Ukraine Live Briefing: Ukraine strikes Crimea targets twice in a week

Smoke rises above the village of Mayskoye in the Dzhankoi district of Crimea following a reported explosion on Aug. 16, 2022. (Reuters)
Smoke rises above the village of Mayskoye in the Dzhankoi district of Crimea following a reported explosion on Aug. 16, 2022. (Reuters)

For the second time in a week, Ukraine’s special forces struck targets in Russian-occupied Crimea, audacious attacks that demonstrate Kyiv’s ability to carry out covert operations deep behind enemy lines. The peninsula, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014, has been a key military supply hub for Russian forces and remains a popular destination for the country’s tourists.

The Kremlin claimed the Tuesday explosion, which destroyed an ammunition depot, was an “act of sabotage,” while a Ukrainian official said the blast was the work of the same Ukrainian special forces team believed responsible for a strike last week on a Russian air base in Crimea.

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

Key developments

  • Social media videos of the strike’s aftermath showed a raging fire at the storage depot. At least two people were injured and 3,000 residents living nearby were evacuated, according to local media outlets.
  • The blast, near the Crimean town of Dzhankoi, was “demilitarization in action,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted. Russia’s Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said a fire at the depot caused ammunition stored inside to detonate.
  • The United Nations and Russia discussed safety around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Monday about how to ensure the safe functioning of Europe’s largest nuclear plant, which is under Russian control, as strikes around the plant have intensified in recent days. Kyiv and Moscow have blamed each other for the strikes, which have sent local residents fleeing. In a Tuesday call with French President Emmanuel Macron, Zelensky said he denounced “Russia’s nuclear terrorism.”
  • Russia has “no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” Shoigu said Tuesday at a conference in Moscow. Russia’s nuclear arsenal exists mainly “to deter a nuclear attack,” and its use “is limited to emergency circumstances” outlined in publicly available documents, he said.
  • The U.N.’s Guterres, Zelensky and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are set to meet Thursday in Lviv, Ukraine, a U.N. spokesperson announced. Guterres also plans to visit a Black Sea port used to transport grain under a U.N. backed deal brokered in Turkey.
  • Russia and Britain traded accusations of unsafe and provocative aircraft activity on Tuesday. Russia’s Defense Ministry said a British plane entered Russian airspace on Monday and had to be escorted out by a fighter jet. But a U.K. defense official denied the claim and said its aircraft was in international airspace when Russia’s jet “conducted an unsafe pass.”
A senior Ukrainian government official said the explosions on Aug. 16 in Russian-occupied Crimea were the work of Ukrainian special forces. (Video: Reuters)

Spotlight: The Post interviews Zelensky

  • The Washington Post on Tuesday published an exclusive, hour-long and wide-ranging interview with Zelensky, conducted at the presidential office in Kyiv, where the hallways are fortified in case of a Russian attack. Read excerpts of the interview here, and find The Post’s just-published months-long examination of the road to the war in Ukraine here.
  • In the interview, Zelensky said that “one can’t wage war with drones,” as he defended his government’s response to U.S. intelligence warnings of a possible Russian invasion. He said Western countries did not send Ukraine the advanced weapons it needed — including U.S. multiple-launch precision rocket systems, or HIMARS — before the war began.
  • Kyiv said supporting powers were not specific enough in their warnings, and Zelensky himself suspected that some Western officials wanted him to flee so they could negotiate a settlement with Moscow over Ukraine, The Post found in its investigation of the months leading up to the war. “I’m sure someone was really worried about what would happen to me and my family,” Zelensky told The Post. “But someone probably wanted to just end things faster.”

Battlefield updates

  • Russia’s repeated attacks on Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, are unlawful, indiscriminate and have caused many civilian casualties, the Human Rights Watch said in a report released Monday. In recent days, Russian forces targeted towns and villages around Kharkiv with airstrikes, Ukrainian officials said. Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov wrote on Telegram late Monday that Russian forces had attacked five of Kharkiv’s nine districts, adding that “such a radius of impact with missiles on the city has not been for a long time.”
  • Russia’s Black Sea fleet is “struggling” to effectively control the waters off Crimea’s coast following Russian forces’ withdrawal from Snake Island and the April sinking of Russia’s flagship, the British Defense Ministry said. Agency analysts said the “limited effectiveness” of the fleet “undermines Russia’s overall invasion strategy” by neutralizing the threat of an amphibious assault on Odessa.
  • Russia’s main military priority is eastern Ukraine, and its forces “conducted multiple offensive operations east and southeast of Siversk” in the Donetsk region on Monday, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank. Russia “made limited territorial gains” Monday in ground attacks around Bakhmut, a city south of Siversk, ISW analysts said.

Global impact

  • Three foreign nationals could face the death penalty in eastern Ukraine after a court in the separatist Donetsk region charged them Monday with being mercenaries, the Russian state news agency Tass reported. The three — nationals of Croatia, Sweden and Britain — pleaded not guilty. Their next court hearing will take place in early October, Tass said.
  • Five more ships left Ukrainian ports loaded with grain as part of a U.N.-backed initiative involving Ukraine and Russia, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said. Countries around the world are dealing with shortages of wheat, corn and other staples as a result of the war.
  • Finland will significantly restrict visas for Russian nationals amid a debate in the European Union about whether such cuts are feasible or justified. The Finnish foreign minister said Tuesday that visa applications for Russians will be cut to around one-tenth of the current number, with priority given to those needing to enter Finland for work, school or family reasons, Reuters reported. Ukraine’s Zelensky told The Post that the E.U. should close its borders to all Russian nationals, arguing that everyday Russians should bear some cost for the invasion.
  • Estonia began removing a monument commemorating Soviet soldiers during World War II, Estonia’s government said. “We will not afford Russia the opportunity to use the past to disturb the peace in Estonia,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in a Tuesday statement. The monument, which is a replica tank, will be replaced by a neutral grave marker.
  • German troops returned to Bosnia as part of the E.U. peacekeeping mission there for the first time in a decade, Reuters reported, adding that the move comes amid worries over growing instability if the effects of Russia’s war were to spill into the western Balkans.

From our correspondents

Inside Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, workers describe explosions and constant fear. Six of them spoke to The Washington Post’s Loveday Morris, Ievgeniia Sivorka and John Hudson about what it is like to work at the sensitive site, which has been under Russian military control since the early days of the war and which Russia has begun to use as a shield for its attacks in recent weeks, triggering global fears of a nuclear accident.

The plant workers — almost all of whom have fled into Ukrainian territory in recent days and weeks — described a deteriorating security situation at the plant, explosions with no warning and a climate of fear. Staff members have disappeared, camera phones have been banned, and representatives of Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy company, have been present at company meetings, they said. The exodus has added worker shortages to a long list of concerns about the plant’s functioning.

“Everything has changed. Our lives have flipped upside down,” Svitlana, 53, a former accountant for the plant, told The Post as she and her extended family arrived in Ukrainian territory south of Zaporizhzhia. “You are constantly working under stress,” she added.