Ukraine War Updates: Russia Abducted 50 High Schoolers in Luhansk, Report

Live Updates
  • Russian missiles hit residential areas in the eastern Donetsk city of Kramatorsk overnight, killing at least three people and wounding at least five others.
  • Another Russian attack killed one person and injured four in the village of Komyshany in the Kherson Oblast.
  • EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv ahead of the EU-Ukraine summit Friday.
  • Zelensky said EU support is "critical" for defense and reconstruction.
  • Von der Leyen praised Ukraine's EU membership application and said a 10th sanctions package against Russia is expected before the one year anniversary of Russia's invasion.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told state media that Russia will come of out this conflict "stronger" and better able to protect themselves.
Kramatorsk Building Destroyed in Missile Strike
Firefighters work among debris of a destroyed building by a rocket strike in Kramatorsk on February 2, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

Live updates have ended.

Russia Abducted 50 High Schoolers in Luhansk, Report

Fifty high school students in the Lysychansk city of Ukraine's Luhansk Oblast have been taken to Russia for school exams, the National Resistance Center of Ukraine's Special Forces said Thursday.

The students' transport is reportedly part of a larger effort by Russia to move students into Russian territory so that the students can both get ready to take their tests and eventually pass them. The National Resistance Center used the group of students from Lysychansk as an example of recent student relocations.

The Luhansk Oblast is one of four regions Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed from Ukraine last September. Though Putin has declared the region is now part of Russia, neither Ukraine nor any of the nations that support Ukraine's defense of its territory have recognized the regions as belonging to Russia.

The National Resistance Center said Russia's decision to move students from the Luhansk region to a place in Russia to take their exams suggests that Russian officials also do not really think of Luhansk as part of Russia. The students were reportedly taken to Yelabuga, a town in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan that is deep in Russian territory and well over 1,000 kilometers from the students' hometown.

The students that are being taken to Russian territories are offered tuition-free education in Russia, the National Resistance Center said, alleging that the students' relocation is part of an effort to carry out "the ethnocide of Ukrainians and the destruction of self-identification."

Students are not the only Ukrainians who are reportedly being abducted. On Thursday, the National Resistance Center said civilians "continue to disappear" in parts of Ukraine currently under Russian control. The people who "disappear" are people that Russia suspects of "disloyalty," the center said.

"People are kidnapped under various pretexts, and then kept in torture chambers," the National Resistance Center alleged. "Relatives are not informed of the reasons for detention or whereabouts."

The total number of people who have "disappeared" is uncertain due to the ongoing instability of developing war situation and fears of relatives who suspect their loved ones have been abducted, the center said.

Nearly 14,000 Ukrainian children were believed to have been abducted as of mid-January, according to Ukraine's top presidential adviser for human rights.

Kyiv Memorial Honors Fallen Ukrainian Soldiers

A memorial marking the one year anniversary of Russia's invasion into Ukraine has been erected in downtown Kyiv.

In front of St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, a memorial wall displays photos of krainian soldiers killed in battle since the war began.

One woman, Yaroslava, placed her hands over the photo of her father, Ihor Bezogluk, who was killed.

Memorial Kyiv
Wall Memorial Kyiv
Memorial for Ukraine Wat
Mourner at Memorial Wall Kyiv

Small Ukrainian flags were also placed on the lawn of Independence Square commemorating the fallen Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukrainian Flag Memorial
A woman looks at Ukrainian flags commemorating Ukrainian soldiers killed during the war with Russia at Independence Square, on February 2, 2023 in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine. Roman Pilipey/Getty Images

Destroyed Russian military vehicles are also on display in Mykhailivskyi Square.

Kyiv War Memorial
Tanks in Kyiv
Tanks on Display Kyiv
Child Climbs on Russian Tank

Putin Says Russia 'Being Threatened' by German Tanks

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country is "again being threatened with German Leopard tanks" amid the ongoing war with Ukraine.

During a Thursday ceremony commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, Putin spoke of Germany's recent decision to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks and allow other countries to similarly export the German-made tanks in their possession to Ukraine.

Putin praised Russia's defeat of Nazi forces during the Battle of Stalingrad, which he said was "a turning point" in World War II. But Putin said "the ideology of Nazism" is "again creating direct threats to our national security," this time in Ukraine.

"However incredible, it is a fact – we are again being threatened with German Leopard tanks with crosses on board," Putin said. "There is again a plan to fight Russia on Ukrainian land using Hitler's successors, the Banderites."

Putin said Russia "has many friends" but that some people are "dragging" Germany and other nations in Europe "into a new war with Russia."

Putin then suggested Russia would use all the military tools in its arsenal to win the war in Ukraine, according to Reuters.

The forces that aspire to defeat Russia "apparently fail to understand that a modern war against Russia will be a completely different war for them," Putin said. "We do not send our tanks to their borders but we have what to respond with, and it is not limited to the use of armour. Everyone must realise this."

Though Putin did not mention nuclear weapons specifically during his speech, Russia does have nuclear weapons and has previously threatened to use nuclear power during the war with Ukraine, which will reach its one-year mark later this month.

Putin speech for Battle of Stalingrad anniversary
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at a concert in Volgograd on February 2, 2023, during commemorations for the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II. DMITRY AZAROV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Russia Says US Weapons Were 'Obliterated' in Donetsk

Russian forces reportedly struck more than 70 Ukrainian artillery units, Russian military officials report.

Defense Ministry Spokesman Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov said Russian forces struck 78 artillery unites at firing position using an operational-tactical aircraft, missile troops and artillery, according to Russian state media TASS.

He also said Russian combat aircraft and artillery struck Ukrainian units in Kupiansk in the Kharkiv oblast, destroying an armored combat vehicle and two motor vehicles and killing more than 25 Ukrainian troops in a day.

Konashenkov also claims three Ukrainian rocket launchers were hit in the Kharkiv city of Volchansk and damaged a Ukrainian air assault brigade in Kramatorsk in the Luhansk region "as a result of their artillery fire and successful offensive operations."

"The enemy's losses in those areas in the past 24 hours amounted to over 100 Ukrainian personnel, six armored combat vehicles and a D-30 howitzer," he said.

Russia continues its forward offensive in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia region, damaging more Ukrainian artillery and killing more than 60 Ukrainian troops.

"In the area of the city of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk People's Republic, an M142 HIMARS launcher and an M270 MLRS of US-manufacture were obliterated," the spokesman said.

Explosions Heard Near Russian Bases in Mariupol, Melitopol

Explosions have been reported at a Russian military site in Mariupol and Melitopol, according to local Ukrainian officials.

In a Telegram post, the Mariupol City Council, reported an explosion at a Russian base.

Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov reported "powerful explosions" in the center of the city and at the oil depot in the occupied village Novobohdanivka, located 30 kilometers north of Melitopol.

"We find out the details that burn in the occupiers," he wrote on Telegram.

Nearly 18,700 Civilian Casualties Since War Began

Nearly 18,700 civilian casualties have been recorded in Ukraine since Russia's invasion began nearly one year ago, the United Nations reports, warning actual figures are "considerably higher."

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reports at least 7,110 civilians have been killed, as of January 29. The report states another 11,547 have been injured.

"Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects, including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and air strikes," OHCHR said.

The final figures are pending amid ongoing fighting in several areas.

At least 459 children have died amid the war, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office reports, with hundreds more injured.

"These figures are not final," the office also warned. "Work continues on their installation in the places of hostilities, in temporarily occupied and liberated territories."

Switzerland to Consider Allowing Re-Export of Weapons

As several nations pledged tanks and other forms of renewed support for Ukraine in the last couple of weeks, Switzerland's political bodies have weighed whether there is a way for them to give Ukraine weapons or other military support without violating their country's long-standing neutrality law.

The next debate over proposed rule changes, which would allow Switzerland to indirectly provide military support to Ukraine without violating its neutrality law, will take place on Friday, according to Politico.

Swiss politicians have strategized for months on how to give Ukraine military assistance amid calls from Ukrainian officials for help. Thierry Burkart, a member of the upper body of Switzerland's parliament, first introduced a motion last June that suggested allowing "countries that share Swiss values" to provide Ukraine with Swiss-made weapons, according to Politico. It is this motion that will be up for debate on Friday.

Switzerland "will remain" neutral, Burkart told the outlet, "but in the current situation we are in fact preventing our Western partners from supporting Ukraine."

Last week, the lower chamber of Switzerland's parliament voted 14-11 in favor of a temporary rule change that would allow the re-export of Swiss weapons through 2025. If approved by the full parliament, the change would allow the proposed re-export of weapons "if it is established that the re-export of war material to Ukraine is linked to the Russian-Ukrainian war."

Those who voted in favor of the rule change said Switzerland "must make its contribution to European security" by helping Ukraine, while those who voted against it suggested the move "could pose a problem for neutrality," and specifically "the principle of equal treatment provided for by the law of neutrality."

Though the motion passed in the lower chamber last week, additional steps by the full parliament would need to be taken in order to move forward.

Friday's planned debate could mark another step toward a change in how neutrality affects Switzerland's support for Ukraine moving forward.

Putin Compares Ukraine Conflict to WWII

Russian President Vladimir Putin once again compared his invasion into Ukraine to fighting the Nazis in World War II and said Russia is ready to use "modern weapons."

Putin has used claims of a rise in Nazism in Ukraine as a justification for his ongoing invasion.

"Now, unfortunately, we see that the ideology of Nazism, already in its modern guise, in its modern manifestation, again creates direct threats to the security of our country," he said in a speech Thursday to mark the 80th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, an important Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

He added that Russia is "once again forced to repulse the aggression of the collective West."

Putin noted that Germany and other western allies have agreed to send tanks, including German Leopard 2 tanks, to Ukraine.

"It's unbelievable but true," he said. "We are again being threatened by German Leopard tanks.

Putin said this time around, Russia is prepared to use modern weapons.

"Those who hope to defeat Russia on the battlefield do not understand, it seems, that a modern war with Russia will be very different for them," he said.

He added that Russia is not sending tanks.

"We are not sending our tanks to their borders, but we have the means to respond," Putin said. "It won't be limited to the use of armored hardware. Everyone must understand this."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that "as new weapons are delivered by the collective West, Russia will make greater use of its potential to respond".

Putin Remembers the Battle of Stalingrad
Russian President Vladimir Putin puts flowers while visiting the Mamayev Kurgan, a memorial complex commemorating the heroes of the Battle of Stalingrad on February 2, 2023, in Volgograd, Russia. Contributor/Getty Images

Children Among Nearly 6K Civilians in Bakhmut

Nearly 6,000 civilians are still on the frontlines in the besieged town of Bakhmut, located in the Donetsk Oblast of eastern Ukraine.

Ruslan Osypenko, the head of regional police in Donetsk, told reporters that law enforcement officials are working with the Ukrainian military, hospitals, emergency responders and volunteers to evacuate civilians still in Bakhmut and provide other humanitarian assistance as needed.

"Most" of the people who used to reside in Bakhmut have left, according to an English translation of a press release issued Wednesday by regional police, "but families with children still remain."

As of February 1, an estimated 5,990 civilians were still in Bakhmut. About 200 of those civilians were children, regional police said.

"We focus on families with children," Osypenko said in the release. "It is necessary to do everything to take everyone to safer places."

The fighting near Bakhmut has intensified since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of the Donetsk Oblast and three other Ukrainian oblasts last fall. The latest intelligence information from defense officials in the United Kingdom shows the territory around Bakhmut remains contested as Russian forces try to gain more control over the region.

Destroyed canal in Bakhmut
A woman carries a cart as she prepares to walk on a destroyed bridge to cross a canal towards the disputed area in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on February 1, 2023. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

Austria Expels Four Russian Diplomats

Austria announced that it will expel several Russian diplomats from Vienna.

The Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of the Republic of Austria said two diplomats of the Russian Embassy "engaged in acts incompatible with the diplomatic status" and declared them personae non grata.

The two other diplomats are part of the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations. They have committed "acts incompatible with the Headquarters Agreement," Austria said.

These diplomats must leave Austria within one week, by Feb. 8, 2023.

Russia's ambassador to Austria, Dmitry Lyubinsky, told Russian state media that Austria made "no concrete complaints" about the diplomats besides "unsubstantiated assertions and incomprehensible references to the opinions of the special services."

Lyubinsky and Mikhail Ulyanov, the ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, went to the Austrian Foreign Ministry late Wednesday to hear about the decision.

He said they "voiced a resolute protest," rejected the "unfounded allegations" and "warned about the inevitability of retaliatory measures."

Ukraine Reports at Least 38 Casualties in Last Day

Ukrainian officials have reported at least 38 casualties in the last day following the latest attacks by Russian forces in nine oblasts.

Officials reported seven deaths and said at least 31 other people were injured in the attacks. A roundup of casualty reports compiled by The Kyiv Independent found reports of casualties in the Donetsk, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Kherson and Luhansk oblasts. The Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Sumy oblast were also under Russian fire in the last 24 hours, but no casualties were immediately reported in connection with those attacks.

In the Donetsk Oblast, three deaths were reported in Kramatorsk and 18 other people were wounded. Three people were reported as sustaining injuries in Bakhmut, and two others were reportedly injured in Chasiv Yar. The exact number of casualties across Donetsk was not immediately clear, as the regional governor and the State Emergency Service reported conflicting numbers on Thursday, according to The Kyiv Independent.

Four more people were killed in Yeline in the Chernihiv Oblast and another person was injured, according to reports from local officials.

Kharkiv Oblast Governor Oleh Syniehubov said in a post on Telegram that a woman was injured in an attack in Kupiansk and another person identified as a State Emergency Service worker was injured during shelling in Kruhliakivka.

Four people were wounded during shelling across the Kherson Oblast, regional authorities said, and another person was wounded in attacks in the Luhansk Oblast.

The attacks in oblasts where casualties were reported impacted homes and civilian infrastructure, local authorities said.

Destroyed canal in Bakhmut
A woman carries a cart as she prepares to walk on a destroyed bridge to cross a canal towards the disputed area in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on February 1, 2023. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

Russia Expected to Launch New Offensive in Luhansk Soon

Ukrainian officials believe Russia is preparing for a new offensive in the Luhansk region soon.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Russian forces were expelling residents in Russian-occupied areas of the front line to prevent them from telling Ukrainian artillery forces about Russian troop deployments, the Associated Press reports.

"There is an active transfer of [Russian troops] to the region and they are definitely preparing for something on the eastern front in February," Haidai said.

He said on Telegram Thursday that Russia is preparing for an offensive this month in the Luhansk region, noting an increased number of shelling in Svativsko-Kremin direction.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said there will be "an imminent Russian offensive in the coming months."

According to the ISW, Ukrainian Colonel Serhiy Hrabskyi said that Russia "does not have sufficient forces" to conduct an attack along the entire frontline in Ukraine and will focus its efforts on seizing Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

EU to Pass New Sanctions Package Against Russia

The European Union is preparing to enact its tenth sanctions package against Russia on the first anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine.

During a meeting with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the pace of EU sanctions has slowed, allowing Russia to adapt.

"We need to catch up, we need to correct this," he said.

Zelensky said the faster Europe reduces Russia's ability to evade sanctions, the closer Ukraine will be to defeating Russia.

"It is not enough to have success on the battlefield," he said. "We need faith in a free Europe, in a peaceful Europe, in a united Europe."

Zelensky and von der Leyen
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen shake hands after a joint press conference after talks in Kyiv on February 2, 2023. Sergei SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images

Von der Leyen said EU sanctions are "eroding" Russia's economy.

She then announced that the EU and its G7 partners will introduce their tenth sanctions package on the Kremlin by Feb. 24, exactly one year since the invasion started.

"Russia will also have to pay for the destruction it caused and will have to contribute to the reconstruction of Ukraine," Von der Leyen said. "Therefore, we are exploring with our partners how to use Russia's public assets to the benefit of Ukraine."

The EU passed its ninth sanctions package against Russia in December. Von der Leyen said Europe has been by Ukraine's side since day one.

"We know that you are fighting for more than yourselves," she said. "What is at stake is freedom. This is a fight of democracies against authoritarian regimes."

The EU has given 50 billion Euros in support to Ukraine to date.

Residential Building Destroyed in Strike on Kramatorsk

Russia launched a rocket attack on the Donetsk city of Kramatorsk overnight, Ukrainian officials report.

Russia hit an apartment building, killing at least three people and injuring over a dozen others, the State Emergency Service reported.

On Thursday afternoon, at least five others were wounded when a second strike his a residential area in Kramatorsk.

A strike Thursday afternoon damaged 13 two-story buildings and three four-story buildings, as well as a school, Donetsk Regional Military Administrator Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said attacks like these are the "daily reality" and called Russia "absolute evil."

"Sincere condolences to the families and friends of the victims," he said in a Telegram post. "We will definitely find and punish all the perpetrators. They do not deserve mercy."

Damage in Kramatorsk
Rescue Efforts Kramatorsk
Kramatorsk Building Destroyed in Missile Strike
Rescue and Recovery Kramatorsk

Russia's Arms Exports Likely 'Undermined' by War

Russia's ability to serve as a reliable arms exporter is "highly likely being undermined" due to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine and an array of sanctions, according to the latest British intelligence.

"A shortage of components is likely affecting the production of equipment for export, such as armoured vehicles, attack helicopters, and air defence systems," the U.K. Ministry of Defence said in its Thursday report.

"In addition, Russia's ability to sustain support services for existing export contracts, such as providing spare parts and maintenance, is likely to be seriously disrupted for at least the next three to five years."

Prior to Russia's invasion in February of 2022, Russia's share of the global arms market was already "declining," the report said.

"Now, when faced with conflicting demands, Russia will almost certainly prioritise deploying newly produced weapons with its own forces in Ukraine over supplying export partners," the ministry added.

The ministry's map, released earlier today, shows the areas of Ukraine currently under Russian control. It includes the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which Russia annexed in late September of 2022, and stretches south to Crimea.