Despite the exchange of prisoners, hostilities in Ukraine do not stop

KIEV: Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanged rocket and artillery fire on Thursday, killing at least six people, as both sides refused to concede to Moscow recent military setbacks and casualties from the invading country after nearly seven months of war.
Russian rocket strikes in the southern part of the city Zaporizhzhya According to Ukrainian officials, one person was killed and five were wounded. Officials in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk say at least five people have been killed by Ukrainian shelling.
In a sign that neither side is ready to ease up or stop the fighting, the exchange of fire came hours after both sides carried out a major prisoner exchange and a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin called in reservists to supplement his forces.
According to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy of the Office of the President of Ukraine, a hotel in the center of Zaporizhzhia was hit and rescuers were trying to free people trapped in the rubble.
Oleksandr Starukh, the governor of the Zaporizhia region, said Russian forces targeted infrastructure facilities and also damaged nearby apartment buildings. The region is one of four where Moscow-appointed officials plan to hold referendums on whether to become part of Russia on Friday, but the city itself remains in Ukrainian hands.
Meanwhile, the mayor of separatist-controlled Donetsk, Aleksey Kulemzin, said at least five people were killed Thursday when Ukrainian gunfire hit a covered market and a minibus on Thursday.
Just hours before Thursday’s attacks, a high-profile prisoner swap involved 215 Ukrainian and foreign fighters – 200 of them for one man, a Putin ally. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov would not confirm whether Putin’s lone ally – pro-Russian Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk – was involved in the exchange.
Among the freed fighters were Ukrainian defenders of a steel plant in Mariupol during Russia’s long siege and 10 foreigners, including five British citizens and two US military veterans, who had fought with Ukrainian forces.
A video released by the BBC news website on Thursday showed the two freed British men, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, talking on the plane. It said they arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“We just want to let everyone know that we are now out of danger and on our way home to our families,” Aslin said in the video, with Pinner adding, “By the skin of our teeth.”
The speed of Russia’s missile attack since the shift suggested the Kremlin was trying to dispel perceptions of weakness or waning determination to achieve its war aims after recent battlefield losses and setbacks that seriously undermine Russia’s aura of military might.
Those losses culminated Wednesday in Putin’s order to partially mobilize reservists to bolster his forces in Ukraine. The order sparked rare protests in Russia and was derided in the West as weakness and desperation.
The partial subpoena did not address specifics, raising concerns about a broader bill that has prompted some Russians to buy plane tickets to flee the country.
Kremlin spokesman Peskov said the mobilization was necessary because Russia is “de facto facing all of NATO,” referring to the military aid and other support that alliance members have provided to Ukraine.
A senior Kremlin official on Thursday repeated Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons if Russian territory comes under attack.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said on his messaging app channel on Thursday that strategic nuclear weapons are one way to protect Russian-controlled areas in eastern and southern Ukraine. The remark appeared to be a warning that Moscow could also target Ukraine’s Western allies.
Pro-Moscow authorities in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine are preparing to hold referendums on whether to become part of Russia, a move that could allow Moscow to escalate the war. Voting starts on Friday in Lugansk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.
Foreign leaders have called the vote illegal and non-binding. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said they were “fake” and “noise” to distract the public.
According to Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of Dnipropetrovsk region, one person was killed overnight by Russian shells in the center of Nikopol, across the river from the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.
Zelensky’s office announced that five people were killed in shootings in the Donetsk region over the past 24 hours.