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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Dec. 24

A Ukrainian soldier decorates a frontline position during fights with Russian forces near Maryinka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Dec. 23, 2022.
A Ukrainian soldier decorates a frontline position during fights with Russian forces near Maryinka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Dec. 23, 2022.

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

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

9:40 p.m.: Hundreds of people gathered in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, on Saturday to demand the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Marchers held banners calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep his “hands off Ukraine," along with slogans such as "Freedom to Ukraine," "Stop War Madness," and "304 days of death and fear."

Marchers were blocked from approaching the Russian Embassy in the Western Balkan nation, which traditionally has close ties to Russia.

Moscow's closest ally in the Balkans even as it pursues EU membership, Belgrade has condemned Russia's unprovoked invasion but staunchly resisted joining unprecedented Western sanctions on Russia that would curb trade, energy shipments, direct flights, and other links.

It is one of the few nations where rallies have also been held following the invasion in support of Russia and Putin by right-wing parties, Orthodox Christian church organizations, and other groups.

8:52 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used his evening address Friday to warn Ukrainians about not becoming complacent during the holiday season, CNN reported.

“Please remember who is fighting against us. In the upcoming holiday season, Russian terrorists may become more active again. They despise Christian values and any values at all,” he claimed.

He asked Ukrainians to “help each other and take care of one another."

The Ukrainian president ended his statement by speaking in Russian and saying, “One more thing: Russian citizens must clearly understand that terror never remains unanswered.”

8 p.m.: Russian citizens are crowdfunding to equip soldiers deployed to Ukraine as winter closes in on the battlefield, CNN reported.

Local campaigns to raise funds for soldiers are underway in both Russia and the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine. One dubbed “Together is Warmer” has raised 3 million rubles (about $45,000) to provide basic equipment and clothing for Russian soldiers.

7:22 p.m.:

6:27 p.m.: Over the past several months, Russia has launched multiple waves of missiles and drone attacks across Ukraine. The heaviest attack so far came on November 15, when more than 100 missiles targeted a dozen cities and districts, as well as the country’s critical energy infrastructure.

Ukraine had relied mostly on Soviet-era defense systems such as the S-300. But now that air defense is Ukraine’s top priority, Western countries have been pushed to provide more sophisticated devices.

Here are some of the systems that are helping to defend Ukrainian skies. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

5:30 p.m.: European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarcic said in a tweet that in 2022 European countries have offered more than 1,000 power generators to Ukraine that provide electricity to homes and hospitals.

5 p.m.: President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen said in 2022 Europe has mobilized over 19 billion Euros to support Ukraine and more is coming.

4:45 p.m.: Russian forces have imposed a 10-day curfew in the occupied town of Hornostaivka in Kherson Oblast, said the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces on December 24.

4:30 p.m.: The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service sees no signs of troops and military equipment transfers in Belarus toward the border with Ukraine, Andrii Demchenko, a spokesperson, said on national TV, as quoted by Ukrainska Pravda.

“The situation along the border with Belarus remains fully under control,” Demchenko said, adding that Belarus is nonetheless strengthening its border with Ukraine.

Ukraine is increasing surveillance of Belarussian territory as Russian and Belarussian troops are conducting joint drills.

Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine's Intelligence Directorate, said in an interview with The New York Times that Russia has tried to create panic among the Ukrainian army by loading its soldiers on trains toward Belarus’s border with Ukraine.

Budanov said the threat of a renewed Russian invasion from Ukraine's northern border with Belarus still cannot be ruled out while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the defense of borders with Belarus remained among Ukraine’s top priorities, reports The Kyiv Independent.

3:30 p.m.: Germany has provided 13 Bergepanzer 2 armored recovery vehicles to Ukraine, the German government announced on December 24.

According to The Kyiv Independent, the Bergepanzer 2 is based on the Leopard 1 battle tank. It is tasked with the recovery of battle-damaged vehicles and support in installing and dismantling engines and turrets.

The German government also said it had supplied to Ukraine 78 border protection vehicles, 35 ambulances, 6 lift trucks, 60,000 rounds of 40 mm ammunition, 18,500 155mm projectiles, 18 load-handling trucks, 50 DINGO mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, 12 Oshkosh tank transporter tractors, and 3 Beaver bridge-laying tanks.

Germany is also preparing to send 50 field heaters for soldiers on the battlefield.

However, Germany will not unilaterally decide to send Western tanks to Ukraine in 2023, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, as quoted by Suddeutsche Zeitung.

2:30 p.m.: Rock band Pink Floyd announced it has raised more than £450,000 ($542,000) for Ukraine with the song "Hey Hey Rise Up."

The song features vocals by Andriy Khlyvniuk, Ukrainian lead vocalist of Boombox, from his viral video singing a folk song in central Kyiv during first day of the full-scale invasion.

Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and Nick Mason also personally donated £50,000 (more than $60,000) to bring the total to £500,000 ($602,000) that will be distributed to humanitarian charities in Ukraine, The Kyiv Independent reports.

“Pink Floyd would like to thank everyone who has supported Hey Hey Rise Up,” the band wrote on December 23. The song was the first new release of the iconic U.K. rock band in eight years.

1:30 p.m.: In a Christmas video address, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainians will create their own miracle this Christmas by showing they remain unbowed despite Russian attacks that have plunged millions into darkness.

Speaking 10 months since Russia launched a war that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions more, Zelenskyy said that while freedom came at a high price, slavery would cost even more.

"We endured at the beginning of the war — we withstood attacks, threats, nuclear blackmail, terror, missile strikes. We will endure this winter because we know what we are fighting for," he said.

Russian missile and drone attacks have caused massive damage to the power-generating system, regularly leaving major cities without water and heat.

12:30 p.m.: Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine's Intelligence Directorate, said in an interview with the New York Times that Russia had acquired 1,700 Shahed kamikaze drones from Iran, Ukrinform reports.

With improvements in Ukrainian air defense, most of the drones are shot down before reaching the targets, Budanov said, adding that Russian has already used about 540 of the drones against Ukraine.

So far, Iran has declined to transfer ballistic missiles to Russia.

“Iran is not hurrying to do this, for understandable reasons, because as soon as Russia fires the first missiles, the sanctions pressure will grow” on Iran, Budanov said.

Russia has been attacking Ukraine with Iranian-made kamikaze drones since September, targeting civilians and destroying energy infrastructure across the country.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Dec. 19 that Russia had received a new batch of 250 Iranian Shahed-136 drones.

In November, Ukraine-based nonprofit State Watch and the civil society group Independent Anti-Corruption Commission published an investigation finding that Iranian-made drones, except for the engine, consist entirely of foreign-made parts. Over 30 EU and U.S. companies were identified among those whose parts have been used to manufacture these drones.

According to CNN the U.S. has established a task force to investigate how Western technology, including U.S. microelectronics, ended up in Iranian-made kamikaze drones that Russia has been using to attack Ukraine.

11:45 a.m.: Turkey said Saturday that the war on Ukraine is unlikely to end any time soon, despite Ankara’s repeated efforts to arrange peace talks between Kyib and Moscow, AFP reports.

Turkey, a NATO member has positioned itself as a neutral peace broker between the two countries. But Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told journalists during a year end briefing “it appears that this war will not end easily.”

Turkey, which helped broker a deal with the United Nations for the export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea this summer, is seeking to bring together Russian and Ukrainian leaders for negotiations to end the war.

"As Turkey, we call for a ceasefire, at least a humanitarian ceasefire. Then a permanent ceasefire and then peace talks," Akar said.

Turkey has however shied away from Western sanctions against Russia with which it has boosted trade while supplying Ukraine with combat drones.

10:45 a.m.: In Russian-controlled city of Mariupol, demolition crews are clearing what is left of the smashed rear portion of the Mariupol Drama Theater, a building once considered the cultural heart of the Ukrainian city, now turned into a symbol of death.

Hundreds of civilians were killed there in a Russian air strike on March 16 that reduced the theater to a roofless, rubble-filled shell.

Reuters reporters who visited the Russian-controlled city on Saturday were able to confirm that authorities are demolishing and clearing what is left of the smashed rear portion of the building - about half of the original structure.

The bombing of the theater - now entirely fenced off behind a tall white screen - was part of a protracted Russian siege of the southern port city, which held out for more than two months but was left with most of its buildings in ruins.

Ukrainian officials said at least 300 people were killed in the bombing, though some estimates said the toll was higher.

They say the clearing of the site is part of an attempt by Russia to remove the evidence.

"Now the memories of hundreds of thousands of Mariupol residents and evidence of the genocide of Ukrainians are being taken to ... landfill," Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the exiled mayor of Mariupol, posted on social media on Saturday.

"Rage. Just Rage," he wrote.

Civilians had taken refuge in the theater and the Russian word for "Children" had been painted on the ground in large white letters, clearly visible from the air.

Russia denies targeting civilians. At the time, its defense ministry accused the Azov Regiment, a unit of Ukraine's armed forces, of blowing up the theater.

Russia's TASS news agency quoted the theater's director, Igor Solonin, as saying that the demolition concerned "only that part of the building that is impossible to restore." It said plans called for reconstruction to be complete by the end of 2024.

10:30 a.m.: A modest tree draped in yellow and blue lights stands in Sophia Square in Kyiv. Its dimmed lights are barely breaking the gloom of the square that is otherwise dark apart from the headlights of cars.

In recent months, Russia has been targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, aiming to cut electricity and heating to Ukrainians in the middle of a freezing winter. And although the Ukraine government tries to move as fast as it can, it's been practically impossible to restore power for every single person in the country, including the more than 3 million residents of the capital, AP reports.

There are days when streets in Kyiv's downtown have light, but the authorities have imposed some restrictions and scheduled power cuts, meaning that there's no traditional gleaming city during the Christmas season.

9:45 a.m.: Three Japanese insurance companies will stop insuring ships for damage in all Russian waters due to the war in Ukraine, potentially affecting Japan's energy imports including liquefied natural gas (LNG), the Nikkei newspaper said on Saturday.

Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co, Sompo Japan Insurance Inc and Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co started notifying shipowners about their decision on Friday, the business daily reported.

Calls to the three companies to seek comment went unanswered on Saturday, Reuters reports.

The insurers' decision was prompted by reinsurance companies refusing to take on risks related to the war that Moscow launched 10 months ago, the newspaper said.

The halt, applying even to waters in Russia's Far East, far from the fighting, could make shipping there too risky for some companies, it said.

9 a.m.: Russia's invasion of Ukraine has fueled already rising costs for food and energy, pushing inflation in Germany to its fastest pace since the early 1950s, with consumer price rises of around 11.3% in November.

The Bundesbank has warned that even a planned price cap on gas and electricity may not be enough to bring inflation down from double digits.

"Inflation will also be an issue in 2024, and only thereafter will we maybe see it returning to 2%," Monika Schnitzer, the head of the so-called "wise men," was quoted as saying by the Rheinische Post newspaper.

"Inflation is remaining high because we are seeing second round effects, with companies passing on their higher costs - and some significantly exaggerating."

Concerned about high electricity prices, Monika Schnitzer said the government should urgently check whether it would extend the operation of three nuclear plants for two or three years longer than planned.

"It would make sense to quickly order new fuel rods now, that would give us more security next winter," she said.

Europe's biggest economy had planned to phase out nuclear power by the end of 2022 but the government decided in October to extend the lifespans of the remaining three plants until April given the current energy crisis. Some members of government would like to see their lifespan extended further, Reuters reports.

8:15 a.m.: Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak has called for the "liquidation" of Iranian factories making drones and missiles, as well as the arrest of their suppliers.

7:45 a.m.: A Russian strike on Ukraine's recently liberated city of Kherson killed at least seven people and wounded another 58 on Saturday, authorities said.

Presidential aide Kyrylo Tymoshenko gave Saturday's casualty figures, saying 16 of the 35 people hurt were heavily wounded.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted on Telegram photos showing a city center strewn with burning cars, smashed windows and what appeared to be corpses on pavements.

"Social networks will most likely mark these photos as 'sensitive content'. But this is not sensitive content – it is the real life of Ukraine and Ukrainians," Zelenskyy wrote.

"These are not military facilities ... It is terror, it is killing for the sake of intimidation and pleasure."

Yuriy Sobolevskyi, deputy chair of the regional council, said a missile landed next to a supermarket by the city's Freedom Square, Reuters reports.

Ukraine retook Kherson, the only regional capital to be captured by Russia since its Feb. 24 invasion, in November. Since then, Kyiv says Russian forces have heavily shelled the city from across the vast Dnipro River.

5:18 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said in its latest Ukraine assessment that the Kremlin has been setting conditions for a new most dangerous course of action (MDCOA) — a renewed offensive from Belarus possibly aimed at Kyiv — since at least October 2022. ISW deems this course of action unlikely but possible.

Russian forces conducted at least two reconnaissance-in-force operations in northern and northeastern Ukraine on Thursday and Friday, the assessment said. Russian forces are continuing to establish defensive positions in left-bank Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts and are conducting defensive operations in southern Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, likely made tactical gains east and south of Bakhmut City.

4:15 a.m.: Kyiv’s local authorities have recently opened 52 new emergency hubs equipped with power generators, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said, according to The Kyiv Independent.

At these hubs, people can “warm up, recharge their gadgets, and get up-to-date information in the event of prolonged electricity and heating cut-offs in their homes,” Klitschko wrote on Telegram.

The additional emergency hubs were set up in the Holosiivskyi, Dniprovskyi, Obolonskyi, and Sviatoshynskyi districts of the capital, but the authorities plan to open more across the entire city, according to the mayor.

In total, 532 emergency hubs set up by the city are now functioning, with an additional 100 hubs funded by local businesses, reads Klitschko’s post.

Serhiy Kovalenko, the CEO of local energy supplier Yasno, said that 10-hour-long power outages had become a “new reality” in Kyiv, and it is unclear how long it will take to return to scheduled power outages.

3:13 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry said Russia's ongoing munitions shortage continues to limit its operations, even as it boosts the number of its troops.

2:04 a.m.: Ukraine estimates its grain harvest fell by about 40% year on year because of the Russian invasion, a representative for the country's industry told Agence France-Presse on Friday.

Ukraine expects a grain harvest of 65-66 million metric tons by the end of the year, the head of the Ukrainian Grain Association Sergiy Ivashchenko said, following a record harvest of 106 million metric tons last year.

"The main reason is the war," which immediately led to fuel shortages and hindered planting, Ivashchenko said.

Ukraine is a major exporter of grain and foodstuffs, but Russia's invasion in late February stopped shipments and blocked 20 million metric tons of grain in Ukraine's ports.

1:10 a.m.: The United States on Friday called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to acknowledge reality and pull troops from Ukraine after he finally called the conflict a "war."

Since Putin ordered the invasion in February, Russia has officially spoken of a "special military operation" and imposed a law that criminalizes what authorities call misleading terminology.

But at a news conference Thursday, Putin himself used the word "war" as he said that he hoped to end it as soon as possible, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Since February 24, the United States and rest of the world knew that Putin's 'special military operation' was an unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine. Finally, after 300 days, Putin called the war what it is," a State Department spokesperson said.

"As a next step in acknowledging reality, we urge him to end this war by withdrawing his forces from Ukraine."

The State Department said that, whatever Putin's terminology, "Russia's aggression against its sovereign neighbor has resulted in death, destruction and displacement."

12:02 a.m.: The Kyiv region has about half the energy it needs, Oleksii Kuleba, head of Kyiv regional military administration, said on Telegram.

Work on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is continuing “around the clock” to repair the damages from Russian missile attacks, he added.

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse.

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