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Aug 06, 2023

Ukraine’s armed forces have gained a foothold in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, where they are believed to be advancing towards Russia’s second line of defence.

Kyiv’s General Staff said on Tuesday its forces had “achieved success ... within the re-captured frontiers” and were attacking detected enemy targets with artillery as well as carrying out counter-battery measures.

The battlefield update came as the Kremlin said Vladimir Putin had no plans to attend the funeral of Yevgeny Prigozhin, as the Wagner chief’s press service said a closed-door “farewell” service had been held for him on Tuesday, with mourners welcome at a cemetery in his native St Petersburg.

Prigozhin died when his business jet crashed last week, two months after he and his Wagner mercenaries staged a mutiny against Russian military commanders in which they took control of a southern city, Rostov, and advanced towards Moscow before turning back 200 km (125 miles) from the capital.

Western politicians and commentators have theorised that Mr Putin ordered Prighozin’s death as an act of vengeance. However, Mr Peskov called the suggestion an “absolute lie”.

Closed-door ‘farewell’ held for Yevgeny Prigozhin

Putin has no plans to attend Prigozhin’s funeral, Kremlin says

Pentagon vows to continue flying jets over Black Sea

Poland threatens to close borders with Belarus over Wagner fighters

Ukraine liberates key south-eastern village amid heavy fighting

15:47 , Andy Gregory

Here is more on the statement from Yevgeny Prigozhin’s press service:

“The farewell to Yevgeny Viktorovich took place in a closed format. Those who wish to say goodbye may visit Porokhovskoye cemetery,” it said in a short post on Telegram, accompanied by a photo of Prigozhin.

15:44 , Andy Gregory

A "farewell ceremony" for Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has taken place behind closed doors, his spokespeople have said.

The Kremlin earlier confirmed that Russian president Vladimir Putin was not planning to attend the funeral.

Nigel Gould-Davies, a former UK ambassador to Belarus, now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, had said that Prigozhin’s funeral would be significant.

“If Putin wishes to emphasise that Prigozhin died as a traitor, he will ignore it,” Dr Gould-Davies said last week.

“Prigozhin’s supporters may use the moment to eulogise him and his critique of the Kremlin’s conduct of the war, which could strengthen the hostility of a core group of Wagner loyalists towards the Kremlin.

15:42 , Andy Gregory

One of the most significant challenges confounding Kyiv’s efforts to redraw the front line is the millions of mines Russia has laid in their path, to the extent that Ukraine is now being described as the most heavily mined country in the world.

“What we are seeing is an industrial level of mine-laying, particularly anti-tank mines,” said Paul McCann, of the Halo Trust, the world’s largest humanitarian landmine clearance organisation. “Nothing like it [has been] seen in Europe since the Second World War.”

You can read more about the situation here with Independent Premium:

How ‘industrial-scale’ Russian minefields are hampering Ukraine’s counteroffensive

15:24 , Andy Gregory

Russian mercenaries have gathered for the burial of Wagner’s logistics chief Valery Chekalov, who was killed in last week’s plane crash apparently also involving Yevgeny Prigozhin.

The family of Chekalov was joined by dozens of people, some of whom Reuters identified as Wagner mercenaries and employees from Prigozhin’s business empire, at the Severnoye cemetery in St Petersburg on Tuesday.

A Russian Orthodox priest said prayers and swung a censer before Chekalov’s coffin as family, friends and former colleagues, some holding bunches of flowers, bade farewell, Reuters video showed.

Some, including women and children in sunglasses, came forward to kiss his coffin. Unidentified mourners at the funeral ordered a Reuters videographer and photographer to stop filming.

14:59 , Andy Gregory

Moldova’s president has warned that the apparent death of Yevgeny Prigozhin “just reconfirms the risks which come from Russia, a country which does not have justice”.

Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in Chisinau, as Moldova marked its 32nd independence day, Maia Sandu said: “This just reconfirms the risks which come from Russian, a country which does not have justice, which solves the problems the way it solves.

“And, unfortunately, this does not limit to Russia’s borders. Unfortunately, this is the way Russia acts with respect to its neighbours.”

Warning that “Ukraine needs to get more support”, Ms Sandu said: “Everybody should understand that if Ukraine is not helped, then Russia will not stop in Ukraine or Moldova.”

“I believe more support will be coming soon, so that Ukraine could recover its territories and we will see an end to this crazy war,” she added.

14:38 , Andy Gregory

Russia’s defence ministry claims its forces brought down a second Ukrainian drone over the Black Sea at around 1pm on Tuesday, according to state news outlets.

The ministry claimed earlier that a drone had been shot down by a military jet.

14:26 , Andy Gregory

Prominent Russian nationalist Igor Girkin has lost an appeal against his pre-trial detention on charges of inciting extremism, a Moscow court said.

Girkin, a former commander of separatist-backed forces in 2014 who goes by the nom de guerre Igor Strelkov, has fiercely criticised the way that Russia has conducted the war in Ukraine.

He is best known in the West for having been convicted by a Dutch court over the shooting down of a Malaysian passenger plane with the loss of 298 lives over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

14:00 , Maanya Sachdeva

A resurfaced clip of the Wagner leader who was killed in a plane crash has resurfaced on social media, stoking conspiracy theories about his demise.

In the 40-second clip, the Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin compared Russia’s trajectory in the war to a plane that will “fall apart in the air”.

Read more here:

Wagner boss talks about ‘plane falling apart in the air’ in resurfaced clip

13:30 , Maanya Sachdeva

Russian shelling killed a 45-year-old man and wounded at least one other person in the northeastern Ukrainian town of Kupiansk on Tuesday morning, Ukrainian officials said.

The town in the Kharkiv region was seized by Moscow soon after Russia‘s invasion 18 months ago, recaptured by Kyiv last September, and under frequent fire again as Moscow tries to hit back in the northeast.

Some residents remain in the town, but regional authorities have ordered a mandatory evacuation of civilians from near the Kupiansk front because of the difficult situation.

Regional governor Oleh Synehubov said the man killed on Tuesday was a guard at a meat processing plant that was hit in the latest shelling. The prosecutor general’s office said a 67-year-old man had also been hurt during the shelling.

Reuters could not verify the situation in the town, or reports from the battlefield.

13:00 , Maanya Sachdeva

Funerals are expected to take place soon for Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and other members of his Wagner group who died in a plane crash last week.

Here are some key facts about them:

All you need to know about Yevgeny Prigozhin as Wagner chief killed in plane crash

12:30 , Maanya Sachdeva

Germany’s prosecutor general said on Tuesday it has issued an arrest warrant for a German-Russian national suspected of exporting components used by Russia in the production of military hardware including drones.

The defendant, named only as Waldemar W, is accused of violating sanctions imposed in the wake of Russia‘s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, the prosecutor said in a statement.

W has been in pre-trial detention since 9 March.

Between January 2020 and March 2023, he allegedly exported electronic components on 26 occasions to a Russian company involved in the production of military hardware including the Orlan-10 reconnaissance drone.

The prosecutor general stepped in “because of the special importance of the case”, it said in a statement. Its arrest warrant supercedes another issued by a Mannheim regional court on 8 March.

German authorities have been increasingly cracking down on those suspected of circumventing sanctions.

Earlier this month, a businessman was arrested on suspicion of providing machine tools used by the Russian company in the production of sniper rifles.

12:00 , Maanya Sachdeva

Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida said he told Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday that Japan planned to keep on supporting Ukraine.

Mr Kishida told reporters he had also condemned Russia‘s continued attacks on Ukraine during his phone call with Mr Zelensky.

11:30 , Maanya Sachdeva

Pope Francis did not intend to glorify Russian imperialism when he extolled tsars that expanded the Russian empire, the Vatican said on Tuesday, after his remarks in a speech last week were criticised by Ukraine.

Francis had told Russian youths in unscripted remarks following a speech on Friday to remember that they are the heirs of past tsars such as Peter I and Catherine II.

The two monarchs expanded Russia‘s empire in the 17th and 18th centuries, including conquering parts of Ukraine, and President Vladimir Putin has referred to their legacies in justifying his invasion and annexation of territory last year.

“The pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote all that is positive in the great Russian cultural and spiritual heritage, and certainly not to exalt imperialist logic and government personalities, (which he) mentioned to indicate some historical periods of reference,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

Kyiv called the remarks “deeply regrettable” while the Kremlin said they had been “very gratifying”.

11:00 , Maanya Sachdeva

Persistent wartime attacks on schools in Ukraine mean that only about a third of school-age children there are attending classes fully in person and many are falling behind, the UN children’s fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

Beyond Ukraine, more than half of the children whose families have fled the conflict to seven countries are not enrolled in national education systems, UNICEF said, citing language barriers and overstretched education systems.

Some schools have suffered direct hits and others have closed down as a precaution since Russia‘s invasion 18 months ago, which has involved missile and artillery attacks on residential areas across the country.

“Inside Ukraine, attacks on schools have continued unabated, leaving children deeply distressed and without safe spaces to learn,” it said.

The war followed earlier Covid disruptions, meaning some Ukrainian children were facing a fourth consecutive school year of disruptions as they return to classes this week after the summer break, UNICEF said.

“Not only has this left Ukraine‘s children struggling to progress in their education, but they are also struggling to retain what they learnt when their schools were fully functioning,” said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.

Around half of Ukraine‘s teachers have reported a deterioration in students’ abilities in language, reading and mathematics, it said.

10:56 , Maanya Sachdeva

A Russian military jet destroyed a Ukrainian drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday, Russia‘s defence ministry said without providing any other details.

More updates to follow.

10:25 , Maanya Sachdeva

Russian President Vladimir Putin has no plans to attend the funeral of Wagner mercenary group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.

He told reporters the Kremlin did not know about the planned funeral arrangements, saying this was a matter for the family.

Prigozhin died when his business jet crashed last week, two months after he and his Wagner mercenaries staged a mutiny against Russian military commanders in which they took control of a southern city, Rostov, and advanced towards Moscow before turning back 200 km (125 miles) from the capital.

The Kremlin has rejected as an “absolute lie” the suggestion by some Western politicians and commentators that Putin ordered Prigozhin to be killed in revenge.

09:40 , Maanya Sachdeva

Speculation has been increasing that the late Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s funeral may be held today, as law enforcement officers were reportedly spotted outside a cemetery in St Petersburg.

Prighozin was killed in a plane crash northwest of Moscow last Wednesday.

Prigozhin’s death comes just two months after the Wagner boss led an armed rebellion against Putin, leading to conjecture the Russian president had ordered Prigozhin’s death.

08:35 , Maanya Sachdeva

Ukrainian soldiers on Monday recaptured the Russian-occupied village of Robotyne and placed the national flag on a bombed-out building,

Robotyne was captured by Ukrainian troops last week as part of the military‘s ongoing counter-offensive against Russia.

Ukraine‘s military said that this successful operation was the breakthrough needed to push deeper into Russian-held Ukrainian territory.

Watch the video here:

08:05 , Maanya Sachdeva

Russia is unlikley to hit its military recruitment targets despite salary hikes and attractive benefits, the UK’s Ministry of Defence has said in its latest security briefing.

The MoD on Tuesday said military service in the Russian Armed Forces has become “increasingly lucrative” since president Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion on Ukraine last year, noting that many junior ranks deployed in the country are earning over 200,000 rubles monthly.

Despite the incentivisation, Russia is “unlikely to meet its targets” for recruiting volunteers to its armed forces,

“On 4 February 2022 Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that a lieutenant received 81,200 rubles per month. By October 2022, he announced that even mobilised private soldiers would receive 195,000 rubles per month,” the ministry said on X, formerly Twitter.

“Many junior ranks serving in Ukraine are now on over 200,000 rubles per month. This is over 2.7 times the Russian national average salary of 72,851 rubles. By way of comparison, 2.7 times the average UK salary would equate to over £90,000 a year.

“It is highly likely that the salary and additional benefits are a strong incentive for personnel to join up, especially to those from the poorer areas of Russia. However, Russia is still unlikely to meet its targets for recruiting volunteers to the ranks,” the post read.

07:35 , Maanya Sachdeva

Alexei Volkov, president of the National Union of Hospitality Industries, said in an interview that tourist numbers in Crimea were expected to be down 20-30 per cent this year to between 6 and 6.5 million people.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, eight years before it launched its full-scale invasion of the country last February. Ukraine has vowed to reverse the annexation, which is regarded as illegal by most nations. everse.

Other Russian Black Sea resorts, at less risk of attacks, have seen increased demand. Volkov said hotel occupancy in Sochi was at 100 per cent, and even the port city of Novorossiysk had seen a 6% uptick in visitors.

07:10 , Shweta Sharma

The US has accused Russia of intimidating and harassing American employees after Russian state media reported that a former US consulate worker, Robert Shonov, had been charged by Russian security services with gathering information about the war in Ukraine.

According to the Russian security service FSB, Mr Shonov, a Russian national, provided information to US embassy staff in Moscow regarding the impact of Russia’s conscription campaign on political discontent leading up to Russia’s 2024 presidential election.

The FSB has said it plans to interrogate US embassy employees who had contact with Mr Shonov. Mr Shonov has been in custody since May.

He had worked for over 25 years at the US Consulate General in Vladivostok until Russia ordered the termination of local staff affiliated with the US mission in 2021.

The US State Department spokesperson, Matthew Miller, reiterated that the allegations against Mr Shonov lack credibility.

“Russia‘s targeting of Mr. Shonov under the ‘confidential cooperation’ statute only highlights the increasingly repressive actions the Russian government is taking against its own citizens,” Mr Miller said in a statement.

He added that Washington was aware the FSB had also summoned two diplomats working at the US embassy in Moscow in connection to the case.

06:52 , Maanya Sachdeva

Vladimir Putin will not be travelling to India to attend the G20 summit next month, the Russian president confirmed in a phone call with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi yesterday.

Mr Putin said Russia will be represented by its foreign minister at the G20 summit in New Delhi on 9 and 10 September. The two leaders also discussed bilateral ties, among other topics, according to readouts of the call.

“While expressing an understanding for Russia’s decision, PM (Modi) thanked President Putin for Russia’s consistent support to all initiatives under India’s G20 presidency,” the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The two leaders also spoke about the planned expansion of the Brics group of emerging economies – comprising India, Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa.

“Topical issues of Russian-Indian relations, which are progressively developing in the spirit of a particularly privileged strategic partnership, were considered (in the call),” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“The positive dynamics of trade and economic cooperation was affirmed,” it added.

06:09 , Shweta Sharma

South Korea unveiled on Tuesday financial aid of 520bn won ($394m) for Ukraine next year, an eightfold increase from this year.

The aid package includes 130bn won for reconstruction, 260bn in humanitarian aid and another 130bn won through international organisations, according to South Korea’s 2024 budget.

In July, president Yoon Suk-yeol announced his country would provide a “large scale of military supplies” this year without giving more details.

On Tuesday, Mr Yoon also announced an increase in South Korea’s Official Development Assistance for strategic areas, including the Asia-Pacific region and Africa, from 1.4tn won to 2tn won ($1.51bn).

The increase in overseas assistance is part of an effort to help South Korean companies branch out abroad and secure national interests, such as the supply chains, and to take responsibility as a key member of the global community, the country’s finance ministry said in the budget announcement.

05:18 , Shweta Sharma

The US has vowed to continue drone missions over the Black Sea after Russia scrambled jets yesterday, claiming it intercepted two US Air Force drones near the Crimean peninsula.

Russia says it scrambled two fighter jets on Monday to respond to US drones operating over the Black Sea.

The Russian defence ministry statement on Telegram claimed that the drones had been observed near Crimea and heading for the Russian border on an intelligence mission.

“As a result of the actions of anti-aircraft forces on duty the US intelligence drones altered the direction of their flight and left the area where they were conducting air intelligence,” the ministry statement said.

Russia said it intercepted a US State Air Force MQ-9 “Reaper” and an RQ-4 “Global Hawk”.

A Pentagon spokesperson told CNN the US “will continue to fly routine missions over the Black Sea as permitted by international law to ensure freedom of navigation and manoeuvre in the region”.

05:00 , Shweta Sharma

Poland and the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have agreed to immediately retaliate with stern measures, including shutting down of borders with Belarus in “critical situations”, Poland’s interior minister has said.

Mariusz Kaminski of Poland met his counterparts of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in Warsaw on 28 August to discuss regional security issues.

“We are determined on joint action if a critical situation arises,” he said. “Regardless of whether it is on the Polish, Lithuanian, or Latvian borders, we will apply immediate retaliation. All border crossings that are open so far, both passenger and cargo, will be closed.”

The countries had been raising concerns over Wagner group members’ presence in Belarus, raising security risks for the Baltic states.

“We demanded of the Lukashenko regime that the Wagner Group immediately leave the territory of Belarus,” Mr Kaminski said.

Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has said Wagner would continue to maintain a strong presence in the country even after commander Yvgeny Prigozhin’s death.

04:41 , Shweta Sharma

Russian air defences shot down two Ukrainian drones flying over Russia’s Tula city south of Moscow on Tuesday, according to the state-run RIA news agency.

Tula is the largest city and administrative centre of Tula Oblast in Russia

04:30 , Shweta Sharma

US citizen Paul Whelan, a former marine who is jailed in Russia over espionage charges, was seen in a rare footage broadcasted by a Kremlin-backed news channel.

Mr Whelan was seen dressed in the prison’s black uniform and a matching hat. He appeared in different parts of the prison with other inmates, sewing using a sewing machine and while at the cafeteria in the footage put out by state-controlled network Russia Today (RT).

He said the channel had showed up in the prison in May to film Mr Whelan and when he declined to participate, the prison staff retaliated against him. In the video, Mr Whelan tells the questioner that he will not answer his questions.

The US citizen was arrested in 2018 and convicted of spying in 2020, a charge the US denied. He was sentenced to 16 years in a penal colony in Mordovia, a Russian region notorious since Soviet times for its penal colonies. He has denied the accusations.

The Biden administration has designated Mr Whelan as “wrongfully detained,” a legal term that means that the charges are baseless and that he was targeted primarily because he is an American citizen.

04:05 , Andy Gregory

Ukraine strongly opposes the imposition of any restrictions on the import of its grain by neighbouring countries after a European Union ban ends next month, Kyiv’s foreign minister has said.

After Russia’s invasion blocked Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, large quantities of the country’s grain – which is cheaper than EU crops – stayed in central Europe due to logistical bottlenecks, impacting prices and sales for local farmers.

In May, the EU relented to allow Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia to ban domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds until 15 September, while allowing transit of cargoes for export elsewhere.

The five countries want the ban extended until the end of the year and some have threatened to introduce their own restrictions if Brussels does not act.

But Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba warned Kyiv was “adamantly against” any such steps. “This move will violate rules of common market,” he said during a visit to Prague. “This move will violate the Ukraine-EU association agreement ... it will go against the principle of solidarity.”

03:04 , Andy Gregory

The Wagner founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is confirmed to have died in a plane crash – a turn of events that appears to leave his Wagner Group fighters rudderless and facing a highly uncertain future.

Now Poland the Baltics have threatened to close their borders with Belarus unless Wagner troops are forced to depart.

My colleague Joe Sommerlad takes a look at what could lie in store for the mercenary group:

What next for the Wagner Group in Russia?

02:06 , Andy Gregory

One of the most significant challenges confounding Kyiv’s efforts to redraw the front line is the millions of mines Russia has laid in their path, to the extent that Ukraine is now being described as the most heavily mined country in the world.

“What we are seeing is an industrial level of mine-laying, particularly anti-tank mines,” said Paul McCann, of the Halo Trust, the world’s largest humanitarian landmine clearance organisation. “Nothing like it [has been] seen in Europe since the Second World War.”

In one part of the liberated Mykolaiv region, close to lands flooded by the Khakovka Dam attack, clearance workers found “incredibly dense” fields of powerful anti-tank mines, with one explosive for every square metre, Mr McCann said.

You can read more about Ukraine’s battle with Russia’s minefields here:

How ‘industrial-scale’ Russian minefields are hampering Ukraine’s counteroffensive

01:15 , Andy Gregory

Monday 28 August 2023 23:51 , Andy Gregory

Three people have been killed in an overnight Russian missile strike in central Ukraine, and two died in shelling later on Monday in the east and south, Ukrainian officials have said.

Interior minister Ihor Klymenko said the three people were killed at an industrial plant in central Poltava region. Five were wounded and another person was unaccounted for, he said.

Presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak said those killed were night shift workers at a vegetable oil factory in the Myrhorod district and posted photos showing the plant in flames. Mr Klymenko said the fire had later been extinguished.

Oleksandr Prokudin, governor of southern Kherson region, said a 63-year-old woman had been killed in the mid-morning shelling of the village of Sadove.

Russian shelling killed a man working outside his home in the early evening in Toretsk, in eastern Donetsk region, prosecutors said.

Other reports from Ukrainian officials described heavy Russian shelling of Marhanets, opposite the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, with four people injured. Regional officials reported three injured in the shelling of nine localities in northern Sumy region.

Ukraine’s military also said central Kryvyi Rih region in had been struck in a missile attack. Local authorities said private houses were damaged, but reported no casualties.

Monday 28 August 2023 23:10 , Andy Gregory

Russia’s FSB security agency has said that a detained former employee of the US Consulate in Vladivostok is accused of collecting information about Russia’s action in Ukraine and related issues for US diplomats.

The FSB said Robert Shonov is suspected of “gathering information about the special military operation, mobilization processes in Russian regions, problems and the assessment of their influence on protest activities of the population in the runup to the 2024 presidential election”.

The agency also said it had summonses to question two US diplomats who allegedly instructed Mr Shonov to collect the information. His arrest was first reported in May, but Russian authorities provided no details at the time.

The US State Department, which previously condemned the arrest, has warned the allegations against Shonov “are wholly without merit”, and said the law used to charge him highlights “the increasingly repressive actions the Russian government is taking against its own citizens”.

Monday 28 August 2023 21:49 , Reuters

Pope Francis came under criticism on Monday for telling Russian youths to remember that they are the heirs of past tsars such as Peter the Great, who President Vladimir Putin has held up as an example to justify the invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine said the comments, which Francis made on Friday in a live video address to Catholic youths gathered in St. Petersburg, were “deeply regrettable”.

Francis read his prepared speech in Spanish but at the end, shifted into impromptu Italian and said: “Don’t forget (your) heredity. You are heirs of the great Russia - the great Russia of the saints, of kings, the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, the great Russian empire, cultured, so much culture, so much humanity. You are the heirs of the great mother Russia. Go forward.”

The Vatican released the text of the address on Saturday but did not include the last, improvised paragraph. A video of the pope making the comments was posted by religious websites.

“It is precisely with such imperialist propaganda, the ‘spiritual ties’ and the ‘need’ to save ‘great Mother Russia’ that the Kremlin justifies the killing of thousands of Ukrainians and the destruction of Ukrainian cities and villages,” Oleg Nikolenko, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, said on Facebook.

“It is deeply regrettable that such notions of being a great power, which contribute, in essence, to Russia’s chronic aggressiveness, are voiced by the pope, either knowingly or unknowingly,” Nikolenko said.

Monday 28 August 2023 21:16 , Andy Gregory

Polish security authorities are investigating multiple cases of disruption to railway traffic, after unauthorised radio signals stopped several trains over the weekend.

On some of the signals, the Russian national anthem could reportedly be heard in the background.

Poland’s railway is the main transport route for international military support going to neighbouring Ukraine, which is fighting Russia’s aggression. The network also transports Ukraine’s agricultural exports to markets further west.

Two men in their 20s were arrested on Sunday after they generated intercom signals that halted five passenger trains and one cargo train near Bialystok, in the northeast.

One of them was a police officer, and police in Bialystok said on Monday their agency had opened a dismissal procedure against him.

Similar “radio-stop” signals briefly stopped some passenger and cargo trains in other regions across Poland over the weekend. In some cases, the Russian anthem could be heard over the intercom, Polish media reported. Authorities said there was no threat to public security and no-one was hurt.

Monday 28 August 2023 20:44 , Andy Gregory

Monday 28 August 2023 20:16 , Andy Gregory

Russia claims to have scrambled two fighter jets to prevent two US drones from violating its border over the Black Sea.

A Russian defence ministry statement on Telegram said the drones had been observed near annexed Crimea and were heading for the Russian border on an intelligence mission.

“As a result of the actions of anti-aircraft forces on duty the intelligence US drones altered the direction of their flight and left the area where they were conducting air intelligence,” the ministry statement said.

It comes just a day after Moscow claimed to have escorted a US drone over the Black Sea. It was not immediately possible to verify either claim.

Monday 28 August 2023 19:50 , Andy Gregory

Ukrainian gains near Robotyne have prompted suggestions in recent days that further advances could finally allow Kyiv’s troops to pour through paper-thin gaps in Russia’s densely laid minefields to establish some control over a vast area between Russian lines.

“If the Ukrainians are going to break through, it’s going to be like bankruptcy – it’s gradually, then all at once,” Dr Patrick Bury, a senior lecturer at Bath University and former Nato analyst, told The Independent.

“That’s what you’re looking for – you get through the defences and suddenly you’re out in the open,” said the former British Army infantry captain. “Basically, you tell tanks and armoured infantry to drive hell for leather and you’re trying to get to undefended towns and cities because they’re your logistics and transport hubs.

“They’ll be trying to drive [as] fast as they can towards the Sea of Azov. It’s not as if they want to cut the Russians off completely but they want to force them to withdraw ... Once you break out and you’re inside, it’s about momentum, decision-making, and you’re the one imposing your tempo on the enemy. You move and they have to react.”

But while the gains at Robotyne show “progress”, with Dr Bury also pointing to fighting near the village of Urozhaine as “the one to watch”, he believes the chances of a sudden breakthrough are “50/50 at the moment”.

“It’s hanging in the balance, and I think the next few weeks are going to be pretty decisive, one way or the other.”

Monday 28 August 2023 19:23 , Andy Gregory

The vast minefields laid by Russian forces in Ukraine are “a serious problem” for Kyiv’s troops, Mark Galeotti, of the Mayak Intelligence consultancy, told The Independent.

“If you’re facing a heavily mined battlefield, you have to move slowly ... at the speed of anti-mining tanks or engineers moving through marking mines, so you are therefore vulnerable to being caught under artillery fire.

“Mines fix you slowly or they channel you – often into a ‘kill zone’ where they’re waiting to drop volleys of artillery shells on you. They deny the Ukrainians that kind of fluidity and speed of movement [seen during last year’s lightning counteroffensive].”

You can read more about the impact Russia’s minefields are having on Ukraine’s counteroffensive here:

How ‘industrial-scale’ Russian minefields are hampering Ukraine’s counteroffensive

Monday 28 August 2023 18:55 , Andy Gregory

Poland and its Baltic neighbours are now threatening to close their borders with Belarus over the presence of Wagner fighters there.

Prior to the apparent death of Yevgeny Prigozhin last week, experts gave The Independent their verdict on what level of threat the mercenaries truly pose in Belarus to its neighbours in the west and south:

Mark Galeotti, director of the Mayak Intelligence consultancy, said he believed Ukraine’s military was not “in the slightest bit worried” about the threat of Wagner attempting to cross its northern border.

But Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, warned that “forces taking orders from Russia or Belarus do not need to be large or well-equipped to cause disruption”.

Wagner threat in Belarus explained as mercenary group ‘a victim of its brand name’

Monday 28 August 2023 18:29 , Andy Gregory

The battlefield situation in eastern Ukraine is “very hot” Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar has said.

Russian troops are gathering new forces there and regrouping, with Moscow was aiming to deploy its best troops there, Ms Maliar said, following claims of 100,000 Russian troops amassing near Lyman and Kupiansk – where residents have been evacuated amid fears of a second Russian takeover, less than a year after the city was liberated and evidence of torture chambers and mass graves uncovered.

Ukrainian forces have continued to advance south of Bakhmut, Ms Maliar said, claiming that Kyiv’s troops have retaken 1 square km around the town, while Russian troops have not made any advances.

Monday 28 August 2023 18:00 , Holly Evans

A British musician who travelled to Lviv to teach displaced Ukrainian teenagers at a summer school has praised their “determination” to learn despite “living and breathing” the ongoing war.

Ashley Valentine spent five days teaching piano lessons to between 15 and 20 displaced teenagers aged 13 to 18 in the western Ukrainian city from August 14, through working with not-for-profit Make It Possible Ukraine.

“[The not-for-profit] rented a little music studio just on the outskirts of the city so I could give piano lessons,” the 40-year-old who lives in East Dulwich, south-east London, told the PA news agency.

Read more here

Musician praises ‘determination’ of Ukrainian teenagers he taught in Lviv

Monday 28 August 2023 17:30 , Holly Evans

Ukraine is mourning the loss of three fighter pilots killed as two training aircraft collided in the skies some 90 miles west of Kyiv.

Singled out for particular praise by president Volodymr Zelensky and Ukraine’s airforce is Captain Andriy Pilshchykov, a pilot who went by the military callsign “Juice”.

The late pilot, who was 30 years old when the crash occured over the western Zhytomyr region on Friday, had become known not just for his defence of Ukraine, but also for his passionate advocacy for the United States to provide Kyiv with F-16 fighter jets.

Who is ‘Juice’? The ‘hero’ Ukrainian pilot killed in mid-air plane crash

Monday 28 August 2023 17:00 , Holly Evans

A Russian helicopter pilot defected to Ukraine after reportedly being “lured” during a six-month intelligence operation, Ukraine claims.

Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency said an Mi-8 helicopter landed at a Ukrainian airfield with the pilot and his unsuspecting crew members, without specifying when.

It comes after a Russian military blogger claimed in recent weeks that a helicopter crossed the border with three people on board after it had lost its way, but Ukraine now claims this was a deliberate move.

Read more from Matt Drake

Russian military pilot ‘defects’ to Ukraine - and brings helicopter with him

Monday 28 August 2023 16:30 , Holly Evans

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will visit Russia soon to discuss the collapsed United Nations deal that had allowed Black Sea exports of Ukrainian grain, a spokesperson for Turkey’s ruling AK Party said on Monday.

The UN- and Turkey-brokered deal lasted a year but ended last month after Moscow quit. Ankara is seeking to persuade Russia to return to the agreement, under which Odesa’s seaports shipped tens of millions of tons of grain.

Since the grain-export deal collapsed, Russian forces have targeted Ukrainian ports with volleys of missiles and kamikaze drones.

Monday 28 August 2023 16:09 , Holly Evans

Russia will be represented by its foreign minister at the G20 summit in New Delhi, President Vladimir Putin told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a phone call on Monday where the two leaders also discussed bilateral ties.

The two leaders also spoke about the planned expansion of the BRICS group of emerging economies - comprising India, Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa - as well as a summit of the G20 club of major economies that New Delhi will host next month.

Last week, Modi and Putin both took part in the BRICS summit in South Africa, though the Russian leader attended only via video link because of an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for him over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

The Kremlin, which strongly denies the ICC allegations, has said Putin would also not attend the G20 gathering in India.

Monday 28 August 2023 15:31 , Holly Evans

Ukrainian forces believe they have broken through the most difficult line of Russian defences in the south and that they will now start advancing more quickly, a commander who led troops into Robotyne has said.

“Robotyne has been liberated,” Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar was quoted as saying by the military.

The settlement is 10 km (six miles) south of the frontline town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region on an important road towards Tokmak, a Russian-occupied road and rail hub.

Tokmak’s capture would be a milestone as Ukrainian troops press southwards towards the Sea of Azov in a military drive that is intended to split Russian forces following Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Monday 28 August 2023 15:00 , Holly Evans

Once a businessman with a catering empire friendly with Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin manoeuvred himself into a position so powerful that, as Russia’s war in Ukraine progressed, he could openly question his paymasters’ strategy.

The owner of the Kremlin-allied Wagner Group, the mercenary force that has fought some of the Russian military’s toughest battles in Ukraine – most notably the drawn-out pursuit of Bakhmut – the 62-year-old stepped into his most dangerous role yet this summer: preaching open rebellion against his country’s military leadership.

Now, two months after his men’s attempted uprising ended in uneasy peace talks, Prigozhin is dead in a plane crash just outside of Moscow.

Read more about the former military leader here

All you need to know about Yevgeny Prigozhin as Wagner chief killed in plane crash

Monday 28 August 2023 14:20 , Holly Evans

Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine have been supported on the battlefield by tens of thousands of mercenaries from a shadowy group led by a businessman and longtime ally of president Vladimir Putin.

The Wagner Group is a private military company that was under the control of Yevgeny Prigozhin until his reported death in a plane crash on Wednesday 23 August.

The unit cut its teeth in deployments to Crimea – illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 – and eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region in the aftermath of that act and has since dispatched troops to several conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, including the Syrian Civil War.

Joe Sommerlad has more

What is the Wagner mercenary group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin?

Monday 28 August 2023 13:41 , Holly Evans

Poland and the Baltic states will close their borders with Belarus entirely if a “critical incident” involving Wagner mercenaries takes place, the Polish interior minister said on Monday, amid rising tensions on NATO’s eastern flank.

EU and NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, which share a border with Belarus, have been increasingly concerned about border security since hundreds of Russian battle-hardened Wagner mercenaries arrived in Belarus at the invitation of President Alexander Lukashenko.

“We demand from the authorities in Minsk that the Wagner Group immediately leave the territory of Belarus and that illegal migrants immediately leave the border area and are sent back to their home countries,” Mariusz Kaminski told a joint press conference with his Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian counterparts.

“If there is a critical incident, regardless of whether it is at the Polish or Lithuanian border, we will retaliate immediately. All border crossings that have been opened so far will be closed,” he said.

Monday 28 August 2023 12:54 , Holly Evans

The Wagner founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is confirmed to have died in a plane crash – a turn of events that appears to leave his Wagner Group fighters rudderless and facing a highly uncertain future.

Prigozhin, a convict, turned gourmet restaurateur, turned warlord, was onboard an Embraer private jet flying from Moscow to St Petersburg when it came down over the Tver region, killing everyone on board. Two other senior commanders, Dmitry Utkin and Valery Chekalov, were also on the passenger list.

Read more about the possible future of the mercenary group

What next for the Wagner Group in Russia?

Monday 28 August 2023 12:00 , Holly Evans

Yevgeny Prigozhin smiled as a crowd of adoring fans surrounded his black SUV on June 24 in Russia’s southern city of Rostov-on-Don and cheered him on.

“You rock!” fans shouted while taking selfies with the chief of the Wagner mercenary group, who was sitting in the vehicle after nightfall. “You’re a lion! Hang in there!”

Prigozhin and his masked, camouflage-clad fighters were leaving the city after a daylong mutiny against the country’s military leadership. President Vladimir Putin decried it as “treason” and vowed punishment, but then cut a deal not to prosecute Prigozhin. Beyond that, his fate looked uncertain.

Read more here.

Prigozhin's final months were overshadowed by questions about what the Kremlin had in store for him

Monday 28 August 2023 11:49 , Holly Evans

Three people were killed in an overnight Russian missile strike on Ukraine, and a fourth was killed in shelling on Monday morning, Ukrainian officials said.

Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said the three people killed overnight were workers at an industrial facility that was hit in the central Poltava region. Five others were wounded and another person was unaccounted for.

Presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak described the facility as a vegetable oil factory in the Myrhorod district of Poltava region, and posted photos showing the plant in flames. Klymenko said the fire had later been extinguished.

“The people were working the night shift,” Yermak said on the Telegram messaging app.

A 63-year-old woman was also confirmed to have been killed in shelling of the village of Sadove in the Kherson region on Monday morning.

Monday 28 August 2023 11:30 , Holly Evans

Ukrainian authorities have launched an investigation after a midair collision between two warplanes in the west of the country killed three pilots.

Ukraine’s air force spokesman Yuri Ihnat told Ukrainian television on Sunday it wasn’t immediately clear how long the probe would take.

According to the air force’s Telegram page, two L-39 training military aircraft collided on Friday during a combat mission over Ukraine’s western Zhytomyr region. Three pilots were killed, including Andriy Pilshchykov, a well-known pilot with the nickname “Juice” who was an outspoken advocate for Ukraine getting F-16 fighter jets.

Read more here

Ukraine investigates incident that killed 3 pilots while Russia attacks with cruise missiles

Monday 28 August 2023 11:00 , Holly Evans

This is the moment Russian officials confirmed the death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash in Moscow.

Listen as Russian officials confirm Yevgeny Prigozhin’s died in plane crash

Monday 28 August 2023 10:30 , Holly Evans

The movie centers around a violinist from Belgium arriving to Kyiv to perform. It is February 2022, and his trip is upended as Russia starts bombing Ukraine. The artist survives a series of “inhuman crimes and bloody provocations by Ukrainian nationalists,” and he is ready to tell the world “what it was really like.”

“The Witness” — a state-sponsored drama that premiered in Russia on Aug. 17 -- is the first feature film about the 18-month-old invasion. The first feature film about the 18-month invasion of Ukraine to hit movie theaters nationwide, it depicts Ukrainian troops as violent neo-Nazis who torture and kill their own people. One wears a T-shirt with Hitler on it. The film also has the main character’s young son wondering: “Isn’t Ukraine Russia?”

It’s the narrative the Kremlin has been promoting since the first days of the war — all packaged up in a motion picture.

Read more

The Ukraine war, propaganda-style, is coming to Russian movie screens. Will people watch?

Monday 28 August 2023 10:00 , Holly Evans

The thunder of mortar fire echoes in the distance as 5-year old David approaches his mother with an innocent request: Can he play with the baseball bat a relative gave him as a gift?

Valeria Pototska rolls her eyes and tells her son no for the umpteenth time. It’s a toy for big kids, she scolds. The boy, who doesn’t so much as flinch when the weapons not far from their town in northeast Ukraine shoot off more rounds, pouts and peddles away on his bicycle.

Other neighborhood children frolic in a playground in Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi, seemingly immune to the war unfolding 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away.

Samya Kullab has more

An evacuation order finds few followers in northeast Ukraine despite Russia's push to retake region

Monday 28 August 2023 09:30 , Holly Evans

A Russian attack overnight has left two people dead and two missing in Ukraine’s central Poltava region, local authorities have said.

Governor Dmytro Lunin wrote on Telegram: “As a result of the hostile attack, two people were killed, two people were taken to hospital with minor injuries, and the whereabouts of two more people are currently unknown.”

Mr Lunin said the attack targeted an industrial facility, but did not provide any further details.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said that Russia had launched four missiles from the Black Sea overnight, with two of these shot down while another missile attack targeted the Kryvyi Rih region.

Local authorities said several private houses were damaged, but they did not report casualties.

Monday 28 August 2023 09:00 , Holly Evans

A resurfaced clip of the Wagner leader who was killed in a plane crash has resurfaced on social media, stoking conspiracy theories about his demise.

In the 40-second clip, the Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin compared Russia’s trajectory in the war to a plane that will “fall apart in the air”.

The ominous comparison has now added fuel to the fire in the theory that the Wagner chief was killed by order of Russian president Vladimir Putin, after Prigozhin has been confirmed as one of the passengers on a private jet that crashed northwest of Moscow with no survivors on Wednesday.

Maryam Zakir-Hussain has more

Wagner boss talks about ‘plane falling apart in the air’ in resurfaced clip

Monday 28 August 2023 08:40 , Holly Evans

Western hopes for Ukraine’s counteroffensive to achieve a dramatic breakthrough have been significantly pared back, with US officials now reportedly forecasting that Kyiv will fall short of its key aim of severing Russia’s land bridge with occupied Crimea.

One of the significant challenges confounding Kyiv’s efforts to redraw the frontline is the millions of mines Russia has laid in their path, to the extent that Ukraine is now being described as the most heavily mined country in the world.

“What we are seeing is an industrial level of mine-laying, particularly anti-tank mines,” said Paul McCann, of the Halo Trust, the world’s largest humanitarian landmine clearance organisation. “Nothing like it [has been] seen in Europe since the Second World War.”

Andy Gregory has more

How ‘industrial-scale’ Russian minefields are hampering Ukraine’s counteroffensive

Monday 28 August 2023 08:30 , Holly Evans

Russia said it shot down a Ukrainian drone flying towards Moscow in the early hours of Monday in an incident that once again briefly disrupted flights over the capital.

Authorities have reported more than a dozen attempted drone attacks on Moscow within the past month, a number of which have forced temporary airport closures.

The drones appear to be probing Moscow’s air defences from different angles, with Monday’s brought down in the Lyubertsy region to the southeast of the capital, according to the defence ministry.

State aviation agency Rosaviatsia said three airports temporarily restricted flights but later returned to normal operation.

Moscow reported the first drone attacks on the capital in early May, when two were fired at the Kremlin without causing damage. Since then they have become a frequent occurrence.

Most have been intercepted by Russian air defences, but several have hit buildings in a business district of the capital.

Monday 28 August 2023 08:00 , Holly Evans

Russia’s FSB security service has charged a former employee of the U.S. consulate in the Russian Far East with collecting information on the war in Ukraine and other issues for Washington, state news agency TASS said on Monday.

The suspect, Robert Shonov, relayed information to US embassy staffers in Moscow on how Russia’s conscription campaign was impacting political discontent ahead of the 2024 presidential election in Russia, TASS quoted the FSB as saying.

The FSB said it planned to question US embassy employees who were in contact with Shonov, a Russian national who has been under arrest since May.

The embassy said in May that “the allegations against Mr. Shonov are wholly without merit”, and his “only role at the time of his arrest was to compile media summaries of press items from publicly available Russian media sources”.

Monday 28 August 2023 07:30 , Holly Evans

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister has said that the south-eastern village of Robotyne has been liberated.

Kyiv’s troops are trying to advance further after the victory, which commanders had previously said could unlock Russia’s defences.

Since launching their counteroffensive in June, Ukraine have been pushing for a significant breakthrough.

The village of Robotyne is considered an important objective as it situated on the road to Tokmak, which defends the road towards Melitopol, the biggest city in the area.

Monday 28 August 2023 07:09 , Arpan Rai

Russia has likely cancelled joint military exercises dubbed Zapad (‘West’) that were due to start imminently, amid a lack of troops and equipment.

The planned “joint strategic exercise” was a major annual event intended to be the culmination of the military’s training year.

“The Russian military’s under-performance in Ukraine has highlighted how JSEs have had limited training value and have largely been for show. Russia has likely cancelled Zapad 23 because too few troops and equipment are available,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update.

It added that there is a “realistic possibility that the Russian leadership is also sensitive to domestic criticism liable from running another slickly presented JSE during wartime”.

“From 2010 Russia ran a four-year cycle, rotating JSEs around the country. However, since 2021, Russia has based the JSE in western Russia at least every second year as it prioritises confronting what it perceives as the threat from Nato. This follows ZAPAD 21, the largest Russian exercise since Soviet times,” the ministry said today.

Joe Sommerlad