Ukraine live briefing: Russian troop mobilization targets ethnic minorities, Zelensky says

Police officers detain a man in Moscow on Saturday during a protest against the Kremlin's military mobilization. (AFP/Getty Images)

Kremlin-backed forces in Crimea are mobilizing Tatars to fight in Kherson, in a “catastrophic” attempt to put ethnic minorities in harm’s way, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday, the same day that protests in an impoverished Russian region led to clashes with police. In Russia and areas that its troops control, the Kremlin has begun to mobilize hundreds of thousands of reservists to fight its foundering war in Ukraine.

Kremlin-staged referendums to annex occupied areas of Ukraine are underway, and Russia’s foreign minister insisted that regions would be “under the full protection of the state” if they are added to his nation — despite widespread condemnation. Some residents called it a vote “under a gun barrel,” with the outcome predetermined by the Kremlin.

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

Key developments

  • In his nightly address, Zelensky said Russian-backed forces were targeting Indigenous peoples of Siberia and Crimea through a “deliberate imperial policy” of issuing military summonses that could force them to fight Ukrainians. On Sunday, the Ukrainian military said occupying forces in Crimea had handed out 1,000 summonses to join the Russians in the Kherson region.
  • The impoverished Russian region of Dagestan, which has borne a disproportionate share of military casualties in Ukraine, emerged as a hot spot for protests on Sunday. Women in the regional capital, Makhachkala, struggled with police and tried to keep them from dragging male protesters to vans. Furious residents blocked a highway elsewhere in Dagestan. At least 100 people were detained in the region Sunday, according to the human rights group OVD-Info.
  • At least 800 people across the country were detained by Russian authorities during protests of mobilizations this weekend, according to OVD-Info. Since Wednesday, more than 2,300 have been detained.
  • Zelensky said Russian-backed troops will retaliate against people who don’t vote in the “sham” referendum. “Those people who don’t come to referendum, you know, Russians can turn off their electricity and won’t give them an opportunity to live a normal human life,” Zelensky said earlier Sunday on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “They force people. They throw them in prisons.”
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, despite global criticism, said any new annexed Ukrainian territory would be under Russia’s “full protection” in a news conference at the United Nations. He also did not rule out using nuclear weapons to defend the areas. “All of the laws, doctrines, concepts and strategies of the Russian Federation apply to all of its territory,” he said Saturday.

Battleground updates

  • Russian strikes targeting the city of Zaporizhzhia wounded at least three people, authorities there said. Moscow’s partial control of the Zaporizhzhia region is key because it provides a land bridge, linking Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, to Russia itself. Russia also accused Ukraine of attacks in areas where voting is underway, with state news outlets and the leader of the self-declared breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic saying a pro-Russian former Ukrainian lawmaker was killed in a Ukrainian strike on a hotel in Kherson.
  • Russian forces struck 35 settlements across Ukraine’s south and east in the previous 24 hours, including Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said early Sunday. At least three people died and 19 were injured in strikes Saturday.
  • “Kamikaze” drones were used to strike the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa overnight into Sunday, Ukrainian officials said. The drones, which explode upon collision with a target, damaged government and residential buildings in the city center, but no one was hurt, according to Odessa’s mayor, Gennadiy Trukhanov. Odessa is a crucial port for grain shipments out of Ukraine.

Spotlight: Russia’s manpower issues

  • The speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament warned Sunday that partial mobilization must be handled “without a single mistake.” Valentina Matviyenko, a close Putin ally who leads the Federation Council, said problems in mobilization reflect the rush by regional leaders to satisfy the Kremlin’s demand for new draftees in the space of several days, with scant regard for quality. Matviyenko, in a Telegram post, also complained of “unacceptable” cases of people being mobilized who clearly should not have been.
  • Putin’s partial military mobilization could put further pressure on Russia’s national guard, Britain’s Defense Ministry said. The guard force, known in Russian as Rosgvardia, “is highly likely under particular strain” as the Kremlin has called on it to facilitate staged referendums in the east of Ukraine and to deal with protests inside Russia, the ministry said. “There is a realistic possibility that mobilisation will be used to reinforce Rosgvardia units with additional manpower,” it added.
  • Russian forces may be preparing to forcibly mobilize Ukrainian prisoners of war to fight for Moscow, state media reported. Institute for the Study of War analysts said that would constitute a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Global impact

  • Zelensky said he believes Putin is serious when he threatens to use nuclear power in Ukraine. “I don’t think he’s bluffing,” Zelensky said on “Face the Nation.” “I think the world is deterring it and containing this threat.” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC News’s “This Week” that the United States has communicated directly to top Russian officials “that there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia if they use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.” The Post previously reported that the United States has been privately warning Russia for months that there will be grave consequences if Russia uses a nuclear weapon.
  • Serbia’s foreign minister reportedly said his country would not accept the results of staged referendums in eastern Ukraine — a significant statement, coming from a government that has maintained stable relations with Moscow throughout the war and signed a cooperation agreement with Russia just two days ago. According to Serbian news outlets, Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic said Sunday that the referendums violate international law and Serbia’s national interest.
  • Traffic at the border between Russia and Finland — one of the last European Union member states with a land border open to Russians — was “high” on Saturday, according to Finnish border officials, amid reports of Russians fleeing the country to avoid being called up. Finland on Saturday announced it would restrict entry and visas for Russian citizens.
  • Brits who were released as part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine said they were tortured while in captivity, in interviews with British media outlets. They said they were told Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich played a role in securing their release. The Post could not independently verify the claims.

From our correspondents

For many Ukrainian women, the war has meant choosing between becoming refugees or staying in Ukraine to support their husbands. Some women with children devote themselves to fundraising for their partners’ military units. Others focus on caring for their children alone.

“It’s very difficult, because when everyone is scattered around Ukraine, I have to be here and there,” said Yuliia Sirenko, 28. “You live one day at a time.”

After more than half a year of fighting, the social services and networks that once helped to sustain the prewar country of more than 40 million people have largely broken down. NGOs are trying to house and assist newly single, displaced and widowed mothers. Their needs are daunting, Miriam Berger and Heidi Levine report. And the start of the school year in September brought little respite: Just over half of schools reopened for in-person learning.