Ukrainian forces continue their counteroffensive and President Volodymyr Zelensky says they have re-captured 6,000 square kilometers (around 2,300 square miles) since the beginning of the month.
Meantime, the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains tense. The head of the UN atomic energy watchdog says he is still “gravely concerned” as long as there is shelling around the plant. He said both countries are interested in establishing some kind of protection zone around the plant, which is currently being held by Russian troops.
Here’s what else to know today:
- In the eastern Donetsk region: Geolocated images and video show that Ukrainian units have crossed the Siverskiy Donets river to take control of the town of Svyatohirsk. The capture will further complicate any attempt by the remaining Russian-backed forces to withdraw.
- In the Kharkiv region: Russian forces have “largely ceded their gains to the Ukrainians” in the vicinity of Kharkiv in the northeast, according to a senior US military official, adding some Russian forces moved back over the border. The official also said the US believes Ukrainian forces “have very likely taken control of Kupiansk and Izium in addition to smaller villages.”
- Kremlin says Putin is aware of the situation on the frontline: The Kremlin on Monday insisted that Russia would achieve all of its goals in Ukraine, despite the setback in Kharkiv. “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.
- Russia and China’s relationship: As Russian forces suffer a string of defeats, Moscow is playing up Beijing’s support for its invasion ahead of a key meeting between Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week.
- Continued tension at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant: The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi said “he remains gravely concerned about the situation” at the Zaporizhzhia power plant as long as there is any shelling. The president of Ukraine’s state nuclear company — Energoatom — told CNN that the power units at the plant remain in a cooling state while work continues to restore power lines. The company said only one of the six power units is working and it was supplying the electricity necessary for the pumps that cool the nuclear material.
- Investigation into Russian forces: The Ukrainian Prosecutor’s office in Kharkiv says it has begun an investigation into reports that civilians were murdered by Russian forces in a village in the Kharkiv region. It said officers “discovered four corpses” on Sunday and “all of them have traces of torture.”
Ukrainians have presented Russian forces with “multiple dilemmas along the forward line of troops,” a senior US military official said Monday, including where to apply their limited resources after Ukrainians moved swiftly over the weekend to re-capture territory.
The change in battlefield dynamics is “indicative of the reports” of Russian forces having “low morale, logistics issues, inability to sustain operations,” the US military official said. Ukraine’s military advanced on two fronts: a slower, more deliberate push in Kherson in southern Ukraine and a rapid advance through depleted Russian forces near Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.
“We’ve seen the Ukrainians use to great effect the capabilities that they have across the battlefield to change the battlefield dynamics,” the official said. “While again it’s really for Russia to answer the question in terms of why their forces reacted the way that they did up in the Kharkiv region, it is indicative of the reports that we’ve seen in terms of low morale, logistics issues, inability to sustain operations.”
Ukraine’s advances have forced Russia to decide where it wants to move its forces and how to use them, the official said, a decision which is always challenging in the middle of a war. “It’s a very hard problem to solve,” the official said, and it’s made even more difficult by the sustainment, logistics, and command and control issues that the Russians have experienced since the start of the invasion.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces have recaptured 6,000 square kilometers of land in the east and south of the country since the beginning of the month as he appealed for greater international pressure to isolate Russia.
According to analysts, that would amount to nearly 10% of the territory lost to the Russian offensive since it began in February.
In his daily video message, Zelensky also asked: “Why can [Russia] wage war so cruelly and cynically? There is only one reason — insufficient pressure on Russia. The response to the terror of this state is insufficient.”
One answer, he said, was to “increase aid to Ukraine, and above all speed up the provision of air defense systems.”
“There is still no official recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Citizens of the terrorist state can still go to Europe to rest and go shopping, they can still get European visas, and no one knows whether there are executioners or murderers among them who have just returned from the occupied territory of Ukraine,” Zelensky said.
Some European countries have enacted bans on tourist visas for Russians; most have not.
Zelensky said Russia was to blame for “energy terror. Residents of many countries around the world are suffering due to the painful increase in prices for energy resources — for electricity, for heat. Russia does it deliberately. It deliberately destabilizes the gas market in Europe.”
“Yesterday and today, the Russian army struck the Ukrainian energy infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians found themselves in the dark — without electricity. Houses, hospitals, schools, communal infrastructure… Russian missiles hit precisely those objects that have absolutely nothing to do with the infrastructure of the Armed Forces of our country.”
The president described the attacks on Ukrainian electricity supplies as “a sign of the desperation of those who invented this war. This is how they react to the defeat of Russian forces in the Kharkiv region.”
Russian forces have “largely ceded their gains to the Ukrainians” in the vicinity of Kharkiv in the northeast, according to a senior US military official, with “many” of the Russian forces moving back over the border.
The official also said the US believes Ukrainian forces “have very likely taken control of Kupiansk and Izium in addition to smaller villages.”
The official also said that reports of abandoned Russian equipment in the wake of their retreat “could be indicative of Russia’s disorganized command and control.”
“Russian forces continue to focus effort from Siversk to Bakhmut, and Bakhmut continues to appear to be the focus of where Russian forces are trying to gain ground,” said the official on a background call with reporters. “We continue to see heavy use of artillery and airstrikes.”
In the Kherson region in the south, the official said the US sees “deliberate and calibrated operations by the Ukrainians to include some moderate forward movement.”
The official also said the US continues to see shelling around the Zaporizhzhia plant, which had its last reactor shut down, according to the country’s nuclear agency Energoatom.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.