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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7:59 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

What it's like living near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

From CNN's Rebecca Wright and Olga Konovalova

When they heard an explosion hit nearby just before midnight, Anastasia Zabolotnya and Andriy Stupak ran for their basement, escaping moments before a Russian rocket tore through the roof of their home.

The first missile left a gaping hole in the center of the local football pitch in the village of Prydniprovske, in the Dnipro region of southern Ukraine.

“It saved us that the first incoming was there,” Zabolotnya said. “The second one (landed) on our house.”

The young couple, ages 17 and 19, lived in the house with Zabolotnya’s mother and younger brother, who also survived by running for shelter.

Ukrainian officials say the two missiles came from Russian forces based a few miles away across the Dnipro River at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), which the Russians have controlled since March.

Local residents in the cities of Nikopol, Marhanets, and the surrounding villages have been targeted by shelling from troops at the plant for weeks.

Ukraine accuses the Russians of using the highly sensitive location as a shield, and has urged them to allow an inspection by nuclear experts and a demilitarized zone, to prevent a nuclear catastrophe at Europe’s biggest nuclear plant. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky held trilateral talks in Lviv on Thursday with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who warned of the danger of “a new Chernobyl" due to the escalating situation.

For those living in the shadow of the plant, life is now on tenterhooks.

“Every day is special for us, we wake up in the morning and thank God for every day we’re alive,” said Mykola Stupak, the village chief in Prydniprovske.

He said the Russians are shelling his village to “spread panic and terror,” but he can’t understand why they are putting the nuclear plant at risk.

“Perhaps they don’t understand what they are doing,” Stupak said.

A week after the missile hit Zabolotnya’s home, stray kittens from the village now clamber over the remnants of the rocket which ripped through the house. The family is living in a nearby hostel, and slowly trying to clear out the piles of rubble and the debris that used to be their possessions.  

But the fear will take longer to fix.

“It’s very scary,” Zabolotnya said. Now, they are afraid of “every rustle,” Stupak said.


5:17 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Pro-Russian official claims artillery strikes near Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko and Tim Lister

A pro-Russian official in Zaporizhzhia says there have been several artillery strikes in the area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant Thursday evening.

Vladimir Rogov, an official with the self-declared Russian-backed Zaporizhzhia region administration, said on his Telegram channel: "At the moment, there are at least 7 hits from heavy artillery in the Enerhodar region."

Enerhodar is the town closest to the plant. 

CNN cannot verify Rogov's claim. The Russian and Ukrainian sides blame each other for rocket and artillery attacks on and around the large nuclear complex.

4:40 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Sirens and anti-air defenses activated near Sevastopol in Crimea, witnesses say

From CNN's Tim Lister and Kostan Nechyporenko

Witnesses in the Crimean city of Sevastopol have reported on social media that sirens and anti-air defenses were activated on Thursday night.

The focus of the air defense activity appears to have been in the vicinity of a military air base on the Black Sea coast, about 5.5 miles (about 9 kilometers) from the city.

Sevastopol Gov. Mikhail Razvozhaev said on his Telegram channel that "according to preliminary data, an unmanned aerial vehicle was recently shot down near the Belbek airport by air defenses."

"There is no damage. No harm done," he said, urging residents to ignore Ukrainian channels discussing "their 'successful' attack."

"Please everyone keep calm and get information from trusted sources," Razvozhaev said. 

CNN cannot independently verify what caused the air defenses to be activated or whether any damage was caused in the area. 

4:25 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Russian military vehicles seen inside turbine hall adjoining Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor, video shows

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Tim Lister

Russia military vehicles are sitting inside a turbine hall connected to a nuclear reactor at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, new video shows.

CNN has geolocated and confirmed the authenticity of the video, which began circulating on social media Thursday. It's unclear when the video was taken.

The video was taken in one of the six turbine rooms located on the western side of the nuclear power plant, which is located in the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar. Each turbine hall is connected and built into a large building that houses a nuclear reactor.

The vehicles, which appear to be standard Russian military trucks, are sitting in the far western edge of the building on the ground floor, just over 400 feet (130 meters) from the reactor.

At least five vehicles — with one clearly marked with the pro-war symbol "Z" — are seen in the video, with at least two tent-like structures nearby. There are a number of assorted pallets near the vehicles.

It's unclear from the video whether the pallets and tent-like structures are part of the Russian military or are related to power plant operations. 

In the past, the Russians have said the only military equipment at the nuclear power plant is relating to guard duties. On Thursday, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that satellite imagery, "shows that weapons, especially heavy ones, are not placed on the territory of this station." 

CNN has reached out to the Russian defense ministry for comment on what is inside and around the military vehicles in the turbine room, but did not immediately receive a response.

Some background: For weeks, the Ukrainians have accused the Russian military of launching attacks from the plant. Most recently, the chairman of Ukraine's state nuclear power company, Petro Kotin, said that Russia was storing 14 "units of heavy military equipment" in the "first power unit" and "six vehicles" in the "second engine room." 

Russian military vehicles have been absent from the plant since July 24, according to satellite imagery of the complex provided to CNN by Planet Labs. 

It's unclear whether the Russian military trucks are being stored inside the turbine room or if they are using it as cover after a Ukrainian military strike, which took place on July 19. The strike targeted Russian military personnel in three tents just under 1,000 feet (more than 300 meters) from one of the nuclear reactors.

2:56 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Russian troops "can’t move anywhere further" in Ukraine, former Ukrainian defense official says

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad

Russian troops are in a situation where they “can't move anywhere further” in Ukraine thanks to weapons provided by Western countries, former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk told CNN on Thursday.

“The war is in a situation where the Russians cannot move anywhere further because of the weapons the West provided us. We managed now to make them stop,” Zagorodnyuk said.

“But unfortunately at the same time we don’t have enough weapons for a proper, serious, fully-fledged counter-offensive,” he added.

The former defense minister also said the term "stalemate" was not applicable to the situation in Ukraine.

“Usually when people use the word stalemate, they assume some sort of stability and some sort of calmness. But it’s not the case, unfortunately. It’s an extremely active war right now, there are people dying every day and there are a lot of operations, small operations happening in almost every operational direction,” Zagorodnyuk said.

Ukraine was behind at least three explosions in Crimea — an air base, an ammunition depot and an airfield — according to a Ukrainian government report circulated internally and shared with CNN by a Ukrainian official on Wednesday.

2:40 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

US says it is "aware of reports" that Russians have "abused and coerced" Zaporizhzhia plant staff

From CNN's Michael Conte, Jennifer Hansler and Saba Haroon

The US State Department said they are “aware of reports that Russian personnel have abused and coerced” staff at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, calling Russia’s actions “reckless.”

"We applaud the Ukrainian authorities and operators for their commitment to nuclear safety and security under the most trying of circumstances. The United States condemns in the strongest terms Russia's reckless disregard for nuclear safety and security,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Price said the International Atomic Energy Agency must be allowed access to the plant “to help ensure the safety and security of the plant and monitoring of its nuclear material.”

2:55 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Zelensky says Ukraine agrees with UN on "parameters" of international mission to nuclear plant

From CNN's Anastasia Graham Yooll and Tim Lister

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a news conference in Lviv, Ukraine, on Thursday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a news conference in Lviv, Ukraine, on Thursday. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky told a news conference in Lviv that Ukraine has agreed with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on the "parameters" of a possible visit to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant by international inspectors.

"Russia has to immediately and unconditionally withdraw all forces from the territory of the Zaporizhzhia power station and stop all provocations and all shelling. It is unacceptable that Russia puts all of us at the brink of nuclear catastrophe," Zelensky said, speaking alongside Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

"We agreed with the secretary-general parameters of a possible IAEA mission at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in a legal way through unoccupied territory," Zelensky said.

It's unclear how that might work in practice. The only way to access the plant without traveling through Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine would be across the Dnipro river. 

2:33 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Food markets starting to stabilize after agreement to unblock Black Sea ports, UN head says

From CNN's Tim Lister

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres listens during a news conference in Lviv, Ukraine, on Thursday.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres listens during a news conference in Lviv, Ukraine, on Thursday. (Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

After meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said there were signs that global food markets were beginning to stabilize in the wake of the agreement to provide safe passage for merchant ships from Ukrainian Black Sea ports.

"As we speak, more than 560,000 metric tons of grain and other food produced by Ukrainian farmers is making its way to markets around the world," he said, according to remarks from his office.   

Ministers from Ukraine and Russia signed an agreement to unblock Ukrainian Black Sea ports, which was brokered by the UN and Turkey in Istanbul on July 22.

Guterres said that wheat prices dropped by as much as 8% following the signing of the agreement, and "the FAO Food Price Index fell by 9% in July - the biggest decline since 2008." 

But he warned that supply chains are still disrupted and energy and transportation costs high. 

He said it was "vital to help reverse the turmoil in the global fertilizer market that is now threatening next season’s crops – including rice, the most widely consumed staple in the world."

After meeting with Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the news conference that he was surprised by suggestions from Erdoğan that the grain deal might open a window to broader negotiations on ending the conflict. 

"I told President Erdoğan that I have no faith in the Russian Federation," Zelensky said.

"The people who are killing, raping, dropping rockets on our civilian infrastructures every day cannot want peace, so they have to free our territories first," he added.

CNN's Anastasia Graham Yooll contributed reporting to this post.