07 Ukrainian prisoners return home from Russian captivity, almost half of them Mariupol defenders

Ukrainian prisoners return home from Russian captivity on Jan. 31, 2024. (President Volodymyr Zelensky/Telegram)

President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on January 31 that 207 Ukrainian prisoners returned home from Russian captivity, with "almost half of them being Mariupol defenders." The group included 180 privates and sergeants, along with 27 officers from various Ukrainian forces. This marks the 50th such exchange, bringing the total number of returned Ukrainians to 3,035. The prisoners received medical examinations, clean clothes, warm meals, document restoration, bank cards, and rehabilitation.

The exchange did not include individuals from the list Russia claimed were on the Il-76 plane that crashed on January 24, according to military intelligence spokesperson Andrii Yusov. The list appeared to feature individuals previously mentioned in Russian propaganda videos.

The Russians struck southern Ukraine with drones

The aftermath of the drone attack on the southern regions of Ukraine. Photo: Defense Forces of South of Ukraine. / ©

On the night of January 31, Russian forces launched drone attacks in southern Ukraine, specifically in Mykolaiv region, according to the Defense Forces of South Ukraine. The drone strike targeted Bashtanka district, damaging warehouses of an agricultural enterprise and a store building. The impact also resulted in a fire at the site. A civilian security guard at the trade pavilion was injured and hospitalized in intensive care. Air Defense units managed to shoot down seven "Shahed" drones in the area of responsibility of the Defense Forces of the South—five in Mykolaiv region and two in Kirovohrad region.

Ukraine goes through winter using only its own gas for the first time

Ukraine is experiencing winter using only its own gas production for the first time in history, announced Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on January 31. With approximately 10 billion cubic meters of gas in storage facilities, Ukraine has managed to rely solely on domestically produced gas. Despite recent Russian strikes, the Ukrainian energy infrastructure remains stable, attributed to increased production by Naftogaz and UkrGasVydobuvannya. Shmyhal expressed confidence that Ukraine will endure the winter successfully, acknowledging the efforts of the Armed Forces, air defenses, and energy workers. While Russia has targeted Ukraine's military-industrial complex in the current winter campaign, previous attacks on energy infrastructure prompted concerns. Despite this shift in focus, Russian attacks still impact Ukraine's energy facilities.

US and Ukraine sign memorandum on monitoring use of aid

The United States and Ukraine have solidified their partnership in overseeing the utilization of international aid through the signing of a memorandum of understanding. The agreement, signed by Admiral Ihor Voronchenko of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine and Robert Storch, the U.S. Department of Defense Inspector General, aims to strengthen cooperation in monitoring the use of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine. Key provisions include the exchange of information to identify and prevent fraud or corruption, joint anti-corruption activities, the establishment of a mechanism for mutual transmission of investigation-related requests, and regular meetings to pinpoint priority areas for collaboration.

During a meeting with Storch, Ukraine's Defence Minister Rustem Umierov highlighted the country's efforts in implementing a robust system for monitoring, risk management, compliance, corruption prevention in procurement, and democratic control tools within the defense sector. Umierov expressed confidence that these monitoring mechanisms would be fully operational by the end of April, showcasing Ukraine's commitment to transparency and accountability in utilizing international assistance.