Ukraine live briefing: IAEA in city of Zaporizhzhia; Ukraine pushes Russian forces in south

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors at a Kyiv hotel on Wednesday, before heading to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. (Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP/Getty Images)

Countries of the European Union reached a political agreement on Wednesday that would make it more difficult and expensive for Russian tourists to get visas, as a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in the city of Zaporizhzhia.

The inspectors are scheduled to spend the night at a hotel in the city before visiting the Zaporzhizhia nuclear power plant first thing Thursday morning to assess potential damage caused by recent military strikes around the facility. The visit comes amid an ongoing Ukrainian assault in Kherson, located the country’s south, where Russian soldiers have grasped considerable ground.

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

Zaporizhzhia

  • IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi said the mission aims to establish a permanent monitoring presence at the plant. Grossi met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a short trip to Kyiv before setting off early Wednesday for the days-long mission. Grossi said he secured assurances from Moscow and Kyiv that he and his team will be safe as they travel behind the war’s front lines.
  • A senior Russian diplomat endorsed Grossi’s push for a permanent presence at the plant on Wednesday, though Kremlin-installed officials in the region downplayed the scale and scope of the mission.
  • Zelensky and his advisers accused Russian forces Tuesday of striking targets on the IAEA’s path to Zaporizhzhia; the Kremlin did not respond to the allegation but said Wednesday it is doing what is necessary to ensure the safety of the mission.

Battlefield updates

  • Ukraine may have succeeded in pushing Russia’s “front line back some distance in places” in the south by “exploiting relatively thinly held Russian defenses,” the British Defense Ministry said Wednesday on Twitter. Ukrainian officials have framed the uptick in fighting in the south, particularly around Kherson, as a counteroffensive. But the Pentagon did not describe it as such, and one Ukrainian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said “counterattack” was too strong a term to describe what he called “a normal operation.”
  • Ukraine has temporarily banned journalists from traveling to the front lines, citing unstable conditions there. Illiya Yevlash, press officer for the Ukrainian ground forces, told The Washington Post that journalists should not travel to Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk and parts of the Zaporizhzhia region “until the situation on the front is stabilized.”
  • Ukraine’s Defense Ministry asked Crimea residents to inform on the position of Russian forces. “The Ukrainian peninsula is famous for its autumn velvet season! Therefore, we ask all residents to urgently inform us of the ‘most popular’ places to visit,” a ministry statement read on Facebook. On social media, the ministry asked for the exact addresses or coordinates of troop deployment points, routes of military equipment and information about local Russian collaborators.
Video shows a fire at warehouse in northern Crimea on Aug. 31, Russia’s emergencies ministry said. No casualties were reported. (Video: Telegram)
  • Social media posts verified by The Post show thick smoke from a warehouse fire in Russian-occupied Crimea on Aug. 31. No casualties have been reported in the fire that occurred just after 6 a.m. local time near train tracks in the Krasnogvardeyskoye settlement, according to Russian Emergency Situations Ministry. Ukrainian politician Oleksiy Honcharenko identified the building as an oil storage facility.
  • A social media video verified by The Post shows smoke and gunfire in the 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 areas in the region, including smoke near the strategic Antonovsky Bridge, destruction to a market, and bodies and burned military vehicles near the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant.
Smoke was seen rising from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson in footage circulating on social media on Aug. 30. (Video: Twitter)
  • Russian forces hit the northeastern city of Kharkiv with rockets overnight, injuring two people and damaging residential buildings, according to Oleh Synyehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration. Synyehubov said one of the rockets fell on Russia’s territory. According to ISW analysts, “Russian forces conducted a limited ground attack north of Kharkiv City on August 30,” striking the center of the city and its surrounding settlements. Four people died and 14 more were injured in Monday’s strikes against Kharkiv, Synyehubov said.
  • On Thursday, 1,422 schools serving over 320,000 children are set to open in Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday. The ministry added that it sent coordinates locating all the schools in the occupied areas to the United Nations, humanitarian organizations and Ukraine to “unconditionally ensure the safety of students and teachers” and accused Kyiv of the “deliberate shelling” of schools and kindergartens.

Global impact

  • European Union countries reached a political agreement Wednesday to suspend a visa facilitation accord with Russia, making it more difficult and expensive for Russian tourists to get visas, but the move falls far short of the blanket ban some leaders are demanding, Emily Rauhala and Beatriz Ríos report. Moscow said it would respond to the E.U. visa agreement with its own measures. “If Brussels decides to shoot themselves in the foot again, that’s their choice,” Deputy Foreign Minister Grushko told RIA Novosti.
  • Germany’s chief of defense told Reuters on Wednesday that Russia’s military power shouldn’t be underestimated, noting that the spread of the war in the region would be “unreasonable” but also possible. “The Russians have enormous quantities of ammunition at their disposal,” he told the outlet. “This ammunition is partly old and very inaccurate but it is exactly this that causes great destruction to civilian infrastructure. They fire around 40,000 to 60,000 rounds of artillery ammunition per day.”
  • A new military aid package for Ukraine will be announced in the coming days, National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby announced in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, according to CNBC. “We have committed more than $13 billion in security assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces, and we will continue to do that,” he said. The news comes just a week Biden announced an aid package worth $3 billion.
  • World leaders remembered the legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, who died Tuesday in Moscow at age 91. His funeral is set for Saturday, Russian news agency Interfax reported. President Biden said the Soviet leader’s policies of “glasnost” and “perestroika,” or openness and restructuring, were the “acts of a rare leader — one with the imagination to see that a different future was possible and the courage to risk his entire career to achieve it.”
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has long decried the collapse of the Soviet Union that Gorbachev’s policies helped precipitate, expressed condolences to the former leader’s family and friends in a statement posted on Telegram. He said Gorbachev “led our country through a period of complex dramatic changes,” understanding that “reforms were necessary.” But a Kremlin spokesman also suggested that Gorbachev’s “romanticism” about relations with the West was misguided. In China, where Gorbachev is viewed by many as a man who recklessly dismantled a great socialist nation, statements from officials regarding the former leader’s death were muted, and some social media users questioned and criticized his legacy.
  • Zelensky urged European countries to ban Russian state media. At a forum in Prague, Zelensky virtually said, “Not a single Russian propaganda-monger” or “not a single Russian state TV channel” should be allowed to keep working on E.U. territory, Reuters reported.
  • The Russian minister of education announced changes for the upcoming school year, RIA Novosti reported Wednesday. Historical education will be introduced starting in the first grade and will strengthen “the historical component” within subjects including “Russian language,” “The world around us,” “Fundamentals of religious cultures and secular ethics,” “Social science” or “Geography,” the outlet reported. Students will also sing the Russian anthem and raise the flag at the start of the week — a change first announced in April.

From our correspondents

Inside occupied Ukraine, a photographer’s firsthand account: A Moscow-based photographer captured striking images of life in Russian-occupied towns and villages of Ukraine while on two separate press tours organized by the Kremlin. The photographer, whom The Washington Post is not naming to protect them as they continue to cover the war in Ukraine, told their story to The Post’s Ruby Mellen.

“As a Moscow-based photographer covering the war, I’d heard about these surreal press tours of Russian-seized Ukrainian towns run by the Defense Ministry,” the photographer told Mellen. “I knew these trips came with a healthy dose of Kremlin propaganda, but I was eager to photograph parts of the region few journalists could access. It was one of the only possibilities I had to see what life was like in places virtually cut off from the world.”

The photographer captured empty streets in Donetsk and utter ruin in Lysychansk, smelled death in the air in Mariupol and watched residents of Melitopol become Russian nationals as part of a process of “Russia-fication.” Together, these images and experiences offer a rare glimpse of what life is like for Ukrainians living under Russian military occupation.

Lily Kuo, Stefanie Le, Mary Ilyushina, Bryan Pietsch and Emily Rauhala contributed to this report.

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