No let-up in hostilities in Ukraine despite prisoner swap

Russian missile strikes in the southern city of Zaporizhzha left one person dead and five others wounded, Ukrainian officials said Thursday, while officials in the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk said Ukrainian shelling killed at least five people.

It was a stark signal that hostilities haven’t diminished despite a high-profile prisoner swap just hours earlier.

Zaporizhzhia Gov. Oleksandr Starukh said Russian forces targeted infrastructure facilities and also damaged nearby apartment buildings.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy of the Ukrainian president’s office, said a hotel in the central part of the city was struck and rescuers were on the scene trying to free people trapped in the rubble.

The Zaporizhzhia region is one of four in which Russia is planning to hold referendums starting Friday on becoming part of Russia, but the city itself is in Ukrainian hands.

Meanwhile, Donetsk city mayor Alexei Kulemzin said at least five people where killed when Ukrainian shelling Thursday hit a covered market and a passenger minibus.

Just hours before the latest attacks, a high-profile prisoner swap saw 215 Ukrainian and foreign fighters exchanged — 200 of them for a single person, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among the freed fighters were Ukrainian defenders of a steel plant in Mariupol during a long Russian siege and 10 foreigners, including five British nationals and two U.S. military veterans, who had fought with Ukrainian forces.

A video on the BBC news website Thursday showed two of the released British men, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, speaking inside a plane. It said they had arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“We just want to let everyone know that we’re now out of the danger zone and we’re on our way home to our families,” Aslin said in the video, as Pinner added: “By the skin of our teeth.”

The speed with which the Russian missile attack came after the swap suggested that the Kremlin was seeking to dispel any notion of weakness or waning determination to achieve its war aims following recent battlefield losses and setbacks that gravely undercut the aura of Russian military might.

Those losses culminated Wednesday in Putin’s order for a partial mobilization of reservists Wednesday to bolster his forces in Ukraine that sparked rare protests in the Russia and was derided in the West as an act of weakness and desperation.

The partial call-up was short on details, raising concerns of a wider draft that sent some Russians scrambling to buy plane tickets to flee the country.

The move preceded referendums that authorities in Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine are preparing to hold on becoming part of Russia — a move that could allow Moscow to escalate the war. The votes start Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.

Foreign leaders are already calling the votes illegitimate and nonbinding. Zelenskyy said they were a “sham” and “noise” to distract the public.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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