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January 4, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news
By Kathleen Magramo, Jack Guy, Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes and Leinz Vales, CNN
Over 60% of Bakhmut is now destroyed as Russian forces attempt an advance on the city in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, a Ukrainian official said Wednesday.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk region military administration, said two civilians died in the city on Wednesday due to shelling.
"Whatever attempts to enter the city the enemy makes, it fails to advance. Whatever advances they had, they have been pushed back to their previous positions, outside the city limits," Kyrylenko told Ukrainian television. "In fact, they are now in the flat devastated area, which also contributes to their huge personnel losses."
Some background: Bakhmut is regularly referred to as the most contested and kinetic part of the 1,300km (800 mile) front line in Ukraine. The Russian advance has left the city in ruins, a smoking shell of its former self. This fate has burnished Bakhmut’s power as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance – in the face of devastating Russian attacks, it is still holding on.
In his historic address to Congress last month, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky dedicated six minutes of his 25-minute speech to the situation around Bakhmut.
“Last year, 70,000 people lived here in Bakhmut in this city,” he said. “Now only a few civilians stay. Every inch of that land is soaked in blood, roaring guns sound every hour… the fight for Bakhmut will change the tragic story of our war for independence and of freedom.”
Members of congress stood and applauded four times, as Zelensky recounted the city’s fate.
The influential editor-in-chief of state-run network RT (formerly Russia Today) on Wednesday welcomed the Russian Defense Ministry’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deadly Ukrainian attack on servicemen in Makiivka, in eastern Ukraine.
“Based on the results of the investigation into the tragedy in Makiivka, the responsible officials will be held accountable, said the Russian Defense Ministry,” Margarita Simonyan wrote on Telegram on Wednesday. “This is the first time, it seems, that this has been done publicly during the entire special military operation. I hope the names of these persons and the extent of punishment will also be announced,” she said.
“It is high time to understand that impunity does not lead to social harmony. Impunity leads to more crimes. And, as a consequence, public dissent,” she added.
Last month, Simonyan was one of the people to receive a state award from President Vladimir Putin. As part of a short acceptance speech, Simonyan told Putin “thank you for wasting the cannibals." At the ceremony, held in the Kremlin, Putin also presented awards to the four acting governors of Ukrainian regions annexed by Moscow in September.
Russia is focusing its offensive action in the directions of Lyman, Bakhmut and Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its situational update Wednesday.
“It is trying to improve the tactical situation at the Kupyansk direction,” the General Staff added.
"In the Kupyansk and Lyman directions, 15 settlements were shelled with tanks and the entire range of artillery," the General Staff said.
Kupyansk, in Kharkiv region, and Lyman, in Donetsk region, were liberated by Ukrainian forces at the end of September.
"In the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions, areas of more than 30 settlements were shelled," it added.
Ukraine's State Border Guard Service said it had repelled assaults and captured Russian positions in the Bakhmut direction, in an update on Wednesday.
"During the battle, 9 occupiers were killed, about 20 more were wounded. Currently, the Defense Forces have advanced 300 meters and are consolidating their positions," the State Border Guard Service said.
Other impacted areas: Meanwhile, in the southern Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, more than 40 settlements were fired on in the past day, the General Staff said.
"They do not stop terrorizing the civilian population of cities and towns along the west bank of the Dnipro river," it added.
CNN is unable to verify these battlefield claims.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky Wednesday and said France would deliver light armored combat vehicles.
Zelensky thanked Macron on Telegram and said both presidents “agreed on further cooperation to significantly strengthen our air defense and other defense capabilities.”
The call lasted just over an hour, according to the Elysee Palace.
The exact number of light armored combat vehicles is not known, and no delivery date was mentioned.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Wednesday urged Western countries to continue to provide weapons to Ukraine to fight against Russia, saying that weakening support to Kyiv means "encouraging Putin to carry on."
“As bitter as it is, every sign of weakening support means encouraging Putin to carry on," Baerbock said at a news conference in Lisbon.
"Since we want this war to end with victory for Ukraine, we have to ask ourselves again and again how we can even better help Ukraine protect its citizens and its civil infrastructure,” she added.
The foreign minister stressed that continuing to provide air defense systems to Ukraine is “fundamental.”
“This goes hand in hand with the continued financing of the reconstruction and the supply of materials with which to reactivate its energy, heating and water supplies, while at the same time avoiding further destruction,” she continued.
The Ukrainian Military said Wednesday it has downed more than 540 Shahed drones since September last year and around 500 cruise missiles.
“During the first two hours of the night this year, Ukrainian air defense shot down 100% of drones, namely 84 units,” according to Ukraine’s Military Media Center.
CNN cannot independently verify these figures.
CNN on Wednesday reported how, according to a Ukrainian intelligence assessment, parts made by more than a dozen US and Western companies were found inside a single Iranian Shahed-136 drone downed in Ukraine last fall.
On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that Russia is planning a prolonged campaign of attacks with Shahed drones to exhaust Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military said Wednesday the use of cell phones by Russian troops was not the main reason their position was located in Makiivka, leading to a devastating strike in the eastern Donetsk region.
“Of course, using phones with geolocation is a mistake. But it is clear that this version looks a bit ridiculous,” according to the spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Serhii Cherevatyi.
The Russian Ministry of Defense on Wednesday appeared to blame the soldiers themselves for the Ukrainian strike, saying that “the main cause” of the incident was the widespread use of cell phones by Russian soldiers “contrary to the ban,” allowing Ukraine to “track and determine the coordinates of the soldiers' locations.” Russia also revised its estimate of soldiers killed, from 63 to 89.
Cherevatyi said “to deploy such large batches of newly mobilized — which means not very trained, not very coordinated — people in large rooms unsuitable for sheltering in case of danger, is a very weak excuse.”
“Of course, this is a mistake [of the Russians], and I think that now they are engaged in [searching for] who is to blame. They are putting the blame on each other,” he continued.
“It is clear that this [use of phones] was not the main reason. The main reason was that they were unable to covertly deploy these personnel. And we took advantage of that, having detected the target powerfully and destroyed it,” Cherevatyi added.
Four rockets from US-made HIMARS launchers were used in the strike in Makiivka, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense.
The Ukrainian military has claimed up to around 400 Russian soldiers died in the strike, but later added the number was "being clarified."
CNN cannot independently verify either figure.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a frigate, the "Admiral Gorshkov," to be sent into combat service on Wednesday.
The ship will undertake a long-range sea voyage across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea, reported Russian state media outlet TASS, citing Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The frigate is equipped with “the latest Zircon hypersonic missile system, which has no analogs - a sea-based hypersonic system - as well as other weapons of the latest generations,” Putin said, speaking via video link with Shoigu and the ship's commander, Igor Krokhmal.
“I am sure that such powerful weapons will make it possible to reliably protect Russia from potential external threats and will help ensure the national interests of our country,” Putin added.
According to Shoigu, the frigate will “conduct exercises” with Zircon hypersonic missiles.
“I am very happy, congratulations! This is great joint work, which ended with a good, expected result,” Putin said before ordering the frigate to “start completing the tasks.”