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Ukraine war: Prisoner swaps, energy strikes 'crime against humanity', Hungary financial aid

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By Euronews  with AFP, Reuters
People gather their belongings from a damaged house in the town of Vyshgorod.
People gather their belongings from a damaged house in the town of Vyshgorod.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

1. Russia and Ukraine reportedly exchange prisoners-of-war

Russia and Ukraine each exchanged over 50 prisoners of war on Thursday, according to a report by Reuters.

Russia’s defence ministry said Ukraine had released 50 Russian soldiers who had been captured in the fighting.

Meanwhile, the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration said that Kyiv had received 48 soldiers and two officers, including marines, infantrymen, and border guards.

"We have managed to bring back 19 defenders of Mariupol ... as well as 15 prisoners (of war) from the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and seven from Snake Island," Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram

Representatives from each country are said to have met in the United Arab Emirates last week to discuss the possibility of a swap, with involvement from the United Nations.

Russian and Ukrainian officials had reportedly travelled to Abu Dhabi earlier this month to discuss whether Moscow could resume its fertiliser exports.

The Ukrainian ambassador to Turkey, Vasyl Bodnar, told Reuters that "releasing our prisoners of war is part of negotiations over opening Russian ammonia exports".

Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously stated that Moscow wants to unblock its fertiliser products that are stuck in European ports.

Ukraine has also stated that it might allow Russia to resume its ammonia exports via an existing pipeline, in exchange for prisoners and the reopening of Mykolaiv port in the Black Sea.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine have released official figures on how many prisoners of war they have taken since the invasion began exactly nine months ago.

Last month, Zelenskyy said that Russia had freed a total of 1,031 prisoners since March.

2. Russian strikes on Ukrainian energy infrastructure 'a crime against humanity'

Around 70% of the Ukrainian capita was still without power on Thursday, following the latest Russian strikes.

Several cities across the country suffered power and water outages after a barrage of Russian missile strikes on Wednesday.

Electricity was partially restored in the western city of Lviv and Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv. But Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said the capital's recovery would depend on the overall energy "balance" of Ukraine's nationwide grid.

Officials say ten people were killed in the missile attacks on Wednesday, which also forced Ukraine to disconnect three nuclear power plants from the power grid for the first time in 40 years.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the UN Security Council that the missile strikes on energy infrastructure were "a crime against humanity".

"When the temperature is below zero outside, and tens of millions of people are left without electricity, heat and water as a result of Russian missiles hitting energy facilities, this is an obvious crime against humanity," said Zelenskyy.

The head of Ukraine's state nuclear power company Energoatom said Russia had risked causing a "nuclear and radioactive catastrophe".

"There is a real danger of a nuclear and radiation catastrophe being caused by firing on the entire territory of Ukraine with Russian cruise and ballistic missiles, and a huge risk of damage to nuclear plants," a statement read.

Russia's latest strikes on Ukraine also caused power outages in neighbouring Moldova, but power had been restored to most areas on Wednesday evening.

Russia has repeatedly targeted Ukraine's energy infrastructure in recent weeks ahead of the winter and following recent battlefield setbacks.

Moscow says the aim of its missile strikes is to weaken Ukraine's ability to fight and push it to negotiate.

On Thursday, the Kremlin on Thursday denied that its attacks on Ukraine's electricity network were aimed at civilians, but said Kyiv could "end the suffering" of its population by meeting Russia's demands to resolve the conflict.

"The leadership of Ukraine has every opportunity to bring the situation back to normal, has every opportunity to resolve the situation in such a way as to fulfil the requirements of the Russian side and, accordingly, end all possible suffering among the population," said spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Russia's military had earlier claimed that damage in Kyiv on Wednesday was caused by "Ukrainian and foreign" anti-aircraft missiles.

3. Hungary to provide €187 million in financial aid to Ukraine

Hungary will provide €187 million in financial aid to Ukraine, according to a government decree published late on Wednesday.

The money will form the country's national contribution, separate from a planned EU support package worth up to €18 billion.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that Budapest was willing to pay its share of support for Ukraine but would rather pay it bilaterally than through the EU's joint borrowing scheme.

"The government continues to be committed to financial support to war-gripped Ukraine," the government said.

"The finance minister will make sure to provide the €187 million euros that would be Hungary's share in the €18 billion EU loan to be granted to Ukraine."

The decree, signed by Orban, also says that Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto would start talks with Ukraine to work out an agreement needed for the financial assistance.

4. Poland asks Germany to send Patriot missile launchers to Ukraine

Poland's Defence Minister has asked Germany to send Ukraine the Patriot missile launchers it had offered to Warsaw.

The Polish government had initially proposed deploying additional weapons near its border, after last week's deadly explosion. Germany had offered Warsaw the Patriot missile defence system to help it to secure its airspace and intercept incoming missiles.

"After further Russian missile attacks, I asked Germany to have the Patriot batteries offered to Poland transferred to Ukraine and deployed at its western border," Mariusz Blaszczak wrote on Twitter.

"This will protect Ukraine from further deaths and blackouts and will increase security at our eastern border."

The Polish defence minister had initially welcomed Germany's offer and said he would propose that the system "be stationed near the border with Ukraine".

Warsaw and NATO said the explosion in Przewodow was probably caused by Ukraine's air defences rather than a Russian strike.

Poland’s response to Berlin’s offer was welcomed by Ukraine, but Germany’s Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht stressed that the use of NATO defence systems outside its territory needs to be agreed upon by all member states.

NATO has moved to strengthen air defences in eastern Europe since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

German Patriot anti-aircraft units are already deployed in Slovakia and are expected to be stationed there at least until the end of 2023, according to Lambrecht.