December 17, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Matt Meyer, Adrienne Vogt and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 5:40 p.m. ET, December 17, 2022
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5:40 p.m. ET, December 17, 2022

Our live coverage has ended for the day. You can read more on Russia's invasion of Ukraine here.

4:55 p.m. ET, December 17, 2022

Doctors fighting to save life of Wagner rep after assassination attempt, Russian embassy says

From CNN's Tim Lister

The Central African Republic's Russian Embassy says doctors are fighting to save the life of Dmitry Syty, the head of CAR's “Russian House," who was injured when a package exploded in his hands Friday.

In a statement posted to Facebook late Saturday, the embassy said Syty "remains stable and grave."

"Specialists continue to fight for his life," the embassy stated. "Doctors are confronted with the difficult task of restoring the health of our Russian compatriot."

According to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, the country's head of police Bienvenu Zokue said Syty "received many threats and had already appealed to the authorities."

RIA Novosti said Syty lost a lot of blood as a result of the attack. 

Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has accused the French of being behind the assassination attempt. But French minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna rejected the accusation Saturday, saying it's "a good example of Russian propaganda."

Some background: The Wagner Group is a mercenary company often described as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s off-the-books troops.

Wagner's presence in the CAR, where it has trained and fought with the local armed forces, has been controversial. CNN investigations have linked Wagner and associated entities with the lucrative diamond trade in central Africa as well as multiple human rights abuses in the country, where the army has been fighting a number of rebel factions. 

A CNN team met with Syty in 2019, when he was involved in mediating between the CAR government and rebel groups. He was also the founder of a diamond company linked to Prigozhin's business empire.

5:18 p.m. ET, December 17, 2022

Zelensky: 6 million Ukrainians have power again, but big problems remain for water supply

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Electricity has been restored for millions of Ukrainians Saturday, but challenges remain for crews scrambling to recover from Friday's barrage of Russian missiles, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday.

“During the day, it was possible to restore the electricity supply to almost 6 million Ukrainians,” Zelensky said during his nightly address. 

He added that repair work "has been going on nonstop since yesterday's terrorist attack.” 

Zelensky noted there are still problems with heat supply and “big problems with the supply of water exist” in parts of the country. 

The president said the areas facing “the most difficult situation” include Kyiv, Lviv and Vinnytsia.

He mentioned several other areas still dealing with “large-scale outages," including the city of Dnipro and the regions of Dnipropetrovsk, Volyn, Zhytomyr, Zakarpattia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Odesa, Poltava, Ternopil and Chernihiv. 

Another call for air defenses: Zelensky again appealed to international partners to provide Ukraine with the means to defend its airspace.

“Find an opportunity to give Ukraine reliable protection of the sky, a reliable air defense shield. You can do it," he said. “When this happens, the main form of Russian terror – missile terror – will become simply impossible.” 

CNN was first to report on Tuesday that the Biden administration is finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine, according to two US officials and a senior administration official. If the US sends the system, it would mark a significant new US contribution to protecting the country's infrastructure.

Russia issued a cryptic warning that such a shipment would provoke "unpredictable consequences."

2:28 p.m. ET, December 17, 2022

1 killed and 2 injured in shelling of Kherson suburbs, Ukrainian presidential official says

From CNN's Mariya Knight

The suburbs of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson came under Russian shelling on Saturday morning, causing one death and two others to be hospitalized, according to the deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.   

“One woman died from injuries and two more people are in the hospital,” Kyrylo Tymoshenko said in a post on his Telegram account. "The enemy strike damaged the building of the school, hospital and church.” 

A strike took place in Stepanivka, which is located just outside of Kherson, Tymoshenko said. He said the village was shelled by mortars, and a humanitarian aid headquarters was hit. 

Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the Kherson region military administration, said a facility for the elderly was also hit in the attack.

“The Russian army struck the Kherson geriatric center in the village of Stepanivka,” Yanushevych said on Telegram Saturday. “The occupiers vilely targeted an institution that provides assistance to the elderly.” 

According to Yanushevych, “the gates were destroyed, the windows and doors were broken, and damage was done to the roof and the porch” of the geriatric center. 

“Fortunately, there were no casualties or injuries,” he added. 

5:19 p.m. ET, December 17, 2022

France rejects accusation it was behind Wagner Group associate's assassination attempt

From CNN's Joseph Ataman and Gaby Gretener

France has denied responsibility for an assassination attempt on a Russian citizen closely linked to the Wagner group — a controversial mercenary firm that's trained and fought with local armed forces in the Central African Republic.

Dmitry Syty, who runs the “Russian House” in the CAR's capital of Bangui, was left injured this week after receiving a package that exploded in his hands, according to Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Prigozhin, who's also known as Putin's "chef," accused the French of being behind the attack. But French minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna rejected the accusations.

“This information is false, here I tell you very simply, and it is even a good example of Russian propaganda and the fanciful imagination that sometimes characterizes this propaganda,” Colonna told CNN in a statement. "I will not comment on Wagner's position in general, you know that this militia engages in regrettable exactions on the civilian populations. I would have a lot to say about them but now is not the time,” she added.

Prigozhin claimed Syty’s last words before falling unconscious and being taken to the hospital were: “I saw a note: ‘This is for you from all the French, the Russians will get out of Africa.'”

Prigozhin also claimed that on Nov. 11, Syty received a package from Togo containing a photograph of his son, who lives in France, accompanied by a note saying he would receive his son's head if "the Russians do not get out of the African continent and open the doors for the French." 

"I have already applied to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation so that it initiates the procedure for declaring France a state sponsor of terrorism, as well as conducting a thorough investigation of the terrorist methods of France and its Western allies — the United States and others," Prigozhin said.

CNN is unable to confirm Prigozhin's allegations.

More context: The Wagner Group is often described as President Vladimir Putin’s off-the-books troops. It has expanded its footprint globally since its creation in 2014 and has been accused of war crimes in Africa, Syria and Ukraine.

2:33 p.m. ET, December 17, 2022

Heat supply restored to 75% of Kyiv residents, according to mayor

From CNN's Mariya Knight

People walk in Kyiv, Ukraine, on December 17.
People walk in Kyiv, Ukraine, on December 17. (Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Heating has been restored to 75% of Kyiv residents as officials continue to work on fully bringing back supply to the Ukrainian capital, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a post on Telegram on Saturday. 

Earlier today, CNN reported water supply and metro services have been restored in Kyiv, and electricity had been returned to two-thirds of its residents, just one day after heavy Russian shelling

1:02 p.m. ET, December 17, 2022

145,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat shipped to Asia, infrastructure ministry says

From CNN's Mariya Knight 

Four vessels containing a combined total of 145,000 tonnes (about 160,000 US tons) of Ukrainian wheat have set out to Asia under the "Grain from Ukraine" initiative, the Ukrainian Infrastructure Ministry reported Saturday. 

There are 23 vessels currently being processed, the ministry said, with 734,000 tonnes (about 809,000 US tons) of Ukrainian agricultural products on them.

The ministry noted that a bulk carrier containing 71,000 tonnes (about 78,000 US tons) of wheat is among the four vessels and is bound for Indonesia.

“3 ships are moving along the grain corridor loaded with 166 thousand tonnes (about 183,000 US tons) of agricultural products,” it said.  

The statement also added that “92 vessels are awaiting inspection by the JCC (the Joint Coordination Centre) in Bosphorus,” but claimed that the queue continues to grow because of “Russia’s artificial restriction on registration for the inspection.” 

“For example, out of 65 vessels declared by the aggressor, only 3 were registered for the current day,” the ministry said. “This situation restricts the work of Ukrainian ports and causes a slowdown in the export of products of at least 3 million tonnes per month.” 

Nonetheless, the ministry said that since August, millions of tons of Ukrainian agricultural supplies has departed the key ports of Odesa.

“558 ships left the ports of Greater Odesa, exporting 14 million tonnes of Ukrainian food to the countries of Asia, Europe and Africa since the beginning of August, “ the statement concluded. 

Some background: According to the United Nations, Ukraine normally supplies the world with around 45 million tons of grain annually. This year, more than 20 million metric tons of Ukrainian wheat and corn remained trapped in Odesa as a Russian blockade fueled soaring grain commodity prices and fears of famine.

In late October, Russia said it was suspending its participation in an agreement that guarantees safe passage for ships carrying vital grain exports from Ukraine, only to reverse course and rejoin a few days later.

2:26 p.m. ET, December 17, 2022

Germany opens first floating LNG terminal as it aims to reduce dependency on Russian gas

From CNN's Gabby Gretener

The FSRU Hoegh Esperanza docks in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, on Saturday, December 17.
The FSRU Hoegh Esperanza docks in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, on Saturday, December 17. (Liesa Johannssen/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Germany opened its first floating terminal of liquified natural gas (LNG), one month after completing construction in the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven on Saturday. 

Built to reduce the country's dependency on Russian gas, the terminal in Lower Saxony was completed in a short period of time. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was on board for the opening, said he hopes the speedy process can be replicated across the country. Three more terminals are planned for Lubmin, Brunsbüttel and Stade.

The FSRU Hoegh Esperanza, an LNG storage ship, will service the terminal, returning the LNG to a gaseous state and delivering it directly into the gas network. Scholz called it "an important contribution to our security."

More context: Germany was heavily reliant on Russian gas before the war in Ukraine, with 55% of all gas consumed in Germany coming from Russia. 

The country is no longer receiving Russian gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline after Russia halted supplies, leaving Germany scrambling for alternatives.

2:28 p.m. ET, December 17, 2022

40-foot Christmas tree in Kyiv is being decorated with "energy-saving garlands"

From CNN's Gabby Gretner

Workers set up a Christmas tree in Sophia Square on December 16, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Workers set up a Christmas tree in Sophia Square on December 16, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

In Kyiv's Sofia Square, a Christmas tree that is 12 meters (nearly 40 feet) tall will be decorated with "energy-saving garlands" that will be powered by a generator at specific times, according to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

Klitschko posted a progress report of the artificial tree's installation to his Telegram account, as the city continues to experience power outages due to Friday's Russian missile strikes

Roughly 1,000 blue and yellow balls and white doves will decorate the tree, with a trident placed on top, the mayor said. Flags of countries that are supporting Ukraine will be placed at the bottom of the tree.

There will be no Christmas markets, mass entertainment events or rides in Sophia Square this year.

Last month, Klitschko told Ukrainian news outlet RBC-Ukraine the city's Christmas trees will still be installed amid the war “to remind our children of the New Year mood.”

“No one is going to cancel the New Year and Christmas, and there should be an atmosphere of the New Year,” Klitschko told the network. “We cannot let Putin steal our Christmas.”