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Ukraine war: Fresh reports of Crimea explosions, Black Sea fleet bolstered and Zaporizhzhia concern

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By Josephine Joly  with Reuters, AP, AFP
A worker cleans up inside as Tikhon Pavlov, 11, walks past the Kramatorsk College of Technologies and Design after a rocket attack in the city.
A worker cleans up inside as Tikhon Pavlov, 11, walks past the Kramatorsk College of Technologies and Design after a rocket attack in the city.   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

1. Any pseudo referendums on joining Russia would be a 'slap in the face', says Zelenskyy

Volodymyr Zelenskyy says any "pseudo referendums" held in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine would be a "slap in the face for the international community".

With Russia controlling large swathes of the eastern Donbas region and parts of southern Ukraine, officials have raised the possibility of holding referendums.

The referendums would be votes on whether locals would want to join Russia and it was a move used when Russia annexed Crimea back in 2014. 

But in his nightly address, Zelenskyy, fresh from meeting UN chief Antonio Guterres and Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hit out at the move.

"I called on both Mr President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mr Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres to voice the strictest possible position regarding Russia's planned pseudo-referendums in the occupied territory," he said. 

"Any pseudo-referendum will be a slap in the face of the international community," he added. 

Russian forces hold most of the Kherson region in southern Ukraine and officials in charge have suggested a referendum on joining Russia could be held within the coming weeks or months. 

In Donbas, Russian proxies seized chunks of territory in 2014, held independence referendums and proclaimed "people's republics" in Luhansk and Donetsk regions. 

The Kremlin recognised the republics on the eve of the February invasion.

The governor of the Luhansk region — almost entirely under Russian control for several weeks — suggested earlier in August that Russia was preparing for a new referendum in newly captured areas and was offering residents benefits for taking part.

2. Erdogan to discuss Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant with Putin

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he will discuss the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and UN chief Antonio Guterres.

"Zelenskyy said Russia must remove all mines in the area," Erdogan said in an interview with reporters on his flight back from Ukraine's Lviv on Thursday.

"We will discuss this issue with Putin and ask him specifically for Russia to do what it must as an important step for world peace," he added.

Erdogan has previously expressed concerns about the ongoing conflict around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, warning of the danger of "a new Chernobyl". 

Experts are wary of comparisons to Chernobyl, saying a repeat of the disaster is incredibly unlikely and that the main threat is to the area closest to the plant itself.

3. Fires and explosions reported in Ukraine's Russian-occupied Crimea region

At least four explosions have been reported in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea overnight, according to local sources.

The explosions happened near the Belbek military airport outside the port city of Sevastopol but have not caused any damage, the Russian-imposed administrator of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, wrote on Telegram late on August 18.

He added that anti-aircraft defences had shot down a Ukrainian drone. 

The same day, a Russian official in the Crimean city of Kerch, located in eastern Crimea, said that air defences had been activated there. 

The city is the terminus of the Crimean Bridge, a high-profile Russian-built road and rail link between the occupied Ukrainian region and the Russian mainland.

However, the official said: "there is no danger to the city or the bridge."

Completed and inaugurated by Putin in May 2018, the Crimean Bridge cost some $4 billion and was a significant prestige project intended to bolster Moscow's claims on Crimea. 

The explosions came as Russian military targets in Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014, have been rocked by blasts in recent days. 

On August 16, a Russian ammunition depot in northern Crimea exploded in an incident Russian authorities attributed to "sabotage", while an electrical substation in the Dzhankoy district of the Black Sea peninsula also exploded on the same day, although the cause of that blast remains unknown.

On August 9, the Saky Air Base was struck by explosions that destroyed at least nine military aircraft, including Su-30SM fighters and Su-24M bombers.

4. Russia bombards Kharkiv to keep Ukraine from using forces elsewhere, UK defence ministry says

Russian forces are steadily bombarding the northeastern city of Kharkiv front to keep Ukraine from using its forces for counter-attacks in other regions, the UK's defence ministry said on Friday.

Some 15 kilometres from the Russian front lines, Kharkiv has been consistently shelled since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as it is within range of most Russian artillery. 

On Wednesday and Thursday, seventeen people were killed and 42 injured in two Russian attacks in Kharkiv, according to the regional Ukrainian governor. 

Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians in what it calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine.

5. Guterres asks Moscow not to disconnect Zaporizhzhia's power blocks from the grid

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Russia not to cut off the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which it controls, from the Ukrainian grid, as Kyiv and Moscow accused each other of "dangerous bombing" of the site.

"Of course, the electricity produced at Zaporizhzhia is Ukrainian electricity (...) this principle must be fully respected," Guterres told a news conference on the sidelines of a visit to the port of Odesa on Friday.

Earlier, Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said it feared Russia would switch off the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant from the Ukrainian power grid.

"There is information that the Russian occupation forces are planning to shut down the power blocks and disconnect them from the power supply lines to the Ukrainian power system in the near future," a statement from Energoatom read on Telegram.

According to the Ukrainian operator, the Russian military is seeking supplies for fuel suppliers for the diesel generators, which are supposed to turn on after the power units are shut down in the absence of an external power supply for the nuclear fuel cooling systems, and has restricted personnel access to the site.

The vast nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, was captured by Russian forces in March, but it is still staffed by Ukrainian technicians, though only two of its six reactors are working at full capacity.

Turning the plant off would pile new pressure on Ukrainian supplies, particularly in the south. 

Ukraine is already bracing for its most difficult winter since independence and preparing for a possible energy shortage.

In recent weeks, Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of bombing the nuclear plant in southern Ukraine, raising fears of a major disaster in Europe.

Guterres said on Thursday that "any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia would be suicide" and called for the demilitarisation of the plant's territory.

6. Russia's Black Sea fleet set to receive more military vehicles to complete tasks

The Russian Black Sea Fleet is set to receive 12 new vessels alongside additional aviation and land-based vehicles in 2022, the newly appointed commander Vice Admiral Viktor Sokolov said on Friday. 

"The Black Sea Fleet is participating in the special military operation and is successfully completing all the tasks set for it," state-owned TASS news agency quoted him as telling a group of young officers.

This comes just a few days after Sokolov was appointed head of the Black Sea fleet on Wednesday, replacing Igor Osipov, its head since 2019, after a series of setbacks. 

The week before, blasts at an airbase in Crimea destroyed much of one of the fleet's air regiments.

In April, the fleet's flagship, the cruiser Moskva, was sunk in what Ukraine's Defence Ministry said was a "missile strike". 

Two months later, the Black Sea fleet withdrew from strategically vital Snake Island, near the Ukrainian port of Odesa.

Russia refers to its military campaign in Ukraine as a "special military operation", aimed at demilitarising and "denazifying" Ukraine. 

Both Kyiv and Western governments say that is a pretext for an imperial-style war of conquest.