Russia claims gains in eastern Ukraine and warns Finland over border tension

Wife of Ukraine spy chief reportedly poisoned with mercury and arsenic

Heavy fighting has continued in eastern Ukraine as Moscow claimed to have seized another village in the area and warned Finland against boosting troop numbers on its border with Russia, after Poland said it would send military advisers to help its new Nato ally.

Moscow said on Wednesday that its troops had taken control of Khromove – which Russia calls by the Soviet-era name of Artyomovskoe – near the devastated city of Bakhmut, which the Kremlin’s forces occupied in May.

Ukraine said Russian units continued to attack the ruined industrial town of Avdiivka, about 70km southwest of Bakhmut, despite suffering heavy losses in personnel and armoured vehicles. Avdiivka sits on the edge of Donetsk city, which Moscow has de facto controlled through proxy militia since 2014.

“Unfortunately, Avdiivka is starting to look like Mariinka . . . a settlement that has basically ceased to exist,” said Vitaliy Barabash, the head of the Avdiivka administration, in reference to another shattered town near Donetsk. “It has been razed to the ground. There is no whole or half-building left there. Avdiivka is approaching that,” he added.


Ukraine did not make any announcement about Khromove and says its forces still hold key positions in Avdiivka and control its huge coking plant, even though fighting is now taking place in the town’s so-called industrial zone.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ukraine’s military said its air defence units shot down all 21 attack drones and two of three missiles fired by Russia overnight.

The drones targeted the southern Mykolaiv region on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, which was battered by severe storms this week that killed at least 10 people, caused widespread blackouts and closed major roads. High winds, snow and heavy rain also killed several people in southern Russia and cut power to almost two million people.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Wednesday visited Odesa region, to the west of Mykolaiv, and heard reports from officials on how power and transport services were being restored in southern Ukraine and how air defence systems were operating in the area to protect residents, infrastructure and cargo ships using the Black Sea.

Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency is investigating the alleged poisoning of the wife of its chief, Kyrylo Budanov, and several staff members. Ukrainian media say Marianna Budanova is thought to have been poisoned with heavy metals including mercury and arsenic. She is reportedly receiving treatment in Ukraine and her life is not in danger.

Russia warned Finland on Wednesday against any military build-up on their 1,340km border, which the Helsinki government has closed until mid-December to halt an influx of hundreds of migrants that it says are being sent to the area by Moscow to cause disruption.

Polish officials said they would send military advisers to help Finland deal with the situation, prompting Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to urge Helsinki to refrain from “an absolutely unprovoked and unfounded concentration of armed units at the border with Russia”.

“The Finns should be well aware that for us this will pose a threat by boosting the accumulation of military units at our borders,” he added.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe