September 5, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Amy Woodyatt, Simone McCarthy, Tara Subramaniam and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 2259 GMT (0659 HKT) September 5, 2022
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9:41 a.m. ET, September 5, 2022

Plan for referendum on Kherson joining Russia put on hold, Russian-backed official says

From CNN's Tim Lister, Olga Voitovych and Anna Chernova

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-backed Kherson administration, is pictured in his office in the city of Kherson on July 20.
Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-backed Kherson administration, is pictured in his office in the city of Kherson on July 20. (AFP/Getty Images)

Plans to hold a referendum on the Ukrainian region of Kherson becoming a part of Russia have been put on hold, said Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian-backed administration in the region.

"Kherson region is ready for a referendum on joining the Russian Federation, but a pause was taken due to the security situation," he said, according to the Russian state news agency TASS.

Ukrainian and US officials have long criticized Russian efforts to hold sham referendums in Kherson and other Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.

Stremousov's remarks come a week after Ukraine announced its long-anticipated offensive to retake Kherson had gotten underway. Since then, there have been dozens of strikes against Russian forces and infrastructure in Kherson.

Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk described the referendum as "a farce and a circus," and warned Ukrainian citizens against participating.

"For our citizens who will participate in this — this is, in fact, an article of the Criminal Code," she said. "Do not to take part in any 'referendums.' Neither pressure, nor forceful incitement, etc., will be able to justify the fact that a person went to the 'referendum,'" she said.

8:34 a.m. ET, September 5, 2022

Two nuclear inspectors remain at the Zaporizhzhia plant, but it's unclear for how long

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Tim Lister

Ukraine's state nuclear energy provider said Monday that four of the six members of the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection team still at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant have left after completing their work, and that it expected the remaining two would remain at the facility "on a permanent basis."

This came hours after a senior pro-Russian official in the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia said the IAEA's current mission to the plant would end Tuesday, though he acknowledged uncertainty over the timeline.

"There is still no clear understanding of whether IAEA representatives will stay at the nuclear power plant on a permanent basis," Vladimir Rogov said.

"The delegation is still working on September 5. After its mission ends, they leave on September 6. They have received all kinds of assistance. We are interested in an objective and balanced assessment of the situation at the nuclear power plant."

In brief comments to CNN Monday, a spokesperson for the IAEA would only say that two IAEA experts are definitely staying at the plant. The organization's Director General Rafael Grossi said during a visit to the plant last Thursday that the IAEA would keep a continuing presence there. 

8:34 a.m. ET, September 5, 2022

Ukraine says it has inflicted losses on Russian forces in southern region of Kherson

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

The Ukrainian military says offensive action in the southern region of Kherson continued Sunday, with air strikes and artillery brought to bear against Russian forces.

The military's Operational Command South said that the air force carried out 21 strikes, while "rocket and artillery units continue to carry out fire missions intensively. Crossings through the Dnipro and Inhulets (rivers) are under close fire control."

The command said the Russians had lost six tanks and other equipment, including nine howitzers.

An ammunition depot at Tomyna Balka and a pontoon crossing near the village of Lvove were also destroyed, as well as the command post of the 35th Army in the Kakhovka district, it said.

But the Ukrainian General Staff noted that Russian forces continued to conduct defensive operations, attacking more than a dozen settlements in northern Kherson with artillery and air strikes.

"After intensive shelling by the Defense Forces of areas where the enemy is concentrated in the Kherson region, Russian invaders imposed a ban on the movement of local residents. In particular, people are prohibited from crossing the Dnipro River both by bridges and by watercraft," the General Staff added.

The Kherson region military administration said that amid the combat, most of the region was once again without electricity.

6:47 a.m. ET, September 5, 2022

Ukrainian official suggests IAEA mission to  Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was "ineffective"

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant during a visit by members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Friday.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant during a visit by members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Friday. (International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)/Handout/Reuters)

A senior Ukrainian official says the government is still waiting for a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and has suggested the IAEA mission is "ineffective."

"We do not understand whether everything is normal there in terms of safety, cooling of the reactors, with the personnel, whether they understand the algorithms by which they work. We did not see all this in the report, and this proves that international institutions, unfortunately, are completely ineffective," Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the Head of the President's Office of President of Ukraine, told Ukrainian television Monday.

Podolyak said there should be a "nuclear audit" the plant, which included "a certain number of people who know nuclear physics and engineering technologies" working next to Ukrainian staff.

While occupied by Russian forces, the plant is run largely by Ukrainian technicians.

"There are Russian troops who do not understand what is happening there, they do not assess the risks correctly. But there is a certain number of our workers there who need some kind of protection, to have people from the international community standing next to them," Podolyak said.

The weekend appears to have passed relatively quietly in the area around the plant, which has seen persistent shelling for weeks, some of which has damaged the plant's infrastructure, according to the IAEA.

On Friday, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said the organization knows "much more" about the state of the plant after its visit last week. A team of inspectors will have "continued presence" at the plant, Grossi said. 

6:47 a.m. ET, September 5, 2022

Zelensky says three settlements liberated in southern and eastern Ukraine

From Kostan Nechyporenko and CNN's Sophie Jeong

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that two settlements in the south of the country and a settlement in the eastern Donetsk region were liberated.

He did not say precisely where the settlements were and provided no timeline except that his military commanders and head of intelligence delivered “good reports” at a meeting on Sunday.

In his daily video message, Zelensky said Ukrainian forces had also “advanced and regained certain heights” in the Lysychansk-Siversk direction.

3:44 a.m. ET, September 5, 2022

Deployment of new Russian military corps to front delayed: Ukrainian military intelligence official

From Kostan Nechyporenko and CNN's Tim Lister and Jorge Engels

Russia’s Armed Forces will not be able to field a new corps until late November due to a shortage of trained professionals and military hardware, and new troops are being outfitted with Soviet-era weapons that in many cases are not combat-ready, an official in Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence said Sunday.

"The issue of the Third Army Corps will drag on until November. The problem is: human resources, staffing with professionals. It takes three to four months to train a good enough professional,” said Vadym Skibitskyi, a representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence, according to the body’s Telegram channel.

Skibitskyi said Russia was suffering from a lack of “all the most modern” military hardware and weapons because of the heavy losses its forces suffered in February and March. Units being formed were equipped with Soviet-era weapons, he said.

“According to our estimates, 40 percent of military equipment is not combat-ready. It needs to be repaired and put in order," said Skibitskyi, according to Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence’s Telegram channel.

CNN has not been able to independently verify these claims.

Some context: Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in late August that Russia's Third Army Corps was “highly likely short of personnel and these troops have had limited training” and that the “operational effectiveness of these units is not known.”

2:10 a.m. ET, September 5, 2022

German Chancellor and Ukrainian Prime Minister discuss reconstruction during Berlin meeting

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz greets Denys Schmyhal, Prime Minister of Ukraine, for a reception with military honors at the Chancellery, Berlin, Germany, on September 4.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz greets Denys Schmyhal, Prime Minister of Ukraine, for a reception with military honors at the Chancellery, Berlin, Germany, on September 4. (Michael Kappeler/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday in Berlin, where the two discussed the war in Ukraine, according to a German government readout. 

Scholz expressed his respect for the “bravery” of Ukrainians against the “Russian war of aggression", the readout said.

The two discussed the eventual reconstruction of the country, with Scholz announcing an expert conference to take place in Berlin on October 25.

They also addressed Ukraine's bid to join the European Union, a process which can take years to complete.

“With a view to Ukraine's candidate status for EU accession, which was decided by the European Council in June, the Chancellor encouraged the Ukrainian Prime Minister in his reform course and stressed that reforms in the rule of law and the judicial system in particular are just as important for attracting investment for reconstruction,” the press release said.

Shmyhal also met with the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday and said in a tweet that they discussed the "military situation, strengthening sanctions and the need to provide weapons" for Ukraine.

2:06 a.m. ET, September 5, 2022

Top US diplomat in Moscow leaves post, will retire

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US ambassador to Russia John Joseph Sullivan, center left, attends a memorial service for Mikhail Gorbachev at the Column Hall of the House of Unions in Moscow, Russia, on September 3.
US ambassador to Russia John Joseph Sullivan, center left, attends a memorial service for Mikhail Gorbachev at the Column Hall of the House of Unions in Moscow, Russia, on September 3. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan has left his post as the top US diplomat in Moscow and will retire, the embassy announced Sunday.

Sullivan departs amid a period of heightened tensions between the United States and Russia not seen in decades. He leaves after nearly three years as ambassador in Moscow, where he oversaw the embassy as it faced increasing restrictions imposed by the Russian government.

Sullivan concluded his tenure as US envoy and departed Moscow on Sunday, the US Embassy in Russia said in a press statement.

“Following his departure, he will retire from a career in public service that has spanned four decades and five US presidents, including service as the Deputy Secretary of State and in senior positions at the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Commerce,” the statement said.

Elizabeth Rood would assume duties as Charge d’Affaires until the ambassador's successor arrives, according to the embassy.

On his last day as ambassador, Sullivan attended the public farewell ceremony for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Saturday.

Speaking after the ceremony, Sullivan told CNN he had the honor to “represent the United States, President Biden, our government, the people of the United States to pay tribute to such a remarkable man, a great man, a statesman who changed the world, with his vision for peace, for transformation in his own country and in the world.”

6:36 a.m. ET, September 5, 2022

Ukrainian military appears to control town in Kherson after reported Russian withdrawal

From CNN's Tim Lister, Kostan Nechyporenko, Denis Lapin and Victoria Butenko

The Ukrainian military appears to have taken control of the town of Vysokopillya in the southern Kherson region.

"There is a flag of Ukraine above the hospital on Gagarina Street, where my grandmother and grandfather's house was. And that's great," Dasha Zarivna, an advisor to the Head of the President of Ukraine's office Andrii Yermak, said.

One social media image shows Ukrainian soldiers raising a flag on the roof of a building, said to be in Vysokopillya. CNN cannot independently verify the location of the image.

A post on a pro-Russian Telegram channel said Sunday that Russian forces had "retreated in battle order from Vysokopillya (Beryslav district). The Armed Forces of Ukraine wanted to take them, surrounded by two pincers, from Olgyne and Potiomkyne."

Those are two neighboring settlements to the east and west of Vysokopillya, which had a population of about 5,000 before the war.

Some context: Ukrainian forces appear to have made limited territorial gains in Kherson to date. But the Institute for the Study of War said Saturday that according to Ukrainian officials, the offensive was "an intentionally methodical operation to degrade Russian forces and logistics, rather than one aimed at immediately recapturing large swathes of territory."

One Ukrainian official, Oleksiy Arestovych, told the Wall Street Journal on Saturday that the current goal of Ukrainian forces in the south is the “systemic grinding of Putin’s army, and Ukrainian troops are slowly and systematically uncovering and destroying Russia’s operational logistical supply system with artillery and precision weapon strikes."