KYIV, Ukraine — Seven Ukrainian soldiers and seven civilians have been released in a prisoner swap Saturday with Russia, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on social media.
““We’re bringing home 14 of our people: seven military personnel and seven civilians,“Vereshchuk wrote on Facebook and Telegram. “To me, this exchange is special: one of the female soldiers is five months pregnant.”
As of Saturday afternoon, the swap had not been confirmed by official Russian sources.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Ukrainian forces fight Russia’s grinding advance in eastern Donbas region
— Wives of Mariupol defenders appeal for soldiers’ evacuation from final holdout
— Some Ukrainians go back across front line toward homes, despite dangers
— Ukrainian women learn how to clear land mines at course in Kosovo
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
NEW YORK — Prices for Russian credit default swaps — insurance contracts that protect an investor against a default — plunged sharply overnight after Moscow used its precious foreign currency reserves to make a last-minute debt payment on Friday.
The cost for a five-year credit default swap on Russian debt was $5.84 million to protect $10 million in debt. That price was more than double that on Thursday, roughly $11 million for $10 million in debt protection, a signal that investors were certain of a default.
Despite the plunge, investors remain largely convinced that Russia will eventually default on its debts for the first time since 1917.
The major ratings agencies Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have declared Russia is in “selective default” on its obligations and earlier this week, the governing body over CDS contracts declared Russia in default.
Ukraine evacuated more people Saturday in the eastern town of Lyman in the fiercely fought-over region of Donetsk, where at least half the residents have fled Russian shelling since the start of the war.
About 20 mostly elderly people boarded a minivan amid the sounds of outgoing artillery and explosions in the distance. All the shops in the almost-empty town were closed and those who decided to remain rely on aid distributed by groups including the Ukrainian Red Cross.
Those who remain say they are either too old, don’t know where to go or don’t want to leave their homes unattended. They seek shelter in their basements whenever the shelling starts.
Meanwhile, in Dobropillya, further to the west, Russian shelling hit the town on Saturday, damaging buildings and slightly injuring seven people including three children, according to authorities.
Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister says Russian forces are seizing vast amounts of grain in territory they hold, while its president says the war-torn country is facing fuel shortages.
“Today, there are confirmed facts that several hundred thousand tons of grain in total were taken out of the Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” minister Taras Vysotsky told Ukrainian television on Saturday.
Ukraine is one of the world’s major grain producers and the Russian invasion has curtailed exports, pushing up world grain prices and raising concerns about severe grain shortages in importing countries.
Ukraine is also facing fuel shortages as Russia destroys its fuel infrastructure and blocks its ports, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday night.
Fuel shortages have been reported in Kyiv, Dnipro and other cities. Vehicles can be seen lining up at gas stations and drivers in most places can purchase only 10 liters (2.6 gallons) of fuel at a time.
Zelenskyy promised that officials would find a fuel supply system within a week or two to prevent a deficit but called it a “difficult task” after the refinery at Kremenchuk was hit by a Russian missile.
But, Zelenskyy said, “there are no immediate solutions.”
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has conveyed to Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy his “wish to actively work to re-establish the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine during his second mandate,” in coordination with allies, the presidential Elysee Palace says.
Macron assured Zelenskyy in their hourlong conversation Saturday that “military material” and humanitarian assistance would keep flowing to Ukraine, the Elysee said.
France has so far sent 615 tons of equipment and aid, including generators for hospitals, ambulances and food. France has been coy about its contribution in defensive weapons, but Macron recently mentioned Milan anti-tank missiles and a delivery of truck-mounted Caesar cannons among “consequential equipment.”
“This support will continue to strengthen,” the French president told Zelenskyy, according to the Elysee.
Macron was re-elected president of France six days ago. During his first term, Macron held numerous conversations with both Zelenskyy and Russian leader Vladimir Putin since Russia’s invasion Feb. 24.
LVIV, Ukraine — Russia’s foreign minister says Moscow has evacuated over 1 million people from Ukraine since the war there began.
The comments Saturday by Sergey Lavrov in an interview with Chinese state news agency Xinhua come as Ukraine has accused Moscow of forcefully sending Ukrainians out of the country. Lavrov said that figure included more than 300 Chinese civilians.
Lavrov offered no evidence to support his claim in the interview.
Lavrov also said that negotiations continue between Russia and Ukraine “almost every day.” However, he cautioned that “progress has not been easy.”
Lavrov in part blamed “the bellicose rhetoric and inflammatory actions of Western supporters of the Kyiv regime” for disrupting the talks. However, Russian state TV nightly has had guests who suggest that Moscow use nuclear weapons in the conflict.
LVIV, Ukraine — The British military believes Russian forces in Ukraine are likely suffering from “weakened morale.”
The British Defense Ministry made that assessment in a tweet Saturday as part of a daily report it provides on Russia’s war on Kyiv.
It says Russia “still faces considerable challenges” in fighting. The British military believes Russian forces have “been forced to merge and redeploy depleted and disparate units from the failed advances in northeast Ukraine.”
It offered no information on how it arrived at this assessment. However, analysts believe Russian forces that failed to take Kyiv at the start of the war have been redeployed without the time needed to properly rearm and restaff.
The British believe Russia hopes to reorganize its effort and shorten supply lines.
The ministry added: “A lack of unit-level skills and inconsistent air support have left Russia unable to fully leverage its combat mass, despite localized improvements.”
WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. defense official said Friday the Russian offensive is going much slower than planned in part because of the strength of the Ukrainian resistance.
“We also assess that because of this slow and uneven progress, again, without perfect knowledge of every aspect of the Russian plan, we do believe and assess that they are behind schedule in what they were trying to accomplish in the Donbas,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. military’s assessment.
He said the U.S. believes the Russians are “at least several days behind where they wanted to be” as they try to encircle Ukrainian troops in the east.
As the troops try to move north out of Mariupol so they can advance on Ukrainian forces from the south, their progress has been “slow and uneven, and certainly not decisive, in any event,” the official said.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of trying to destroy the Donbas and all who live there.
“The constant brutal bombardments, the constant Russian strikes on infrastructure and residential areas show that Russia wants to empty this territory of all people. Therefore, the defense of our land, the defense of our people, is literally a fight for life,” he said late Friday in his nightly video address to the nation.
He said the cities and towns of the Donbas will survive only if Ukraine remains standing. “If the Russian invaders are able to realize their plans even partially, then they have enough artillery and aircraft to turn the entire Donbas into stones. As they did with Mariupol.”
Zelenskyy said Mariupol, once one of the most developed cities in the region, was now a “Russian concentration camp among the ruins.”
In Kharkiv, a major city to the north, the situation was “brutal” but Ukrainian troops and intelligence agents “have had important tactical successes,” he said without elaborating.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said about 20% of the city’s residential buildings have been so badly damaged that it will be impossible to restore them.
Zelenskyy said rescuers were still going through the rubble in Kyiv after Thursday’s missile strikes. He expressed his condolences to the family of Vira Hyrych, who was killed in the bombardment. He said she was the 23rd journalist killed in the war.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appears to have dismissed the need for the United Nations to help secure humanitarian corridors out of Ukraine’s besieged cities, striking a tough line a day after the U.N. chief toured war-wracked Kyiv with that very aim.
As an interviewer at Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV tried to ask Lavrov about U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ proposals for humanitarian assistance and evacuation of civilians, Lavrov cut him off.
“There is no need. I know, I know,” an irritated Lavrov said. “There is no need for anybody to provide help to open humanitarian corridors. There is only one problem … humanitarian corridors are being ignored by Ukrainian ultra-nationals,” he said.
“We appreciate the interest of the secretary-general to be helpful,” he added. “(We have) explained … what is the mechanism for them to monitor how the humanitarian corridors are announced.”
During the hourlong interview, Lavrov also accused the West of sabotaging Russia’s peace talks with Ukraine. He claimed that thorny negotiations in Istanbul last month had been progressing on issues of Russian territorial claims and security guarantees until Ukrainian diplomats backtracked at the behest of the West.
“We are stuck because of their desire to play games all the time,” Lavrov said. “Because of the instructions they get Washington, from London, from some other capitals, not to accelerate the negotiations.”
When asked about the risks of war spilling into neighboring Moldova after a series of explosions rattled a breakaway border region within the country, Lavrov struck an ominous tone.
“Moldova should worry about their own future,” he said. “Because they’re being pulled into NATO.”