The Kremlin lashed out at Time magazine on Thursday for naming Ukrainian President Vladimir 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 that the war was 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 Person 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.
►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.
►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.
‘No talk’ in Russia of annexing more Ukraine territory
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that 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, Zaporozhye, Donetsk and Lugansk) 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 of almost 300,000 people.
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 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.”
War raises concerns of nuclear disaster
Russia’s war in Ukraine 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. 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. 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.
“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home'” President Biden said on Twitter.
In August, the two-time Olympian and perennial WNBA All-Star was sentenced to nine years after pleading guilty to carrying hash oil 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 pro overseas during the WNBA’s offseason. She has played in Russia for nine years.
BRITTNEY GRINER RELEASED:Part of prisoner swap between US, Russia for Viktor Bout
Contributing: Wyatte Grantham-Philips, USA TODAY; The Associated Press