Ukraine war: Fierce fighting in Soledar and five other top developments

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

1. Kyiv sends reinforcements to Soledar after ‘Putin’s Chef’ says he wants its salt mines

Ukraine said it was strengthening its forces around Bakhmut in the eastern Donbas region and repelling constant attacks there by the Russian mercenary group Wagner, whose leader has vowed to capture the area’s vast underground mines.

Kyiv had sent reinforcements to Soledar, a small town near Bakhmut where the situation was particularly difficult, Ukrainian officials said.

“The enemy again made a desperate attempt to storm the city of Soledar from different directions and threw the most professional units of the Wagnerites into battle,” Ukraine’s military said in a statement.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, has been trying to capture Bakhmut and Soledar for months at the cost of many lives on both sides. He said on Saturday its significance lay in the network of mines there.

“It not only (has the ability to hold) a big group of people at a depth of 80-100 metres, but tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can also move about.”

Military analysts say the strategic military benefit for Moscow would be limited. A US official has said Prigozhin, a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is eyeing the salt and gypsum from the mines.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in nightly video remarks on Sunday that Bakhmut and Soledar were holding on despite widespread destruction after months of attacks.

“Our soldiers are repelling constant Russian attempts to advance,” he said. In Soledar “things are very difficult”.

Pro-Russian bloggers quoted Prigozhin as saying his forces were fighting for the administration building in Soledar.

The Ukrainian military said reinforcements had been sent to Soledar, and everything was being done to fend off the enemy.

“There are brutal and bloody battles there — 106 shellings in one day,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the military in the east, said on Ukrainian television.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential staff, said Moscow was suffering huge losses in trying to justify its mobilisation of reservists but was not succeeding. “Our soldiers’ feat is titanic,” he wrote on Telegram.

2. Russian missile hits eastern Ukrainian market, killing at least two, authorities say

A Russian missile slammed into a village market in east Ukraine on Monday, killing two women and wounding four others, including a 10-year-old girl, regional prosecutors said.

Footage posted by public broadcaster Suspilne on the Telegram messaging app showed rescue workers sifting through large piles of rubble, burning debris and a large crater in Shevchenkove, about 80 km southeast of the city of Kharkiv.

A photograph posted online by the Ukrainian president’s office showed rescuers trying to pull out a woman in a thick winter coat. Her head and arms poked out from under the rubble, but it was not clear whether she was alive.

“The Russian army committed another act of terror against the civilian population — a child was wounded, two women were killed,” the regional prosecutor’s office said. “An enemy missile hit the territory of the local market.”

It said in a written statement that it had opened an investigation into a potential war crime, citing preliminary information that the attack came from an S-300 air defence system in Russia’s Belgorod region bordering Ukraine.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine more than 10 months ago, did not immediately comment on the reports from Shevchenkove, which Ukraine retook in September after months of Russian occupation.

Criticising Russia over the attack, Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, wrote on Telegram: “Common terrorists.”

Oleh Synehubov, the Kharkiv region’s governor, wrote on Telegram that a 60-year-old woman had been killed and the other victims were being treated in a hospital.

The prosecutors gave no details of the others victims except to say that all were female and one was aged 10.

Suspilne quoted a local official as saying at least three pavilions were destroyed in the attack and that a shopping centre was damaged, but that Monday was not a market day.

3. Western armoured vehicle deliveries will ‘deepen Ukrainian suffering’, Kremlin says

The Kremlin said on Monday that new deliveries of Western weapons, including French-made armoured vehicles, to Kyiv, would “deepen the suffering of the Ukrainian people” and would not change the course of the conflict.

France and Germany announced last week that they would send light combat vehicles to Ukraine, ramping up their military support for Kyiv. The US said it would also provide armoured fighting vehicles to Ukraine.

Additionally, the UK is considering supplying Ukraine with tanks for the first time, Sky News reported, citing a Western source. 

“This supply will not be able to change anything”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.

“These supplies can only add to the pain of the Ukrainian people and prolong their suffering. They are not capable of stopping us from achieving the goals of the special military operation,” Peskov said.

Ukraine, which has scored some battlefield successes since Russian forces invaded last February, has asked Western allies for heavier weapons and air defences as it seeks to tip the balance of the conflict, now in its 11th month, further in its favour.

The Kremlin also said on Monday that despite France’s decision to send more weapons to Kyiv, Moscow appreciated President Emmanuel Macron’s contribution towards maintaining dialogue between the West and Russia.

“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Macron maintain contact, there are pauses in the dialogue, but during previous stages that contact was quite useful and constructive, despite all the differences,” Peskov said.

Macron was criticised in Ukraine and in some Western capitals for holding hours-long phone calls with Putin in the early weeks of Russia’s invasion.

Just last month, Macron was rebuked by the Baltic states for saying the West should consider Russia’s need for “security guarantees” in any future talks to end the fighting.

4. Rome delays decision on sending more weapons to Kyiv

Italy will not take a decision on the supply of new arms to Ukraine until February due to political tensions, cost considerations and military shortages, the la Repubblica newspaper reported on Monday.

Two weeks ago, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Rome was considering supplying air defences after a phone call with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in which she reaffirmed her government’s “full support” for Ukraine.

Shortly afterwards, Defence Minister Guido Crosetto struck a cautious tone on whether Italy would be able to supply Ukraine with air defence systems.

Citing unspecified sources, la Repubblica reported that Meloni, who is a firm supporter of Kyiv, is facing resistance to the approval of a decree to send arms to Ukraine from her right-wing allies Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi.

Both politicians have longstanding ties with Moscow.

But sources from their respective political parties — Salvini’s Lega and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia — on Monday denied having any problems with the decree.

Another issue holding back the decision is concern about depriving the Italian army of air defence systems, la Repubblica wrote, as two of its five missile batteries are already committed to Kuwait and Slovakia.

Under former Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Italy sent five aid packages to Kyiv, including military supplies.

Meloni’s government, installed in October, has been working for weeks on a possible sixth delivery.

5. Prominent Russian actor to face charges for stating he would ‘fight for Ukraine’

Russian actor Artur Smolyaninov faces criminal charges in his home country after allegedly making “anti-Russian” comments in a newspaper interview, investigators said on Monday.

Smolyaninov, who starred in the 2005 film “The 9th Company” about the Soviet Union’s ill-fated military campaign in Afghanistan, said in an interview last week that he would fight for Ukraine, not Russia, if he had to take part in the conflict.

Smolyaninov said last October that he was no longer living in Russia.

His comments — made in an interview for Novaya Gazeta Europe, a newspaper now banned in Russia — drew condemnation from members of the Russian parliament, one of whom said the actor should be barred from all state-contracted films.

“For my part, I will appeal to the Investigative Committee with a request to initiate a criminal case against this traitor,” lawmaker Biysultan Khamzaev told the RIA news agency.

The Investigative Committee said on Monday it had launched a criminal case against Smolyaninov after he took part in an interview with a “Western publication” but did not provide further details.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, dozens of actors and artists have fled abroad in fear of breaching the country’s tough new laws on spreading “misinformation” about the war in Ukraine or discrediting the Russian army.

6. Ukraine wants to see Brussels sanction Russia’s Rosatom

Kyiv expects the European Union to include Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom in its next round of sanctions over the war in Ukraine, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Monday.

Shmyhal said after talks in Kyiv with Frans Timmermans, a vice-president of the European Commission, that Russia’s nuclear energy industry should be punished over the invasion of Ukraine more than 10 months ago.

Russia has occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in southeastern Ukraine since last March. 

President Vladimir Putin issued a decree last October transferring control of the plant from the Ukrainian nuclear energy company Energoatom to a subsidiary of Rosatom. Kyiv says the move amounts to theft.

“We are actively working with our European partners on providing support in four areas: demilitarisation of the Zaporizhzhia NPP, supply of electrical equipment, opportunities to import electricity from the EU, and sanctions against Russia,” Shmyhal wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

“We expect that the 10th package (of EU sanctions) will contain restrictions against Russia’s nuclear industry, in particular Rosatom. The aggressor must be punished for attacks on Ukraine’s energy industry and crimes against ecology.”

Although the EU has progressively tightened sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, it has not imposed sanctions directly on Rosatom.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear power watchdog, has repeatedly expressed concern over the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia plant, which each side blames on the other.