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Russia and Ukraine swapped 50 captured soldiers each on Sunday in a deal that both sides welcomed even as they fought one another in eastern Ukraine. Moscow claimed to have carried out deadly missile strikes in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk killing “more than 600 Ukrainian servicemen”, but Kyiv rejected the claim, while Reuters reported there were no obvious signs of any casualty. Follow our live blog to see how the day’s events unfold. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).
5:15pm: Kyiv rejects Moscow’s claims of a deadly strike in Kramatorsk
Ukraine’s armed forces rejected Russia’s claims its army conducted a strike in the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk killing “more than 600 Ukrainian servicemen”.
“This information is as true as the data that they have destroyed all of our HIMARS,” Sergiy Cherevaty, spokesman for the Eastern group of the Ukrainian armed forces, told the Suspilne media outlet, referring to US-supplied rocket systems. He said Russia could not deliver high-precision strikes.
4:20pm: No sign of casualties at site of strikes Russia says killed hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers
Hours after Russia claimed a rocket strike on the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk killed 600 Ukrainian soldiers, a Reuters witness said on Sunday it had caused damage but did not destroy buildings and there were no obvious signs of casualties.
Reuters reporters visited the two college dormitories Russia’s defence ministry said had been temporarily housing Ukrainian servicemen close to the front line of the war in the Donbas city at the time of the overnight strike. Neither appeared to have been directly hit by missiles or seriously damaged. There were no obvious signs that soldiers had been living there and no sign of bodies or traces of blood.
Kramatorsk’s mayor earlier said there had been no casualties.
3:45pm: Moscow, Kyiv say 100 POW freed in prisoner swap
Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday that Ukraine had returned 50 captured Russian soldiers after negotiations. Ukraine confirmed the information and said Russia had freed 50 Ukrainian servicemen as part of the same deal.
Russia said the freed soldiers would be flown to Moscow for medical and psychological rehabilitation.
“On January 8, as a result of negotiations, 50 Russian servicemen, who were in mortal danger while in captivity, were returned from the territory controlled by the Kyiv regime,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
1:55pm: Russia hits Kramatorsk in ‘retaliatory strike’ for Makiivka attack, says ministry
Moscow said on Sunday its army conducted a “retaliatory strike” in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatrosk to avenge the deaths of 89 Russian troops killed in Makiivka.
“More than 600 Ukrainian servicemen were killed” as a result of a strike on Kyiv troops stationed in two buildings in Kramatorsk, the Russian defence ministry said in a statement that could not immediately be verified.
11:47am: At least two killed by Russian shelling in east Ukraine
Two Ukrainians were killed and another nine were wounded despite Russian leader Vladimir Putin saying he had unilaterally ordered his forces to pause attacks during Orthodox Christmas, Kyiv said on Sunday.
As a result of “Russia’s armed aggression”, one person was killed and another eight wounded in the eastern region of Donetsk over the past 24 hours, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said on Sunday.
One more person was killed in the northeastern region of Kharkiv and another was wounded in the southern region of Kherson over the same period, Tymoshenko said.
“Despite the so-called ‘ceasefire’ declared by the Russian occupiers, over the past day the enemy launched nine missile and three air strikes and fired 40 attacks from multiple rocket launchers,” Ukraine’s defence ministry said in a separate statement.
9:42am: Little respite in war-scarred eastern Ukraine as fighting continues
War-scarred cities in eastern Ukraine saw no significant let-up in the fighting overnight Saturday to Sunday.
“A lot of fighting is still ongoing, even if the lines are mostly static,” says FRANCE 24’s Luke Shrago, reporting from Kharkiv. “The question people are asking is: ‘When exactly is the next offensive going to take place?’”
8:24am: Ukraine shelling damages two power plants in Russia-controlled parts of Donetsk, say local officials
Two thermal power plants in a part of Ukraine‘s Donetsk region controlled by Russian forces were damaged in a rocket attack by the Ukrainian army, Moscow-installed officials and Russia’s state TASS news agency said on Sunday.
Early information suggested that the plants in Zuhres and Novyi Svit had been hit and that some people on the spot had sustained injuries, the officials said on their Telegram channels.
Two people might be trapped under debris at the damaged Starobesheve power plant in Novyi Svit, TASS reported. Citing officials, it said the strike was carried out using a multiple rocket launcher system.
There was no immediate comment from Ukraine, which never publicly claims responsibility for attacks inside Russia or on Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine.
3:03am: Moscow ends self-proclaimed ceasefire, vows to press ahead in Ukraine
President Vladimir Putin ordered on Friday a 36-hour ceasefire along the line of contact to observe Russia and Ukraine’s Orthodox Christmas, which fell on Saturday. Ukraine rejected the truce as a ploy to allow Russia to regroup its forces.
A 50-year-old man died in the northeastern region of Kharkiv as a result of Russia’s shelling, Oleh Sinehubov, the governor of the region said on the Telegram messaging app. The news came minutes after midnight in Moscow.
Most Ukrainian Orthodox Christians have traditionally celebrated Christmas on January 7, as have Orthodox Christians in Russia. But this year, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the country’s largest, allowed also for a December 25 celebration. Still, many observed the holiday on Saturday, flocking into churches and cathedrals.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)