Key developments on Jan. 29:
- Ukraine refutes Russia captured Tabaivka village near Kupiansk
- Contradicting reports point at dismissal of Zaluzhnyi as top commander; Zelensky's office denies it
- Hungarian foreign minister arrives for bilateral meeting in Ukraine
- Netherlands allocates $132 million in new military aid funding package for Ukraine
- US inspectors arrive in Kyiv to help oversee aid
Ukrainian military denied on Jan. 29 Russia’s claims about the capture of Tabaivka, a small destroyed village in Kharkiv Oblast, located roughly 20 kilometers southeast of Kupiansk.
"The enemy claims that they have already captured Tabaivka. This is not true. Battles are taking place not far from this settlement," Volodymyr Fito, the spokesperson of Ukraine's Ground Forces, said on television.
Fito’s announcement comes as Kyiv has been warning that Russia is intensifying attacks around Kupiansk, aiming to encircle and capture this key logistics hub, over the past weeks.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported on Jan. 27 that, according to Russian military bloggers, Russia's 47th Tank Division had captured Tabaivka, home to 34 people before the full-scale invasion, but that they have “not observed evidence confirming this claim.”
It was followed by the report from the Ukrainian DeepState Telegram monitoring channel: "In the morning, we received information that the enemy had occupied Tabaivka and was trying to advance toward Pischany," DeepState wrote.
Fito, however, says Ukraine continues to repel Russian attacks in the area, fighting off 10 assaults around Synkivka, Tabaivka, Terny, and Yampolivka.
Later in the day, he also said Russia suffered “big losses” near Tabaivka, adding that Ukrainian forces repelled 10 Russian attacks in the Kupiansk and Lyman direction.
Earlier on Jan. 21, Russia also claimed the capture of Krokhmalne, a village near the administrative borders of Kharkiv and Luhansk oblasts around four kilometers southeast of Tabaivka.
The Ukrainian military confirmed a retreat from Krokhmalne but said its loss has no strategic impact. Fito said that "the settlement of Krokhmalne is important for Russian troops because it is symbolic; they need to present some kind of victory before the (2024 presidential) election."
"Before the full-scale invasion, 45 people lived in the village of Krokhmalne, and today, there are no civilians there; the village is destroyed," Fito said back then.
ISW said earlier in January that Russia may soon scale up localized offensive operations with the aim of capturing Kupiansk. However, Ukrainian commanders say Russia is particularly focusing its efforts on the nearby village of Synkivka.
Zaluzhnyi's future remains unknown as reports about potential dismissal surface
Ukraine's Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi remains in his post, yet may be soon dismissed, according to sources of the Kyiv Independent and several other Ukrainian media.
Zelensky's spokesman Sergii Nykyforov told the Kyiv Independent on Jan. 29 that Zaluzhnyi wasn't dismissed and no official decree has been published on the President's Office website.
The news was first reported in the early evening of Jan. 29 by a group of anonymous Telegram channels, including some that have reported insider information coming from the Ukraine's President's Office before. At the same time, Telegram channels have been known to report misleading stories and spread misinformation.
Ukrainian media, including the Kyiv Independent, have been trying to confirm the news about Ukraine's top commander's firing. The sources, all speaking on condition of anonymity, have been providing contradicting responses.
A Kyiv Independent source in the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces confirmed that Zaluzhnyi was fired. The source wasn't authorized to speak to the press.
Neither Zaluzhnyi nor Zelensky have made any public comments on the issue.
Zaluzhnyi serves as Commander-in-Chief since July 2021. Reports first surfaced in November 2023 about disagreements between Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi.
The alleged disagreement between the two received increased attention following Zaluzhnyi's interview on the state of the war for The Economist on Nov. 1, in which he said there was a danger that Ukraine was walking into the trap of a prolonged war.
Zelensky said he disagreed with this sentiment during a briefing on Nov. 4.
Ukrainian media outlet Ukrainska Pravda then reported on Dec. 4 that Zelensky was allegedly "bypassing" Zaluzhnyi in communication with some military commanders, citing anonymous sources.
President Zelensky said during a press conference on Dec. 19 that he has a "working relationship" with Zaluzhnyi, responding to a question about their alleged dispute.
"He and the General Staff (of Ukraine's Armed Forces) are responsible for the situation on the battlefield. There are many issues to address there," Zelensky said during that press conference.
Kyiv, Budapest talks
President's Office head, Andriy Yermak, said on Jan. 29 that negotiations with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto proved the mutual desire of Kyiv and Budapest to hold a bilateral meeting of the two countries' leaders.
"We have taken a very powerful step toward this meeting today. Of course, we are all interested in this meeting being successful and opening a new page in our relations," Yermak told reporters.
Szijjarto arrived in the western Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod earlier in the day to hold bilateral talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba and Yermak.
According to Yermak, potential dates for the meeting between President Volodymyr Zelensky and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban were not discussed, but both sides hope it will take place "as soon as possible."
Hungary and Ukraine have had a contentious relationship that has worsened since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has maintained close ties with Russia, bucking the united front that the EU has tried to present in support of Ukraine.
Orban has opposed the launch of Ukraine's EU accession negotiations and blocked the passage of a 50 billion euro ($54 billion) aid package for Ukraine in December. EU leaders are set to meet on Feb. 1 to vote on the package again.
Netherlands allocates $132 million in new military aid funding package for Ukraine
The Netherlands has allocated €122 million ($132 million) to support Ukraine's ammunition supply, equipment, and cybersecurity, Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren announced on Jan. 29.
Ollongren said that €87 million ($94 million) will go towards purchasing artillery shells for Ukraine, and €10 million ($10.8 million) will go toward improving Ukraine's cyber defenses.
The contribution to cyber defense is essential as Ukraine "has already faced several hacking attempts and cyber attacks," the announcement said.
Moscow has deployed its cyber capabilities against Ukraine, including attacks on government institutions, the defense sector, energy infrastructure, banking, and telecommunications.
Another €25 million ($27 million) will be used to purchase equipment via the International Fund for Ukraine, a funding mechanism set up on the initiative of the UK Defense Ministry on behalf of the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Lithuania.
The deadline for submitting signatures is on Jan. 31.
US inspectors arrive in Kyiv to help oversee aid
Three Inspectors General from the U.S. Defense Department, the State Department, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) arrived in Kyiv on Jan. 29 for meetings with Ukrainian officials, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink announced.
"Their meetings with implementers, partners, and the Ukrainian government support oversight and accountability for U.S. assistance to Ukraine," the ambassador wrote on the social media platform X.
The assistance from Washington, the leading military donor to Kyiv, has effectively dried up as over $61 billion remains held up in Congress by domestic political disputes.
U.S. inspectors previously visited Ukraine on Sept. 13, 2023. Brink said in an interview with Fox News last November that the inspections have not uncovered any cases of military aid theft in Ukraine.