Accessibility links

Breaking News

Latest Developments in Ukraine: Feb. 15

A woman walks on a playground after an apartment block was heavily damaged by a missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, Feb. 15, 2023.
A woman walks on a playground after an apartment block was heavily damaged by a missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, Feb. 15, 2023.

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

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

10 p.m.: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday he would push Turkey on ratifying Sweden and Finland's bids to join the Western alliance during an upcoming visit to offer support after the earthquakes, Agence France-Presse reported.

He is set to fly to Ankara on Thursday and also head to the region devastated by the quakes last week.

Turkey's NATO counterparts have been pleading with Ankara to sign off on Sweden and Finland's stalled bid to become members.

Parliaments in all 30 members of the military alliance must formally ratify Finland and Sweden before they can be admitted. Turkey and Hungary are the only two NATO members not to have done this.

Stoltenberg said it is up to Turkey to move forward with the process.

9:05 p.m.: Russia has lost around half its best tanks in the year since it invaded Ukraine and is struggling to replace them, a leading research center said Wednesday, Reuters reported, as Kyiv prepares to take delivery of modern battle tanks from the West.

But Moscow has preserved its air force largely intact and may deploy it more actively in the next phase of the war, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said.

In its annual Military Balance report, a key reference tool for defense experts, the IISS said loss rates for some of Russia's most modern classes of tank were as high as 50%, forcing it to rely on older Soviet-era models.

"They’re producing and reactivating nowhere near enough to compensate for those loss rates," Henry Boyd, research fellow at the IISS, told Reuters.

He estimated Russia's tank losses at between 2,000 and 2,300, and Ukraine's at up to 700.

8:36 p.m.: Two humanitarian facilities – both warehouses storing aid – were hit by airstrikes Tuesday in Konstantinivka, in the Donetsk region, and in Kherson, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, VOA’s U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer reported.

The intense fighting in the east is also having an impact on civilians who have endured nearly a year of relentless hostilities. Over the past few days, scores of civilian buildings, including homes, hospitals and schools, have been hit on both sides of the front lines.

Attacks are once again impacting energy infrastructure and leaving millions without electricity, heating or water every day in Ukraine.

“Our colleagues on the ground also tell us that they organized another inter-agency convoy yesterday to the Donetsk region, this time to the front-line town of Kostiantynopil. We, along with our partners, delivered winter supplies, food, heaters, tarpaulin, blankets and emergency shelter kits to help 1,200 people who remain in the community,” Dujarric said.

“We also brought enough medicines and medical supplies to treat the whole community for three months,” he added. The supplies were provided by the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Program, UNICEF, the U.N. Refugee Agency and the World Health Organization.

7:25 p.m.: Germany on Wednesday said it has "half a battalion" of Leopard 2 tanks to send to Ukraine, as NATO allies appear to struggle to muster the heavy vehicles pledged to Kyiv.

Berlin said late last month that it was aiming to send around 30 battle tanks to help Ukrainian forces fight Russia's invasion after pressure from Kyiv and its supporters to green light the supplies.

But German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said after a meeting of Ukraine's backers in Brussels that so far it had gathered only 14 newer A6 type Leopard tanks and three from Portugal.

"Let's be clear: we have not reached a battalion," Pistorius said. "It will be half a battalion."

He said the tanks would be delivered in the last week of March.

6:27 p.m.: German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck on Wednesday criticized Switzerland for refusing to supply munitions for German-made Gepard anti-aircraft guns being used by Ukraine to repel Russia's invasion, Agence France-Presse reported, citing an interview with Die Zeit newspaper.

"Some countries still have munitions but are reluctant to supply them to Ukraine for historical reasons," Habeck said. "We are in talks with Switzerland, and I have to be clear: I cannot understand why Switzerland does not provide Gepard munitions," he said.

Berlin has sent German-made Gepard systems and munitions to Ukraine as part of a package of weapons to help the country repel Russia's invasion.

Germany's own production of munitions is limited, and it has asked Switzerland for authorization to send Ukraine Swiss-made ammunition.

Switzerland has declined, reasoning that would compromise its neutrality.

5:51 p.m.: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday the situation near the east town of Bakhmut was the "most difficult" on the front line, but Ukrainian troops were holding back Russia's advances.

"It's not easy for our soldiers in the east but they don't call it 'fortress Bakhmut' for nothing," he said, according to Agence France-Presse, adding that Ukrainian forces were "firmly holding" their positions.

Zelenskyy also singled out Vugledar, a town south of Bakhmut that has recently seen heavy fighting.

Bakhmut has been at the center of months of heavy fighting in Russia's nearly year-long offensive in Ukraine, with both sides suffering heavy losses.

5 p.m.: Russian troops have broken through the defenses of Ukrainian forces in part of the Luhansk region, the Russian Defense Ministry said early Wednesday.

"During the offensive ... the Ukrainian troops randomly retreated to a distance of up to three kilometers from the previously occupied lines," the ministry said on the Telegram messaging app.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the battlefield report.

The ministry did not specify in which part of the Luhansk region the offensive took place.

Russia holds swaths of the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, including its nuclear plant, nearly all of Luhansk and over half of Donetsk, including the regional capital.

4:04 p.m.: Russia will call a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on February 22 to discuss "sabotage" of the Nord Stream gas pipelines, the Russian mission to the United Nations said on Wednesday, Reuters reported, citing the state-run RIA news agency.

U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in a blog that an attack on the Russian-operated pipelines under the Baltic Sea was carried out last September at the direction of U.S. President Joe Biden.

The White House has dismissed the report as "utterly false and complete fiction."

3:22 p.m.:

2:53 p.m.: A Russian mercenary shown on video this week ostensibly being executed for desertion by the Wagner private militia has appeared, unharmed, with Wagner's chief on another video aired on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Russian war correspondent Alexander Kots posted footage on his Telegram channel of the fighter, who had identified himself as Dmitry Yakushchenko, answering questions from journalists about time he had spent in Ukrainian captivity.

Wagner, which promotes itself as Russia's premier fighting force, says it is the main unit fighting to seize the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine's Donetsk province.

Its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on the video that Yakushchenko had been captured after losing his way near the front line but was released in a prisoner swap and had brought back valuable information about enemy operations.

2:30 p.m.: Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, whose political future has been the subject of intense speculation, said on Wednesday President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had asked him to remain in his current post.

Asked in a Reuters interview whether he expected to continue as defense minister in the months to come, he replied: "Yes, it was the decision of my president."

Reznikov's future was thrown into doubt in recent weeks after a senior parliamentarian from Zelenskyy's party said he would be replaced. But Reznikov remained in post.

A lawyer who became defense minister only a few months before Russia launched its invasion, he has been under pressure due to a corruption scandal linked to his ministry.

Reznikov said Zelenskiy had asked him to remain as defense minister but also discussed a future role leading a legal battle to ensure Russian war crimes are punished. Reznikov said he hoped that role would come after the end of the war.

2:10 p.m.:

2:00 p.m.: Ukraine has informed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that it won’t attend the next meeting of its parliamentary assembly if sanctioned Russian lawmakers are allowed to participate.

The meeting is scheduled to take place in Vienna on Feb. 23-24, during the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday, the head of the Ukrainian delegation to the the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Mykyta Poturaiev, wrote, “We do not find ourselves in a position to attend the winter meeting in case of Russia’s participation.”

The letter, which was dated Feb. 10 and addressed to Parliamentary Assembly President Margareta Cederfelt, noted that Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine was widely supported by Russian politicians, including members of the Russian delegation to the OSCE.

1:50 p.m.: Russian troops are mounting constant attacks on Ukraine's positions in the east and pouring troops into the region, although forces loyal to Kyiv are holding on, senior Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Russia said earlier in the day that its troops had broken through two fortified lines of Ukrainian defenses on the eastern front in the Luhansk region. Moscow said Ukrainian forces had retreated in the face of Russian attacks in Luhansk but did not say in which part of the region.

"The enemy's offensive continues in the east, (with) round-the-clock attacks," said deputy defense minister Hanna Malyar. "The situation is tense. Yes, it is difficult for us.

"But our fighters are not allowing the enemy to achieve their goals and are inflicting very serious losses," she wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

1:35 p.m.: Having made the most of Soviet-era T-72 tanks up to now, Ukrainian forces are keen to take newly acquired Leopard 2 tanks into battle against Russian invaders. Tank crews are undergoing accelerated training in Poland, mastering the advanced targeting systems, speed, and maneuverability of the German-made Leopards. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

1:20 p.m.: Ukraine's state arms producer said on Wednesday it had launched joint production of artillery shells with a central European country in NATO, and that it plans to develop and produce other arms and military hardware with allies, Reuters reported.

Ukroboronprom, which did not identify the NATO member state, said it had started producing 120-mm mortar rounds -- ammunition that is in high demand in Ukraine as it battles Russian troops following Moscow's invasion a year ago.

"The emergence of this shell is the first product of our joint cooperation with a country from the (NATO) alliance. It will not end with shells, we will soon show you other products produced with partner countries," Ukroboronprom spokeswoman Natalia Sad told a news briefing.

"This is the onward movement and integration into cooperative chains with the North Atlantic alliance."

She said she would not identify the NATO country Ukroboronprom was working for security reasons, though she confirmed it was in central Europe.

1:05 p.m.: Six Russian balloons were spotted over Kyiv and most were shot down after being engaged by air defenses, the Ukrainian capital's military administration said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

It said the balloons may have been carrying corner reflectors and reconnaissance equipment but did not specify when they flew over the capital, although air alerts were issued in Kyiv on Wednesday.

"According to information that is now being clarified, these were balloons that move in the air under the propulsion of wind," the military administration wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

"The purpose of launching the balloons was possibly to detect and exhaust our air defenses."

Shortly before the announcement, Ukrainian air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February last year, could be using balloons in a new drive to preserve its stocks of reconnaissance drones.

12:40 p.m.:

12:25 p.m.: The Netherlands on Wednesday said it had not changed its stance on the possible delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, following a media report that it had withdrawn its support, Reuters reported.

The Netherlands does not own any of the tanks, but leases 18 from Germany. Prime Minister Mark Rutte last month said the Dutch were willing to deliver those to Ukraine.

Citing sources, German newspaper Die Welt on Wednesday said the governments of the Netherlands and Denmark had rolled back on a decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

The Dutch Defence ministry said this was not the case.

12:05 p.m.: The United Nations is appealing for $5.6 billion to provide humanitarian assistance to millions of Ukrainian civilians affected by Russia’s invasion of their country nearly one year ago, VOA’s Lisa Schlein reported.

The bulk of the joint Humanitarian Response and Refugee Response Plans launched Wednesday — $3.9 billion — will help ease the plight of 11.1 million people displaced or living precariously inside Ukraine, while $1.7 billion will assist 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees and communities hosting them in 10 European countries.

Martin Griffiths, undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said U.N. teams in Ukraine are prioritizing the needs of people living on the Ukrainian side of the front lines in areas of great danger and difficulty.

11:50 a.m.: A group of Ukrainian protesters have sailed a yacht close to a Russian warship docked in Cape Town ahead of South Africa-hosted wargames with the Russian and Chinese navies, VOA’s Vicky Stark reported.

Critics say South Africa's hosting of Russian warships for drills at the one-year anniversary of its ongoing invasion of Ukraine pokes holes in its claim to neutrality.

Military men in uniform stood on the deck of Russia’s Admiral Gorshkov frigate Tuesday and watched protesters aboard a yacht, which bore the Ukrainian flag. Fearless, the group of eight, mostly women, shouted and held signs reading Stop the War.

Protester Dzvinka Kuchar of the Ukrainian Association of South Africa says human rights activists and environmentalists are begging the South African government to stop the war games. Kuchar says South Africa, which has chosen to take a neutral stance in Russia’s war on Ukraine and abstained on several United Nations resolutions condemning the onslaught, is simply being used by Vladimir Putin.

11:35 a.m.: Ukraine appealed on Wednesday to the United Nations and Turkey to press Russia to immediately stop hindering Ukrainian grain shipments that supply millions of people and not to use the food as a weapon, Reuters reported.

After an almost six-month blockade caused by the Russian invasion, three Ukrainian Black Sea ports were unblocked at the end of July under a deal between Moscow and Kyiv brokered by the UN and Turkey.

But Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of delaying inspections of ships carrying Ukrainian agricultural goods, leading to reduced shipments and losses for traders. Russia has previously denied the accusations, saying it is meeting all its obligations under the grain export deal.

In a joint statement, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov accused Russian representatives of systematically stalling the inspection process of ships carrying Ukrainian grain for export, The Kyiv Independent reported.

11:15 a.m.: Ukraine’s small-scale farmers, who are playing a critical role in feeding the population during the war, will be eligible for funding through the U.N.’s International Fund for Agricultural Development following Ukraine’s induction Wednesday into body, The Associated Press reported.

Small farmers in Ukraine “play a fundamental role in feeding the country” during the war, producing up to 80% of dairy, fruits and vegetables consumed by the population, IFAD said in a statement.

Farmers in the western provinces, where many people have fled to escape fighting in the east, “will require support to meet the increased demand for food,” the organization said.

The farms are also an important source of income for an estimated 13 million Ukrainians living in rural areas, as poverty and malnutrition are becoming more widespread, IFAD said. According to a recent report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, many people living in rural areas are on the brink of poverty, with 44% living below subsistence levels and 7% suffering malnutrition.

10:55 a.m.: Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Wednesday he was "absolutely" confident Western countries will supply fighter jets to Kyiv to help fight Russia's invasion even though some have been cool on the idea so far, Reuters reported.

In an interview with Reuters in Brussels, Reznikov noted that Ukraine's allies had already ended up providing a range of Western weapons systems after initially saying they would not do so. "Impossible became possible," he said.

He said fighter jets were needed as part of a broader system of air defenses to protect Ukraine from Russian attacks.

10:40 a.m.: Sweden pledged Wednesday to rush fearsome Archer artillery cannons to Ukraine “as soon as possible” but also cautioned that future military aid would have to be balanced with its own defense needs as a would-be future member of the NATO military alliance, The Associated Press reported.

Speaking on a visit to the Ukrainian capital, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Archer howitzers, as well as 51 infantry fighting vehicles and anti-tank weapons that Sweden has promised, will together “make a significant contribution to Ukraine’s combat power.”

10:10 a.m.:

9:50 a.m.: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday urged the 30 member countries to commit to spending at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense by a set date, as Russia’s war on Ukraine and other threats eat into military spending, The Associated Press reported.

NATO allies agreed in 2014, after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, to halt the spending cuts they had made after the Cold War and move toward spending 2% of GDP on their defense budgets by 2024. That pledge expires next year, and NATO is working on a new target.

“What is obvious is that if it was right to commit to spend 2% in 2014, it is even more right now because we live in a more dangerous world,” Stoltenberg told reporters, after chairing a meeting of NATO defense ministers, where a first high-level discussion on the issue was held.

“There is a full-fledged war going on in in Ukraine, in Europe, and then we see the persistent threat of terrorism, and we see also the challenges that China is forcing to our security. So, it is obvious that we need to spend more,” he said.

NATO allies in Europe and Canada increased defense spending for the eighth consecutive year in 2022, adding around $350 billion to their budgets. According to NATO’s most recent estimates, 10 countries are close to or above the 2% guideline. Thirteen spend around 1.5% or less.

9:35 a.m.: NATO countries are ramping up production of artillery munitions as Ukraine is burning through shells much faster than the West can make them, the alliance said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

"Things are happening, but ... we need to step up even more, because there is a big need out there to provide Ukraine with ammunition," NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after a two-day meeting of alliance defense ministers in Brussels.

He noted countries like the United States, France, Germany and Norway had signed contracts for munitions that would enable NATO members to replenish their own stocks but also keep supplying Kyiv, which has ceded ground to an escalating Russian offensive.

Even before Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, many NATO countries had fallen short of meeting the alliance's munitions-stockpiling targets.

The pace of deliveries to Ukraine, where Kyiv's troops are firing up to 10,000 artillery shells daily, has drained Western inventories even further. At the same time, plans to supply Kyiv with two battalions of Leopard 2 tanks are taking shape.

9:15 a.m.: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held a press briefing in Brussels, Belgium, following a meeting of NATO defense ministers Wednesday. He said that in the face of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, NATO is stronger than ever. VOA’s national security correspondent Jeff Seldin shared the details on Twitter.

8:55 a.m.: Ukraine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba released a video on Twitter this week showing images of some of the 220 Ukrainian athletes and coaches who have been killed in the war and criticizing the International Olympic Committee for not banning Russian athletes from the 2024 summer Olympics in Paris. “While Russia will be cheering on their athletes, their invading army will be killing more Ukrainians,” the video says, calling for a boycott of Russian sports.

8:40 a.m.: The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. officials are considering a plan to send a shipment of Iranian-supplied weapons seized by the U.S. Navy to Ukraine, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Unnamed U.S. and European officials told the newspaper on February 14 that the weapons seized from smugglers off the Yemen coast in recent months included more than 5,000 assault rifles, 1.6 million rounds of small-arms ammunition, and small number of antitank missiles.

Ukraine is appealing for more Western weaponry as the Russian invasion nears its first anniversary.

8:25 a.m.: The United States could sanction more banks with links to Russia and will step up enforcement against any dodging existing rules, a senior U.S. official told Reuters, as Western powers seek to reinvigorate efforts to isolate Moscow.

The comments come as Western diplomats seek to agree a new raft of sanctions for the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

"We have immobilized about 80% of the assets in the Russian banking sector," James O'Brien, head of the U.S. State Department's Office of Sanctions Coordination, told Reuters.

"We are looking at additional banks and financial institutions to see how Russia deals with the outside world. It is very possible that there will be more action."

8:10 a.m.:

7:50 a.m.: A Russian rights activist from St. Petersburg has been briefly detained and charged with holding an illegal public event after he publicly questioned officials about the fate of jailed opposition activist Andrei Pivovarov, whose whereabouts has been unknown since mid-January, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Dmitry Negodin told RFE/RL on Wednesday that he unfolded a poster reading "Where is Andrei Pivovarov?" the previous evening in downtown St. Petersburg before being detained by police.

Negodin said he was released after being officially charged for the offense that could cost him a 40,000-ruble ($540) fine.

Pivovarov, the former executive director of the now-defunct pro-democracy Open Russia movement, was detained in May 2021 after being taken off a Warsaw-bound plane just before takeoff from St. Petersburg and sentenced to four years in prison in July 2022 on a charge of heading an "undesirable organization."

It remains unknown where exactly Pivovarov is now and where he will be serving his sentence.

7:35 a.m.: Britain is training Ukrainian soldiers to fight in a more "Western way" and use less ammunition than the traditional Soviet way of fighting, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Britain along with other Western allies has been training Ukrainian soldiers and providing weapons and ammunition to support Kyiv in its battle with Russia.

"Ukraine uses huge amounts of ammunition to defend itself, partly that's why we're training them to fight in a Western way," Wallace told Times Radio.

7:20 a.m.:

7:05 a.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin, secure in power, has set the stage for a long and draining war, Reuters reported in this profile of the long-time leader.

Putin casts the war in Ukraine as a watershed when Russia finally stood up to the West - but some within the elite fear he has committed his country to a long and fruitless drain on lives and resources.

When the Russian president ordered troops into Ukraine on February 24, he expected to win quickly, earn a place in history alongside the tsars, and teach the United States a lesson about Russia's revival since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He was wrong. The war has killed or wounded hundreds of thousands; Russia and Russians are vilified in the West as aggressors; and his army now faces a resilient Ukraine backed by an expanding U.S.-led NATO military alliance.

One senior Russian source with knowledge of decision-making said Putin's hopes of burnishing his reputation had been dashed. "Ahead, it will be even more difficult and more costly for both Ukraine and Russia," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Economic losses on this scale are not worth a few conquered territories."

The source said he believed many of the elite shared his view, although to say so publicly would invite swift retribution.

Putin says Moscow is locked in an existential battle with an arrogant West that wants to carve up Russia and its vast resources - a narrative that Ukraine and the West reject.

6:45 a.m.: A year into the war, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy continues to defy Russian President Vladimir Putin against the odds, Reuters reported in a profile of the war-time leader.

Night after night, Zelenskyy delivers rousing video addresses, rallying his troops in their fight against the Russian invaders and trying to keep the world's attention focused on his nation's plight.

He has successfully lobbied the West for arms, lifting taboo after taboo in the process -- initially on the West sending lethal aid of any kind and more recently on Western deliveries of battle tanks that may help Ukraine mount a counter-offensive.

Zelenskyy, now 45 and in power since 2019, shows no sign of letting up. Nor does Putin, who launched his "special military operation" in Ukraine on February 24, 2022 and appears to be preparing for a long war.

When Russian troops poured over the border, few predicted the transformation in Zelenskyy, a former TV comedian whose trust ratings had been waning as public anger rose over widespread corruption, economic malaise and bad governance.

He is now a household name around the world, a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. In Ukraine, his popularity ratings have almost tripled and are unusually stable.

Easy-going and relaxed when meeting newcomers in his heavily fortified headquarters, dressed in military khaki whether meeting royalty or visiting soldiers near the frontline, Zelenskyy projects an image of steadiness and steadfastness. But though sometimes puffy-faced, with lines under his eyes, there is no indication he is running out of steam.

6:30 a.m.:

6:15 a.m.: Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which together make up the industrial Donbas region bordering Russia, continue to bear the brunt of Russia’s bombardments as Moscow reportedly moves more troops into the area, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

In Luhansk, the number of Russian ground and air attacks is “growing every day,” Gov. Serhii Haidai said on Ukrainian TV. “The Russians were able to transfer new forces for the offensive and now they are trying to overwhelm us with sheer human mass,” Haidai said.

Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said Wednesday that one town had come under “nonstop” fire from multiple rocket launchers for over three hours the previous day, damaging at least 12 residential buildings.

With the one-year anniversary of Russia’s war approaching, followed by improved spring weather, Western officials and analysts say the fighting could be nearing a critical phase when both sides look to launch offensives.

The Kremlin is striving to secure eastern areas it illegally annexed last September — the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions — and where it claims its rule is welcomed. Pro-Moscow separatists have controlled part of Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk province since 2014.

6 a.m.: Russia is pouring heavy equipment and mobilized troops into the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine but Ukrainian forces are still defending the region, regional governor Serhiy Haidai said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Russia said earlier on Wednesday that its troops had broken through two fortified lines of Ukrainian defenses on the eastern front. The Russian Defence Ministry said Ukrainian forces had retreated in the face of Russian attacks in the Luhansk region.

The ministry did not specify in which part of the Luhansk region the offensive took place.

5:20 a.m.:

4:30 a.m.: A Russian court on Wednesday sentenced a journalist to six years in prison for comments critical of Moscow's offensive in Ukraine, officials said, as part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent.

Agence France-Presse reported that the verdict is the latest in a series of high-profile rulings under new legislation that critics say is designed to criminalize criticism of the military intervention.

Maria Ponomarenko, 44, was sentenced for spreading information she knew to be false about Moscow's army, said the Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes.

The journalist was sentenced in the southern Siberian city of Barnaul, where she worked for the RusNews website.

She was prosecuted for a post on social media last March related to an attack on a theater in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol that came under Russian control after a long siege.

Kyiv and its Western allies blamed Moscow for the death of hundreds of civilians in the attack, which Russia denies.

Prosecutors had requested a jail term of nine years.

Ponomarenko was arrested last April in Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg before being transferred to Barnaul.

Her lawyer has raised alarm over Ponomarenko's deteriorating mental health and requested that she receives treatment, the OVD-Info law-enforcement monitoring group reported.

After the Kremlin ordered troops into Ukraine nearly a year ago, Russia introduced new legislation criminalizing what authorities consider to be false or damaging information about the Russian army and the offensive.

3:50 a.m.: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday the EU will propose sanctions targeting for the first time Iranian economic operators involved in the Russian war in Ukraine, according to Reuters.

"For the first time we are also proposing to sanction Iranian entities including those linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard," Von der Leyen told European lawmakers in Strasbourg.

Von der Leyen said the 10th package of sanctions, worth a total of 11 billion euros ($11.79 billion), would target new trade bans and technology export controls, including drones, helicopters and missiles.

3:20 a.m.: The United Nations said Wednesday it needed $5.6 billion to provide humanitarian aid in Ukraine and to the millions who have fled the war-ravaged country as refugees.

"Almost a year on, the war continues to cause death, destruction and displacement daily, and on a staggering scale," UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse, saying the funds would help bring aid to more than 15 million people.

2:50 a.m.:

2:25 a.m.: According to Reuters, the upper chamber of Russia's parliament will hold extraordinary meeting on February 22, RIA Novosti news agency reported on Wednesday, citing a senior lawmaker.

The head of a Federation Council committee, Vyacheslav Timchenko, told RIA the meeting would focus on adoption of laws on the integration of four regions into the Russian Federation.

Last year Moscow moved to annex the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions in Ukraine in a move condemned by most countries of the United Nations as illegal.

RIA quoted a source as saying that State Duma, a lower chamber, will gather in the morning on February 22 while Federation Council's extraordinary session will start at 1200 GMT.

President Vladimir Putin will deliver his annual address to the federal assembly — a joint meeting of Russia's two houses of parliament — on February 21.

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine last February a "special military operation" to eliminate security threats. Kyiv and its allies call Russia's actions an unprovoked land grab.

1:30 a.m.: "We are ready to fulfil any tasks, including the most difficult ones if we have to," Vadim Lukashevich, deputy commander of the Special Operations Forces of Belarus, told Agence France-Presse.

AFP reported from a Belarussian training camp within 50 km of the Ukrainian border. Military exercises, parachute practice and "ideological lessons" all await Belarusian troops.

"Belarusians are peaceful people. But if we have to, we will defend our Belarus," Lukashevich said.

12:40 a.m.:

12:01 a.m.: Fighting is still raging in the industrial east of Ukraine, but the dust has settled in the capital and a new rhythm of life has become the norm, Agence France-Presse reported. AFP interviewed a Kyiv restauranteur and a garbage truck driver on how their city has changed in the past year and the future they look forward to.

Agence France-Presse had the full story.

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

  • 16x9 Image

    VOA News

    The Voice of America provides news and information in more than 40 languages to an estimated weekly audience of over 326 million people. Stories with the VOA News byline are the work of multiple VOA journalists and may contain information from wire service reports.