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Europe's largest nuclear plant forced temporarily off grid; billions in Russian goods still arriving in US: Ukraine updates

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 8/26/2022 John Bacon, Charles Ventura and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY

A nuclear plant caught in the middle of intense fighting between Ukrainian and Russian troops was temporarily disconnected from the power grid Thursday when fires damaged the sole transmission line, Ukraine officials said.

It was the first time the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, has ever been disconnected. It led to a large blackout across the region and increased concerns about a nuclear catastrophe.

“Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans one step away from a radiation disaster,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

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The damage forced the two reactors still in use to go offline, but one was quickly restored and electricity returned to the area, said Yevgeny Balitsky, the regional governor installed by Russia. Balitsky blamed the incident on an Ukrainian attack.

The U.N. and international atomic energy officials have been trying for weeks to gain access to the plant, warning that continued fighting in the vicinity could trigger a disastrous accident. Russia took control of the facility and surrounding area in early March.

A Russian serviceman guards an area of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine, May 1, 2022. Ukrainians are once again anxious and alarmed about the fate of a nuclear power plant in a land that was home to the world’s worst atomic accident in 1986 at Chernobyl. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, has been occupied by Russian forces and continued fighting nearby has heightened fears of a catastrophe that could affect nearby towns in southern Ukraine or beyond. © AP A Russian serviceman guards an area of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine, May 1, 2022. Ukrainians are once again anxious and alarmed about the fate of a nuclear power plant in a land that was home to the world’s worst atomic accident in 1986 at Chernobyl. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, has been occupied by Russian forces and continued fighting nearby has heightened fears of a catastrophe that could affect nearby towns in southern Ukraine or beyond.

Zelenskyy has accused Russia of storing weapons at the plant and launching attacks from around it. Zelenskyy says Russia’s military actions there amount to “nuclear blackmail.” Moscow, meanwhile, accuses Ukraine of recklessly firing on the facility.

'YOU FIGHT ENDLESSLY': Ukrainians worldwide grapple with months of war

USA TODAY ON TELEGRAM: Join our Russia-Ukraine war channel to receive updates

Latest developments:

►Russia and its proxies are operating at least 21 filtration facilities in Ukraine's Donetsk province, according to the Yale University Humanitarian Research Lab, which said the process is used to register, interrogate and detain Ukrainian civilians, prisoners of war and others in areas sympathetic to Russia.

►The Moscow Regional Court upheld a guilty verdict and 14-year prison sentence handed down in June for American Marc Fogel, a history teacher at an international school when he was arrested at a Moscow airport for possession of cannabis he used for spinal pain.

►Unable to find a buyer, Citigroup will wind down its consumer banking and commercial lending operations in Russia. 

►Russian planes flew about 200 sorties over Ukraine on Wednesday, Ukraine's Independence Day, the Ukraine air force said. Air raid sirens blared across most of the country.

►Yevgeny Roizman, the former mayor of Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth-largest city, was released Thursday after being arrested the day before. But he faces charges for criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and he's barred from attending public events and communicating with anyone other than his lawyers and close family.

US still conducts more than $1 billion a month in commerce with Russia

Russian vodka, gasoline and diamonds are not allowed into the U.S. as result of the penalties imposed on the Kremlin for its war on Ukraine.

Plywood, steel and even radioactive materials? Come on in.

More than 3,600 shipments of wood, metals, rubber and other unsanctioned products from Russia have made it to U.S. ports since the invasion began Feb. 24, The Associated Press reported. That’s a 60% drop from the same period in 2021, when about 6,000 shipments arrived, but still adds up to more than $1 billion worth of commerce a month.

“When we impose sanctions, it could disrupt global trade,'' said Ambassador Jim O’Brien, who heads the State Department’s Office of Sanctions Coordination. "So our job is to think about which sanctions deliver the most impact while also allowing global trade to work.”

Russia to add 137,000 soldiers

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to add 137,000 service members to his military, a boost of almost 14% to 1.15 million. The decree did not say how the increase would be accomplished but military analysts said it figures to be through recruitment because an expanded draft would be widely unpopular.

Pentagon officials have estimated that about 80,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded since the invasion began. The Kremlin has said that only volunteer contract soldiers take part in what it calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine, rejecting claims that it was pondering a broad mobilization. 

All Russian men ages 18 to 27 must serve one year in the military, but a large number avoid the draft for health reasons or deferments granted to university students. The share of men who avoid the draft is particularly large in Moscow and other major cities.

Ukraine has declared a goal of forming a 1-million-strong military.

US still has more than $1 billion a month in commerce with Russia

Russian vodka, gasoline and diamonds are not allowed into the U.S. as result of the penalties imposed on the Kremlin for its war on Ukraine.

Plywood, steel and even radioactive materials? Come on in.

More than 3,600 shipments of wood, metals, rubber and other unsanctioned products from Russia have made it to U.S. ports since the invasion began Feb. 24, The Associated Press reported. That’s a 60% drop from the same period in 2021, when about 6,000 shipments arrived, but still adds up to more than $1 billion worth of commerce a month.

“When we impose sanctions, it could disrupt global trade,'' said Ambassador Jim O’Brien, who heads the State Department’s Office of Sanctions Coordination. "So our job is to think about which sanctions deliver the most impact while also allowing global trade to work.”

Biden, Zelenskyy talk after latest US package of security aid

President Joe Biden congratulated his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on the country's Independence Day during a phone call Thursday and reaffirmed the U.S. government's support a day after committing nearly $3 billion in additional security assistance, according to a White House readout of their conversation.

The new aid package, aimed at bolstering Ukraine's long-term defense, will include surface-to-air missile systems, artillery ammunition and drones. Since January, the Biden administration has spent $13.5 billion on military aid to Ukraine.

There are no plans for Biden to visit Kyiv, the White House has said.

6 months into war, Ukrainians around the world share stories

Half a year after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, USA TODAY reporters reconnected with Ukrainians across the globe who first shared their experiences during the early stages of the war.

While some are struggling under Russian occupation or living amid fierce combat and shelling, others in the U.S. and Europe are adapting to new countries and a new normal. Several said they worry public attention to the war and its human toll is waning. Here are their stories

Two children among dead in Russian rocket attack

Two children were among the dead in the rocket attack that killed 25 people Wednesday in a train station and residential zone in Chaplyne, city official Kirill Timoshenko said. He said that 31 people were injured and that search and rescue operations have been completed. The attack struck Chaplyne, 400 miles east of Kyiv, on Ukraine's Independence Day. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had warned Ukrainians for days that Moscow might attempt “something particularly cruel” this week.

"An 11-year-old boy died under the rubble of a house. Another 6-year-old child died during a fire in a car near the railway station," he said.

Russia said it targeted a military train and claimed to have killed more than 200 Ukrainian reservists.

A car bombing last week outside Moscow that killed a pro-Putin commentator had put Ukraine on high alert for reprisals, even though Ukraine authorities denied involvement in the attack.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine will "definitely" make Russia take responsibility for war crimes and once again pledged to drive Russian troops out of his country. "Not a single stain of this evil will remain in our free Ukraine," he said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Europe's largest nuclear plant forced temporarily off grid; billions in Russian goods still arriving in US: Ukraine updates

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