August 24, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Kathleen Magramo, Josh Berlinger, Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 2:25 a.m. ET, August 25, 2022
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1:46 p.m. ET, August 24, 2022

Biden to speak with Zelensky on Thursday as US warns of upcoming "sham referenda" in regions of Ukraine

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden will speak Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky to update him on US arms shipments and congratulate him on Ukrainian Independence Day, according to the White House.

John Kirby, the communications coordinator at the National Security Council, said the US would continue to "rally the free world" and "galvanize allies and partners" to support Ukraine as the Russian invasion hits the six-month mark. 

He said the phone call between Biden and Zelensky would reaffirm those commitments.

"The President's looking forward to that," Kirby said, while saying there were no travel plans to discuss for Biden to visit Kyiv. He said if a "trip makes sense," it would come under consideration.

Biden today announced a nearly $3 billion security assistance package to Ukraine.

Warning of a potential next step in the Russian invasion, Kirby said the US has information showing Russia is preparing to hold "sham referenda" in regions of Ukraine, potentially within days.

He said an announcement could come before the end of the week. The potential regions where a referenda could occur include Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, along with Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

"The United States and the international community have been very clear that any attempts at controlling Ukraine sovereign territory will not be considered legitimate," Kirby said.

He said the US expects Russia to manipulate the results of the votes and falsely claim the Ukrainian people want to join Russia.

"It will be critical to call out and counter this disinformation in real time," he said.

He said the US information shows Russian officials are concerned there would be low voter turnout in the upcoming votes.

12:36 p.m. ET, August 24, 2022

As leaders issue warnings over Zaporizhzhia, it’s not the first time the 6-month war has spurred nuclear fears

From CNN's Rob Picheta and Nathan Hodge

The threat of nuclear calamity has hung for months over Russia’s half-year war in Ukraine.

Those fears were renewed in the last two weeks after shelling intensified around the massive Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, which has been under Russian control since March.

Attacks at the complex, which have ramped up as fighting flares in Ukraine’s south, have sparked concerns about the specter of nuclear disaster, leading the United Nations’ watchdog and world leaders to demand that a mission be allowed to visit the site and assess the damage.

There's been a barrage of accusations made by each side about security and military action at and around the plant. The lack of independent access to the plant makes it impossible to verify what is happening there. Over the past month, a number of rockets and shells have landed on the territory of the plant, according to satellite imagery analyzed by CNN.

So just how real is the risk that the fighting poses?

Nuclear experts are keen to defuse some of the more alarmist warnings, explaining that the main threat is closest to the plant itself and doesn’t justify Europe-wide alerts. Experts are particularly wary of any comparisons to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, a repeat of which is incredibly unlikely, they said.

“It’s not very likely that this plant will be damaged,” Leon Cizelj, president of the European Nuclear Society, told CNN. “In the very unlikely case that it is, the radioactive problem would mostly affect Ukrainians that live nearby,” rather than spreading throughout eastern Europe as was the case with Chernobyl, he said.

Russia's invasion triggered fears about nuclear safety at the start of the war

In late February and March, the Russian occupation of Chernobyl in northern Ukraine triggered fears that safety standards inside the exclusion zone could be compromised.

During the first week of the war, the plant and its surrounding territory fell into the hands of Russian troops. They withdrew on March 31, according to Ukraine's nuclear operator.

Ukraine’s government said that Russian forces had looted and destroyed a lab close to the abandoned nuclear plant, which was used to monitor radioactive waste.

11:19 a.m. ET, August 24, 2022

Putin will issue payments to families with children in occupied territories in Ukraine, Kremlin says

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed its government on Wednesday to pay 10,000 rubles ($613) to families with children in the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia, according to the Kremlin.

According to the Kremlin’s readout, the payments will be administered to families with children aged 6 to 18 living in Zaporizhizhia, Kharkiv and Kherson regions, as well as the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic.

The money amounts are scheduled to be paid by Sept. 15 to families whose children go to school in the Russian-occupied territories. 

11:06 a.m. ET, August 24, 2022

WHO: Ukraine’s health system is "shaken" but "has not collapsed" despite the war

From CNN’s Pierre Meilhan

The World Health Organization said Wednesday that Ukraine’s health system has managed to survive, despite Russia’s invasion.

“Six months of war have had a devastating impact on the health and lives of Ukraine’s people, but despite many challenges the health system has managed to survive and deliver care where and when it is needed most,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement.

The head of the WHO went on to say that “though shaken, the health system has not collapsed. WHO continues to support the Ministry of Health of Ukraine to restore disrupted services, displaced health workers, and destroyed infrastructure, which is essential not only for the health of Ukraine’s people but for the country’s resilience and recovery. But no system can deliver optimum health to its people under the stress of war, which is why we continue to call on the Russian Federation to end this war.” 

Six months into Russia’s invasion, the WHO said it has helped deliver more than “1,300 metric tonnes of critical medical supplies to Ukraine in coordination with the Ministry of Health and partners, with more on the way."

The agency said this includes "power generators, ambulances, and oxygen supplies for medical facilities; supplies for trauma and emergency surgeries; and medicines to help treat noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). However, attacks on health continue unabated, with 473 WHO-verified attacks recorded this past half-year, resulting in at least 98 deaths and 134 injuries.”


11:03 a.m. ET, August 24, 2022

Zelensky tells UN Security Council that "Russia has put the world on the brink of radiation catastrophe"

From CNN's Jennifer Hauser

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on screen during the UN Security Council meeting on August 24 at UN headquarters in New York.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on screen during the UN Security Council meeting on August 24 at UN headquarters in New York. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the UN Security Council virtually Wednesday, urging that the organization's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), take permanent control of the situation at the Zaporizhzhia plant as soon as possible. He also called on Russia to completely withdraw from the plant.

"Russia has put the world on the brink of radiation catastrophe. It is a fact that the Russian military has turned the territory of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, into a war zone. ... Now Europe and neighboring regions face the threat of radiation pollution," Zelensky said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres also said he is "gravely concerned" by the situation at Zaporizhzhia.

"The warning lights are flashing. Any actions that might endanger the physical integrity, safety or security of the nuclear plant are simply unacceptable. Any further escalation of the situation could lead to self destruction," Guterres said while speaking at the UN Security Council.

The UN secretariat is in close contact with the IAEA to support any mission to the power plant from Kyiv provided both Russia and Ukraine agree.

10:36 a.m. ET, August 24, 2022

133 athletes and coaches have died during six months of war in Ukraine

From CNN's Kevin Dotson, Sammy Mngqosini and Issy Ronald

Russia's war in Ukraine has claimed the lives of 133 Ukrainian athletes and coaches, the Ukraine Ministry of Youth and Sports announced on Tuesday.

"The flag will no longer be raised and the anthem will no longer be played in honor of the sports victories of the deceased athletes," Minister of Youth and Sports Vadym Gutzait wrote. "Russia invaded Ukraine and took their lives. 133 athletes and coaches have died on the battlefield and from enemy shelling."

CNN is not able to independently confirm the number of deaths of Ukrainian athletes and coaches.

Ukraine's Independence Day this year marks six months exactly since Russia invaded and began a bloody war which continues to rage across the country.

The website "Sports Angels" details the lives of each sportsperson killed during the war — some on combat missions, some in their homes destroyed by shelling.

Among those killed is Ivan Bidnyak age 36 who died while fighting in the Kherson region. He represented Ukraine at the World Championships and was the first Ukrainian to compete in shooting at the London 2012 Olympics. Eleven-year-old gymnast Kateryna Diachenko was reportedly killed when a shell hit her house in Mariupol on March 10 along with her father, mother and brother.

CNN's Ben Morse contributed reporting to this story.

10:24 a.m. ET, August 24, 2022

Russia detains prominent opposition leader for "discrediting" Russian army, state-run media reports

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

Police detain Yekaterinburg ex-mayor Yevgeny Roizman, center, in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on August 24.
Police detain Yekaterinburg ex-mayor Yevgeny Roizman, center, in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on August 24. (Vladimir Podoksyonov/URA.RU/AP)

Prominent opposition leader Yevgeny Roizman was detained by Russian police Wednesday for allegedly “discrediting” the Russian army, the country’s state-run media reported.

A criminal case has been opened against Roizman based on a video posted on his YouTube channel, according to TASS news agency, citing a law enforcement source.

Roizman — who is also the former mayor of Yekaterinburg, a city east of the Ural mountains — has been detained for 48 hours, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. He is due to be taken to Moscow for further investigation, a source told RIA Novosti.

A video shared by the pro-Kremlin Mash Telegram channel showed police officers in flak vests and black balaclavas, storming Roizman’s apartment on Wednesday morning. Another video showed Roizman leaving his apartment with police when asked by bystanders he said he was arrested for using the word “invasion.”

“Practically for (saying) one phrase: ‘The invasion of Ukraine.’ I have said it everywhere and I will say it now,” Roizman said.  

“We already know everything about our country. This is nothing new," Roizman said in a video while leaving his apartment.

According to Russian state media, the searches took place at three addresses: at his home, in Roizman's foundation — where he regularly hosted meetings with local residents — and in his private museum, the Nevyansk Icon Museum.

Earlier this year, Roizman was fined three times for “discrediting” the Russian Armed Forces on social media. 

In May, Roizman was fined another 85,000 rubles ($1,412) for a comment on Twitter in which he used profanities in response to a statement from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  

Some background: Following the arrest of Ilya Yashin, Roizman remained the last prominent Russian opposition public figure openly speaking out against the war in Ukraine. Roizman was well-known for calling out Russian officials on Twitter and remaining in Russia despite the widespread crackdown on the opposition.  

Last month, Roizman tweeted a photo of himself alongside Vladimir Kara-Murza and Ilya Yashin with the caption: “I am the only one still free.”  

Roizman came to prominence as a mayor of Yekaterinburg from 2013-2018 and for his anti-Kremlin stance. Roizman’s popularity and his opposition views resulted in authorities abolishing direct mayoral elections in Yekaterinburg in 2018.

Despite the loss of public office, Roizman continued to be one of the most influential voices in Russian opposition and was a close friend of jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny

11:22 a.m. ET, August 24, 2022

UK prime minister announces $66 million aid package for Ukraine during surprise visit to Kyiv 

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, center, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, right, walk at Kyiv's "Maidan" Independence Square on Ukraine's Independence Day on August 24.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, center, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, right, walk at Kyiv's "Maidan" Independence Square on Ukraine's Independence Day on August 24. (Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP/Getty Images)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a $66 million (54 million pounds) aid package for Ukraine during a surprise visit to Kyiv on Wednesday, telling the country that it "can and will win" the war against Russia. 

The UK called the package "a step up in the Ukrainian’s current capability, improving their long-range surveillance and defensive targeting ability," according to a Downing Street news release. 

Here's what is in the package: It comprises of 2,000 state-of-the-art drones and loitering munitions which will "enable Ukraine to better track and target invading Russian forces," the news release said. 

It also contains 850 hand-launched Black Hornet micro-drones, which are "specifically designed for use in towns and villages, and are deployed to detect approaching enemy forces," according to the news release. 

Johnson said he came to Ukraine “to deliver the message that the United Kingdom is with you and will be with you for the days and months ahead, and you can and will win.”

According to Downing Street, during the visit, Johnson and Zelensky held talks "on the challenges of the winter ahead for the country," during which the prime minister reiterated the "UK’s all-encompassing and unwavering support for the Ukrainian people, from humanitarian aid to supporting the investigation of war crimes and rebuilding the country’s economy." 

Correction: An earlier version of this post included the wrong number of drones provided in the aid package. There were 2,000 drones.

10:07 a.m. ET, August 24, 2022

Ukrainian President Zelensky gives Order of Liberty award to British prime minister

From CNN’s Karen Smith

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky awarded British Prime Minister Boris Johnson the Order of Liberty during a ceremony in Kyiv on Wednesday.

The award is “reflecting the work that Boris has been doing for our country and all of Europe," Zelenksy said while giving it to Johnson.

“I want to thank you and the people of Ukraine for the incredible honor that you’ve done me which is, I think, really a recognition of the efforts of the UK,” Johnson said after he received the award.

The British prime minister made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Wednesday as the country marks its Independence Day.