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Latest Developments in Ukraine: August 17

Residents look at homes damaged during a rocket attack in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, early Aug. 16. Russian forces continue to shell the Donetsk province, regional officials said.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in Russia’s war on Ukraine. All times EDT.

10 p.m.:

9 p.m.: Three outbound commercial vessels departed Wednesday from Ukrainian ports carrying a total 33,750 metric tons of foodstuffs through the maritime humanitarian corridor under the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

The three vessels are: the MV Petrel S from the port of Chornomorsk carrying 18,500 metric tons of sunflower meal heading to Amsterdam, Netherlands, the MV Sara from the port of Odesa carrying 8,000 metric tons of corn heading to Istanbul, Turkey, and the MV Efe from the port of Odesa carrying 7,250 metric tons of sunflower oil heading to Gubre, Turkey.

Also, four inbound commercial vessels were inspected Wednesday at Marmara Sea and they were cleared to sail: The MV Foyle to Yuzhny/Pivdennyi, the MV Ganosaya heading to Odesa, the MV Mohammad Y heading to Odesa, and the MV Maranta heading to Chornomorsk.

Destinations referred to are the ones communicated to the JCC and they may change based on commercial activity.

As per procedures agreed at the JCC, all participants coordinate with their respective military and other relevant authorities to ensure the safe passage of commercial vessels under the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

The JCC will monitor closely the passage of those vessels through the maritime humanitarian corridor.

7:22 p.m.: More U.S. security assistance is coming soon, the Ukraine’s defense minister says.

6:19 p.m.: Russia has replaced the commander of its Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet, a state news agency reported on Wednesday, after a series of explosions rocked the peninsula it annexed in 2014 and had previously seen as a secure rear base for its war in Ukraine.

Russia's RIA news agency cited sources as saying the commander of its Black Sea fleet, Igor Osipov, had been replaced with a new chief, Viktor Sokolov.

If confirmed, the move would mark one of the most prominent sackings of a military official so far in a war in which Russia has suffered heavy losses in men and equipment.

5:27 p.m.: In an interview with The Guardian, a former Russian paratrooper said, “I don’t see justice in this war. I don’t see truth here,” he said at a cafe in the Moscow financial district.

He spoke after writing a day-to-day account of fighting, mostly around Kherson.

4:37 p.m.: Ukrainian authorities performed disaster response drills on Wednesday following repeated shelling at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest of its kind in Europe, Reuters reported.

As part of the emergency drills, Ukrainian first responders donned full protective gear and then dealt with a man pretending to be a victim. After the team carried out a radiation scan they laid the patient on a stretcher, covered him in shiny silver film and then put him into an ambulance.

The first responders were themselves then checked for radiation before being hosed down and disposing of their gear. The drills will be repeated in the coming days, authorities said.

Both sides accuse the other of attacks in the vicinity of the facility in recent days and engaging in what they call "nuclear terrorism".

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who wants a demilitarized zone to be established around the plant to avoid a potential catastrophe, will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday for talks.

3:30 p.m.: Russia forecasts energy export revenues to rise this year by nearly $100 billion as higher commodity prices offset a decrease in volumes, Reuters reports, citing government documents.

Russia's Economy Ministry now expects energy export revenue to reach $338 billion in 2022, up more than a third from $244 billion last year.

The jump in revenues, if it materializes, will help shore up Russia's economy in the face of sweeping Western sanctions that are crippling some of its industries.

2:35 p.m.:

2:20 p.m.: Russia's Black Sea fleet based in annexed Crimea has installed a new commander, the RIA news agency cited sources as saying on Wednesday. The move comes after Russian military bases on the peninsula were rocked by explosions in the past nine days, Reuters reported.

If confirmed, the removal of the previous commander Igor Osipov would mark the most prominent sacking of a military official in the nearly six months since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in which it has suffered heavy losses in men and equipment. State-owned RIA cited the sources as saying the new chief, Viktor Sokolov, was introduced to members of the fleet's military council in the port of Sevastopol.

The Black Sea Fleet, which has a revered history in Russia, has suffered several highly public humiliations in the course of the war that President Vladimir Putin launched on February 24.

In April, Ukraine struck its lead warship, the Moskva, with Neptune missiles, causing it to catch fire and sink. Last week its Saki air base in southwest Crimea, near the fleet's headquarters at Sevastopol, was devastated by a series of explosions that destroyed eight warplanes, according to satellite imagery. Then on Tuesday, blasts rocked an ammunition depot at a military base in the north of the peninsula. Russia called that an act of sabotage, and Ukraine hinted it was responsible.

2:05 p.m.: Yana and her mother, Natalya Stepanenko, both lost lower limbs in a Russian rocket attack on the Kramatorsk railway station in Ukraine's Donetsk region on April 8. Now, both are learning to walk on prostheses at a rehabilitation center in the United States. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this story.

1:50 p.m.: Sweden’s government said Wednesday it wants to pass legislation forcing the country’s public power transmission network operator to help alleviate this winter’s expected high electricity bills for Swedish households and businesses, The Associated Press reports.

“Both homeowners and business owners feel sick when they think about the electricity bill for the winter,” Magdalena Andersson said.

Andersson said the measure was necessary in view of high energy costs due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, adding that she would not allow Russian President Vladimir Putin “to hold Swedish households and Swedish industry hostage.

“When it comes to the energy sector, we have something that closely resembles a war economy,” she said.

1:35 p.m.:

1:20 p.m.: The head of NATO has urgently called on Russia to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant amid rising safety concerns at the facility due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Stoltenberg also told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday that Russia should immediately withdraw all of its troops from the plant, which Russian forces captured in March.

Russia's seizure of the plant "poses a serious threat to the safety and the security of this facility (and) raises the risks of a nuclear accident or incident," he said. "It is urgent to allow the inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency and to ensure the withdrawal of all Russian forces," he added.

Kyiv has insisted that Russian troops are using Europe's largest nuclear plant as a military base, including storing dangerous weapons and shelling in the area.

1:10 p.m.:

12:25 p.m.: The head of the World Health Organization described the persistent crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region as “the worst disaster on Earth” according to reports by The Associated Press and wondered aloud Wednesday if the reason global leaders have not responded was due to “the color of the skin of the people in Tigray.”

In an emotional statement at a press briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus - himself an Ethnic Tigrayan - said the situation caused by the ongoing conflict in his home country is worse than any other humanitarian crisis in the world.

Tedros asserted that the 6 million people in Tigray essentially cut off from the world have been “under siege” for the last 21 months. He described the Ukraine conflict as a crisis that has the global community potentially “sleepwalking into a nuclear war” that could be “the mother of all problems,” but argued the disaster in Tigray was far worse.

In April, Tedros questioned if the world’s overwhelming focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine was due to racism, although he acknowledged the conflict there had global consequences.

11:40 a.m.:

11:15 a.m.: The head of Russian proxy forces in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region has sent a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un calling for cooperation, The Associated Press reported Wednesday. This comes amid signs the North is considering sending laborers for restoration projects in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price last month criticized Russian suggestions that North Korean workers could be employed for restoration projects in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, saying that such arrangements would be “an affront to the sovereignty of Ukraine.”

North Korea last month became one of the few nations in the world to recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, another Russian-backed separatist region in eastern Ukraine, prompting Kyiv to cut off diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.

There are indications North Korea is reviewing plans to send workers for restoration projects in those regions, which could help its economy but run against U.N. Security Council sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program.

10:45 a.m.:

10:10 a.m.: Reuters reported Wednesday that it appears action at the United Nations to isolate Russia almost six months into Ukraine war appears to be waning.

Wary of frustration and concern among some countries that the war is consuming too much global attention nearly six months in with no prospect of the U.N. being able to end it, Western diplomats acknowledge they are limited in how they can significantly further target Russia beyond having meetings.

“As the war has dragged on, it has become harder to find meaningful ways to penalize Russia,” said Richard Gowan, U.N. director at the independent International Crisis Group.

In some cases, Western countries are shying away from some specific moves, fearing tepid support, as rising vote abstentions have signaled a growing unwillingness to publicly oppose Moscow, diplomats and observers said.

The European Union mulled a plan in June to appoint a U.N. expert to investigate human rights violations in Russia, according to diplomats, but it shelved the idea over fears nearly half the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva might oppose it.

“Countries are asking: ‘Is it really so wise to be among those who beat down Russia?’,” said Olaf Wientzek, director of the Geneva office of the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

9:20 a.m.:

9:05 a.m.: The top official in Russian-annexed Crimea said on Wednesday that the FSB security service had broken up what he described as a six-person terrorist cell of a banned Islamist group, a day after explosions rocked one of Russia's military bases there, Reuters reported.

"All of them are detained. The activities of the terrorists were coordinated, as one would expect, from the territory of the terrorist state of Ukraine," Sergei Aksyonov, the official, said on Telegram. Aksyonov said the suspects were members of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia.

An FSB statement did not say whether the detained individuals were linked with explosions on Tuesday at a base in Dzhankoi in northern Crimea and last week at a Russian military base in western Crimea, where satellite pictures showed eight Russian warplanes had been destroyed.

There was no immediate comment from Ukraine which has not claimed responsibility for attacking the bases in Crimea.

8:40 a.m.: In Kyiv, the Center for Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Rehabilitation offers treatment to Ukrainian amputees. Russia's war against Ukraine has created high numbers of disabled soldiers and civilians. Rehabilitation centers help the wounded return to normal life and, in some cases, amputee soldiers are even able to return to combat units. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

8:10 a.m.: Ukrainian technicians at the Russian-held nuclear power plant hit by shelling work under the barrels of Russian guns and face huge pressure, but they are staying on to make sure there is no Chornobyl-style disaster, one of them said, according to Reuters.

The technician, who asked that his identity not be disclosed for fear of Russian reprisals, offered a rare glimpse into the fraught working conditions at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which Moscow and Kyiv accuse each other of shelling.

The technician told Reuters that many workers had sent their families away from the town of Enerhodar where the plant is located, but had stayed on themselves to ensure the station's safe operation.

Heavily-armed Russian troops are everywhere at the site, which is in itself highly unnerving, and armored personnel carriers have their barrels pointed at the entrance as workers enter, he said.

7:35 a.m.: Attacks on water infrastructure and the movement of residents fleeing their homes have left as many as 13 million people across Ukraine needing assistance with water, sanitation, and hygiene, according to a July UN report. Areas without safe access to water could face outbreaks of cholera, hepatitis, scabies, and other potentially deadly diseases, the U.N. said.

Children are particularly vulnerable. Polluted water and unsanitary living conditions kill children more than 20 times more frequently than violence in countries experiencing an extended conflict, according to a 2019 UNICEF report.

Ukraine's problems with water have been most acute in Russian-controlled Mariupol, on the Azov Sea coast in the Donbas, and Mykolayiv, which lies further west and remains in Ukrainian hands, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

7:15 a.m.:

6:50 a.m.: Four more ships have left Ukrainian ports carrying sunflower meal, sunflower oil and corn, from Chornomorsk and Odesa ports, under a U.N.-brokered grain export deal, Turkey's defense ministry said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

6:30 a.m.: Chinese troops will travel to Russia to take part in a joint exercise with Russia and other countries including India, Belarus and Tajikistan, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing the Chinese defense ministry.

China’s participation in the joint exercises is “unrelated to the current international and regional situation,” the ministry said in a statement.

The exercises are part of an ongoing bilateral annual cooperation agreement, it said. Similar Russian-led joint exercises involving China have taken place in recent years.

“The aim is to deepen practical and friendly cooperation with the armies of participating countries, enhance the level of strategic collaboration among the participating parties, and strengthen the ability to respond to various security threats,” the statement said.

5 a.m.: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced late Monday $68 million to help with “procurement, transport, and storage of up to 150,000 metric tons of Ukrainian wheat to address acute food insecurity.”

“While the resumption of exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports is a positive step in addressing the needs of food insecure countries, these shipments must continue so that the millions of tons of food trapped in the country can reach markets and help feed the world’s most vulnerable,” Blinken said in a statement.

4:40 a.m.: Gas flows eastbound through the Yamal-Europe pipeline to Poland from Germany rose on Wednesday, data showed, while flows via Nord Stream 1 from Russia remained steady, Reuters reported.

Exit flows at the Mallnow metering point on the German border stood at 4,758,182 kilowatt hours per hour (kWh/h) on Wednesday morning, up from around 4,100,000 kWh/h at midnight, data from pipeline operator Gascade showed. Physical flows via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline stood at 14,445,082 kWh/h for 0800-0900 CET (0600-0700 GMT), unchanged from the previous day.

Russia has cut flows on the pipeline to only 20% of its capacity, citing maintenance work. Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned multinational energy corporation, said it was shipping 42.2 million cubic meters of gas to Europe via Ukraine on Wednesday, unchanged from Tuesday.

An application to supply gas via the Sokhranovka entry point was rejected by Ukraine, Gazprom said, according to Reuters.

Nominations for Russian gas flows into Slovakia from Ukraine via the Velke Kapusany border point were about 36.4 million cubic meters per day, compared with 36.5 million cubic meters in the previous day, data from the Ukrainian transmission system operator showed.

4 a.m.: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to visit Ukraine on Thursday for a meeting with Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Guterres spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that the U.N. chief would then travel Friday to the southern city of Odesa to visit a port being used as part of an initiative to restart Ukrainian grain exports.The United Nations and Turkey helped broker the agreement with Russia and Ukraine amid a global food crisis, and several ships have already departed Ukraine.

Guterres is also due to travel to Istanbul on Saturday to visit the Joint Coordination Center that is monitoring the export system, including inspections of the exports demanded by Russia.

3:30 a.m.: Following massive explosions at a military depot in the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told people there and in other parts of southern Ukraine to “be very careful” and avoid areas where Russian forces store ammunition and equipment.

“The reasons for the explosions in the occupied territory can be different, very different, in particular, I quote the definition of the occupiers themselves, 'bungling,’” Zelenskyy said in his latest address. “But they all have the same meaning: the destruction of the occupiers' logistics, their ammunition, military and other equipment, command posts saves the lives of our people.”

3 a.m.: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he spoke to his Ukranian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov reiterating U.S. support for Ukraine.

2:50 a.m.: The Kyiv Independent, an English-language Ukrainian media outlet, reported that Wednesday that Russian forces have launched missile attacks on the Odesa region.

Ukraine’s armed forces said that the missiles destroyed a recreation center and several private buildings, the outlet later added.

2:30 a.m.:

2 a.m.: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny called for systematic punitive measures against Russian oligarchs supporting Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his military operation in Ukraine.

Navalny said that Western sanctions by the United States, European Union or the United Kingdom, have targeted only 46 of the Forbes list of Russia’s 200 richest people.

“That doesn’t sound very much like an all-out war on Putin's oligarchs to me,” Navalny said in a lengthy social media post on Tuesday. According to him, the head of Russian gas giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, was still not on the EU sanctions list.

Navalny said that famed Russian oligarch and former Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich had so far escaped U.S. sanctions, despite his companies “supplying metal to the Russian defense ministry.”

Navalny is serving a nine-year prison sentence in a penal colony near the Russian town of Vladimir on embezzlement charges that he and his allies say are politically motivated.

But he has continued to pass on messages to his lawyers.

1:30 a.m.: The United States has told India that an Indian ship was used earlier this year to export fuel made from Russian crude to New York through high-seas transfers, Reuters reported, citing a top Indian central bank official who spoke to the wire service on Saturday.

The U.S. Treasury Department told India that an Indian ship picked up oil from a Russian tanker on the high seas and brought it to a port in Gujarat on the west coast, where it was refined and shipped on, said Reserve Bank of India Deputy Governor Michael Patra.

U.S. sanctions on Moscow for its February invasion of Ukraine prohibit the import to the United States of Russian-origin energy products including crude oil, refined fuels, distillates, coal and gas.

1 a.m.: The head of Russian proxy forces in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region has sent a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un calling for cooperation amid signs the North is considering sending laborers for restoration projects in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.

North Korea last month became one of the few nations in the world to recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, another Russian-backed separatist region in eastern Ukraine, prompting Kyiv to cut off diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.

There are indications North Korea is reviewing plans to send workers for restoration projects in those regions, which could help its economy but run against U.N. Security Council sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program.

12:05 a.m.: Russia has “no need” to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, its defense minister said on Tuesday, Reuters reported, describing media speculation that Moscow might deploy nuclear or chemical weapons in the conflict as “absolute lies.”

“From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals. The main purpose of Russian nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack,” Sergei Shoigu said during a speech at an international security conference in Moscow.

Shoigu also alleged Ukrainian military operations were being planned by the United States and Britain, and that NATO had increased its troop deployment in eastern and central Europe “several times over.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.