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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Feb. 4

A man exercises at the Kachalka outdoor gym on Dolobetskyi island in the Dnieper River in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 3, 2023.
A man exercises at the Kachalka outdoor gym on Dolobetskyi island in the Dnieper River in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 3, 2023.

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

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

9:39 p.m.: In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy discussed the prisoner exchange earlier Saturday.

“Since February 24, our team has managed to return totally 1,762 Ukrainian men and women from Russian captivity,” Zelenskyy said. “I also thank all those involved in helping these people after their return. Everyone who treats, restores documents, helps solve problematic issues of those released from captivity. It reflects the basic meaning of what we do. We restore and protect the normality of life for our people in a free country.”

8:35 p.m.: Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman warned on Saturday Western sanctions against Russia could result in a shortage of energy supplies in future, Reuters reported.

In answer to a question over how trade measures would affect the energy market, Prince Abdulaziz told an industry conference in Riyadh: "All of those so-called sanctions, embargoes, lack of investments, they will convolute into one thing and one thing only, a lack of energy supplies of all kinds when they are most needed."

The prince also said Saudi Arabia was working to send Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) to Ukraine. LPG is most commonly used as a cooking fuel and in heating.

7:45 p.m.: Odesa regional governor Maksym Marchenko said practically all of the city had lost power after the incident, and that as of Saturday afternoon about 500,000 people faced outages, Reuters reported.

That represents about half of Odesa's pre-war population of one million, when it was Ukraine's third largest city.

6:51 p.m.: Punk icon John Lydon has failed in his attempt to become Ireland’s entry for the pop music competition the Eurovision Song Contest.The former Sex Pistols frontman entered the song “Hawaii” with his post-punk band Public Image Ltd. in the national runoff for May’s continent-wide contest, The Associated Press reported.

Founded in 1956 to help unite a continent scarred by World War II, Eurovision sees more than 40 countries compete for the continent’s pop music crown.

The 2023 contest will be staged in the English city of Liverpool after Britain was asked to hold the event on behalf of Ukraine.

Ukraine won the right to host the pop extravaganza when its entry, folk-rap ensemble Kalush Orchestra, won the 2022 contest. Britain’s Sam Ryder came second.

6:04 p.m.: Western officials reportedly estimate that Russian forces have sustained almost 200,000 casualties in the war in #Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War reports.

5:30 p.m.: Russian forces recruited 50 women in a penal colony on the territory of the temporarily occupied Donetsk Oblast to fight against Ukraine. Euromaidan Press cites a report Saturday, by the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces saying those women were sent to the territory of the Russian Federation for training.

“To replenish its casualties, the adversary is trying to involve convicted women in the fighting," the report reads. "During the week, the occupant forces recruited about 50 people from the women’s correctional colony in Snizhne (the temporarily occupied territory of Donetsk Oblast). They are also reported to be sent to the territory of the Russian Federation for training."

5:15 p.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Poland, the Polish president's foreign policy adviser said on Saturday.

"We already know for sure that President Joe Biden will respond positively to President Duda's invitation and will come to Poland," Marcin Przydacz said on public TV. "We have agreed with the American side that we will announce the date of this visit in due course, but I can assure that it will be sooner rather than later."

Przydacz said that preparations are underway for the visit which "meets the expectations of both the White House and the expectations of the Polish side."

President Biden said on Monday that he would visit Poland but did not know know when, Reuters reports.

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3:57 p.m.: Portugal will send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Saturday, but he added that a number of them are inoperable, and Portugal is in talks with Germany to obtain parts needed for their repair. Costa said he hoped to deliver some of them to Ukraine by the end of March.

"We are currently working to be able to dispense some of our tanks," Costa told Lusa news agency during a trip to the Central African Republic. "I know how many tanks will be (sent to Ukraine) but that will be announced at the appropriate time."

Costa's office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Admiral António Silva Ribeiro, the head of the Portuguese armed forces, said last month Portugal had 37 Leopard 2 tanks but it has been widely reported by local media that most are inoperable.

The defense ministry said it would not comment on the "operability of weapons and equipment systems" for security reasons.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said this week the country would receive 120 to 140 western tanks in a "first wave" of deliveries from a coalition of 12 countries.

Kyiv secured pledges from the West to supply main battle tanks to help fend off Russia's full-scale invasion, with Moscow mounting huge efforts to make incremental advances in eastern Ukraine, Reuters reports.

2:52 p.m.: In a phone conversation Saturday, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak discussed with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelenskyy the latest situation on the ground in Ukraine and the Prime Minister said he was focused on ensuring the U.K.’s defensive military equipment reached the front line as quickly as possible, Sunak's office said in a press release Saturday.

Both leaders agreed that it was vital that international partners accelerated their assistance to Ukraine to help seize the opportunity to push Russian forces back, as well as looking at how they could support the long-term capability of Ukraine’s armed forces.

The greatest weapon in Ukraine’s arsenal was the collective international unity in support of Ukraine, the leaders agreed.

2:15 p.m.: Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Saturday that, over the past week, Russian forces had thrown all their strength into “breaking our defense and encircling Bakhmut and launched a severe offensive near Lyman."

However, she said, Russia's attempts to surround the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast had failed so far, The Kyiv Independent reports.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday, that Ukraine “will not surrender” Bakhmut.

“No one will surrender Bakhmut. We will fight as long as we can,” Zelenskyy said at a press conference following the 24th Ukraine-EU summit in Kyiv.

The Ukrainian intelligence issue Friday a stark warning that Russia was redeploying additional assault groups and military equipment to capture the Donbas by March.

Russian regular forces, along with Kremlin-controlled mercenary group Wagner, have been attempting to capture Bakhmut for months as Russia tries to consolidate its grip over the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, half of which it currently controls.

1:30 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday that the situation on the front lines in the east of the country was getting tougher and Russia was throwing more and more troops into battle.

Russian forces are slowly gaining ground in the Donbas region, encircling the city of Bakhmut north of Donetsk and battling to take control of a nearby road which is a major supply route for Ukrainian forces. They are also trying to capture Vuhledar, southwest of Donetsk, Reuters reports.

"I've often had to say the situation at the front is tough, and is getting tougher, and it's that time again. ... The invader is putting more and more of his forces into breaking down our defenses," Zelenskyy said in a video address.

"It is very difficult now in Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Lyman and other directions," he continued.

The Ukrainian president thanked U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and all the British people for helping Ukraine. “Now, in the U.K., our guys have already started training on Challenger tanks. It's a good vehicle. And it will be a big thing on the battlefield,” he said.

12:05 p.m.: A funeral for a Belarusian military volunteer and dissident was held in Ukraine's capital. Eduard Lobov died fighting Russian troops in Vuhledar in eastern Ukraine. His funeral was held on Saturday and his body will be transported to Warsaw for burial. Lobov is the latest casualty of the Kalinowsky Regiment, a Belarusian unit mobilized in March 2022 that is fighting alongside Ukraine. The group seeks to oust Belarus' authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia. They believe Ukraine’s victory over Russia will spur regime change in Minsk, AP reports.

10:42 a.m.: The United States and Russia faced off Saturday, over a World Health Organization report on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, with Moscow saying it was politically motivated and Washington calling for it to be swiftly updated, Reuters reports.

The report, by WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was presented to the organization's executive board, on which both Russia and the United States sit.

It covered events in the first nine months of 2022 and classed the situation in Ukraine, which Russia invaded on Feb. 24, as one of eight acute global health emergencies.

The report documented more than 14,000 civilian casualties, with 17.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and 7.5 million Ukrainian refugees displaced across Europe.

Of 471 attacks with heavy weapons on healthcare facilities globally, 448 occurred in Ukraine, the WHO report said.

Russia's representative to the WHO board called it politicized and one-sided and described its references to Ukraine as unfounded accusations.

10:05 a.m.: German Federal Prosecutor General Peter Frank has spoken out in favour of an international criminal investigation of the Russian war on Ukraine.

"Whether through the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal is ultimately a decision for the international community," he told Sunday's edition of Die Welt newspaper in comments seen in advance by The German Press Agency, dpa.

9:45 a.m.: Ukraine and Russia traded almost 200 prisoners of war in a swap announced separately by both sides on Saturday, with the bodies of two British volunteers also being sent back to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian president's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said 116 Ukrainians had been returned, while Russian news agencies cited Moscow's defense ministry saying 63 Russian POWs had been freed, Reuters reports.

"We managed to return 116 of our people, defenders of Mariupol, partisans from Kherson, snipers from the Bakhmut (front) and other heroes of ours," Yermak wrote on Telegram.

Yermak also said the bodies of British volunteer aid workers Andrew Bagshaw and Chris Parry had been sent back to Ukraine.

9:15 a.m.: All that is left of the Mariupol drama theater.

8:57 a.m.: Widespread power outages in and around Ukraine's southern port city of Odesa were causes by a serious accident at the high voltage substation, Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Saturday.

"The situation is difficult, the scale of the accident is significant, it is impossible to quickly restore power supply, in particular to critical infrastructure," Shmyhal wrote on Telegram.

He said the substation in Odesa region had previously been damaged multiple times by Russian missile strikes, and that the energy minister was on his way to the regional capital to oversee repairs along with the national grid operator's CEO.

Shmyhal said authorities were now working to restore power supply to critical infrastructure and apartment blocks which needed electricity to heat homes.

The temperature in Odesa, Ukraine's main southern port city on the Black sea with a pre-war population of one million, was at two degrees Celsius (35.6°F) on Saturday and is due to dip below freezing for much of the next week.

Shmyhal said he had ordered Ukraine's energy ministry to scramble every available high-power generator in its nationwide inventory and deliver it to Odesa within a day.

He also ordered Ukraine's foreign ministry to appeal to Turkey to send vessels which carry power plants to come to the city's aid, Reuters reports.

8:30 a.m.: The United States warned Turkey in recent days about the export to Russia of chemicals, microchips and other products that can be used in Moscow's war effort in Ukraine, and it could move to punish Turkish companies or banks contravening sanctions.

Brian Nelson, the U.S. Treasury Department's top sanctions official, visited Turkish government and private sector officials on Thursday and Friday to urge more cooperation in disrupting the flow of such goods.

In a speech to bankers, Nelson said a marked year-long rise in exports to Russia leaves Turkish entities "particularly vulnerable to reputational and sanctions risks," or lost access to G7 markets.

They should "take extra precaution to avoid transactions related to potential dual-use technology transfers that could be used by the Russian military-industrial complex," he said in a copy of the speech issued by the Treasury.

According to Reuters, in December at least $2.6 billion of computer and other electronic components flowed into Russia in the seven months to Oct. 31. At least $777 million of these products were made by Western firms whose chips have been found in Russian weapons systems.

7:45 a.m.: Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said supplying more advanced U.S. weaponry to Ukraine will only trigger more retaliatory strikes from Russia, up to the extent of Russia's nuclear doctrine.

"All of Ukraine that remains under Kyiv's rule will burn," journalist Nadana Fridrikhson quoted him as saying in a written interview with her.

Fridrikhson asked Medvedev, who as deputy chairman of the Security Council has become one of Russia's most hawkish pro-war figures since its invasion of Ukraine, whether the use of longer-range weapons might force Russia to negotiate with Kyiv.

"The result will be just the opposite," Medvedev replied, in comments that Fridrikhson posted on her Telegram channel.

"Only moral freaks, of which there are enough both in the White House and in the Capitol, can argue like that."

The Pentagon said on Friday that a new rocket that would double Ukraine's strike range was included in a $2.175 billion U.S. military aid package, Reuters reports.

5:23 a.m.: When Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, award-winning Ukrainian filmmaker Alisa Kovalenko put down her camera to join the battles raging on the country's eastern front.

Kovalenko returned to making films, driven by the belief that the silver screen can be an equally effective weapon to fight the enemy as she tells the story of five teenagers determined to pursue their dreams despite the carnage of war that envelops their worlds.

"This cultural front is really important," Kovalenko told Reuters. "It helps people around the world feel and understand what people are going through."

Kovalenko's documentary We Will Not Fade Away opens in the Panorama section of the Berlinale on February 22, forming part of a broader Ukraine focus at this year's festival.

The film is shot over three years in the villages of Zolote-4 and Stanytsia Luhanska, in the eastern Donbas region where fighting has taken place since 2014.

Kovalenko started filming in 2019 but stopped when she signed up for a Ukrainian voluntary battalion last March. She said she returned to filming four months later after Russian forces bombed the fighters' base and one of her friends was killed.

The film's protagonists – including an aspiring motorcycle mechanic and a nascent rapper – embark on an inspirational walking trip in the Himalayas before returning to Ukraine.

In the final credits, viewers learn that the villages have now fallen under Russian control and that contact with some of the teenagers has been lost.

4:13 a.m.: Germany is talking to the Swedish government about buying mobile launchers that would boost the capabilities of IRIS-T air defense systems that Berlin is planning to send to Ukraine, Reuters reported, citing a Friday Spiegel magazine article.

Germany has shipped one IRIS-T system to Ukraine and plans to send more, answering Kyiv's pleas for air defenses to repel Russian missile and drone attacks that have wreaked destruction on cities since the start of the invasion nearly a year ago.

The Swedish launchers would help Ukrainian troops protect a larger area against Russian attacks. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck raised the issue on a visit to Sweden this week but the Swedish government has so far declined to supply the launchers, Spiegel reported.

Sweden's armed forces declined comment. The Swedish defense ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

3:07 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said in its latest Ukraine assessment that Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line with an intensified pace of operations near Kreminna. They also continued offensive operations around Bakhmut.

They did not, however, make any confirmed territorial gains in southern Ukraine.

Western officials reportedly estimate that Russian forces have sustained almost 200,000 casualties in the war in Ukraine, the assessment said.

2:17 a.m.: Canada on Friday imposed sanctions on 38 individuals and 16 entities it said were "complicit in peddling Russian disinformation and propaganda," prompting a quick promise of retaliation from Moscow, Reuters reported.

The targeted individuals and entities include Russian state-owned media group MIA Rossiya Segodnya and singer Nikolai Baskov, who performed in a pro-war concert in Moscow, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine is based on lies and deception. Russian disinformation operations have enlisted celebrities and so-called news organizations to echo the Kremlin's talking points and attempt to justify the atrocities happening across Ukraine," it said.

Canada, one of the most vocal international supporters of Ukraine, has imposed sanctions on almost 4,000 people and entities from and in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus since 2014.

Oleg Stepanov, Russia's ambassador to Canada, said Moscow would react to the sanctions in a reciprocal fashion.

1:07 a.m.: Ukraine said Friday it had started replacing millions of regular light bulbs with energy-saving LED lamps as part of an EU-funded project to help with energy shortages caused by Russian strikes, Agence France-Presse reported.

For months Moscow has systematically targeted Ukraine's energy grid, leaving millions in the dark and cold in the middle of winter.

The EU said in December it would fund the purchase of 30 million LED light bulbs for Ukraine worth $33 million to help deal with the large-scale blackouts.

Ukrainians can swap five old light bulbs for five LED bulbs at post offices.

On Friday, at Kyiv's main post office lit by four imposing chandeliers Ukrainians huddled at counter 18, where the exchange took place.

A post office employee said "a lot of people" come to exchange bulbs every day.

"Everyone says this is a very good idea," said the worker who wore a yellow and black vest.

12:12 a.m.: Russia's monthly budget revenues from oil and gas fell in January to their lowest level since August 2020 under the impact of Western sanctions on its most lucrative export, Finance Ministry data showed Friday, Reuters reported.

Monthly tax and customs revenue from energy sales declined 46% in a year, reflecting the fact that, while the price of the global benchmark Brent blend was little changed, the average monthly price of Russia's Urals blend was down 42%, according to the ministry.

Moscow relies on income from oil and gas, last year around $165 billion, to fund its budget spending, and has been forced to start selling international reserves to cover a deficit stretched by the cost of its invasion of Ukraine.

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

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