Ukraine: No hostilities despite prisoner swap

KYIV, Ukraine –

Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanged artillery and missiles that killed at least six people on Thursday as both sides refused to make concessions despite recent military setbacks to Moscow and the toll on the country. invasion after nearly seven months of war.

Russian missile attacks in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia left one person dead and five injured, Ukrainian officials said. Officials in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk said Ukrainian shelling had killed at least five people.

Proving that neither side was willing to ease or pause the fighting, the exchange came hours after the two sides carried out a major prisoner swap and a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin called in reservists. to replenish his forces.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy office of the president of Ukraine, said a hotel in the center of Zaporizhzhia, said a hotel in the city center had been attacked and rescuers were trying to free people trapped in the area. rubble.

Zaporizhzhia region governor Oleksandr Starukh said Russian forces targeted infrastructure and also damaged nearby apartment buildings. The area is one of four places where Moscow-installed officials plan to hold referendums starting Friday on becoming part of Russia, but the city itself is in Ukrainian hands.

Meanwhile, the mayor of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Alexei Kulemzin, said at least five people were killed when Ukrainian shelling on Thursday targeted a covered market and a minibus carrying guest.

Just hours before Thursday’s attack, a high-profile prisoner swap saw 215 Ukrainian and foreign fighters exchange – 200 of them for a single, Putin ally. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov would not confirm whether Putin’s sole ally – pro-Russian Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk – was part of the swap.

Among the released fighters were Ukrainians guarding a steel plant in Mariupol during a prolonged Russian siege, and 10 foreigners, including five British nationals and two former American soldiers who had fought in the war. against Ukrainian forces.

A video on the BBC news site on Thursday showed two of the released British men, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, talking inside a plane. It said they had been to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“We just wanted to let everyone know that we’re now out of the danger zone and we’re on our way back home to our family,” Aslin said in the video, and Pinner added: “To the teeth.”

The speed with which the Russian missile strike occurred after the swap suggests that the Kremlin is seeking to dispel any notions of weakness or waning resolve to achieve its war goals after the swap. Recent losses and defeats on the battlefield have severely reduced Russian military power.

Those losses culminated on Wednesday when Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists to bolster his forces in Ukraine. The order sparked rare protests in Russia and was derided by the West as an act of weakness and despair.

The call was short on details, raising fears of a broader draft that left some Russians scrambling to buy plane tickets to flee the country.

Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said the mobilization was necessary because Russia “is facing practically all of NATO”, alluding to the military aid and other assistance that alliance members have provided. supply to Ukraine.

A senior Kremlin official on Thursday repeated Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons if Russian territory was attacked.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said on his messaging app channel on Thursday that strategic nuclear weapons are one of the options for defending Russian-controlled territories in Russia. eastern and southern Ukraine. This comment seems to be intended to warn that Moscow may also target Ukraine’s Western allies.

Pro-Moscow authorities in Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine are preparing to hold referendums on becoming part of Russia – a move that could allow Moscow to escalate the war. Voting begins Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.

Foreign leaders have called the votes illegal and non-binding. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said they were a “sham” and “noise” to distract the public.

– One person was killed in an overnight Russian shelling in the center of Nikopol, opposite the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, according to the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, Valentyn Reznichenko.

– The office of the Zelenskyy office said that five people were killed by shelling in the Donetsk region in the past day.

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