Ukraine live briefing: Cease-fire failed to halt fighting; Ukraine hit power plants, Kremlin proxies say

Worshipers greet one another during Orthodox Christmas Mass in Iltsi, Ukraine, on Saturday. (Zuzana Gogova/Getty Images)
5 min

Moscow’s unilaterally declared cease-fire — which brought no sign of a pause in fighting in the 36 hours that it was supposedly in place — came to an end early Sunday. Both sides traded blame for the ongoing shelling, which threatened to mar Orthodox Christmas celebrations on both sides. Ukraine had not agreed to a truce, viewing it as a ploy for Russian forces to regroup.

Russian media and Moscow’s proxy officials accused Ukraine of shelling two power plants in Russian-controlled areas of the eastern Donetsk region. Ukraine has not acknowledged reports of the attack.

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

1. Key developments

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of not adhering to its promise to temporarily suspend hostilities. “The world was once again able to see today how false any words of any level that sound from Moscow are,” he said in a video address Saturday.
  • The Starobeshevskaya and Zuevskaya thermal power plants sustained damage after rocket attacks by Ukraine, Russia’s Interfax news agency and Kremlin proxies in Donetsk reported. It is not clear whether there were casualties.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin marked Orthodox Christmas by attending a service at the Kremlin on Saturday and praising the Russian Orthodox Church for supporting the nation’s troops. In Ukraine — which has large Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic communities — worshipers marked the day in churches and with muted festivities.

2. Battleground updates

  • Ukraine dismissed an unsubstantiated Russian claim that 600 Ukrainian troops were killed in a missile attack. The alleged strike in the eastern city of Kramatorsk was “retaliation” for a previous Ukrainian attack in Makiivka, a Russian-occupied town in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry. Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for the Ukrainian army, told the BBC that the claim was “another piece of Russian propaganda.” A Finnish journalist in Kramatorsk reported from the site that the attack was unlikely to have happened as Russia described.
  • Russia is boosting defenses in the central Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine, suggesting that commanders are “highly likely” to be preparing for “major Ukrainian offensive action,” the British Defense Ministry said Sunday. It noted that a Ukrainian breakthrough in either the Luhansk or Zaporizhzhia regions — both of which Russia illegally claimed to annex last year — would prove hugely challenging for Moscow.
  • The pace of Russian military gains around Bakhmut, a fiercely contested city in eastern Ukraine, is the subject of continued debate. Russian military bloggers have said it could be encircled soon but have not provided evidence for those claims, while the Institute for the Study of War think tank says the pace of any gains is slow and the city’s fall is not imminent.
  • The founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group said he wanted to capture Bakhmut because of its unique defense fortifications. Yevgeniy Prigozhin on Saturday described the area’s vast salt and gypsum mines as “underground cities” large enough to house troops, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, according to Reuters.
  • The two sides exchanged 50 soldiers each, a practice that has become increasingly common 10 months into the war. Ukraine’s parliament said on Telegram that the fighters were captured at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, Mariupol in the south and Bakhmut. The Russian Defense Ministry said its freed soldiers will be treated in Moscow.

3. Global impact

  • Russian Space Forces aircraft arrived in Belarus on Sunday to begin joint tactical flight exercises, the Belarusian Defense Ministry said in a statement. The exercises will be held from Jan. 16 to Feb. 1. The announcement comes amid heightened concerns from Ukrainian officials that Russia could attempt to launch an offensive from Belarus into northern Ukraine.
  • Zelensky congratulated Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for becoming House speaker on Saturday. He tweeted that Kyiv was “counting on your continued support and further U.S. assistance to bring our common victory closer,” and that U.S. support “has been vital for [Ukraine’s] success on the battlefield.” Republicans have in recent months pushed back on sending further aid to Kyiv, and McCarthy said in October that the United States could not “write a blank check to Ukraine.”
  • The United States has called on Italy to provide Ukraine with air defense systems, according to the Repubblica newspaper. The request was discussed in a phone call Thursday between national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Francesco Talò, an adviser to Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the paper reported.

4. From our correspondents

Moscow’s war in Ukraine brought harsh tactics against gay Russians at home: The idea of Russia as a defender of traditional Christian beliefs — used to justify Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — has had consequences at home, too, where it has driven parliament to tighten restrictions on the LGBTQ community.

“There is tons of censorship: what you can’t talk about, joke about, what songs you can’t sing or whose tracks you can’t play in order not to attract unwanted attention from the authorities,” Laura, a 21-year-old drag artist, told The Washington Post’s Mary Ilyushina and Mary Gelman.

“Some clubs are dropping drag acts. But I’d say censorship is what worries me the most. Before this law, there was freedom of speech. Now, for example, if there are a couple of men or a couple of women sitting in the audience, we can’t joke on any sexual topics because this would already qualify as ‘gay propaganda.’ It feels like we are all gathered at a birthday party for a 70-year-old grandma and we can’t take a step outside of what’s allowed.”