, saying Kyiv’s ties with the West threatened Russia‘s security. Ukraine and its allies call it an unprovoked war to seize territory.

In Vilnius, Tang laid a wreath on graves of civilians killed in January 1991 at the hands of the Soviet army, during a failed attempt to overthrow the pro-independence government.

Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius in November 2021, irking China, which views the self-ruled island as part of its territory.

China downgraded diplomatic ties with Vilnius, prompting the Lithuanian government to withdraw its diplomats from Beijing.

Reuters has reported China was pressuring German companies to stop using components made in Lithuania, which is a member of both the European Union and NATO.

China’s 2022 trade with Russia hit record $190 billion

13:45 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

China’s trade with Russia hit a record 1.28 trillion yuan ($190 billion) last year, the government said on Friday, even as Russia‘s imports from the European Union fell on sanctions related to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

China’s 2022 exports to and imports from Russia accounted for 3% of China’s total trade, Lyu Daliang, spokesperson of the General Administration of Customs, told a news briefing.

Shipments of Chinese goods to Russia have grown for six months in a row.

Russia more than doubled its rail exports of liquefied petroleum gas to China in 2022 as part of the Kremlin’s drive to diversify its energy export sales, a Reuters analysis based on data from industry sources showed on Thursday.

China’s imports of Russian natural gas through the Power of Siberia pipeline are set to have risen by at least 50% in 2022, according to Russia‘s top producer, Gazprom. China’s Russian crude oil imports expanded 10% on year in the first 11 months at nearly 80 million tonnes.

China’s trade with Russia slowed sharply in dollar terms in December, with exports up 8.3% from the same month last year, down from November’s 17.9% rise, according to Reuters calculations based on Chinese customs data on Wednesday.

Imports from Russia rose 8.3%, slowing from a 28.5% gain in November, as a surge in COVID-19 infections following China’s abrupt end to severe restrictions weighed on domestic demand.

But with the dismantling of Beijing’s zero-COVID policy, however, Russia and China are ready to resume mutual travel as soon as possible and deepen their strategic cooperation, Zhang Hanhui, China’s ambassador to Russia, said this week.

International response to Ukraine ‘exposes double standards’ of most EU nations, says Human Rights Watch

13:15 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

The international response to the crisis in Ukraine came in for praise by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its annual report, but the non-profit also notably accused EU nations of employing “double standards”.

HRW said in its World Report 2023 released on Thursday that the response to Russia’s invasion should be widely implemented as European states came together to welcome refugees.

Millions of Ukrainian civilians fled across borders to take refuge in European countries after Vladimir Putin’s invasion in February 2022.

“More than four million refugees from Ukraine – approximately 90 per cent of them women and children” crossed the border to seek refugee by September last year.

HRW called on the governments to “replicate the best of the international response in Ukraine” and “scale up the political will to address other crises”.

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar reports:

Human Rights Watch says response to Ukraine invasion reveals ‘double standards’

Satellite images show devastation to Russian-controlled mining town

12:45 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Thousands of bomb craters have pierced fields in eastern Bakhmut and schools and agricultural warehouses have been reduced to charred remains in the hottest spot of fighting in the war in Ukraine, new satellite images show.

The fresh satellite images taken by Maxar between 3 and 10 January show fields and adjoining roads completely destroyed by bombs in eastern Ukraine’s Bakhmut. Aerial view of the region taken before the continuing Russian military offensive showed lush green farms.

Another image shows several civilian buildings such as schools and agricultural warehouses hollowed out by multiple Russian shelling attacks and reduced to their skeletons and surrounded by ashes.

Arpan Rai has more:

Satellite images show devastation to Russian-controlled mining town

Russia says it took Soledar in bloody fight in east Ukraine

12:15 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russia claimed Friday that its forces captured a fiercely contested salt mining town, in what would mark a rare victory for the Kremlin after a series of setbacks in its invasion of Ukraine.

There was no immediate confirmation from Ukrainian authorities of Soledar’s fall. There have been conflicting reports over who controls the town, the site of a monthslong bloody battle in the grinding fight for Ukraine‘s eastern regions.

Given the dangers there, The Associated Press could not confirm Russia‘s claim.Soledar is located in Ukraine‘s Donetsk province, one of four that Moscow illegally annexed in September.

From the outset, Moscow identified Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk province as priorities, and it has treated the areas as Russian territory since their alleged annexation.

“The liberation of the town of Soledar was completed in the evening of Jan. 12,” Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, said, adding that the development was “important for the continuation of offensive operations in the Donetsk region.”

Taking control of Soledar would allow Russian forces “to cut supply lines for the Ukrainian forces” in Bakhmut and then “block and encircle the Ukrainian units there,” Konashenkov said.

Satellite image shows destruction in Soledar after weeks of intense fighting (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Tech)
Satellite image shows destruction in Soledar after weeks of intense fighting (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Tech)

US Defence Secretary to meet German defence minister in Berlin on Jan 19

11:48 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

The United States Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin will meet German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht in Berlin on January 19, a spokesperson for Germany’s defence ministry told Reuters on Friday.

Washington and Berlin have coordinated sending aid and military hardware to support Ukraine in the war against Russia.

Last week they jointly agreed to send infantry fighting vehicles.

Allies have also proposed sending German-built Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.

US official says Russian victory in Soledar will not slow Ukraine down

11:15 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russia has claimed victory in Soledar, a salt-mining town which has been the site of fierce fighting over the past weeks.

However, US officials said a Russian victory in Soledar, or even in Bakhmut, a city ten times larger where the Russians have so far been repelled, would mean little for the overall trajectory of the war.

“Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians, it’s not going to have a strategic impact on the war itself,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House, “and it certainly isn’t going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down.”

Russia says it has taken control of Ukraine's Soledar

10:41 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russia‘s defence ministry said on Friday that its forces had taken control of the Ukrainian salt-mining town of Soledar on Thursday, state media reported.

It added that Russia‘s capture of the town would allow its troops to cut off Ukrainian forces from the nearby, much larger town of Bakhmut.

Reuters was not able to independently verify Russia‘s claim.

In pictures: Russian troops in action in Ukraine

10:16 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russian self-propelled 152.4 mm howitzers Msta fire on a mission at an undisclosed location in Ukraine.

It comes as intense fighting continues in eastern Donetsk with Ukrainian troops still holding on despite relentless attacks.

 (AP)
(AP)
 (AP)
(AP)
 (AP)
(AP)

Finland says it could send small number of tanks to Ukraine

09:43 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Finland could donate a small number of German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine if a wider group of European nations also decided to do so, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto was quoted as saying on Thursday.

Kyiv has requested heavy military vehicles such as the Leopard 2, which would represent a significant step-up in Western support after Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year.

Finland, which has applied for NATO membership, could only share a limited number of tanks as the country’s arms are needed to guard its long border with Russia, the president told Finnish news agency STT.

“If tanks would be sent, that is why Finland’s offering could not be very numerous,” Niinisto told STT.

Poland has said it would send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine if there was a larger coalition of countries doing so, while Germany has said it has no plans to send any.

“If the position would change for the part of the battle tanks and a joint European cooperation would form, Finland’s contribution is also needed,” the president’s office said in an emailed statement to Reuters on Friday.

Sauli Niinisto, President of Finland (AP)
Sauli Niinisto, President of Finland (AP)

Ukraine says fighters are still holding out in Soledar after a ‘hot’ night of fighting

09:15 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Ukraine said on Friday its forces were still holding out in the eastern salt mining town of Soledar after a “hot” night of fighting in what has become one of the bloodiest battlefields of the entire war.

Both sides have endured heavy losses in the battle for the small town. Moscow is seeking what would be its first big battlefield gain after half a year of humiliating retreats. Kyiv says Russia is throwing wave upon wave of soldiers into a pointless fight for a bombed-out wasteland.

The Wagner ultra-nationalist mercenary company run by an ally of President Vladimir Putin has claimed to have taken the town. But Russia‘s defence ministry has so far said little about the situation there, while a Russian-installed local official said on Thursday there were still pockets of resistance.

“The night in Soledar was hot, battles continued,” Ukraine‘s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

“The enemy threw almost all the main forces in the direction of Donetsk and maintains a high intensity of offensive. Our fighters are bravely trying to maintain the defence,” she said, referring to the Donetsk region which includes Soledar.

“This is a difficult phase of the war, but we will win. There is no doubt.”

 (AP)
(AP)

Outside Soledar, Ukrainian soldiers were dug into well-fortified trenches in the wintry woods. Explosions echoed in the distance.

A 24-year-old soldier using the call-sign BUK, told Reuters the intensity of shelling had risen by around 70 percent, but forces were still holding their positions.

“The situation is difficult but stable. We’re holding back the enemy ... we’re fighting back.”

Reuters could not verify the situation inside the town, which had around 10,000 residents before the war. Ukrainian officials say more than 500 civilians are trapped inside, including 15 children.

In an overnight video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked two units in Soledar he said were “holding their positions and inflicting significant losses on the enemy.” He did not give more details.

Putin ally suggests confiscating property of Russian war critics

08:52 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin on Friday suggested confiscating property and assets of Russians who discredit the country’s armed forces and oppose the war in Ukraine.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Russian Duma, said current measures, such as fines for those who speak out against what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine, were not strict enough.

 (SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
(SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia says military drills with Belarus designed to deter escalation

08:25 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A Russian foreign ministry official said on Friday that a flurry of joint military drills between Russia and its close ally Belarus was designed to deter “potential opponents from escalation and provocations.”

Russia used Belarus as a springboard to invade Ukraine in February 2022, and the October deployment of a joint troop group to Belarus raised fears in Kyiv that Russia could be preparing to launch a new offensive from its northern neighbour this year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (EPA)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (EPA)

Russia says Belarus may enter Ukraine conflict if 'invaded'

08:03 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A Russian foreign ministry official said on Friday that Belarus may enter the conflict in Ukraine if Kyiv decides to “invade” either country.

Russia used Belarus as a springboard to invade Ukraine in February 2022, and since October has deployed troops in Belarus for joint military drills.

Both countries have since agreed to intensify their military co-operation, raising fears Moscow could use its close ally to launch a new offensive on Ukraine from the north.

In an interview with state media, foreign ministry official Aleksey Polishchuk said that Russia‘s joint drills with Belarus were designed to prevent escalation, but warned that Belarus may join the Ukraine conflict if it or Russia were invaded.

“From a legal point of view, the use of military force by the Kyiv regime or the invasion of the territory of Belarus or Russia by the armed forces of Ukraine are sufficient grounds for a collective response,” Polishchuk told the TASS news agency.

He added, however, that it was up to the leaders of the two countries whether they would make that decision.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday that his country must “be ready” at its border with Belarus, but that he so far only saw “powerful statements” coming from his neighbour.

“We understand that apart from powerful statements, we do not see anything powerful there, but nevertheless we must be ready both at the border and in the regions,” he said.

Russia using prison convicts as labour to meet war’s demands - MoD

07:05 , Arpan Rai

The British defence ministry has said that the Russian defence manufacturing sector is highly likely resorting to using convict labour in an effort to meet war-time production demands.

“In November 2022, Uralvagonzavod (UVZ), Russia’s largest tank manufacturer, told local media that it would employ 250 prisoners after meeting with the Federal Penal Service (FSIN),” the ministry said today.

The ministry noted that there is a “long tradition of prison labour in Russia, but since 2017 forced labour as a specific criminal punishment was reintroduced.”

“With one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world, FSIN oversees a sprawling empire of over 400,000 inmates and has frequently been accused of extreme brutality and corruption,” the MoD said in its latest intelligence update.

“The prison population provides a unique human resource to Russian leaders to utilise in support of the ‘special military operation’ while willing volunteers remain in short supply,” according to the ministry.

It added that Russia’s convict labour will “likely be particularly in demand from manufacturers of relatively low-tech weaponry such as UVZ, which are almost certainly under intense pressure from Moscow to increase their production.”

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Ukraine maintains hold over positions in Soledar: ‘We’re fighting back’

07:01 , Arpan Rai

“The situation is difficult but stable. We’re holding back the enemy ... we’re fighting back,” said a 24-year-old Ukrainian soldier positioned outside the key mining town.

Soledar – the focus of the Russian offensive as of now – has been dubbed the “meat grinder” as casualties have racked up in the strategic region less than 10km (6 miles) northeast of the city of Bakhmut.

Zelensky hails fundraising effort to rebuild Ukraine after war

07:01 , Andy Gregory

Volodymyr Zelensky has hailed a “new direction” in Ukraine’s state charity effort, United24, with which it hopes to reconstruct the country once Russia’s invasion is repelled.

“This direction is the reconstruction of Ukraine. It is the generation of funds for the restoration, in particular, of housing for Ukrainians in the territories affected by Russian strikes and occupation,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

A”s of this day, about half a billion hryvnias have already been raised through United24 from people from more than a hundred countries to restore housing. This is a tangible help to both local communities and the state.

“In general, more than 10 billion hryvnias have already been raised due to the state fundraising platform. And I thank everyone who joined the United24 fundraising.”

In pictures: Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade holds positions near Kreminna

06:39 , Arpan Rai

Members of Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade defend an area near the front line on Thursday (Getty Images)
Members of Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade defend an area near the front line on Thursday (Getty Images)
Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade troops share a light moment in Kreminna. The city is located on the western edge of the Luhansk region, and has seen fierce fighting between Ukraine and the Russian forces who occupy it (Getty Images)
Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade troops share a light moment in Kreminna. The city is located on the western edge of the Luhansk region, and has seen fierce fighting between Ukraine and the Russian forces who occupy it (Getty Images)
Kreminna was captured by Russian forces last summer after a violent siege and the city lies on a major highway 25km to the northwest of Severodonetsk (Getty Images)
Kreminna was captured by Russian forces last summer after a violent siege and the city lies on a major highway 25km to the northwest of Severodonetsk (Getty Images)
A member of Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade sitting inside a makeshift barrage near the frontline of fighting outside Kreminna (Getty Images)
A member of Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade sitting inside a makeshift barrage near the frontline of fighting outside Kreminna (Getty Images)

Putin ally suggests confiscating property of Russian war critics

06:08 , Arpan Rai

The speaker of the Russian Duma and a close ally of Vladimir Putin has suggested Moscow could confiscate property and assets of Russians who discredit the country’s armed forces and oppose the war in Ukraine.

Current measures such as fines for those who speak out against what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine are not strict enough, speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said today.

Zelensky ‘discusses Ukraine’s ascension to EU and Nato’ with Latvian Speaker

06:01 , Andy Gregory

Volodymyr Zelensky said he has discussed Ukraine’s ascension to the EU and Nato with Latvia’s Speaker during a visit by the latter to Kyiv.

“Today, I talked about the prospects of the coming weeks and months with the Speaker of the Latvian Saeima, who was on a visit to Kyiv,” the president said in his nightly address. “We discussed not only defense, but also political prospects. In particular, European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine.

“I heard confidence that the day will definitely come when the Ukrainian flag will be absolutely on par with all flags of the EU member states. Latvia will help us in this.

“By the way, Latvia is one of those countries whose support for Ukraine in terms of percentage of GDP is one of the largest over the past year. I think that this trend may continue this year.”

Russia says military drills with Belarus aimed at deterring ‘escalation’

05:55 , Arpan Rai

A flurry of joint military drills between Russian and Belarusian troops was designed to deter “potential opponents from escalation and provocations,” a Russian foreign ministry official said today.

With the help of its neighbour and ally in the war, Russia used Belarus as a springboard to invade Ukraine in February last year and the October deployment of a joint troop group to Belarus raised fears in Kyiv that Russia could be preparing to launch a new offensive from its northern neighbour this year.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence has said recently that its intelligence indicates the drills are genuine, however, and not a cover for a fresh incursion into northern Ukraine.

What the rise of Wagner mercenaries says about Putin’s Ukraine war

05:29 , Arpan Rai

Three months on, Wagner-led Russian forces have at last made a breakthrough in the Donbas, taking over most of the salt-mining town of Soledar, north of Bakhmut, giving them a strategic leverage as well as a propaganda victory.

While fighting continues, the gains are the Kremlin’s only battlefield success since the summer.

The arrival of armour for Ukraine – especially tanks – and artillery will have a huge impact in the coming months, and play a significant part in deciding what happens to Vladimir Putin’s war in the heart of Europe. As well as to those, like Yevgeny Prigozhin, seeking to amass power amid the carnage.

Kim Sengupta has this analysis:

The success of the Wagner group says something about Putin’s war

Putin looking for scapegoats as Russian troops suffer weapons shortage

05:02 , Arpan Rai

Vladimir Putin is likely looking for a fall guy for the struggles his troops are facing in Ukraine, according to a think-tank’s report.

The Russian president is likely seeking “scapegoats for the Russian defence industrial base’s struggle to address equipment and technological shortages”, said the Institute for the Study of War.

Mr Putin publicly criticised Russian deputy prime minister Denis Manturov for aviation industry enterprises not receiving state orders during a cabinet of ministers meeting on Tuesday, the ISW pointed out.

The Russian president said that “some enterprises have yet to receive state orders for 2023 and are not hiring more staff or preparing to increase output for potential orders in the future.”

He also interrupted the deputy prime minister’s “explanation that the ministry had already drafted orders for civil and military industries, leading Manturov to admit that Russia had not issued a portion of documents for aircraft manufactures that would approve state funding for their projects”.

“Putin argued that the enterprise directors informed him that they had not received any state orders amidst current ‘conditions’ in Russia and urged Manturov to not ‘play a fool’,” reported the ISW.

The deputy prime minister then “attempted to soften the demand by stating that the ministry will ‘try to do everything possible,’ to which Mr Putin responded that he should not try his best but instead complete the task within a month”.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later downplayed the altercation as “a normal workflow”.

Wagner Group trying to recruit soldiers in Serbia, US envoy alleges in Belgrade

05:02 , Andy Gregory

The Russian mercenary group, Wagner – spearheading attacks in Bakhmut and Soledar – is attempting to recruit soldiers in Serbia and elsewhere in the world, a senior US envoy has alleged.

Speaking after a meeting with Serbian president Alexander Vucic, US State Department counsellor Derek Chollet told reporters: “We have seen that the Wagner Group is seeking to recruit soldiers from Serbia and elsewhere and that’s something we think cannot stand,” he told reporters after the meeting.

“I don’t know if there are concerns [in Serbia], we talked about our concerns and we are looking forward to working with the government here in Belgrade and elsewhere where Wagner is active to put an end to their activities,” he added.

Wagner Group, owned by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, reportedly has been active in dozens of mostly African states, working with governments on pro-Russian propaganda and other military and political projects, and has boasted about its presence in Serbia – the only European state besides Belarus which has not joined international sanctions against Russia for its war against Ukraine.

Ukraine discusses steps needed for Soledar in coming days, says Zelensky

04:25 , Arpan Rai

Volodymyr Zelensky has said that he and his officials have analysed the steps needed for Donetsk where the war’s fighting is mostly concentrated.

“Of course, the top issue is Soledar, Bakhmut, the struggle for the Donetsk direction in general. We have analyzed in detail what decisions are needed, what reinforcements are needed, what steps should be taken by commanders in the coming days,” he said in his nightly address.

Mr Zelensky added that he has also discussed the situation with the supply of weapons and ammunition to the troops, relevant interaction with Ukraine’s allies.

His statement that Ukrainian forces maintain positions in Soledar “may be referring to defensive positions near but not in Soledar”, according to the US-based think tank ISW.

Other countries could follow Poland and Lithuania’s example, says Zelensky

03:59 , Andy Gregory

The support offered to Ukraine by Poland and Lithuania may mean that other countries will follow their example, president Volodymyr Zelensky has suggested.

Speaking to Polish state-run broadcaster TVP Info after Warsaw pledged to give Ukraine Leopard tanks, Mr Zelensky said: “Poland and Lithuania can strategically start steps concerning obtaining tanks for Ukraine.

“Somebody always has to set an example ... this step may help us in that other countries will follow in the footsteps of Poland and Lithuania.”

In their meeting with Mr Zelensky on Wednesday, Polish president Andrzej Duda pledged Leopard Tanks, while Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda said his country would supply anti-aircraft weapons and ammunition.

Russia likely controls 'most, if not all', of Soledar - report

03:57 , Arpan Rai

Geolocated footage of Soledar taken in the last two days shows that while Russian forces likely control most parts of the region in Donetsk, they do not have full control over the territory.

Russian forces have also likely pushed Ukrainian soldiers out of the western outskirts of the settlement, according to the US-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War.

“The Ukrainian general staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks against Sil in Donetsk Oblast—a settlement over a kilometre northwest of Soledar and beyond previous Ukrainian positions,” it said in an intelligence update of the continuing war yesterday.

It added that some Russian sources claimed that Russian forces are still clearing Soledar of remaining Ukrainian forces as of yesterday.

Russian military bloggers have also posted footage yesterday showing Wagner Group fighters freely walking in Soledar and claimed that they visited the settlement alongside Russian forces.

However, Moscow has not officially announced the capture of long-contested territory which it believes will catapult Russian forces towards capturing Bakhmut in a bloodied siege.

“All available evidence indicates Ukrainian forces no longer maintain an organised defence in Soledar,” the ISW said.

NYT accidentally leaks numbers of Russian soldiers who criticised Ukraine war and Putin

03:20 , Arpan Rai

The New York Times accidentally published the phone numbers of Russian soldiers critical of Vladimir Putin in the metadata of a September 2022 exposé, Motherboard reports.

The article at issue, “‘Putin Is a Fool’: Intercepted Calls Reveal Russian Army in Disarray,” details Russian soldiers speaking candidly about Russia’s failings in the war on Ukraine and offering the sort of sharp criticism of president Vladimir Putin that’s rarely heard in public for fear of reprisals.

“He wants to take Kyiv. But there’s no way we can do it,” one soldier said in the calls that form the basis of the piece, which were intercepted by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies.

Another soldier says Putin is “gravely mistaken” about how he describes the war.

NYT accidentally leaked phone numbers of Russian soldiers who criticised Ukraine war

Ukrainian units ‘holding positions’ in Soledar and ‘inflicting significant losses’, claims Zelensky

02:55 , Andy Gregory

Ukrainian forces are holding their positions in the besieged town of Soledar and are inflicting significant losses on Russia troops, president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has claimed.

Moscow is seeking to capture the town near Bakhmut, in what would mark its first significant gain in months, and the Wagner mercenary group claimed to have seized it earlier today, while a Russian-installed official in Donetsk region said “pockets of resistance” remained.

Mr Zelensky thanked two Ukrainian units in Soledar which he said “are holding their positions and inflicting significant losses on the enemy.” He did not give more details.

Mr Zelenskyy also said he had met senior Ukrainian commanders on Thursday and analysed in detail what reinforcements were needed in Soledar and nearby towns, and what steps should be taken in the coming days.

“We also discussed the situation regarding the supply of weapons and ammunition to the troops and the relevant cooperation with our partners,”

Russia ‘releases US citizen who entered Kaliningrad at outset of war'

01:51 , Andy Gregory

Russia has released an American citizen who crossed into its Kaliningrad exclave in the first weeks of the Ukraine war, according to former US diplomat Bill Richardson, who met the man at the border in Poland.

US Navy veteran Taylor Dudley, 35, was backpacking in Europe when he crossed the Polish-Russian border in April, said Jonathan Franks, a lawyer who represents families of Americans detained overseas.

Mr Dudley’s circumstances while in Russia were unclear and his case had not been previously publicised.

The US State Department was aware of reports that an American citizen had been deported from Russia, a spokesperson said, but declined to comment further on the case, citing privacy considerations, according to Reuters.

Surgeons ‘remove unexploded grenade lodged in Ukrainian soldier’s chest’

00:48 , Andy Gregory

Remarkable pictures show a hand grenade said to have been lodged in a Ukrainian soldier’s chest before surgeons removed it, reports my colleague Sukhmani Sethi.

The unexploded device, just beneath the heart of the soldier, was taken out in the presence of two sappers to ensure the safety of the medical staff Ukraine’s deputy defence minister said. It is not clear how the grenade got there.

 (Hanna Maliar/ Facebook)
(Hanna Maliar/ Facebook)

The operation was carried out without using electrocoagulation, a technique used in surgery to control bleeding by passing electric currents through tissue, to prevent the grenade from detonating.

Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister, posted the X-ray on social media, writing: “Not every wound in the heart area is deadly!” Another post showed a surgeon with bloodied gloves, still wearing his apron and bouffant cap, with the grenade held in his hand.

Surgeons ‘remove unexploded grenade lodged in Ukrainian soldier’s chest’

Russia says China’s easing of Covid rules poses ‘no dangers'

Thursday 12 January 2023 23:44 , Andy Gregory

Russia sees no dangers from Beijing’s relaxation of coronavirus restrictions and will not impose extra restrictions on people arriving from China, its consumer safety watchdog has said.

“We do not expect any special dangers here today,” news agency Tass cited Anna Popova, head of the Rospotrebnadzor watchdog, as telling state television. “We are not introducing any additional measures against people arriving from China.”

Beijing abandoned mandatory quarantine for those visiting the country on Sunday, and China’s ambassador to Moscow said four days later that Russian and China are ready to resume mutual travel as soon as possible and deepen their strategic cooperation.

Russia has increasingly sought close ties with Beijing since waging war in Ukraine.

Sunak ‘better think twice’ before sending tanks to Ukraine, says top Russian diplomat

Thursday 12 January 2023 23:06 , Andy Gregory

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy has told LBC that Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak had “better think twice” before sending tanks to Ukraine.

Mr Sunak “is becoming more and more involved with direct confrontation with a military power”, Mr Polyanskiy said Rishi, warning that “the stakes are very high”.

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Scottish Government to end contract for cruise ship used to house Ukrainians

Thursday 12 January 2023 22:21 , Andy Gregory

Ukrainian refugees currently living in a cruise ship are to be moved off the boat and into “longer term accommodation”, the Scottish Government has said.

It confirmed that the contract to use the MS Ambition, which is currently docked near Glasgow, would come to an end on 31 March this year.

Neil Gray, the minister with special responsibility for refugees from Ukraine, said use of the vessel - currently home to about 1,170 Ukrainians, including 420 children – was always intended to be a temporary measure.

He added that the Scottish Government would now look to make “full use” of both existing and new volunteer hosts to provide somewhere to stay for the refugees.

The announcement that its use is being ended comes after ministers last month extended the contract for another ship being used to house refugees, the MS Victoria which is docked outside Edinburgh, for a further five months.

PA

‘Hundreds of civilians trapped’ in Soledar as Russian troops ‘move over their own corpses'

Thursday 12 January 2023 21:33 , Andy Gregory

As fighting rages for control of Soledar, as many as 559 civilians, including 15 children, remained in the city and could not be evacuated, Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko has warned.

Ukraine has acknowledged Russian advances on the besieged city, which Moscow seeks as its most significant gain since a series of retreats late last year.

Russian soldiers are “moving over their own corpses” in the push for the city, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Malyar said on Thursday, adding fighting was still fierce.

My colleague Liam James has more in this report:

Ukraine admits Russian advances on Soledar as Putin’s new war leader raises questions

Russian military shakeup due to woes in Ukraine, says Pentagon

Thursday 12 January 2023 20:46 , Andy Gregory

Russia’s persistent troubles in Ukraine likely led to latest shake-up in military leadership, the Pentagon has said – urging Moscow to end the war instead of turning to new generals.

Russia appointed chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov to oversee the military campaign in Ukraine on Wednesday – just months after Sergei Surovikin was appointed to the role. Mr Surovikin will now stay on as a deputy.

“It likely does reflect some of the systemic challenges that the Russian military has faced since the beginning of this invasion,” Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said.

“We’ve talked about some of those things in terms of its logistics problems, command and control problems, sustainment problems, morale and the ... failure to achieve the strategic objectives that they’ve set for themselves.”

Turkey summons Swedish ambassador as Nato talks continue

Thursday 12 January 2023 19:59 , Andy Gregory

Sweden’s relations with Turkey – critical to its hopes of joining Nato – hit another sour note this week, after Ankara summoned Stockholm’s ambassador over a demonstration in the Swedish capital in which a puppet of Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan was hung from its feet.

Staffan Herrstrom was summoned to Turkey’s foreign ministry on Thursday and Ankara’s reaction was conveyed to him, a Turkish diplomatic source said, telling Reuters: “Our expectation that the perpetrators of the incident need to be identified, the necessary processes be carried out and Sweden uphold its promises was emphasised.”

Sweden applied to join Nato after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, but Ankara insisted that Sweden needed to take a clearer stance against those it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and the organisation it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.

Finland and Sweden signed a three-way agreement with Turkey in 2022 aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to their Nato membership, and talks are ongoing.

Scenes of protests in Stockholm have been a particular issue mentioned by Turkish authorities in the past, with Mr Erdogan saying members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) should not be allowed to parade around Sweden.

On Thursday, footage shared by pro-government Turkish media showed what they said was a protest by PKK members in which they hung a puppet of Erdogan outside the Stockholm city hall. Very few people could be seen in the footage.

Sweden’s foreign minister called the portrayal of Mr Erdogan by protesters as “abhorrent”, saying that Stockholm “protects an open debate about political choices, but strongly distances itself from threats and hatred against political representatives”.

Putin ‘conceptually supports’ expanding draft age limit, says Kremlin

Thursday 12 January 2023 19:12 , Andy Gregory

Vladimir Putin “conceptually supports” expanding the conscription age, the Kremlin has said, after the chair of Moscow’s defence committee said this could happen in time for the spring draft.

While the president supports such a move – having backed the idea in December – Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the exact details were up to the defence ministry to work out.

The role of conscripts in Ukraine came under intense focus soon after Russia’s invasion last February, with the defence ministry acknowledging some had been sent to fight there despite statements from Mr Putin that this would not happen.

Russia could expand conscription age ‘in time for spring draft'

Thursday 12 January 2023 18:25 , Andy Gregory

Russia could expand the conscription age limit in time for the spring draft, a senior politician has said, as Moscow seeks to boost the size of its military by 30 per cent.

In December, Vladimir Putin backed defence ministry proposals to raise the age range for mandatory military service to cover Russian citizens aged 21-30, rather than the current range of 18-27.

The chair of the Russian parliament’s defence committee, Andrei Kartapolov, told Moscow’s official parliamentary newspaper that Russia could raise the upper age limit for conscription to 30 for this year’s spring draft.

But only after a one-to-three year “transition period” would the lower limit be raised from 18 to 21 years, Mr Kartapolov said.

Critics said the idea of a transition period was a transparent attempt to increase the number of Russians eligible to be called up for military service to plug massive manpower shortages resulting from heavy losses in the war in Ukraine.

Mr Kartapolov sought to dismiss the idea that this was a blatant attempt to fill huge shortages of troops as a result of heavy losses in Ukraine, insisting that there were no plans to increase the number of conscripts once the draft age has risen to 21.

“The number of conscripts we have is decreasing every year. And that number will not be increased,” the Tass news agency quoted him as saying, adding that the number envisaged was in the region of 200,000.

Satellite images show devastation to Russian-controlled mining town

Thursday 12 January 2023 17:30 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Thousands of bomb craters have pierced fields in eastern Bakhmut and schools and agricultural warehouses have been reduced to charred remains in the hottest spot of fighting in the war in Ukraine, new satellite images show.

The fresh satellite images taken by Maxar between 3 and 10 January show fields and adjoining roads completely destroyed by bombs in eastern Ukraine’s Bakhmut. Aerial view of the region taken before the continuing Russian military offensive showed lush green farms.

Another image shows several civilian buildings such as schools and agricultural warehouses hollowed out by multiple Russian shelling attacks and reduced to their skeletons and surrounded by ashes.

Arpan Rai has more:

Satellite images show devastation to Russian-controlled mining town

Ukraine takes key step towards reform of judiciary

Thursday 12 January 2023 17:00 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A congress of Ukrainian judges on Thursday appointed the last of eight new members to an important judicial oversight body, a move experts and officials have said is critical to Kyiv’s push to reform its judiciary.

The European Union made cleaning up the courts one of its main recommendations when it offered Ukraine the status of candidate member last June, four months after Russia‘s invasion.

The selection of the new members to the High Council of Justice (HCJ) means the body can resume its work overseeing the appointment, dismissal and disciplining of judges.

“Looking forward to the reformed HCJ showcasing rule of law and integrity in practice,” the EU’s ambassador to Ukraine, Matti Maasikas, wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine‘s parliament has already passed all the legislation sought by the EU before the start of accession talks with Kyiv, the speaker of the assembly said last month. But implementing those laws and achieving membership is widely expected to be a long road.

Some watchdogs have also warned that powerful interests are prepared to push back against reforms, especially in the judiciary.

In a statement on Thursday, the DEJURE Foundation, a non-governmental organisation which tracks judicial reform, expressed concern over the quality of the eight new selections.

“(Judges) demonstrated their unpreparedness for true agents of change in the judicial system,” it said. “We will evaluate the new team by their decisions, the new HCJ has a chance to dispel the doubts of society”.

Anti-corruption authorities in Kyiv have also doubled down in recent months on their battle against graft.

Russian forces press closer to salt-mining town Soledar

Thursday 12 January 2023 16:27 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russia has said its forces are edging closer to capturing a salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine, which would mark an elusive victory for the Kremlin but at the cost of heavy Russian casualties and extensive destruction of the territory.

Ukraine‘s Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks that more than 100 Russian troops have been killed in the battle for Soledar over the past 24 hours.

“The Russians have literally marched on the bodies of their own soldiers, burning everything on their way,” he said while reporting that Russian forces had shelled a dozen towns and villages in the region in the past day.

Russian forces are using mortars and rockets to bombard Soledar in an unrelenting assault, battling for a breakthrough after military setbacks have turned what the Kremlin hoped would be a fast victory into a grinding war of attrition that has dragged on for nearly 11 months.

“Civilians are trying to survive amid that bloodbath as the Russians are pressing their attacks,” Mr Kyrylenko said.

Soledar’s fall would be a prize for a Kremlin starved of good battlefield news in recent months, after losing the significant city of Kherson in December.

It would also offer Russian troops a springboard to conquer other areas of the eastern Donetsk province that remain under Ukrainian control, particularly the strategic city of Bakhmut.

The Russian tactic in the assault on Soledar is to send one or two waves of soldiers, many from the private Russian military contractor Wagner Group, who take heavy casualties as they probe the defences, a Ukrainian officer near Soledar told the Associated Press.

When Ukrainian troops suffer casualties and are exhausted, the Russians send in another wave of highly trained soldiers, paratroopers or special forces, to get a new foothold on the battlefield, said the Ukrainian source.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised the “selfless and courageous action” of Russian troops, which he said is helping them to press forward in Soledar.

“Gigantic work has been done in Soledar,” he said.

But he stopped short of confirming a claim by Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, who boasted about capturing Soledar on Wednesday.

“There is still a lot to be done and it’s too early to stop and rub our hands, the main work is still ahead,” Mr Peskov said.

Fighting is also continuing elsewhere in Ukraine.

The deputy head of Ukraine‘s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said on Thursday that two civilians had been killed and eight wounded in Russian attacks on Wednesday.

Citing data from regional officials, Mr Tymoshenko said one civilian died and five were wounded in the southern Kherson province, where shells hit a maternity hospital, private houses and apartment buildings, while one person was killed in Donetsk.

Two people were wounded in south-eastern Zaporizhzhia province, with another civilian sustaining injuries in south-eastern Dnipropetrovsk province.

Who is Russia's new war commander Gerasimov and why was he appointed?

Thursday 12 January 2023 15:49 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

General Staff Valery Gerasimov was appointed chief of the general staff and deputy defence minister by Putin on Nov. 9, 2012, three days after Putin’s long-time ally Sergei Shoigu was made defence minister.

Each of the men holds one of the three nuclear briefcases that can order a Russian nuclear strike.

Gerasimov played key roles in Russia‘s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and in Russia‘s game-changing military support for President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War.

The U.S. State Department sanctioned him the day after the invasion of Ukraine, saying he was one of three senior Russians alongside Putin who were directly responsible for the war.

Nevertheless, Gerasimov sometimes speaks with U.S. Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Gerasimov was born on Sept. 8, 1955, in Kazan, rising through the ranks from Russia‘s tank forces to graduate in 1997 from the Military Academy of the General Staff.

Valery Gerasimov, new commander of Russia’s forces in Ukraine (Sputnik/AFP/Getty)
Valery Gerasimov, new commander of Russia’s forces in Ukraine (Sputnik/AFP/Getty)

Ukraine hopes for tanks from the West

Thursday 12 January 2023 15:05 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

With the West upping the ante in a way that seemed unthinkable a few months ago, the United States, Germany and France last week pledged armoured fighting vehicles - and the focus has now shifted to main battle tanks.

Polish President Andrzej Duda, who was cheered in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on Wednesday, promised a company of 14 German-made Leopard battle tanks, part of what he called an international coalition.

Despite briefly seeming blindsided, Germany, whose permission would be required, on Thursday appeared to yield.

“Germany should not stand in the way of other countries taking decisions to support Ukraine, independent of which decisions Germany takes,” Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said.

Britain has also said it is considering sending tanks.

Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24, saying Kyiv’s ties with the West threatened Russia‘s security. Ukraine and its allies call it an unprovoked war to seize territory.

In Kherson city, recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November, prosecutors said they were investigating at least 10 sites where Russian occupiers had tortured hundreds of Ukrainians.

Oksana Minenko, a 44-year-old accountant whose husband died defending the city on the war’s first day, told Reuters she had repeatedly been interrogated during occupation. Russians submerged her hands in boiling water, pulled out her fingernails and beat her in the face with rifle butts, she said last month.

“One pain grew into another,” she recounted, with scarring visible around her eyes from what she said was an operation to repair the damage. “I was a living corpse.”

Her account could not be independently verified. Moscow denies abusing civilians in occupied areas.

Poland to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, if others do, too

Thursday 12 January 2023 14:35 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Poland has decided to send a company of Leopard tanks to help neighboring Ukraine in the war with invading Russia, President Andrzej Duda said Wednesday.

But Duda, on a visit to Lviv, said that the move would be possible only as an element in a larger international coalition of tank aid to Kyiv.

Poland’s leaders have been indicating that they were in talks with other countries over a potential international coalition that would send the German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine. They haven’t named the countries.

Within this potential international coalition, “we have taken the decision to contribute a first package of tanks, a company of Leopard tanks, which, I hope, together with other companies of Leopard and other tanks that will be offered by other countries will .... be able to strengthen Ukraine’s defense,” Duda told a news conference in Lviv.

A company consists of 14 tanks.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda (AP)
Poland's President Andrzej Duda (AP)

Putin replaces infamous ‘General Armageddon’ after just three months in Ukraine military shake-up

Thursday 12 January 2023 14:10 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Vladimir Putin has authorised another shake-up in the military leadership leading the invasion of Ukraine, while Kyiv mocked claims that it had lost the town of Soledar which is at the centre of a furious Russian assault.

Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, has been appointed as overall commander of forces in Ukraine, one of a number of changes in recent months as Mr Putin seeks a success story to sell at home.

It is clear that pressure is building on the Kremlin, with the move in effect demoting Gen Sergei Surovikin, who had been named Russia’s top battlefield commander in Ukraine only last October after a spate of offensives by Kyiv’s troops that turned the tide of the war.

Gen Surovikin had earned the nickname “General Armageddon” from the Russian media for his reputed ruthlessness.

Liam James has more:

Putin replaces infamous ‘General Armageddon’ after just three months in job

Russian mercenary group claims body of British man missing in Ukraine found

Thursday 12 January 2023 13:45 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A Russian mercenary group has claimed the body of one of two British men who went missing in eastern Ukraine last week has been found.

Andrew Bagshaw, 48, and Christopher Parry, 28, were last seen on 6 January heading to the town of Soledar, where fighting has been especially fierce in recent days. There has been no contact with the pair since they left Kramatorsk at 8am on Friday.

They had been voluntary workers sent to Ukraine to support humanitarian efforts.

The Independent has not been able to verify the reports from Wagner.

Read more here:

Russian mercenary group claims body of British man missing in Ukraine found

Russia's new deputy commander in Ukraine war inspects troops in Belarus

Thursday 12 January 2023 13:20 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A delegation headed by the commander of Russia‘s ground forces, Oleg Salyukov, visited Belarus on Thursday to inspect the combat readiness of a joint force stationed there, the Belarusian defence ministry said.

The visit took place a day after Salyukov was named as one of the deputy commanders of Russia‘s military operation in Ukraine in the latest of a series of reshuffles.

Russia and its close ally Belarus have beefed up their joint military grouping in Belarus and plan to hold joint aviation drills there from next Monday.

The exercises form part of a pattern of activity that has prompted Ukraine to warn that Russian President Vladimir Putin may try to use Belarus to launch a new ground invasion of Ukraine from the north.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko allowed Putin to use his country as one of the launchpads to invade Ukraine last February, when Russian forces were beaten back in an attempt to take the capital Kyiv.

Military analysts say Russia has also used Belarusian facilities to train up newly mobilised soldiers who were called up last September to boost its forces in Ukraine.

However, Belarus has not sent its own troops into Ukraine in support of Russia‘s “special military operation” there.

Unexploded grenade removed from chest of Ukrainian soldier

Thursday 12 January 2023 12:49 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

An unexploded grenade was successfully removed from the chest of a Ukrainian soldier, senior officials in Kyiv have said.

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, uploaded a photo of an X-ray of the weapon which was lodged in the soldier’s body.

In a Facebook post, the minister wrote: “Military doctors conducted an operation to remove a VOG grenade, which did not break, from the body of the soldier.

“The operation was carried out by one of the most experienced surgeons of the Armed Forces of Ukraine - Andrew Willow without electrocoagulation, as the grenade could detonate at any time.”

Ukraine’s internal affairs ministerial adviser, Anton Gerashchenko, wrote on Telegram: “The unexploded part of the grenade was taken from under the heart. The grenade did not explode, but remained explosive.”

 (Hanna Maliar/ Facebook)
(Hanna Maliar/ Facebook)
Surgeon holds the VOG grenade in his hand following the successful operation (Hanna Maliar/ Facebook)
Surgeon holds the VOG grenade in his hand following the successful operation (Hanna Maliar/ Facebook)

Russian-installed official says Ukrainian 'resistance' persists in Soledar

Thursday 12 January 2023 12:22 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A Russian-installed official in Ukraine‘s Donetsk region said on Thursday that “pockets of resistance” remained in the Ukrainian town of Soledar, undermining claims that the town had been taken by Russian forces.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the powerful head of the Wagner private military group whose soldiers are fighting to capture the town, had said on Wednesday that Soledar was under the “complete control” of Russian forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has ridiculed those claims, and independent analysts say fighting is likely ongoing in the town.

“At the moment, there are still some small pockets of resistance in Soledar,” Andrei Bayevsky, a military figure and Russian-installed local politician, said in an online broadcast.

“Our guys continue to push the enemy in these places. In general, the operation has been going well, and already the western outskirts of Soledar are completely under our control,” he added.

 (AP)
(AP)

The Kremlin and Russian defence ministry have remained quiet on the situation around the town. In its daily military briefing on Thursday, the Russian defence ministry said only that offensive actions in the Donetsk region were continuing “successfully”, with no reference to Soledar.

A map displayed in the briefing showed Soledar straddling areas marked under Russian control, but singled out no recent fighting or significant hits on Ukrainian forces in the area.

If Russian forces do manage to capture the town, it would mark the first territorial advance in the conflict by Russia since last July.

Western military analysts also disputed Prigozhin’s claims his forces had taken the town. “Russian forces have not yet fully captured Soledar despite recent Russian advances,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote.

 (AP)
(AP)

Russia could expand draft age as soon as this spring - lawmaker

Thursday 12 January 2023 11:49 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russia could raise the upper age limit for citizens to be conscripted into the armed forces as soon as this spring, a senior lawmaker has said, as part of Moscow’s plans to boost the number of Russian troops by 30 per cent.

President Vladimir Putin gave his backing in December to defence ministry proposals to raise the age range for mandatory military service to cover Russian citizens aged 21-30, rather than the current range of 18-27.

The chairman of the Russian parliament’s defence committee, Andrei Kartapolov, said in an interview with the official parliamentary newspaper that Russia could raise the upper age limit for conscription to 30 for this year’s spring draft. But only after a one-to-three year “transition period” would the lower limit be raised from 18 to 21 years, Kartapolov said.

Critics said the idea of a transition period was a transparent attempt by Russian authorities to increase the number of Russians eligible to be called up for military service to plug massive manpower shortages resulting from heavy losses in the war in Ukraine.

Russia‘s armed forces are a mix of contracted soldiers and conscripts. Shoigu has outlined plans to increase the total number of combat personnel to 1.5 million from 1.15 million.

Asked about the possible changes, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that President Vladimir Putin “conceptually supported” raising the conscription age, but the exact details were up to the defence ministry to work out.

The role of conscripts in Ukraine came under intense focus soon after Russia‘s invasion last February, with the defence ministry acknowledging some had been sent to fight there despite statements from Putin that this would not happen.

In September, Russia announced its first mobilisation since World War Two, calling up more than 300,000 former soldiers - including ex-conscripts - in an emergency draft to support the war in Ukraine. Western governments say Russia has lost tens of thousands of soldiers in nearly 11 months of fighting.

Russian troops ‘moving over their own corpses’ in bloody Soledar

Thursday 12 January 2023 11:04 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russian forces are “moving over their own corpses” as casualties mount in Soledar, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister said.

“Fighting is fierce,” Hanna Malyar said in a briefing on Thursday.

Moscow has so far held off proclaiming victory in Soledar, although ultra-nationalist Russian mercenary group Wagner has claimed control in the area.

Ukraine has acknowledged Russian advances but said on Thursday its own garrison had not withdrawn.

 (AP)
(AP)

In Ukraine, power plant workers fight to save their 'child'

Thursday 12 January 2023 10:37 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Around some of their precious transformers — the ones that still work, buzzing with electricity — the power plant workers have built protective shields using giant concrete blocks, so they have a better chance of surviving the next Russian missile bombardment.

Blasted out windows in the power plant’s control room are patched up with chipboard and piled-up sandbags, so the operators who man the desks 24/7, keeping watch over gauges, screens, lights and knobs, are less at risk of being killed or injured by murderous shrapnel.

“As long as there is equipment that can be repaired, we will work,” said the director of the plant.

Read more:

In Ukraine, power plant workers fight to save their 'child'

Ukrainian troops hold out in Soledar as Russia builds up forces - Kyiv

Thursday 12 January 2023 10:06 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russia is building up its forces in Ukraine but Ukrainian forces are holding out in fierce fighting for the eastern town of Soledar, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said on Thursday.

She told a news briefing that the number of Russian military units in Ukraine had risen to 280 from 250 a week earlier as Moscow tried to gain the “strategic initiative”.

“Fighting is fierce in the Soledar direction,” Malyar said. “They (the Russians) are moving over their own corpses.”

“Russia is driving its own people to the slaughter by the thousands, but we are holding on,” she said.

Another senior military official, Brigadier General Oleksiy Gromov, told the briefing that the military situation in Ukraine remained “difficult”, with the heaviest fighting on the eastern front.

Russian forces were trying to cut through Ukrainian lines and surround Ukrainian troops, he said.

Gromov also said the danger of an attack being launched from Belarus, a Russian ally to the north of Ukraine, would remain throughout this year.

Ukrainian troops holding out in Soledar (REUTERS)
Ukrainian troops holding out in Soledar (REUTERS)

Russia says it is interested in future talks with Ukraine's human rights commissioners - TASS

Thursday 12 January 2023 09:10 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova said on Thursday that both Moscow and Kyiv are interested in future contacts between their rights commissioners, the TASS news agency reported.

Following a meeting this week in Turkey with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Lubinets, Moskalkova said she believed Ukraine had adopted a pragmatic approach to ongoing discussions between the two sides, TASS reported.

At that meeting, the pair agreed the latest prisoner exchange between the two sides, with each releasing another 40 captured fighters.

“They have taken a pragmatic approach and are ready for dialogue,” Moskalkova said on Thursday, speaking of her Ukrainian counterparts.

“We already have concrete results on the search for missing people, and return of children to their families. I hope the dialogue is continued. The most important thing is that it should not be politicised, but based exclusively on humanitarian and human rights principles,” TASS quoted her as saying.

Russian mercenary group claims body of British man missing in Ukraine found

Thursday 12 January 2023 08:39 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A Russian mercenary group has claimed the body of one of two British men who went missing in eastern Ukraine last week has been found.

Andrew Bagshaw, 48, and Christopher Parry, 28, were last seen on 6 January heading to the town of Soledar, where fighting has been especially fierce in recent days. There has been no contact with the pair since they left Kramatorsk at 8am on Friday.

They had been voluntary workers sent to Ukraine to support humanitarian efforts.

Emily Atkinson reports:

Russian mercenary group claims body of British man missing in Ukraine found

While evacuating a psychiatric hospital in Ukraine, there was one question on my mind

Thursday 12 January 2023 08:15 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

“As we drove through Kherson oblast and into the city, the face of this war was visible, Julien Binet writes.

“For several kilometres, the destruction was absolute, with towns and villages wiped off the map by continuous shelling – not a single school, home or medical facility left intact.

“When we reached Kherson city, the explosions were near constant. In different parts of the city, there were incoming Russian shells, outgoing Ukrainian shells and demining teams detonating ordinance left behind by retreating Russian forces.

“In two to three minutes, we heard around 10 blasts from the demining teams. The sound was deafening; we felt the resonance of each explosion in our chests.”

Read more here:

Opinion: While evacuating a hospital in Ukraine, there was one question on my mind

Demoted Russian general made military ‘fall guy’

Thursday 12 January 2023 07:45 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A Russian defence ministry statement said its latest command reshuffle was meant to improve contacts between military branches and the effectiveness of the command structure.

One prominent military blogger who posts on the Telegram messaging app under the name of Rybar said Surovikin was being made the fall guy for recent Russian military debacles.

Those included a Ukrainian attack on a Russian barracks that killed at least 89 Russian soldiers over New Year’s.

Surovikin was ordered to head the campaign after Ukrainian offensives turned the tide of the war and drew attention to poor training, equipment and morale among Russian forces.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and now demoted General Sergei Surovikin (REUTERS)
Russian president Vladimir Putin and now demoted General Sergei Surovikin (REUTERS)

If pro-Russian forces succeed in taking Soledar, it would be a stepping stone in Moscow’s thrust to capture Ukraine‘s eastern Donbas industrial region. The town would be a base to attack the nearby city of Bakhmut, a supply line hub in eastern Ukraine, where defenders have held out for months.

Before Wagner’s latest statement, the Kremlin stopped short of claiming victory and acknowledged heavy casualties.

“Let’s not rush, let’s wait for official statements. There is a positive dynamic in progress,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

A Reuters photographer who reached the outskirts of Soledar in recent days said many residents had fled the town in perishing cold. Smoke could be seen rising over the town and the incoming artillery fire was relentless, she said.

Ukrainian military says strike kills over 100 Russian solders in Soledar

Thursday 12 January 2023 07:26 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

More than a hundred Russian soldiers were killed in the battle of Soledar after Ukrainian forces launched a missile at a grouping of troops, the command of Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces said.

 (AP)
(AP)

Putin authorises military shake-up in Ukraine

Thursday 12 January 2023 07:00 , Liam James

Vladimir Putin has authorised another shake-up in the military leadership leading the invasion of Ukraine – while Kyiv mocked claims that it had lost the town of Soledar which is at the centre of a furious Russian assault.

Defence minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, had been appointed as overall commander of forces in Ukraine, one of a number of changes in recent months as Mr Putin seeks a success story to sell at home.

It is clear that pressure is building on the Kremlin, with the move in effect demoting General Sergei Surovikin, who had been named Russia’s top battlefield commander in Ukraine only last October after a spate of offensives by Kyiv’s troops that turned the tide of the war. General Surovikin had earned the nickname “General Armageddon” from the Russian media for his reputed ruthlessness.

A Defence Ministry statement said the reshuffle was meant to improve contacts between different military branches and the “quality and effectiveness” of the command structure.

Moscow seeks control of Soledar to strenghten its position around the nearby besieged city of Bakhmut and provide a stepping stone to other cities in the eastern Donbas region. On Wednesday evening, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky mocked claims by the Russian mercenary Wagner group that it has taken control of the town – the scene of some of the most intense fighting since Moscow’s invasion began.

Putin shakes up military leadership amid pressure over Ukraine invasion – latest

Russia redeploying airborne forces in ‘vulnerable’ eastern Ukraine - MoD

Thursday 12 January 2023 06:48 , Arpan Rai

Russia has now moved almost all elements of its airborne forces for heavy fighting this month in eastern Ukraine’s Kremina front line after finding it “vulnerable”, the British defence ministry has said.

“...Russia has almost certainly allocated elements of the 76th Guards Air Landing Division of the VDV (airborne forces) to reinforce the Kremina front line after assessing the sector was significantly vulnerable,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update.

The defence ministry noted heavy fighting around the town of Soledar, Donetsk oblast, and on the approaches to Kremina, Luhansk oblast over the last two days.

“Until November 2022, Russia committed almost the whole of the deployable VDV as long-term, ground-holding troops along the frontline in the Kherson area.” the MoD said.

“Now redeployed to the Donbas and southern Ukraine, commanders are likely attempting to employ VDV more in line with their supposed doctrinal role as a relatively elite rapid reaction force,” it added.

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Fighting continues in Donetsk, says Zelensky

Thursday 12 January 2023 06:11 , Arpan Rai

Volodymyr Zelensky has said that the military offensive in Ukraine’s eastern region is continuing as he suggested the deployment of “Western-type tanks” in the war.

“Now the terrorist state and its propagandists are trying to pretend that some part of our city of Soledar – a city that was almost completely destroyed by the occupiers – is allegedly some kind of Russian achievement,” he said in his nightly address.

Mr Zelensky added: “But the fighting continues. The Donetsk direction is holding out. And we do everything, without stopping for a single day, to strengthen Ukrainian defence. Our potential is growing. And I thank all our partners who help in this.”

“Western-type tanks are the work of our entire anti-war coalition and this is a new level of our potential,” Mr Zelensky said.

Why has Russia changed the commander-in-charge of Ukraine war yet again

Thursday 12 January 2023 06:00 , Arpan Rai

Moscow has picked Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, as the new commander of the unified group of forces in Ukraine.

The reshuffle, which was formally ordered by defence minister Sergei Shoigu, clearly came on Russian president Vladimir Putin‘s approval, signaling that he still has trust in his top military leaders who have faced broad criticism for the troops’ performance in the conflict.

It also suggests a recognition of flaws in carrying out what Mr Putin calls “the special military operation” in Ukraine and comes weeks after hundreds of Russian soldiers were killed in an attack on barracks.

Top Russian military officer put in charge of Ukraine action

Body of one of two British men missing in Ukraine found, Russian mercenary group claims

Thursday 12 January 2023 06:00 , Liam James

The body of one of two British men who went missing in eastern Ukraine last week has been found, a Russian mercenary group has claimed.

The men were last seen on 6 January heading to the town of Soledar, where fighting has been especially fierce in recent days. There has been no contact with the pair since they left Kramatorsk at 8am on Friday.

They were identified on Monday as Andrew Bagshaw, 48, and Christopher Parry, 28. Reports suggest they had been voluntary workers sent to Ukraine to support humanitarian efforts.

In a statement, Russia’s Wagner group claimed it had found the body of one of the two men. It did not mention the name of the dead man but said documents belonging to both Britons had been found on his body.

Soledar city ‘littered with corpses of Ukrainian soldiers’ - Wagner chief

Thursday 12 January 2023 05:38 , Arpan Rai

The leader of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries has claimed that the heavily contested city of Soledar is littered with the remains of Ukrainian troops.

“I want to confirm the complete liberation and cleansing of the territory of Soledar,” said Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner and a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

He claimed that a Wagner unit has killed about 500 Ukrainian soldiers after heavy fighting.

“The whole city is littered with the corpses of Ukrainian soldiers,” he said.

Satellite images show scale of destruction in Soledar

Thursday 12 January 2023 05:13 , Arpan Rai

Thousands of bomb craters have pierced fields in eastern Bakhmut and schools and agricultural warehouses have been reduced to charred remains in the hottest spot of fighting in the war in Ukraine, new satellite images show.

The fresh satellite images taken by Maxar between 3 and 10 January show fields and adjoining roads completely destroyed by bombs in eastern Ukraine’s Bakhmut. Aerial views of the region taken in August — before the continuing Russian military offensive — showed lush green farms.

Another image shows several civilian buildings such as schools and agricultural warehouses hollowed out by multiple Russian shelling attacks and reduced to their skeletons and surrounded by ashes.

Read the full story here:

Satellite images show destruction of Soledar as Russia nears capture of key city

Deal on safe zone for Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant getting harder – IAEA

Thursday 12 January 2023 05:00 , Reuters

Brokering a deal on a safe zone around Ukraine‘s Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is getting harder because of the involvement of the military in talks, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday.

The Soviet-era plant, Europe’s largest, was captured by Russian forces in March, soon after their invasion of Ukraine. It has repeatedly come under fire in recent months, raising fears of a nuclear disaster.

“I don’t believe that [an agreement] is impossible, but it is not an easy negotiation,” International Atomic Energy Agency director general Rafael Grossi said in an interview with Italian public television RAI.

Mr Grossi, who previously said he hoped to broker a deal on protecting the plant before the end of 2022, said talks with Kyiv and Moscow had become more complicated because they involve not just diplomats, but also military officers.

“It has become... a longer and more difficult (negotiating) table,” said Mr Grossi, speaking in Italian.

Putin says Russian economy stable despite sanctions

Thursday 12 January 2023 04:00 , Liam James

Vladimir Putin said the Russian economy, financial and banking system were stable and would remain so this year depsite sanctions.

The Russian president said he planned to embark on a series of socio-economic reforms to make life better for Russians, amid mounting anger over the Ukraine invasion.

The Kremlin said it had not yet seen any cases of the price caps on Russian oil imposed by the West last month.

Russian forces fire on 13 Kharkiv areas, officials say

Thursday 12 January 2023 03:00 , Liam James

Russian forces shelled 13 settlements in and around Kharkiv region largely returned to Ukrainian hands in September and October, the Ukrainian military said.

Local officials said rockets hit a pyrotechnics storage facility, setting off a chain of fireworks explosions.

Firefighters outside the facility as fireworks turn the night sky red (Getty)
Firefighters outside the facility as fireworks turn the night sky red (Getty)
Fireworks explode after a missile hit the pyrotechnics storage facility in Kharkiv (EPA)
Fireworks explode after a missile hit the pyrotechnics storage facility in Kharkiv (EPA)
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at the warehouse (Reuters)
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at the warehouse (Reuters)

‘No final decision’ on sending British tanks to Ukraine

Wednesday 11 January 2023 22:33 , Liam James

British prime minister Rishi Sunak said no final decision has been made on whether to send tanks to Ukraine.

The UK has been considering whether to provide Challenger 2 battle tanks.

Poland’s prime minister Andrzej Duda today announced he would send Leopard battle tanks but urged allies to make similar offers.

Body of missing Briton found in Ukraine, says Wagner Group

Wednesday 11 January 2023 19:55 , Liam James

Forces belonging to Russia’s Wagner group on Wednesday found the body of one of two British voluntary workers who had been reported missing in eastern Ukraine, the group said in a statement.

It did not mention the name of the dead man but said documents belonging to both Britons had been found on his body.

The statment was released alongside pictures of what appeared to be passports of two British men, Andrew Bagshaw and Chris Parry, who had been volunteering to help people evacuate from the frontline of the war before being reported missing after last being seen on Friday.

Ukraine stages war games by Belarus

Wednesday 11 January 2023 18:30 , Liam James

Ukrainian forces staged military exercises near the Belarusian border amid fears that Russia will launch another offensive from its ally’s territory, as it did at the start of the invasion in February.

President Volodymyr Zelensky downplayed warnings of Russian preparations in Belarus but said “nevertheless we must be ready both at the border and in the regions”.

Ukrainian troops in joint drills of armed forces, national guard and Security Service of Ukraine near the border with Belarus (Reuters)
Ukrainian troops in joint drills of armed forces, national guard and Security Service of Ukraine near the border with Belarus (Reuters)
A camouflaged Ukrainian soldier during war games near Belarus (Reuters)
A camouflaged Ukrainian soldier during war games near Belarus (Reuters)
Ukrainian troops stage an interrogation during drills near Belarus (Reuters)
Ukrainian troops stage an interrogation during drills near Belarus (Reuters)

Poland to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, urges allies to follow

Wednesday 11 January 2023 18:00 , Liam James

Poland has decided to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine as part of an international coalition, the Polish president said today as Warsaw seeks to play a leading role in reaching a consensus among Western allies on such support.

Kyiv has been requesting heavy military vehicles such as the German-made Leopard 2, which would represent a significant step-up in Western support to Ukraine.

“A company of Leopard tanks will be handed over as part of coalition-building,” Andrzej Duda said during a visit to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. “We want it to be an international coalition.” A company typically consists of 14 tanks.

Mr Duda said that he hoped that the Polish tanks, together with tanks from other countries, would soon travel to Ukraine.

In pictures: fierce battle continues to be fought in eastern Donetsk

Wednesday 11 January 2023 17:30 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Ukrainian servicemen fire a 120 mm mortar towards Russian positions at the frontline near Bakhmut (AP)
Ukrainian servicemen fire a 120 mm mortar towards Russian positions at the frontline near Bakhmut (AP)
Ukrainian Army serviceman Vitalii
Ukrainian Army serviceman Vitalii
Ukrainian serviceman Hryhorii, 42, of the 43rd Heavy Artillery Brigade emerges from a German howitzer Panzerhaubitze 2000 in Soledar (REUTERS)
Ukrainian serviceman Hryhorii, 42, of the 43rd Heavy Artillery Brigade emerges from a German howitzer Panzerhaubitze 2000 in Soledar (REUTERS)

In pictures: Battle continues to rage in Bakhmut

Wednesday 11 January 2023 14:34 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

A Ukrainian serviceman smokes a cigarette at his position at the frontline near Bakhmu (AP)
A Ukrainian serviceman smokes a cigarette at his position at the frontline near Bakhmu (AP)
Ukrainian servicemen prepare to fire a 120 mm mortar towards Russian positions at the frontline near Bakhmut (AP)
Ukrainian servicemen prepare to fire a 120 mm mortar towards Russian positions at the frontline near Bakhmut (AP)
 (AP)
(AP)
 (AP)
(AP)

Ukraine says Russian forces have not fully captured Soledar

Wednesday 11 January 2023 13:55 , Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Ukraine‘s deputy defence minister said on Wednesday that Russian forces were trying without success to break through Ukrainian defensive lines to fully capture the eastern town of Soledar and that fierce fighting was raging.

“Heavy fighting continues in Soledar,” the official, Hanna Maliar, wrote on Telegram.

“The enemy has again replaced its units after sustaining losses, has increased the number of Wagner (Russian mercenaries) and is trying to burst through our forces’ defence and fully seize the city, but is not having success.

Commander of the Ukrainian army, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, gives instructions in a shelter in Soledar, the site of heavy battles with the Russian forces (AP)
Commander of the Ukrainian army, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, gives instructions in a shelter in Soledar, the site of heavy battles with the Russian forces (AP)