September 12, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Sana Noor Haq, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 7:20 p.m. ET, September 13, 2022
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2:50 p.m. ET, September 12, 2022

Ukraine's nuclear operator says power units at Zaporizhzhia plant remain in cooling mode

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva in Kyiv

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on September 11.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on September 11. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

The president of Ukraine's state nuclear company — Energoatom — told CNN that the power units at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remain in a cooling state while work continues to restore power lines from the plant.

Speaking to CNN via Skype, Petro Kotin, said all seven lines connecting to the plant were damaged, and it had switched to what he called the "island mode" — where the plant supplied electricity solely for itself.

"We tried to prolong the operation of one of our power units for as long as possible, even in the conditions when it was operating in island mode. It worked for us for three days," he told CNN.

Kotin said just one of the six power units remained working, and was supplying the needs of the plant — the electricity necessary for the pumps that cool the nuclear material. The reactors "are full of nuclear material, fuel and also there are six pools that are located near the reactors at each power unit. They need to be constantly cooled," he said.

"The hazard is that if there is no power supply, the pumps will stop and there will be no cooling, and in about one and a half to two hours you will have a meltdown of this fuel that is in the reactor," he added.

Kotin reiterated that when there is no external power supply, the diesel generators could kick in. "As of today the diesel generators can work there for ten days."

"We are also doing our best to secure additional supplies. But we understand that it is very difficult to bring anything in there. The railway is damaged, so it can only be done by vehicles," he said.
"If there is now a loss of external power, then we will have only one option. The diesel generators," he added.

Kotin said representatives of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), remained at the plant. "They have meetings with the plant management twice a day, so they have all the current information on the plant’s operation," he said.

As for the IAEA proposal for a safety zone around the plant, Kotin said: "We don’t fully understand what this safety zone means exactly."

He repeated the Ukrainian government's line that the plant should be returned to Ukrainian control and the power plant itself and zone around it should be demilitarized.

1:51 p.m. ET, September 12, 2022

CNN on the ground: Here's how Ukrainians in Kharkiv villages describe Russia’s retreat

From CNN's Saskya Vandoorne, Melissa Bell, Olga Voitovych, Victoria Butenko and William Bonnett

CNN was given exclusive access to the town of Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region, just a day after pictures emerged showing soldiers hoisting the Ukrainian flag on the roof of the town’s municipal building.

Far from being a town under full Ukrainian control, CNN found one still being bitterly fought for.

At the edge of the town, Vasyl – who declined to give his last name for security reasons – tells us that for days “they (the Russians) were shelling and shelling” in the ongoing fight in Kharkiv.

On Sunday afternoon, the dull thud of outcoming artillery fire was punctuated by the more infrequent boom of incoming fire. Russian forces were still fighting for Kupiansk, a town that is crucial to their supply lines, connecting their military base across the northern border in Russia’s Belgorod to Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region and the frontlines of the Donbas.

Ukraine’s top military commander General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi claimed Sunday that the country’s military had retaken more than 3,000 square kilometers (around 1,158 square miles) of territory since the beginning of the month, much of that believed to be in the Kharkiv region.

But on the ground, the fate of Kupiansk appears far from certain, indicating that maintaining Ukrainian control over newly liberated territory in the area could prove difficult.

Further west, some villages have seen calm entirely restored such as in the Kharkiv region’s Zaliznychne, liberated last week, as the eastern counteroffensive picked up speed. There, the fight appears to have been far less painful.

“I didn’t even expect it would be so fast”, says 66-year-old Oleksandr Verbytsky, who witnessed the Russians retreating. “I went to the store and when I came back, everybody was running away. The Russians drove through the cemetery to get away. Can you imagine?”

Read more about what CNN saw in eastern Ukraine over the last few days here.

12:15 p.m. ET, September 12, 2022

Ukrainian prosecutor begins investigation into killings of civilians by Russian forces in Kharkiv

From CNN's Denis Lapin

The Ukrainian Prosecutor's office in Kharkiv says it has begun an investigation into reports that civilians were murdered by Russian occupying forces in a village in Kharkiv region.

In a statement on Facebook, the prosecutor said local residents in Zaliznychne had reported that Russian forces had killed several of their fellow villagers.

"On September 11, law enforcement officers discovered four corpses. All of them have traces of torture," the Prosecutor's Office said.

"Three of them are buried on the territory of their homes, another one was buried on the territory of the asphalt plant," it said.

"According to the preliminary version of the investigation, the victims were killed by the Russian military," the Prosecutor's Office said.

11:26 a.m. ET, September 12, 2022

2 Russian aircraft detected in Alaskan defense identification zone but remained in international airspace

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Two Russian maritime patrol aircraft were “detected, tracked and positively identified,” by North American Aerospace Defense Command “operating within the Alaskan and Canadian Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ),” on Sept. 11, NORAD said in a statement Monday.

NORAD is part of the US military that oversees the US military presence in North America.

The two airplanes “remained in international airspace and did not enter American nor Canadian sovereign airspace,” the release said.

The ADIZ is international airspace adjacent to Alaska that extends in places more than 100 miles (more than 160 kilometers) from US territory. The US military initiates identification procedures for aircraft in the ADIZ in the interest of national security. 

NORAD said the recent Russian activity was “not seen as a threat” or seen as a “provocative,” move the release added.

“NORAD tracks and positively identifies foreign military aircraft that enter the ADIZ, and routinely monitors foreign aircraft movements and as required, escorts them from the ADIZ,” the release added.

NORAD detected Russian military aircraft flying into the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone three times in the same week last month, CNN previously reported. The three incidents occurred sometime between Aug. 8 and Aug. 10, NORAD said at the time.


11:07 a.m. ET, September 12, 2022

Ukraine retakes town in eastern Donetsk region after forces cross Siverskiy Donets river

From CNN's Tim Lister and Denis Lapin

In a further sign of the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive in the east, geolocated images and video show that Ukrainian units have crossed the Siverskiy Donets river to take control of the town of Svyatohirsk in Donetsk region. 

One geolocated image shows the damaged administrative building in the town with the Ukrainian flag hung above the entrance. Other images show Ukrainian soldiers on the streets of the town. The Ukrainians had held on to the south bank of the river in this area during the Russian offensive. 

Why this matters: The capture of Svyatohirsk will further complicate any attempt by the remaining Russian-backed forces in the area to withdraw.

Some militia units of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic continue to hold out in the town of Lyman, but any retreat to the east would be difficult if Ukrainian advances continue.

11:19 a.m. ET, September 12, 2022

German weapons are making a difference in eastern Ukraine, chancellor says

From CNN’s Inke Kappeler in Berlin and Allegra Goodwin

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid speak at the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin,  on Monday.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid speak at the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, on Monday. (Annegret Hilse/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany supplied “very efficient weapons that are making the difference right now in the current battle” in eastern Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during a joint news conference with Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Monday in Berlin. 

“What we have delivered with our Gepard anti-aircraft tank, the self-propelled Howitzer 2000, the multiple rocket launcher MARS, are the weapons that are actually contributing to the fact that it is now also possible in the eastern battle to change the results as we see it at the moment,” Scholz said.

Germany has committed to deliver the Iris-T air defense system to Ukraine and the country had decided to order more of these systems, he said.

More context: Despite Kyiv's increasingly urgent demands for modern battle tanks, the German defense minister Christine Lambrecht continues to refuse the delivery of Marder or Leopard tanks to Ukraine. 

“No country has delivered Western-built infantry fighting vehicles or battle tanks so far,” Lambrecht explained during a panel discussion on Germany's national security strategy at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

Germany had delivered weapon systems like the Howitzer-2000 that required training, the minister said but added it was a matter of urgency to deliver “Soviet-designed tanks which can be used for immediate combat in Ukraine.” 

Germany will not act unilaterally, but the German Chancellor underlined ongoing support for Ukraine “for as long as that is necessary.”

10:10 a.m. ET, September 12, 2022

Municipal deputies from Moscow and St. Petersburg call for Putin’s resignation

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

A man leaves a voting booth during the Moscow municipal deputies elections at a polling station in Moscow on September 9.
A man leaves a voting booth during the Moscow municipal deputies elections at a polling station in Moscow on September 9. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

Deputies from 18 municipal districts in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kolpino have called for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s resignation, according to a petition with a list of signatures posted on Twitter on Monday.

“We, the municipal deputies of Russia, believe that the actions of its president Vladimir Putin are detrimental to Russia’s and its citizens’ future. We demand Vladimir Putin's resignation from the post of the President of the Russian Federation,” said the petition posted by Ksenia Thorstrom, a local deputy of the Semenovsky District in Saint Petersburg.

The petition follows Russia’s first regional and municipal elections since the start of the war, which brought a sweeping victory for pro-Kremlin candidates.

“The petition's text is concise and does not “discredit” anyone. If you are mundep [municipal deputy] and want to join, you are welcome,” Thorstrom said in a Twitter post.

The council of one Moscow district (Lomonosovsky) also demanded Putin's resignation, saying: "Your views and your model of government are hopelessly outdated and hinder the development of Russia and its human potential."

Last week, the deputies of the Smolninskoye municipality of St. Petersburg called on the State Duma of the Russian Federation to bring charges of treason against Vladimir Putin. Several of them now face charges for discrediting the Russian army, according to a Twitter post from one of the local officials, Nikita Yuferev.

10:10 a.m. ET, September 12, 2022

80% of Izium infrastructure is destroyed and heating systems are damaged, Ukrainian officials say

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

People carrying their belongings walk in front of a destroyed building in Izyum, Kharkiv Region, on September 11.
People carrying their belongings walk in front of a destroyed building in Izyum, Kharkiv Region, on September 11. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian officials have begun addressing the daunting demands of reconstruction in recently liberated areas, with winter just a couple of months away.

After recapturing the city of Izium over the weekend, Ukrainian forces are taking steps to stabilize the situation there, according to Maksym Strelnikov, a member of the city council.

Residents who fled want to return home, Strelnikov said at a a briefing Monday, but added that "more than 80% of the city infrastructure is destroyed, including multi-storey buildings and private houses, enterprises, government institutions and educational institutions, as well as [industrial] plants."
"The central heating system, which was used by majority of residents in winter, is damaged. So these would be the challenges to overcome for the local authorities," Strelnikov said.

He also talked about the privations suffered by civilians during the occupation.

"As of now, we know at least 1,000 civilians [in Izium] have died due to hostilities. But we think even more people were affected due to lack of medical care, as the Russian occupiers have destroyed all the health care institutions in March. The occupiers have looted all the pharmacies, so there was no access to medication. This is the most urgent issue for now, along with hospitalization of Izium residents, who require urgent medical care," he added.

Strelnikov said there were about 10,000 civilians left in the city, after a recent evacuation of women and children.

"Most Izium residents are waiting to come back home, but as of now the situation with critical infrastructure is a serious challenge ... We hope that we will be able to do everything possible to be prepared for winter," he noted.

Some background: Although Izium is under Ukrainian control, the war is not far away. There is fighting about 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) to the east around Lyman. The official Telegram channel of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic reported Monday that the town "is under full control of the troops of the People's Militia of the DNR, LNR and the RF. It is relatively calm."

It said that Ukrainian forces "do not give up attempts to attack nearby territories," but such attempts "have been repelled. The enemy retreated with loses. "

1:21 p.m. ET, September 12, 2022

It's Monday afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

As Kyiv's offensive continues in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a stark warning to Moscow on Sunday, declaring that “history will put everything in its place."

In a Telegram post addressed to Russia, Zelensky asked: “Do you still think that we are ‘one nation?’ Do you still think that you can scare us, break us, make us make concessions?” The post continued: “Read my lips: Without gas or without you? Without you. Without light or without you? Without you. Without water or without you? Without you. Without food or without you? Without you.”

Catch up on the latest on Ukraine's counteroffensive and other big headlines:

  • Kharkiv region loses power and water supply amid shelling: Ukraine’s Kharkiv region has lost power and water supply once again due to shelling after it was previously lost on Sunday evening, Kharkiv’s mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Monday afternoon.  “Yesterday evening situation repeats again. Due to the shelling, critical infrastructure was put out of operation, resulting in the loss of power and water supply in Kharkiv,” he said on Telegram. Earlier on Monday, he said 80% of the electricity and water supply had been restored in the region after Sunday’s outage. Since then, Russia has launched fresh air strikes on Kharkiv.
  • Ukraine claims its retaken more territory in southern Kherson region: Ukrainian authorities claimed that around 500 square kilometers (almost 200 square miles) of territory has been recaptured in the southern Kherson region in the past two weeks. Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military in the south, said the settlements of Vysokopillia, Novovoznesenske, Bilohirka, Myroliubivka and Sukhyi Stavok were “completely liberated from the occupiers and are under the Ukrainian flag."
  • Liberation of settlements continues: The Ukrainian military’s General Staff said in a statement Monday “the liberation of settlements from the Russian invaders in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions continues,” stating Russian forces were dislodged from more than 20 settlements in the past day alone.

  • Kremlin says Putin aware of situation on frontline: The Kremlin on Monday insisted that Russia would achieve all the goals of the "special military operation" in Ukraine, despite its damaging setback in Kharkiv over the weekend. “The special military operation continues and will continue until the initial goals are achieved,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with journalists. Russian President Vladimir Putin is aware of the situation on the frontline, he added.
  • Top Russian official claims Ukrainian troops outnumbered Russia eight-fold in Kharkiv: A top Russian-backed official has claimed the Ukrainian army outnumbered Russian and pro-Russian forces by eight times in the last week, following Kyiv's sweeping offensive in the east. "Talking about the forces that have been transferred for the counteroffensive of the Ukrainian army, it outnumbered our troops by about eight times, no less,” Vitaly Ganchev, the most senior Russian backed official in the northeastern Kharkiv region, told Russia 24 on Monday, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. Ganchev echoed other Russian officials in attempting to present Moscow's retreat as a decision to regroup further from the front line.
  • Russia plays up China's support as it retreats in Ukraine: As Russian forces suffer a string of stunning defeats in Ukraine, Moscow is playing up Beijing's support for its invasion ahead of a key meeting between Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week. Russian troops were forced to flee the strategic city of Izium — their main bastion in northeastern Ukraine — on Saturday after a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive. It was Moscow's worst defeat since its retreat from Kyiv in March — and a sign that the war might be entering a new phase.
  • UN nuclear watchdog chief "remains gravely concerned" about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant: The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said “he remains gravely concerned about the situation” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as long as any shelling continues, the UN nuclear watchdog said Sunday. “Despite this damage, plant operators and engineers have been able to restore one of the reserve power lines, in very challenging circumstances, to provide the ZNPP with badly-needed external electricity,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in a statement. But the IAEA chief also said “he remains “gravely concerned about the situation at the plant, which remains in danger as long as any shelling continues. The official said Ukraine and Russia are both interested in a proposal by the UN’s atomic watchdog to establish a protection zone around the Russian-occupied nuclear power plant.