Ukraine live briefing: Kherson attacks underway; Russia to hold military drills with China and others

A photo made available by the International Atomic Energy Agency shows an IAEA inspection team member on the tarmac as preparations are made for their flight to Ukraine, at Vienna International Airport on Aug. 29. (Dean Calma/Iaea/Handout/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have arrived in Kyiv, and new attacks on Russian forces in the Kherson region are underway, according to Ukrainian officials.

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

Key developments

  • Kyiv said its forces broke through Russian positions in the Kherson region. Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military’s southern command, told the Russian-language outlet TV Rain that “offensive actions” have begun. The British Defense Ministry said Ukraine’s forces have increased their artillery fire at the front line in southern Ukraine, although “it is not yet possible to confirm the extent of Ukrainian advances.”
  • Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, died Tuesday in Moscow, Russian news agencies announced. Gorbachev had hopes of rescuing the Soviet State but instead drove it toward collapse. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences over Gorbachev’s death, his press secretary told the state-run news agency Tass on Tuesday.
Smoke was seen rising from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson in footage circulating on social media on Aug. 30. (Video: Twitter)
  • Video circulating on social media Tuesday and verified by The Washington Post shows smoke and gunfire in the southern city of Kherson, which has been occupied by Russian forces since early in the war. Other videos posted online in recent days and verified by The Post show signs of damage to infrastructure and residential life in the region, including smoke near the strategic Antonovsky Bridge, destruction to a market, as well as bodies and burned military vehicles near the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant.
  • Russia will hold large-scale military drills with Chinese and other allied forces in the coming days, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Monday. The Vostok 2022 exercises will involve over 50,000 troops and 60 warships, the ministry said. “The United States has concerns about any country exercising with Russia while Russia wages a unprovoked, brutal war against Ukraine,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday when asked about India’s participation in the drills. “But, of course, every participating country will make its own decisions.”
  • IAEA inspectors have arrived in Ukraine, a diplomat familiar with the situation told The Washington Post. The group is set to arrive at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant later this week to assess whether weeks of strikes — which Ukraine and Russia have blamed on each other — have seriously damaged the facility. President Volodymyr Zelensky also met with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi on Tuesday, telling him that it was important for Ukraine that the IAEA demand a demilitarized zone around the power plant, state news agency Ukrinform reported.
  • More attacks were reported near the plant. Oleksandr Starukh, the regional governor of Zaporizhzhia, said Russian forces launched a missile strike on Zaporizhzhia overnight into Tuesday. Starukh said no one was injured and that infrastructure was not seriously damaged but that the situation was still being clarified. The European Union said it will send 5 million potassium iodide tablets to Zaporizhzhia at Kyiv’s request as a preventive measure in case local residents are exposed to radiation.

Battlefield updates

  • There has been “an uptick” in fighting around Kherson “over the past few days, including artillery and rockets,” a senior U.S. military official, speaking anonymously under conditions set by the Pentagon, said Monday during a news briefing, adding that the Pentagon could not confirm whether a counteroffensive has begun. A Ukrainian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said that a “counterattack” was too strong a term to describe what he said was “a normal operation.”
  • Shelling hit the center of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine early Tuesday, killing at least five people and injuring seven, according to the city’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov. The shelling hit residential buildings and a preschool, Terekhov said, adding that a fire at one residential building could cause the number of victims to rise.
  • Russian forces shelled Mykolaiv and nearby settlements on Monday, killing two people and injuring 24 more, Vitaliy Kim, Mykolaiv’s regional governor, said Tuesday, citing military authorities and Ukrainian emergency services. Sixteen S-300 long-range antiaircraft missiles caused heavy damage to residential buildings and transport infrastructure in the city, Kim said, while attacks against nearby settlements in the region, including Bereznehuvate and Kalynivka, also damaged buildings.
  • The Ukrainian offensive in Kherson could test the strength of Russia’s southern defenses, the British Defense Ministry said. Russia has in recent weeks worked to reinforce and reorganize its position around Kherson, notably by integrating troops from its eastern military command into its Southern Military District’s 49th Combined Arms Army, in what the ministry called an “untested structure.” If Ukraine manages to mount a sustained offensive in Kherson, it will be a key test of the “cohesion” of the army’s structure and its ability to defend Russia’s southern positions, the ministry said.

Global impact

  • The first ship carrying grain from Ukraine to Africa since the start of the war has arrived in Djibouti. The MV Brave Commander vessel is holding 23,000 metric tons of Ukrainian grain to be distributed in Ethiopia, where over 20 million people are facing hunger, the U.N. World Food Program in Africa said Tuesday. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the vessel’s arrival in a statement, and called for an end to the war, “which would do much to address the recent spike in global food insecurity.”
  • Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) met with Zelensky in Ukraine to discuss the state of the war and American aid. Their visit to Ukraine concluded on Tuesday. In his nightly address Tuesday, Zelensky said he thanked the senators for their “bipartisan support.”
  • The European Union is divided over whether to ban tourist visas for Russians as E.U. foreign ministers meet in Prague on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss this and other proposals to further sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. E.U. defense ministers are also meeting in the Czech capital Tuesday for preliminary discussions on a pitch to set up a training mission for the Ukrainian armed forces — an idea that already has support from Poland and the Baltic states. The parameters of the mission are not known, but Josep Borrell, the E.U.'s foreign policy chief, said Tuesday he hoped to secure “a political green light” in Prague.
  • The Vatican on Tuesday sought to defend Pope Francis’s messaging about the Russia-launched war in Ukraine, with the church saying that the pope’s statements have clearly condemned the conflict as “morally unjust” and “repugnant.” The statement noted that Russia had “initiated” the war, an acknowledgment noteworthy only because the pope has for months aimed to maintain a degree of neutrality. The statement amounted to a response to criticism from last week, after Francis spoke about a “poor girl” killed in Moscow in a car bombing — a reference to Daria Dugina, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. for spreading disinformation.
  • French utility company Engie said Russia’s Gazprom would further decrease gas deliveries, citing contract disagreements, Reuters reported. “Clearly, Russia is using gas as a weapon of war,” French Energy Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told France Inter radio on Tuesday, adding that the nation must “prepare for the worst-case scenario” through the energy crisis.
  • Russia picked up its first shipment of combat drones from Iran 10 days ago, U.S. officials said, highlighting Moscow’s efforts to deepen ties with allies as Western nations continue to freeze it out in response to the war in Ukraine. But the weapons transfer has not gone smoothly, and the drones have experienced technical difficulties in test settings.

From our correspondents

Ukrainian military strategy in action: Russian forces claiming to have destroyed advanced artillery systems in Ukraine may in some cases have been shooting at replicas made out of wood.

In this exclusive report from Kyiv, John Hudson reveals that “a fleet of decoys resembling advanced U.S. rocket systems has tricked Russian forces into wasting expensive long-range cruise missiles on dummy targets, according to interviews with senior U.S. and Ukrainian officials and photographs of the replicas reviewed by The Washington Post.”

The tactic is not new and has been used in other conflicts, including World War II. But in Ukraine, it could account for the disconnect between the number of advanced rocket systems — including the U.S.-made HIMARS — that Russian forces claim to have destroyed in Ukraine, and the denials from Kyiv and Washington, where officials say those systems are actually accounted for.

Karoun Demirjian, Reis Thebault, Emily Rauhala, Mary Ilyushina, Stefanie Le, Chico Harlan and John Hudson contributed to this report.