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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Jan. 7


A Ukrainian man serves hot mulled wine during the Orthodox Christmas Eve in Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan. 6, 2023.

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

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

9:18 p.m.: Russian forces may blow up the Svatove Reservoir dam in Luhansk Oblast, The Kyiv Independent reported on Saturday, citing Ukraine’s National Resistance Center.

According to the center, a Russian engineering and sapper unit has arrived in temporarily occupied Svatove “to examine the possibility of blowing up the dam.”

Russian forces may also use the potential detonation of the dam as an “excuse to deport the local population” and attempt to accuse Ukraine of blowing up the dam, the National Resistance Center wrote.

“Such actions are a deliberate destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and are not expedient because they do not change the position of forces at the front lines,” the report stated.

Svatove has become a focal point of Russia’s defense of occupied Luhansk Oblast alongside Kreminna.

The U.K. Defense Ministry reported on November 21 that Svatove had become a vulnerable flank of Russian troops as they were facing the challenge of retaining a reliable defense in the sector while trying to resource offensive operations in Donetsk Oblast.

8:42 p.m.: As artillery boomed outside and fighter jets flew overhead, Orthodox Christians in a battered eastern Ukrainian town held a Christmas service in a basement shelter on Saturday, vowing not to let war ruin the holiday, Agence France-Presse reported.

Nearly all the congregants and all but one choir singer had fled Chasiv Yar for safer territory, leaving just nine people to attend the service in a residential building that had partially collapsed from shelling in November.

"Christ was born in a cave. You and I are also in a cave," Priest Oleg Kruchinin told the group, gesturing to the basement lined with exposed wires and pipes and lit with an exposed bulb.

"This probably has a special meaning: Do not lose heart, do not give up. ... Because the Lord was born in a cave, and we also celebrate Christmas in cramped conditions."

Chasiv Yar is 10 kilometers south of Bakhmut, the hottest point on the front line, and has lived under the constant threat of bombardment for many weeks.

8:03 p.m.: Another echelon of Russian military personnel consisting of 700-800 people arrived in Belarus, Belaruski Hayun, a group of activists that record the movement of troops within Belarus, said in a Telegram post, according to The Kyiv Independent.

According to the group, a train with 15 passenger cars with Russian soldiers passed through the western Russian city of Smolensk in the direction of Belarus and later arrived in the northwestern Belarusian city of Viciebsk.

This was the same route as another echelon of Russian soldiers that arrived in Belarus the night before, also with around 700-800 people. In total, at least 1,400-1,600 Russian military personnel were likely transferred to Viciebsk in the last two days, Belaruski Hayun said.

The group also said that on Friday evening, Russian soldiers were seen around the Belarusian city, walking in groups and visiting shops.

7:10 p.m.: Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak on Saturday accused Russian troops of firing along the entire contact line despite the announced cease-fire, Agence France-Presse reported

The general staff of Ukraine's armed forces said Russia launched one missile strike and fired 20 rockets from multiple launchers over the past 24 hours.

Two people died and seven were wounded in the eastern region of Donetsk, while in the southern region of Kherson one person was killed seven were injured Friday, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine's presidency.

"Peaceful settlements in the region were attacked with artillery, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and tanks," said Yaroslav Yanushevych, the head of the Kherson regional administration.

6 p.m.: In Kyiv, hundreds of worshippers attended a service at the 11th century Kyiv Pechersk Lavra as Metropolitan Epifaniy, head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, led a liturgy in the pro-Western country's most significant Orthodox monastery, Agence France-Presse reported.

Security was tight: Worshippers had their passports checked and entered through metal detectors.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in his evening address, said he was happy to see so many people attend the service on a day that "has already become historic for Ukraine, for the spiritual independence of our people."

On the Orthodox Holy Day, "the world was once again able to see how false any words of any level coming from Moscow are," he added.

"They said something about an alleged ceasefire... But the reality is Russian shells that again hit Bakhmut and other Ukrainian positions."

5:05 p.m.: On Orthodox Christmas Day, Saturday, Ukrainian Orthodox worshippers celebrated the return of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, a golden-domed cathedral and one of Ukraine’s main religious and cultural institutions, to the Ukrainian church.

The church sits on a high hill in the center of Kyiv by the Dnipro River, and forms part of the 980-year-old Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery complex that also contains chapels and administrative buildings.

It has become a focus of a bitter conflict between Ukraine's Orthodox communities, triggered by Russia's invasion.

Ukraine's Orthodox Church, in its various iterations, had been subordinate to Moscow since the 17th century.

3:30 p.m.: President Vladimir Putin praised the Russian Orthodox Church on Saturday for supporting Moscow's forces fighting in Ukraine in an Orthodox Christmas message designed to rally people behind his vision of modern Russia.

The Kremlin issued Putin's message after the Russian leader attended an Orthodox Christmas Eve liturgy alone inside a Kremlin cathedral rather than joining other worshippers in a public celebration.

In his message, accompanied on the Kremlin website by an image of him standing before religious icons, Putin indicated he saw the Russian Orthodox Church as an important stabilizing force for society at a time when he has cast as a historical clash between Russia and the West over Ukraine and other issues.

Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, but the Russian Orthodox Church's backing for Moscow's war in Ukraine has angered many Ukrainian Orthodox believers and splintered the worldwide Orthodox Church.

Of 260 million Orthodox Christians in the world, about 100 million are in Russia and some of those abroad are in unity with Moscow.

Others are strongly opposed and reject Moscow's assertion that its February 24 invasion last year was an essential preemptive strike to defend its own security and that of Russian speakers in Ukraine.

Ukraine has about 30 million Orthodox believers divided between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and two other Orthodox Churches, one of which is the autocephalous, or independent, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Reuters reports.

2:30 p.m.: Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, said on Saturday he wanted his forces and the regular Russian army to capture the small city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine because it contained "underground cities" that can hold troops and tanks, Reuters reports.

Russia's more than five-month push to seize Bakhmut has puzzled some Western military analysts who have said that heavy losses incurred on the Russian side and the fact that Ukraine has built defensive lines nearby mean any Russian victory there, if it happens, would be pyrrhic.

"The cherry on the cake is the system of Soledar and Bakhmut mines, which is actually a network of underground cities," said Prigozhin. "It not only (has the ability to hold) a big group of people at a depth of 80-100 meters, but tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can also move about."

Prigozhin, who would likely see his political influence in Moscow boosted if Bakhmut fell to Russia given Wagner's role in the fighting there, said stockpiles of weapons had been stored in the underground complexes since World War I.

His comments were a reference to vast salt and other mines in the area which contain more than 100 miles of tunnels and a vast underground room that has hosted football matches and classical music concerts in more peaceful times.

A White House official said Thursday that Washington believed Prigozhin wanted to take control of salt and gypsum mines in the area for commercial reasons but made no mention of their alleged subterranean military use.

1 p.m.: First Christmas service in Ukrainian language is conducted in Lavra or Monastery of the Caves complex, a 1,000-year-old Orthodox Christian monastery in Kyiv after the lease agreement previously granted to the Russian Patriarchate, a Moscow-backed wing of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, expired on December 31, Reuters reports.

12:35 p.m.: Justice ministers from around the world will meet in London in March in support of the International Criminal Court investigations of alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, the U.K. Justice Ministry said on January 7.

The meeting at Lancaster House will be hosted by Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and the Minister of Justice and Security of the Netherlands, Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius.

According to the ministry statement, the meeting "aims to increase the global financial and practical support being offered to the ICC and coordinate efforts to ensure it has all it needs to carry out investigations and prosecute those responsible."

As of mid-December, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office reported that Russian forces had committed 52,825 crimes of aggression and war crimes since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in February.

According to the Kyiv Independent, UK Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said that "Russian forces should know they cannot act with impunity, and we will back Ukraine until justice is served."

"Almost a year on from the illegal invasion, the international community must give its strongest backing to the ICC so war criminals can be held to account for the atrocities we’re witnessing," Raab said.

11:30 a.m.: Putin’s stance as a defender of traditional Christian beliefs has been used to justify his invasion of Ukraine. It has also driven the Russian Parliament to tighten restrictions on LGBTQ “propaganda,” the Washington Post reports.

In December, Putin signed legislation making it illegal to promote or “praise” same-sex relationships, to publicly express non-heterosexual orientations, or to suggest they are “normal” — expanding a 2013 law that prohibited spreading “gay propaganda” among minors. That ban now applies to all ages.

The ban is just one way Russia’s invasion on Ukraine has made life worse for LGBTQ Russians. Rights groups and advocates who previously defended sexual and other minorities have been branded as “foreign agents.” Many were driven out of Russia.

Legal experts said the new ban was drafted vaguely to sow confusion and maximize the potential for prosecution and hefty fines against anyone engaging in public discourse that describes LGBTQ people in a positive, or even neutral, way — including in ads, books or online.

According to Human Rights Watch, whose Russian office was shut down in April, the law “perpetuates false and damaging messaging that tries to link LGBTQ people with pedophiles.”

On the other hand, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has opened the door to legalizing same-sex civil unions after the war highlighted a lack of rights and protections for gay soldiers and their partners.

10:15 a.m.: Shellfire was heard Saturday around the near-deserted streets of the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, current focus of the most intense fighting in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, despite Moscow's declaration of a ceasefire for Eastern Orthodox Christmas.

Moscow said on Saturday its forces in Ukraine would maintain a 36-hour ceasefire declared by President Vladimir Putin until midnight, despite Ukraine rejecting the offer.

It said its troops had only returned artillery fire when fired upon by Ukrainian forces; Reuters was not able to ascertain the origin of the shells heard in Bakhmut.

"The cease-fire, you know how that works?" said 30-year-old humanitarian volunteer Vasyl Liesin.

"When Putin says there's a cease-fire, it's actually the other way round: there's no cease-fire. They shelled us a lot yesterday. During the night, it was more or less calm. But that's how it usually is: one day there's shelling, the next day it's calmer."

Volunteers like Liesin help to maintain "invincibility centers," set up to provide electricity, heat, water, internet service, mobile phone connections and medicines free of charge as Russian attacks devastate basic civilian infrastructure.

9:15 a.m.: Fighting continues after Ukraine dismissed Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for a temporary ceasefire as a cynical ploy.

Russia's 36-hour unilateral ceasefire was meant to go into effect Friday afternoon local time, but it was dismissed by both Ukraine and the US.

Shelling was heard in Ukrainian held Bakhmut. Two were reportedly killed and at least 13 wounded by shelling in Bakhmut on Saturday during the proposed ceasefire, CNN reports.

The Ukrainian military reported shelling on civilian infrastructure in eastern Ukraine Friday, but provided no exact timing for the attacks.

8:45 a.m.: Ukraine’s General Staff reported on January 7 that Russia has lost 110,740 troops, 3066 tanks, 6,125 armored fighting vehicles, 4,798 vehicles and fuel tanks, 2,062 artillery systems, 431 multiple launch rocket systems, 217 air defense systems, 285 airplanes, 272 helicopters, 1,844 drones, and 16 boats, the Kyiv Independent reports.

8:15 a.m.: Global prices for food commodities like grain and vegetable oils were the highest on record last year even after falling for nine months in a row, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said, as Russia’s invasion on Ukraine, drought and other factors drove up inflation and worsened world hunger, AP reports.

The FAO Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in the international prices of commonly traded food commodities, dipped by 1.9% in December from a month earlier, the Rome-based organization said Friday. For the whole year, it averaged 143.7 points, more than 14% above the 2021 average, which also saw large increases.

The December decline was led by a drop in the price of vegetable oils amid shrinking import demand, expectations of increased soy oil production in South America and lower crude oil prices. Grain and meat were also down, while dairy and sugar rose slightly.

7:45 a.m.: Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, but the Russian Orthodox Church's backing for Moscow's war in Ukraine has angered many Ukrainian Orthodox believers and splintered the worldwide Orthodox Church.

This year, some Ukrainians chose to celebrate Christmas with Catholics on Dec. 25 in protest at Russian aggression. But many have stuck to the Orthodox tradition.

For Victoria, who fled her home city of Irpin with her son in March last year, this is her first Christmas away from home.

"We lived in the basement for almost two weeks, then we left when the bombings started, and parts of the city were in ruins," said Victoria, who did not want to give her full name.

In Poland she found shelter in a dormitory for refugees about two hours from Warsaw. Although she is safe with her son, Christmas is not the same there for her. In her shared accommodation she does not have access to a kitchen and cannot cook traditional festive meals like she used to back in Ukraine.

5:15 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said in its latest Ukraine assessment that Russian and Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Kreminna and Svatove.

Russian authorities and military leaders continue to face backlash for their responses to the Dec. 31 Ukrainian strike on a Russian base in Makiivka, Donetsk Oblast, the update said.

4:15 a.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday attended an Orthodox Church Christmas service by himself inside a Kremlin cathedral rather than joining other worshippers in a public celebration, Reuters reported, citing Russian media.

Russia's RIA news agency said it was the first time in years that Putin had marked Christmas in Moscow rather than in the region around the capital.

State television showed two live clips of Putin inside the gilded Cathedral of the Annunciation as Orthodox priests conducted the midnight service, known as the Divine Liturgy.

Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6-7.

Putin was the sole worshipper and crossed himself several times before television coverage cut away to a public service in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

3:14 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry said that fighting did not appear to lessen as Orthodox Christmas period began.

Recently, the update said, fighting around Kremina has taken place in forests west of the town. The terrain has meant that combat has mostly involved "dismounted infantry fighting, often at short range."

2:08 a.m.: A dozen Ukrainian startups proudly showed off innovations at CES on Friday, striving to help their nation triumph economically as well as on the battlefield, Agence France-Presse reported.

The contingent was welcomed to the premier consumer electronics gathering in Las Vegas, while Russian firms were not allowed due to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war.

The Ukrainian Startup Fund has put an emphasis on military tech, with events such as drone hackathons where engineers brainstorm ideas that can be quickly used in the war zone, said Karyna Kudriavtseva, a project manager at the fund.

But the ideas are not all about war: The Ukrainian contingent included Nanit, a small robot and device company that teaches electronics and computer coding skills sorely needed for tech jobs.

"When we created the startup, we were trying to focus on kids," Nanit chief executive Vladyslav Konovets told AFP.

1:07 a.m.: Two vessels left Ukrainian ports Friday carrying a total of 45,300 metric tons of grain and other food products under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the Joint Coordination Center reported.

As of Friday, the total tonnage of grain and other foodstuffs exported from the three Ukrainian ports is 16.8 million metric tons. A total of 1,250 voyages (622 inbound and 628 outbound) have been enabled so far.

12:02 a.m.: According to Ukraine's military intelligence, Russia is planning to order the mobilization of as many as 500,000 conscripts in January, The Guardian reported.

Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy military intelligence chief, said the Ukrainian military believes the conscripts will be sent to the front lines in the east and south of the country and would be part of renewed Russian offensives in the spring and summer.

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin earlier denied that Russia was planning further mobilization, saying in early December that he saw no reason for another round of military mobilization following the mobilization in the fall.

But according to reports, the Kremlin has continued mobilization covertly.

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

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