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Russia-Ukraine war: Kyiv warns of threat of missile attacks from Belarus – as it happened

It’s 9pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:

Hundreds of civilians remain trapped in Soledar, Ukraine has said, as bloody fighting continues over control of the largely destroyed salt mining town in eastern Ukraine. Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk, told Ukrainian state TV that 559 civilians remained in Soledar, including 15 children, and could not be evacuated.

Ukraine’s military has denied that Russian forces have encircled and captured Soledar. Ukrainian forces are “holding on” as “fierce fighting” continues in the town, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, said on Thursday. Ukraine’s military claimed its forces killed more than 100 Russian soldiers in a single strike in Soledar, while President Volodymyr Zelenskiy mocked Russia’s claims it had captured the town and said fighting is ongoing. A Russian-installed official in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, Andrei Bayevsky, said “pockets of resistance” from Ukrainian troops remain in Soledar.

Heavy fighting has continued around Soledar, Donetsk oblast, and on the approaches to Kremina, Luhansk oblast, according to the latest intelligence update from the UK Ministry of Defence. Satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies show the destruction inflicted upon Soledar. The Guardian has a series of striking images from inside the eastern Ukrainian town.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s air force command has warned of the possibility of missile attacks from Belarus. In a televised statement today, Yurii Ihnat said it was from Belarusian territory that most of the ballistic missiles were launched at the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. During a visit to Lviv on Wednesday, President Zelenskiy called for his forces to be “ready both at the border and in the regions” near Belarus amid fears Russia may launch a fresh assault from the north.

The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has claimed his forces have found the body of one of two British voluntary aid workers reported missing in eastern Ukraine. In a statement published on his Telegram channel late on Wednesday, Prigozhin did not mention the name of the dead man but said documents belonging to both Britons had been found on his body. The statement was posted alongside a photo that appeared to show passports bearing the names of Andrew Bagshaw and Christopher Parry, the two missing workers. Ukraine’s public broadcaster reported that Donetsk police could not confirm the claims. The reports have yet to be verified, Downing Street has said.

Russia has appointed Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, as its overall commander for the war in Ukraine. Sergei Surovikin, a notorious general nicknamed “General Armageddon” by the Russian media, who was appointed as overall commander of the army in October, would stay on as a deputy of Gerasimov, the defence ministry said, in the latest of several major shake-ups of Moscow’s military leadership.

A former Russian deputy minister of defence has suggested the country could increase the age of conscription for military service from 27 to 30 for this year’s spring draft campaign. Andrey Kartapolov, the head of the State Duma defence committee, suggested the change could take place without altering the lower bar for conscription of 18 years.

The commander of Russia’s ground forces, Oleg Salyukov, visited Belarus on Thursday to inspect the combat readiness of a joint force stationed there, the Belarusian defence ministry said. Salyukov was yesterday named as one of the deputy commanders of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine in the latest of a series of reshuffles. His visit came as Russia and Belarus have expanded their joint military training exercises in Belarus.

A US navy veteran has been released after almost a year in Russian detention, according to his family. Taylor Dudley, 35, of Michigan, was taken into custody by Russian border police last April after crossing the border from Poland into Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania. US officials confirmed Dudley’s release from detention, which comes a month after the American basketball player Brittney Griner was released by Russia last month in a swap for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout. The former US Marine Paul Whelan remains in a Russian prison camp.

A Ukrainian soldier has had successful surgery to remove an unexploded grenade from his chest, senior officials in Kyiv have said. Surgeons removed the weapon from just beneath the heart of the injured serviceman, while two sappers ensured the operation was conducted safely, said Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy minister of defence, who uploaded an image apparently showing an X-ray of the ordnance inside the soldier’s body.

The British government is planning to provide tanks to Ukraine to help the country defend itself, according to a spokesperson for No 10. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday the spokesperson said Rishi Sunak had asked his defence secretary, Ben Wallace, to “work with partners” and to provide further support to Ukraine “including the provision of tanks”. “It’s clear that battle tanks could provide a game-changing capability to the Ukrainians,” he said. “The prime minister told President Zelenskiy last week the UK will provide whatever we can.”

Germany should not stand in the way of other countries’ military support for Ukraine, the vice-chancellor, Robert Habeck, has said. It comes after Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, announced plans to send 10 German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine as part of an international coalition. The transfer would require permission from Germany.

Turkey has summoned Sweden’s ambassador over a protest in Stockholm in which a puppet of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was hung from its feet. Footage shared by pro-government Turkish media showed what they said were supporters of the Kurdish militant group PKK hanging an effigy of the Turkish leader at a demonstration outside the Stockholm city hall. Sweden has been seeking Turkey’s approval of its Nato membership bid, which it applied for after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Ankara has said Stockholm needs to clamp down on Kurdish groups it views as “terrorists”.

Source: The Guardian

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