Ukraine Live Briefing: Russia is using nuclear plant as ‘shield,’ situation ‘out of control,’ officials say

The ship carrying grain from Ukraine heads through the Bosporus Strait on Wednesday after its inspection in Istanbul.
The ship carrying grain from Ukraine heads through the Bosporus Strait on Wednesday after its inspection in Istanbul. (Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images)
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International officials are increasingly alarmed about the security situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power station, the largest nuclear plant in Europe, with the American ambassador to Ukraine on Wednesday accusing Russian forces of using it as “a nuclear shield” — firing at Ukrainians from around the facility, knowing they can’t shoot back out of fear of triggering a nuclear catastrophe.

The U.N. nuclear chief said the plant is “completely out of control.”

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the world.

Key developments

  • The U.S. Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a measure ratifying the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, an overwhelming and bipartisan vote that endorsed the military alliance’s most significant expansion in years. “Putin has tried to use his war in Ukraine to divide the West,” said Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Instead, today’s vote shows our alliance is stronger than ever.”
  • Sixteen more cargo ships are loaded with grain and ready to depart Ukrainian ports, officials said Wednesday. The ships are awaiting final approval as countries around the world struggle with skyrocketing prices of food. Earlier Wednesday, the first ship to leave Ukraine with grain since the war began passed inspection in Turkey and carried on to Lebanon. Ukraine’s prime minister also increased the nation’s 2022 grain harvest forecast from 60 million metric tons to at least 65 million.
  • The United Nations will launch a fact-finding mission into the attack at a pro-Russian detention facility that killed at least 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war, who were captured during the siege of Mariupol, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said Wednesday. The terms of the investigation are still being negotiated, he said. International monitors have reported being denied access to the site, located in the eastern town of Olenivka.
  • Russian forces near the Zaporizhzhia plant have violated “every principle of nuclear safety,” Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said in an interview with the Associated Press. He called the situation “extremely grave and dangerous” and implored Russia and Ukraine to allow the IAEA to inspect the site.
  • Brittney Griner will return to a Russian court on Thursday, where she awaits a verdict on drug charges. The basketball superstar faces up to a 10-year sentence, but her legal team has argued for leniency, saying she did not intend to bring cannabis products into the country. Her case in recent weeks has graduated from the courtroom to the highest diplomatic levels, as U.S. and Russian officials haggle over a potential prisoner swap.
  • Former German chancellor and friend of Putin Gerhard Schroeder said Moscow wanted a “negotiated solution” to the war. Kyiv officials quickly fired back. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called Schroeder a “voice of the Russian royal court,” adding that a Russian cease-fire and troop withdrawal must come first. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said it is “simply disgusting when former leaders of powerful states with European values work for Russia, which is fighting against these values.”

Battlefield updates

  • Russia and Ukraine and preparing for a fierce standoff in the south, near the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, where Kyiv has been plotting a significant counteroffensive. Ukrainian forces have for weeks had their eye on retaking Kherson, the first city to fall to Moscow. Now, Russia is amassing troops in the same area, Ukraine’s military said Wednesday.
  • The southern city of Mykolaiv reported shelling overnight. Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said a building and supermarket were damaged in the front-line city, which has come under increasing bombardment in recent days. The war has killed more than 130 civilians in the city and injured at least 590 others, Senkevych said.
  • Ukrainians urged to flee the battle-torn east have begun arriving in the country’s west on emergency evacuation trains. Ukrainian authorities recently issued a mandatory evacuation order for hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Donetsk region, where intense fighting continues.
  • Far from the front lines, Russian missiles hit military infrastructure in the western Lviv region, near Ukraine’s border with Poland, the regional governor said Wednesday. He said no one was hurt in the Tuesday strike.
  • Ukraine’s Kuleba said the liberation of the entire territory of Ukraine was “realistic.” Asked at a briefing whether the return of the city of Kherson to Ukrainian control was possible, Kuleba said he was convinced that all of Ukraine will be liberated from Russia. .

Global impact

  • Russia’s war in Ukraine has made the security of Taiwan another “focus of global attention,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said during a visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Her trip drew anger from China, which claims the self-governed island as part of its territory.
  • Zelensky answered diplomatically on Wednesday when asked about China’s stance on Russia’s invasion, saying Beijing’s neutrality is paramount — even if he would prefer that it denounce Moscow. “As for now, China is balancing and indeed has neutrality and, I will be honest, this neutrality is better than China joining Russia,” Zelensky said during a virtual meeting with students in Australia.
  • The top diplomats of Russia and the United States were in the same room Wednesday, attending a conference of southeast Asian nations in Cambodia. A U.S. official told reporters that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had no plans to meet directly with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
  • The war, which is in its sixth month, has forced more than 12 million people out of their homes. Nearly 6.2 million people have fled to other European countries, and more than 6.3 million are displaced within Ukraine, according to the latest U.N. figures.
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz accused Moscow of needlessly slashing gas exports. The chancellor spoke in Mülheim, where a turbine for the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline is stored as Russia refused to accept it back after maintenance in Canada, claiming issues with the paperwork. Scholz said the paperwork is in order and that Moscow can meet its commitments even without the turbine. In a Wednesday statement on Telegram, Russian energy giant Gazprom said sanctions from Canada, the E.U. and the U.K. make the delivery of the turbine to its Russian site “impossible.”

From our correspondents on the ground

Former Ukraine prison detainees doubt Russia’s deadly blast story: The Olenivka prison was known to human rights groups as a lawless place where pro-Russian forces hold civilians flagged as potential enemy “collaborators” and prisoners of war, Mary Ilyushina reports. That was even before Friday’s blast.

The detention facility held people from Mariupol after Russia captured the southern port city in a brutal siege. Among them were fighters who held out for weeks at the Azovstal steel plant before finally surrendering.

Among those who ended up in the prison were nearly three dozen aid workers who volunteered to help residents of Mariupol but were considered suspect by Russian officers and separatist forces. Three aid workers who were released told The Washington Post that the building where the fighters died was separate from where captives are held, casting doubt on Moscow’s version of events.

Florian Neuhof contributed to this report.