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Ukraine war: Kyiv strikes St Petersburg oil refinery as prisoner swap concludes

Ukrainian prisoners of war react after a prisoner exchange at an undisclosed location, Ukraine.
Ukrainian prisoners of war react after a prisoner exchange at an undisclosed location, Ukraine. Copyright Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the social media platform X via AP
Copyright Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the social media platform X via AP
By Euronews with AP
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The latest developments from the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian drone explodes at oil refinery in St Petersburg

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Ukraine launched a second drone strike in two weeks on Vladimir Putin's hometown of St Petersburg on Wednesday. The attack was confirmed by Ukrainian intelligence sources to state broadcaster Suspilne, saying the drone strike targeted the Nevsky Oil Refinery.

The governor of St Petersburg, Alexander Beglov, confirmed the incident, writing on Telegram that "an incident occurred at an industrial site in the Nevsky district." He also reported that city residents heard "a loud bang."

Russia and Ukraine complete major prisoner-of-war swap

Russia and Ukraine conducted their first major prisoner-of-war (PoW) exchange since a previous swap failed a week ago after a Russian Il-76 transport plane was shot down and crashed in the Belgorod region.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that 207 Ukrainian soldiers were returned to the country. Russia's Defence Ministry said in a statement that "exactly 195 Ukrainian armed forces prisoners of war" were handed over to Kyiv in exchange for the release and return of 195 captured Russian soldiers.

European leaders admit EU has 'fallen short' of its goals to help Ukraine

In a letter published in the Financial Times on Wednesday, five European leaders admitted "the hard truth" that the European Union has "fallen short" of its goal to supply Ukraine with 1 million artillery rounds before the end of March 2024.

In the document, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Czech Republic's Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte wrote that the EU "can't just give up on our promise."

"If Ukrainian soldiers are to keep up the fight, the need for ammunition is overwhelming," the letter reads. "And the EU member states' delivery of arms and ammunition to Ukraine is more important than ever."

The leaders called for the EU to redouble its efforts to support Ukraine's fight against the Russian invasion and provide Kyiv "the ammunition and weapon systems, including howitzers, tanks, UAVs and air defence" it urgently needs.

European Commission extends duty-free policy with Ukraine

The European Commission announced on Wednesday that it would extend the suspension of import duties on Ukrainian agricultural exports for another year, til June 2025.

The announcement is likely to fuel the anger of farmers who have been protesting across Europe for measures to protect them from the influx of cheaper imports and to recognise the value of their work.

Belarusian rock band critical of Putin detained in Thailand

Members of a rock band that has been critical of Moscow's war in Ukraine remained locked up Tuesday in a Thai immigration jail, fearful that they could be deported to Russia as a reported plan to let them fly to safety in Israel was apparently suspended.

The progressive rock band Bi-2 said on Facebook they had information that intervention from Russian diplomats had scuttled the plan, even though tickets had already been purchased for their flight.

"The group participants remain detained at the immigration centre in a shared cell with 80 people," the post said. It said they declined to meet with the Russian consul.

The group later said on the Telegram messaging app that its singer, Yegor Bortnik, whose stage name is Lyova, boarded a flight for Israel late Tuesday, but the other members remained in jail.

Aleksandr "Shura" Uman, left, and Yegor "Lyova" Bortnik perform at a Bi-2 concert in Moscow.
Aleksandr "Shura" Uman, left, and Yegor "Lyova" Bortnik perform at a Bi-2 concert in Moscow.Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

The seven band members were arrested last Thursday after playing a concert on the southern resort island of Phuket, reportedly for not having proper working papers. On Facebook, they said all their concerts "are held in accordance with local laws and practices." Phuket is a popular destination for Russian expats and tourists.

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The detained musicians "include Russian citizens as well as dual nationals of Russia and other countries, including Israel and Australia," the group Human Rights Watch said in a statement Tuesday. Those holding only Russian citizenship are thought to be most at risk.

Bi-2 has 1.01 million subscribers to its YouTube channel and 376,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

UK tries to free up frozen Abramovich Chelsea funds

UK lawmakers expressed frustration Wednesday that funds from the sale of the Chelsea Football Club have not yet gone to support Ukrainian war victims as had been promised nearly two years ago by the former owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Abramovich sold Chelsea in 2022 after being sanctioned by the British government for what it called his enabling of Russia's “brutal and barbaric invasion” of Ukraine.

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He pledged to donate the £2.5 billion (nearly €3 billion) from the sale to victims of the war. But almost 20 months later, the funds are still frozen in a bank account in an apparent disagreement with the British government over how they should be spent.

Former Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich.
Former Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich.Martin Meissner/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved

The stalemate highlights the difficulty Western governments face in reallocating frozen Russian assets to Ukraine – even those that have been pledged by their owner.

“We are all completely baffled and frustrated that it has taken so long," said Lord Peter Ricketts, chair of the European Affairs Committee in the British House of Lords, which produced the report.

"We can’t understand why either Abramovich or the British government didn’t ensure that there was more clarity in the original undertaking which … would avoid arguments about exactly who in Ukraine would get this money,” Ricketts said.

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The impasse “reflects badly on both Mr Abramovich and the Government," the report said.

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