Ukraine live briefing: Drones shot down over Kyiv; U.S. Air Force veteran freed in swap with Russia

Residents watch as a bombed building is dismantled in Borodyanka, in the Kyiv region, on Tuesday. More explosions were reported in the capital city early Wednesday. (Andrew Kravchenko/AP)
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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine fought off a swarm of drones over central Kyiv on Wednesday, shooting down more than a dozen, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky. Ukraine’s military identified the drones as Iranian-made.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in what marked the first attack by drones in weeks.

“We are constantly strengthening our air defense and anti-drone defense,” Zelensky said in a nightly address. “And we are doing everything to get more modern and more powerful systems for Ukraine.”

U.S. Air Force veteran freed in Russia prisoner swap, Ukraine says

Here’s the latest on the war and its impact across the world.

1. Key developments

  • U.S. Air Force veteran Suedi Murekezi was freed after a prisoner swap with Russia, a senior Ukrainian official announced Wednesday. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel later confirmed at a news briefing that a U.S. citizen was released by Russian forces, saying that he had departed Russian-controlled territory.
  • Murekezi’s family said he moved to Ukraine in 2018 and was captured by pro-Russian separatists in the southern city of Kherson in early June. In a phone call Wednesday, Murekezi’s brother, Sele Murekezi, said he was released in October but was barred from leaving the separatist areas of Ukraine. “He’s relieved,” Sele said of his brother. “Basically, he was stuck where he was.”
  • The United States charged five Russian nationals, an American citizen and a U.S. permanent resident with helping Russia evade sanctions by assisting with the global procurement of weapons and money laundering on behalf of the Russian government. One of the Russians is a suspected Federal Security Service officer who was arrested in Estonia and will undergo proceedings for extradition to the United States, the Justice Department said. The other four Russians remain at large, it said, while the U.S. citizen and resident were also arrested.
  • Ukraine’s security service said Wednesday on Telegram that it raided facilities belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in nine regions. “These measures are carried out, among other things, to prevent the use of religious communities as a center of ‘Russian peace’ and to protect the population from provocations and terrorist attacks,” the post said. Ukraine’s national security council introduced sanctions Monday against seven members of the church, which has come under scrutiny for its links to Moscow.

2. Battleground updates

  • The drone attacks in Kyiv on Wednesday, in the central Shevchenkivskyi district, were the first in weeks. The district covers the city center and includes city hall and some ministries and universities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said preliminary information on the attacks indicated that 13 drones were sent and all were shot down. The Ukrainian military identified them as Iranian-made Shahed drones.
  • Russian rockets hit the regional administration building in Kherson, a port city on the Dnieper River, damaging two floors, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office. Footage posted to Twitter showed a plume of smoke rising from the top of the building, where Ukrainians raised the country’s flag after recapturing the city last month.
  • Ukraine says it is stepping up its weapons production capability, ratifying an agreement with Turkey that will allow Kyiv to manufacture Turkish Bayraktar drones, and launching the production of 152mm and 122mm shells.
  • The war in Ukraine shows no signs of concluding by year’s end and there should be no false comfort that fighting will stop in the winter months, National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby, said in a briefing with reporters Wednesday. Kirby’s words echoed remarks from the Kremlin earlier in the week. On Tuesday, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine by the end of the year is “out of the question.”

3. Global impact

  • On Wednesday, Canada revoked a sanctions waiver on turbines used to pump natural gas from Russia to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, according to a joint statement from Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. Canada initially granted the waiver in July at Germany’s urging, and in the face of Ukrainian criticism, but has now reversed course because Russian energy corporation Gazprom refused to accept a repaired turbine or increase the flow of natural gas through Nord Stream 1.
  • Pope Francis urged people to consider having more modest Christmas celebrations this year and instead donate money to help Ukrainians. “Let’s make a more humble Christmas, with more humble gifts, and let’s send what we save to the people of Ukraine who need it,” he said Wednesday, as he called for “concrete gestures of charity.” The pope has regularly spoken about Ukraine since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
  • An international tribunal must be formed to judge Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even if this can only happen in absentia, Latvia’s president said Wednesday. Egils Levits told Bloomberg TV that the move is necessary to ensure the seizure of Russian assets abroad.
  • Britain is training 90 Ukrainian judges to oversee war crimes trials for Russian soldiers, attorney general Victoria Prentis told Sky News on Wednesday. The first group of judges attended sessions at a secret location in the region last week, Sky News reported, and more will follow in the coming months. .

4. From our correspondents

Ukraine could get “smart bomb” conversion kits. The advanced electronic equipment converts unguided aerial munitions into “smart bombs” that can target Russian military positions with a high degree of accuracy, according to senior U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

It was not immediately clear whether the Biden administration has approved the proposed transfer to Ukraine. “Those familiar with matter, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations, did not say whether Ukrainian forces would employ the kits on aircraft or ground-based weapons, or what specific systems in Ukraine’s arsenal would be candidates for such augmentation,” Dan Lamothe writes.

Shelters, backpacks and FM radios: Kyiv prepares for nuclear war. Ominous references by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is prepared to use “all necessary means” to win in Ukraine, and chatter on Russian TV talk shows advocating the use of nuclear weapons, have led residents of Kyiv to consider a once-unthinkable possibility: that their city could be targeted by a nuclear bomb.

They are preparing with survival backpacks and basement bunkers, write Liz Sly and Kostiantyn Khudov, and the government has issued detailed advice on steps to take to survive a blast.

Ables reported from Seoul, Bisset from London and Parker from Washington. Rick Noack in Paris and Dan Lamothe, Matt Viser and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.