December 19, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Jack Guy, Eliza Mackintosh, Aditi Sangal and Leinz Vales, CNN

Updated 1:36 a.m. ET, December 20, 2022
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2:05 a.m. ET, December 19, 2022

Freed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout visits occupied Ukraine

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Viktor Bout attends a convention of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) in Moscow, Russia on December 12.
Viktor Bout attends a convention of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) in Moscow, Russia on December 12. (LDPR/Handout/Reuters)

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 he was glad to visit 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 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 ally Syria.

8:41 p.m. ET, December 18, 2022

Crews have fully restored heat supply in Kyiv after missile attacks

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

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 past 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.

8:40 p.m. ET, December 18, 2022

One dead in strikes on Russian region near Ukraine, Belgorod governor says

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

One person was reported dead and eight people were injured in the Russian region of Belgorod on Sunday following shelling by Ukrainian forces, according to the regional governor.

“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,” Gov. Vyacheslav 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 medical assistance was provided at the scene of the strikes and there was also damage to 14 residential buildings and several cars in the area.

Belgorod, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the Ukrainian border, has been struck previously. On Nov. 15, the governor said two people had been killed by Ukrainian shelling.

On Dec. 8, Gladkov said the region was once again shelled by Ukrainian armed forces. Gladkov said on Telegram that the city had sustained damage to a power line caused by “shell fragment.”

8:39 p.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

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.”