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Ukrainian forces continue to defend against Russian attacks in the battered city of Bakhmut, according to the military's General Staff.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Russian troops will have an "open road" to capture other key cities in eastern Ukraine if they seize control of Bakhmut. He defended his decision to keep Ukrainian forces in the besieged city and in his nightly address, announced the death of Dmytro Kotsiubaylo, a celebrated Ukrainian fighter who was killed in Bakhmut.
As of Tuesday, nearly 4,000 civilians remain inside Bakhmut, according to the country's Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. She said Ukrainian workers were still working to evacuate the remainder of the population, but the current situation makes their jobs even more difficult.
If you're just now catching up, here's what you should know:
Russian attacks. While most attention is focused on the battle for Bakhmut, fierce battles continue a short distance to the north in the Luhansk region, according to Ukrainian officials. The Ukrainian military said Russian forces also continue to focus their offensive on Kupiansk, Lyman, Avdiivka and Shakhtarsk.
Prisoner swap. Ukraine and Russia have exchanged prisoners of war in another swap, announced by both sides on Tuesday. Moscow said it had been able to return 90 servicemen from territory controlled by Kyiv, whereas Ukraine said it had been able to bring back 130 of its soldiers from Russian captivity.
Nord Stream leaks. A senior Ukrainian official denied any involvement from the Ukrainian government in the Nord Stream pipeline leaks in late September 2022, which Western leaders have said were likely the result of sabotage. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, was responding to a report from The New York Times, which said new intelligence suggests that a “pro-Ukrainian group” carried out an attack on the Russian-owned Nord Stream pipelines that left them badly damaged last year.
Ukrainian soldier execution. The Ukrainian army identified the soldier seen being executed in a video that began circulating online Monday as Tymofii Mykolayovych Shadura. US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the department is aware of the “gruesome video” of the execution.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the disturbing video of an unarmed Ukrainian solider being executed in a forest shows Russia's attitude toward prisoners of war.
The Russians "don't have any laws of war or international law or any conventions," Zelenksy told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview on Tuesday.
"They don't respect anything," Zelensky said.
The video shows the difference between the two sides, the president said.
"For us, it's war for our freedom, for democracy, for our values. For them it's terrorism —that's the attitude. And they post this video," he said.
"They just killed a guy who refused to surrender, and he said 'Glory to Ukraine' — that's what you got. This is the face of this war. This is the face of the Russian Federation," Zelensky added.
A celebrated Ukrainian fighter, Dmytro Kotsiubaylo, whose call sign was “Da Vinci” was killed in Bakhmut, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced in his nightly address on Tuesday.
“Today, Dmytro Kotsiubaylo, 'Da Vinci,' Hero of Ukraine, volunteer, man-symbol, man of courage, was killed in action. A fighter of the 67th separate mechanized brigade, a commander of a battalion. He was killed in the battle near Bakhmut, in the battle for Ukraine,” Zelensky said.
Kotsiubaylo was a well-known soldier in Ukraine, having risen up and taken arms against Russian influence since 2014 when he was just a teenager.
“One of the youngest heroes of Ukraine. One of those whose personal history, character, and courage have forever become the history, character, and courage of Ukraine,” Zelensky said.
The US State Department is aware of the “gruesome video” of the execution of an unarmed Ukrainian soldier, allegedly in Russian captivity, spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday.
“The harrowing imagery of this unarmed Ukrainian being executed after making the simple statement of ‘Glory to Ukraine’ is just breathtaking in terms of its barbarity,” Price said during a State Department briefing.
“Russia, we believe, should be ashamed of itself,” he continued. “It is flouting the basic rules of war, basic humanity, basic decency ... when its forces take part in atrocities like this.”
Price added that it wasn't the first evidence of Russian atrocities in Ukraine. "Unfortunately, it probably will not be the last tally that our Ukrainian partners are maintaining of potential war crimes atrocities now has tens of thousands of instances on it,” he said.
Some background: The Ukrainian Army’s 30th Mechanized Brigade named the soldier on Tuesday as Tymofii Mykolayovych Shadura. The brigade said in a Facebook post that Shadura had been missing since February 3 after fighting near the eastern city of Bakhmut.
Ukraine's top military leader, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, discussed the situation in Bakhmut with US and NATO military leaders, he said in a Telegram post on Tuesday.
“First of all, I informed them about the situation on the battlefield. I focused on the Eastern direction in the most detailed way. In particular, the situation in Bakhmut,” Ukraine's commander-in-chief said. “We discussed the supply of military aid, including weapons and ammunition, in no less detail. The issues of strengthening air defense and providing long-range weapons remain crucial.”
Present in the meeting were Supreme Allied Commander Europe and commander of US European Command general Christopher G. Cavoli, UK Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Anthony Radakin; Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces General Rajmund Andrzejczak and Commander of US of Security Assistance Group–Ukraine Gen.-Lt. Antonio Aguto.
A senior Ukrainian official denied any involvement from the Ukrainian government in the Nord Stream pipeline leaks in late September 2022, which Western leaders have said were likely the result of sabotage.
"Although I enjoy collecting amusing conspiracy theories about [Ukrainian] government, I have to say: [Ukraine] has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea mishap and has no information about ‘pro-[Ukraine] sabotage groups,'" Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote Tuesday on Twitter.
“What happened to the Nord Stream pipelines? 'They sank,' as they say in [the Russian Federation] itself...,” Podolyak added.
Podolyak’s remarks follow a report from The New York Times, which said new intelligence suggests that a “pro-Ukrainian group” carried out an attack on the Russian-owned Nord Stream pipelines that left them badly damaged last year.
A source familiar with the intelligence told CNN that the assessment was not made with high confidence and is not the predominant view of the intelligence community, and the US has not yet identified a culprit. There is a section of the intelligence community, however, that believes pro-Ukrainian actors would have had the motive to sabotage the pipelines because of how Russia was weaponizing them against Ukraine and Europe. The pipelines bypassed Ukraine, and the Russians had threatened to cut off all gas to Europe in response to European sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
The intelligence community has no evidence, however, that Ukrainian leaders — including Zelensky — had any knowledge of or involvement in the pipeline sabotage, the source said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting on Tuesday with Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed acting governor of the Zaporizhzhia region — which was declared annexed by Putin in September 2022 — where they discussed security issues and a volunteer battalion, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
“Various issues related to the development of the Zaporizhzhia region, the functioning of the economy of business entities, and other aspects of the socio-economic situation were discussed,” Peskov told Russian state news agency TASS.
Peskov also said that “Balitsky raised the issue of the status of the Sudoplatov Volunteer Battalion with the President.”
In an interview with the Crimea 24 TV channel on Monday, Balitsky said the “unresolved issue” of the status of volunteer battalions makes it difficult for them to receive weapons.
Some background on Russia's claims of annexed regions: In late September 2022, Putin announced Russia would seize nearly a fifth of Ukraine, including the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. The move followed so-called referendums in the regions that were universally dismissed as “shams” by Ukraine and Western nations.
Russian troops will have “open road” to capture key cities in eastern Ukraine if they seize control of Bakhmut, President Volodymyr Zelensky warned in an interview with CNN, as he defended his decision to keep Ukrainian forces in the besieged city.
“This is tactical for us,” Zelensky said, insisting that Kyiv’s military brass is united in prolonging its defense of the city after weeks of Russian attacks left it on the cusp of falling to Moscow’s troops.
“We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an exclusive interview from Kyiv. “That’s why our guys are standing there.”
A weeks-long assault from Wagner mercenary troops, which has picked up pace in recent days, has forced thousands from the city and decimated its infrastructure. But Ukrainian troops have also mounted a dogged defense of the area, stalling Russia’s progress.
Zelensky said his motivations to keep the city are “so different” to Russia’s objectives. “We understand what Russia wants to achieve there. Russia needs at least some victory – a small victory – even by ruining everything in Bakhmut, just killing every civilian there,” Zelensky said.
He said that if Russia is able to “put their little flag” on top of Bakhmut, it would help “mobilize their society in order to create this idea they’re such a powerful army.”
Read more here and watch the interview below.