Fri, 07 Oct 2022

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is hosting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Thursday in the western city of Lviv. The talks are aimed at seeking ways to expand grain exports and addressing safety concerns around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Follow FRANCE 24's live coverage of the Ukraine crisis. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

2:44pm: Russia in 'quiet diplomacy' with US on Griner prisoner swap

The Russian foreign ministry has said it was engaged in "quiet diplomacy" with the US regarding a potential prisoner swap that would include basketball star Brittney Griner.

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia on drug charges on August 4 in a verdict that US President Joe Biden called "unacceptable".

Washington, which has argued that Griner was wrongfully detained, has offered to exchange her for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US.

2:19pm: UN's Zaporizhzhia demilitarisation plan 'unacceptable': Russia

Russia's foreign ministry has dismissed a proposal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to demilitarise the area around the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

During a press briefing, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Ivan Nechaev said the proposals were "unacceptable".

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was captured by Russia in March, shortly after the Ukraine invasion began. The nuclear plant, Europe's largest, is near the front lines, and has repeatedly come under fire in recent weeks, sparking fears of a nuclear disaster.

Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the plant.

1:51pm: Russian jets suspected of violating Finnish airspace, defence ministry says

Two Russian MiG-31 fighter jets are suspected of violating Finnish airspace on Thursday morning near the coastal city of Porvoo on the Gulf of Finland, the Finnish defence ministry said.

The suspected violation happened at 0640 GMT and the jets were westbound, communications chief Kristian Vakkuri told Reuters, adding that the aircraft were in Finnish airspace for two minutes.

"The depth of the suspected violation into Finnish airspace was one kilometre," he said, but would not elaborate on whether the planes were escorted out. The Finnish airforce identified the planes and the Border Guard had already launched an investigation into the violation, the ministry statement added.

1:37pm: Russia says 3 MiG warplanes with hypersonic missiles moved to Kaliningrad

Russia's defence ministry said on Thursday three MiG-31E warplanes equipped with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles have been relocated to its Kaliningrad region, Interfax reported.

Russian state-owned news agency RIA cited the ministry as saying that the MiG jets would be on round-the-clock duty.

Kaliningrad, a Russian Baltic coast exclave located between NATO and European Union members Poland and Lithuania, became a flashpoint after Lithuania moved to limit goods transit to the region through its territory, with Russia promising retaliation.

11:22am: UN-chartered ship carrying food aid for Africa leaves Ukraine

The first wartime shipment of UN World Food Programme aid for Africa reached the Bosphorus Strait on Wednesday under a deal backed by Russia restoring Ukrainian grain deliveries across the Black Sea.

Marine traffic sites indicated the MV Brave Commander and its cargo of 23,000 tonnes of wheat left Ukraine's Black Sea port of Pivdennyi on Tuesday.

Turkish coast guards expect the Lebanese-flagged cargo vessel to reach the Sea of Marmara on the strait's southern edge late on Wednesday before sailing to its final destination in Djibouti next week.

The grain will then be loaded onto lorries for delivery to war- and famine-stricken Ethiopia.

It is also hoped that the renewal of grain shipments will make room in Ukrainian silos for the incoming harvest.

8:35am: Russia says 'no heavy weapons' deployed at Ukraine nuclear plant

Russia's defence ministry said Thursday that its forces did not have heavy weapons deployed at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, accusing Kyiv of preparing a "provocation" at the station.

"Russian troops have no heavy weapons either on the territory of the station or in areas around it. There are only guard units," the ministry said in a statement.

Pointing to accusations that Russian forces have been shelling Ukrainian positions from the territory of the station, the ministry said Kyiv was planning a "provocation" during a visit to Ukraine by UN chief Antonio Guterres that would see Moscow "accused of creating a man-made disaster at the plant".

It said Ukraine was deploying forces in the area and planned to launch artillery strikes on the plant from the city of Nikopol on Friday, when Guterres is due to visit Odesa.

"The blame for the consequences (of the strikes) will be placed on the Russian armed forces," it said.

8:21am: Zelensky, Erdogan, Guterres to meet Thursday in Ukraine

"I'm not sure [this meeting] is about breakthroughs, it's about progress on certain issues, in particular the grain export from Odesa through the Bosphorus and out into the Mediterranean", reports Rob Parsons, FRANCE 24's chief foreign editor. "Thanks in large part to the work of President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, who used his influence to get a shift going on the export of grain via Odesa, a lot has already been achieved".

"The situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant [has brought about] a lot of concern internationally. The Ukrainians are accusing the Russians of basing artillery and other forces on the site of the nuclear power plant and using them to attack Ukrainian positions further to the west, [while] the Russians are saying 'no, it's not us, it's the Ukrainians attacking the power plant with their own artillery'", says Parsons.

8:07am: One more grain ship leaves Ukraine, says Turkey's defence ministry

One more ship carrying grain has left Ukraine's Chornomorsk port, Turkey's defence ministry said on Thursday, bringing the total number of vessels to leave Ukraine's Black Sea ports under a UN-brokered grain export deal to 25.

The Belize-flagged I Maria was loaded with corn, it said, adding that four other ships will arrive in Ukraine's ports on Thursday to be loaded with grain.

8:00am: At least five dead in renewed Russian shelling of Kharkiv

Russian strikes battered the northeast Ukraine region of Kharkiv Thursday, killing at least five people, hours ahead of the first face-to-face meeting since the start of the war between the Turkish and Ukrainian leaders.

The head of the Kharkiv region Oleg Synegubov said Moscow's forces had launched eight missiles from Russian territory at around 0430 local time (0130 GMT), striking across the city.

"Three people died, including a child. Eight people, including two children, were rescued," the emergency services said.

Synegubov posted images from the scene of one strike showing the smouldering remains of several burnt out buildings and twisted wreckage of destroyed vehicles nearby.

In separate strikes on the town of Krasnograd southwest of Kharkiv, bombardments that damaged residential buildings left two dead and two more injured, he said.

"Kharkiv. 175 days of horror. Daily terror, missile strikes on residential areas and civilians," a senior presidential aide, Mykhaylo Podolyak, wrote on social media.

7:56am: Volunteers from the Georgian Legion help Ukrainians repel Russian army

In the first weeks after the Russian invasion in February, thousands of volunteers from all over the world, not all of them with military experience, flooded into Ukraine to help repel the Russian army. However, Georgian soldiers serving in the Georgian Legion have been fighting in Ukraine since 2014. FRANCE 24's reporters met in Kyiv with some of the volunteers who are providing expertise and training to the Ukrainians.

About thirty per cent of the Georgian Legion are foreign volunteers like Brad Mowery, a former police officer in the US who has come to Kyiv to help with the training. "I have the skill-set to come over and help. I could not stay at home and do nothing. . . . I find the Ukrainians incredibly easy to work with. . . . I can see them working through problems together. It is almost [as if] they are teaching themselves before I can get a chance to teach them. The morale is excellent among everyone. Obviously no-one is excited to go to war but they're ready."

5:00am: Guterres in Lviv ahead of his meeting with Zelensky and Erdogan

UN chief Antonio Guterres will meet the leaders of Ukraine and Turkey in Lviv on Thursday, following a deal reached last month that allowed the resumption of grain exports after Russia's invasion blocked essential global supplies.

The meeting also comes a day after the head of NATO said it was "urgent" that the UN's atomic watchdog be allowed to inspect Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where a Russian occupation has sparked concerns of a nuclear accident.

A spokesman for Guterres said that the UN chief, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan will discuss the grain deal, as well as "the need for a political solution to this conflict".

He added that he had "no doubt that the issue of the nuclear power plant" would be raised. In his regular nightly address on Wednesday, Zelensky said Guterres had arrived and that the two would "work to get the necessary results for Ukraine".

Guterres is slated to travel on Friday to Odesa, one of three ports involved in the grain exports deal -- hammered out in July under the aegis of the UN with Ankara's mediation. He will then head to Turkey to visit the Joint Coordination Centre, the body tasked with overseeing the accord.

According to the UN, the first half of August saw 21 freighters authorised to sail under the deal, carrying more than 563,000 tonnes of agricultural products, including more than 451,000 tonnes of corn.

The first wartime shipment of UN food aid for Africa reached the Bosphorus Strait on Wednesday, carrying 23,000 tonnes of wheat.

9:35pm: Russian strike on Kharkiv kills 6, says mayor

A Russian strike killed at least six people and wounded 16 others in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, according to the city's mayor.

The attack started a fire in an apartment block, Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov said on the Telegram app.

5:11pm: Ukraine buries unidentified victims of Bucha massacre

Unidentified remains of 21 victims of the Bucha massacre were buried Wednesday in a cemetery in the Kyiv satellite town that saw atrocities committed by retreating Russian forces in late March.

Reporting from Bucha, FRANCE 24's Rob Parsons said the bodies were brought from the Bucha morgue, where they were being held while investigators tried to match the victims' DNA. "But so far, for these ones at least, that's proved not possible. Meanwhile each grave is marked with a number, so if investigations into the DNA come up with some kind of answers, the relatives will be notified and they can moved their loved ones to graveyards of their own choice," explained Parsons.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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