Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskyy began his nightly video address Thursday by paying tribute to the four police officers, including a police chief, who were killed while on a demining mission Wednesday in Kherson province when a mine detonated. Another four officers were seriously injured.
Before retreating from the city of Kherson a month ago, Russian troops not only buried landmines but also set up tripwires and other surprise explosives for Ukrainians, Zelenskyy said.
"This is the form of Russian terror that will have to be countered for years to come,'' he said. "Terrorists deliberately try to leave behind as many death traps as possible.''
The Ukrainian president said that will be among the charges eventually brought up against Russia, calling the mines "even more cruel and meaner than a missile, because there is no anti-mine system that could destroy at least part of the threat, as our air defense does.''
►The Russian military said it shot down a Ukrainian drone over Crimea on Thursday, the latest indication of Kyiv's efforts to push the war deeper into Russian-held territory. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
►After meeting Thursday with his counterparts from Sweden and Finland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. remains confident the two Nordic countries will soon be admitted into NATO despite ratification delays from Turkey and Hungary, the only two holdouts.
►Russian officials said Ukraine has struck again inside their territory, shelling the Belgorod province. Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said the projectiles damaged power lines.
►The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had met with some prisoners of war on both sides and provided books, personal hygiene items, blankets, warm clothing – and in some cases personal notes from families.
Kremlin accuses Time magazine and the West of being 'Russophobic'
The Kremlin lashed out at Time magazine on Thursday for naming Zelenskyy its "Person of the Year," saying the selection was a reflection of the West's Russophobia.
"The magazine’s editorial directives remain within the boundaries of the pan-European mainstream, which is totally short-sighted, anti-Russian and vehemently Russophobic," Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Zelenskyy, 44, has drawn high praise for his fearless leadership and ability to rally world leaders to his cause. Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged the war is taking longer than expected, but he assured the Russian public that all the Kremlin's goals would be achieved.
"There is a lot of noise, chatter and outcry all across the universe,” Putin said Thursday. “It will not obstruct us from fulfilling combat tasks.”
In the Time cover photo, Zelenskyy is depicted surrounded by Ukrainian people, flags and sunflowers, the country's national flower. "Zelenskyy’s success as a wartime leader has relied on the fact that courage is contagious," Time reporter Simon Shuster wrote.
Time magazine has chosen a Person of the Year (until 1999 it was Man or Woman of the Year) annually since 1927, when groundbreaking pilot Charles Lindbergh was honored. Russian dictator Joseph Stalin claimed the title twice, in 1939 and 1942.
'No talk' in Russia of annexing more Ukraine territory
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday there is "no talk” of seizing additional territories beyond the four Ukraine regions Russia claims to have annexed in recent months. Peskov was questioned by reporters a day after President Vladimir Putin described illegal annexations as a significant result of his so-called "special military operation" against Ukraine.
Peskov acknowledged that "in a number of new regions of the Russian Federation (Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk) there are occupied cities that have to be liberated." Kherson, for example, has been abandoned by Russian forces, though they continue to barrage the port city, home to almost 300,000 people before the war.
War raises concerns of nuclear disaster
The war has renewed fears of nuclear disaster in a world that hasn't seriously grappled with the health effects of radiation since the 2011 Fukushima crisis after Japan was hit by a powerful earthquake and tsunami. Disaster could come from radioactive release from a nuclear reactor, a conventional bomb loaded with radioactive material or the worst case scenario – a nuclear bomb. Experts say the deliberate use of nuclear weapons represents the worst possible outcome because it could lead to retaliation and escalate into a global nuclear war.
A leak from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is among the highest risk, experts told USA TODAY, because Russia has deliberately targeted the area with rocket attacks. On Thursday, the Ukrainian state nuclear company said Russian forces have placed multiple rocket launcher systems at the plant, calling it a violation of "all conditions for nuclear and radiation safety”
Understanding the risks and the kinds of radiation people are exposed to are key to treating potential exposures. Read more here.
– Trevor Hughes
Brittney Griner released from Russian prison
Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was held for months in Russian prisons on drug charges, was released Thursday in exchange for international arms dealer Viktor Bout, the White House confirmed.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” President Joe Biden said from the White House.
In August, the two-time Olympic gold medalist was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to carrying cannabis oil in vape cartridges in her luggage as she returned to Moscow to play with her Russian professional team. Griner, like many WNBA players, supplements her income by playing overseas during the league's offseason. She has played in Russia for nine years.
BRITTNEY GRINER RELEASED:Part of prisoner swap between US, Russia for Viktor Bout
Emotional Pope Francis prays for end to Ukraine war
Pope Francis wept in the center of Rome on Thursday while praying for peace in Ukraine. Francis, making an annual Christmas visit to venerate a statue of the Virgin Mary near the Spanish Steps, choked up and was unable to speak precisely as he arrived at the part of the prayer where he said, “I would have liked to have brought you the thanks of the Ukrainian people …”
The crowd broke into applause when, after a lengthy pause, Francis continued: "… the Ukrainian people for the peace we have so long asked the Lord. Instead I must present you with the pleas of children, elderly, mothers and fathers and the young people of that martyred land that is suffering so much.”
Contributing: Wyatte Grantham-Philips, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live updates: Putin says war is taking longer than expected