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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Jan. 23

Ukrainian servicemen are seen near the frontline near Soledar in Donetsk region, Jan. 23, 2023.

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

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

11 p.m.: One of the independent members of the recently established U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine says investigators have found evidence of war crimes, including sexual abuse of children, during Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, with the "vast majority" of offenses having been committed by Russian troops, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Speaking in an interview with RFE/RL's Balkan Service on January 23, Jasminka Dzumhur, one of three members of the commission and Bosnia-Herzegovina's human rights ombudswoman with more than three decades of experience in the fields of the judiciary, human rights, and international relations, said there was a "very wide" range of crimes that have been uncovered in Ukraine.

"When we talk about children, they were wounded or killed by firearms. They were sexually abused. We recorded violations of the rights of children placed in homes for neglected children," Dzumhur said, adding that the commission had also received information about children being moved from Ukraine to Russia even though "in many cases" their biological parents still reside in Ukraine.

The European Union and human rights groups have accused Russia of human rights violations on the territory of Ukraine, including torture, abuse, rape, and other forms of violence as well as attacks on civilian and energy infrastructure since the Kremlin launched its unprovoked invasion in February 2022.

10:15 p.m.: Associated Press video journalist Mstyslav Chernov had just broken out of Mariupol after covering the first 20 days of the Russian invasion of the Ukrainian city and was feeling guilty about leaving. He and his colleagues, photographer Evgeniy Maloletka and producer Vasilisa Stepanenko, had been the last journalists there, sending crucial dispatches from a city under a full-scale assault.

The day after, a theater with hundreds of people sheltering inside was bombed and he knew no one was there to document it. That’s when Chernov decided he wanted to do something bigger. He’d filmed some 30 hours of footage over his days in Mariupol. But poor and sometimes no internet connections made it extremely difficult to export anything. All told, he estimates only about 40 minutes of that successfully made it out to the world.

“Those shots which went out were very important. They went on the AP and then to thousands of news outlets,” Chernov said. “However, I had much more. ... I thought I should do something more. I should do something more with that 30 hours of footage to tell a bigger story and more context to show the audience of the scale.”

Chernov decided then that he wanted to make a documentary. That film, “20 Days in Mariupol,” a joint project between The Associated Press and PBS “Frontline,” premiered Friday at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where it is playing in competition.

8:46 p.m.: After intense pressure from its allies, Germany appears to be inching toward approving deliveries of high-tech battle tanks that Ukraine and Western backers hope will boost the country's fight against Russia.

8:00 p.m: Three vessels carrying 105,500 metric tons of grain and other food products have left Ukrainian ports under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, CNBC reported.

The ships, destined for Spain, Turkey and Djibouti, are carrying wheat and corn.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was brokered last summer between Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN to ease Russia’s naval blockade of key Ukrainian ports to allow grain exports.

So far, more than 670 ships have sailed from Ukrainian ports, according to CNBC.

6:50 p.m.:

5:30 p.m.: Kyiv's forces are taking ground around a strategic city in the eastern Luhansk region, Politico said Monday, quoting an unnamed a senior U.S. military official. The report also said Ukraine is expected to launch a new counteroffensive this spring.

"What we're seeing is Ukrainian counteroffensive operations, again, largely fluid in that area in terms of back and forth, making some incremental gains near Kreminna," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military operations.

The Politico report went on to say that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said now is the time for the West to provide additional arms and training Ukraine needs to smash through Russian lines.

"We have a window of opportunity here, you know, between now and the spring when they commence their operation, their counteroffensive," Austin said last week, announcing a $2.5 billion package of aid which includes Bradley Fighting Vehicles Stryker armored combat vehicles, mine-resistant vehicles, and Humvees, as well as additional air defenses, missiles and artillery.

5:00 p.m.: Most schools and kindergartens — 86% — now have bomb shelters, CNN reported.

The head of the Kyiv Regional Military Administration said in a Telegram post Monday that "A total of 1,085 shelters have already been set up in educational facilities in Kyiv region."

4:30 p.m.: Morocco has provided Ukraine's armed forces with "modernized" Soviet T-72B main battle tanks, Newsweek reported, citing press reports, although the magazine says the move is unlikely to be a "game changer" for Kyiv.

Newsweek quoted the Algerian news outlet Mena Defense as saying 20 T-72B tanks were sent to Ukraine a week ago.

Mena Defense said the tanks had been "modernized" in the Czech Republic before heading to Ukraine.

2:30 p.m.: People living in Bakhmut, perhaps the most bitterly contested town in Ukraine, travel 12 kilometers west to Chasiv Yar to stock up on necessities or draw their pensions. Current Time, a co-production between Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and VOA, had this report.

2:10 p.m.: Bulgaria's navy on Monday carried out a controlled explosion of a naval mine that had drifted close to the country's Black Sea coast, Reuters reported, quoting the defense ministry.

Mines began floating in the Black Sea after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Special diving teams in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey have been defusing those drifting in their waters.

The ministry said the navy was alerted about a floating object that looked very much like a naval mine some 200 meters (220 yards) off the Black Sea coast near the village of Tulenovo in northeastern Bulgaria early on Monday.

The mine, identified as an anchored "YaM" type, placed in a combat position, was destroyed by a special diving team later in the day, the ministry said in a statement.

Since the war started, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine have destroyed roughly 40 mines in western waters of the Black Sea.

1:45 p.m.: A senior U.S. military official briefed Pentagon reporters Monday on the latest developments in the war between Ukraine and Russia. VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin shared the details on Twitter.

1:30 p.m.: One of Russia's richest tycoons called on the Russian authorities on Monday to tolerate rather than punish hundreds of thousands of workers who have fled abroad due to Moscow's war in Ukraine, arguing that the country needs their brain power, Reuters reported.

"People who work for our economy from abroad — remotely or otherwise — should not be punished," billionaire metals executive Vladimir Potanin told the online RBC news portal, calling for an end to talk of punitive measures against them, something he called "demagoguery."

He said Moscow had to be tolerant even if remote workers held views that Russian patriots disliked, a reference to the fact that many of those who left — including IT specialists — did so to avoid being drafted into the army or because they disagreed with what Moscow calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine, launched on Feb. 24 last year.

Potanin is estimated to be Russia's richest or second richest person thanks to his stake in metals giant Nornickel.

1:15 p.m.:

1:05 p.m.: On Ukraine's frontlines, a Polish paramedic tends to wounded soldiers.

Damian Duda, a Polish academic and media worker, was only 25 when he first went to Ukraine as a volunteer combat paramedic in 2014, work he describes as his "private crusade."

Almost 10 years on, when Russian bombs started falling over Ukrainian cities at the start of its invasion, he had built up a team of six people with experience on battlefields as far afield as Iraq and Syria.

They had also started filming their medical missions driving out to the frontlines in Ukraine in a specially equipped vehicle, notching up tens of thousands of views on social media.

“Our task is to get the soldier out of the battle, provide him with basic medical care, make sure that he does not bleed out ... and take him to a relatively safe place where ambulances are waiting for him,” the 34-year-old told Reuters in his home city of Warsaw.

12:40 p.m.:

12:20 p.m.: Sweden should not expect Turkey's support for its NATO membership after a protest near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm at the weekend including the burning of a copy of the Quran, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.

"Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy (in Stockholm) can no longer expect our support for their NATO membership," Erdogan said in a speech after a cabinet meeting, Reuters reported.

Protests in Stockholm on Saturday against Turkey and against Sweden's bid to join NATO, during which a copy of the Quran was burned, have heightened tensions with Turkey, whose backing Sweden needs to gain entry to the military alliance.

The Quran-burning was carried out by Rasmus Paludan, leader of Danish far-right political party Hard Line. Paludan, who also has Swedish citizenship, has held a number of demonstrations in the past where he has burned the Koran. Several Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait denounced the incident.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia's invasion of Ukraine but all 30 member states must approve their bids. Ankara has previously said Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

"If you love members of terrorist organizations and enemies of Islam so much and protect them, then we advise you to seek their support for your countries' security," Erdogan also said.

12:05 p.m.: Authorities in Moscow have torn down a makeshift memorial to Ukrainian victims of the deadly January 14 Russian missile strike on an apartment block in Dnipro that killed at least 46 people. Police are said to have detained four people at the memorial. The flowers, candles, and toys, as well as a picture of the destroyed apartment building, were all removed. A police van is said to have been brought in to monitor the area. Current Time, a co-production of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and VOA, had this report.

11:55 a.m.: How do governments correctly re-export German tanks? Reuters published this explainer on Monday.

All German-built weapons of war come with an end use certificate that means their new owner needs Berlin's approval if it wants to pass on that weapon to another country. Re-export requests usually get the green light if the arms are set to go to other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members or closely allied countries.

The approval is withheld under German law "if there is reason to assume that it would run counter to Germany's ambition to entertain good relations to other countries". The same goes for cases where the weapons may be used to wage a war of aggression, or the re-export approval might violate Germany's obligations under international law.

As defense exports are a touchy issue in Germany, foreign countries usually do not directly submit a formal request for re-export to the German authorities.

They will rather sound out Berlin's stance by making a so-called "preliminary inquiry", giving Germany the chance to signal whether it is ready to supply the requested weapon or not. If not, the foreign country abstains from submitting a formal re-export request, and no diplomatic harm is done.

This mechanism means that Poland can, by submitting a formal re-export request, force Scholz to spell out whether he is prepared to see Poland send its Leopards to Ukraine or not.

11:45 a.m.:

11:30 a.m.: Sean Penn’s film about the war in Ukraine, “Superpower,” will have its world premiere at this year’s Berlin film festival, The Associated Press reported, quoting organizers of the event.

The documentary will run outside the main competition, which features 18 movies this year including John Trengrove’s “Manodrome” with Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody.

Organizers said the Berlinale will pay special tribute this year to Ukraine and the protests in Iran.

The annual event takes place from February 16-26.

11:10 a.m.: The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Monday released a chart showing the sharp increase in humanitarian needs in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion almost a year ago.

10:50 a.m.: Living in fear of the draft, Russian émigrés in Kazakhstan have no plans to go home, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Marat makes a net income of about $215 a month, which he says is enough for a comfortable life as a young, single man in the Kazakh town of Oral, which he now calls home.

The 20-year-old junior computer developer left his native city of Kazan, the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, on September 22, 2022, a day after Moscow announced a military mobilization to bolster the depleting ranks of its forces in Ukraine.

In Oral, in West Kazakhstan Province, Marat has found it "relatively easily" to find a full-time job and rented accommodation. He asked that his full name not be published, saying that he feared for the safety of his mother, brother, and grandmother, who still live in Kazan.

Like many Russian émigrés in Kazakhstan and elsewhere around the region, Marat isn't planning to go back to Russia anytime soon. Many émigrés fear a second military mobilization or Russia's future economic collapse, due to sanctions and international exclusion.

More than 930,000 Russians -- mostly conscript-aged men -- entered neighboring Kazakhstan after September 21, 2022, to avoid the risk of being drafted to war. Since then, the majority of them have left for other countries.

Nearly 146,000 of them remained in Kazakhstan, according to Kazakh Interior Ministry figures released on December 21, 2022, three months after the major influx of Russians.

10:25 a.m.: The European Union says it faced "unprecedented challenges" at its borders last year, with a sharp rise in asylum-seekers arriving on Europe’s southern shores and millions of Ukrainians fleeing to Europe to escape Russia’s invasion. As VOA’s Henry Ridgwell reported, there are fears that Moscow is planning to create a new migrant crisis on the EU’s borders.

EU Borders Facing ‘Unprecedented Challenges’ Amid Fears Russia Will Weaponize Migration 
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10:10 a.m.: The European Union ratified on Monday more military aid to Ukraine worth 500 million euros, sources said, as Berlin faced more pressure over calls from Kyiv to supply it with German-made Leopard tanks, Reuters reported.

Agreement on the seventh such tranche of aid came as the EU's 27 foreign ministers met in Brussels after Western countries failed last week to agree on sending Ukraine battle tanks — but pledged billions worth of support.

The 500-million-euro ($542 million) package was approved along with a further 45 million for "non-lethal equipment" for the EU's military training mission for Ukraine, said an EU diplomat. Two other sources following the ministers' closed-doors talks confirmed that.

Germany's Leopard tanks, fielded by armies across Europe, are widely seen as the best fit for Ukraine, but Berlin must authorize their sale and has yet to do so.

9:55 a.m.:

9:40 a.m.: Hungary’s foreign minister said Monday that while his government isn’t in favor of the European Union sending funding for weapons to Ukraine, it won’t block a planned tranche of 500 million euros ($543 million) in assistance to Kyiv to use in the war with Russia, The Associated Press reported.

Speaking at a news briefing on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Peter Szijjarto dismissed as “lies” media reports that emerged last week that Hungary planned to veto the funds earmarked for Ukraine under the bloc’s European Peace Facility.

Hungary opposes the delivery of Western weapons to Ukraine — something Szijjarto said could “lead to the prolongation or potential escalation” of the war — but the government won’t veto the aid package, he said.

“We don’t consider weapons shipments, nor the hundreds of millions of euros Europe has spent to finance them, a good idea. But we won’t block the decision,” he said.

While Hungary’s government hasn’t blocked previous payouts under the facility, which has to date delivered 3.1 billion euros in arms funding to Ukraine, it did veto an 18-billion-euro aid package in December, leaving the EU’s other 26 nations scrambling to keep the money supply going.

9:30 a.m.:

8:15 a. m.: A top ally of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday corrupt officials would be rounded up and jailed as part of a zero tolerance policy, after the most high-profile graft allegations since Russia invaded burst into public view, Reuters reported.

David Arakhamia, head of Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party, said it was made clear during the invasion that officials should "focus on the war, help victims, cut bureaucracy and stop dubious business."

Ukraine has a long history of battling corruption and shaky governance, though there had been few examples since Moscow's invasion last year as Kyiv has fought back Russian troops and received Western financial and military support.

On Sunday, anti-corruption police said they had detained the deputy infrastructure minister on suspicion of receiving a $400,000 kickback to facilitate the import of generators into wartime Ukraine last September.

Separately, a newspaper investigation published on Saturday accused the Defense Ministry of overpaying suppliers for food for its soldiers. The ministry said the report contained "signs of deliberate manipulation" and was "misleading."

Before last year's invasion, fighting corruption was the principal theme for Zelenskyy, a political novice swept into power in a landslide in 2019 on a promise to clean up Ukraine's notoriously crooked institutions. In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy said measures would be announced this week.

7:50 a.m.: South Africa 's foreign minister on Monday deflected criticism of joint military drills planned with Russia and China, saying that hosting such exercises with "friends" was the "natural course of relations," Reuters reported.

Naledi Pandor made her comments during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was visiting South Africa 11 month after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

South Africa is one of Russia's most important allies on a continent divided over the invasion and Western attempts to isolate Moscow because of its military actions.

7:20 a.m.: Ukraine needs several hundred tanks from its Western allies in order to conduct a counter-offensive against Russian forces to retake occupied territory, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's chief of staff said on Monday.

"We need tanks - not 10-20, but several hundred," the official, Andriy Yermak, wrote on the Telegram app. "Our goal is (restoring) the borders of 1991 and punishing the enemy, who will pay for their crimes."

Kyiv is pleading for supplies of tanks, in particular the German-made Leopard 2 which is used by many NATO members and which requires Berlin's approval to be re-exported to Ukraine.

Poland's prime minister said on Monday his government would ask Germany for permission to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine and planned to send them whether or not Berlin agreed.

Germany's foreign minister had said on Sunday that Berlin would not stand in the way if Poland wanted to do so. According to a 2019 U.N. weapons registry, Poland has 247 Leopard 2 tanks.

Russia occupies a swathe of eastern and southern Ukraine, as well as the Crimea peninsula which Moscow annexed in 2014.

Ukraine's sovereign borders were established in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kyiv has named the withdrawal of Russian troops from all its territory as one of the main conditions to end the 11-month long war.

7:05 a.m.: A former commander of Russia's Wagner mercenary group who recently fled to Norway has been apprehended by police, Reuters reported Monday citing an official.

"He is apprehended ... and we are considering whether to seek a court's decision for internment," Police Lawyer Line Isaksen told Reuters, declining to give further details.

Andrei Medvedev's lawyer was not immediately available for comment. The news was first reported by public broadcaster NRK.

6:45 a.m.: French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said the European Union "support Ukraine️ as long as necessary, to help it defend itself and to preserve the international order based on the principles of the United Nations Charter," in a Twitter post Monday.

Colonna said she has no doubt EU leaders will approve aid for Ukraine, Reuters reported.

6:30 a.m.: The German government has not received any requests to authorize the delivery of German-built Leopard battle tanks from its allies to Ukraine, a spokesperson said on Monday, as Poland and other countries push for the vehicles to be sent.

"There are procedures for this," Reuters reported quoting the government spokesperson speaking at a regular news conference in Berlin. The spokesperson added that any such request would be addressed with swiftness and care.

6:10 a.m.:

5:45 a.m.: Organizational and management issues at Ukraine's Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant are "of increasing concern", Olivier Gupta, head of the Western European Nuclear Regulators' Association, or WENRA, said on Monday according to Reuters.

Brokering a deal on a safe zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is getting harder because of the involvement of the military in talks, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog Rafael Grossi said earlier this month.

The Soviet-era plant, Europe's largest, was captured by Russian forces in March, soon after their invasion of Ukraine. It has repeatedly come under fire in recent months, raising fears of a nuclear disaster.

5:15 a.m.:

4:50 a.m.: Reuters reported that Russia said on Monday it was downgrading diplomatic relations with NATO member Estonia, accusing Tallinn of "total Russophobia."

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it had told the Estonian envoy he must leave next month, and both countries would be represented in each other's capitals by an interim charge d'affaires instead of an ambassador.

It said this was in response to an Estonian move to reduce the size of the Russian embassy in Tallinn.

"In recent years, the Estonian leadership has purposefully destroyed the entire range of relations with Russia. Total Russophobia, the cultivation of hostility towards our country have been elevated by Tallinn to the rank of state policy," it said.

Estonia and its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania have been among a group of NATO allies arguing strongly for Germany to provide its Leopard battle tanks to boost Ukraine in fighting off Russia's invasion.

Estonia joined other Ukrainian allies last week in sending more weapons of its own.

Commenting on the downgrading of ties, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "The Estonian regime has got what it deserved."

4:15 a.m.: Poland will ask Germany for permission to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Monday, The Associated Press reported.

Morawiecki didn't specify when the request will be made. He said that Poland is building a coalition of nations ready to send Leopards.

Even if there is no permission from Germany, Warsaw will make its own decisions, he said, without elaborating.

“We will ask (Germany) for permission, but this is a secondary theme,” Morawiecki said. “Even if, eventually, we do not get this permission, we — within this small coalition — even if Germany is not in this coalition, we will hand over our tanks, together with the others, to Ukraine.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had told French television channel LCI on Sunday that Poland hasn't formally asked for Berlin’s approval to share some of its German-made Leopards, but added “if we were asked, we would not stand in the way.”

3:30 a.m.: The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he hopes member states will approve another 500-million-euro ($545.00 million) tranche in military aid for Ukraine during a foreign ministers' meeting on Monday.

Speaking as he arrived at the meeting, Borrell said he was hopeful the 27 EU members would reach an agreement on the funds, which are part of the so-called European Peace Facility.

The Hungarian foreign ministry and the government spokesman did not respond to requests for comment last week on reports that Budapest had been blocking that move ahead of on Monday.

EU countries are also working on a 10th package of sanctions to take effect next month against Russia for waging war against Ukraine, diplomatic sources told Reuters, though no decisions are expected on that on Monday.

3 a.m.: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron sought to underline the importance of their nations' postwar alliance, The Agence France-Presse reported.

During a speech at the capital's Sorbonne University, Scholz said upholding strong ties was key for the continent. "The future, like the past, rests on cooperation between both our countries as the driving force of a united Europe," he said.

Macron said that "Germany and France, because they cleared the path to reconciliation, must become pioneers to relaunch Europe. "We are two souls in the same body," he added, describing the nations as the "locomotive of a united Europe."

France and Germany are seeking to overcome differences laid bare by Russia's war in Ukraine while celebrating their decades-long friendship with a day of ceremonies and talks Sunday on Europe’s security, energy and other challenges, The Associated Press reported.

2:35 a.m.: According to Reuters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in South Africa on Monday, to hold talks with one of his country's most important allies on a continent that is divided over Russia's invasion of Ukraine and related Western attempts to isolate it.

He was to meet with his counterpart, Naledi Pandor, in the capital Pretoria in what South African government officials have said is an ordinary visit, but which some opposition parties and the small Ukrainian community condemned as insensitive.

President Cyril Ramaphosa's government regards South Africa as neutral in the conflict, and has expressed a desire to mediate.

Even as South Africa has proclaimed impartiality on the conflict and abstained from voting on United Nations resolutions, it has retained close relations with Russia, historically a friend of the governing African National Congress when it was a liberation movement against white minority rule.

The South African military is set to host a joint military exercise with Russia and China on its east coast on February 17 to 27, a move likely to further strain ties with Washington and European countries. It coincides with the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

2 a.m.:

1:55 a.m.: Russia's Gazprom said it would ship 24.4 million cubic meters (mcm) of gas to Europe via Ukraine on Monday, according to Reuters.

1 a.m.:

12:30 a.m.: European Council President Charles Michel has urged the block's national leaders to push forward with talks on using $300 billion-worth of confiscated Russian central bank assets for the reconstruction of Ukraine, Reuters cited the Financial Times as reporting on Monday.

Michael said he wanted to explore the idea of managing the Russian central bank's frozen assets to generate profits, which could then be earmarked for reconstruction efforts, the newspaper reported.

It is a question of justice and fairness and it must be done in line with legal principles, the FT quoted Michael as saying in an interview.

The European Union had blocked 300 billion euros ($326.73 billion) of the Russian central bank's reserves in November to punish Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine. ($1 = 0.9182 euros)

12:01 a.m.: Reuters reported that the top Moscow-installed official in the occupied parts of the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine said late on Sunday that he had visited the town of Soledar that Russia claimed to have captured earlier this month.

Denis Pushilin, the administrator, published a short video on the Telegram messaging app that showed him driving and walking amidst uninhabited areas and destroyed buildings.

"I visited Soledar today," Pushilin said in an accompanying statement.

Reuters was not able to independently verify when and where the video was taken.

On January 11, the private Russian military group Wagner said it had captured Soledar and Russian-installed authorities in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region said last week they were in control of the salt-mining town.

Ukraine has never publicly said that the town was taken by Russian forces. On Sunday, the general staff of its armed forces said in a daily update that Russian forces had fired on Ukrainian positions in the area.

In his statement, Pushilin said the Soledar mines were damaged and "difficult" to descend into.

The town, together with the city of Bakhmut just to its northeast, has been the focus of intense fighting for months, with Russian proxy forces claiming last week that they had also captured Klishchiivka, a small village near Bakhmut.

The so-called Donetsk People's Republic is one of the four regions in Ukraine that Moscow proclaimed as its own in September in an exercise Ukraine and its allies called a "sham," coercive referendum.

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