Ukraine war live updates: Russian forces cement hold on Avdiivka; Ukraine investigates alleged shooting of POWs in captured city

A large number of Ukrainian prisoners have been captured in Avdiivka, according to a Russian official in the region.

Denis Pushilin, the head of the separatist, pro-Russian “Donetsk People’s Republic” in eastern Ukraine, told the Rossiya-24 TV channel that a significant number of Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered when Russian forces captured Avdiivka at the weekend.

“There are quite a large number of prisoners … In general terms, I can say that the enemy was forced to surrender in order to save his life. And the information that I have is quite a considerable amount,” Pushilin said, news agency Tass reported.

DONETSK OBLAST, UKRAINE – DECEMBER 16: Soldiers of 59th Motorized Brigade of the Ukrainian army prepare for artillery fire towards Russian positions to support frontline troops in the direction of Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on December 16, 2023. (Photo by Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

Ukraine has not commented on the number of soldiers that were captured as its forces withdrew from Avdiivka, a move it ordered late last week, it said, to avoid being surrounded. Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday that they’ve launched an investigation into the alleged shooting of unarmed Ukrainian prisoners of war in Avdiivka and the village of Vesele, however. Russia has not commented on the allegations.

The seizing of Avdiivka is a significant milestone for Russian forces after months of intense fighting over the industrial city. Russia sees the victory as a step toward occupying the whole of the Donetsk region and wider Donbas area of eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces are now continuing “offensive actions to further liberate the Donetsk People’s Republic,” a region Moscow declared a part of the Russian Federation in late 2022.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian investigators have not yet established the cause of Alexei Navalny’s death and it is unclear how long it will take for official conclusions to be made, his mother was told, Navalny’s spokeswoman said on Monday.

Navalny, a 47-year-old former lawyer, fell unconscious and died on Friday after a walk at the “Polar Wolf” penal colony in Kharp, about 1,900 km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, where he was serving a three-decade sentence, the prison service said.

A demonstrator carries a placard with a picture of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny as people gather to attend a rally in front of the Russian Embassy in Warsaw on Feb. 16, 2024.

Sergei Gapon | Afp | Getty Images

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila, was told on Saturday at the prison colony that he had perished from “sudden death syndrome”, a vague term for different heart conditions that end in death, according to Navalny’s team.

Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said that his 69-year-old mother, and lawyers were told that the official verification of the cause of death had been extended and that it was unclear how long it would take.

“The cause of death is ‘undetermined’,” Yarmysh said, adding that the Russian authorities were lying and stalling.

His mother and lawyers were not allowed into the morgue on Monday in the Arctic town near the prison colony where the authorities said he dropped dead, Yarmysh said.

“Asked if Alexei’s body was there, the staff did not answer,” said Yarmysh.

The death of Navalny, a former lawyer, robs the disparate Russian opposition of its most charismatic and courageous leader as President Vladimir Putin prepares for an election that will keep him in power until at least 2030.

— Reuters

Russian armed forces have reportedly taken full control of the chemical and coke plant in Avdiivka, the Donetsk city that was captured at the weekend after Ukraine withdrew its troops, fearing encirclement.

Russian news agency Tass, citing Russia’s Defense Ministry, stated that Russian forces had now “completely liberated the coke plant in Avdiivka, the flags of the Russian Federation have been hoisted on the buildings of the enterprise.”

View of the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant (AKHZ) in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

Eric Feferberg | AFP | Getty Images

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday that some Ukrainian units were entrenched at the plant, one of the largest of its kind in Europe, which is located on northwestern outskirts of the city.

Russia’s capture of Avdiivka represents its most significant victory in Ukraine since claiming control of Bakhmut in Donetsk last May. Tass reported Monday that military personnel had already begun to clear mines from roads and buildings in Avdiivka.

Ukraine’s military leadership said the decision to withdraw soldiers from Avdiivka was made in order to save them from being surrounded.

In a situation where the enemy is advancing on the corpses of their own soldiers with a ten-to-one shell advantage, under constant bombardment, this is the only correct solution,” Oleksandr Tarnavskyy, Ukraine’s army’s commander in the Donetsk area, said on Telegram.

 “We did no allow to encircle us, the personnel has been withdrawn, our soldiers have taken up defense in the designated areas.”

— Holly Ellyatt

A general view of smoke rising from the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant behind the village of Lastochkino, which is under fire from MLRS “Grad” on February 15, 2024 in Avdiivka district, Ukraine. 

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Ukrainian authorities say they have launched an investigation into the alleged shooting of unarmed prisoners of war in the recently Russian-captured towns of Avdiivka and Vesele in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

The Prosecutor Office of the Donetsk region said on Telegram Sunday that a “pre-trial investigation was launched into the facts of violation of the laws and customs of war, combined with intentional murder.”

The prosecutor said that an unnamed Telegram channel had “published a message about the execution of 6 prisoners of the Armed Forces of Ukraine at one of the positions in the city of Avdiivka. The defenders were seriously injured and were waiting for evacuation.”

“A video recording with a fragment of the murder of 2 more soldiers near the village was also discovered [in] Vesele,” the regional prosecutor’s office claimed.

“The recording from the drone camera shows how today, during the assault on our positions, a representative of the Russian Armed Forces shoots at close range, first at one captured soldier of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and then at the second. Not wanting to leave the prisoners alive, the occupier deliberately kills them with automatic weapons,” the post stated.

CNBC was unable to confirm the information within the report and Russia has not responded to Reuters’ request for comment on the allegations, which come as Russian forces claimed to have taken full control of Avdiivka, and the village of Vesele, after months of brutal fighting in the area.

Capturing Avdiivka is Russia’s biggest gain since it fully occupied the Donetsk city of Bakhmut in May last year.

— Holly Ellyatt

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 47th Mechanized Brigade prepares for combat a Bradley fighting vehicle, not far away from Avdiivka, Donetsk region on February 11, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Genya Savilov | Afp | Getty Images

The West is suffering a “colossal failure of imagination” in thinking Russia’s war in Ukraine will not hit them next, European policymakers have been told amid calls for a doubling down of transatlantic support for Kyiv.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen criticized a waning sense of urgency among delegates at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday as Moscow’s full-scale offensive nearly enters its third year.

“The sense of urgency is simply not clear enough in our discussions,” Frederiksen told a lunchtime session. “We have to speed up and we have to scale up.”

Denmark has now donated its entire artillery to Ukraine, Frederiksen said, urging other countries to do the same as the war marks its second anniversary on Feb. 24.

“On Saturday, there should be new deliveries,” she said. “Words will not solve this situation.”

Frederiksen’s sentiment was echoed by others in the room. The policymakers were speaking at the 7th Munich Ukrainian Lunch, hosted on the sidelines of the MSC by the Yalta European Strategy (YES) forum and Ukrainian non-profit the Victor Pinchuk Foundation. Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said countries must give Ukraine “what we already have.”

The comments came hours after Ukrainian troops withdrew from the eastern city of Avdiivka, a longtime military stronghold, to avoid Russian encirclement. The fall of Avdiivka marks the biggest change on the frontlines since Moscow captured Bakhmut last May.

Read more here: ‘It is urgent’: European leaders appeal for greater support for Ukraine as Russia makes major gain

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