Ukraine live briefing: Zelensky urges U.N. to condemn ‘energy terror,’ Moscow and Kyiv exchange prisoners

Ukrainian firefighters work to extinguish a fire in a town near Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Ukrainian authorities on Thursday worked to restore key infrastructure following a wave of Russian strikes Wednesday.

A Ukrainian presidential official said Thursday that power had been restored in all regions of the country, although efforts to reconnect households were still underway. Power outages and lack of access to heat remained widespread. The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, said on Telegram early Thursday that 70 percent of the capital remained without electricity, although water has since been restored to the whole city.

Ukraine and Russia each freed 50 prisoners Thursday in an exchange.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • Russian and Ukrainian officials said Thursday that Moscow and Kyiv had exchanged 50 prisoners of war. The Ukrainian side of the swap included troops captured in Mariupol, some at the Azovstal steel plant where fighters made a last stand, along with some taken prisoner at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and at Snake Island, where the defiance of defenders became a symbolic moment for Ukraine early in the war, Andriy Yermak, head of the presidential office of Ukraine, said on Twitter. The SBU, Ukraine’s main internal security service, released a video of the exchange.
  • Zelensky compared Russia’s attacks on energy to “weapons of mass destruction” in his speech late Wednesday. “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,” he told the Security Council.
  • Many parts of Ukraine reeled in the wake of the strikes. In the central Dnipropetrovsk region, around half of residents remain without power, the head of the local military administration said early Thursday. According to Valentyn Reznichenko, almost 3,000 miners had to be rescued after being trapped underground during the blackouts.
  • The European Union is working at “full speed” to prepare a ninth round of sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen announced Thursday, as the bloc’s parliament approved $18.7 billion to help Ukraine “survive the war and start its reconstruction.” Speaking at a news conference in Finland, she said she was “confident” that the G-7 and other major partners would soon approve a global price cap on Russian oil, adding: “We will not rest until Ukraine has prevailed over Putin and his unlawful and barbaric war.”
Russia attacked Ukraine with another barrage of missiles on Nov. 23, causing a majority of the thermal and hydroelectric plants to temporarily shut down. (Video: Reuters)

2. Battleground updates

  • Millions of Ukrainians could face life-threatening conditions without power, heat or running water this winter, after attacks on energy infrastructure battered the country to the brink of a humanitarian disaster, The Washington Post reported. Sergey Kovalenko, the head of a power company supplying Kyiv, has warned that Ukrainians could face blackouts until the end of March. The head of power grid operator Ukrenergo on Tuesday described the damage as “colossal.”
  • Pro-Russia hackers have claimed responsibility after the European Parliament’s website was forced offline for several hours, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said. The apparent Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack came as the E.U. legislative body voted to designate Moscow a state sponsor of terrorism.
  • Russia is likely to redeploy airborne forces from Kherson to the Donbas, according to a British Defense Ministry assessment.

3. Global impact

  • German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said Thursday that Patriot air defense units bound for Poland were for the defense of NATO and could not be sent on to Ukraine, Reuters reported. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Twitter that he had asked Germany to send Ukraine the missile launchers.
  • The lower house of Russia’s parliament has passed the third and final reading of a bill that bans the promotion of “LGBT propaganda” to children, expanding on a previous law that was adopted in 2013, The Washington Post reports. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made LGBTQ people more vulnerable because it is now much harder to evacuate Russian citizens who have come under fire from the authorities, Russian political activist Lucy Shtein told The Post.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is “weaponizing winter” as a strategy to harm Ukrainians, said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield at Wednesday’s U.N. Security Council meeting. “He has decided that if he cannot seize Ukraine by force, he will try to freeze the country into submission,” she said. The White House said the United States had provided more than $250 million for “winterization efforts” in Ukraine — funds intended for heating fuel, generators, warm blankets and shelter repairs. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said late Wednesday that attacks on civilian infrastructure “are war crimes and cannot go unpunished.”

4. From our correspondents

A Russian-funded climate foundation is at the center of questions about how Moscow may be influencing German energy policies: After Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Foundation for Climate and Environmental Protection has become an emblem of how Germany’s craving for natural gas led to a dependent and murky relationship with Moscow, write Loveday Morris, Kate Brady and Souad Mekhennet.

Just before the invasion, Germany was heavily dependent on the Kremlin for natural gas, coal and oil. A company with deep links to the Russian state owned Germany’s largest gas storage facility, which was drained by the beginning of the war. Russia also held a majority stake in the country’s most important national gas transporter and owned the refinery that fed crucial fuel supplies to Berlin.

Francesca Ebel, Ellen Francis, Claire Parker, Benjamin Soloway, David L. Stern, and Sammy Westfall contributed to this report.