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Russia Urged to Withdraw Forces From Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant; Putin Turns to North Korea for Friendship

Alexander Zemlianichenko | Afp | Getty Images

This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on August 15, 2022. See here for the latest updates. 

Western countries have called on Russia to immediately withdraw its military forces from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant amid continuing fears over its fate, with both sides accusing each other of shelling the facility.

The U.S., U.K., EU and other countries issued a statement on Sunday urging Russia to withdraw its troops from Europe's largest nuclear power plant, saying their presence there "poses a great danger" to international tenets regarding nuclear safety and security.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly sent a message of friendship to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in which he expressed his wish for Russia and North Korea to deepen relations.

North Korea's state media outlet KCNA reported on Sunday that Putin had sent the North Korean leader a congratulatory telegram for North Korea's Liberation Day, on Monday, in which he expressed a will to "continue to expand the comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations" between the countries.

U.S. speaking to Russia about WNBA star Brittney Griner's release, State Department says

US' Women's National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, waits for the verdict inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022.
Evgenia Novozhenina | AFP | Getty Images
US' Women's National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, waits for the verdict inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022.

The State Department said the Biden administration is speaking with the Russian government about WNBA star Brittney Griner's case.

"No element of this trial changes our judgment that Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained and should be released immediately," State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a daily press briefing.

"That is why we've put forward a number of weeks ago what we consider to be serious a substantial proposal and an effort to seek her release, to seek the release of Paul Whelan as well," he said, referencing a June proposal the Biden administration made public last month.

"We are in communication with the Russians on this matter. And we encourage them to pursue this," Price added.

— Amanda Macias

Five more agricultural vessels approved to leave Ukraine

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
ISTANBUL, TURKIYE - AUGUST 09: An aerial view of"Glory" named empty grain ship as Representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Turkiye and the United Nations (UN) of the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) conduct inspection on vessel in Istanbul, Turkiye on August 09, 2022. The UN, Russia, and Ukraine signed a deal on July 22 to reopen three Ukrainian ports -- Odessa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhny -- for grain that has been stuck for months because of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, which is now in its sixth month. (Photo by Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The organization overseeing the export of agricultural products from Ukraine said it has approved five more vessels to leave the besieged country.

The vessel Propus is carrying 9,111 metric tons of wheat and is destined for Romania. The ship named Osprey is carrying 11,500 metric tons of corn and is headed to Turkey. The vessel Ramus is also headed to Turkey and is loaded with 6,161 metric tons of wheat.

The ship named Brave Commander is carrying 23,300 metric tons of wheat to Djibouti and will be later transferred to Ethiopia. The vessel Bonita is carrying 60,000 metric tons of corn and is destined for South Korea.

All five ships are expected to leave on Tuesday.

The Joint Coordination Center, an initiative of Ukraine, Russia, the United Nations and Turkey, also separately authorized the movement of three more ships pending inspections.

— Amanda Macias

Russian minister of defense holds call with U.N. Secretary General

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres conducts a press briefing on the launch of the 3rd brief by the GCRG (Global Crisis Response Group) on Food, Energy and Finance at UN Headquarters.
Lev Radin | Lightrocket | Getty Images
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres conducts a press briefing on the launch of the 3rd brief by the GCRG (Global Crisis Response Group) on Food, Energy and Finance at UN Headquarters.

Russia's Minister of Defense said he spoke with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Russia's Sergei Shoigu discussed the safe operation of the facility and gave an update on events taking place on the ground, according to a Kremlin statement posted on the Telegram messaging app.

The two also discussed the U.N. initiative to facilitate the export of Russian fertilizers as well as Ukrainian agriculture products.

— Amanda Macias

U.N. denies Russian claims that it is blocking inspectors from visiting nuclear plant

A Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar on May 1, 2022. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, seized by Russian forces in March, is in southeastern Ukraine and is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world.
Andrey Borodulin | Afp | Getty Images
A Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar on May 1, 2022. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, seized by Russian forces in March, is in southeastern Ukraine and is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world.

The spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General denied Russian claims that U.N. officials were canceling or blocking visits from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

"First, the IAEA is a specialized agency that acts in full independence in deciding how to implement its specific mandate. Second, the U.N. Secretariat has no authority to block or cancel any IAEA activities," wrote U.N. Secretary-General spokesman Stéphane Dujarric in a statement.

Dujarric added that the U.N. supports a potential IAEA mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, should both Russia and Ukraine agree.  

— Amanda Macias

Russian forces are carrying out reverse deportations of civilians taken from Mariupol, Ukrainian official says

Ukrainian evacuees react in a bus while they drive on a road east of Kharkiv on May 30, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Genya Savilov | AFP | Getty Images
Ukrainian evacuees react in a bus while they drive on a road east of Kharkiv on May 30, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A Ukrainian official said Russian forces are currently carrying out reverse deportations of Ukrainian citizens.

Ukrainians who have been earlier forcibly taken away from Mariupol to Russia are now being returned from Pskov, Russia back to Mariupol, according to Petro Andryushchenko, who serves as an advisor to Mariupol's mayor.

Andryushchenko said on the messaging app Telegram that the groups of Ukrainian deportees have become a headache for local authorities.

— Amanda Macias

Russia may not be able to occupy all of Donetsk region, U.K. intel says

Soldiers who were among several hundred that took up positions around a Ukrainian military base stand near the base's periphery in Crimea on March 2, 2014 in Perevalne, Ukraine.
Sean Gallup | Getty Images
Soldiers who were among several hundred that took up positions around a Ukrainian military base stand near the base's periphery in Crimea on March 2, 2014 in Perevalne, Ukraine.

The British military said in an intelligence update that Russian forces may not be able to occupy all of Donetsk in Ukraine.

"The Kremlin will likely see the military's failure to occupy the entirety of Donetsk Oblast thus far as a setback for its maximalist objectives in Ukraine," the British Ministry of Defense wrote in a statement on Twitter.

Russia has focused most of its hostilities in Ukraine's easternmost regions, including the area surrounding the city of Donetsk.

— Amanda Macias

Germany won't back call to end Russian tourist visas

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on May 26, 2022.
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on May 26, 2022.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Berlin would not back several fellow European countries that have called for an EU-wide move to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens.

The nations backing such a ban say that Russians should not be able to take vacations in Europe while Moscow wages war in Ukraine. Finland and Denmark want an EU decision and some EU countries bordering Russia already no longer issue visas to Russians.

"This is not the war of the Russian people. It is (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's war and we have to be very clear on that topic," Scholz said.

"It is important to us to understand that there are a lot of people fleeing from Russia because they are disagreeing with the Russian regime," he told a press conference on the sidelines of a one-day meeting of the five Nordic leaders in Oslo to which the German chancellor was invited.

— Associated Press

Nearly 18 million people in serious need of humanitarian aid, UN says

Maria Pshenychnykh, 83, sits in the kitchen of her war-damaged home near Kharkiv on May 18, 2022 in Vilkhivka, Ukraine, which had until recently been occupied by Russian forces. Seniors in the city have been relying on humanitarian aid, as their monthly government pension payments were suspended due to the fighting. In recent weeks Ukrainian forces have advanced towards the Russian border after Russia's offensive on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city stalled.
John Moore | Getty Images
Maria Pshenychnykh, 83, sits in the kitchen of her war-damaged home near Kharkiv on May 18, 2022 in Vilkhivka, Ukraine, which had until recently been occupied by Russian forces. Seniors in the city have been relying on humanitarian aid, as their monthly government pension payments were suspended due to the fighting. In recent weeks Ukrainian forces have advanced towards the Russian border after Russia's offensive on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city stalled.

Russia's war in Ukraine has left 17.7 million people in serious need of humanitarian aid, according to United Nations estimates.

"Millions of people across the country have endured months of intense hostilities without adequate access to food, water, health care, education, protection and other essential services," the group wrote in a report. "Massive destruction of civilian infrastructure has left hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians without their homes or livelihoods."

The U.N. warned that more people will be affected by the upcoming winter season.

"Too many are now living in damaged homes or in buildings ill-suited to provide protection for the upcoming harsh cold season, where the sub-zero temperatures could be life-threatening," the U.N. said.

The U.N. estimates that since Russia's war in Ukraine began more than five months ago, humanitarian organizations have scaled up operations in order to reach 11.7 million people.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine calls on global community to force Russia to give back the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant 

A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on Aug. 4, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters
A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on Aug. 4, 2022.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is operating with the risk of violating radiation and fire safety standards, according to an update from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office.

Russian forces took control of the facility in March, a few days after the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began.

"Ukraine calls on the world community to take urgent measures to force Russia to give back control over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant for the sake of the security of the whole world," the statement added.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine extends martial law for another 90 days

Ukrainian soldier Igor Ryazantsev with the Dnipro-1 regiment keeps watch outside his tent during a period of relative calm around their position near Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Members of the unit believe a Russian advance could be impending with the aim of seizing the strategic city.
David Goldman | AP Photo
Ukrainian soldier Igor Ryazantsev with the Dnipro-1 regiment keeps watch outside his tent during a period of relative calm around their position near Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Members of the unit believe a Russian advance could be impending with the aim of seizing the strategic city.

The Ukrainian government extended its martial law for another 90 days as Russia's war marches into its sixth month.

Martial law is declared in an emergency and temporarily replaces civilian rule with military authority. The Ukrainian government will reassess if martial law needs to be extended again on November 21, according to an update posted on the Telegram messaging app.

— Amanda Macias

UN says at least 5,514 killed in Ukraine since start of war

Volunteers lower into a grave a coffin with one of fourteen unidentified persons killed by Russian troops, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, during a burial ceremony in the town of Bucha, in Kyiv region, Ukraine August 9, 2022.
Valentyn Ogirenko | Reuters
Volunteers lower into a grave a coffin with one of fourteen unidentified persons killed by Russian troops, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, during a burial ceremony in the town of Bucha, in Kyiv region, Ukraine August 9, 2022.

The United Nations has confirmed civilian 5,514 deaths and 7,698 injuries in Ukraine since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher, because the armed conflict can delay fatality reports.

The international organization said most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, as well as missiles and airstrikes.

— Amanda Macias

About 20% of Ukrainians do not have sufficient access to food, UN says

Miguel Medina | AFP | Getty Images
Volunteers help to bring food rations to a food aid distribution center, managed by different NGOs and called "Everything is going to be allright", in the city center of Kramatorsk on July 11, 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  

The World Food Program estimates that 20% of Ukrainians have insufficient food due to Russia's invasion.

"The situation is particularly concerning in the eastern and southern parts of the country, where one in every two families is facing challenges in putting food on their table," the World Food Program wrote in a report.

The group estimates that about 40% of female-headed families in hostile regions are food insecure and need help addressing specific dietary needs, especially those who are pregnant and breastfeeding.

"People with chronic illnesses or disabilities are also facing increasing challenges," the World Food Program wrote.

— Amanda Macias

Chairman Milley speaks to his Ukrainian counterpart

Sarah Silbiger | Reuters
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on "Department of Defense's Budget Requests for FY2023", on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 7, 2022. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Armed Forces Gen. Valery Zaluzhny over the weekend.

"They discussed the unprovoked and ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and exchanged perspectives and assessments. The chairman once again reaffirmed unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," according to a Pentagon readout of the call.

Milley last spoke with Zaluzhny on Thursday, the third call between the two leaders this month.

— Amanda Macias

Putin boasts about Russia's weapons technology, claims it's years ahead of others

President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia's weaponry is potentially decades ahead of its foreign counterparts.

"Promising models and systems that are future-oriented and will determine the future of the armed forces are of particular interest," he said. Putin was speaking at the opening of the "Army 2022" international military-technical forum on Monday.

"We are talking about high-precision weapons and robotics, about combat systems based on new physical principles," Putin said, according to Russian state news agency Interfax. "Many of them are years, maybe decades ahead of their foreign counterparts, and in terms of tactical and technical characteristics they are significantly superior."

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) during the opening ceremony of the International Military Technical Forum 'Army 2022', on August 15, 2022, in Kubinka, outside of Moscow, Russia.
Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) during the opening ceremony of the International Military Technical Forum 'Army 2022', on August 15, 2022, in Kubinka, outside of Moscow, Russia.

Speaking at the opening of the forum, Putin said Russia was ready to share its weapons technology with its allies.

"Russia sincerely values ​​historically strong, friendly, truly trusting ties with the states of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and is ready to offer its partners and allies the most modern types of weapons - from small arms to armored vehicles and artillery, combat aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles," the president said.

Commenting on the increasingly polarized nature of global geopolitics, particularly amid Russia's war in Ukraine, Putin said Russia appreciated "that today our country has many allies, partners, like-minded people on different continents."

These are states that, he said, "do not bend before the so-called hegemon, their leaders show real masculine character and do not bend."

— Holly Ellyatt

Community in Chernihiv region experiences 'massive shelling'

Ukrainian bomb disposal workers carry unexploded ordnance during mine clearance work in the village of Yahidne, in the liberated territories of the Chernihiv region on June 7, 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images
Ukrainian bomb disposal workers carry unexploded ordnance during mine clearance work in the village of Yahidne, in the liberated territories of the Chernihiv region on June 7, 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russian forces have launched a massive shelling campaign against the Novhorod-Siverskyi community in the Chernihiv region in northeastern Ukraine which borders Russia, according to a Ukrainian official.

Vyacheslav Chaus, the head of Chernihiv's Regional Military Administration, commented on Telegram this morning that since 8am local time, "there have been more than 70 explosions" that he said were likely caused by enemy artillery on the outskirts of a village, Kamyanska Sloboda, before another village was targeted, with almost 60 explosions reported.

Civilian buildings have been damaged, he said but so far there had been no casualties. Chernihiv and the surrounding region was the scene of intense fighting at the start of Russia's invasion in February and March but the epicenter of the fighting quickly shifted to the east and south of Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

Brittney Griner defense team appeals against Russian drugs conviction

US' Women's National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, waits for the verdict inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022. 
Evgenia Novozhenina | AFP | Getty Images
US' Women's National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, waits for the verdict inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022. 

The defense team of Brittney Griner, the U.S. basketball star jailed for nine years in Russia on drugs charges, has appealed against her conviction for narcotics possession and trafficking, Griner's lawyer Maria Blagovolina told Reuters on Monday.

Griner, who had played for a Russian club, was arrested at a Moscow airport on Feb. 17 after cannabis-infused vape cartridges were found in her luggage.

She pleaded guilty to the charges but said she had made an "honest mistake" by entering Russia with cannabis oil, which is illegal in the country. She was convicted on Aug. 4.

The U.S. government says Griner was wrongfully detained. It has offered to exchange her for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States. 

Reuters

Russia likely to be in 'advanced planning' stage for referendum in Donetsk

A DPR army fighter is seen in front of the tank as Russian attacks continue in Mariupol, Ukraine on May 04, 2022.
Leon Klein | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A DPR army fighter is seen in front of the tank as Russian attacks continue in Mariupol, Ukraine on May 04, 2022.

Russia is likely to be at the "advanced planning" stage for a referendum to be held in the pro-Russian "Donetsk People's Republic" in Ukraine on whether to become a part of the Russia.

It's been widely reported and presumed by Western officials and experts that Russia would seek to try to bring the breakaway region (and its neighboring self-proclaimed "People's Republic" in Luhansk, also in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine) into the Russian Federation at some point.

Russia has used the "defense" of these separatist regions, which it has supported since 2014 and made various attempts to "Russify," such as the handing out of Russian passports, as an excuse for invading Ukraine. Moscow has said that the "liberation" of these territories in the Donbas is its main aim of the war and its forces occupy much of Donetsk and are trying to push into Luhansk.

The U.K.'s Ministry of Defence said Monday that "it is likely that Russia is in the advanced planning stages to hold a referendum, though it is unclear if the final decision to go ahead with a vote has yet been taken."

It noted that on Aug.11, Russian media reported that Denis Pushilin, head of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), had said that the date of a referendum on the DPR joining Russia would be announced after the DPR's "complete liberation."

"Previously, in June 2022, investigative journalists published evidence of a DPR planning strategy for running such a referendum and for ensuring that at least 70% of votes were in favour of joining Russia," the U.K.'s ministry said, adding that "the Kremlin will likely see the military's failure to occupy the entirety of Donetsk Oblast thus far as a setback for its maximalist objectives in Ukraine."

Suggestions of referenda being planned in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, or in the pro-Russian separatist regions, are widely seen as sham attempts to solidify Russia's grip on Ukrainian territory, and have been criticized by Ukraine's authorities and the international community.

— Holly Ellyatt

Wagner private military group base destroyed in Luhansk, official says

Ukrainian soldiers reportedly destroyed a base used by the shadowy Russian private military company known as the Wagner Group, or Wagner PMC, in the Luhansk region of Ukraine.

Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said in a Facebook post translated by Ukraine state news agency Ukrinform Monday that the country's armed forces had "successfully struck the enemy's headquarters. This time in Popasna, where a base of PMC Wagner was destroyed."

The number of those killed is being clarified, Haidai said. The Wagner private military company is a Russian state-backed paramilitary group, widely seen as a network of mercenaries, that are believed to have close ties to President Putin although the Kremlin denies any such links.

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin looks to expand ties with North Korea

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly sent a message of friendship to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in which he expressed his wish for Russia and North Korea to deepen relations.

North Korea's state media outlet KCNA reported on Sunday that Putin had sent the North Korean leader a congratulatory telegram for North Korea's Liberation Day, on Monday, in which he expressed a will to "continue to expand the comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations" between the countries.

A deepening of such ties would, Putin reportedly wrote, help "strengthen the security and stability of the Korean peninsula and the Northeastern Asian region."

Kim then reportedly sent a reply to Putin in which he noted that a North Korean-Russian friendship had been forged in World War II with victory over Japan.

The "strategic and tactical cooperation, support and solidarity between the two countries," Kim said, united them against what he called "hostile forces' military threat and provocation, and high-handed and arbitrary practices."

The North Korean leader did not give any more detail on which countries he was alluding to, but North Korea frequently lambasts the West.

North Korea, a secretive, closed and authoritarian country, is among only a handful of states that have openly supported Russia's war in Ukraine and officially recognized the independence of two breakaway pro-Russian regions in east Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

The West calls on Russia to withdraw forces from Ukrainian nuclear power plant

A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on Aug. 4, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters
A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on Aug. 4, 2022.

The U.S., U.K., EU and other countries have called on Russia to immediately withdraw its military forces from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and all of Ukraine.

"We urge the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw its military forces and all other unauthorized personnel from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, its immediate surroundings, and all of Ukraine so that the operator and the Ukrainian authorities can resume their sovereign responsibilities within Ukraine's internationally recognized borders and the legitimate operating staff can conduct their duties without outside interference, threat, or unacceptably harsh working conditions," said a joint statement published on Sunday on the website of the EU Delegation to the International Organizations in Vienna.

The statement, endorsed by 42 countries, said Russia's control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant — Europe's largest nuclear power plant — "poses a great danger" to the international tenets regarding nuclear safety and security, as outlined by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"Deployment of Russian military personnel and weaponry at the nuclear facility is unacceptable and disregards the safety, security, and safeguards principles that all members of the IAEA have committed to respect," the statement said.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and there was widespread consternation when Russian forces captured the unit on March 4, with reports of military equipment and ammunition being placed there.

Russian and Ukrainian forces have accused each other of shelling the power plant in recent weeks, raising fears of a catastrophic incident at the plant.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ship bearing 23,000 tonnes of wheat prepares to leave Ukraine port

Another grain ship is preparing to leave Ukraine on Monday, this time heading for Ethiopia.

Ukraine's Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Sunday on Facebook that more than 23,000 tonnes of wheat had been loaded onto the "Brave Commander" bulk carrier at the port of Pivdenny, and that the ship was due to leave dock on Monday.

"Today we see how the initiative on the safe transportation of grain and agricultural products, signed in Istanbul, works. On Friday, the Brave Commander, a ship chartered by the UN World Food Program (WFP), arrived at the port of Pivdenny for loading. Now we can see the ship finally preparing for its departure, carrying more than 23,000 tonnes of wheat to the people of Ethiopia," the minister said.

Grain ships have begun to leave Ukraine tentatively following a deal between Russia and Ukraine, and brokered by the U.N. and Turkey, to allow ships bearing vital produce like wheat to be allowed to leave Ukrainian ports following a blockade of such shipping during the war which has exacerbated a rise in global food prices.

— Holly Ellyatt

Foreign fighters to stand trial in pro-Russian 'republic' in Ukraine

Three British citizens, a Swedish citizen and a Croatian citizen who fought for the Ukrainian armed forces are expected to face a criminal trial Monday.

"The court hearing is scheduled for August 15, it will be held behind closed doors," said Russian state news agency Interfax last week, citing a court representative.

Swedish citizen Matthias Gustavsson, Croatian Vekoslav Prebeg, and British citizens John Harding, Andrew Hill and Dylan Healy will be standing trial in the "Supreme Court of the Donetsk People's Republic," a pro-Russian breakaway region in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

If the court — widely seen as a kangaroo court in the West — finds the defendants guilty, they may face the death penalty.

— Holly Ellyatt

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