Thursday, August 18, 2022

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 164

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

IAEA head says attacks near Zaporizhzhia nuclear site amount to ‘playing with fire’

The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has sounded an alarm about the situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant after shelling damaged parts of the compound on Friday.

“I’m extremely concerned by the shelling yesterday at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement.

Grossi stated Ukraine had reported no damage to the reactors and no radiological release, but that military action was “unacceptable” and had to be “avoided at all costs.”

“Any military firepower directed at or from the facility would amount to playing with fire, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” he added.


Moscow-backed official gravely wounded after attack in Kherson

An official with the Russian occupying authorities in Ukraine’s Kherson region has been gravely wounded after an assassination attempt, local Moscow-backed authorities have stated.

Russian state news agency TASS quoted an anonymous official in Russia-occupied Kherson as saying the attack targeted the deputy chief of the Kakhovka district, some 80km (50 miles) east of Kherson city.

“Vitaly Gur has been the victim of an assassination attempt at his home. He is in hospital with multiple gunshot wounds, in a critical state,” the source added, without providing further details.

The Russian agency that investigates criminal cases in the country and in Russian-occupied areas, on Telegram confirmed there had been an “assassination attempt” against Gur.


EU hits out at Russia over attack near nuclear plant

The EU’s top diplomat has hit out at Russia after attacks damaged Europe’s largest nuclear site.

“The EU condemns Russia’s military activities around Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter.

“This is a serious and irresponsible breach of nuclear safety rules and another example of Russia’s disregard for international norms,” he added.

Borrell insisted that the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, be given access to the plant, which is under Russian control. Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for the attacks.


Ukraine says parts of nuclear plant ‘seriously damaged’ in attacks

Parts of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant have been “seriously damaged” by attacks that forced one of its reactors to shut down, the plant’s operator has announced.

The attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in south Ukraine on Friday “seriously damaged” a station containing nitrogen and oxygen and an “auxiliary building”, Energoatom said on the Telegram messaging service.

The shelling “has caused a serious risk for the safe operation of the plant”, Ukraine’s state enterprise added.


Ukraine says Russian troops fiercely attacking Bakhmut

Kyiv says Russian troops are fiercely attacking Bakhmut, a cornerstone of the defence system around the last Ukrainian-held urban area in the eastern Donbas region.

“The enemy is carrying out an attack on Bakhmut; The fighting continues,” the Ukrainian general staff announced in its situation report.

The pro-Russian rebels had reported the day before that there was fighting already inside the city area.

The statements from both sides cannot be independently verified.


Head of Amnesty office in Ukraine quits over rights group’s report

Oksana Pokalchuk – the head of Amnesty International’s Ukraine office – says she has resigned, accusing the rights organisation of parroting Kremlin propaganda in a controversial report that criticised the country’s military response to Russia’s invasion.

Amnesty sparked outrage in Ukraine when it released a report on Thursday accusing the Ukrainian military of endangering civilians by establishing bases in schools and hospitals, and launching counterattacks from heavily populated areas.

“If you don’t live in a country invaded by occupiers who are tearing it to pieces, you probably don’t understand what it’s like to condemn an army of defenders,” Pokalchuk stated on social media, announcing her resignation.

“And there are no words in any language that can convey this to someone who has not experienced this pain,” she added.


Ukraine could start export of this year’s wheat harvest in September: Official

Ukraine says it could start exporting wheat from this year’s harvest from its sea ports in September under a landmark deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations.

Kyiv hopes in several months to increase shipments of grain through the route to between three million and 3.5 million tonnes per month from the one million tonnes expected in August, Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister Taras Vysotsky noted.

Such volumes will allow Ukraine to receive enough funds so it does not have to reduce its sowing plans, Vysotsky added.


Russia massing troops in southwest in anticipation of Ukraine counterattack: UK

The UK’s defence ministry announced Russian forces are almost certainly massing in the south of Ukraine, anticipating a counteroffensive or preparation for a possible assault.

Long convoys of Russian military trucks, tanks, towed artillery and other weapons continue to move away from Ukraine’s Donbas region and are headed southwest, the ministry said on Twitter.

Battalion tactical groups (BTG), which comprise between 800 and 1,000 troops, have been deployed to Crimea and would almost certainly be used to support Russian troops in the Kherson region, the update added.


US readies $1bn weapons package for Ukraine

The United States is preparing a new $1bn security assistance package for Ukraine, which will include munitions for long-range weapons and armoured medical transport vehicles, according the Reuters news agency.

The package would be one of the largest so far and is expected to be announced as early as Monday, three sources briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The US has given about $8.8bn in aid to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion on February 24.

The officials, speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, stated that President Joe Biden had not yet signed the next weapons package, and cautioned that weapons packages can change in value and content before they are signed.

However, if signed in its current form, it would be valued at $1bn and include ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) as well as some 50 M113 armoured medical transports.

The Pentagon recently announced Ukrainians would be allowed to receive medical treatment at a US military hospital in Germany near Ramstein air base.


Ukraine-Russia trade blame over nuclear plant attacks

Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of striking Europe’s largest nuclear site, causing a reactor stoppage.

Russian troops have occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine since the early days of their invasion and Kyiv has accused them of storing heavy weapons at the site. Moscow, in turn, has accused Ukrainian forces of targeting the plant.

“Three strikes were recorded on the site of the plant, near one of the power blocks where the nuclear reactor is located,” Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power plant operator Energoatom said in a statement.

“There are risks of hydrogen leakage and radioactive spraying. The fire danger is high,” it added.


Amnesty says it ‘fully stands by’ report on Ukraine criticised by Kyiv

Amnesty International has said it stands by its accusation that Ukraine is endangering civilians by creating army bases in residential areas to counter Russian forces, after a report from the rights group prompted a furious response from Kyiv.

“The findings … were based on evidence gathered during extensive investigations which were subject to the same rigorous standards and due diligence processes as all of Amnesty International’s work,” the organisation’s Secretary General Agnes Callamard told AFP.

Callamard expressed concern that the Ukraine government’s “reaction risks chilling legitimate and important discussion of these topics.”

Andriy Zagorodnyuk, an analyst at Ukraine’s Centre for Defence Strategies, told Al Jazeera that the report contained “some facts” but placed them out of context.

“In some villages, the military took schools and used them for military purposes, but what it doesn’t say is that none of these schools are working,” he added.


1,000 Ukrainian patients transferred to European hospitals since war began: EU official

The European Union has coordinated the evacuation of some 1,000 Ukrainian patients in need of urgent care to hospitals in 18 member states since the Russian invasion began, an EU Commission spokesperson said.

To relieve pressure on local hospitals, the EU has been coordinating patient transfers to other European countries who have available hospital capacity,” spokesperson Miriam Garcia Ferrer sفشفثی.

“The [EU] Commission stands ready to continue coordinating this assistance,” she added.

The World Health Organization told CNN on Friday that it has so far recorded 434 verified attacks on healthcare in Ukraine since the invasion started that have killed at least 85 people and injured 101 more.


Russia imposes entry bans on 62 Canadians

Russia says it has imposed entry bans on 62 Canadian citizens including government officials, in the latest retaliatory move against Western nationals.

The Russian foreign ministry announced in a statement that the list included figures known for “their malicious activity in the fight against the ‘Russian world’ and our traditional values”.


Putin, Erdogan agree on partial payments for gas in roubles

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to switch part of payments for Russian gas to the rouble currency, Interfax news agency has reported, citing Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak.

During a four-hour meeting at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the two leaders also agreed to boost cooperation in the transport, agriculture and construction industries, Russia’s news agency TASS reported.

They also stressed the need to ensure the implementation of the Istanbul grain agreements, including unimpeded exports of Russian grain.

US warns Africa to bear brunt of food crisis created by Ukraine war

The United States ambassador to the United Nations has warned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will cause 40 million people to be cut off from reliable food sources.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is currently on a visit to Ghana, said that sub-Saharan Africa will be the hardest hit region by the crisis.

She added that Washington had seen “no indication that Russia will accept a diplomatic solution” to the war in Ukraine.

The Black Sea region is a big source of food supplies for the global market, with Ukraine and Russia being key suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on.

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