Ukraine war: Kyiv aid 'money laundering scheme', Christmas truce fails, Ukrainians honour war dead

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By Euronews  with AFP/AP/Reuters
Ukrainian servicemen pay their last respect at the coffin of their comrade Oleh Yurchenko killed in a battlefield with Russian forces in the Donetsk, during a ceremony, 8 Jan.
Ukrainian servicemen pay their last respect at the coffin of their comrade Oleh Yurchenko killed in a battlefield with Russian forces in the Donetsk, during a ceremony, 8 Jan.   -   Copyright  Efrem Lukatsky/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Chechen leader calls foreign aid to Ukraine a 'money laundering scheme'

Western aid to Ukraine is a "scheme for laundering money", the leader of Russia's Chechen Republic said on Sunday. 

"I see that some are worried about the foreign aid to Ukraine. Do not worry! This is a working money laundering scheme. Western and Ukrainian officials will embezzle these funds, and no more than 15% of the entire aid will reach the trenches," Ramzan Kadyrov wrote on Telegram. 

There is no evidence for this claim from the staunch Putin ally. 

Military and financial aid from the west has been hugely instrumental in helping Ukraine turn the tide on the battlefield, as well as keeping its state afloat. There have been no documented cases of it going missing. 

Kadyrov claimed there was no need to worry about hostilities on Russian territory, with Ukrainian drones hitting targets inside Russia in recent days. 

"These are our regions, which opted to join our state for the sake of protection of their people from Satanist actions of Ukrainian and NATO nationalists," he was quoted as saying by TASS, a Russian state news agency. 

On Friday, the US announced a new 2.85 billion dollar package of military aid for Ukraine, which will include tank-killing armoured vehicles. 

The assistance was praised by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as "exactly" what Ukraine needed.

In a separate message, Kadyrov wrote on Telegram that some 300 fighters from Chechen had been deployed to Ukraine. 

He claimed that since the start of the fighting in February, fighters from Chechnya in southern Russia have displayed high combat capabilities and efficiency, according to TASS.

No sign of casualties despite Russian claim it has killed hundreds of Ukrainian soliders

A Russian rocket strike on the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk caused damage but did not destroy buildings and there were no obvious signs of casualties, Reuters reported on Sunday. 

Russia claims the attack killed 600 Ukrainian soldiers.

Reporters from the news agency visited two buildings Russia says were housing Ukrainian servicemen near the front line at the time of the overnight strike.

Neither appeared to have been directly hit by missiles or badly damaged. There were no obvious signs that soldiers had been living there and no sign of bodies or traces of blood.

The other building named by Russia's defence ministry was entirely intact. A crater lay about 50 metres away closer to some garages.

Libkos/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.
A woman walks past a school heavily damaged during a Russian attack in Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022.Libkos/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.

Authorities in Kyiv did not immediately comment on the strike or on Russia's casualty figure. 

Kramatorsk's mayor earlier said there had been no casualties.

In a statement, Russia's defence ministry said the strike was a revenge operation for a deadly Ukrainian attack last week on a Russian barracks in the Donetsk region, which killed at least 89 conscripts.

"As a result of a massive missile strike on these temporary deployment points of Ukrainian army units, more than 600 Ukrainian servicemen were destroyed," the defence ministry said.

If true, it would be the single largest loss of Ukrainian troops since Russia invaded last year. 

Euronews cannot independently verify these claims, while neither side in the grinding war usually discloses their losses.

The practice of housing large numbers of soldiers together came into sharp focus after the Ukrainian strike last week, which prompted fierce criticisms of Russian military commanders inside the country. 

Ukraine is believed to have stopped housing troops close together in single buildings following a deadly Russian attack in March. 

Power plants in Russian-controlled areas damaged by rockets: Local officials

Two power plants in the Donetsk region controlled by Russian forces were damaged in a rocket attack by the Ukrainian army, Moscow-installed officials said on Sunday.

Initial information suggested that the plants in Zuhres and Novyi Svit had been hit and that some people working there were injured, the officials said on Telegram.

One person was killed as a result of the attack on the Starobesheve power plant in Novyi Svit, TASS reported.

"The body of one dead woman was extracted from under the rubble at the plant," the state-owned news agency said, citing an emergency services representative.

TASS had earlier said the strike was carried out using a multiple rocket launcher system.

There was no immediate comment from Ukraine. Kyiv typically does not publically claim responsibility for attacks inside Russia or on Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine.

Since October, Russia has battered Ukraine's energy infrastructure with Iranian-mode drones, knocking off power and water supplies for prolonged periods, during bleak winter conditions.

'It's a heavy loss': Ukrainians pay tribute to dead fighter

Ukrainian soldiers, family and mourners gathered in Kyiv on Sunday to honour a soldier killed fighting against Russian forces in Bakhmut, a strategic city under siege on the eastern front.

An outdoor service was held in the Ukrainian capital's Independence Square for Major Oleh Yurchenko who was killed in Bakhmut on 2 Jan.

Fellow soldiers carried the coffin while others knelt on the ground. A bugle played and a male quartet later sang solemn hymns as an Orthodox priest conducted the service attended by about 200 people.

Yurchenko, 45, nicknamed “Happy,” volunteered for the army after Russia's invasion of Ukraine began in February.

He had been head of security for TIU Canada, an energy company operating in Ukraine, according to a Facebook post.

Efrem Lukatsky/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Ukrainian servicemen pay their last respect at the coffin of their comrade Oleh Yurchenko killed in a battlefield with Russian forces, during a ceremony, 8 Jan, 2023.Efrem Lukatsky/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Yurchenko was well-known as a Ukrainian patriot, having participated in pro-democracy demonstrations in 2004-2005 and later in 2014 which ousted Viktor Yanukovych as president.

Kyiv's Independence Square was the centre of both demonstrations, making it a fitting site for his funeral. 

“He was the best Ukrainian, a kind father, a very responsible person," said Yurii Zhukovskyi, a Ukrainian soldier. "It is a very heavy loss, because these are the best people in Ukraine, and they are dying."

"It is a great pity," he added. 

Christmas truce between Russia and Ukraine ineffective

Ukrainians celebrated Orthodox Christmas on Saturday under the shadow of war, with a proposed Russian ceasefire almost non-existent. 

Many Ukrainians spent the celebration crouched in underground shelters, as the 36-hour truce announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin passed by without hostilities letting up. 

"The world was able to see once again today how untruthful all the words spoken at the highest level in Moscow are," Zelenskyy said in a video message released on Saturday evening. 

"They talked about an alleged ceasefire... but the reality is that the Russian shells continued to hit Bakhmout and the other Ukrainian positions", he added. 

The Ukrainian leader continued to hammer home his message that the only solution to the war was "the expulsion of the Russian occupiers from Ukrainian lands".

The ceasefire, ordered by Moscow at midday on Friday, ended at midnight Saturday (21:00 GMT). 

Ukraine accused the Russian army of not respecting the pause, while Russia claimed that Ukraine forced it to retaliate by not accepting the ceasefire. 

Kyiv immediately rejected the Kremlin's announcement, describing it as "fake". 

On Saturday, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaïlo Podoliak said the ceasefire was a ruse to gain time so that Russian forces could re-group. 

Washington, Paris, London, Berlin and the EU all denounced Moscow's "hypocrisy".