Russian forces have taken over the strategic port city of Kherson and shelled Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in another city, sparking a fire there that was extinguished overnight. It comes as Russian forces continue to press ahead with their invasion and campaign to “demilitarize” Ukraine.
In Belarus, Ukrainian and Russian delegates met and agreed to provide safe corridors to evacuate citizens and deliver humanitarian aid. People across Ukraine have taken up arms, sought shelter or fled to neighboring countries.
Associated Press journalists around Ukraine and beyond are documenting the military activity. Here’s a look at the events unfolding Friday as the war is in its ninth day.
DIRECTLY WITNESSED OR CONFIRMED BY AP:
Russians captured the southern city of Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 280,000. Ukrainian officials confirmed the takeover of the government headquarters there, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began.
Russian armored vehicles were seen in the otherwise empty streets of Kherson, in videos shared with The Associated Press by a resident.
Frequent shelling could be heard Friday from the center of the capital, Kyiv.
Heavy fighting continued on the outskirts of another strategic port, Mariupol, knocking out the city’s electricity, heat and water systems, as well as most phone service. Food deliveries to the city were also cut.
A Russian air strike Thursday also destroyed the power plant in Okhtyrka, leaving the city without heat or electricity, the head of the region said.
A livestreamed security camera linked from the homepage of Ukraine’s largest power plant showed what appeared to be armored vehicles rolling into the facility’s parking lot and shining spotlights on the building late Thursday. The AP also verified video shot by a resident in the area that showed bright flaring objects landing in the grounds of the nuclear plant.
CONCERNS OVER NUCLEAR SAFETY
Russian forces shelled Europe’s largest nuclear plant, sparking a fire there in the battle for control of the city of Enerhodar. Firefighters could not immediately reach the site because of the Russian onslaught. The Zaporizhzhia plant provides about 25% of Ukraine’s power generation.
The mayor of Enerhodar said Friday morning the fire at the nuclear plant had been extinguished. His office told The Associated Press that the information came from firefighters who were allowed onto the site overnight.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said the fire had not affected essential equipment.
Ukraine’s nuclear regulator reported no change in radiation levels. It said staff are studying the site to check for other damage and noted the importance of maintaining the ability to cool nuclear fuel.
Finland called the incident “very scary,” while Norway’s prime minister called it “in line with madness.” Britain’s deputy prime minister described it as “a reckless bombardment”. China expressed its serious concern.
At another nuclear site, Ukraine informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that staff at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant were facing “psychological pressure and moral exhaustion.” Russian military forces took control of the site a week ago. The plant has been leaking radioactivity since it caught fire in 1986 in the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS AND STATEMENTS
Delegates from Ukraine and Russia met in Belarus and agreed on humanitarian corridors that would allow civilians to flee safely and allow for humanitarian supplies to be delivered.
At talks in Belarus, three delegates from each side sat across a table — the Russians dressed in formal suits and the Ukrainians in sweaters and vests. A third round of direct talks are planned for early next week.
In a call initiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, he told French President Emmanuel Macron that negotiations must center on the “neutralization and disarmament of Ukraine,” according to a French official. Macron “spoke the truth” to Putin, advising him of the long-term consequences and telling him he would end up isolated.
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders after Russia’s shelling of the Ukrainian nuclear plant. Zelenskyy said in a late night speech he feared an explosion that would be “the end for everyone.”
The Biden administration is seeking $10 billion for Ukraine and the neighboring region for humanitarian, security and economic assistance, a rapid escalation of the $1.4 billion provided by the U.S. since 2021.
HOW MANY REFUGEES AND CASUALTIES?
The United Nations has said 1 million people have fled Ukraine since the assault started on Feb. 24. This amounts to more than 2% of Ukraine’s population, though some of those fleeing are citizens of other countries. UNICEF said Friday that 500,000 of those who’ve left Ukraine are children.
Russia acknowledged nearly 500 Russian troops have been killed and around 1,600 have been wounded. Among them, Maj. Gen. Andrei Sukhovetsky, the commanding general of the Russian 7th Airborne Division, who had previous experience in Syria.
Ukraine has not released similar casualty figures for its armed forces.
The U.N. human rights office says at least 227 civilians have been killed and 525 wounded in Ukraine since the start of the invasion. Ukraine’s State Emergency Service has said more than 2,000 civilians have died, though it’s impossible to verify the claim.
SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA
More businesses are suspending operations in Russia due to sanctions, including Apple, Mercedes-Benz, BP, Volkswagen, clothing retailer H&M and furnishings store IKEA, affecting thousands of employees and millions of customers throughout the country.
Sanctions also threaten ultra-wealthy Russians who own properties across Europe. Britain slapped sanctions on two more Russians, who are worth a combined $19 billion, for their links to the Kremlin.
The U.S. State Department is also imposing visa bans on 19 Russian oligarchs and dozens of their family members and associates.