February 2, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales, Eliza Mackintosh, Jack Guy, Adrienne Vogt, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 12:11 a.m. ET, February 3, 2023
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8:05 p.m. ET, February 1, 2023

Ukraine's anti-corruption searches reveal luxury watches, cars and thousands of dollars in cash

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva, Mick Krever and Jack Guy

Ukrainian authorities have conducted a series of anti-corruption raids across the country, uncovering stashes of cash as well as luxury watches and cars.

Among those caught up in the investigations is the acting head of the Kyiv tax authority, who was allegedly part of a scheme to overlook 45 billion Ukrainian hryvnia ($1.2 billion) in unpaid taxes.

On Wednesday, the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) said it had found hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, as well as luxury watches and cars, at the tax chief’s residence. CNN is attempting to reach that individual for comment.

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said the raids were part of an effort to combat what they described as “the internal enemy” in the country.

“Every criminal who has the audacity to harm Ukraine, especially in times of war, must clearly understand that we will handcuff his hands,” said Vasyl Maliuk, head of the SBU, in a statement.

The raids come as President Volodymyr Zelensky said his government is working on “new reforms” that will make the country “more human, transparent and effective” as he prepares to meet European Union officials on Friday for talks on Ukraine’s possible accession to the bloc.

Anti-corruption measures are “an important dimension of the EU accession process,” said Ana Pisonero, a spokesperson for the European Commission, on Jan. 24.

Read the full story:

8:04 p.m. ET, February 1, 2023

Putin says eliminating possibility of Ukraine shelling Russia is a "priority"

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he has ordered his Defense Ministry to prioritize protecting Russian territory from shelling by Ukrainian forces.

Speaking at a video conference regarding the restoration of residential infrastructure, Putin said homes in Russia's Belgorod, Bryansk and Kursk regions —  as well as Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 — were “damaged or destroyed” by the Ukrainian army referring to it as to “shelling by neo-Nazi formations.”

“Of course, the priority task is to eliminate the very possibility of shelling, but this is the business of the military department,” Putin said.

Many people found themselves in a difficult situation, “they lost their homes, were forced to move to relatives or to temporary places of residence, faced interruptions in the supply of water, heat, and electricity,” he added.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine have not officially acknowledged any shelling of Russian territory.

8:01 p.m. ET, February 1, 2023

Fighting Wagner is like a "zombie movie," says Ukrainian soldier

From CNN's Tim Lister, Frederik Pleitgen and Konstantin Hak near Bakhmut, Ukraine

Andriy and others in his unit shelter in a bunker southwest of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on January 31.
Andriy and others in his unit shelter in a bunker southwest of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on January 31. (Matthias Somm/CNN)

Southwest of the city of Bakhmut, Ukrainian soldiers Andriy and Borisych live in a candle-lit bunker cut into the frozen earth. For several weeks they have been confronting hundreds of fighters belonging to the Russian private military contractor Wagner throwing themselves against Ukrainian defenses.

Disguised in a balaclava, Andriy recounts one seemingly endless firefight when they came under attack by a flood of Wagner fighters.

“We were fighting for about 10 hours in a row. And it wasn’t like just waves, it was uninterrupted. So it was just like they didn’t stop coming.”

Their AK-47 rifles became so hot from constant firing, Andriy says, that they had to keep changing them.

“It was about 20 soldiers on our side. And let’s say 200 from their side,” he says.

The Wagner way of war is to send a first wave of attackers that mainly comprises raw recruits straight out of Russian prisons. They know little of military tactics and are poorly equipped. Most just hope that if they survive their six-month contract they can go home rather than back to a cell.

Read more here.

7:51 p.m. ET, February 1, 2023

Top Ukrainian security official says Russia is preparing for "maximum escalation" in the war

From CNN's Jack Guy, Yulia Kesaieva, Mick Krever, Jonny Hallam and Josh Pennington

Russia is gearing up for a “maximum escalation” of the war in Ukraine, potentially as soon as the next few weeks, according to a top Ukrainian national security official.

“These will be defining months in the war,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Sky News in an interview broadcast Tuesday.
“I’m conscious the main fights are yet to come and they will happen this year, within two to three months,” he said.
“Russia is preparing for maximum escalation. It is gathering everything possible, doing drills and training. When it comes to an offensive from different directions, as of now, I can say that we are not excluding any scenario in the next two to three weeks.”

Ukrainian officials have warned for some time of a renewed Russian offensive and have asked for more powerful weaponry from Western allies to counter the threat.

Following Danilov’s comments, a Ukrainian military spokesperson said Wednesday that there are signs Russia is preparing for a renewed offensive in southern Ukraine.

“Not just on land, but on the sea and in air as well,” Natalia Humeniuk, head of the United Coordinating Press Center of Security and Defense Forces of the South of Ukraine, said on national television.

Ukrainian intelligence had noted changes to activity of Russian naval forces in the Black Sea, she added.

“It increases and decreases rapidly, and the missile carriers are moving back and forth,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Defense Ministry on Tuesday said it would hold a further week of joint military drills with Russia.

“During the week, military representatives from the two countries will practice joint planning of the use of troops based on the prior experience of armed conflicts in recent years,” the ministry said in a statement.

Read more here.