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Live blog: Russia’s Wagner releases over 100 Ukrainian prisoners for Easter

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Russia’s most powerful mercenary group, Wagner, sent at least 100 Ukrainian prisoners of war back to Ukrainian forces to mark Orthodox Easter, according to a video posted by the group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin. 

“Prepare all of them, feed and water them, check the wounded,” Prigozhin was shown saying in a video posted on Telegram by his press service.

A group of Ukrainian prisoners were then shown being told that they would be passed back to Ukrainian forces to mark Orthodox Easter.

“I hope you don’t fall back into our hands,” an armed Wagner soldier was told telling the men before they were ordered into a truck, some loading packs of water bottles.

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1518 GMT — Ukraine says West doesn’t give all needed supplies to Kiev to avoid provoking Moscow

The West does not provide Kiev with all the supplies it needs because the former has “long lived in the dogma of not provoking Russia,” Ukraine’s defense minister has said.

In an interview with the Spanish daily La Razon, Oleksii Reznikov said that this was also the reason behind the decision not to give Ukraine membership in NATO during the alliance’s 2008 summ it in the Romanian capital Bucharest.

According to him, the US and the majority of European states were in favor of giving membership to Kiev, but then German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposed the idea and persuaded other states in this regard, which Reznikov said resulted in the annexation of regions in Ukraine and Georgia by Russia.

“The second mistake was believing that if there was a military clash, a small Soviet Army would face a much larger one and be defeated. Well, we are not a Soviet country with a Soviet Army,” the Ukrainian defense minister said.

1352 GMT — Russia claims Wagner group fighters capture 2 urban quarters in Ukraine’s Bakhmut

Moscow has claimed that fighters of the Russian Wagner private military company took control of two urban quarters in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

A statement by the Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday said that the captured urban quarters are located in the northwestern and southeastern parts of Bakhmut city, further claiming that units of the Russian airborne forces “constrained the enemy’s actions on the flanks of the assault detachments.”

Ukraine has not yet responded to the claims.

Russian forces have been trying for months to capture Bakhmut, a transport and logistics hub in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, which is part of the largely Russian-speaking industrialized Donbas region.

1102 GMT — EU says unilateral action on trade unacceptable after grain import bans

Unilateral action on trade by European Union member states is unacceptable, a European Commission spokesperson has said, after Poland and Hungary announced bans on grain and other food imports from Ukraine to protect the local agricultural sector.

After Russia’s war blocked some Black Sea ports, large quantities of Ukrainian grain, which is cheaper than that produced in the European Union, ended up staying in Central European states due to logistical bottlenecks, hitting prices and sales for local farmers.

The issue has created a political problem for Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party in an election year as it has angered people in rural areas where support for PiS is usually high.

“We are aware of Poland and Hungary’s announcements regarding the ban on imports of grain and other agricultural products from Ukraine,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “In this context, it is important to underline that trade policy is of EU exclusive competence and, therefore, unilateral actions are not acceptable.”

0756 GMT — Ukraine brings home 130 military in Easter prisoner exchange

One hundred and thirty Ukrainian prisoners of war have been released and returned home in a “great Easter exchange”, a senior Ukrainian presidential official said, the day of Orthodox Easter.

Ukrainian and Russian forces have held regular prisoner exchanges during Moscow’s attack, now in its 14th month. Russia holds swathes of territory in Ukraine’s east and south.

“We are bringing back 130 of our people. It (the exchange) has been taking place in several stages over the past few days,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said on the Telegram messaging app.

It was not clear how many Russians were sent back the other way.

0750 GMT — Brazil’s Lula raises Russia war mediation with China, UAE

Brazil’s president on Sunday said he had discussed joint mediation for Russia’s war in Ukraine with China and the United Arab Emirates, accusing the United States and Europe of prolonging the conflict.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was wrapping up an official visit to China and the UAE after returning for a third term in office, said the two countries and others should join a “political G20” to try to end the war.

The veteran leftist, who has faced accusations of being overly cosy with Russian President Vladimir Putin, also remarked that the war was caused “by decisions made by two countries.”

0312 GMT — Rescue mission continues after Russian strike in east

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said a rescue operation was still ongoing in Sloviansk, Donbass, following “Russian missile strike” that left at least 11 people dead.

“This terrorist strike alone damaged and destroyed over 50 residential buildings, of which more than 30 are multi-apartment buildings. More than 20 people were injured, and as of this time, 11 have died. Among them is a very small child — a boy born in 2021,” Zelenskyy said.

“None of those who are guilty of this aggression can be forgiven and forgotten.”

2121 GMT — Poland, Hungary ban Ukraine grain to protect local farms

Poland and Hungary have banned imports of grain and other food from Ukraine to protect local farmers, officials from both countries said.

“Today the government decided on a regulation to ban the entry, imports of grain into Poland, as well as of dozens of other kinds of food,” the governing party’s leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said.

Otherwise “it would lead to a far-reaching crisis of Poland’s farming sector… We have to protect Polish agriculture,” he added.

In a similar announcement, Hungarian Agriculture Minister Istvan Nagy in a Facebook message also said Hungary was banning the import of agricultural products from Ukraine.

Both Warsaw and Budapest said that their bans will last until June 30.

For our live updates from Saturday (April 15), click here.

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