August 18, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Heather Chen, Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 5:26 a.m. ET, August 19, 2022
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9:02 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Russia's claim it may shut down Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant sparks warnings of "radiation disaster"

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Uliana Pavlova

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on August 4 in Ukraine.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on August 4 in Ukraine. (Victor/Xinhua/Getty Images)

Russia's ministry of defense has said it is considering shutting down the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (NPP) in southern Ukraine, triggering a warning from Ukraine's state nuclear agency that doing so would risk disaster.

“Negative developments” at the power plant could force Russia to consider “putting the 5th and 6th power units" into the “cold reserve,” leading to “the shutdown of the Zaporizhzhia NPP,” the ministry said in a statement Thursday, blaming Ukraine for shelling the site. Ukrainian authorities have refuted the allegations, accusing Russia of being behind attacks that have damaged the complex.

Energoatom, Ukraine's state-run nuclear power company, said the prospect of shutting down the plant would bring “the scenario of a radiation disaster closer.”

“In the event of the disconnection of the [Zaporizhzhia] NPP generators from the power system of Ukraine, they will not be able to be used for their own fuel cooling needs in case of a power outage at the plant,” Energoatom said in a Telegram post on Thursday. “This will approximate the possible scenario of a radiation disaster at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.”

The plant is the focal point of growing global concern after weeks of increased shelling has sparked calls from the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency to allow experts to visit the facility and ratcheted fears of a potential nuclear accident.

Both sides have tried to point the finger at the other for threatening nuclear terrorism.

Ukrainian shelling has damaged auxiliary support systems, such as splash pools and other equipment that keeps the reactors cool, according to the ministry, which accused Ukrainian forces of carrying out 12 attacks on the facility using more than 50 artillery shells and five kamikaze drones. 

Ukraine has consistently denied the allegations and blamed Russia of shelling the plant, as well as using it as a shield from which to fire at Ukrainian positions in Nikopol, on the opposite bank of the Dnipro River. Russia has also denied Ukrainian claims. 

“We are ready to present to the IAEA real high-resolution images ... which shows that weapons, especially heavy ones, are not placed on the territory of this station,” the Russian defense ministry said on Thursday.

“We know that in the presence of a large number of military and commercial foreign satellites, the same information can be presented to the world by the American side,” it added.

CNN cannot independently verify Ukrainian or Russian claims about strikes and placement of heavy military equipment at Zaporizhzhia NPP.

CNN has reached out to commercial satellite imagery operators to verify Russian claims but has yet to hear back. 

9:07 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

UN head "delighted" with invitation to visit Ukrainian university

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, left, and university rector Volodymyr Melnyk visit Lviv State University in the western Ukrainian city on Thursday.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, left, and university rector Volodymyr Melnyk visit Lviv State University in the western Ukrainian city on Thursday. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, said he was “delighted” to visit the National University of Lviv in Ukraine.

“I was delighted to accept the invitation of the director of this faculty of international relations of the very old and very respected [National] University of Lviv,” Guterres told journalists at the event on Thursday.

Today, many people think that only governments matter but on the contrary, more and more the contribution of civil society and the contribution of academia are essential in the development of modern democracies.”

“This school has given very important contributions, namely, to the Charter of the United Nations. One of the members was part of the drafting of the charter and its values were discussed here,” Guterres went on to say.

“Also in research about the Holocaust, and in contributions in relation to several very important aspects of the analysis of violations of human rights and genocide," he added.

“That is the reason why, for me as Secretary of the United Nations, it is a very important experience to be able to visit this faculty of Lviv University." 

9:32 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Putin revives Stalin-era "Mother Heroine" award for women with over 10 children

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

On Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree reviving the Soviet-era “Mother Heroine” award for women with more than 10 children, in an attempt to alleviate a demographic crisis in Russia.

Originally, the award was introduced by Joseph Stalin after World War II, when the Soviet population plunged by tens of millions.

The award ceased to exist with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

A payment of 1 million rubles ($16,500) will be given to Russian mothers once the 10th child turns one, if all 10 have survived.

According to the latest Rosstat statistics published this summer, Russia’s population shrank by an average of 86,000 people per month between January and May, a record.

In addition Russia is suffering heavy losses among troops in Ukraine, but the true number of casualties has not been disclosed.

In an attempt to relieve the population crisis in Russia, the Kremlin has also focused on promoting traditional values.

5:13 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Estonia struck by "extensive" cyberattack, reportedly claimed by Russian hackers

From CNN's Teele Rebane in Tallin

Estonia was hit by extensive cyberattacks on Wednesday, Luukas Ilves, the country's chief information officer and undersecretary for digital transformation, revealed on Thursday.

According to Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR), the Russian-backed hacker group Killnet has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which targeted both public and private institutions.

They came a day after a Soviet tank statue was removed in the Eastern border city of Narva, and a day ahead of the suspension of Russian tourist visas on August 18.

“The attacks were ineffective ... With some brief and minor exceptions, websites remained fully available throughout the day. The attack has gone largely unnoticed in Estonia,” Ilves said on Facebook. “As Gov't CIO, I slept well.”

According to the Estonian Information Services Department's incident handling department, there were 12 attacks against various state institutions or websites, and four attacks directed at private sector organizations in the past 24 hours.

Nine of the attacks had no effect, while seven caused short service delays, state media reported. 

According to Ilves, these are the most extensive attacks to hit the country since 2007, when Estonia became the first nation to be targeted by wide-ranging cyberattacks following the removal of a statue of a Soviet soldier.

Estonia believes that the 2007 attacks were backed by the Russian state. The attacks lasted 22 days and targeted various government websites and local media outlets.

On Wednesday, after weeks of deliberation and controversy, the Estonian government removed the Soviet T-34 tank statue from the Eastern border city of Narva.

The tank monument was erected in 1970 to commemorate the Russian "liberation" of the city from the Nazis during World War Two.

3:51 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Ukrainian military says it repelled Russian assaults in the east

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio and Oleksandra Ochman

Ukraine has repelled assaults by Russian forces across the front lines in the eastern Donetsk region, the military's General Staff said on Thursday.

“[Russia] led an offensive in the Mykolaivka-Vyimka direction, was unsuccessful, withdrew,” the General Staff said of Moscow’s push toward the key city of Kramatorsk.

The bulk of the fighting had been concentrated around the town of Bakhmut, which has remained under heavy Russian artillery fire, it said.

"The occupiers launched an offensive in the directions of Volodymyrivka–Soledar, Pokrovske–Bakhmutske, Pokrovske–Bakhmut, Klynove–Bakhmut, Semihiria–Zaitseve, Semihiria–Kodema and Holmivskyi–Zaitseve," the General Staff said. "The invaders did not achieve any positive results in any of the offensive directions and withdrew with losses."

Russian forces also had limited success west of Donetsk city, near Avdiivka, it added.

Southern front: Russian forces maintained a defensive posture in the south of Ukraine, specifically around Kherson region, the General Staff said.

"The enemy continues to focus its efforts on establishing full control over the territories of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, maintaining the temporarily captured areas of the Kherson oblast and parts of the Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, and Mykolaiv oblast, creating favorable conditions for resuming the offensive in certain directions, as well as blocking Ukraine's maritime communications in the Black Sea," it said.
8:15 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

UN nuclear watchdog ready to visit to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Ukrainian foreign minister says

From CNN's Oleksandra Ochman

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said a team of international experts is prepared to visit the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, following a call with the chief of the nuclear watchdog.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi "is ready to lead an IAEA delegation to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant," Kuleba said in a tweet. "I emphasized the mission’s urgency to address nuclear security threats caused by Russia’s hostilities."

Some context: The IAEA has requested access to the plant in southeastern Ukraine as fighting around the facility intensified over the past few weeks. Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of threatening nuclear terrorism, particularly around the plant, which Russia has controlled since March. The European Union and 42 countries this week urged Russia to immediately withdraw forces from the plant, while the IAEA has warned that attacks on the facility risk a potential radiation leak.

2:41 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

7 killed in Russian rocket strike on Kharkiv apartment building

From CNN's Tim Lister and Petro Zadorozhnyy

Ukraine says Russian forces struck a three-story residential building in the neighborhood of Saltivka with a missile, according to local authorities on Thursday.
Ukraine says Russian forces struck a three-story residential building in the neighborhood of Saltivka with a missile, according to local authorities on Thursday. (Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synehubov/Telegram)

Seven people were killed and 20 others wounded in a Russian rocket attack on an apartment building in the northeastern city of Kharkiv in the early hours of Thursday, Ukrainian officials said.

Emergency services said a fire at the three-story building in Saltivka district took two hours to bring under control.

"There is no justification for this kind of strike on Saltivka, on a residential building. This is not a military target. This is an act of intimidation, genocide," Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Telegram.

According to the mayor’s office, at least four missiles landed in the city in the early hours of Thursday. One of them hit on a dormitory in the Slobidsky district, killing one person and injuring another 18, Ukrainian officials said. 

This post has been updated with additional information.

2:15 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Analysis: Europe can't decide if it wants to punish ordinary Russians for Putin's war

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee

Finland, a country that shares an 830-mile-long border with Russia, announced this week that it is to halve its cap on the number of visa applications from Russian citizens. 

Currently, 1,000 Russians can apply for Finnish visas each day, but as of Sept. 1 that number will drop to 500. Jussi Tanner, director general for consular services at Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told CNN that a maximum of 20% of those slots will be allocated for tourist visas, meaning no more than 100 tourist visas will be available per day.

The move comes after Estonia, another European Union nation that borders Russia, banned even Russians who already had visas from entering the country. According to Reuters, that amounts to 50,000 people. 

The Czech Republic and Latvia have also been supportive of visa bans and have also taken measures to restrict Russians from traveling into the EU. 

The proposal was first floated by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who wants to stop Russians from entering the bloc, where they can then travel freely for 90 days in the EU's common travel zone, the Schengen area. 

Not everyone agrees. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says that while it is important to sanction those in Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, Europeans need to "also understand that there are a lot of people fleeing from Russia because they disagree with the Russian regime." 

A senior German diplomat told CNN that Scholz's argument is not based in fact, "as anyone can apply for a humanitarian visa." The diplomat believes that Scholz is mostly attempting to "balance his own party which is split between those who want dialogue with Russia and those who want to appear hard." 

Read the full analysis here.

9:07 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Zelensky renews demand for Russian forces to leave Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

From CNN's Tim Lister and Petro Zadorozhnyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday repeated his demand that Russian forces pull out of the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine.

The Russian army "must withdraw from the territory of the nuclear power plant and all neighboring areas, and take away its military equipment," Zelensky said in his daily video message.

"This must happen without any conditions and as soon as possible. Ukraine is ready to ensure proper control by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], and the relevant mission can be sent to the Zaporizhzhia plant in a legal way, very fast and as efficiently as possible."

Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of threatening nuclear terrorism, particularly around the plant, which Russia has controlled since March.

The European Union and 42 countries this week urged Russia to immediately withdraw forces from the plant, while the IAEA has warned that attacks on the facility risk a potential radiation leak.

In his video address, Zelensky said "Ukrainian diplomats, our nuclear scientists and the IAEA are in constant touch" and are working on "sending the IAEA mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant."

Zelensky is due to meet UN Secretary General António Guterres on Thursday in the western city of Lviv.

Battle update: In his address, Zelensky also referred to the situation on the front lines in the eastern Donetsk and northeastern Kharkiv regions, saying, "the Avdiivka area, Bakhmut area, Kharkiv region, and some other regions are where the most difficult fighting is going on right now."

The Ukrainian military acknowledged Wednesday that Russian forces had "partial success" in advancing on some parts of the front west of Donetsk city.