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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Dec. 19


Residents watch at a burning infrastructure project hit during a massive Russian drone night strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, Dec. 19, 2022.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in Russia’s war on Ukraine. All times EST.

11:04 p.m.:

10:16 p.m.: A landscape architect who says he worked on Russian President Vladimir Putin's official complex near Moscow has provided Current Time with plans, videos, and photos. Stanislav Chekalyov says he spent five months working at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence last year and fled Russia following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February. He is now in Georgia. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

9:22 p.m.:

8:35 p.m.: Kyiv officials on Monday illuminated a Christmas tree in the city centre, refusing to let Russia "steal" the festive season from Ukrainian children, Agence France-Presse reported.

The day, which started with swarms of attacks on critical infrastructure in the Ukrainian capital, ended with the unveiling of the 12-meter (40-feet) high artificial tree decorated with white peace doves.

A few dozen residents braved the sub-zero temperatures to admire the tree located next to the Saint Sophia Cathedral and its emblematic golden domes -- and take selfies.

Among them, tour operator Natalya rejoiced, telling AFP that the tree "brings a festive mood in such a difficult time.”

"Russians try to steal normal life away from our citizens, but we won’t give them a chance to steal the biggest holidays –- the New Year and Christmas -- from our children," the city's mayor Vitali Klitschko said when unveiling the tree.

7:55 p.m.: Poland’s president has paid tribute to Jewish communities in Poland and worldwide for the help they have extended to Ukrainian refugees this year, The Associated Press reported.

President Andrzej Duda expressed his gratitude during a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at his presidential palace in Warsaw on Monday. Poland’s Jewish community has helped organize housing, food, education and other aid for Ukrainian refugees, including non-Jews. Hanukkah, the festival of lights, celebrates light overcoming darkness, powerful symbolism as Ukrainians suffer in the dark and cold and as humanitarian groups in Poland are preparing for the possible arrival of more refugees.

7:04 p.m.: With Soviet-era Artillery Shells Running Out, Ukrainian Forces Drive Demand for new Production: Ukrainian artillery crews have been using up their Soviet-era ammunition supplies and now need to find more sources for reloading their vintage howitzers. Along with testing new shells made in Ukraine, troops are hoping to get replenished supplies of Soviet-era-compatible ammunition from Poland, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania. In the meantime, Ukrainian troops continue to employ both older equipment and more modern, Western-supplied guns with better range and accuracy. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

6:08 p.m.:

5:15 p.m.: A teenage girl in St. Petersburg has been charged with discrediting the Russian armed forces over a comment she allegedly wrote on an art installation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday.

The art installation symbolized "friendship" between Russia’s second-largest city and Ukraine's city of Mariupol, which was destroyed by Russian bombs during Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

On December 18, less than a week after the installation was unveiled in St. Petersburg's Palace Square, the words “Murderers, you bombed it to ruins yourselves!" appeared on the installation. Police told RFE/RL that the girl, who was not identified, was briefly detained on December 19 and released after she was charged.

4:25 p.m.: Moldova's spy chief warned on Monday of a "very high" risk of a new Russian offensive towards his country's east next year and said Moscow still aimed to secure a land corridor through Ukraine to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniestria, Reuters reported.

The comments by Alexandru Musteata, head of the Information and Security Service, echo recent messages out of Ukraine where top army generals have warned in recent days of the threat of a major new Russian offensive early next year.

"The question is not whether the Russian Federation will undertake a new advance towards Moldova's territory, but when it will do so," Musteata told the TVR-Moldova television channel.

He said his agency believed Russia was looking at several scenarios to reach Moldova and that it was possible an offensive would be launched in January-February or later in March-April.

3:18 p.m.: Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russian President Vladimir Putin have held talks in Minsk during Putin's first trip in more than three years to see the Belarusian strongman amid speculation he may try to pressure Belarus to join the fight against Ukraine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Lukashenka told Putin that the main issues in their bilateral relations have lately been defense and security.

"Difficult times require us to have political will and to focus on getting results on all topics of the bilateral agenda," Lukashenka said during their meeting on Monday.

Lukashenka’s office said prior to the meeting that the pair would hold one-on-one talks as well as wider negotiations with their ministers on integration, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected speculation that Russia would press its western neighbor to go to war against Ukraine.

2:30 p.m.: Sweden's Supreme Court on Monday said it had blocked the extradition of a Turkish man accused by Ankara of taking part in a coup attempt in 2016, a potential blow to Sweden's bid to join NATO, Reuters reported.

Bulent Kenes, a journalist who fled to Sweden in 2016 and was granted asylum, is accused by Turkey of taking part in the coup and being a supporter of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey says was behind the attempt. Gulen denies any involvement. Kenes has also denied committing any crime.

Finland and Sweden both asked to join NATO in May in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine but ran into objections from Turkey, which accused the two of harboring groups it deems terrorists. So far, the Nordic countries' NATO bid has won approval by 28 states but still need Turkey's support.

Sweden's newly elected government is working hard to convince Turkey and has distanced itself from the Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey considers to be part of PKK. It extradited a man in December with alleged ties to PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by the EU.

1:45 p.m.:

1:10 p.m.: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Monday that the West should work to degrade “Russia’s capability to regroup” as it continues its war of aggression in Ukraine, citing the drones that Iran has been providing to Moscow, The Associated Press reported.

Sunak spoke at a summit of the Joint Expeditionary Force in the Latvian capital Riga. The U.K.-led force is a group of 10 northern European nations designed to react more quickly in the event of threats like those now posed by Russia.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also spoke by video link of the Iranian Shahed drones that Russia has been using to attack Ukraine, saying 34 were used in the latest nighttime attacks.

“These are Shaheds from the new batch that Russia received from Iran; 250 units, that’s how many drones the terrorist state has now received. Russian missiles and Iranian drones are constantly used to strike,” Zelenskyy said.

Iran has acknowledged supplying Russia with drones but has insisted that the transfer came before Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

Sunak also said the economic consequences for Russia ”must continue to be severe.”

12:55 p.m.:

12:20 p.m.: Shareholders of German energy company Uniper on Monday approved a rescue package for the gas supplier, clearing the way for its nationalization, The Associated Press reported.

The government announced its plan to nationalize Uniper in September, expanding state intervention in the power sector to prevent an energy shortage resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Uniper said its shareholders “approved the proposed capital measures by a large majority” at an extraordinary general meeting on Monday.

The European Commission’s approval under state aid law “is expected in the near future,” it said.

11:50 a.m.:

11:35 a.m.: Europe faces a much tougher task to rebuild gas stocks next year compared with this winter, meaning energy bills are likely to stay high and governments could have to implement painful rationing measures they have so far avoided, Reuters reported.

Previously dominant, gas supplies from Russia have since late August been greatly reduced, meaning the task of refilling storage will be much harder when levels are depleted by early next year.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, prompting Western sanctions, Russia provided around 40% of Europe's gas. Of this, around 65% of Europe's pipeline deliveries came via the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany and the rest through pipelines via Ukraine.

Shipments via Ukraine continue but are at risk as the war with Russia shows no sign of ending, while gas deliveries through Nord Stream have stopped since the end of August. Suspected sabotage has since damaged the link, which is not expected to return to service in the near future.

10:55 a.m.: The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Monday celebrated the anniversary of its creation and said on Twitter that it has been coordinating humanitarian responses in Ukraine since 2014. “Humanitarians have helped more than 5 million Ukrainians with cash assistance since the start of the war,” UNOCHA also said in a separate message. “More than 40 organizations have distributed US$1 billion to people across the country to help them survive and address the most pressing and very diverse needs,” it added.

10:15 a.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Belarus on Monday along with his defense and foreign ministers, fanning fears in Kyiv that he intends to pressure his ex-Soviet ally to join a fresh ground offensive that would open a new front against Ukraine, Reuters reported.

Putin, whose troops have been driven back in Ukraine's north, northeast and south since invading in February, is taking a more public role in the war. He visited his operation headquarters on Friday to sound out military commanders.

His trip for talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was his first to Minsk since 2019 - before the COVID pandemic and a wave of pro-democracy protests in 2020 that Lukashenko crushed with strong support from the Kremlin.

Russian forces used Belarus as a launch pad for their abortive attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in February, and there has been Russian and Belarusian military activity there for months.

9:50 a.m.:

9:20 a.m.: Russian security officials said a Crimean court has sentenced a local man to 12 years in prison for passing data about Russia's navy to Ukrainian intelligence, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

The Federal Security Service said Yevgeny Petrushin was convicted of treason for his alleged spying, which it said occurred in 2020-2021. It is unknown how Petrushin pleaded, and no further information was released.

Russia has arrested dozens of people in Crimea since it annexed the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014 and established a Russian system of courts and administration.

8:45 a.m.: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday asked Western leaders meeting in Latvia, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, to supply a wide range of weapons systems to help end Europe's deadliest conflict since World War II sooner, Reuters reported.

While Western allies, led by the United States, have been supporting Ukraine with funding, military training and weapons, Kyiv has said still more was needed to tip the balance in its 10-month-old campaign against Russia in Ukraine's favor.

"A lot depends on you - how this war will end. The more successful our defense forces are, the faster the Russian aggression will fail," Zelenskyy said during his video link address to leaders of countries in the Joint Expeditionary Force, a British-led grouping of Northern European countries.

"I ask you to increase the possibility of supplying air defense systems to our country, and to help speed up the relevant decisions to be taken by our partners," Zelenskyy said, addressing Sunak.

8:25 a.m.:

8:05 a.m.: The Ukrainian atomic energy agency accused Russia on Monday of flouting nuclear safety by sending a "kamikaze" drone over part of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant in the Mykolaiv region just after midnight, Reuters reported.

Energoatom said the Iranian-made Shahed drone had been detected at 00:46 early Monday over the station and said it was calling on the international nuclear community to protect atomic sites from the risks of war.

"This is an absolutely unacceptable violation of nuclear and radiation safety," Energoatom wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

7:50 a.m.: Ukrainians are experiencing emergency shutdowns of electricity in 10 regions and in the capital Kyiv as a result of repeated Russian missile attacks on critical energy infrastructure, VOA’s Anna Chernikova reported Monday.

Powerful explosions rocked the capital city early Monday morning during the latest Russian missile attack. As reported by the General Staff of Ukraine, 30 out of 35 drones were destroyed by the Ukrainian air defenses across Ukraine, while 18 drones out of 23 total were destroyed over the city of Kyiv alone.

The Kyiv regional military administration said three people were injured in the region, and nine private houses were damaged. In the city of Kyiv, no one was injured, but the debris damaged the roadway as well as the windows of a high-story building in a couple of districts, it said.

Another air alarm sounded in many regions of Ukraine mid-day Monday, but it ended twenty minutes after it started with no reported consequences.

7:20 a.m.:

7:00 a.m.: The Kremlin dismissed the idea that President Vladimir Putin was travelling to Belarus on Monday in order to push Minsk to take a more active role in the conflict in Ukraine, Reuters reported, quoting the RIA Novosti news agency.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such reports were "groundless" and "stupid."

Putin was due in Minsk on Monday afternoon for his first visit there in more than three years, as increasing military activity, inspections and troop movements in Belarus, one of the launchpads for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, have spooked Kyiv.

6:12 a.m.:

6 a.m.: Russian warships set off Monday to take part in a joint naval drills with China, an exercise that showcases increasingly close defense ties between the two countries as they face tensions with the United States, The Associated Press reported.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the Varyag missile cruiser, the Marshal Shaposhnikov destroyer and two corvettes of Russia's Pacific Fleet would take part in maneuvers in the East China Sea starting Wednesday.

The ministry said the Chinese navy planned to deploy several surface warships and a submarine for the exercise. Russian and Chinese aircraft will also take part in the drills, according to the ministry.

5:44 a.m.: Belarus' defense ministry said on Monday it had completed a series of inspections of its armed forces' military preparedness, hours ahead of a visit to Minsk by Belarus' most important ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Reuters.

Weeks of military maneuvers and inspections have raised fears in Kyiv that Belarus, which acted as a staging post for Russia to launch its invasion of Ukraine in February, could be preparing to take a more active role in the conflict once again.

5:20 a.m.: Austria said on Monday it had identified a 39-year-old Greek citizen whom it suspects of spying for Russia, adding that he is himself the son of a former Russian spy who was once stationed in Germany and Austria as a diplomat.

Reuters reported that Austria's Interior Ministry made the announcement in a statement after an investigation conducted by its domestic intelligence agency "in close international cooperation" with countries or institutions that it did not name.

The suspect, whom it also did not name, "was in contact with diplomats and intelligence officials from various countries and was in Moscow shortly before and during the military invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces," the statement said.

The suspect, who faces up to five years in prison for "supporting a secret intelligence agency to the detriment of Austria," is not being remanded in custody, it said, adding that undefined further steps would be taken by the justice system.

It provided no further information about his father.

The ministry described the suspect's role as reporting on what was generally being discussed in Vienna, renowned since the Cold War as a den of spies.

"It is suspected that he was used as a source of information on discourse among the Austrian population, the country and the press relating to foreign policy, society as a whole and security policy and was therefore brought to Moscow in the run-up to the military operation to assess possible foreign reactions," the ministry said.

He was barely employed and received limited state benefits but had made 65 trips abroad between 2018 and early 2022 and bought properties in Vienna, Russia and Greece, and a property search had found a signal detector that can find bugs and hidden cameras, it said.

"Conspiratorial locations in the Vienna area were used for the exchange of information, and diplomatic personnel of the Russian Federation were also found to be closely related in terms of time and place to those locations," it added.

The Russian embassy in Vienna did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

4:45 a.m.:

4:21 a.m.: Russia's drone attack caused "fairly serious" damage in Kyiv region on Monday and three areas in the region have been left without power supply, Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said, according to Reuters.

3:47 a.m.:

3:20 a.m.: Per Reuters: a deal on a European Union gas price cap is within reach, the bloc's energy policy chief said on Monday as she arrived to a meeting of EU countries' energy ministers in Brussels, where they will attempt to approve the policy.

"I strongly believe that the deal is within reach. Of course, it requires a very strong spirit of compromise from everyone," Kadri Simson said.

2:50 a.m.: Russian troops will conduct military exercises in Belarus, which neighbors Ukraine, the Interfax news agency said on Monday, citing the defense ministry in Moscow.

In October, Belarus announced the formation of a joint regional force with Moscow with several thousand Russian servicemen arriving in the ex-Soviet country.

"The final assessment of the combat capability and combat readiness of the units will be given... after the battalion tactical exercises have been conducted," Interfax quoted the ministry as saying, according to Agence France-Presse.

It did not say when and where the drills will take place but the announcement comes hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Minsk for talks with counterpart Alexander Lukashenko.

2:10 a.m.: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will on Monday announce a major new artillery package for Ukraine during a meeting of Nordic, Baltic and Dutch counterparts in Riga.

Sunak will call on the leaders to maintain or exceed 2022 levels of support for Ukraine in 2023, a statement issued by the prime minister's office said.

1:42 a.m.: Russia's latest attacks hit "critical infrastructure" in and around Kyiv early on Monday, Ukrainian authorities said, adding air defense systems destroyed about 15 of the 20 drones directed at the capital, according to a Reuters update.

"As a result of the attack on the capital, critical infrastructure facilities were damaged," Vitali Klitschko said on the Telegram messaging app.

"Energy and heating engineers are working to quickly stabilize the situation with energy and heat supply."

In total, Russia used about 35 Iranian-made Shahed drones in attacks across Ukraine early on Monday, of which 30 were destroyed, Ukraine's Air Force said.

Ukraine's Armed Forces said the drones were launched from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov.

Russia had made the Sea of Azov in southern Ukraine its "internal sea," bounded by Russia and Russian-controlled territory in southern Ukraine including Crimea.

1:10 a.m.: The U.K. Ministry of Defence's latest intelligence update focuses on the tactics and technology of Wagner operatives fighting in Ukraine:

12:45 a.m.: Russia's latest attacks hit "critical infrastructure" in Kyiv and private houses surrounding the region on Monday, Ukrainian authorities said, adding that air defense systems destroyed about 15 drones directed at the capital.

In an update, Reuters reported that Kyiv's military administration said on the Telegram messaging app that more than 20 drones targeted the capital. Earlier, it said the capital was attacked by Iranian-made Shahed drones.

Kyiv's Mayor Vitali Klitschko said that preliminary information suggested there were no deaths or injuries from the attack, and that medics were working at the sites of the strikes in the Solomyanskyi and Shevchenkivskyi districts of the capital.

Oleskiy Kuleba, governor of the Kyiv region, which does not include the capital, but surrounds it, said that infrastructure and private houses were damaged by the night drone attacks.

According to preliminary information, two people were wounded.

"The terrorist country continues its war against the civilian population," Kuleba said on Telegram. "We will overcome everything."

Reuters was not able to independently verify the information.

The sky was declared clear at 5:50 a.m. local time (0750 GMT).

12:10 a.m.: Nine Iranian-made Shahed drones were shot down early on Monday in Kyiv's airspace in the latest attack by Russia on the city, the capital's military administration said on the Telegram messaging app, according to Reuters.

Several blasts were heard in the city and in the region surrounding the capital, Reuters witnesses reported.

"The enemy is attacking the capital with 'Shahed' barrage ammunition," the administration said on the Telegram messaging app.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the information.

A Reuters witness reported that there was a fire as a result of the attack in Kyiv's central — and often targeted — Shevchenkivskyi district.

Air raid sirens were blasting off most of the night into Monday in Kyiv and the region around it, with fresh alerts declared at 5:25 a.m. local time (0725 GMT).

12:01 a.m.: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said protecting Ukraine's borders was a "constant priority" and his country was ready for all possible scenarios with Russia and its ally Belarus, which Kyiv has warned could be drawn into the 10-month conflict, Reuters reported.

Zelenskyy, in his nightly video address to Ukrainians, also issued a fresh appeal to Western nations to provide Kyiv with better air defenses as "one of the most powerful" steps to halt the Russian invasion.

Early on Monday, air raid warnings again rung out over Kyiv and eastern Ukraine, with videos of blasts and air defense systems shared on social media.

Some information came from Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

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