Ukraine Live Briefing: Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

A service member with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine on Aug. 4.
A service member with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine on Aug. 4. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Russia and Ukraine are accusing one another of shelling Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the Zaporizhzhia plant, triggering fears of an international nuclear crisis. In his nightly address Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia carried out the shelling, calling it “one of the most dangerous crimes” against all Europeans. Russia’s Defense Ministry has said Ukrainian nationalists attacked the nuclear plant.

Ships laden with grain continue to leave Ukraine as a deal with Russia holds and fighting continues to shift toward southeast Ukraine along the Dnieper River. Here’s the latest on the war and its impact across the globe.

Key developments

  • Russia and Ukraine are accusing each other of shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, located in southeast Ukraine. It was seized by Russian forces in March and its closeness to front-line fighting is triggering international fears of a nuclear crisis. The U.N. nuclear watchdog has appealed for access to the plant and called the situation “extremely grave and dangerous.”
  • There has been no damage to reactors and no radiological release from the attack, Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a statement Saturday. He repeated his call to send an IAEA mission of experts to help secure the nuclear plant. “But this will need the cooperation, understanding and facilitation from both Ukraine and Russia,” Grossi’s statement said.
  • The deal to lift a Russian blockade on millions of tons of Ukrainian grain appears to be working. Zelensky said about 60,000 tons of corn are on board a vessel en route to consumers in Turkey, Britain and Ireland, and will ease a food crisis in parts of Africa and Asia. Ukraine is predicting it can ship 3 to 5 million tons of grain a month if the agreement with Russia holds.
  • Ukraine’s security services, the SBU, detained two men who it says were spying for Russia in the Mykolaiv region, according to a Telegram message from the agency posted Saturday. The SBU said the men helped Russia launch targeted strikes and destroy shipbuilding infrastructure.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Russian resort city of Sochi on Friday, their second meeting in 2½ weeks. In a joint statement, the leaders said they had agreed to increase the volume of trade between their countries, and reaffirmed the Ukraine grain deal.

Battlefield updates

  • Britain’s defense ministry said Saturday the war was “about to enter a new phase,” with heavy fighting shifting to between Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, along the Dnieper River. Russian forces are “almost certainly massing in the south,” it added, with long convoys of military trucks, tanks and artillery seen moving away from Donbas heading southwest.
  • Russian-backed forces have continued attacks in the Donetsk region, the Ukrainian General Staff said on Facebook on Saturday. “The enemy is conducting an offensive operation in the Donetsk direction, concentrating its main efforts on the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions,” the General Staff said. Bakhmut and Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine are key targets for Russia.
  • The latest report from U.S. think tank the Institute for the Study of War said that Russia was using Iranian-provided drones in Ukraine, according to Ukraine’s presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych. He said Friday that Iran had given at least 46 drones to Russia. The White House said in July that it had gathered evidence that Russian officials made multiple trips to an Iranian airfield to examine drones for purchase.

Global impact

  • Russia’s vow to annex pockets of occupied Ukraine and hold votes in the country’s east and south as soon as September is presenting the United States and its partners with a predicament. The White House has warned that any “sham” referendums would bring “additional costs” to Russia, but trepidation is growing in Washington and Kyiv over whether the West is well enough positioned to avert such a pivotal shift in the war.
  • Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that his country was ready to discuss a prisoner exchange offer from the U.S. involving basketball star Brittney Griner. However, he warned that “loud statements” and public diplomacy from the Biden administration could sink the hope of any deal. If she loses her appeal, she could be sent to a Russian penal colony.
  • The director of Amnesty International in Ukraine, Oksana Pokalchuk, has quit after a report from the human rights group accused Ukraine’s armed forces of endangering civilians by placing troops in residential areas during fighting. Kyiv has fiercely criticized the report and likened it to Russian propaganda. Amnesty said the violations “in no way justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks.”
  • In Germany, the conviction of Vadim Krasikov, 56, for carrying out a killing on behalf of Russia in a Berlin park last year led to the expulsion of two Russian officials by the government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Now, critics say Germany’s timid reaction to the verdict was part of a long-standing pattern of appeasing the Kremlin, in part to protect business ties with Moscow over oil and gas.

From our correspondents on the ground

It’s an artillery war, but Ukraine still kills tanks with Javelins: Some Ukrainian soldiers have discovered that Javelin cases make great beds. The U.S.-made antitank missiles are packed in large, black rectangular capsules — perfect for elevating a slim cot off the dirty, cold floors of front-line positions.

“Make sure you mention they’re empty,” a soldier told The Post, showing off the makeshift beds. “The last thing we need is Americans thinking they’re sending us Javelins just so we can sleep on them.” It’s the opposite, actually: The 93rd Mechanized Brigade had fired so many Javelins at Russian tanks that they needed something to do with the pile of empty cases.

The fighting in this stage of the war between Russia and Ukraine has shifted toward an exchange of long-range artillery and missile strikes. But despite Javelins being a shorter-range weapon, soldiers near Russian-occupied Izyum in northeastern Ukraine still consider Javelins an effective way to inflict punishing damage on Russian troops.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin will move Friday to formally annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following staged referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. In a grand ceremony at the Kremlin, he is expected to sign so-called “accession treaties” to absorb parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Follow our live updates here.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on Sept. 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counteroffensive that forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

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