Russia-Ukraine live updates: Thousands flee ‘hell’ in Ukraine’s east

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(NEW YORK) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered “stiff resistance,” according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine’s disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Aug 04, 10:24 AM EDT
Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians, Amnesty International says

Ukrainian forces attempting to repel the Russian invasion have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, Amnesty International said Thursday.

The London-based international human rights group published a new report detailing such tactics, saying they turn civilian objects into military targets.

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said in a statement. “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

Between April and July, Amnesty International researchers spent several weeks investigating Russian airstrikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions of Ukraine. The organization inspected strike sites, interviewed survivors, witnesses and relatives of victims of attacks, as well as carried out remote-sensing and weapons analysis. Throughout the probe, researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions, according to Amnesty International.

The organization said most residential areas where Ukrainian soldiers located themselves were miles away from front lines, with viable alternatives that would not endanger civilians, such as nearby military bases or densely wooded areas, and other structures further away. In the cases documented, Amnesty International said it is not aware of the Ukrainian troops asking or assisting civilians to evacuate nearby buildings in the residential areas, which the organization called “a failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians.”

Amnesty International, however, noted that not every Russian attack it documented followed this pattern. In certain other locations in which the organization concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military.

Aug 03, 11:21 AM EDT
Inspectors in Turkey clear 1st grain ship from Ukraine, but no sign of more

The first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain under a wartime deal has safely departed the Black Sea, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni set sail from the Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Monday, with more than 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn on board. The vessel docked off the coast of Istanbul late Tuesday, where it was required to be inspected before being allowed to proceed to its final destination, Lebanon.

A joint civilian inspection comprising officials from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the U.N. inspected the Razoni on Wednesday morning, checking on the cargo and crew. After three hours, the team cleared the ship to set sail for Lebanon, according to the U.N. said.

“This marks the conclusion of an initial ‘proof of concept’ operation to execute the agreement,” the U.N. said in a statement Wednesday.

It’s the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain to safely depart the Black Sea since the start of Russia’s ongoing offensive, and the first to do so under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Razoni’s journey a “significant step” but noted that “this is only a first step.”

No other grain shipments have departed Ukraine in the last two days and officials on all sides have offered no explanation for that delay.

The U.N. said Wednesday that three Ukrainian ports “are due to resume the export of millions of tons of wheat, corn and other crops,” but didn’t provide further details.

Since Russian forces invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the cost of grain, fertilizer and fuel has skyrocketed worldwide. Russia and Ukraine — often referred to collectively as Europe’s breadbasket — produce a third of the global supply of wheat and barley, but a Russian blockade in the Black Sea combined with Ukrainian naval mines have made exporting siloed grain and other foodstuffs virtually impossible. As a result, millions of people around the world — particularly in Africa and the Middle East — are now on the brink of famine.

Aug 03, 9:58 AM EDT
Thousands flee ‘hell’ in Ukraine’s east

Two-thirds of residents have fled eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast since the start of Russia’s invasion in late February, according to the regional governor.

Speaking to Ukrainian media on Tuesday, Donetsk Oblast Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said some 350,000 residents remain in the war-torn region.

During his Tuesday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the hostilities in Ukraine’s east “hell.”

“It cannot be described with words,” Zelenskyy said.

Ukrainian forces cannot yet “completely break the Russian army’s advantage in artillery and manpower, and this is very noticeable in the fighting,” he added.

Last month, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 200,000 civilians must be evacuated from the Donetsk Oblast before the weather gets colder, as there is no proper electricity or gas supply in the area for residents to heat their homes. Russian forces are also destroying heating equipment, according to Vereshchuk.

Zelenskyy has ordered the mandatory evacuation of Donetsk Oblast residents, urging them to leave as soon as possible. Those who comply will be compensated.

“The more people leave [the] Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill,” he said.

Although many refuse to go, Zelenskyy stressed that “it still needs to be done.”

Mandatory evacuation from Donetsk Oblast began on Aug. 1. The first two trains evacuated 224 people to the central Ukrainian city of Kropyvnytskyi, according to local officials.

-ABC News’ Edward Szekeres, Yulia Drozd, Fidel Pavlenko and Yuriy Zaliznyak

Aug 02, 4:25 PM EDT
Shipment carrying 27,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine for Istanbul

A ship carrying 27,000 tons of corn has left the Ukrainian port of Odesa and is expected to arrive in Turkey on Wednesday, according to a statement issued by the Joint Coordination Centre, Black Sea Grain Initiative.

The ship, adorned with the flag of Sierra Leon, left Odesa on Monday morning and is ultimately destined for Lebanon, according to the JCC.

The route will follow a humanitarian corridor, the JCC said.

The JCC is responsible for carrying out inspections on inbound and outbound vessels in Istanbul to ensure there is no unauthorized crew or cargo, according to the statement.

The arrival of the shipment from Ukraine is a beacon of hope amid the ongoing invasion from Russia. Since the war began, shipments of grain out of Ukraine, considered one of the breadbaskets of the world, have all but stalled — leading experts to fear a possible food shortage that could plunge millions into malnutrition.

Preparations and planning for ships that can export grain and similar foodstuffs from the three ports in Ukraine are still continuing, according to the JCC, which described the feat as a “historical” humanitarian mission. The initial run to move significant volumes of commercial grain is expected to last 120 days.

“The JCC ‘s work is critical to implement the Black Sea Grain Initiative that helps address global food security,” the statement read. “The Initiative is focused on exporting grain, other foodstuffs and fertilizers, including ammonia, from Ukraine.”

-ABC News’ Engin Bas

Aug 02, 9:19 AM EDT
Power plant used by Russia as ‘nuclear shield,’ Blinken says

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday condemned the conduct of Russian troops around the Zaporizhia power plant — the biggest nuclear power plant in Ukraine and Europe — calling it “the height of irresponsibility.”

Speaking after nuclear nonproliferation talks at the United Nations in New York, Blinken said Russia was turning the power plant into a “nuclear shield.”

“Russia is now using the plant as a military base to fire at Ukrainians, knowing that they can’t and won’t shoot back because they might accidentally strike a nuclear reactor or highly radioactive waste in storage,” Blinken said.

The secretary added that Russia’s actions bring “the notion of having a human shield to an entirely different and horrific level.”

Russia was already accused of firing shells dangerously close to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in March as Russian troops occupied the facility in the first weeks of the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday a nuclear war should “never be unleashed,” according to local media. Putin stressed that Russia continues to fulfill its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as well as its bilateral agreements with the U.S. on the reduction of nuclear weapons.

Aug 01, 2:36 PM EDT
US announces new round of aid to Ukraine

The United States is sending a 17th round of aid to Ukraine, consisting of more ammunition for HIMARS rocket systems and howitzers, White House spokesman John Kirby announced.

This aid comes from presidential drawdown authority, separate from any aid passed by Congress.

This package totals $550 million and brings the total of U.S. presidential drawdown aid given to Ukraine since February to $8.8 billion.

-ABC News’ Luis Martinez and Sarah Kolinovsky

Aug 01, 9:14 AM EDT
Russian troops on the move ahead of expected Ukrainian counteroffensive

The Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Monday Russian troops were massing in the direction of the town of Kryvyi Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk region, possibly in a bid to prepare for a large Ukrainian counterattack.

Talk of a major Ukrainian counteroffensive aimed at taking back the southern city of Kherson, about 140 miles south of Kryvyi Rih, has been gathering pace for several weeks.

The Ukrainian military also issued the maximum missile-fire-threat alert on Sunday in reaction to Russian troops massing in the Black Sea.

At least 17 warships and boats of the Russian Black Sea fleet were maneuvering near the Crimean coast on Sunday, according to Ukrainian military officials.

Among them were six Kalibr cruise missile carriers with more than 40 high-precision missiles on board, as well as four large landing ships.

Russia has also been transferring a large number of troops to occupied Crimea, Vadym Skibitskyi, of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, said on Monday.

Russia plans to deploy these troops in the south of Ukraine to conduct future combat operations, Skibitskyi said.

The official added that Russia withdrew tactical groups of airborne troops from the eastern Donetsk region and transferred them to occupied Kherson about two weeks ago.

Russian forces have resumed localized ground attacks northwest and southwest of Izyum over the weekend and may be setting conditions for offensive operations further west into Kharkiv Oblast or toward Kharkiv City, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest report.

-ABC News’ Edward Szekeres, Yulia Drozd and Max Uzol

Aug 01, 9:09 AM EDT
A ‘day of relief for the world’ as Ukrainian grain shipments resume

Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba called Monday a “day of relief for the world” as his country resumed grain shipments for the first time since Russia’s offensive began.

“The day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, as the first Ukrainian grain leaves Odesa after months of Russian blockade,” Kuleba wrote in a post on Twitter. “Ukraine has always been a reliable partner and will remain one should Russia respect its part of the deal.”

Aug 01, 4:12 AM EDT
Ukrainian lawmaker hails departure of 1st grain ship a ‘historic moment’

Watching as the first ship carrying Ukrainian grain set off from Odesa’s port on Monday morning, Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Honcharenko called it “Ukraine’s victory” over Russia.

Honcharenko, the son of a former Odesa mayor, said this “historic moment” was only possible because Ukraine had inflicted so much damage on the Russian Navy and had liberated nearby Snake Island, forcing Russian President Vladimir Putin to make a deal.

“It shows again the the language of force is the only language Putin understands,” Honcharenko told ABC News.

Honcharenko said he believes 16 more ships in the port will now begin moving out in the coming days. But he cautioned that he thinks Putin will now try to do everything to limit the ships coming in and out to a minimum within the U.N.-brokered deal, utilizing airstrikes near Ukrainian ports as well as trying to invent bureaucratic obstacles.

The next big test of the deal will be when the first ships come to enter Odesa, which Honcharenko said is expected at the end of this week.

-ABC News’ Dragana Jovanovic, Oleksii Pshemyskiy and Patrick Reevell

Aug 01, 3:47 AM EDT
1st ship carrying Ukrainian grain leaves Odesa port

The first ship carrying Ukrainian grain departed Odesa on Monday morning under an internationally brokered deal attempting to ease a global hunger crisis.

The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni left the Ukrainian port city and is headed to Lebanon, a tiny Mideast nation that imports nearly all of its grain and lacks storage space after a 2020 explosion destroyed grain silos at its main port in Beirut. The vessel is expected to reach Istanbul on Tuesday, where it will be inspected before being allowed to proceed to Tripoli, according to a statement from the Turkish Ministry of National Defense.

Razoni, which is carrying 26,527 tons of corn, is the first commercial ship to set off from Ukraine’s port of Odesa since Feb. 26 and the first vessel to depart under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative, according to a statement from the spokesperson for the the United Nations secretary-general. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

Since Russian forces invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the cost of grain, fertilizer and fuel has skyrocketed worldwide. Russia and Ukraine — often referred to collectively as Europe’s breadbasket — produce a third of the global supply of wheat and barley, but a Russian blockade in the Black Sea combined with Ukrainian naval mines have made exporting siloed grain and other foodstuffs virtually impossible. As a result, millions of people around the world — particularly in Africa and the Middle East — are now on the brink of famine.

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