What happened in the Russia-Ukraine war this week? Catch up with the must-read news and analysis Ukraine

Every week we wrap up the must-reads from our coverage of the Ukraine war, from news and features to analysis, visual guides and opinion.

West agonizes over sending tanks to Ukraine

Tanks arguably decided the first world war, after four years of deadlock, and were indispensable throughout the second, the Guardian’s security and defense editor, Dan Sabbagh wrote as the UK and other nations raised the pressure on Germany to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine this week. Yet after the initial Russian invasion, one of the surprising features of the war in Ukraine is that it has not been a war of dramatic maneuver but rather only modestly changing fronts.

However, with the Russians trying to fortify their positions, ahead perhaps of a renewed attack, Kyiv is under pressure to find a breakthrough this spring. With Nato unwilling to help Ukraine with combat air power, the answer, for now, lies in the heavily armored tank.

A Leopard 2 tank, which some European nations believe could be crucial in giving Ukraine an advantage. Photograph: ABACA/REX/Shutterstock

Ahead of Friday’s crucial leaders’ meeting at Ramstein air base in Germany, the pressure was on Chancellor Olaf Scholz to approve the re-export of Leopard 2 tanks, with Poland threatening to send Ukraine a batch of 14 tanks regardless. German officials signaled they were willing if the US would also send over some of its own Abrams tanks, but the US said on Wednesday the Abrams was fuel inefficient and required complex logistics support.

By the end of the Ramstein meeting, Germany had declined to take a decision on whether to give Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine – prompting frustration in Kyiv and a warning from Poland that lives could be lost because of hesitation in Berlin.

Berlin’s newly appointed defense minister said no final decision had been taken but he had asked his ministry to “undertake an examination of the stocks” of the tanks available.

Jack Watling, senior research fellow for land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute, wrote that the prospect of several countries providing Ukraine with Nato-designed main battle tanks offers a pathway towards renewed momentum in Kyiv’s bid to reclaim its territory from Russian occupation. The next six months will probably be critical to this effort. However, enabling Ukraine to operate these vehicles will require more than just the delivery of the tanks.

Less than a year ago it would have seemed barely imaginable that the German state would be supplying arms in a conflict, Kate Connolly writes. To complicate matters, Berlin was also yet to allow the Nato countries using 2,000-plus Leopard 2 tanks to re-export them to Ukraine. Poland signaled it might go ahead and do so anyway.

Dozens die in mass rocket strike on Dnipro

A woman mourns as she looks at destroyed residential building as a result of a missile strike 4 days ago in Ukrainian city of Dnipro on 4 January 2023.
A woman mourns as she looks at a residential building destroyed by a missile strike on the city of Dnipro on January 4. Photograph: Dnipropetrovsk State Administration/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

Russia carried out two mass rocket strikes on Ukraine on Saturday, devastating an apartment block in the south-central city of Dnipro, where at least 45 people died and scores were injured. The target of the attack, Ukrainian authorities said, was Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, a continuation of its strategy to leave the country without power and limit its ability to fight.

During the second attack in the afternoon, one rocket hit a nine-storey apartment in Dnipro, destroying an entire stretch of the building.

One of the dead was boxing coach Mykhailo Korenovskyi, the only member of his family who had been home at the time. Isobel Koshiw reported. A family friend posted a video of the family celebrating a child’s birthday in their apartment alongside a picture from after the attack of the kitchen, which is missing an entire wall.

Helicopter crash kills interior minister

A woman cries as Orthodox priests hold a service at the site of a helicopter crash, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the town of Brovary, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, 19 January 2023.
A service is held at the site of a helicopter crash in the town of Brovary, outside Kyiv, on January 19. Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters

At least 14 people including Ukraine’s interior minister, Denys Monastyrsky, and other senior officials were killed after a helicopter crashed by a kindergarten in a suburb of Kyiv.

Isobel Koshiw and Peter Beaumont reported that a number of children at the school in Brovary were among the casualties after debris hit the building. The most recent update, on Wednesday afternoon, suggested one child had been killed, after previous reports that the number was at least three.

The SBU state security service said it was investigating possible causes including a breach of flight rules, a technical malfunction and the intentional destruction of the helicopter.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, described the crash as “a terrible tragedy” on a “black morning”. “The pain is unspeakable,” he wrote on Telegram.

Germany’s new defense minister

A veteran but low-profile politician has been appointed as Germany’s new defense minister, the government has announced, filling the role at a crucial time when the country is under acute pressure to increase its commitment to Ukraine. Kate Connolly profiled Boris Pistorius.

Boris Pistorius, former Interior Minister of Lower Saxony and future Federal Minister of Defence, speaks during a press statement at Lower Saxony's Interior Ministry in Hannover, Germany, Tuesday, January 17, 2023.
Boris Pistorius, former Interior Minister of Lower Saxony and future Federal Minister of Defence, speaks during a press statement at Lower Saxony’s Interior Ministry in Hannover, Germany, Tuesday, January 17, 2023. Photograph: Julian Stratenschulte/AP

Pistorius is a member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic party, but his appointment by Scholz came as a surprise, not least because he has a low profile in Germany and is little known internationally. He has a reputation as a sharp-tongued, no-nonsense policymaker.

Wagner group fighter seeks asylum

A former commander with the Russian mercenary Wagner Group who sought asylum in Norway spoke of how he feared for his life in an interview with Pyotr Sauer conducted last month.

Andrey Medvedev, 26, said that in Ukraine he had witnessed the summary killing of Wagner fighters accused by their own commanders of disobeying orders. After fleeing his unit, he crossed the border into Norway near the Pasvikdalen valley last Friday, where he was arrested and detained by border guards.

Andrey Medvedev who the human rights website said entered Norway from Russia.  He is reportedly seeking asylum in the Nordic country.
Andrey Medvedev entered Norway from Russia and is seeking asylum. Photograph: Gulagu.net

Medvedev is the first known soldier from the Wagner Group who fought in Ukraine to flee abroad. Before he left Russia, Medvedev spoke during several phone calls, in which he described in detail his time fighting with Wagner in eastern Ukraine.

“I fought in Bakhmut, commanding the first squad of the 4th platoon of the 7th assault detachment,” Medvedev said, adding that his unit was mostly made up of former prisoners who were thrown into the fighting as “cannon fodder”.

Kyiv’s year of defiance

Volodymyr, Dmytro and Ihor from the Beatnik bar are photographed in the bar in Kyiv.
Volodymyr, Dmytro and Ihor from the Beatnik bar are photographed in the bar in Kyiv. Photograph: Anastasia Vlasova/The Observer

Emma Graham-Harrison and Artem Mazhulin charted Kyiv’s everyday acts of resistance. At Kyiv’s Beatnik Bar last spring, the mixologists wrestled with the question of whether they should even try reopening. Their families were mostly under Russian occupation in eastern Ukraine, many of their friends were on the frontline. Was it really the right time to be worried about making and selling high-end cocktails? But they had emptied their bank accounts while volunteering, needed money to live and to support the war effort, and figured the government could do with the taxes.

And maybe, in a city that had spent a month with Russian soldiers at the gates and was now unearthing the horrors they left behind in places such as Bucha and Irpin, people could do with a good drink. So in May they opened again, just from 3pm to 6pm, more coffee shop than nightlife because of the curfew.

“The atmosphere was changed. There was the same bartender, same regulars, same music in the background but something different. There was no cheering, no exclamations, somehow everything was more reserved, it felt like bar therapy,” said Igor Novoseltsev.

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