Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday called on Russians to "protest" the partial mobilisation announced by President Vladimir Putin, which sparked protests in Russia and a fresh exodus out of the country. Follow FRANCE 24's liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).
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03:27am: Russian men fleeing draft arrive in Turkey
Turkey is a relatively straightforward destination for Russians, who can still obtain three-month tourist visas at the airport. Many of the men fleeing the draft don't know if they'll return. FRANCE 24's Shona Bhattacharyya reports from Istanbul:
9:38pm: Zelensky calls on Russians to 'protest' against mobilisation
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday called on Russians to "protest" the partial mobilisation announced by Russia's leader Vladimir Putin.
"55,000 Russian soldiers died in these six months of war [... ] Do you want more? No? Then protest. Fight back, run away, or surrender" to the Ukrainian army, Zelensky said in his daily address.
9:07pm: Russia offering 'enormous discounts' on oil to China and India, US Treasury's Yellen says
A planned Western price cap on Russian oil is already making a difference, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Thursday, noting that Russia was now offering China and India "enormous discounts" while looking for other outlets for its oil.
Europe in December will halt the bulk of its purchases of 3 million barrels per day, putting additional pressure on Russia to find new buyers for its oil, Yellen told a conference hosted by The Atlantic magazine.
Europe was facing a tough winter with tight energy supplies as it decoupled from Russian energy, Yellen said. She said that could have some spillover effects on the US, but she "wouldn't exaggerate" the potential impact on US growth.
8:21pm: NATO says it will never recognize Russia's 'sham' referendums in Ukraine
NATO on Thursday condemned Moscow's plans to hold referendums in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine and called on all states to reject what it called "Russia's blatant attempts at territorial conquest".
"Sham referenda in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions of Ukraine have no legitimacy and will be a blatant violation of the UN Charter," the North Atlantic Council, grouping the member states of the alliance, said in a statement.
"NATO allies will not recognize their illegal and illegitimate annexation. These lands are Ukraine," it added.
Referendums on joining Russia are due to take place from Friday until Tuesday in several largely Russian-held regions in eastern and southern Ukraine, which comprise around 15 percent of the country's territory.
7:28pm: Missile strikes hit Ukraine hours after prisoner swap with Russia
Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanged missile and artillery barrages that killed at least seven people Thursday as both sides refused to concede any ground despite recent military setbacks for Moscow and the toll on the invaded country after almost seven months of war.
The exchange of fire came hours after the two sides made a major prisoner swap and the day after Russian President Vladimir Putin called up reserve troops to supplement his forces.
Officials in the Moscow-backed, separatist-controlled city of Donetsk said Ukrainian shelling killed at least six people. Russian missile strikes in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia left one person dead and five others wounded, Ukrainian officials said.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy of the Ukrainian president's office, said a hotel in Zaporizhzhia was struck and rescuers were trying to free people trapped in the rubble.
The governor of the Zaporizhzhia region, Oleksandr Starukh, said Russian forces had targeted infrastructure facilities and also damaged nearby apartment buildings.
7:24pm: Czechs say no visas for Russians fleeing call-up
The Czech Republic said Thursday it would not issue humanitarian visas to Russians fleeing their homeland to avoid mobilisation, taking a different stance than some of its European Union peers.
Russians have been rushing to find a way out of their country since President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday decided to mobilise 300,000 people for the war in Ukraine.
"I understand that Russians are fleeing from the increasingly desperate decisions taken by Putin," Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said in a statement obtained by AFP.
7:00pm: Many POWs freed by Russia had suffered torture, Ukrainian official says
The head of Ukraine's military intelligence said on Thursday the percentage of released Ukrainian prisoners of war who had suffered torture while in Russian detention was "rather high".
Kyrylo Budanov was speaking at a news conference a day after a prisoner swap was agreed between Russia and Ukraine involving almost 300 people, including foreigners.
Some of the Ukrainian POWs released by Russia were currently receiving rehabilitation in hospital in Ukraine, the country's interior minister, Denys Monastyrskyi, told the same news conference.
6:03pm: Kremlin spokesman backs son accused of dodging call-up
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended his son Thursday after opposition activists accused him of refusing orders to present himself at military mobilisation offices. It came after they made a prank call and shared recordings that went viral.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilisation Wednesday with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu saying that some 300,000 reservists would be called up.
In a video widely distributed across Russian social media, supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny phoned Peskov's son Nikolai posing as recruitment officers and ordered him to report for mobilisation.
5:53pm: Russia's Lavrov rejects Western accusations on Ukraine at Security Council
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday rejected Western accusations at a UN Security Council session on abuses in Ukraine, calling instead for punishment of Kyiv's government.
"The United States and their allies with the connivance of international human rights organisations have been covering the crimes of the Kyiv regime," Lavrov said after the Security Council heard accounts of abuses by Russian forces.
5:49pm: Ten thousand volunteers to fight in Ukraine, Russia says
Some 10,000 volunteers have turned up to enlist for Russia's military campaign in Ukraine without waiting for call-up papers issued under a partial mobilisation, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday, citing the Russian General Staff.
President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced Russia's first public mobilisation since World War II. His defence minister said it aimed to recruit 300,000 experienced specialists for Russia's campaign in Ukraine, which has recently suffered setbacks.
5:49pm: 'Sanctions are causing harm': Hungary to poll public on EU measures against Russia
Hungary's governing party said Thursday it wants to poll the country's citizens on whether they support European Union sanctions imposed on Russia over its war in Ukraine.
Fidesz plans to call for a "national consultation" on energy sanctions, which have been decided by the EU's "Brussels elite," the party's caucus leader, Mate Kocsis, said at a news conference on Thursday following a closed-door meeting.
"The sanctions are causing harm. They are destroying Europe's economy," Kocsis said. "We have to convince European decision-makers, the members of the elite, that they shouldn't maintain the energy sanctions because big problems will come out of it."
The "national consultation" poll is an informal survey available to every adult in Hungary that can be returned by mail or filled out online.
5:47pm: China hopes 'flame of war' will go out soon in Ukraine
An expanded and protracted Ukraine crisis is not in the interests of all parties, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting in New York on Wednesday.
China hopes that the "flame of war" will go out as soon as possible, a Chinese foreign ministry statement on Thursday cited Wang as saying.
5:44pm: War drives surges in Russian, Ukrainian emigration to Israel
Israel said Thursday that immigration to the country over the past 12 months hit a two-decade high, with influxes from Russia and war-torn Ukraine accounting for nearly three quarters of new arrivals.
In a statement issued days before the start of the Jewish New Year holiday, Rosh Hashana, Israel's immigration ministry said 60,000 Jews had moved to the country during the last Jewish calendar year, more than double the 28,000 recorded the previous year.
Among those to have immigrated to Israel, Russians accounted for 47 percent, while 25 percent were people who came from Ukraine.
Under Israel's law of return, anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent is entitled to Israeli citizenship.
5:42pm: Zelensky hails commanders freed in prisoner swap as 'superheroes'
President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed as "superheroes" the senior Ukrainian commanders, including those who led the dogged defence of Mariupol, who were freed by Russia as part of a prisoner swap involving almost 300 people.
Under the terms of the deal, which Turkey helped broker, 215 Ukrainians - most captured after the fall of the port city - were released on Wednesday. In exchange, Ukraine sent back 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians.
Ten foreigners were also freed following mediation by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has maintained close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
5:40pm: Five British men imprisoned in Ukraine arrive home
Five British men released from detention by Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine in a prisoner swap are now back home, a group campaigning for their liberation said Thursday.
"We know that all are back safely in the UK now and looking forward to normality with their families after this horrific ordeal," humanitarian organisation Presidium Network said in a statement emailed to AFP.
UK Prime Minister Liz Truss tweeted Wednesday that the men's release was "hugely welcome".
Five British men - Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner, Dylan Healy, John Harding and Andrew Hill - were released as part of a record-high prisoner swap that also freed US, Moroccan, Swedish and Croatian nationals as well as Ukrainian and separatist fighters and a major pro-Moscow politician.
5:15pm: World 'can't let Putin get away with it', Blinken tells UN Security Council
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday urged the world to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable for the invasion of Ukraine, at a UN Security Council meeting attended by Russia.
"The very international order we've gathered here to uphold is being shredded before our eyes. We cannot - we will not - let President Putin get away with it," Blinken said.
4:30pm: UN chief urges probe into 'catalogue of cruelty' in Ukraine
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday urged a probe into the "catalogue of cruelty" in the war in Ukraine as he opened a Security Council meeting with the top Russian and US diplomats.
Reports from the United Nations rights body show "a catalog of cruelty - summary executions, sexual violence, torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment against civilians and prisoners of war", Guterres said.
"All these allegations must be thoroughly investigated, to ensure accountability," he said, without directly pointing the finger at Russia.
"Perpetrators must be held to account in fair and independent judicial proceedings. Victims and their families have a right to justice, remedy and reparation."
4:28 pm: 'Heated exchanges' expected on Ukraine at UN Security Council
"We can expect some diplomatic sparring, some heated exchanges between those foreign ministers, especially Russia's [Sergei] Lavrov, Ukraine's [Dmytro] Kuleba and the United States' [Antony] Blinken" as the UN Security Council convenes on Thursday, FRANCE 24's Jessica Le Masurier reported from New York. "This is the first high-level Security Council meeting - the first ministerial level Security Council meeting - since the war started on February 24. It's also the first formal Security Council meeting that is focused on accountability; it's titled 'The Fight Against Impunity in Ukraine' - and it's the signature event for France's presidency of the Council, and will be hosted by France's Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna."
We can expect a lot of talk about Russia's alleged war crimes committed during its war of aggression in Ukraine, Le Masurier continued: "There'll be a lot of talk about what happened in Bucha, about alleged atrocities committed in Kyiv, and also about these more recent findings - these discoveries of mass graves in Izium just last week; [...] we're going to hear a lot more details on that."
At the same time, Le Masurier concluded, "we could hear some level of frustration from other Security Council members about just how paralysed the Council has been when it comes to trying to stop the war in Ukraine - and that is largely because a permanent member of the Security Council, with a veto, Russia, is directly involved in this conflict".
4:14pm: UN chief says nuclear war talk 'unacceptable' after Putin threat
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Thursday that talk of a nuclear conflict is "totally unacceptable" and any annexation of a state's territory by another state through the threat or use of force is a violation of the UN Charter and international law.
This comes after Vladimir Putin announced in a televised speech on Wednesday moves to annex swaths of Ukrainian territory - using what many see as pseudo-referendums, which are planned for Friday - and threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend all territory Moscow sees as part of the Russian Federation. "It's not a bluff," he declared.
4:14pm: 'Not just young kids' protesting in Russia
More than 1,300 people have been arrested in anti-mobilisation protests in 38 cities across Russia, as many Russians voiced fear and anger over President Vladimir Putin's announcement on Wednesday. "These appear to be organic protests," said FRANCE 24 Russia correspondent Nick Holdsworth, speaking from Turin, Italy. "Since the jailing of Alexei Navalny [upon his return to Moscow in January 2021, after recovering in Germany from nerve-agent poisoning widely seen as ordered by the Kremlin], basically there is no central coordination for such protests as there used to be."
Looking at events in Russia from the outside on Wednesday evening, "there was a lot of stuff on social media - people posting, saying 'let's gather here, at this time, at this square in Moscow, St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg or other cities where protests occurred", Holdsworth continued. It appeared from social media channels that, in provincial Russia, "some of those protests were tiny; there were pictures from a Siberian city of just a few people, and a young woman with a poster being taken by the police".
"And then a little bit later, with the time changes across Russia, there in Moscow, really quite large protests," Holdsworth went on. "Popping up on Facebook, messages from friends - one saying he'd been arrested; a little bit later, 'update, I'm with these people in this police station' he mentioned quite a well-known Russian poet [...] and others who had been arrested with him. So these are not just young kids, these are mature people, in their 40s and 50s [...] mothers going out saying they don't want their sons to be thrown into this war."
Although the protests were "quickly quashed", Holdsworth concluded, "it is significant that Russians came out in such numbers last night [...] - that's the first time this has occurred since the beginning of the invasion on February 24."
3:56pm: 'Surprising' to see Ukraine didn't hand over more prisoners
The Ukraine-Russia prisoner swap is "clearly a triumph for Ukrainians because the defenders of Azovstal [steel plant in Mariupol] are legendary people for Ukrainians, so it's great to get them back alive; had there been a show trial of them in Russia, that would have definitely dealt some blow to morale in Ukraine," said Kadri Liik, a senior policy fellow specialising in Russia at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. "It is slightly surprising to see the Russian numbers; if Russia only got 55 people plus [Ukrainian Putin ally Viktor] Medvedchuk, that makes you wonder. It doesn't seem like an equal exchange."
"I sort of expected that exchange after the battles of recent weeks; Ukraine was reported to have taken many Russians prisoner and that [...] opened up a way for an exchange, including one involving Azovstal fighters," Liik continued. "But I'm slightly surprised that Ukraine didn't hand back more people; that the numbers were not more equivalent. So it will be interesting to know who the Russians are besides Medvedchuk."
3:49pm: 'Massive morale boost' to Ukraine from Mariupol commanders' release
The Ukraine-Russia prisoner swap saw "215 Ukrainian soldiers released, 10 foreign fighters, and among those released were those five important commanders who were very involved in the siege of Mariupol and who defended it so strongly", recounted FRANCE 24 international affairs editor Angela Diffley.
"Worth noting as well that the United States has thanked Zelensky for making sure that foreign fighters were included and says that shows how much they care for those who were fighting alongside them. And it's very important to note the massive morale boost which will be generated by the release of five commanders who were involved in the Mariupol siege; they are huge national icons in Ukraine."
On the Russian side, "55 soldiers, and this very close personal ally of Vladimir Putin, Viktor Medvedchuk. [...] It's thought that this is an important morale boost for Putin, who is badly in need of a morale boost [...] these two men are very, very close. [Medvedchuk] is a Ukrainian but very pro-Russian [...] he was arrested right at the beginning of the war, put under house arrest; he then escaped, he was recaptured by the Ukrainians, and has finally been handed over, according to Zelensky, after he has given them all the information they might want."
2:21pm: Orban wants EU sanctions on Russia lifted by end of year
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban wants EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine lifted by the end of the year, a pro-government newspaper said Thursday.
Orban, who has sought close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years, has frequently railed against the sanctions, saying they are hurting Europe more than Russia.
Magyar Nemzet reported that Orban urged members of his Fidesz party at a closed-door gathering late Wednesday to get the sanctions lifted.
"Orban called on the members of the Fidesz faction to do their utmost to ensure that Europe lifts these sanctions by the end of the year at the latest," the paper said.
2:07pm: US to step up its criticism of Russia at UN Security Council
The United States and its allies plan to ramp up criticism of Russia for its war in Ukraine on Thursday and press other countries to join in their forceful condemnations of the conflict.
A day after President Joe Biden assailed Russian leader Vladimir Putin for what he called egregious violations of the UN Charter and international law, the US will make the case at the UN Security Council that Russia should face further censure and isolation for its invasion, senior US officials said.
The officials said Secretary of State Antony Blinken will confront his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at a council meeting with a litany of allegations of war crimes and other atrocities and call on countries that have yet to speak out forcefully against them as an affront to international order.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to preview what they expect will be a 15-minute presentation by Blinken.
12:43pm: Russian draft spurs exodus as airfares soar
Russian men rushed for the exits on Thursday after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilisation, with traffic at border crossings with Finland and Georgia surging and prices for air tickets from Moscow rocketing.
Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia's first mobilisation since World War II and backed a plan to annex swathes of Ukraine, warning the West he was not bluffing when he said he'd be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.
Prices for air tickets out of Moscow soared above $5,000 for one-way tickets to the nearest foreign locations, with most air tickets sold out completely for coming days.
Social media groups popped up with advice on how to get out of Russia while one news site in Russian gave a list of "where to run away right now from Russia". There were long tailbacks at border crossings with Georgia.
12:28pm: EU says members will need joint position on Russians arriving at borders
The EU will need to establish a joint position on requests for entry by Russians fleeing their country due to the war in Ukraine, the bloc's executive said on Thursday.
The EU Commission said, however, that member states will have to assess requests on a case-by-case basis, taking into account fundamental rights and asylum procedure legislation.
Commission spokesperson Peter Stano noted reports of many Russians trying to leave the country after President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation on Wednesday, and said half a million have left since the invasion of Ukraine in February.
11:08am: Russia could use nuclear weapons to defend new territory, says ex-president
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday that any weapons in Moscow's arsenal, including strategic nuclear weapons, could be used to defend territories joined to Russia from Ukraine.
Medvedev, who also serves as deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, said that referendums planned by Russian-installed and separatist authorities in large swathes of Ukrainian territory will take place, and "there is no going back".
"The Western establishment and all citizens of NATO countries in general need to understand that Russia has chosen its own path," Medvedev said.
10:57am: Macron says West must stand firm against Russian 'blackmail'
Ukraine's allies must stand firm against Russian President Vladimir Putin's "blackmail" of suggesting that nuclear weapons could be used in the war against Kyiv, French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview broadcast on Thursday.
"Our task is to hold our line, that is to say, help Ukraine as we are doing, to protect its territory and never to attack Russia," Macron told BFM television during his return from the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday.
10:52am: Russia has 'exhausted supply of willing volunteers', says UK defence ministry
Russia's "partial mobilisation" of reservist troops is equivalent to an admission that the country has "exhausted it's supply of willing volunteers to fight in Ukraine" the UK's ministry of defence said Thursday.
In a tweet it said that Russia would struggle to enlist the 300,000 extra troops announced on Wednesday due to logistical and administrative challenges and that those who were mobilised would take months to train.
08:12am: Released prisoners include defenders of Azovstal steelworks, Ukraine says
Ukrainian authorities said they handed over 55 Russian prisoners in return for 215 Ukrainian prisoners from Russia in an unexpected exchange on Wednesday. Released prisoners include officers, fighter pilots and high-profile commanders, such as those who defended the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.
"Why has this happened? It's hard to say," said Daniel Hawkins, reporting for FRANCE 24 in Moscow. "It could be a goodwill gesture from Moscow, or it could be a desire to send some mixed messages and throw Putin's western counterparts off guard."
04:07am: EU ministers agree to prepare new sanctions targeting Russia
European Union ministers agreed to push ahead with new sanctions targeting Russia at an informal meeting on Wednesday, the bloc's foreign policy chief said, hours after President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilisation of 300,000 reservists to join the war in Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters in New York, Josep Borrell said the 27 states had made the political decision to apply new sectorial and individual measures. The ministers had also agreed to continue supplying more weapons to Ukraine.
03:42am: Truss at UN vows UK military aid 'until Ukraine prevails'
British Prime Minister Liz Truss vowed Wednesday before the United Nations to keep up military aid to war-ravaged Ukraine until it triumphs against Russia.
Truss became the latest Western leader at the UN General Assembly in New York to rail against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hours earlier mobilized reservists in a clear sign he is in no rush to end the conflict.
Putin's move only highlights the "catastrophic failure" of Russia's invasion of its neighbor, and reinforced the resolve of Western allies to back Kyiv, she said.
"We will not rest until Ukraine prevails," Truss told the UN General Assembly on her first trip since taking office, noting that "new UK weapons are arriving in Ukraine as I speak."
"At this crucial moment in the conflict, I pledge that we will sustain or increase our military support to Ukraine for as long as it takes."
03:09am: G7 countries agree on unity in Ukraine support, Japan says
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies confirmed in a meeting in New York on Wednesday their cooperation in extending support for Ukraine and responding to food and energy security, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
The development came after President Vladimir Putin announced Russia's first wartime mobilisation since World War Two and moves to annex swaths of Ukrainian territory, and threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.
01:30am: Ukraine, Russia exchange nearly 300 prisoners
Russia and Ukraine carried out an unexpected prisoner swap on Wednesday, the largest since the war began and involving almost 300 people, including 10 foreigners and the commanders who led a prolonged Ukrainian defence of Mariupol earlier this year.
The foreigners released included two Britons and a Moroccan who had been sentenced to death in June after being captured fighting for Ukraine. Also freed were three other Britons, two Americans, a Croatian, and a Swedish national.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)