No respite in fighting as missile strikes continue to hit Ukraine – News-Herald

By HANNA ARHIROVA

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Russian and Ukrainian forces traded barrages of missiles and artillery on Thursday as the two sides refused to concede ground despite Moscow’s recent military setbacks and the overrun country’s record after nearly seven months of war .

Russian missile strikes in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia left one dead and five injured, Ukrainian officials said. Officials in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk said Ukrainian shelling killed at least six people.

As hostilities continued, the two sides managed to agree on a major prisoner exchange. At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin began calling up reserve troops to supplement his forces in Ukraine.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy in the Ukrainian president’s office, said a hotel in Zaporizhzhia was hit and rescuers were trying to free people trapped in the rubble.

Zaporizhzhia region governor Oleksandr Starukh said Russian forces targeted infrastructure and damaged apartment buildings. The region is one of four where Moscow-based officials plan to hold referendums from Friday on joining Russia, but the city itself is in Ukrainian hands.

The mayor of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Alexei Kulemzin, said the Ukrainian shelling hit a covered market and a minibus. Overnight, one person was killed in a Russian shelling in Nikopol, across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, according to the Dnipropetrovsk regional governor.

Just hours before Thursday’s attacks, the high-profile prisoner swap saw the announcement of an exchange of 215 Ukrainian and foreign fighters, including 200 for just one person, an ally of Putin. Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, confirmed that Putin’s ally, pro-Russian Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk, was part of the swap.

Among the freed fighters were Ukrainian defenders of a steel mill in Mariupol during a long Russian siege, as well as 10 foreigners, including five British citizens and two American military veterans, who had fought with Ukrainian forces. Some of those freed had been sentenced to death in Russian-occupied areas.

Video on the BBC news site on Thursday showed two of the freed British men, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, talking inside a plane.

“We just want to let everyone know that we are now out of the danger zone and on our way back to our families,” Aslin said in the video, while Pinner added, “By the skin of our teeth.”

The continuation of Russian missile attacks and the beginning of a partial mobilization of Russians into the armed forces suggested that the Kremlin was seeking to dispel any notion of weakness or waning determination to achieve its war aims in light of recent losses on the battlefield and other aura-sapping setbacks. of Russian military power.

Putin’s order on Wednesday for a partial mobilization of reservists to bolster his forces in Ukraine sparked rare protests in dozens of Russian cities and was derided in the West as an act of weakness and desperation. More than 1,300 Russians have been arrested during the protests against the war, according to the independent Russian human rights group OVD-Info.

Putin’s partial appeal lacked specifics, raising concerns about a larger scheme that has caused some Russians to rush to buy plane tickets to flee the country. A Russian man who arrived at the Armenian capital’s airport with his 17-year-old son said he had made plans for such a scenario.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the mobilization was necessary because Russia was “de facto facing the whole of NATO”, a reference to military aid and other support that members of the alliance have brought to Ukraine.

Speaking in New York on Thursday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock praised Russian anti-war protesters and added that no one inside the country can continue to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Ukraine, because “every Russian now risks being drafted into this war.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser went further by offering concrete support to deserters. She told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that anyone who “bravely opposes Putin’s regime and therefore puts himself in the greatest danger” can apply for asylum in Germany.

Raising tensions, a senior Kremlin official on Thursday repeated Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons if Russian territory was attacked.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said on his messaging app that strategic nuclear weapons are one of the options to protect Russian-held territories in eastern and southern Ukraine. The remark appeared to serve as a warning that Moscow could also target Ukraine’s Western allies.

Pro-Moscow authorities in the Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine are preparing to hold referendums on joining Russia – a move that could allow Moscow to escalate the war. Voting begins Friday and ends next Tuesday in Luhansk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.

Foreign leaders called the votes illegitimate and non-binding. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was a “sham” and “noise” to distract the public.

Russia’s neighbors are worried about a possible threat from Russia, and one of them, Estonia, said it was starting an exercise for nearly 2,900 reservists and volunteers on Thursday, which seems to contradict Moscow’s announcement of a partial military mobilization.

Christi C. Elwood