December 18, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Matt Meyer, Mike Hayes and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:53 a.m. ET, December 19, 2022
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3:16 p.m. ET, December 18, 2022

Freed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout visits occupied Ukraine

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Viktor Bout is seen in Moscow on December 12.
Viktor Bout is seen in Moscow on December 12. (Aleksandr Sivov/Press Service of Liberal Democratic Party of Russia/AP)

Freed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was recently exchanged in a prisoner swap with WNBA star Brittney Griner, visited the Russian-occupied city of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine on Saturday, according to Russian state media.  

Bout attended an opening event for the Luhansk branch of the pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR).

Bout said that he was glad to visit the city of Luhansk for the first time and expressed confidence that the occupied region "would soon be peaceful, and people would live without fear for their future," Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported Sunday. 

Leader of the ultra-nationalist LDPR Leonid Slutsky said they had to change their route to Luhansk twice due to the fact that "high-precision weapons were working nearby.” 

“But this could not cancel our visit to Luhansk, because this is a point of no return. Donbas and Russia are together forever. We will come here under any conditions," Slutsky said according to the state media report.

Last week, Bout told Russia's RT that he “wholeheartedly” supports Moscow’s so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine and that if he had the opportunity and necessary skills, he would certainly go as a volunteer fighter.

More background: Luhansk is part of the broader Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, and it is one of four territories annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in defiance of international law.

Moscow-backed separatists control the territory under the self-proclaimed title of the Luhansk People's Republic, which is not recognized by Ukraine or any other nation outside of Russia and its close ally Syria.

2:53 p.m. ET, December 18, 2022

Russian shelling in Kherson region kills 3 people and leaves 6 wounded, Ukrainian official says

From Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv and Lauren Kent in London

Three people have been killed and six people wounded in attacks from Russian forces in Ukraine's Kherson region Sunday, according to a local Ukrainian official.

Fifty-four shells have fallen in the region over the last day, said Yuri Sobolevsky, deputy head of the Kherson regional council.

"Unfortunately, we have dozens of wounded and dozens of dead since the beginning of the de-occupation," Sobolevsky said, referring to Ukraine's liberation of Kherson city and the intense fighting that has taken place in the surrounding area since.

"We understand that we will have such a situation for some time, because until the Armed Forces of Ukraine de-occupy the left bank (of the Dnipro River), the enemy has the opportunity to shell Kherson and other settlements with MLRS, artillery, mortars," Sobolevsky said, speaking in a telethon. 

He also said the electricity infrastructure in Kherson is now working, but noted that several communities are still left without power supply.

Sobolevsky also claimed that Russian forces have attacked humanitarian infrastructure, including medical facilities, humanitarian centers and a geriatric care center.

"It seems that they are really just shelling at residential areas indiscriminately," he said. 

Some background: The jubilation that followed Ukraine’s success in liberating Kherson city has given way to weeks of deadly fighting in the surrounding area.

Russian forces have staked out positions east of the Dnipro River and have repeatedly shelled settlements where Ukraine is trying to reestablish control.

4:30 p.m. ET, December 18, 2022

Crews have fully restored heat supply in the Ukrainian capital after missile attacks

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy

Residents in Kyiv charge their mobile phones at a "Points of Invincibility" center on December 17.
Residents in Kyiv charge their mobile phones at a "Points of Invincibility" center on December 17. (Danylo Antoniuk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Heating has been fully restored in Kyiv Sunday, two days after a barrage of Russian missiles targeted the city.

“All heat supply sources are operating normally,” Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a post on Telegram, adding that public utilities will work throughout Sunday on “individual buildings, where there may be minor heating problems.” 

The broader Kyiv region, however, continues to grapple with electricity supply issues. More than 600,000 people, which is 50% of the region’s residents, are currently without power, the head of Kyiv's regional military administration said on Ukrainian TV. 

Crews restored power supply to the areas most affected by the shelling over the course of the last two days, said the official, Oleksiy Kuleba.

But “there are still several difficult areas where there is no electricity,” Kuleba continued, adding that the district of Bucha in particular is facing supply issues. 

Across the region, 410 service centers, known as "invincibility points," are now operating, where the region’s residents can charge their phones and receive hot drinks, Kuleba said. Sometimes over 100 people stay in one center.

1:56 p.m. ET, December 18, 2022

Ukrainian shelling kills 1 person and wounds 8 in Russian region near the border, local leader says

From Uliana Pavlova

An image posted by regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov shows damage in Belgorod, Russia, on December 18.
An image posted by regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov shows damage in Belgorod, Russia, on December 18. (Vyacheslav Gladkov/Telegram)

Ukrainian shelling left one person dead and eight people injured in the Russian region of Belgorod on Sunday, according to the regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.

Gladkov has been updating the injury figures on his Telegram account.

"One person died. It is known that the man came to us from Tambov and worked as a contractor on the construction of a poultry farm," Gladkov said on Telegram. "I express my condolences to the families and friends of the deceased."

"Eight people were injured, seven are now in the hospital, one of them is in intensive care. All necessary medical assistance is provided. Another victim refused hospitalization and was sent for outpatient treatment," Gladkov said on Sunday afternoon.

CNN has not independently verified Gladkov's report.

1:59 p.m. ET, December 18, 2022

CNN Exclusive: Ukraine criticizes FIFA for refusing to show Zelensky's message of peace at World Cup final

From CNN's Matthew Chance

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at a press conference on June 16.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at a press conference on June 16. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine is criticizing FIFA for refusing to show a video message from President Volodymyr Zelensky in Qatar’s Lusail Stadium ahead of the World Cup final Sunday. 

The video, which was recorded in English, was meant to be an “appeal for peace,” according to a written statement provided to CNN by Ukraine’s presidential office Saturday. 

"Qatar supported the President’s initiative, but FIFA blocked the initiative and will not allow the video address of the president to be shown before the final game," the statement said. 

CNN has reached out to FIFA but has not received a comment. Qatar has not publicly commented on the request from Ukraine.

CNN first reported on the story when a source within Zelensky’s office said the request to deliver the video message had been rebuffed.  

CNN received a video copy of President Zelensky’s pre-recorded speech on Saturday.

During the 1 minute, 43 second video, Zelensky says soccer is meant to bring the world together and calls for "the World Cup, but not world war."

"This World Cup proved time again that different countries and nationalities can decide who is the strongest in the fair play, but not in the playing with fire — on the green playing field and not on the red battlefield," Zelensky says in the address. 

The Ukrainian presidential office told CNN they were informed that FIFA regarded the message as too political and said they had sent a copy of the text of the address to FIFA headquarters in Switzerland on Friday.

"There is nothing political in the president's appeal that gives political color to the sporting event, namely, there are no subjective evaluations, political signals, and even more so no accusations," the statement said. 

The Ukrainian presidential office added there is "still time for FIFA to correct their error.” 

"FIFA should not be afraid that words of peace will be heard at the global soccer celebration that represents peace," the statement said.

Ukraine’s presidential office also said it will distribute the video independently if FIFA doesn’t air it. It said the organization's decision to block the clip would show "FIFA has lost its valuable understanding of soccer — as a game that unites peoples, rather than supporting existing divisions."

8:18 a.m. ET, December 18, 2022

Zelensky: 6 million Ukrainians have power again, but big problems remain for water supply

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Electricity has been restored for millions of Ukrainians Saturday, but challenges remain for crews scrambling to recover from Friday's barrage of Russian missiles, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday.

“During the day, it was possible to restore the electricity supply to almost 6 million Ukrainians,” Zelensky said during his nightly address. 

He added that repair work "has been going on nonstop since yesterday's terrorist attack.” 

Zelensky noted there are still problems with heat supply and “big problems with the supply of water exist” in parts of the country. 

The president said the areas facing “the most difficult situation” include Kyiv, Lviv and Vinnytsia.

He mentioned several other areas still dealing with “large-scale outages," including the city of Dnipro and the regions of Dnipropetrovsk, Volyn, Zhytomyr, Zakarpattia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Odesa, Poltava, Ternopil and Chernihiv. 

Another call for air defenses: Zelensky again appealed to international partners to provide Ukraine with the means to defend its airspace.

“Find an opportunity to give Ukraine reliable protection of the sky, a reliable air defense shield. You can do it," he said. “When this happens, the main form of Russian terror – missile terror – will become simply impossible.” 

CNN was first to report on Tuesday that the Biden administration is finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine, according to two US officials and a senior administration official. If the US sends the system, it would mark a significant new US contribution to protecting the country's infrastructure.

Russia issued a cryptic warning that such a shipment would provoke "unpredictable consequences."

8:18 a.m. ET, December 18, 2022

"We cannot let Putin steal our Christmas": Kyiv decorates 40-foot tree with energy-saving garlands

From CNN's Gabby Gretner

Workers set up a Christmas tree in Sophia Square on December 16, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Workers set up a Christmas tree in Sophia Square on December 16, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

In Kyiv's Sofia Square, a Christmas tree that is 12 meters (nearly 40 feet) tall will be decorated with "energy-saving garlands" that will be powered by a generator at specific times, according to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

Klitschko posted a progress report of the artificial tree's installation to his Telegram account, as the city continues to experience power outages due to Friday's Russian missile strikes

Roughly 1,000 blue and yellow balls and white doves will decorate the tree, with a trident placed on top, the mayor said. Flags of countries that are supporting Ukraine will be placed at the bottom of the tree.

There will be no Christmas markets, mass entertainment events or rides in Sophia Square this year.

Last month, Klitschko told Ukrainian news outlet RBC-Ukraine the city's Christmas trees will still be installed amid the war “to remind our children of the New Year mood.”

“No one is going to cancel the New Year and Christmas, and there should be an atmosphere of the New Year,” Klitschko told the network. “We cannot let Putin steal our Christmas.”

8:18 a.m. ET, December 18, 2022

1 killed and 2 injured in shelling of Kherson suburbs, Ukrainian presidential official says

From CNN's Mariya Knight

The suburbs of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson came under Russian shelling on Saturday morning, causing one death and two others to be hospitalized, according to the deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.   

“One woman died from injuries and two more people are in the hospital,” Kyrylo Tymoshenko said in a post on his Telegram account. "The enemy strike damaged the building of the school, hospital and church.” 

A strike took place in Stepanivka, which is located just outside of Kherson, Tymoshenko said. He said the village was shelled by mortars, and a humanitarian aid headquarters was hit. 

Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the Kherson region military administration, said a facility for the elderly was also hit in the attack.

“The Russian army struck the Kherson geriatric center in the village of Stepanivka,” Yanushevych said on Telegram Saturday. “The occupiers vilely targeted an institution that provides assistance to the elderly.” 

According to Yanushevych, “the gates were destroyed, the windows and doors were broken, and damage was done to the roof and the porch” of the geriatric center. 

“Fortunately, there were no casualties or injuries,” he added.