Ukraine Live Briefing: U.N. chief calls for cease-fire at nuclear plant as ‘catastrophic consequences’ loom

A satellite image shows damaged Russian aircraft at the Crimean Peninsula’s Saki Air Base after an explosion on Aug. 9.
A satellite image shows damaged Russian aircraft at the Crimean Peninsula’s Saki Air Base after an explosion on Aug. 9. (Planet Labs Pbc/AP)

The chief of the United Nations on Thursday called for an immediate end to fighting around a nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine, warning that damage to Europe’s largest nuclear power facility could have “catastrophic consequences.” Yet attacks on the Zaporizhzhia plant continued, with the site’s operator reporting multiple instances of Russian shelling: “The situation is getting worse,” the company wrote.

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

Key developments

  • “This is wholly unacceptable,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement on the escalating hostilities around the Zaporizhzhia plant. Guterres urged an end to the fighting there and a withdrawal of all military personnel and equipment.
  • The U.N. Security Council discussed the crisis at a meeting Thursday. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, called it a “grave hour” and pleaded with Russia and Ukraine to demilitarize the area and allow international inspectors onto the site. Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame for the attacks, and Grossi said they have issued contradictory statements to his agency about the plant’s operations. Russian forces captured the facility earlier in the war.
  • Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear firm, Enerhoatom, said the Zaporizhzhia site had been hit several times Thursday, blaming Russian artillery attacks. One strike hit “quite close to the first power unit,” the operator said on Telegram. “The occupiers keep methodically destroying the infrastructure,” it added.
  • New satellite images appeared to show charred aircraft after a strike on a Russian air base in Crimea, a region that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The pictures, by U.S.-based Planet Labs, were followed by more images from Maxar showing part of the base burned out, along with destroyed fighter and bomber planes, a day after a Ukrainian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post that Ukrainian special forces were behind the attack on the Russian base. One person was killed and 13 injured, including two children, Russian media said.
  • Russia and the United States are negotiating a prisoner exchange, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said, confirming that talks are ongoing, without elaborating. Washington has urged Moscow to accept a deal to free WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was handed a 9½-year prison sentence in Russia. The Kremlin signaled willingness to discuss a potential exchange last week while warning the Biden administration against conducting diplomacy in public.

Battlefield updates

  • Ukraine plans to evacuate two-thirds of residents from the areas under its control in Donetsk before winter. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told a news conference Thursday that about 220,000 people, including 52,000 children, could be evacuated from the area, in part because of concerns about their ability to keep warm as temperatures drop in the war-ravaged region.
  • Ukraine’s Defense Ministry mocked Russians over the blasts in Crimea, although Kyiv has not officially claimed responsibility. On Twitter, it advised “our valued Russian guests not to visit” the peninsula, sharing a video of beach resorts that said: “You had a few options this summer … you chose Crimea. Big mistake.” Ukrainian officials have used social media extensively as part of the information war.
  • Two separate explosions at the Crimean base suggest a potential attack rather than an accident in Tuesday’s incident, according to British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
  • Missiles hit the city of Nikopol and killed two people, according to the regional Dnipropetrovsk governor. He said seven people were injured and dozens of buildings were damaged in the city near Zaporizhzhia during a second day of Russian strikes.
  • Dozens of unidentified bodies have been buried in Bucha in recent days, being the casualties of brutal Russian occupation in the Kyiv suburb early in the war. Local religious leaders are holding funerals for the victims, who were recovered from a mass grave in the area, the Associated Press reports. They have not been named, and their graves are marked only with numbers.

Global impact

  • Defense ministers from a coalition of Western countries pledged $1.5 billion in military aid for Ukraine at a meeting in Copenhagen on Thursday. The money will pay for weapons, ammunition and training of Ukrainian forces, and the nations promised that more assistance is on the way.
  • Estonia announced that it would no longer issue tourist, business and student visas to Russians, except to students completing a degree, taking effect in a week. Latvia earlier restricted visas to Russians. The moves close two main land routes for Russians to access Europe.
  • Latvia’s Parliament declared Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism,” calling on other European Union countries to do the same. Latvia is one of three Baltic nations, former Soviet republics facing high stakes in the war in Ukraine, that have been among Russia’s staunchest critics.
  • The United Nations says a deal to export Ukraine’s grain is off to “a very good start.” A U.N. official said he expects an increase in shipments after 12 vessels were authorized to leave Ukrainian ports in a bid to ease the global food crisis.
  • McDonald’s will begin reopening some of its restaurants in Kyiv and western Ukraine, the company announced Thursday. In May, the American fast-food chain announced that it would sell its 850 Russian restaurants, ending a 30-year relationship that began in 1990, symbolizing growing Western influence on the Soviet Union.

From our correspondents

Crimea was a holiday spot for sunbathing Russians. Then the war hit. The explosions on Crimea’s western coast brought the war up close for Russians who went there to forget the fallout from the conflict in neighboring Ukraine, Adam Taylor writes in the Today’s WorldView column: “The ‘Crimean Riviera’ offered beaches along the Black Sea, relaxing dachas and luxurious beach resorts.”

But footage showed swimmers and sunbathers watching plumes of thick smoke rise from the Saki base Tuesday, and roads out of Crimea clogged with holidaymakers. “The conflict has now hit a ‘gray zone’ of sovereignty between Russia and Ukraine that in fact goes back far further than 2014,” Taylor writes.

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.