War In Ukraine, Day 279: New Kherson Horrors More Than Two Weeks After Russian Withdrawal
While retreating from Kherson, Russian troops forcibly removed more than 2,500 Ukrainians from prison colonies and pre-trial detention centers in the southern region. Those removed included prisoners as well as a large number of civilians who had been held in prisons during the occupation, according to the Ukrainian human rights organization Alliance of Ukrainian Unity.
The NGO said it has evidence that these Ukrainians were first transferred to Crimea and then distributed to different prisons in Russia. During the transfer of the prisoners, Russian soldiers also reportedly stole valuables and food and mined the building of colony #61.
Ukrainian police have also begun investigating military crimes committed in the city and the region, which already number more than 460. Also, law enforcement officers found at least five rooms used for torture. Investigators report that prisoners of the Russian army were subjected to brutal abuse and interrogation using electric currents.
Meanwhile, violence in Kherson continues, even after Russian troops’ withdrawal, with heavy shelling reported in recent days, forcing a growing number of Ukrainians to flee. It is not clear if Russia is trying to consolidate its defensive positions across the Dnipro or if the air strikes are simply revenge after Russia lost the only Ukrainian regional capital it had conquered.
Kherson Horror On Belgian Daily Front Page
Flemish-language daily De Standaard is reporting from the “torture chambers of Kherson.” Speaking with a member of Ukrainian forces who says he was tortured for 75 days, the front page saying “I wasn’t expecting such horror.”
Russia Angered At Pope Calling Ethnic Minorities “Cruelest” Fighters
Russian officials have taken offense at Pope Francis singling out Buryats and Chechens as the “cruelest” of fighters involved in the war between Russia and Ukraine.
In an interview with the Catholic magazine America, the Pope said that when it comes to soldiers, “Generally, the cruelest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati and so on.”
Chechens, an ethnic group from southwestern Russia, are mostly Muslim – while Buryats are a Mongol ethnic group in Siberia who mainly follow Buddhist and shamanic principles.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova reacted to the pontiff’s comments through her official Telegram channel: “We are one family with Buryats, Chechens and other representatives of our multinational and multi-confessional country. And together we will definitely pray for the Holy See, each in our own way, but about the same thing — that we shall not be led into temptation. Amen.”
Russia-U.S. “Emergency Phone” Used Only Once Since Beginning Of War
A communications line was created between the U.S. and Russian armed forces at the start of Moscow’s war against Ukraine. It has only been used once since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, according to a U.S. official, speaking anonymously with Reuters.
The official said that the U.S. initiated a call through the line to communicate its concerns about Russian shelling around critical infrastructure in Ukraine. The line connects the U.S. military’s European Command and Russia's National Defense Management Center.
Although the U.S. official declined to specify which Russian activity raised the U.S. alarm, there have been publicly acknowledged incidents involving Russian fighting around critical Ukrainian infrastructure for instance shelling near Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant- currently under Russian control.
Christmas Trees To Be Set Up Around Kyiv
Christmas trees will be put up around the Ukraine capital despite the war. "We cannot let Putin steal our Christmas," Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told Ukrainian news outlet RBC-Ukraine.
Though large gatherings will continue to be prohibited under martial law, "no one is going to cancel the New Year and Christmas, and there should be an atmosphere of the New Year," Klitschko added.
The trees will be installed but without lights, according to Ukrainian energy company YASNO. Millions of Ukrainians are facing an energy crisis following Russian airstrikes targeting civilian infrastructure.
Zelenska Appeals To British Public: Our Fight Is Your Fight
UK First Lady and Ukrainian First Lady decorate the Christmas tree outside Downing Street.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska, appealed to the British public, on a visit to London, not to forget the “tragedy” facing Ukraine during Christmas, a few days after the war marked its 9-month mark.
"I realize that nine months is a very long time, and Ukrainians are very tired of this war, but we have no choice in the matter. We are fighting for our lives,” she said in a BBC radio interview. “The British public do have a choice. It’s not just a war for our freedom and our lives. This is the war of opposing worldviews: A war of values. It’s important that these are preserved." Zelenska is due to address the British Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
Pro-Ukraine Streaker Disrupts World Cup Game
A protester carrying a rainbow flag ran across the field during the World Cup game between Portugal and Uruguay. The protester was wearing a T-shirt with “Save Ukraine” on the front and “Respect for Iranian women” on the back.
The protestor was identified as Italian Mario Ferri by Italian press agency AGI. He has done similar protests before, including at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where he raised the issue of children living in poverty.