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Ukraine war latest: Ukraine recaptures fresh territory as annexation polls open

Ukrainian soldiers have recaptured territory in the eastern region of Donetsk, as Moscow-proxies held votes on annexation by Russia.

A senior army official said its forces had taken back the village of Yatskivka and "also regained control over positions to the south of Bakhmut".

It came as voting on so-called "referendums" began in Donetsk and three other regions occupied by Russian troops to declare independence and join Russia.

The polls have been widely condemned in the west as illegitimate since they were announced on Tuesday.

A day later Vladimir Putin threatened nuclear retaliation over what he called western threats on Russian territory.

Much of the populations in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces have fled since the war started in February, with parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions under the control of Russian proxies since 2014.

Follow the latest updates below.

06:54 PM

That's all for tonight

Today's top stories included:

  • The UN commission says war crimes have been committed in Ukraine

  • Putin is not threatening anyone with nuclear weapons, says his deputy foreign minister

  • 'Sham' referendums begin in four occupied areas of Ukraine

  • Russians flee country after Putin's mobilisation order

  • 436 bodies exhumed from a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izium

  • Abramovich ‘played key part’ in release of prisoners of war

  • Ukrainian soldiers recapture territory in the eastern region of Donetsk

06:50 PM

Mexico discusses Pope-led peace plan in 'cordial' talks with Russia

Mexico's foreign minister has held a "cordial conversation" with his Russian counterpart over his country's peace plan for the war - which involves setting up a "mediation committee" led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Pope Francis.

Marcelo Ebrard said he met with Sergei Lavrov to discuss the plan for the Ukraine conflict that he presented to the UN General Assembly this week, which has been criticised as advantageous to Russia by Ukraine.

Ebrard wrote on Twitter that he and Lavrov had a "cordial conversation," and posted a picture of himself and Lavrov sitting across from each other at a table, a day after the Mexican minister held a separate conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart.

An adviser to Zelenskiy, Mykhailo Podolyak, last week called said Mexico's was a "Russian plan" that would "give Russia time to renew reserves before the next offensive."

Ukraine's ambassador to Mexico also rejected the idea, telling reporters that "we have to continue the fight to liberate our territory."

06:19 PM

The G7 says Russia's referendums are 'phony' pretext for annexation

The G7 has condemned Russia's "sham" referendums, saying it was an attempt by Moscow to create a "phony" pretext for changing the status of Ukrainian sovereign territory.

The leaders of the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies wrote in a joint statement sent by the German government spokesperson: "We will never recognise these referenda which appear to be step toward Russian annexation and we will never recognise purported annexation if it occurs."

Russia launched referendums on Friday aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine.

Kyiv called them shams that saw residents threatened with punishment if they did not vote.

06:08 PM

Nato increases Kyiv support following 'sham' referendums

Nato will ramp up its help for Kyiv in response to Russia's "sham" referendums in occupied territories of Ukraine.

As Moscow launched the votes on the four regions joining Russia, the alliance's Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg said: "Our answer, Nato's answer, is to step up support.

"The best way to end this war is to strengthen the Ukrainians on the battlefield further so they can, at some stage, sit down and reach a solution which is acceptable for Ukraine and that preserves Ukraine as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe."

The votes have raised fears that Moscow could incorporate the four areas and then portray attacks to retake them as an attack on Russia itself.

"That's exactly what we need to be prepared for, that Russia will use these sham votes to further escalate the war in Ukraine," Stoltenberg said when asked about that scenario.

"But these votes have no legitimacy and of course they don't change anything. This continues to be a war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine," he added.

05:11 PM

Russians hold concert backing 'sham' referendums

St Petersburg rally in support of annexation referendums in Russian-held regions of Ukraine - OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP
St Petersburg rally in support of annexation referendums in Russian-held regions of Ukraine - OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP

05:09 PM

Finland to 'significantly' reduce numbers of Russians entering country

Finland will "significantly" reduce the number of Russians entering through its borders, its government has said.

Vladimir Putin's mobilisation orders has seen an exodus of men emigrating to neighbouring countries.

Finland, the last EU country that had still allowed entry to Russians with tourist visas, will now restrict new visas, the government said in a statement, citing “serious damage to Finland’s international position”.

The move comes a day after Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin said Russian “tourism and travel has to be stopped” after the number of Russians entering the country doubled on Thursday, a border agency spokesperson told AFP.

“The fear is that we end up being the only border country through which it’s possible to travel from Russia to Europe with a Schengen visa granted by another country,” Finland’s foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, told local media on Wednesday.

03:46 PM

Uzbek Muslims urged not to join Russia's war

Muslims are being urged not to join Russia's war in Ukraine.

The Muslim Board in Uzbekistan said followers cannot take part  in any military action except to defend their homeland, warning “terrorist organisations” had been trying to recruit Muslims to fight in Ukraine under the pretext of “jihad” or holy war.

Russia has offered fast-track citizenship to foreigners who sign up to join its army, part of a broader drive to strengthen its military.

03:28 PM

Ukraine will never forgive Russia, Nobel Peace laureate says

Ukraine will never forgive Russia as evidence of its war crimes will remain on the internet, Nobel Peace laureate Dmitry Muratov has said.

Muratov, the long-time editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, one of the last independent media outlets in Russia, said: "You many want to forgive everything, but you click in the search engine: Mariupol, Irpin or Bucha. And you can't forgive a goddamn thing anymore.

"Every step of this war, every crime and every shot, every torn scrotum will now remain forever.

"We have been thrown back in our development by at least half a century into the pre-Gorbachev era."

In mid-September, Russia's Supreme Court revoked the last media licence of Novaya Gazeta. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta is no longer published in paper form in Russia, though it has a limited online version and has a magazine.

Muratov said he has no intention of leaving Russia, saying: "We will work here until the cold gun barrel touches our hot foreheads."

03:12 PM

Macron's diplomacy was 'deeply harmful', says former Nato secretary-general

French president Emmanuel Macron's diplomatic efforts over the war in Ukraine were a failure and "deeply harmful" for Kyiv, said the former Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Macron has faced criticism for warning against "humiliating" Russia and holding direct phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Ukraine.

"It was not a success," said the former Danish prime minister, who was one of the world's most-senior diplomats until he left the transatlantic defence alliance in 2014.

"Macron astonished us at the beginning of the crisis with his, to say the least, unique and critical statement that Putin should not be humiliated and offered an exit ramp. Such statements were disastrous and deeply harmful," he added in comments to French magazine Le Point.

It came after Macron accused Russia of a modern-day imperialism and urged developing nations to side against Moscow at the United Nations General Assembly, which observers said marked a shift in tone.

Rasmussen said: "He has weakened international cohesion, and I think he is now regretting this and trying to regain the initiative."

02:58 PM

Russians in Kursk region offered money to replenish Putin's army

A Russian governor has announced extra payments for people from the Kursk region mobilising to fight in Ukraine.

Roman Starovoyt said on Telegram: "The first groups of mobilised [soldiers] from the Kursk region are sent to replenish the ranks of the Russian army. I instructed to prepare additional support measures for our fighters in addition to federal payments."

He added: "Some of the necessary documents have already been signed, the rest I instructed to prepare as soon as possible. Payments will also be received by those Kursk people who have already signed contracts or have been mobilised.

"The Kursk region borders the north-east of Ukraine."

01:38 PM

Russia's ambassador to the US's hopes against the 'abyss of nuclear conflict'

Russia's ambassador to the United States said he wanted to believe that Moscow and Washington were not on the verge of falling into the "abyss of a nuclear conflict", the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

01:29 PM

Putin isn't threatening anybody with nuclear weapons, claims Russian minister

Moscow is not threatening anybody with nuclear weapons, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said.

Open confrontation with the United States and NATO was not in Russia's interests, Russian state news agencies reported him saying.

01:18 PM

Listen live as our writers discuss the latest on Russia’s fleeing conscripts

01:02 PM

'Sham' referenda outcomes 'almost certainly decided', says British ambassador

The outcomes of referenda for  eastern parts of Ukraine to become part of Russia is "almost certainly already decided", Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine Melinda Simmons has said.

In a tweet condemning the "sham referenda", she said: "There will be results publicised of something that didn’t happen. I wonder whether anyone will even be called to vote. They won’t need to. The outcome is almost certainly already decided. A media exercise designed to pursue further an illegal invasion by Russia."

12:58 PM

More than 400 bodies with signs of torture found in mass burial site in Izium

Ukrainian officials say 436 bodies have been exhumed from a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izium, 30 of them with visible signs of torture.

The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Synyehubov, and the region’s police chief, Volodymyr Tymoshko, told reporters in Izium that three more grave sites have been located in areas retaken by Ukrainian forces in a counteroffensive this month.

It comes as voting began in Moscow-held regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia, which have been widely denounced by Ukraine and the West as shams without any legal force, are seen as a step toward annexing the territories by Russia.

The votes are being held in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.

12:29 PM

Traffic across Finland-Russian border 'heavy'

Traffic into Finland over its border with Russia is heavy today, with the number of Russians crossing rising steadily since President Vladimir Putin ordered a military mobilisation, border guards said.

The number of Russians who had entered the previous day was more than double the amount who arrived the week before, they said.

"This morning it remains busy...maybe increasing a little bit from yesterday," a border guard spokesperson said.

Max, a 21-year-old Russian student who declined to give his last name, said he was going to Finland to catch a flight to Germany to visit relatives.

"Technically, I'm a student so I should not be afraid of being drafted but we have seen that things are changing very quickly so I assume there is a chance," he told Reuters after crossing the border at Vaalimaa.

"I just wanted to be safe," he said.

Cars queue to enter Finland from Russia - JANIS LAIZANS/REUTERS
Cars queue to enter Finland from Russia - JANIS LAIZANS/REUTERS

12:14 PM

Ukrainian saboteurs enter  Zaporizhzhia region, say Russian-backed officials

Two cars with "Ukrainian saboteurs" have  entered the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia region in south east Ukraine, its Moscow-controlled administration said, according to Russian news agencies.

The group were found near the city of Polohy and were being "dealt with", the RIA Novosti news agency quoted the official, Yevgeny Balitsky, as saying.

The region has stepped up border patrols and restrictions on entry as part of security measures for voting in a Russian-backed referendum on whether the region should join Russia.

11:59 AM

Chinese foreign minister 'reaffirms respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty'

11:55 AM

Germany welcomes 'good sign' that Russians do not want to take part in the war

Berlin has said many Russians being called up to fight in the war in Ukraine do not want to take part, adding that this was welcome.

"Many Russians who are now being called up do not want to take part in this war either. This is a good sign," a government spokesperson told a regular news conference.

"A way must be left open for Russians to come to Europe and also to Germany," the spokesperson added.

11:46 AM

Ukraine 'putting pressure on territory Russia considers essential', MoD says

11:44 AM

Three Ukrainian fighter jets downed in last 24 hours, Russia claims

Russia's defence ministry has claimed its forces had downed three Ukrainian fighter jets over the last 24 hours, the TASS news agency reported.

11:42 AM

Russians offered vote to be part of the Netherlands

A Dutch TV show has satirised the Kremlin's "sham" referenda for parts of eastern Ukraine to become part of Russia - by offering its citizens a chance to vote to be part of the Netherlands.

"Don't listen to Putin's lies," it says.

"What he doesn't tell you is that Russia originally belonged to the Netherlands."

11:29 AM

Lukashenko rules out mobilising after Putin's reservists call

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said he was not planning a mobilisation after his close ally Russia announced it was calling up hundreds of thousands of reservists for the war in Ukraine.

"The mobilisation is in Russia. ... There will be no mobilisation (here)," state media quoted Lukashenko as saying.

The president, in power since 1994, said he was commenting on rumours that he planned to announce new measures in Belarus to support Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Russia is Belarus' main backer and the two neighbours are part of a borderless so-called "union state". Belarus also borders northern Ukraine and served as a staging post for Russian troops, missiles and aircraft, both before and during Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"We will fight only when we have to defend our home, our land," the state-run Belta news agency quoted Lukashenko as saying on Friday.

11:26 AM

Russian deports up to 1.6m Ukrainians, US envoy says

A US envoy said that Russia has forcibly deported up to 1.6 million Ukrainians and urged a UN-mandated commission of inquiry to investigate.

"We urge the commissioners to continue to examine the growing evidence of Russia's filtration operations, forced deportations and disappearances," US Ambassador Michele Taylor told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, referring to a commission of inquiry into Ukraine.

"Numerous sources indicate that Russian authorities have interrogated, detained and forcible deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens," she said.

Moscow has denied intentionally targeting civilians.

11:12 AM

Russians fleeing to Georgia need 'visa' to enter bar

A bar owner in Tbilisi appears fed up with the influx of Russians using their visa-free travel to move to Georgia's capital since the start of the war in Ukraine - 14 years after the Russo-Georgian war.

There was gridlock on the Russian-Georgian border after Vladimir Putin's call for 300,000 reservists.

Neal Zupancic, who writes the Georgia On My Mind blog, told the Telegraph: "The local gossip is that Tbilisi is so full that if you want free Russian lessons for your kids you can just let them walk through Vake park.

"There is talk that rents are going to skyrocket again - good for landlords but bad for everyone else.  Anti-Russian sentiment here was already higher in the last few months than it's been in 12 years, and many locals think that Russians should stay in Russia and overthrow Putin if they don't like conditions there.

"There's a sense that Russians don't respect Georgia or Georgians and come here expecting to be served and with no appreciation of the pain their country has caused here and no sense of responsibility for what Russia has done."

10:19 AM

War crimes committed by Russia, UN investigators conclude

UN investigators said Friday that war crimes have been committed in the Ukraine conflict, listing Russian bombings of civilians areas, numerous executions, torture and horrific sexual violence.

"Based on the evidence gathered by the Commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine," the head of a high-level Commission of Inquiry set up in May to investigate crimes in Russia's war in Ukraine told the UN Human Rights Council.

09:25 AM

Putin and bin Salman speak on phone

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke by phone to express their satisfaction over a prisoner-of-war swap between Moscow and Kyiv facilitated by Riyadh, the Kremlin said Friday.

During a phone call late Thursday the two leaders expressed "satisfaction in connection with the transfer to Saudi Arabia of foreign citizen prisoners of war... that took place with the personal mediation of the crown prince", it said.

As part of the exchange, Ukraine received 215 of its troops, including fighters who led the defence of Mariupol's Azovstal steelworks.

Ten prisoners of war from other countries, including the United States and Britain, were transferred to Saudi Arabia.

Russia received 55 prisoners including Viktor Medvedchuk, a former Ukrainian lawmaker and ally of Putin accused of high treason.

09:07 AM

Ericsson insist they stopped shipments to Russia

Ericsson said on Friday it is only providing software and technical support to Russian clients and has not sold any telecommunications equipment to mobile operators there since the Ukraine war started, after Swedish media reported the company had continued its exports. Shares of the company fell 4.6% in morning trading.

Ericsson suspended its business in Russia in April and said in August that it would exit the country in the coming months. It recorded a charge of 900 million Swedish crowns ($81 million) and made 400 employees redundant in the country as it winds down operations.

"Compliant with the sanctions we provide the software and technical assistance for those products that we have shipped prior to the invasion making it possible to withdraw while fulfilling contractual obligations," a spokesman said.

"When the sanctions were announced we stopped shipments to customers in Russia," he said.

Rival Nokia, which has also announced plans to exit Russia before the end of the year, had said it does limited maintenance of critical networks to fulfill its contractual and humanitarian obligations.

07:57 AM

Referendum voting begins

Voting began on Friday in a Russian-controlled part of Ukraine in a referendum that Russia is expected to use to justify the annexation of four regions, with one Ukrainian official reported as saying voting was mandatory.

"Voting has started in the referendum on Zaporizhzhia region becoming a part of Russia as a constituent entity of the Russian Federation! We are coming home! Godspeed, friends!" said

Vladimir Rogov, an official in the Russian-backed administration of that region.

The referendums have been widely condemned by the West as illegitimate and a precursor to illegal annexation.

06:38 AM

Latest update from the UK Ministry of Defence: Ukraine secures bridgeheads on east bank of Oskil river in Kharkiv

05:33 AM

Will further annexation of Ukraine lead to more fighting?

By incorporating the four areas - Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia - into Russia, Moscow could justify military escalation as necessary to defend its territory.

Putin on Wednesday said Russia would "use all the means at our disposal" to protect itself, an apparent reference to nuclear weapons. "This is not a bluff," he said.

"Encroachment onto Russian territory is a crime which allows you to use all the forces of self–defence," Dmitry Medvedev, who served as Russian president from 2008 to 2012, said in a post on Telegram.

Referendum results in favour of Russia are considered inevitable. The vote in Crimea in 2014, criticised internationally as rigged, had an official result of 97 per cent in favour of formal annexation.

02:55 AM

Ukraine energy ministry deletes statement on talk of possible Rosatom sanctions

Ukraine on Thursday deleted a statement saying Energy Minister German Galushchenko had discussed the possibility of sanctions on Russia's nuclear power supplier Rosatom with US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

An energy ministry spokeswoman cited a misunderstanding when asked why the statement had disappeared from the ministry's website, but she did not elaborate.

The initial statement was replaced by one that said Mr Galushchenko had stressed the importance of clean energy when he met Ms Granholm in the United States. The later statement made no mention of Rosatom.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last month it was "not normal" that Western countries have not yet imposed sanctions on Rosatom.

02:48 AM

Blinken demands action on Putin at UN showdown on Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday demanded President Vladimir Putin be held to account as he faced Russia in a Security Council session in which the United Nations cataloged abuses in Ukraine.

Pressure has swelled against Moscow as world leaders attend the UN General Assembly, but in the highly anticipated first encounter between the top Russian and US diplomats since the war in Ukraine, the Kremlin and its critics for the most part spoke past one another.

"The very international order we've gathered here to uphold is being shredded before our eyes," Mr Blinken told the Security Council in a special session.

Mr Blinken accused Putin of adding "fuel to the fire" with recent steps including calling up reservists and planning referendums in Russian-held Ukrainian territory just as Kyiv made gains on the ground.

02:25 AM

Abramovich ‘played key part’ in release of prisoners of war

Roman Abramovich, the former owner of Chelsea Football Club, "played a key part" in securing the release of five British prisoners of the war in Ukraine.

The Russian, 55, welcomed John Harding, Shaun Pinner, Aiden Aslin, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill onto a jet flying them from Russia to Saudi Arabia.

He gave each of the men iPhones so that they could call their families and even talked football with the men while they ate steaks on the flight to Riyadh.

Mr Harding, a British Army veteran, said he had not recognised the Russian billionaire on the plane until Mr Pinner, a West Ham fan, pointed him out.

Mr Harding told The Sun: "Shaun said, ‘You really look like Roman Abramovich’ and he replied, ‘That’s because I am him, sir’. He couldn’t believe it.

“I joked that Shaun is a West Ham fan and we all laughed.”

Read more: Roman Abramovich ‘played key part’ in release of Aiden Aslin and prisoners of war in Russi

John Harding, in red, Shaun Pinner, in orange, and Aiden Aslin, right, were released on Wednesday - SKY NEWS
John Harding, in red, Shaun Pinner, in orange, and Aiden Aslin, right, were released on Wednesday - SKY NEWS

02:21 AM

Today's top stories

  • Vladimir Putin has secretly approved a law that could send a further one million men to fight in Ukraine, according to information leaked from the Kremlin

  • Protesters detained at anti-war rallies were threatened with deployment to the frontlines and reports that men with no military experience were being called up, despite the Kremlin's assurances that wouldn't happen

  • Germany is preparing to take in Russian deserters refusing to fight in Ukraine after Putin’s mobilisation sparked a mass exodus of fighting-aged men

  • Roman Abramovich, the former owner of Chelsea Football Club, "played a key part" in securing the release of five British prisoners of the war in Ukraine. The Russian oligarch welcomed John Harding, Shaun Pinner, Aiden Aslin, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill onto a jet flying them from Russia to Saudi Arabia

  • Nikolai Peskov, a 32-year-old son of President Putin’s spokesman, rejected suggestions to sign up when a member of a Russian opposition group prank-called him on Wednesday

  • A suspected Ukrainian navy drone has washed up on a beach in Crimea, sparking suggestions that Kyiv has been gathering intelligence on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet