Ukraine live briefing: U.N. chief arrives in Ukraine to review month-old grain export deal

A Russian-aligned soldier stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine early this month.
A Russian-aligned soldier stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine early this month. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The U.N. chief arrived in Ukraine on Wednesday ahead of a summit to review the breakthrough agreement signed nearly one month ago that allowed for the export of Ukrainian grain and offered a sign of hope during a global food crisis. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in the western city of Lviv.

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

Key developments

  • Guterres is expected to visit a Black Sea port at the center of the Ukrainian grain deal. Five ships arrived in Ukrainian waters on Wednesday, where they will load more than 70,000 tons of agricultural products, including wheat, corn and sunflower oil, Ukraine’s sea ports authority said in a statement. It will be the largest caravan yet under the U.N.-backed deal.
  • The Ukrainian nuclear energy agency accused Russia of a cyberattack on its website, which it said had failed. Energoatom said the hacking efforts did not “significantly affect” the company’s official site. While Tuesday’s attack did not appear to impact Ukraine’s power grid, the state company that oversees the country’s nuclear plants described it as “unprecedented.”
  • Satellite images appeared to show the first grain ship from Ukraine under the deal docked in Syria, where the government is a close ally of Russia. A photo published by U.S.-based firm Planet Labs shows the Razoni vessel at Syria’s port of Tartus, according to the Associated Press, which said the buyer in Lebanon, where the shipment was initially headed, had refused the order.
  • Deadly Russian strikes continue to shake Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. The northeast metropolis was an early target for Moscow’s troops, and artillery fire has increased there in recent weeks, prompting the Human Rights Watch to denounce the assault in a report this week. Shelling in a residential district of the city on Wednesday killed at least six and injured another 16, regional governor Oleh Synyehubov said.
  • Ukraine’s top military commander said fighting along the war’s front line is “intense but fully controlled.” In a Wednesday assessment, the head of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, reported that Russia “continues to advance” while conducting relentless daily shelling. The most intense fighting is happening around the city of Donetsk in the province of the same name, he said. Zaluzhnyi also warned that Russia is amassing more firepower in Belarus.

Battlefield updates

  • One of Zelensky’s top advisers called for the bridge between mainland Russia and Crimea to be “dismantled.” The Crimean Bridge is “an illegal object, permission for the construction of which was not given by Ukraine,” Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter, repeating years-old criticism of the structure, which was erected after Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. It has served as a key supply route for Russian forces during their invasion of Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian workers at the Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest nuclear energy facility described a daily terror of explosions and nuclear catastrophe in interviews with The Washington Post. Ukraine carried out disaster response drills near the plant Wednesday, Reuters reported.
  • Ukrainian forces reportedly struck Russian targets in Crimea for the second time in a week. The peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, is a military supply hub for its forces and a popular destination for its tourists. The Kremlin said Tuesday’s explosion was an “act of sabotage” as nearby residents fled. A Ukrainian official said it was the work of the same special forces said to be behind last week’s attack on a Russian air base in Crimea.
  • Moscow replaced the commander of its Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet on Wednesday after Russia’s military outposts on the peninsula were attacked twice in one week, Russian state media reported. The fleet is celebrated in Russia but has suffered high-profile losses during its war with Ukraine, from losing its flagship in April to the two recent Ukrainian attacks in Crimea.
  • Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces reported that 44,100 Russian personnel were killed, as well as 1,886 tanks and 233 aircraft destroyed since the start of the war. In a social media post reporting the numbers, the army said Russia has suffered the greatest losses in the last day in Kharkiv and Donetsk.
  • Ukrainian children will return to school in less than two weeks, and the country is preparing for its still functioning classrooms to turn into war zones. Ukraine’s education minister said that 41 percent of schools can begin classes as normal — and that the schools will have bomb shelters. “It is very important that parents have the opportunity to make sure with their own eyes that their children will be safe in educational institutions,” Education Minister Serhiy Shkarlet wrote on Telegram.

Global impact

  • The head of a Kremlin-backed separatist government in Ukraine is making diplomatic overtures to North Korea. Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, wrote to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week, expressing support for “equally beneficial bilateral cooperation,” North Korea’s state-run news agency reported. Pushilin’s outreach comes as Russia and its proxies continue to cozy up to U.S. rivals and international pariahs.
  • A vessel loaded with grain for the Horn of Africa set sail from Ukraine, the first shipment of food aid under the U.N.-brokered deal. The Brave Commander is headed for Ethiopia, where millions of people are facing drought and hunger.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States will give $68 million to the World Food Program to buy Ukrainian wheat to help “address the world’s pressing food crisis.”
  • China said it will send troops to Russia for military exercises. Led by Russia, the “Vostok-2022” joint exercises are set to include Belarus, Mongolia, Tajikistan and India, among others, later this month. China’s defense ministry said in a Wednesday statement that its participation aims to deepen the “pragmatic and friendly cooperation” and enhance strategic coordination with all participating militaries — “which has nothing to do with the current international and regional situation.”

From our correspondents

Road to war: U.S. struggled to convince allies, and Zelensky, of risk of invasion: A Washington Post examination of the road to war in Ukraine and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans.

This account, in previously unreported detail, is the first in a series of articles examining the military campaign in Ukraine, drawn from in-depth interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials about a global crisis whose end is yet to be determined.

The Post found that the United States intelligence community penetrated multiple points of Russia’s political leadership, spying apparatus and military, and found Russian President Vladimir Putin preparing for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.