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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Sept. 24

Ukrainian soldiers fire in the recently retaken Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Sept. 23, 2022.
Ukrainian soldiers fire in the recently retaken Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Sept. 23, 2022.

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.: Russian authorities acknowledged a "significant" influx of cars trying to cross from Russia into Georgia on Saturday, days after Moscow announced partial mobilization, Agence France-Presse reported.

"There is a significant congestion of private vehicles ... around 2,300" waiting to pass one checkpoint along the border, said the local interior ministry in a Russian region that borders Georgia.

The ministry urged people "to refrain from traveling" in the direction of Georgia.

The search "to leave Russia" was carried out 100 times more than normal on the morning of the mobilization announcement, Google Trends data showed.

Saturday's comments are the first official acknowledgement by Russian authorities of an influx of travelers out of the country.

Most direct flights to countries allowing Russian entry without visa have sold out, and prices have skyrocketed.

9:15 p.m.: A stream of Russians entering Istanbul on Saturday expressed personal relief but concern for the safety of loved ones, Agence France-Presse reported, after the Kremlin announced a partial mobilization for the war in Ukraine.

All those carrying hurriedly-packed belongings refused to give their full names for fear of retribution by Russian police against those still at home.

But all described anxiety not felt since the first days of Russia's invasion of its Western-backed neighbor on February 24.

"We were talking to our friends and many are thinking about leaving," said Daria, 22. "Not everyone wanted to leave in February. The decision of September 21 forced many to think about it again."

Her husband, Andrei, 23, said he had been thinking of leaving since the first days of the war. The mobilization was the last straw.

8:37 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday urged Ukrainians in occupied regions to undermine the referendums and to share information about the people conducting “this farce,” The Associated Press reported.

He also called on Russian recruits to sabotage and desert the military if they are called up under the partial troop mobilization President Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday.

“If you get into the Russian army, sabotage any activity of the enemy, hinder any Russian operations, provide us with any important information about the occupiers – their bases, headquarters, warehouses with ammunition,” Zelenskyy said.

Putin on Saturday signed a quickly approved bill that toughens the punishment for soldiers who disobey officers’ orders, desert or surrender to the enemy.

7:33 p.m.: In the Ukrainian capital, about 100 people from the Russia-occupied city of Mariupol, which is part of the Donetsk region, gathered to protest the referendum, covering themselves in Ukrainian flags and carrying posters "Mariupol is Ukraine,” The Associated Press said.

"They ruined the city, killed thousands of people, and now they are doing some kind of profanation over there,” said Vladyslav Kildishov, who helped organize the rally.

Elina Sytkova, 21, a demonstrator who has many relatives left in Mariupol even though the city spent months under bombardment, said the vote was "an illusion of choice when there isn’t any.”

It's "like a joke, because it’s the same as it was in Crimea, meaning it’s fake and not real,” she said, referring to a 2014 referendum that took place in Crimea before Moscow annexed the peninsula in a move that most of the world considered illegal.

6:27 p.m.: Russian police moved quickly Saturday to disperse peaceful protests against President Vladimir Putin's military mobilization order, arresting hundreds, including some children, in several cities across the vast country, according to The Associated Press.

Police detained more than 700 people, including more than 300 in Moscow and nearly 150 in St. Petersburg, according to OVD-Info, an independent website that monitors political arrests in Russia. Some of the arrested individuals were minors, OVD-Info said.

The demonstrations followed protests that erupted within hours Wednesday after Putin, in a move to beef up his volunteer forces fighting in Ukraine, announced a call-up of experienced and skilled army reservists.

5:33 p.m.: Russian police deployed in force on Saturday in the cities where protests were scheduled by opposition group Vesna and supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny, The Associated Press reported.

They moved quickly to arrest demonstrators, most of them young people, before the protests could begin.

In Moscow, a heavy contingent of police roamed a downtown area where a protest was planned and checked the IDs of passersby. Officers rounded up those they deemed suspicious.

A young woman climbed on a bench and shouted "We aren't cannon fodder!" before police took her away.

In St. Petersburg, small groups of demonstrators managed to gather and shout protest slogans before being rounded up.

In the city of Novosibirsk in eastern Siberia, more than 70 people were detained after singing a Soviet-era song praising peace.

In another Siberian city, of Irkutsk, police handed summons to military conscription offices to men who took part in a protest.

People who tried to hold individual pickets that are allowed under Russian law also were detained.

The quick police action followed the dispersal of Wednesday's protests, when over 1,300 people were detained on Wednesday in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities.

4:20 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to Russians in his evening address on Saturday, warning that their president was knowingly "sending citizens to their death," Agence France-Presse said.

Speaking in Russian, Zelenskyy called on Moscow's forces to surrender, saying: "You will be treated in a civilized manner ... no one will know the circumstances of your surrender."

It came just hours after Russia passed a law toughening punishments for voluntary surrender and desertion following the partial mobilization President Vladimir Putin ordered this week.

"It is better to refuse a conscription letter than to die as a war criminal in a foreign land," Zelenskyy said.

"It is better to run away from a criminal mobilization, than to be crippled and then held responsible in court for participating in a war of aggression. It is better to surrender to the Ukrainian army than to be killed in the strikes of our weapons, fair strikes from Ukraine defending itself in this war," he added.

3:42 p.m.: The Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, may debate bills incorporating Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine into Russia on Thursday, the state-run TASS news agency said on Saturday, citing an unnamed source, according to Reuters.

Moscow launched referendums on joining Russia in the four occupied regions of Ukraine on Friday, drawing condemnation from Kyiv and Western nations, who dismissed the votes as a sham and pledged not to recognize their results.

The Interfax agency quoted a source saying the upper house could consider the bill the same day, and RIA Novosti, also citing an unnamed source, said President Vladimir Putin could be preparing to make a formal address to an extraordinary joint session of both houses on Friday.

3:15 p.m.: Putin this week renewed threats of claiming more Ukrainian territory, and even using nuclear weapons. U.S. and European leaders have made clear they will try to double down on the same tactics that have helped put Russia in a corner in Ukraine. That means more financial penalties and international isolation for Russia, more arms and other backing for Ukraine, The Associated Press reports.

3:00 p.m.: What had been a lightning push by Ukraine to drive Moscow's forces from the northeastern Kharkiv region slowed to a brutal slog Saturday, stalled by heavy rain and Russian resistance. In the frontline town of Kupiansk, against a background of constant shelling noise, a column of dark smoke rose across the Oskil river, which separates the Ukrainian-held west bank from the east, still disputed by Russian forces.

"For now, the rain is making it difficult to use heavy weapons everywhere. We can only use paved roads," Ukrainian army sergeant Roman Malyna told AFP, as tanks and APCs maneuvered under the downpour. "For now, because it's hard to move forward due to the weather, we are targeting their armored vehicles, ammunition depots and groups of soldiers," he said.

12:50 p.m.: China supports all efforts conducive to the peaceful resolution of the "crisis" in Ukraine, its foreign minister, Wang Yi, told the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday, adding that the pressing priority was to facilitate talks for peace, Reuters reports.

In his address, Wang said the fundamental solution was to address the "legitimate security concerns of all parties."

12:30p.m.: Ten days have passed since his town in Ukraine's Kharkiv region was liberated from Russian troops, but Vitaliy Oliia is still afraid to leave his home at night.

“I never go any further than the next house, that’s plenty for me,” he told The Kyiv Independent. “Day or night, whenever I hear a car coming down the road, I’m instantly on alert.”

Oliia, 40, was held captive by Russian occupying forces for over a month in two separate locations. Kept in subhuman conditions, Oliia said he was subject to several rounds of unimaginably brutal physical and psychological torture.

Oliia spoke at length to The Kyiv Independent at his home in Kozacha Lopan, four kilometers from Ukraine's state border with Russia.

12:05 p.m.: Ukraine's ambassador at the U.N. has requested an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the annexation votes being held in Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine. Sergiy Kyslytsya sent the request in a letter to the Council president in which he is also asking for U.N. chief Antonio Guterres to brief council members on the situation, VOA U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer reports.

11:30 a.m.: The stridently pro-Kremlin editor of Russia's state-run RT news channel expressed anger on Saturday that enlistment officers were sending call-up papers to the wrong men, as frustration about a military mobilization grew across Russia, Reuters reports.

Wednesday's announcement of Russia's first public mobilization since World War II to shore up its faltering invasion of Ukraine, has triggered a rush for the border by eligible men, the arrests of over 1,000 protesters, and unease in the wider population.

It is also attracting criticism of the authorities from among the Kremlin's own official supporters, something almost unheard of in Russia since the invasion seven months ago.

"It has been announced that privates can be recruited up to the age of 35. Summonses are going to 40-year-olds," RT editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, railed on her Telegram channel.

Meanwhile, the Russian defense ministry said on Saturday the deputy minister in charge of logistics, four-star General Dmitry Bulgakov, had been replaced "for transfer to another role." No further information was given.

Russia officially counts millions of former conscripts as reservists - potentially nearly the entire male population of fighting age - and Wednesday's decree announcing the "partial mobilization" gave no criteria for who would be called up.

Officials have said 300,000 troops are needed, with priority given to people with recent military experience and vital skills. The Kremlin has denied reports by two Russian news outlets based abroad - Nezavisimaya Gazeta Europe and Meduza - that the real target is more than 1 million.

Reports have surfaced across Russia of men with no military experience or past draft age suddenly receiving call-up papers.

10:30 a.m. Ukrainian officials announced on Friday that they had exhumed more than 400 bodies at a mass burial site near Izium, Kharkiv region, from which Russian troops recently retreated after a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Many of those buried there, they said, apparently died a violent death — bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs, ropes around their necks, broken bones and gunshot wounds; some men had their genitalia severed. VOA Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze visited the site.

VOA Visits Mass Burial Site in Izium, Ukraine
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10:00 a.m.: Iran is planning "proportional action" in response to Ukraine's decision to downgrade diplomatic ties, the Iranian foreign ministry's spokesperson said on Saturday.

According to Reuters, Nasser Kanaani said Ukraine's decision was "based on unconfirmed reports and resulted from a media hype by foreign parties."

Kyiv downgraded its relations with Tehran following reports Iran was supplying Russia with drones it uses in its war against Ukraine.

Kanaani did not directly refer to drones. Iran has previously denied supplying drones to Russia, but the hardline daily Kayhan said on Saturday "hundreds of armed drones" have been sold.

9:50 a.m.: Speaking at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she wanted an immediate end to the war in Ukraine, as well as the related sanctions, for the sake of lives and livelihoods of the people across the world, The Associated Press reports.

“Due to sanctions, and countersanctions, not a single country, rather the entire mankind, including women and children, is punished,” pointing to her own country’s high inflation.

9:10 a.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine are serious, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in an interview with the BBC on Saturday. Borrell said the Russian war in Ukraine had reached a “dangerous moment” as the Russian army struggles in the seventh month of its invasion.

“Certainly it’s a dangerous moment because the Russian army has been pushed into a corner, and Putin’s reaction — threatening using nuclear arms — it’s very bad,” Borrell said.

8:20 a.m.: Iran regrets Ukraine's decision to downgrade ties over the reported supply of Iranian drones to Russia, the an Iranian official said in a statement on Saturday, Reuters reported.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani "advised" Ukraine to "refrain from being influenced by third parties who seek to destroy relations between the two countries."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the accreditation of the Iranian ambassador will be revoked and Iranian diplomatic staff in Kyiv reduced as a result of Russian forces using Iranian drones to attack Ukraine, a move Zelenskyy called "a collaboration with evil."

Ukrainian forces shot down a total of eight Iranian-made drones in the conflict so far, Zelenskyy said in a late-night video address Friday.

8:10 a.m.: Leaders of the G-7 condemned the “sham” Russian referendums being carried out in occupied parts of Ukraine as a “phony” pretext to illegally grab territory. In a statement Friday evening, the group of leading economies said that the votes organized by Moscow were in violation of the U.N. Charter and international law, and had no legitimacy. Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. called out Russia’s “blatant intimidation of local populations” who have “consistently resisted Russian efforts to change borders by force.”

8:05 a.m.: Russian forces have launched new strikes on Ukrainian cities as Kremlin-orchestrated votes continue in occupied regions of Ukraine to pave the way for their annexation by Moscow. Zaporizhzhia region Governor Oleksandr Starukh said the Russians targeted infrastructure facilities in the city of Zaporizhzhia early Saturday, with one of the missiles hitting an apartment building, killing one person and injuring seven others, The Associated Press reports. In other areas in Ukraine, Russian forces caused damage to buildings and civilian infrastructure. Voting continued in Russian-held areas of eastern and southern Ukraine in Kremlin-organized referendums on making them part of Russia. The votes were dismissed by Kyiv and its Western allies as a sham with no legal force.

5:35 a.m.: The latest Ukraine assessment from the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said Russian partial mobilization efforts are suffering from serious and systemic problems in their first days, generating popular resentment and setting conditions to produce a mobilized reserve force incapable of accomplishing the tasks Russian President Vladimir Putin has set for it. Additionally, the update said, protests, attacks against recruiting centers, and vandalism have occurred across Russia in the first 48 hours after the announcement of partial mobilization.

4:12 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry said in recent days Russia has hit the Pechenihy dam on the Siverskyy Donets River using short range ballistic missiles or similar weapons. This follows a strike on the Karachunivske Dam near Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine. Ukrainian forces are advancing further downstream along both rivers.

3:09 a.m.: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday that Moscow was not threatening anybody with nuclear weapons, and that open confrontation with the United States and NATO was not in Russia's interests, state news agencies reported, according to Reuters.

"We are not threatening anyone with nuclear weapons," the Interfax agency quoted Ryabkov as saying at a conference on Friday. "The criteria for their use are outlined in Russia's military doctrine."

Four Russian-controlled regions in Ukraine are staging referendums this weekend on whether to join Russia. Russian officials, including ex-president Dmitry Medvedev, said that, after the regions are incorporated into Russia, any attack on them by Ukrainian forces would be considered an attack on Russia.

Under Russia's nuclear doctrine, this could permit the use of nuclear weapons if Moscow feels it faces as "existential threat." Medvedev said it had the option of using strategic — long-range nuclear weapons.

2:23 a.m.: The United Nations warned Friday of a deteriorating rights situation in Belarus amid a massive crackdown on civil society that has left nearly 1,300 people detained on political grounds, Agence France-Presse reported.

"The climate of repression (in Belarus) continues with a deterioration of the human rights situation, involving serious violations of civil and political rights, and rampant impunity," said acting U.N. rights chief Nada Al-Nashif.

In a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, slammed by Belarus, she said her office was seeing "a massive crackdown" on civil society, media and others.

The UN rights office has determined that at least 37,000 people were detained between May 2020 and May 2021, and while many were subsequently released, fresh arrests are continuing.

1:12 a.m.: The United States is prepared to impose additional economic costs on Russia in conjunction with U.S. allies if Moscow moves forward with annexing portions of Ukrainian territory, the White House said on Friday, according to Reuters.

Russia has been planning what Washington describes as sham referendums in portions of eastern Ukraine in what is seen as a step toward annexing these territories. Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine and annexed it in 2014, a move that went unrecognized by the West.

President Joe Biden said in a statement that Russia’s referendums are a "a false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force in flagrant violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter."

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the United States is prepared to level additional economic penalties on Russia, in lockstep with allies, if Moscow attempts to annex more Ukraine territory.

12:02 a.m.: Russia is planning to spend a total of 34 trillion rubles ($600 billion) on national defense, security and law enforcement between 2022 and 2025 under its latest expenditure plan, a source familiar with finance ministry calculations told Reuters on Friday.

Russia is engaged in a costly military campaign in neighboring Ukraine, for which it has this week announced the mobilization of another 300,000 troops.

According to the latest figures, Russia will spend a total of 18.5 trillion rubles in 2022-25 on national defense, of which 4.7 trillion will be spent this year.

Some information in this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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