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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Sept. 29

Ukrainian army soldiers and fire fighter extract the body of an army officer, who was found among the remains of the building beside the TV tower, in the recently liberated town of Izium, Kharkiv region, Sept. 29, 2022.
Ukrainian army soldiers and fire fighter extract the body of an army officer, who was found among the remains of the building beside the TV tower, in the recently liberated town of Izium, Kharkiv region, Sept. 29, 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.: The United Nations Security Council will vote Friday on a resolution condemning the referendums on annexing several Russia-occupied regions of Ukraine, the council's current president, France, said Thursday.

The resolution -- drafted by the United States and Albania and whose exact contents are not yet public -- has no chance of passing thanks to Moscow's veto power, though it can then be presented to the General Assembly, Agence France-Presse reported.

9:21 p.m.: Italians living in Russia should “consider” leaving the country, their embassy in Moscow said on Thursday, warning that getting out is becoming increasingly difficult, Reuters reported.

Italian expatriates in Russia “are recommended to consider whether their stay is necessary, and if not, to leave the country”, the embassy said.

8:20 p.m.: Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the "Star Wars" film series, announced his support for a fundraising drive to buy drones for Ukraine as it battles "the evil empire," Agence France-Presse reported.

Hamill is the latest celebrity ambassador to back Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's UNITED24 fundraising platform, which was launched following Russia's invasion.

The actor said he will specifically spearhead a project to provide drones to the Ukrainian army.

The "Army of Drones" project acquires remote-controlled flying drones, and funds their maintenance and pilot training, in order for the Ukrainian army to "constantly monitor the 2,470-kilometer-long (1,500-mile-long) frontline and provide an effective response to enemy attacks," according to its website.

7:27 p.m.: President Vladimir Putin, speaking at a meeting of Russia's Security Council on Thursday, said all mistakes made during a partial military mobilization to reinforce Russia's military operation in Ukraine should be corrected, RIA Novosti news agency reported, according to Reuters.

He also said that those who had military experience and training in required specialties should be called up first.

There have been widespread public expressions of discontent from officials and citizens over the way the mobilization, announced last week, has been handled, including complaints about enlistment officers sending call-up papers to ineligible men. Thousands of men have fled Russia to avoid the draft.

6:09 p.m.:

5:40 p.m.: A Washington-based think tank says Ukrainian soldiers continue to advance around a key northeastern city occupied by Russian forces and may soon encircle it entirely, The Associated Press reported.

The Institute for the Study of War, citing Russian reports, said Thursday that Ukrainian forces have taken more villages around Lyman, a city some 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Lyman had been a key node in Russia’s front-line operations in the region before Ukrainian forces retook vast swathes of territory in the northeast earlier this month.

The institute said a possible collapse of the Lyman pocket would allow Ukrainian troops to “threaten Russian positions along the western Luhansk” region.

The institute suggested additional Russian losses would further erode morale amid a call-up of hundreds of thousands of men — the country’s first since World War II.

4:06 p.m.: More than half of Russians felt fearful or anxious after hearing that the Kremlin was drafting hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight in Ukraine, according to a poll released by the independent Levada Centre on Thursday, Reuters reported.

In the poll, conducted from September 22-28, 47% of respondents said they had felt anxiety, fear or dread following President Vladimir Putin's announcement on September 21.

Another 13% said they had felt anger, while 23% said they had felt pride in Russia.

The poll was conducted among 1,631 Russians aged 18 or over in 50 regions.

3:15 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy paid his respects to the victims of the Babi Yar massacre on the 81st anniversary of one of the most infamous mass slaughters of World War II, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

Nearly 34,000 Jews were killed within 48 hours in Babi Yar - a ravine in the Ukrainian capital - during the city’s occupation by Nazi forces in 1941.

Zelenskyy wrote on his social media page that similar crimes against humanity still occur today, “in particular, on our Ukrainian land.” He added that criminals responsible for such tragedies must be punished “so that dictators and tyrants are reluctant to repeat something similar in the future.”

2:30 p.m.:

2:15 p.m.: Russia said on Thursday it was studying the possibility of a face-to-face meeting between Russian and U.S. negotiators on a landmark nuclear arms control treaty, Reuters reported.

In a briefing in Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia was open to reviving inspections under the New START treaty and considering the possibility of in-person meetings of a joint commission of representatives from the United States and Russia.

Physical inspections under the treaty have been suspended since 2020, initially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The topic of resuming them is being considered," Zakharova said on Thursday. "The possibilities for holding a face-to-face session of the bilateral advisory commission are being studied."

2 p.m.: Tens of millions of small U.S. companies will be required to provide the government with details on their owners and others who benefit from them under a regulation finalized Thursday that’s intended to peel back the layers of ownership that can hide unlawfully obtained assets, The Associated Press reported.

The Treasury Department said it was moving to create a database that will contain personal information on the owners of at least 32 million U.S. businesses as part of an effort to combat illicit finance. Treasury officials said the new rule represents a sea change in the world of corporate transparency.

The regulation comes in the midst of U.S. and Western allies’ ongoing attempts to sanction Russian oligarchs and wealthy friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin since the start of his invasion of Ukraine. The wealthy Russians are accused of hiding stolen money and assets in the U.S. and around the world.

1:45 p.m.: A Russian oligarch and three associates, including the mother of his child, were indicted for sanctions evasion and obstruction of justice, VOA’s National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin reported Thursday.

1:30 p.m.: Russian authorities are opening more military enlistment offices near Russia’s borders in an apparent effort to intercept some of the men of fighting age who are trying to leave Russia by land to avoid getting called up to fight in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.

A new draft office opened in the Saratov region, at the Ozinki checkpoint on Russia’s border with Kazakhstan, regional officials said Thursday. Another enlistment center was set to open at a crossing in the Astrakhan region, also on the border with Kazakhstan, according to the regional administration.

Earlier this week, makeshift draft offices were set up near the Verkhny Lars border crossing into Georgia in southern Russia and near the Torfyanka checkpoint on Russia’s border with Finland. Russian officials said they would hand call-up notices to all eligible men who were trying to leave the country.

1:05 p.m.:

12:55 p.m.: Ukraine’s atomic power agency says a suspected landmine explosion on the perimeter fence of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has damaged electrical lines, The Associated Press reported.

Energoatom said Thursday there have been six instances at the Russian-occupied plant, still run by Ukrainian technicians, where wild animals set off landmines that Russian forces have scattered around the plant.

Local officials had said earlier that the plant itself - Europe’s biggest - was safe and no radiation had leaked into the environment.

The plant has been the focus of fighting and concerns about its reactors getting hit in a firefight. Earlier this month, the plant shut down its last working reactor of its six after reconnecting the plant to the country’s power grid to make sure its nuclear material can remain cooled.

12:40 p.m.: If Russia moves ahead with its plans to annex four Ukrainian regions, it would mark a "dangerous escalation" that would jeopardize the prospects for peace in the region, the United Nations Secretary-General said on Thursday. "Any decision to proceed with the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters.

12:20 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will hold an emergency meeting with top security, political and defense officials on Friday, following the Kremlin's announcement of plans by Russia to annex four Ukrainian regions, Reuters reported.

The Kremlin said on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin would sign documents on Friday proclaiming Moscow's annexation of regions where Russia organized what Kyiv and the West said were sham referendums staged at gunpoint on Russian-held Ukrainian territory.

“President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called an urgent meeting of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine for tomorrow. The agenda and other details will be announced later," presidential spokesperson Serhiy Nykyforov wrote on Facebook.

Zelenskiy has said repeatedly that the so-called referendums were illegal and warned of a robust Ukrainian response.

12:05 p.m.:

11:45 a.m.: The Ukrainian military says Russia is sending undertrained fighters to the battle front as it tries to reinforce its positions in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lyman, The Associated Press reported.

The Ukrainian military’s general staff said Thursday that of seven Russian tanks sent to Lyman recently, Russian troops crashed two of them on the way there.

It also said troops manning the tanks did not undergo training on how to use the vehicle’s weapons.

The Ukrainian military did not elaborate on how it knew about the tank unit’s condition. But Ukraine’s intelligence services have played purportedly intercepted phone calls of Russian troops complaining about their conditions on the front line.

11:30 a.m.: Russia is sending conscripts from annexed Crimea to fight in Ukraine’s northeastern Kherson region, the Kyiv Independent reported Thursday.

“Russia is sending newly mobilized Crimean men to the front lines in Kherson Oblast, according to Ukrainian non-governmental organization CrimeaSOS,” the media organization said.

The Kyiv Independent quoted Oleksii Tilnenko, the head of the organization's board, as saying, "They are (already) being transferred from Sevastopol, where they had spent only two days since they received their draft summonses."

11:15 a.m.:

11 a.m.: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the Nord Stream pipeline accident would have been impossible without the involvement of a state actor, The Associated Press reported.

Peskov told reporters in a conference call Thursday that it “looks like a terror attack, probably conducted on a state level.” He said “it would be hard to imagine” from the extent of damage to the pipeline that it didn’t happen without state involvement and urged a quick investigation.

Swedish coast guard officials reported Thursday a fourth leak to the Nord Stream pipelines conveying natural gas from Russia to Germany off southern Sweden.

Peskov dismissed media reports about Russian warships spotted in the area as “stupid and biased,” adding that “many more aircraft and vessels belonging to NATO countries have been spotted in the area.” He wouldn’t say if it could be possible to repair the pipeline.

10:50 a.m.:

10:35 a.m.: Hungary cannot support the European Union's planned eighth round of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine if those contain energy sanctions, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

The EU executive proposed on Wednesday fresh sanctions against Russia, including tighter trade restrictions, more individual black listings and an oil price cap for third countries.

The proposed sanctions fall short of harder-hitting measures, including a ban on importing Russian diamonds, sought by Russia hawks Poland and the three Baltic countries.

But EU states need unanimity to impose sanctions and Orban has been a vocal critic, saying on Monday that the EU sanctions have "backfired," driving up energy prices and dealing a blow to European economies.

10:20 a.m.:

10:05 a.m.: Russians are taking over what used to be Western business properties and interests, Foreign Policy magazine reported Thursday, noting that several dozen Western companies left the country following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“A new generation of business owners with no experience are snapping up Western companies’ assets at fire-sale prices,” Foreign Policy reported. “Indeed, Western companies are unwittingly helping to create a new generation of Russian oligarchs.”

“It’s a lot like the early 1990s, when then-unknown Russian entrepreneurs snapped up valuable state-owned companies at fire-sale prices. Russia’s war against Ukraine is creating a new generation of prospective oligarchs,” it said.

However, with tens of thousands of Russian men either participating in the war in Ukraine, being mobilized, or fleeing the country to avoid the mobilization, Foreign Policy pointed out that a labor shortage may be looming for some of these newly acquired companies.

“Now, if Russia isn’t even able to operate its newly Russified versions of the Western companies that have departed and people face tangible inconveniences, (Russian President Vladimir Putin) risks real unrest,” Foreign Policy stated.

9:50 a.m.: Mobilization has been a bitter pill for many Russians to swallow, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, noting that Russia is offering debt breaks and other benefits to entice draftees.

Putin’s September 21 decision to mobilize at least 300,000 Russian men -- and possibly up to a million based on some media reports -- has sparked protests around the country and driven, by some accounts, hundreds of thousands of citizens to flee to neighboring countries to avoid the draft.

The sharp backlash is already forcing the Kremlin to sweeten financial incentives to stem the protests and draft dodging that threaten to undermine its invasion strategy in Ukraine.

Russian lawmakers scrambled this week to pass amendments widening benefits for those serving in Ukraine as well as their immediate family members, including debt repayment freezes and outright debt forgiveness.

Russian military officials have already promised to pay draftees a monthly salary ranging from 135,000 to 200,000 rubles ($2,290 to $3,400) depending on their rank, an amount that is two to three times the national average, according to the Moscow-based Alfa Bank.

9:25 a.m.:

9:15 a.m.: The European Commission said on Thursday it would file a legal challenge against Malta for its so-called golden passport program that allows wealthy foreigners to buy citizenship in exchange for an investment of around 1 million euros ($970,000), Reuters reported.

Holding a Maltese passport allows them to live and work in any EU country.

In recent months, Malta suspended the program for Russian and Belarusian nationals following the start of the war in Ukraine, but it continues to operate the scheme for all other nationalities and "has not expressed any intention to end it", the Commission said in a statement.

9:05 a.m.: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the Nord Stream pipeline accident would have been impossible without the involvement of a state actor, The Associated Press reported.

Peskov told reporters in a conference call Thursday that it “looks like a terror attack, probably conducted on a state level.”

He said “it would be hard to imagine” from the extent of damage to the pipeline that it didn’t happen without state involvement and urged a quick investigation.

Swedish coast guard officials reported Thursday a fourth leak to the Nord Stream pipelines conveying natural gas from Russia to Germany off southern Sweden.

Peskov dismissed media reports about Russian warships spotted in the area as “stupid and biased,” adding that “many more aircraft and vessels belonging to NATO countries have been spotted in the area.” He wouldn’t say if it could be possible to repair the pipeline.

8:45 a.m.: President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Thursday authorizing the Russian government to ban some Western trucks from transiting across Russian territory, Reuters reported.

The decree allows for a ban on trucks carrying freight that are registered in countries that have applied similar restrictions against Russia.

Russia complained in April that the European Union had closed its borders to some freight vehicles registered in Russia and Belarus due to sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine.

8:30 a.m.: Moscow is trying to draft fleeing Russian men at the borders, The Associated Press reported.

Long lines of Russians trying to escape being called up to fight in Ukraine continued to clog highways out of the country, and Moscow reportedly set up draft offices at borders to intercept some of them.

North Ossetia, a Russian region that borders Georgia, has restricted many passenger cars from entering its territory, and set up a draft office at the Verkhy Lars border crossing, Russian news agencies said. Some media outlets released photos at the crossing showing a black van with “military enlistment office” written on it.

Another such draft checkpoint was set up in Russia along the Finnish border, according to the independent Russian news outlet Meduza.

Tens of thousands of Russian men have fled in the week since President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization to bolster struggling Russian forces in Ukraine. Although Putin said the callup was “partial,” aimed at calling up about 300,000 men with past military service, many Russians fear it will be much broader and more arbitrary than that. There are numerous reports of men with no military training and of all ages receiving draft notices.

8:15 a.m.:

8:05 a.m.: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted Thursday that he assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Germany will never recognize the “so-called results.”

“The sham referendums carried out by Putin in the illegally occupied areas of Ukraine are worthless,” Scholz said.

7:50 a.m.: Finland will close its border to Russian tourists from midnight local time (2100 GMT), which is expected to lead to a significant drop in cross-border traffic, Reuters reported Thursday, citing the government.

Entry for family visits, as well as for work and studies, will still be permitted, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told a news conference.

7:40 a.m.:

7:35 a.m.: President Vladimir Putin will on Friday begin formally annexing 15% of Ukrainian territory, presiding at a Kremlin signing ceremony to add four Ukrainian regions to Russia, Reuters reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the ceremony would take place at 1500 Moscow time (1200 GMT) on Friday "on agreements on the accession of new territories into the Russian Federation."

Agreements will be signed "with all four territories that held referendums and made corresponding requests to the Russian side," Peskov said.

Ukraine and the West have rejected the hastily arranged votes, held seven months after Russia's invasion, as illegitimate shams.

Putin's decision to incorporate the regions into Russia means Moscow will annex vast areas across eastern and southern Ukraine, representing around 15% of Ukraine's total territory.

Following the signing ceremonies in the Kremlin, Putin will give a major speech and will meet with Moscow-appointed administrators of the Ukrainian regions, the Kremlin said.

7:15 a.m.: The Kremlin said on Thursday a phone call between President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan was being prepared.

It gave no further details. Erdogan has been in active diplomatic contact for months with both Russia and Ukraine, including brokering a deal to allow the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea.

6:50 a.m.: Turkey's state lender Ziraat Bank has suspended use of Russia's Mir payment system, Chief Executive Alpaslan Cakar told Reuters on Thursday.

The suspension comes as the United States cracks down on those accused of helping Moscow skirt sanctions and as Western nations grow concerned over increased economic ties between NATO-member Turkey and Russia.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying last week that Turkey would have to take steps on finding an alternative to the Mir system, "whether we like it or not" due to sanctions.

Two private banks, Isbank and Denizbank, suspended their use of the Mir system last week after Washington expanded its sanctions on Russia, including targeting the entity that runs the payment system.

But Reuters had reported, based on sources, that state banks could continue using the Mir system, while offering more transparency and assurances to the West that it was not being used to circumvent sanctions.

Turkey's two other state banks, Halkbank and Vakifbank, have not commented on the issue.

NATO member Ankara opposes Western sanctions on Russia and has close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, its Black Sea neighbors. It has also condemned Russia's invasion and sent armed drones to Ukraine as part of its diplomatic balancing act.

Uzbekistan's UZCARD system said on Friday it had suspended the processing of payments via Mir cards.

6:30 a.m.: The European Parliament's Special Committee on Foreign Interference and Disinformation will hold a public hearing today on “Russian disinformation and propaganda regarding Ukraine in the light of its war of aggression and its impact on democratic processes in the EU.”

The guest speakers include Dmitry Muratov, the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, and Olga Rudenko, editor-in-chief of Kyiv Independent.

6:15 a.m.: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that a deliberate attack against allies' infrastructure would be met with a determined response, following what it called acts of "sabotage" on the Nord Stream pipelines.

"All currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage," NATO said in a statement.

"We, as Allies, have committed to prepare for, deter and defend against the coercive use of energy and other hybrid tactics by state and non-state actors. Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response," it said.

6 a.m.: The head of the upper house of the Russian parliament said it could consider the incorporation of the four regions on Tuesday, three days before Russian President Putin's 70th birthday, Reuters reported.

5:55 a.m.: The New York Times posted on its website excerpts of phone conversations between Russian soldiers and their loved ones. Ukrainian law enforcement intercepted the conversations, which reveal many of the troops’ frustrations with the war and Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.

In one, a man named Sergue questions the purpose of the conflict.

“Mom, we haven’t seen a single fascist here,” he said. “This war is based on a false pretense. No one needed it. We got here and people were living normal lives. Very well, like in Russia. And now they have to live in basements. The old lady who lived near us had to live in the cellar. Can you imagine?”

5:30 a.m.: The U.S. candidate Doreen Bogdan-Martin on Thursday decisively beat a Russian candidate to be the next Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union in an election seen as a test of how many countries are still siding with Russia, Reuters reported.

Bogdan-Martin won the election to be the next head the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, with 139 votes out of 172 cast, defeating Russia's Rashid Ismailov, the U.N. agency said in a statement.

The election that took place in Bucharest, Romania, is seen as a key indicator of Western efforts to isolate Russia diplomatically at the U.N. amid signs that international resolve is fading more than seven months after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"I've worked for this moment for more than three decades," Bogdan-Martin, an ITU veteran, said in a victory speech where she pledged unity and to work to improve digital connectivity.

She is the first woman to head the Geneva-based agency that was set up in 1865 to overcome interruptions in the telegraph system at borders. Its mission remains similar to this day: ensuring international communications for people and businesses. The ITU also plays a key role in setting standards for new technology, such as artificial intelligence.

4:15 a.m.: Sweden found a fourth leak in a major undersea pipeline that carries Russian natural gas to the European Union, according to BBC News.

The fourth leak is in addition to the three Denmark and Sweden already reported in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. The EU said the leaks had been caused by sabotage.

Russia called suggestions it had attacked its own pipelines as "predictable and stupid."

3:40 a.m.: An agreement on the next sanctions package against Russia is expected before next week's EU summit, or at least major parts of the package, an EU official told Reuters.

The official said they expected the summit to focus on the referendums in Ukraine, possible annexations of areas by Russia, Russia's nuclear threats and the disruption to the Nord Stream pipelines.

EU leaders are also expected to discuss ideas for energy price caps at the summit, which the EU official expects to be tense "as we are in difficult times."

3:05 a.m.: Russia's Gazprom said it will ship 42.5 million cubic meters of gas to Europe via Ukraine on Thursday, Reuters reported.

2:10 a.m. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense releases its latest intelligence update.

1:18 a.m.: Ukraine continues to ship grain across the Danube to the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta even after some of its own ports reopened, and the new routes are likely to remain, the deputy chief of freight logistics group TTS said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Ukraine's grain exports slumped after Russia invaded the country on Feb. 24 and blockaded its Black Sea ports, driving up global food prices and prompting fears of shortages in Africa and the Middle East.

The country, one of the world's leading grain exporters, was forced to find alternative routes by train via its western border or through its small Danube River ports of Reni and Ismail into Romania.

Those routes are still being used even after three Ukrainian ports reopened under a U.N.-backed safe passage deal, as too few ships are arriving in Ukraine.

12:08 a.m.: Police found 18 torture chambers in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region following its liberation from Russian forces in September, The Kyiv Independent has reported.

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

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