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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Dec. 22

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy presents a Ukrainian flag given to him by defenders of Bakhmut to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a joint meeting of U.S. Congress in Washington, Dec. 21, 2022.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy presents a Ukrainian flag given to him by defenders of Bakhmut to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a joint meeting of U.S. Congress in Washington, Dec. 21, 2022.

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

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

9:20 p.m.: Russian airlines have held exploratory talks with at least one major Western leasing firm about using state funds to buy some of the more than 400 aircraft stranded in Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, according to documents and sources, Reuters said.

The proposal, which would need EU approval and test the scope for compromise in an economic war between Moscow and the West, could lower a multibillion-dollar bill facing lessors and insurers and allow Russian airlines to secure formal ownership of planes at a potentially steep discount.

A Russian aviation source said the proposal was still being discussed, but that some Russian officials were pessimistic about it getting European Union approval.

An EU official familiar with discussions on the issue declined to comment.

8:48 p.m.:

8 p.m.: A local official in a part of Ukraine's southern Kherson region controlled by Russian forces was killed on Thursday in a car bomb attack, the Russian-installed local administration said, according to Reuters.

It blamed the death of Andrei Shtepa on "Ukrainian terrorists."

There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian authorities.

Ukrainian media reports about Shtepa's death referred to him as "an occupier" and as someone who had actively collaborated with Russian forces.

Unverified video footage of the alleged attack posted online showed thick grey smoke and flames rising above a car.

Shtepa is the latest in a number of Russian-installed officials to die in murky circumstances.

7:02 p.m.: Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Thursday called on Italians to switch off gas and electricity for an hour a day in solidarity with Ukraine, which has been under Russian attack for 10 months, Reuters reported.

Moscow has intensified missile and drone attacks on Ukraine since October, hitting critical infrastructure and leaving many areas of the country without power amid sub-zero temperatures.

"To understand what the Ukrainians are going through, I ask all Italians to switch off all energy sources for one hour a day," Meloni said on Thursday, during a speech in Rome to a gathering of Italian ambassadors.

Meloni, whose far-right Brothers of Italy party often stresses the importance of nationalism and patriotism, paid tribute to Ukrainians "who are defending their freedom and their love for their country."

6:07 p.m.: Iran is seeking to expand the supply of advanced weapons to Russia, the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency said Thursday, according to local media, Agence France-Presse reported.

The warning from David Barnea comes after the United States earlier this month expressed alarm over a "full-scale defense partnership" between Tehran and Moscow, which invaded Ukraine last February.

Tehran in November admitted it had sent drones to Russia, but insisted they were supplied before the invasion.

"We warn against Iran's future intentions, which they are trying to keep secret, to deepen and expand the supply of advanced weapons to Russia, to expand the uranium enrichment project and to intensify their attacks against friendly Muslim countries in the region," Barnea was quoted as saying during a ceremony for the Jewish Hanukkah holiday.

In late October, Israeli President Isaac Herzog indicated that he had shared with Washington information which, according to Israeli intelligence, showed the use of Iranian drones in the Ukraine war.

On December 9, Washington described an extensive relationship between Iran and Russia involving equipment such as helicopters and fighter jets as well as drones, with the latter items resulting in new U.S. sanctions.

5 p.m.:

4:05 p.m.: Ukrainians welcomed President Volodymyr Zelenskyy back from a wartime visit to the United States, hailing his trip as successful while Russian officials said Thursday that the visit only fueled the conflict, The Associated Press reported.

The U.S. has announced a new $1.8 billion military aid package, including supplies of the Patriot air defense systems, the most powerful such weapons to be delivered to Ukraine yet.

“They say they may send Patriot there, fine, we will crack the Patriot too,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters, adding that the deliveries will only extend the fighting. “Those who do it do so in vain, it only drags out the conflict.”

Ukranians saw their president’s trip as a rousing success.

“It’s an historical visit, the first one since the war began,” said Illia Shvachko, a 32-year-old computer specialist in Kyiv. “Getting weapons helps.”

Putin reaffirmed that Russia is ready for talks with Ukraine on ending the conflict.

3:25 p.m.:

2:30 p.m.: Talks between Sweden and Turkey are progressing well and Stockholm hopes Ankara will ratify the Nordic country’s NATO application well before an alliance summit in July, Sweden’s foreign minister said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

“Things are progressing well, we had an excellent meeting today,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told Reuters after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara.

At a press conference after the meeting Cavusoglu acknowledged that Sweden had taken steps to meet conditions spelt out in a memorandum between the three countries but said more needed to be done.

Billstrom said Sweden had already made good progress and said tougher anti-terrorism laws that will come into force on Jan. 1 in Sweden had been welcomed by Ankara.

“It’s not strange that Turkey says there are more things that need to be done. We are not there yet, these things need to be implemented first, but we have taken many steps,” Billstrom said, adding that Sweden had also lifted an arms export embargo to Turkey.

2:15 p.m.:

2 p.m.: Britain on Thursday condemned North Korea after the United States said the nation had supplied arms to the Russian mercenary group Wagner to bolster Russian forces fighting in Ukraine, Reuters reported.

"The fact that President Putin is turning to North Korea for help is a sign of Russia’s desperation and isolation," British foreign minister James Cleverly said in a statement.

"We will work with our partners to ensure that North Korea pays a high price for supporting Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine."

1:50 p.m.:

1:40 p.m.: President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia wants an end to the war in Ukraine and that this would inevitably involve a diplomatic solution, Reuters reported.

Putin made the comments a day after U.S. President Joe Biden hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the White House and promised him continued and unwavering U.S. support.

"Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war," Putin said. "We will strive for an end to this, and the sooner the better, of course."

White House spokesman John Kirby said Putin has "shown absolutely zero indication that he's willing to negotiate" an end to the war, which began when Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.

"Quite the contrary," Kirby told reporters during an online briefing. "Everything he (Putin) is doing on the ground and in the air bespeaks a man who wants to continue to visit violence upon the Ukrainian people" and "escalate the war."

Kirby reiterated that Biden was open to talks with Putin, but only after the Russian leader "showed a seriousness about negotiations" and after consultations with Ukraine and U.S. allies.

1:15 p.m.:

1:05 p.m.: The Associated Press estimated at least 10,300 new graves in and around Mariupol — most in the Staryi Krym cemetery — by analyzing satellite imagery from early March through December, noting sections where the earth had been disturbed.

AP measured each grid section where the cemetery had been expanded and calculated the total space occupied by new graves to be more than 51,500 square meters.

AP then reviewed drone and video footage that showed the Russians had used heavy machinery to dig long trenches which were then filled back in. The graves were visible as dirt mounds, sometimes with wooden crosses bearing names and dates but mostly with hand-scrawled numbers on small placards. A few graves were marked with more than one number, potentially indicating more than one set of human remains.

12:40 p.m.:

12:25 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday met his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda for nearly two hours of talks during his trip home from the United States, Reuters reported.

"We summed up the year, which brought historic challenges due to a full-scale war," Zelenskyy said on the Telegram messaging app after meeting Duda in Rzeszow, south-eastern Poland.

"We also discussed strategic plans for the future, bilateral relations and interactions at the international level in 2023."

12:10 p.m.: The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on 10 Russian naval entities over Russian operations against Ukrainian ports, the U.S. State Department said, as Washington increases pressure on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

11:45 a.m.: Russian officials on Thursday derided Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s wartime visit to the United States, claiming in several statements that his whirlwind trip to cement support in Washington proved he and his American allies weren’t “striving for peace” in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that providing Zelenskyy’s troops with more sophisticated weapons would not end the conflict.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova echoed Peskov’s dim assessment of the Ukrainian leader’s travels, saying the talks in Washington “showed that neither Ukraine nor the United States are striving for peace.” Zakharova said, “They are simply determined to continue hostilities.”

Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, accused Zelenskyy and American officials of “focusing on war ... and further tying the Ukrainian regime to the needs of Washington.”

Russian state TV sought to downplay the military and political support Zelenskyy has received in Washington, stressing in a news segment that not all members of Congress showed up to listen to Zelenskyy’s speech, Commentators also criticized the Ukrainian leader’s “casual attire” during his White House visit with President Joe Biden.

11:30 a.m.: A Ukrainian police evacuation group called White Angel is still working to get local residents out of the city of Bakhmut, which is under attack from Russian forces. Before evacuating some elderly residents, they delivered medicine and brought a St. Nicholas Day present to Hanna, a young girl living in a basement whose family refuses to leave. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

11:15 a.m.: The Group of Seven wealthy nations has mobilized up to $32 billion in budget and economic support for Ukraine next year, their finance ministers said in a joint statement on Thursday, adding that they are prepared to give more if needed, Reuters reported.

"We remain strongly committed to addressing Ukraine's urgent short-term financing needs," the ministers said, while encouraging other donors to up their contributions to the war-torn country.

The G7's pledge of $32 billion includes $19 billion from the European Union, the statement said.

10:55 a.m.:

10:30 a.m.: The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog met Thursday in Moscow with officials from Russia’s military and state atomic energy company as he pursues a long-running drive to set up a protection zone around a Russian-occupied nuclear power plant in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.

Russian company Rosatom described the talks on measures needed to safeguard Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and the surrounding region as “substantive, useful and frank.” International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi indicated that more negotiations were needed after “another round of necessary discussions.”

“It’s key that the zone focuses solely on preventing a nuclear accident,” he tweeted. “I am continuing my efforts towards this goal with a sense of utmost urgency.”

9:45 a.m.: U.S. supplies of advanced Patriot missile systems to Ukraine, announced during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's visit to Washington, will not help settle the conflict or prevent Russia from achieving its goals, Moscow said on Thursday.

Reuters reports that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that there had been no signs of readiness for peace talks during Zelenskiy's visit, proving that the United States was fighting a proxy war with Russia "to the last Ukrainian."

9:15 a.m.:

8:50 a.m.: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday that recent military maneuvers were not aimed at Ukraine and dismissed "conspiracy theories" about deployments of Belarusian armed forces at the border, Reuters reported.

Speaking at a conference of military leaders marking the end of snap military inspections held this month, Lukashenko also said that he could not rule out "aggression" against Belarus on the part of unspecified "neighbors."

"If you want peace, prepare for war," Lukashenko added, saying that military moves were limited to Belarusian territory and did not threaten anyone else.

8:35 a.m.: The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) distributed “edutainment materials” to children in Ukraine for the holidays, the agency said on Twitter Thursday.

8:05 a.m.: Ukrainian forces fought back numerous attacks by Moscow's troops in the east of the country over the past 24 hours, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, quoting the General Staff of the Ukrainian military.

The Ukrainian military repelled attacks in 16 locations in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the General Staff said Thursday.

Bakhmut and Avdiyivka, where the fiercest battles have been fought in recent months, were again targeted by the Russian forces, which also launched attacks on other locations in Donetsk, including Soledar and Yakovlyivka, while in the Luhansk region, the settlements of Novoselyivske and Stelmakhyivka were among those hit.

In the Zaporizhzhya region, Russian forces struck a hospital in Hulyaipol, the Ukrainian military said, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Ukrainian forces struck Russian positions with war planes and artillery, the General Staff said, adding that it shot down three Russian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

"During the past 24 hours, the air forces carried out 14 strikes on areas of concentration of Russian personnel, weapons, and military equipment. Our defenders shot down an enemy UAV of the Forpost type and two more of the Lancet-3 type," the military said.

The claims could not be independently verified.

7:50 a.m.:

7:25 a.m.: As Russian cruise missiles sped towards their target this month, a Ukrainian pilot gave chase in an old Soviet MiG-29 fighter jet and locked onto two of them, but could not take the shot: they were nearing a large town and it was too risky.

He said he passed the targets on to Ukraine's ground-based air defences which shot them down, as they have done hundreds of missiles since October, blunting the impact of a Russian air campaign that aims to destroy the country's power grid.

"Fortunately for us, they succeeded," the 29-year-old pilot, whose codename is Juice, told Reuters, describing the December 5 incident.

Such skirmishes are common in the skies over Ukraine, and their outcomes have a direct bearing on the lives of millions of people who are left without heat, power or running water during the freezing winter if defenses fail.

Ukraine's record of downing missiles has ranged from around 50% to as much as 85%, with more recent attacks coming closer to the higher end, according to Reuters calculations based on Ukrainian data.

7:10 a.m.: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited army units fighting in Ukraine, the Defense Ministry said on December 22, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

It said Shoigu inspected Russian units deployed to the "area of the special military operation," using Moscow's description of Russia's war in Ukraine.

The ministry said Shoigu "checked the conditions of the deployment of personnel and military equipment...and inspected the conditions of accommodation and heating for troops, as well as the preparation and reception of food." It did not say what area Shoigu had visited.

6:50 a.m.:

6:35 a.m.: The chairman of the European Union's 27 leaders Charles Michel and the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen will hold a summit with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on February 3 next year, an EU spokesman said on Thursday. The location of the summit has not been determined yet, Reuters reported.

"I can confirm the EU-Ukraine summit will take place on 3 February and there is an open invitation to President Zelenskyy to visit Brussels," said Barend Leyts, spokesman for the chairman of EU leaders.

The spokesman said the invitation for Zelenskyy to visit Brussels did not mean that's where the summit would be held.

Officials said the theme of the summit was likely to be how the EU can continue to support Ukraine against Russia. The leaders of the EU's two key institutions -- the Commission and the council of EU leaders -- would also assess Ukraine's path to membership in the bloc.

Zelenskyy has made regular appearances via video-link at EU summits since the start of the Russian invasion in February. He made his first in-person trip since the start of the war to Washington on Wednesday.

6:15 a.m.:

5:52 a.m.: A small museum in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, has launched an appeal to Bosnian children – make the holidays of their Ukrainian peers a little brighter this year.

Families are sending packages full of chocolate bars, toys, warm woolen hats and gloves, notebooks and crayons as part of the War Childhood Museum’s gift drive for Ukraine. According to the Associated Press, the drive has unearthed many memories for parents, teachers and others who grew up during the 1990s Balkan Wars.

Museum staff member Mirela Geko told the AP about receiving a similar box in 1993, when she was 5:

“Her ‘box of wonders,’ Geko recalled, included what she felt were ‘the best, the most beautiful presents’ — a notebook, crayons and pencils, and a sweet-tasting toothpaste for children.

“'It made me unbelievably happy, as if the war had stopped for a moment and only wonderful things were happening to me,’ she said.”

5:30 a.m.: Agence France-Presse reported that the Kremlin said Thursday that Washington and Kyiv were turning a deaf ear to Russia's concerns following a historic visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the United States.

"We can say with regret that so far neither President (Joe) Biden nor President Zelenskyy have said even a few words that could be perceived as potential readiness to listen to Russia's concerns," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Washington was fighting an "indirect war" against Russia.

5 a.m.: Russia's Rosatom state nuclear energy company said on Thursday that talks with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi about a safe zone around Ukraine's Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant would continue, according to Reuters.

In a statement posted on Telegram, Rosatom said "approaches to the creation of a nuclear and physical safety protection zone at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant were discussed" and that there was "significant closeness" between the two sides' positions.

It said that talks would continue based on "understanding of the need to reach a mutually acceptable text as soon as possible."

4:36 a.m.: Russia accused Japan on Thursday of abandoning decades of pacifist policy and embracing "unbridled militarization," responding to a $320-billion defense plan announced by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week, according to Reuters.

"It can be clearly seen that Tokyo has embarked on the path of an unprecedented build-up of its own military power, including the acquisition of strike potential," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Kishida's plan will double defense outlays to about 2% of gross domestic product over five years and make Japan the world's third-biggest military spender after the United States and China.

4 a.m.: The Associated Press has released a comprehensive new report documenting life in the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol since it was taken by Russia eight months ago. Through interviews, video footage, documents and satellite imagery analysis, they examine Russia’s efforts to stamp out Ukrainian culture in the city.

The witnesses the AP spoke to emphasize that the construction boom isn’t only about Russian nationalism but is an effort to cover up the wreckage of the attack. Mariupol’s Drama Theater, the site of two Russian airstrikes on March 16, is covered by screens so tall they can be seen from space.

Bodies are still in abandoned buildings and may never find proper graves.

Of those graves that have been dug in the city – according to the AP, more than 10,000 have appeared since the occupation began.

3:38 a.m.: Reuters reported that the rouble slumped to its weakest since late April past 72 against the dollar on Thursday as fears over the impact of sanctions on Russian oil and gas took the currency's losses this month to more than 15%.

By 0740 GMT, the rouble was down 1.8% against the dollar at 72.25, earlier hitting 72.3075, its weakest mark since April 29.

It also lost 1.6% to trade at 76.82 versus the euro , also a near eight-month low, and shed 2% against the yuan to a near seven-month low of 10.28.

The rouble is continuing its "unrestrained fall," said Veles Capital analysts. Should the rouble consolidate above the psychologically important levels of 70 per dollar, 75 to the euro and 10 per yuan, it could open up new downside horizons for the Russian currency, they said.

Falling export revenues in recent months have been exacerbated by a European Union oil embargo that began in December, when an oil price cap come into force as well.

3:05 a.m.:

2:30 a.m.: A year ago, the eastern Ukrainian village of Bogorodychne was home to more than 1,000 people. Now, Agence France-Presse finds that "in streets covered in debris and wrecked cars, even animals resemble ghosts — stray dogs endlessly circle around visitors without ever letting out a bark."

In a new report, AFP interviews the few residents left of the once-Russian-occupied town. Ukrainian forces have retaken it, but rebuilding will be difficult.

One man returned permanently. As winter begins, he uses bricks to trap heat in his one-room shelter.

Another returned to his brother’s home only to find the corpse of the family’s beloved St. Bernard in the garage.

1:55 a.m.:

1:34 a.m.:

1:05 a.m.: Ukrainian Americans in Washington saw President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's U.S. visit as a promising sign that displayed strong relations between the countries but also urged more American assistance to defend against the Russian invasion.

Reuters reported that dozens of pro-Ukrainian activists gathered near the White House on Wednesday afternoon as Zelenskyy visited Washington for his first publicly known foreign trip since Russia's invasion on February 24. The group called "U.S. Ukrainian Activists" then headed to the U.S. Capitol for Zelenskyy's address to the Congress.

"In the long term, helping Ukraine will enable the U.S. to preserve national security," Catherine Pedersen, a board member of the U.S. Ukrainian Activists group, told Reuters. "It's that awkward situation where you are incredibly grateful for (U.S.) support, but there is need for more," she added.

Another Ukrainian American, Oleksandra Kepple, a researcher at the University of Maryland, said the current U.S. assistance to Ukraine was not yet sufficient for Kyiv to win.

"I obviously appreciate U.S. assistance. It's enough to survive but not yet enough to win," Kepple said.

12:30 a.m.:

12:02 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech before a joint meeting of U.S. Congress Wednesday night received a standing ovation. “Your money is not charity,” he said. “It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

VOA’s Patsy Widakuswara has the full report on Zelenskyy’s busy day in D.C.

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

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