Ukraine live briefing: Zelensky visits troops near Bakhmut; Strike injures 9 in Dnipro

A heavily damaged residential building after a Russian missile strike in Dnipro. (Vitalii Matokha/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he visited special operation forces Saturday near the eastern city of Bakhmut, which troops have been fighting to recapture since it fell to Russia in May in a bloody battle. Ukrainian officials say they have made some gains in their latest counteroffensive to smash through Russian defenses in the southeast.

In the central city of Dnipro, a missile strike injured nine people, the regional governor, Serhiy Lysak, said late Friday. He said the Russian missile attack, the first on the city center in months, hit a high-rise and a building belonging to the Security Service of Ukraine, also known as the SBU.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Brazilian justice officials said they could not approve a U.S. extradition request for Sergey Cherkasov, whom the United States accuses of being a Russian spy, because they already are processing Moscow’s request to hand him over on allegations of drug trafficking. Cherkasov, who is serving time in Brazil on charges of using fraudulent documents, was charged by the U.S. Justice Department with acting as an illegal agent of a Russian intelligence service while attending Johns Hopkins University in Washington as a master’s student. One of his lawyers has denied the allegations of spying.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin said he supports the coup in Niger. The paramilitary leader said the coup was a long overdue push against Western colonization, according to Reuters, and he teased potential aid from his Wagner Group fighters to maintain order. Prigozhin stirred discontent in Russia last month after his Kremlin-backed group began an attempt at mutiny against Russian defense officials.

The International Olympic Committee invited Ukrainian fencer Olga Kharlan to compete at next year’s Paris Olympics after she was disqualified from the Fencing World Championships in Milan for refusing a mandatory handshake with Russian opponent Anna Smirnova. “As a fellow fencer, it is impossible for me to imagine how you feel at this moment,” the president of the IOC wrote in a letter, which Kharlan shared on Instagram.

The International Fencing Federation said it would readmit Kharlan into the Milan tournament, allowing her to join the women’s sabre team competition this weekend. The federation said it “stands fully behind the penalty,” which was in line with the rules, but had made an “extraordinary decision” that was “in keeping with the Olympic Spirit” after consulting with the IOC.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a law moving the date of Christmas from Jan. 7 to Dec. 25 as part of an effort to “renounce Russian heritage.” The government said that Christmas is a Christian holiday, integral to Ukraine and that observing the Julian calendar, which celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7, had long been imposed on the Ukrainian people.

“An uptick of fighting” has gripped southern Ukraine in recent days, including near the village of Robotyne, according to an update from the British Ministry of Defense on Saturday.

Russia claimed it intercepted two Ukrainian missiles, including one that local officials said landed in a town in Russia’s Rostov region on Friday, injuring nine people. Russia’s Defense Ministry said earlier that air defenses thwarted a Ukrainian drone targeting Moscow, with no casualties or damage. The Washington Post could not independently verify the claims.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia’s defense minister of visiting North Korea to secure weapons. “I strongly doubt he’s there on holiday,” Blinken told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse. “We’re seeing Russia desperately looking for support, for weapons, wherever it can find them,” Blinken was quoted as saying on a trip to Australia that ended Saturday. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pyongyang this week as the city marked the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice.

Global aid needs have skyrocketed during the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, according to Carl Skau, the deputy executive director of the World Food Program. He said the United Nations had to cut the provision of food, cash payments and assistance to millions of people in countries including Afghanistan and Yemen because of “a crippling funding crisis.”

UNESCO representatives are in Odessa to inspect damage at protected sites, regional governor Oleg Kiper said Saturday. More than 20 historic sites were damaged during Russian missile strikes this month, Kiper said on Telegram. The monitors are set to spend four days in Odessa, which is home to notable 19th- and 20th-century architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In repeat bombings of Odessa, Putin deepens economic war on Ukraine: Since Russia terminated the U.N.-brokered grain deal that allowed Ukrainian exports from the Black Sea, Russian has intensified attacks on Odessa, one of Ukraine’s major port regions, report John Hudson and Anastacia Galouchka.

As a result of the strikes, “Odessa’s grain industry suffered tens of millions of dollars in damage,” they write. “The attacks destroyed at least 60,000 tons of grain, enough to feed more than 270,000 people for a year, according to the U.N. World Food Program.”

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