Russia said early Saturday that it had thwarted a naval drone attack on a bridge that links the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula.
In messages posted to Telegram, the Russian Defense ministry said three semisubmersible unmanned boats, "sent by the Kyiv regime to carry out a terrorist attack on the Crimean bridge," had been destroyed in the Black Sea – one late Friday and two early Saturday.
The bridge was built after Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. Completed in 2018, the bridge has been targeted throughout Russia's invasion of Ukraine, including an attack in July that caused major damage to the bridge and killed two people.
Ukraine claimed responsibility for the July strike but has so far not commented on Russia's claim it prevented another attack.
Ukraine anti-corruption efforts
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan met Friday with the heads of Ukrainian anti-corruption institutions and discussed the progress Kyiv has made in combating graft and in safeguarding the autonomy of crucial government institutions, the White House said.
The officials discussed the progress Ukraine had made in combating graft and in safeguarding the autonomy of crucial government institutions.
Sullivan stressed the importance of independent, impartial law enforcement and judicial institutions to any democratic society. He also reiterated Washington’s steadfast support for anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine and “for Ukraine’s brave defense of its democracy against Russian aggression.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to participate at the annual U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine in New York this month, Albanian Ambassador to the U.N. Ferit Hoxha told reporters Friday.
Albania is president of the 15-member council for September. World leaders will begin gathering in New York on September 18. The Security Council meeting on Ukraine will be held September 20.
Zelenskyy said in his daily address that he was emotional Friday because it marked the first day of the school year.
Nearly 4 million students returned to the classrooms, he said. “Most of them are offline or in a mixed mode, where social interaction between children is still preserved,” he said.
"The smile of every child today, every flower that children brought to school, every lesson that Ukrainian teachers conducted today, and every dream that arose today in Ukrainian children are all proofs that Ukraine will definitely endure," he said. "Life goes on. Life is getting stronger."
Meanwhile, the British Defense Ministry said Saturday that Ukraine is continuing "to take offensive action" on the Orikhiv axis in southern Ukraine, where units have reached "the first Russian main defensive line."
Grain deal talks
Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to hold talks Monday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in an effort to revive the U.N.-brokered Black Sea grain deal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Russia exited the accord in July, saying its main terms had not been honored for the Russian Agricultural Bank to be reconnected to the SWIFT international payments system. Moscow followed with a series of attacks on Ukraine’s ports and grain infrastructure.
The Black Sea grain deal was forged more than a year ago to combat the global food crisis that the U.N. said had worsened since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on Friday to discuss grain exports ahead of the meeting set for Erdogan and Putin.
Shoigu said it was not Russia's fault the grain deal had failed, reiterating the Russian stance that Moscow would return to the deal if all the promises made to Russia were honored.
"Here we can say only one thing, that if everything that was promised to Russia is fulfilled, the deal will be extended," Shoigu said in a statement released by the defense ministry.
Russia has complained that restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have hindered shipments of its own food and fertilizer exports.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that he had reached out to Russia with “concrete proposals” to renew the collapsed grain deal.
"The proposal is relating to the need to reestablish the Black Sea initiative," Guterres told reporters during a news briefing. "At the same time, we have some concrete solutions for the concerns allowing for more effective access of Russian food and fertilizer to global markets at adequate prices."
He did not go into detail on the proposal, saying only that it addressed some of Moscow's concerns. But he cautioned that any revival of the initiative must be stable.
"We cannot have a Black Sea initiative that moves from crisis to crisis, from suspension to suspension," Guterres said. "We need to have something that works, and that works to the benefit of everybody."
For nearly a year, the initiative helped facilitate the export of nearly 33 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs from Ukraine via the Black Sea, helping bring down global food prices that spiked after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Russia was also receiving help in facilitating its own grain and fertilizer exports.
Ukrainian troops advance
On Friday, Ukraine said its troops pierced through Russia's first line of defense in several places, advancing in the Zaporizhzhia region.
Ukrainian forces made gradual gains in southern Zaporizhzhia over the past 72 hours, the White House said Friday.
"We have noted over the last 72 hours or so some notable progress by Ukrainian armed forces … in that southern line of advance coming out of the Zaporizhzhia area, and they have achieved some success against that second line of Russian defenses," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kirby said Ukrainians are well aware there are tough battles ahead.
"That is not to say … that they aren't mindful that they've still got some tough fighting ahead of them as they try to push further south" or that Russia could launch a countereffort, he added.
Kirby also said he could not confirm reports Friday that Russia's nuclear-capable Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles had been put on combat duty.
Kyiv's troops, who have been battling to advance through heavily mined areas for almost three months, have now run into major defensive Russian fortifications, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Friday.
"Where we have already moved to the next line ... the enemy is much more fortified there and, in addition to the mining, we also see concrete fortifications - for example, under the main commanding heights - and our armed forces have to overcome a lot of obstacles in order to move forward," she noted.
A Russian missile struck a private business in the central Ukraine region of Vinnytsia overnight, wounding three people, Ukranian authorities said Friday.
In a post on Telegram, Governor Serhiy Borzov said, "Unfortunately, there are victims — three civilians. They are being provided with all necessary assistance." He added that property and cars had been damaged.
Drone strikes town in Russia
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian drone hit a town early Friday in western Russia that is home to one of the country's largest nuclear power plants.
Russian officials said there were no reports of damage to the plant itself, located in Kurchatov, but at least one building was damaged.
The Kursk nuclear plant has the same graphite-moderated reactors as the Chernobyl nuclear plant, the site of the world's largest nuclear accident in 1986 that spread nuclear radiation across Europe.
The British Defense Ministry said Friday in its daily intelligence update on Ukraine that Russia was now using "a range of passive defenses" to ensure the survival of crossings across the Kerch Strait, including the Crimean Bridge.
The ministry said the defenses included smoke generators and underwater barriers constructed of submerged ships and containment booms to protect against attacks by drone boats.
"The bridge's importance for both logistics and symbolism of Russian occupation mandates these extensive protection measures," the report said.
VOA's U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.