August 5, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Megan Trimble, Tara John and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 3:34 a.m. ET, August 8, 2022
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2:38 p.m. ET, August 5, 2022

Biden says he is "hopeful" about Brittney Griner’s case as prisoner exchange conversations continue

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

President Joe Biden speaks from the White House on August 5, in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden speaks from the White House on August 5, in Washington, DC. (Evan Vucci/Pool/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden said Friday that he’s hopeful about WNBA star Brittney Griner’s case, following indications that Russia is ready to discuss a prisoner exchange with the United States.

“I’m hopeful. We’re working hard,” Biden told reporters outside the White House after a bill signing. 

Griner this week was convicted of deliberately smuggling drugs into Russia and sentenced to nine years of jail time. At trial, Griner testified she has a doctor's prescription for medical cannabis and had no intention of bringing the drug into Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier on Friday that Russia was ready to discuss an exchange of prisoners with the US through a diplomatic channel agreed by Putin and Biden, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the United States will pursue Russia’s latest offer to discuss a prisoner exchange at the presidential level involving Griner.

1:28 p.m. ET, August 5, 2022

Ukraine seeks to build closer ties with Africa, especially around food security, Zelensky says

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference on July 28 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference on July 28 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

Ukraine is “changing” its policy toward Africa as it seeks to expand ties with African countries, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Thursday.

“We in Ukraine are changing this policy. … We want to expand our ties. It is very important for us. We also strive to find different areas for investment,” Zelensky said.

Zelensky also added that Ukraine was “ready to be a guarantor of food security in African countries.”

“I believe that the African continent is an underestimated territory, underestimated countries and the potential of people. Because I know how underestimated our region and our people are,” Zelensky said.

“And now, due to the blocking of the ports, the whole world saw how much Ukraine has done and how much it can do,” he added.

Countries like Turkey, Egypt, Somalia, Congo and Tanzania are some of the most dependent on Ukrainian and Russian wheat, and nations like Eritrea bought the grain exclusively from both countries in 2021.

The Ukrainian president said his country had already started changing its approach to Africa before the start of the Russian invasion and had since appointed a special representative of Ukraine for the Middle East and Africa. 

He said previous Ukrainian diplomacy had “forgotten” about Africa, and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba would visit African countries “in the autumn.”

Still, even as the UN-brokered agreement to lift the Russian blockade on Black Sea ports has eased grain prices, experts say the belated shipments from Ukraine are no quick fix to the food crisis, accelerated by years of pandemic-related disruptions, the climate crisis, conflict, food export restrictions and spiraling costs.

Read more on food insecurity in Africa and around the globe here.

1:22 p.m. ET, August 5, 2022

Ukraine predicts shipping 3 to 5 million tonnes of grain per month if current agreement holds

From CNN's Tim Lister

A combine harvester unloads harvested wheat grain in Kharkiv, Ukraine on July 28.
A combine harvester unloads harvested wheat grain in Kharkiv, Ukraine on July 28. (Ashley Chan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

As the Ukrainian harvest gathers pace, Agrarian Policy Minister Mykola Solskyi said that the country can unload its grain storage elevators if the Black Sea ports work at least at half capacity.

"If the military situation in the region is stable and everyone abides by the agreements, I am sure that it is possible," Solskyi said.

"In recent days, we have raised our forecast for the harvest," Solskyi said. "We will be able to collect 65-67 million tonnes. We will have to export about 50 million tonnes either as grain or in processed products such as meal and oil."

"We have about 18-19 million tonnes left over from last season [2021-22]," he said. 

Ukraine needs to export about 70 million tonnes (metric tons) of products until next year's harvest.

"This is about 5 million tonnes per month. The number is large, but it is common for Ukrainian business. Last month, without seaports, we increased exports to 3 million tons per month," Solskyi said.

The grain traffic through the Black Sea is gradually gathering pace.

Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine Oleksandr Kubrakov said Friday that a bulk freighter coming to Ukraine to collect grain had passed inspection at the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, and it is expected to arrive Saturday.

Vasyl Bodnar, Ukraine's ambassador to Turkey, discussed ships on their way to Turkey at a news conference Friday.

"We will see how quickly these three ships pass, and we will understand whether we can increase the volume of transportation to 3 million tonnes per month. If three ships are currently carrying 57,000 tons, then in 30 days, we can easily achieve this result, or even more," he said.

The three bulk carriers left Ukrainian ports early Friday.

Bodnar also suggested that further progress by Ukrainian forces in the south could unlock other shipping routes.

He said that if the military "can knock out the occupiers from the Kherson region, or at least from Kherson city, this will open up additional opportunities for transporting goods from Ukrainian ports — just as the liberation of Snake Island opened the possibility of this agreement."

9:54 a.m. ET, August 5, 2022

Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv under heavy attack, according to officials

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

There has been heavy shelling in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Friday, especially around the port on the Dnipro river, according to Ukrainian officials.

"Russian terrorists shelled the residential quarters of the Ship district of Mykolaiv this afternoon," Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych said.

"The affected area is very large. Private houses and high-rise buildings were affected. There are fires, significant destruction and victims," he added.

Vitalii Kim, head of the Mykolaiv regional military administration, said at least 10 people had been wounded in one place, and there were also fatalities.

Friday's shelling followed overnight attacks by both multiple rocket launchers and artillery.

Kim said on Ukrainian television that about 5% of the Mykolaiv region's settlements are held by the Russians, and most battles on the ground are in neighboring Kherson region, which is largely Russian-occupied.

He also said that several Russian S-300 launchers — which are frequently involved in attacks on the city of Mykolaiv — had been eliminated.

Kim has ordered an extended curfew for the city this weekend, running from 11 p.m. local time on Friday until 5 a.m. local time on Monday.

One reason, he has said, is to track down alleged Russian informers in the city.

"One of the tasks would be to expose the Russian agents. A lot of residents cooperate with the law enforcement and provide information on collaborators," he claimed.

He advised residents that "the city will be closed; our law enforcement will be working in different districts, including working on collaborators. Be polite, provide all the useful information."

9:23 a.m. ET, August 5, 2022

Putin praises Erdoğan for his role in brokering deal to unblock Ukraine grain exports

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Yusuf Gezer

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands prior to their meeting in Sochi, Russia on August 5.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands prior to their meeting in Sochi, Russia on August 5. (Turkish Presidency/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday praised his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his role in the signing of a deal to unblock Ukrainian grain exports

“With your direct participation and with the mediation of the UN, the issue related to the supply of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports was resolved. Deliveries have already begun. I want to thank you for this and for the fact that at the same time a package of decisions was made on the uninterrupted supply of Russian food and Russian fertilizers to global markets,” Putin said.

Erdoğan and Putin are holding talks Friday in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi in southern Russia.

“For many countries, especially for developing countries, which are on the verge of major problems with food and fertilizers, such decisions, which were made with your direct participation, are very important,” Putin added.  

On July 22, Ukraine and Russia agreed on a deal that would allow the resumption of vital grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports. The agreement was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in Istanbul. 

For months, Russia blocked maritime access to those ports, meaning that millions of tons of Ukrainian grain has not been exported to the many countries that rely on it. Both Ukraine and Russia had both accused each other of mining the waters.

Erdoğan said steps that are taken in the energy sector, grain corridor in the Black Sea, the transportation sector and the discussions on the tourism sector are vital in terms of revealing the role played by Turkey and Russia in the region. 

Putin said Moscow hopes to sign a memorandum with Turkey on the development of trade and economic relations between the two countries.  

The two leaders are planning to discuss in detail the topics of Russian and Turkish cooperation, including the prospects for further expansion of trade and economic ties and the implementation of joint strategic projects in the energy sector, the Kremlin said Thursday.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said last week that Putin and Erdoğan will discuss military and technical cooperation as well as issues of grain export from Ukraine. 

8:01 a.m. ET, August 5, 2022

1,000 Ukrainian patients transferred to European hospitals since the war began, EU official says 

From CNN's Jorge Engels in London

The European Union has coordinated the evacuation of some 1,000 Ukrainian patients in need of urgent care to hospitals in 18 member states since the Russian invasion began, an EU Commission spokesperson said Friday in a statement.

To relieve pressure on local hospitals, the EU has been coordinating patient transfers to other European countries who have available hospital capacity,” spokesperson Miriam Garcia Ferrer said.

“The [EU] Commission stands ready to continue coordinating this assistance,” she added.

The World Health Organization told CNN on Friday that it has so far recorded 434 verified attacks on healthcare in Ukraine since the invasion started that have killed at least 85 people and injured 101 more.

9:45 a.m. ET, August 5, 2022

Kremlin spokesman refuses to comment on Griner verdict and says she can petition for clemency 

From CNN’s Anna Chernova  

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia, in 2021.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia, in 2021. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday declined to comment on the decision of a Russian court to sentence WNBA star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison on a drug smuggling conviction. 

When asked during a regular call with reporters if Russian President Vladimir Putin could pardon Griner, Peskov said: “There is a certain [legal] procedure that the convicted can resort to, in accordance with the law.” 

According to Russian law, to start the clemency procedure, a convict needs to write a petition to the Russian president. 

Peskov also said that publicly discussing the issue of a possible prisoner swap with the US would be “a mistake.” 

“If we discuss through the press some exchange-related nuances, then these exchanges will never take place. The Americans have already made this mistake,” the spokesman said. 

“These questions are not resolved this way, therefore, we will not give any comment,” he added, suggesting discussions on possible prisoner exchanges should go through the channel previously agreed upon by Putin and US President Joe Biden during a summit in Geneva last year. 

Some context: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier on Friday that Russia was ready to discuss a high-profile prisoner swap with the US through the diplomatic channel, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Shortly after, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the same summit that the US will "pursue" talks with Russia.  

The prisoner exchange talks follow the Biden administration's offer to exchange Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year US prison sentence, in exchange for two Americans wrongfully detained by Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

6:56 a.m. ET, August 5, 2022

UK accuses Russia of using Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant for military operations

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

A general view shows the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, situated in the Russian-controlled area of Enerhodar, seen from Nikopol in April 27, 2022.
A general view shows the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, situated in the Russian-controlled area of Enerhodar, seen from Nikopol in April 27, 2022. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Concerns have mounted after the British Ministry of Defense echoed accusations from the Ukrainian military that Russian forces are using the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine to fire at military positions across the Dnieper River, but Western officials have downplayed the danger. 

Russian forces are probably operating in the regions adjacent to the power station and have used artillery units based in these areas to target Ukrainian territory on the western bank of the Dnipro river,” UK's Ministry of Defence (MOD) said in its latest update on the situation in Ukraine.
“Russian forces have probably used the wider facility area, in particular the adjacent city of Enerhodar, to rest their forces, utilizing the protected status of the nuclear power plant to reduce the risk to their equipment and personnel from overnight Ukrainian attacks.”

The MOD’s assessment echoes accusations made by the mayor of the Russian-occupied town of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, who said in late July that Russia was using the plant as a fortress. “They (Russian forces) know very well that the Ukrainian Armed Forces will not respond to these attacks, as they can damage the nuclear power plant,” Orlov told Ukrainian broadcaster Espreso TV.

A mixed picture: On Thursday, Western officials downplayed the likelihood of intense combat in and around the nuclear power plant. 

“Russia might use the site as a safe zone, from which to carry out defensive operations. Ukraine will consider very carefully how to avoid taking major risks around the site,” the officials said. 

“The area of the site itself of nuclear power plant is too small an area to be very significant in terms of an advance. It could always be surrounded or bypassed by Ukraine,” the officials added. “It's a consideration and something that people need to be careful in their planning around but is in no way going to prevent an advance.”

The MOD's concerns come after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Rafael Grossi told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the situation at the plant was “completely out of control.” 

Grossi said he was trying to put together a mission, with the support of the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, to visit the plant, but explained actually going was a “very complex thing,” because “it requires the understanding and the cooperation" of the Ukrainians and the Russians occupying it.

Some background: Russia seized the plant, which is the largest nuclear plant in Europe, in the early days of the war on March 5. A week later, on March 12, a team of officials and technicians from Russia's state nuclear agency, ROSATOM, arrived on site to help manage the plant and help with repairs, Ukraine's nuclear agency, Energoatom, said. 

The situation at the plant has remained complex ever since, with Ukrainian and Russian staff working alongside each other. Communications between the plant and the IAEA has been intermittent.

Military operations in the area, with an announced Ukrainian counter-offensive to take Kherson have made the situation even more volatile, the IAEA has said.

While Western officials understand some of the IAEA's concerns, they “don't think [the situation] is as dire as it is necessarily been painted in the media at the moment.”

The officials went on to explain that plants like the one in Zaporizhzhia are built with multiple safeguards in place. “So please don't think that we're looking at Chernobyl like situation, that's not the case,” officials said. “We think overall, the circumstances of that site are still okay.”

CNN reached out to Rosatom for comment but has yet to hear back. 

5:36 a.m. ET, August 5, 2022

Russia says it took Donetsk village of Pisky, according to state news media

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Yulia Kesaieva

Russian forces say they have been able to take over the Donetsk village of Pisky, as they continue to make a push in eastern Ukraine, state news agency TASS reported Friday.

They also claimed fighting was taking place on the outskirts of Bakhmut. 

The Ukrainian military had acknowledged the Russian offensive in the area earlier but said it had prevented Moscow’s attempts at improving its position around Bakhmut. 

“In the direction of Bakhmut, the enemy shelled military and civilian infrastructure near Yakovlivka, Kodema, Pokrovske, Rozdolivka, Vershyna, Bakhmut and Soledar,” the Ukrainian military's General Staff said in an update on Friday morning.

“The enemy conducted offensive and assault actions with the aim of improving the tactical position, but was unsuccessful.”

Russian efforts blocked: The General Staff said on Thursday that an effort by Russian troops to break through near Bakhmut had been thwarted. The enemy "received a decisive rebuff from our soldiers and left." But it had "partial success" in advancing east of Bakhmut and west of Donetsk airport.