August 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Aditi Sangal, Jack Bantock, Adrienne Vogt and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 2:06 a.m. ET, August 29, 2022
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5:54 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

Ukraine's energy minister says Russian forces at Zaporizhzhia "a constant trigger of a possible nuclear disaster"

From CNN's Sarah Dean

A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar, Ukraine, on August 4.
A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar, Ukraine, on August 4. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The continued presence of Russian forces at and near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is a "constant trigger of a possible nuclear disaster," Ukraine’s energy minister said Thursday. 

"Today's events are yet another vivid confirmation of that. Who is ready to take responsibility for tomorrow's security?" Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said.

All six reactors at the plant in southeastern Ukraine remain disconnected from the electricity grid, nuclear operator Energoatom said Friday after the facility — which has been occupied by Russian forces since March — was disconnected for the first time in its history on Thursday.

Ukraine has accused Russian troops of using the plant as a shield, risking a potential disaster. The Kremlin has in turn repeatedly accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the plant.

Negotiations areunder way for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the plant and Halushchenko said the United Nations nuclear watchdog should be permitted to study the impact of Russian troops' presence there.

"I would like to appeal to the world community once again: the joint mission of the IAEA and the UN at the [Zaporizhzhia plant] should have a mandate to study not only the norms for ensuring nuclear safety, but also external security components, primarily those related to weapons and their use by the Russian military on the territory of the plant and near her," Halushchenko said.

He also stressed the need for "urgent de-occupation and demilitarization" of the plant.

It is "the only way for Europe to sleep peacefully and not be afraid of nuclear clouds in its sky," Halushchenko said.
3:36 a.m. ET, August 26, 2022

Zaporizhzhia plant remains disconnected from grid, nuclear operator says

From CNN's Sarah Dean

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar, Ukraine, on August 22.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar, Ukraine, on August 22. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

All six reactors at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) remain disconnected from the country’s electricity grid, nuclear operator Energoatom said in a statement Friday. 

“As of 9.00 a.m. on Aug. 26, 2022, all power units of the Zaporizhzhia NPP are disconnected from the power grid,” said the statement, adding the station's own power needs were being provided through a repaired line from the energy system of Ukraine.
“The power supply line of the ZNPP to the energy system of Ukraine has also been restored, work is underway to prepare the connection of two power units of the ZNPP to the grid. There are no comments on the operation of equipment and security systems,” the statement said.

The Kherson regional civil-military administration accused Russian forces of cutting two power lines to the plant, leaving the entire Kherson region temporarily without electricity and water supply on Thursday before it was restored by the end of the day.

3:14 a.m. ET, August 26, 2022

Ukraine summons Holy See diplomat over Pope Francis' Dugina comment

From CNN's Josh Pennington

Pope Francis delivers his speech during the traditional Wednesday General Audience at Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City, Italy, on August 24.
Pope Francis delivers his speech during the traditional Wednesday General Audience at Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City, Italy, on August 24. (Stefano Costantino/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/Reuters)

Ukraine has invited the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, to the country to address Pope Francis' recent comments on late Russian political commentator Darya Dugina, in which he referred to her as being among the "innocents" who pay for war. 

Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday expressed disappointment over the Pope's statement saying it "unjustly" equates "the aggressor and the victim."
It added that discussing the death of a Russian citizen on Russian territory — which Ukraine says it was not involved in — in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war creates 'confusion."

What the Pope said: Pope Francis on Wednesday said Dugina, who was killed in a Moscow car bomb on Aug. 20, is among the "innocents" killed by war. 

"I think of the poor girl that was blown up in the air by a bomb under the seat of a car in Moscow. Innocents pay for the war," the Pope said. 

Russia has blamed the Ukrainian security service for the car bombing that killed Dugina, according to state media, while Ukraine has denied any involvement. 

2:14 a.m. ET, August 26, 2022

Zelensky: Emergency diesel generators activated at Zaporizhzhia plant to avoid "radiation disaster"

From CNN's Amy Cassidy, Bex Wright and Jonny Hallam

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar, Ukraine, on August 22.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar, Ukraine, on August 22. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Backup diesel generators were “immediately activated” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Thursday to avert a “radiation disaster," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

“Today, for the first time in history, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant stopped,” Zelensky said in his nightly address Thursday.

“The emergency protection of the power units worked — after the last working line of the plant's power return to the Ukrainian power system was damaged by Russian shelling," he said.

CNN is unable to verify who is responsible for the shelling, as both sides have accused the other.

There were originally four power lines supplying electricity to the plant; three were out of action due to the ongoing fighting around the facility. The last remaining power line supplying electricity to the plant went offline Thursday, requiring the diesel generators to be used. The power on the last remaining line has since been restored as of Thursday evening. 

“The world must understand what a threat this is: If the diesel generators hadn’t turned on, if the automation and our staff of the plant had not reacted after the blackout, then we would already be forced to overcome the consequences of the radiation accident,” Zelensky said. 

The generators are installed to supply power to cooling pumps to stop the fuel from overheating in the event of a blackout, but are not fully reliable, the CEO of Energoatom, Ukraine’s state energy operator, Petro Kotin, told CNN on Monday. 

“Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans in a situation one step away from a radiation disaster,” Zelensky alleged. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency and other international bodies “must work much faster than they’re acting now” he said, “because every minute the Russian troops stay at the nuclear power plant is a risk of a global radiation disaster.”

More background: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is currently not supplying electricity to Ukraine — it is off the grid — however, the reactors need to continue to receive electricity so they can safely operate and avoid a nuclear accident. 

The reactors must have backup power supplies so the systems that provide cooling for spent fuel elements and cooling of residual heat produced in shut down reactors continue to work safely. The electricity to the plant is also needed for maintaining services such as lighting, and ventilation to the reactor.

8:31 p.m. ET, August 25, 2022

"Everything hangs on a thin thread": Staff exodus risks safety at Ukraine nuclear plant

From CNN's Rebecca Wright, Olga Konovalova and Oleksandra Ochman

When Russian troops started shelling nearby towns from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant where she worked in southeastern Ukraine, Elena decided it was time to escape.

She had kept working at the Zaporizhzhia complex for months after it was stormed by the Russians in March, among hundreds of Ukrainian workers effectively kept hostage to enable the power station ​— the largest nuclear power plant in Europe — ​to keep running.

But eventually, the constant explosions and fears for her young son's life made her take the risk to leave.

"It's scary," Elena told CNN. "Everything explodes there."

CNN agreed to use only Elena's first name out of respect for her safety concerns.​

The Ukrainians have accused the Russian troops of using the plant as a shield, and risking serious damage or a potential disaster at the plant. In response, the Kremlin has repeatedly claimed Ukrainian forces are shelling the plant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during an address to the UN Security Council on Wednesday that Russia had "put the world on the brink of radiation catastrophe" by turning the plant into a "war zone," and called for demilitarization of the plant.

"At night (the Russians) are firing somewhere behind the reservoir," Elena said. "There are many, many explosions at the same time, like big cars firing."

Worker exodus: Fears about the consequences of the actions of Russian troops around the plant have hastened an exodus of workers.

"For the last two weeks, there has been a crazy outflow of staff," said Daria, an employee who is still working at the nuclear plant. ​CNN agreed not to use her real name in light of her safety concerns. "We have people leaving en masse, dozens of them, in packs."

Elena said employees at the plant are terrified of the Russian troops based there, as they walk around with machine guns and, at night, often "get drunk and shoot in the air."

Read the full story here.

8:36 p.m. ET, August 25, 2022

Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant disconnects from power grid after nearby fires

From CNN's Tim Lister, Yulia Kesaieva and Tara John

Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is held by Russian forces, was disconnected from the power grid for the first time in its history on Thursday, according to the country's nuclear operator.

While the power supply to the plant has since been restored, the plant's six reactors remained disconnected from Ukraine's energy grid on Thursday evening local time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said, citing Ukraine.

Ukraine's nuclear operator Energoatom said fires at a nearby thermal power plant caused the nuclear plant's last remaining power line to disconnect twice. The plant's three other lines had been "lost earlier during the conflict," the nuclear watchdog said.

Energoatom blamed Russia for the disconnection. "The actions of the invaders caused a complete disconnection of the ZNPP (Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant) from the power grid — the first in the history of the plant," it wrote in a statement.

The Russian-installed regional governor blamed Ukrainian military action for the outages, and added "work was underway to restore the power supply to the region and launch the second power unit."

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant generates about 20% of Ukraine's electricity and a prolonged cut from the national grid would be a huge challenge for Ukraine as colder weather approaches.

The nuclear plant, which is Europe's largest, has been under Russian control since March. Clashes around the complex have sparked widespread concern and fears of a disaster.

Read the full story here.