Voting on whether Russia should annex Kremlin-controlled regions of Ukraine get under way as Kiev's forces say they are clawing back territory from pro-Russian separatists on the conflict's 212th day.

Russia launched referendums aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine, raising the stakes in the seven-month-old war with what Kiev called an illegal sham.
Russia launched referendums aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine, raising the stakes in the seven-month-old war with what Kiev called an illegal sham. (Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters)

Friday, September 23, 2022

Ukraine says recaptured territory as annexation polls open

Kiev said its forces had recaptured a village in the eastern Donetsk region and territory around another war-scarred town there, as Moscow-proxies held votes on annexation by Russia.

"The Ukrainian army has retaken the village of Yatskivka in the Donetsk region," a senior army official told reporters, adding that Kiev's forces had "also regained control over positions to the south of Bakhmut," also in Donetsk.

Russian officials, including ex-president Dmitry Medvedev, said that after the regions are incorporated into Russia, any attack on them by Ukrainian forces would be considered an attack on Russia.

Ryabkov: Russia not threatening anyone with nuclear weapons

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said that Moscow was not threatening anybody with nuclear weapons, and that open confrontation with the United States and NATO was not in Russia's interests, state news agencies reported.

"The criteria for their use are outlined in Russia's military doctrine," the Interfax agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.

Earlier this week, President Vladimir Putin told the West he was "not bluffing" when he said he would use nuclear weapons if Russia's territorial integrity was threatened.

Ukraine: 436 bodies exhumed from mass site, 30 show torture

Ukrainian officials say 436 bodies have been exhumed from a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izyum, 30 of them with visible signs of torture.

The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Synyehubov, and the region’s police chief, Volodymyr Tymoshko, told reporters in Izyum that three more grave sites have been located in areas retaken by Ukrainian forces in a counteroffensive this month.

UN-mandated inquiry to investigate Izyum mass burial site

A UN mandated investigative body intends to investigate a mass burial site near Izyum, in eastern Ukraine, where hundreds of bodies have been found.

"This is of course a novel incident but we certainly intend to look into the Izyum event as well," Erik Mose, who heads the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, said at a press briefing.

Asked about whether crimes against humanity had been committed, Mose said that the commission had not yet reached that conclusion citing both a lack of evidence and analysis.

Finland set to restrict Russian entries as number rise

The number of Russians entering Finland has doubled since Moscow announced a mobilisation for the Ukraine war, a border agency spokesman told AFP news agency, as the Nordic country prepared to restrict entry.

A day earlier, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that Russian tourism and travel "has to be stopped, including transit through Finland," adding that the security risk posed by Russian travellers should be "re-evaluated" after Moscow's announcement of mobilisation.

The Nordic nation drastically limited tourist visas for Russians in September, but they continue to enter Finland with visas issued by other EU countries in the Schengen borderless travel area.

Ukraine appreciates Türkiye’s role in prisoner swap deal

Ukraine has reiterated its appreciation for Türkiye’s role in securing a prisoner swap deal with Russia.

“Ukraine is grateful to Türkiye and personally to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the mediation efforts that made possible the return of 215 people from Russian captivity. We highly appreciate this support,” said the country’s foreign ministry on Twitter on Thursday.

A day earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Russia and Ukraine agreed on a prisoner swap deal as a result of Türkiye's mediation and diplomatic exchanges with the leaders of the two countries.

US: More than 1M Ukrainians may have been deported

A US envoy said that Russia has "interrogated, detained and forcible deported" between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainians, citing unnamed sources, and urged a UN-mandated commission of inquiry to investigate.

"We urge the commissioners to continue to examine the growing evidence of Russia's filtration operations, forced deportations and disappearances," US Ambassador Michele Taylor told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, referring to a commission of inquiry into Ukraine.

UN investigators: war crimes committed in Ukraine

UN investigators said that "war crimes" have been committed in the Ukraine conflict, listing Russian bombings of civilians areas, numerous executions, torture and horrific sexual violence.

"Based on the evidence gathered by the Commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine," Erik Mose, the head of the investigation team, told the UN Human Rights Council on Friday.

The council was set up by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) - the highest-possible level of investigation - in May to investigate crimes in Russia's offensive in Ukraine.

Russia excludes some IT professionals, bankers and state journalists from mobilisation

Some Russian technology professionals, bankers and journalists at state media outlets will be not be called up to serve in Ukraine as part of Russia's mobilisation drive, the defence ministry said on Friday in a statement.

Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu said earlier this week Russia would seek to call up 300,000 additional troops for Russia's offensive in Ukraine in what the Kremlin has called a "partial mobilisation".

The section of the official decree announcing mobilisation which included the number of people who would be drafted was kept classified and unpublished, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Chinese and Ukrainian foreign ministers meet in New York

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has met his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Chinese state media has reported.

Wang told Kuleba that the "sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected... the legitimate security concerns of all countries must be taken seriously, and all efforts that are conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be supported," Xinhua reported.

Putin was 'pushed' into Ukraine offensive, says Italy's Berlusconi

Russian President Vladimir Putin was "pushed" into attacking Ukraine and wanted to put "decent people" in charge of Kiev, former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has said, drawing fierce criticism just ahead of Italy's election.

The Italian leader, whose Forza Italia party belongs to a right-wing coalition expected to win the general election on Sunday, is a long-time friend of Putin and his comments are likely to alarm Western allies.

"Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to come up with this special operation," Berlusconi told Italian public television RAI late on Thursday, using the official Russian wording for the offensive.

Abramovich played ‘key part’ in release of Britons held in Ukraine: report

Sanctioned former Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich played a "key part" in the release of five men held by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, a report said on Friday.

One of the five men freed in a prisoner swap earlier this week, John Harding, said the Russian oligarch identified himself to fellow detainee Shaun Pinner after they boarded their flight to Riyadh.

Harding, meanwhile, said he spoke to Abramovich's assistant who said the Russian had played a "key part" in their release, The Sun daily reported.

Uzbekistan halts use of Russia's Mir payment cards

Uzbekistan's UZCARD system has suspended the processing of payments via Mir cards issued by Bank of Russia's National Card Payment System (NSPK), the chief executive of which has been targeted by US sanctions.

The move by UZCARD was warranted by the need "to carry out the necessary technical procedures", it said in a statement on Friday without any further explanation.

Russia has promoted Mir as an alternative to Visa and MasterCard, which shut off their Russian networks after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February.

Four Ukraine regions hold votes on joining Russia

Four areas of Ukraine controlled by Russia and pro-Moscow forces are holding referendums on joining Russia, a move widely condemned by the West as illegitimate and a precursor to illegal annexation.

Pro-Russia leaders on Tuesday announced plans for the votes, a challenge to the West that could sharply escalate the conflict.

The results are seen as a foregone conclusion in favour of annexation, and Ukraine and its allies have already made clear they will not recognise the results.

Voting in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces, representing around 15 percent of Ukrainian territory, is due to run from Friday to Tuesday.

Lawmakers press Pentagon on supplying drones to Ukraine

Seventeen members of Congress told US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to speed up a Pentagon security review of a Ukrainian request for large armed drones, according to a letter.

"Thorough risk assessments mitigation should not come at the expense of Ukrainian lives," said the letter signed by a bipartisan congressional group urging that the Pentagon's review of whether it can transfer the weapons end in a "timely manner."

The letter, which was signed by Republicans and Democrats, referenced the recent territorial gains by Ukraine, adding that "employing more capable Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) on the battlefield will allow the AFU (Armed Forces of Ukraine) to better hold the territory they fought so hard to reclaim".

Czech Republic: Fleeing Russians don't meet humanitarian visa criteria 

The Czech Republic will not issue humanitarian visas to Russian citizens fleeing mobilisation orders, Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky has said.

Many Russians are trying to leave their country after President Vladimir Putin announced mobilisation as Russian forces fighting in Ukraine have suffered heavy losses.

"I understand that Russians are fleeing from ever more desperate decisions by Putin. But those running because they don't want to fulfill a duty imposed by their own government, they don't meet the criteria for humanitarian visa," Lipavsky told the Reuters news agency.

For live updates from Thursday (September 22), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies