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Ukraine updates: Kyiv says Bakhmut residents must leave

February 17, 2023

The Ukrainian government has said that all remaining residents of the Donbas city of Bakhmut should leave now. Russia has been pushing to take the city for months. DW has the latest.

Local residents walk in a street of Bakhmut
The city is a major objective for Russia's troops and has been under heavy shellingImage: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP

The Ukrainian government has urged all residents of the eastern city of Bakhmut to flee, with heavy fighting expected to continue.

Russian troops have been trying to take Bakhmut for months and the city, which once had 70,000 inhabitants, is under virtually constant shelling.

"If you are rational, law-abiding and patriotic citizens, you should leave the city immediately," said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

She made the appeal via the Telegram messaging app on Friday to what is believed to be some 6,000 people still in the city, which is in Ukraine's Donetsk region. 

Vereshchuk said people who stay would endanger themselves and their families, but also hamper the efforts of people such as the defense and security forces or volunteers.

Bakhmut now 'meat grinder' epicenter of Ukraine war

Many elderly residents are thought to be staying because they do not want to leave their birthplace and their homes are their only possession. Some also sympathize with Russia.

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Friday, February 17.

Scholz urges fast tank deliveries from allies

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has urged allies with stocks to send them now, as efforts to equip Ukraine with the powerful weapons stalled.

Calls for Germany to deliver its Leopard tanks reached their peak in January, with Berlin under pressure to send them.

Scholz had insisted for weeks that Germany would not go it alone on the issue, and underlined that other countries were also reluctant.

However, with Poland threatening to send the German-made vehicles without Berlin's permission, Scholz relented. 

Now, with commitments from some NATO allies on the number of tanks they will provide in the short term, it is Scholz urging others to make the deliveries.

"Those who can send such battle tanks should really do so now," Scholz told the Munich Security Conference, adding he would be "intensively campaigning" for other countries to move on the issue.

Russia asked German agent for battlefield info 

Russia's FSB spying service asked a German intelligence officer who allegedly passed state secrets to Moscow to gather information on Ukraine's artillery and air defense positions, according to media reports.

The FSB apparently instructed the suspect to find out the exact positioning of HIMARS precision rocket launchers supplied by the US and the Iris-T air defense system delivered by Berlin. 

"People familiar with the case say it is rather unlikely that such data was passed on," said Germany's Der Spiegel magazine.

However, German news magazine Focus said the alleged spy, identified only as Carsten L., did manage to pass on dossiers held by Germany's BND foreign intelligence agency about top-secret Russian communication systems.

Carsten L. was arrested on December 22 on suspicion of treason. A second suspect, identified as Arthur E., was arrested in January and accused of being complicit in the treason in helping to pass the information to Russia. Arthur E. was not employed by the BND.

Investigators reportedly found at least €100,000 (about $107,000) in cash in a safe-deposit box belonging to Carsten L., thought to have been handed over to him by Arthur E.

Spiegel magazine said the intention was that the arrangement would be long term.

Ukraine power supplies recovering

Ukraine is successfully weathering a wave of Russian attacks on its power grid, with supplies recovering despite Russia's onslaught against key infrastructure.

Since October, and after humiliating defeats on the battlefield, Russia has targeted Ukraine's energy facilities, resulting in power shortages, and a lack of heating and lighting, for millions.

However, energy operator Ukrenergo said there was positive news.  

"There has been no shortage of electricity in the energy system during the entire working week, and none is expected so far," Ukrenergo said on the Telegram messenger.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal added that "for almost a week, there have been no power outages across Ukraine. Four months of terror, thousands of missiles and drones, Russia has spent billions of dollars but is losing again, unable to break Ukraine on the energy front." 

However, he added that "the attacks do not stop" and repairing the damaged equipment will take "many months." He warned that there could be power cuts in some regions.

In the capital Kyiv, all electric transport has been restarted after it was stopped for 56 days, the head of the city's military administration Sergiy Popko said.

"Restoring stable life in the capital of Ukraine is another small but important step toward our future victory," Popko said on Telegram.

Ukraine meets terms for full IMF help

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says it has reached a staff-level agreement with Ukraine, making possible discussions about a full lending program that would bolster the country's bid to join the European Union.

In a statement, the IMF said gradual economic recovery was expected this year and that inflation in Ukraine had begun to decelerate.

In an interview with DW, the organization's managing director Kristalina Georgieva confirmed that Ukraine had fulfilled the conditions for a "fully fledged" financial assistance package from the IMF.

"In our four months collaboration with the Ukraine, the country has shown remarkable progress on fiscal policies, on financial methods, on governance," Georgieva told DW at the Munich Security Conference. "And that is important for the country to succeed with an economy that shrank last year by 30%, to build itself up."

Putin meets Belarusian leader to talk 'synergy'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been meeting with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko for talks on cooperation on economic and security issues.

Lukashenko stressed the technological cooperation of the allied neighboring states, saying their cooperation could effectively counter Western sanctions.

The meeting took place in Putin's Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow. Putin noted that Belarus had maintained Soviet-era industrial assets and offered good opportunities for joint manufacturing programs.

"By pooling our efforts we will create synergy," Putin said. "It could be very efficient in some sectors and bring good results for both Belarus and Russia.''

Russia used Belarusian territory to send troops into Ukraine, and the two nations reguarly hold joint military drills.

Lukashenko said Belarus was already producing some 1,000 components for Russia's MS-21 and Sukhoi Superjet civilian aircraft. He added that his country was capable of producing ground combat aircraft, to support the Belarus's own infantry units. 

Ukraine's top diplomat doubts talks can end war

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed his doubts on whether a diplomatic solution can be found with Russia in an interview Friday for the newspapers of Germany's Funke Mediengruppe and French daily Ouest-France.

"I like anyone who wants to achieve peace through diplomatic initiatives," Kuleba said. "But how can such an initiative work? Should the price for freedom be that Russia stays in the occupied regions?"

He said that the Kremlin would have no reason to definitively end the war if it saw it could conquer and annex territory militarily. "It could take a break and then start another war in around a year," Kuleba argued.

Any talks with Russia could only start upon the basis of Ukraine's territorial integrity being "completely restored," Kuleba declared, calling this "non-negotiable."

"We've learnt a difficult lesson: when you give Russia a finger, it'll take the whole hand," he said.

Russia firing 'missiles, drones and balloons' at Ukraine

Kuleba argued that Putin was using "intimidation tactics" in stoking Western fears over potential further escalation of the conflict. He urged Western countries not to "fall for Putin's tricks."

"Many of the people who with pained expressions advocate for peace and diplomacy in reality just want Ukraine to be defeated by Russia," he said.

Kuleba said that an expected Russian spring offensive had "already started," with Moscow gradually increasing the intensity of the offensive.

Zelenksyy urges Munich conference to speed up support

At the opening of the Munich Security Conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged leaders to speed up support for his country.

Ukraine's allies have delivered an array of weapons to Ukraine since Russia invaded almost a year ago.

Kyiv says it fears vital hardware will arrive too slowly to defend against major new offensives.

"We need to hurry up," Zelensky told the start of the three-day gathering via video link. "We need speed, speed of our agreements, speed of our delivery... speed of decisions to limit Russian potential."

The Ukrainian leader said there was no "alternative," because people's lives were at stake.

The conference is being attended by the leaders of France and Germany, as well US Vice President Kamala Harris, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China's top diplomat Wang Yi. 

Dutch PM says tanks for Kyiv soon

Visiting Kyiv, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says the first batch of Leopard-1A5 main battle tanks the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are buying for Ukraine will be delivered to the country as soon as possible.

"As soon as the first batch [of Leopard tanks] is combat ready, it will be delivered to Ukraine, we want to do that as soon as possible", Rutte told journalists in Kyiv, speaking alongside Zelenskyy.

The three NATO allies say they will buy at least 100 of the tanks for Ukraine.

Zelenskyy said there should be no taboo on supplying arms to Ukraine because it needs weapons to defend its sovereignty.

"We have a common understanding with the Netherlands that there should not be any taboo on the supply and support of weapons to our army, to our Ukraine, because it supports and protects our sovereignty," he said.

Zelenskyy has called for more weapons from its Western allies, and faster deliveries. In particular, Ukraine wants fighter jets, more tanks, and long-range weapons..

Munich Security Conference begins

The Munich Security Conference kicks off on Friday, involving leaders of dozens of countries and with Ukraine expected to dominate the agenda.

US Vice President Kamala Harris Harris, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are set to meet on the sidelines of the conference to discuss support to Kyiv and further sanctions on Moscow.

For the first time in two decades, Russian leaders were not invited to the conference. The event is set to open with a video address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Scholz is set to speak immediately afterwards.

DW's Maksym Drabok is at the security conference and asked France's president whether he had a message for Zelenskyy, to which Macron responded: "We stand with you shoulder to shoulder, and we will stand with you to the very end of the war."

WHO makes appeal for Ukraine health funding 

The World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge has made an appeal for more funding for Ukraine’s health sector. 

Kluge said more funding was needed for mental health services and rehabilitation, while there was also a need to ensure communities had access to health services. 

"We aim to reach 13.6 million people with this support this year," he said, during an briefing from the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr.  

"That's why we have increased our appeal for 2023 to $240 million — $160 million for Ukraine and $80 million for refugee-receiving countries," Kluge said. 

The regional director pointed out that almost 10 million people may currently have a mental health condition in Ukraine. 

Up to 200,000 casualties since start of invasion — UK intelligence

The UK Ministry of Defence said that its likely that Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) and Wagner forces have suffered between 175,000 to 200,000 casualties since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

In the latest daily briefing, the MOD said that this number included 40 to 60,000 killed and said that the casualty rate "has significantly increased since September 2022 when 'partial mobilization' was imposed."

The MOD said that by modern standards, these figures represented a high ratio of personnel who had been killed when compared to those injured on the battlefield.

"Rudimentary medical care" and artillery were cited as leading factors in the high casualty rate.

The MOD said Wagner forces comprised of large numbers of convict-recruits "have probably experienced a casualty rate of up to 50%."

Zelenskyy aide: Balloons part of Russian aerial assault

Ihor Zhovkva, the Deputy Head of the Office for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told DW that Russia is using balloons to exhaust Ukraine's air defenses.

Zhovkva said Russia launched an attack "across the whole country" on Wednesday.

He said that Moscow was "combining its efforts" in the multi-pronged assault, using cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, drones and balloons.

The presidential aide claimed that Kyiv is currently intercepting around 75-80% of Russian missiles and drones.

Khodorkovsky: War won't end as long as Putin's in power

Russian opposition figure and former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky believes the war is likely to continue as long as Vladimir Putin is in power in Moscow.

"As long as Putin's regime is in power, the war will not end," Khodorkovsky said in Munich.

The war in Ukraine had cause deep divisions within Russia, he said.

Khodorkovsky said that "active support" for the war and the will to enlist in the Russian military is low.

Khodorkovsky, who is now based in London, was the head of the Yukos oil company and spent several years in a prison camp after being convicted of embezzlement in Russia.

MSC 2023: The focus is on the Ukraine war

More on the war in Ukraine

Russia has said it will cut its oil output in response to Western embargoes and price caps. DW takes a look into Moscow's motive behind the move.

1,000 journalists have left Russia over the past year, with many of them practicing their profession in exile.

The Berlinale film festival opened with an address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

sdi/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)