Ukraine live briefing: U.N. says attack on nuclear plant would be ‘suicide’; blasts reported behind Russian lines

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and U.N. Secretary General António Guterres meet in Lviv, Ukraine, Aug. 18, 2022. (Turkish Presidential Press Service/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and U.N. Secretary General António Guterres meet in Lviv, Ukraine, Aug. 18, 2022. (Turkish Presidential Press Service/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine and the United Nations are increasingly alarmed about the likelihood of a disaster at the Russia-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has seen heavy fighting in its vicinity for weeks. "We must tell it as it is. Any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide,” said U.N. Secretary General António Guterres after meeting with the leaders of Ukraine and Turkey. Meanwhile, several loud explosions were reported across Russian-held territory late Thursday evening. While none could be immediately confirmed as a Ukrainian attack, the blasts came after repeated strikes deep behind Russian lines, including attacks on Kremlin-occupied Crimea.

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

Key developments

  • Guterres met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to review the grain deal they signed last month and discuss diplomatic ways to end the war. The leaders reported few tangible outcomes. In a news briefing after the meeting, Erdogan declared support for Ukraine.
  • Zelensky discussed conditions at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant with both Erdogan and Guterres. The Ukrainian leader described the situation there as “nuclear blackmail” and “deliberate terror” on his Telegram account. The U.N. atomic energy watchdog has warned of a potential disaster and appealed for access to visit the facility, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Russia said a proposal for a demilitarized zone around the nuclear plant was “unacceptable.”
  • Ukraine on Thursday warned that Russia was planning a “large-scale terrorist attack” on the power plant. Ukrainian officials said Moscow would blame the strike on Kyiv, and State Department spokesman Ned Price said such a false flag operation is the “Russian playbook — accuse others of what you have done or what you intend to do.”
  • Posts on social media captured booming sounds in two parts of occupied Crimea — near a Russian air base outside Sevastopol and around the Kerch Strait close to mainland Russia. The Kremlin-backed leaders on the peninsula said the explosions came from Crimea’s air-defense systems. Sevastopol’s governor said a drone was shot down and that there had been no injuries.
  • Blasts were also reported in the southern region of Kherson and in Belgorod, a Russian province bordering Ukraine. There, the regional governor said an ammunition depot “caught fire” and videos shared on social media, the authenticity of which could not immediately be confirmed, appeared to show a massive blaze.

Battlefield updates

  • Ukraine is activating a unit under the command of its special forces to attack far behind Russian lines, its defense minister said in an interview. Kyiv hopes this will undermine Russia’s ability to hold the front lines ahead of a potential counteroffensive, he said. Explosions in Crimea over the past week drew attention to the strategy as Ukrainian officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Post that special forces were responsible.
  • Kharkiv had one of its “most tragic” nights in the war, the region’s governor said early Thursday, describing Russian strikes that shook sleeping residents awake and battered their homes. Oleh Synyehubov said shelling in one part of the region killed seven people and injured 17 others. In a district of the city of the same name, a strike on a dormitory killed two people and injured 18 more, he said. A local official said the dormitory housed residents with hearing impairments who could not hear the sirens.
  • Rescuers worked through the night in Kharkiv to douse fires and clear rubble, photos showed. An escalation in artillery fire prompted Human Rights Watch to denounce the assault on the northeastern region this week. The U.S.-based group said it documented attacks on health-care facilities and populated areas using explosive weapons and cluster munitions.
  • In gas masks and hazmat suits, Ukrainian emergency workers conducted a nuclear response drill in the nearby city of Zaporizhzhia. Ukraine’s interior minister has said the country must prepare for any scenario, as recent shelling in the region around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant triggers alarm.
  • Russia has reportedly replaced the commander of its Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, according to state news agency RIA Novosti. The order came from Putin, it reported.

Global impact

  • Denmark must be able to build its own war ships a development that may lead to investments up to 40 billion Danish crowns ($5.43 billion) in new warships, its Defense Ministry said Thursday. “With Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the new security situation in Europe, it is more important than ever that Denmark is able to defend itself. Security of supply plays a decisive role here,” Defense Minister Morten Bodskov said in a statement.
  • Estonia experienced “the most extensive cyberattacks” since 2007, it said Thursday, after the country removed a Soviet-era World War II monument from a region near the Russian border. Hacker group Killnet claimed responsibility for the attack on online payment and public services, but an Estonian official said it was “ineffective.”
  • In an interview with The Post at his presidential office, Zelensky discussed U.S. warnings about Russia preparing to launch a full-scale invasion. Read excerpts here, and find The Post’s months-long examination of the road to the war in Ukraine here.
  • Chinese troops will travel to Russia for joint military exercises with countries including India and Belarus. China’s Defense Ministry said the drills were unrelated to the “current international situation” and part of a cooperation agreement with Russia’s military. U.S. officials have criticized what they describe as Beijing’s “alignment” with Moscow during the war in Ukraine.

From our correspondents

In Ukraine, a Russian mercenary group steps out of the shadows: The Kremlin always officially denied any relationship with the Wagner private military company, which has done its dirty work in eastern Ukraine, Libya, Syria and parts of Africa for years, Mary Ilyushina reports.

“But now, Wagner and its mercenaries have suddenly emerged from the shadows in the Ukraine war, openly celebrated on Russian state media,” she writes. A recent report on the most-watched state TV channel trumpeted the group’s gains on the Ukrainian front lines — an unthinkable acknowledgment of Wagner even just a few months ago.