January 9, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Amy Woodyatt, Kathryn Snowdon, Mike Hayes and Leinz Vales, CNN

Updated 1:50 a.m. ET, January 10, 2023
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1:07 a.m. ET, January 9, 2023

Zelensky calls area around Bakhmut and Soledar "one of the bloodiest places on the front line"

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the US Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022.
Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the US Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The area around the eastern Ukrainian cities of Bakhmut and Soledar is "one of the bloodiest places on the front line," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Sunday.

"There is no such piece of land near these two cities, where the occupier would not have given his life for the crazy ideas of the masters of the Russian regime," Zelensky said. 

Bakhmut has become perhaps the most contested and kinetic part of the 1,300- kilometer (800 mile) front line in Ukraine and the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war. 

The greater Donetsk region, where Bakhmut and Soledar are located, has been held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014 and is one of four Ukrainian regions that Moscow claims as Russian territory in violation of international law.

However, the Ukrainian President said Sunday that the two cities were "holding out" and "the situation on the front line has not changed significantly in the first week of the year."

"Bakhmut is holding out against all odds. Although most of the city is destroyed by Russian strikes, our warriors repel constant attempts at Russian offensive there," he said.

"Soledar is holding out. Although there is even more destruction there and it is extremely hard."

10:13 p.m. ET, January 8, 2023

Kyiv dismisses Russia's claim hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers killed in Kramatorsk attack

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova, Olga Voitovych and Ben Wedeman in Kramatorsk, Ukraine

Ukrainian officials on Sunday dismissed Moscow’s claim that a large number of Kyiv’s soldiers were killed in a Russian attack last week in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine.

“This is nonsense,” Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Eastern Group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, told CNN, in response to the Russian claim.

A CNN team on the ground has seen no indication of any massive casualties in the area. There is no unusual activity in and around Kramatorsk, including in the vicinity of the city morgue, the team reported.

A Reuters reporter in Kramtorsk also reported no signs of a significant Russian strike on two college dormitories that Russia claimed had been housing hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers. “There were no obvious signs that soldiers had been living there and no sign of bodies or traces of blood,” the Reuters report said.

Kramatorsk’s mayor said there had been no casualties, according to Reuters.

Some background: Earlier, Russia claimed that more than 600 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a Russian strike in Kramatorsk carried out in “retaliation” over the Ukrainian attack on Russian-occupied Makiivka last week, according to a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry.

Read more here.

7:54 p.m. ET, January 8, 2023

Russia and Belarus will hold joint air force exercises starting Jan. 16

From CNN's Mariya Knight, Uliana Pavlova and Sarah Dean  

Russia and Belarus will hold joint air force exercises in Belarus from Jan. 16 to Feb. 1, the Belarusian Defense Ministry announced Sunday. 

A Russian air division team arrived in Belarus Sunday, the ministry said. 

“During the tactical flight exercise, all airfields and training grounds of the Air Force and Air Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Belarus will be involved,” it added. 

The ministry said Thursday that it is continuing to increase its joint military grouping with Russia in Belarus. 

“Personnel, weapons, military and special equipment of the armed forces of the Russian Federation will continue to arrive to the Republic of Belarus,” the ministry said. 

More background: Some Russian forces are based in Belarus and used its territory in the initial invasion of Ukraine in February. But President Alexander Lukashenko has gone to some lengths to ensure that Belarusian troops do not become involved in Russia's so-called "special military operation." 

Last month, Ukraine said it "did not rule out" a "deliberate provocation" from Russia was behind Belarusian reports that wreckage of a Ukrainian missile landed on its territory.

7:53 p.m. ET, January 8, 2023

100 prisoners of war exchanged between Russia and Ukraine

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova and Denis Lapin

Russia and Ukraine carried out a prisoner exchange Sunday with a total of 100 soldiers returning home, according to authorities from both countries.  

As a result of the negotiation process, 50 Russian soldiers captured by Ukraine were returned to Russia, Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. 

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office confirmed the exchange, saying that 50 Ukrainian soldiers captured by Russia returned home.  

"We returned the people who were captured at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, as well as the defenders of Mariupol, the guys from the Donetsk direction, from near Bakhmut, as well as from Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kherson and other regions," Yermak said in a statement. 

"This is not the last exchange. Our task is to return all our people and we will fulfill it."

This is the 36th exchange between Russia and Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, with 1,646 people — military and civilians — returned home to Ukraine, according to the Coordination Headquarters on the Treatment of Prisoners of War in Kyiv. 

12:19 a.m. ET, January 9, 2023

UK and Netherlands to co-host major international meeting in London on alleged Russian war crimes

From CNN's Xiaofei Xu and Niamh Kennedy

Dominic Raab leaves 10 Downing Street in London on August 11, 2022.
Dominic Raab leaves 10 Downing Street in London on August 11, 2022. (Press Association/AP)

UK Justice Minister Dominic Raab will host a meeting alongside his Dutch counterpart in London in March, which will see justice ministers from across the globe gather to support the International Criminal Court's (ICC) investigation into alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine. 

In a statement Saturday, the UK government said the meeting "aims to increase the global financial and practical support being offered to the ICC and coordinate efforts to ensure it has all it needs to carry out investigations and prosecute those responsible."

Prosecutor of the ICC, Karim Khan will address the London meeting, providing an insight into the court's work and "the role of the international community in supporting its investigations," the statement added.

Last week, British politicians from across the political divide expressed their support for the creation of a special tribunal to investigate Russia's "crime of aggression" in Ukraine.  

They include opposition leader Keir Starmer and former Conservative Party leader and MP Iain Duncan Smith, according to British newspaper The Observer, which said a copy of the statement was shared with them.

“Almost a year on from the illegal invasion, the international community must give its strongest backing to the ICC so war criminals can be held to account for the atrocities we’re witnessing,” Raab said in the UK government statement.