Ukraine War Updates: Zelensky Calls Russia a 'Terrorist Country'

Live Updates
  • Over 440 graves at a mass burial site were discovered in the newly-liberated city of Izium. Ukrainian authorities said some of the exhumed bodies show signs of torture.
  • President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said the site will be investigated and called Russia a "terrorist country" for the alleged crimes committed in occupied cities.
  • Ukrainian officials also reported finding 10 "torture chambers" in recaptured cities across the Kharkiv region where they believe Russian forces tortured and interrogated civilians.
  • The Pentagon said Ukrainian forces have reclaimed "significant territory" as part of their latest counteroffensive.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said he will "do everything" to end the conflict in Ukraine and blamed Kyiv for refusing to cooperative in peace negotiations.
  • The United States announced it will send another $600 million in military aid to Ukraine. This aid package includes additional arms, munitions, and equipment from Defense Department inventories.
  • President Biden met with the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, two Americans imprisoned in Russia, to assure them this issue is "front of mind" for the administration, the White House said.
Mass Grave Izium
Ukrainian servicemen search for land mines at a burial site in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum, eastern Ukraine on September 16, 2022. Juan BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images

The live updates for this blog have ended.

Zelensky Calls Russia a 'Terrorist Country'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia a "terrorist country" amid the discovery of a mass grave of civilians in the recently-liberated city of Izium.

"Russia is a terrorist country. I don't know why the world is slow to recognize it," he said in a tweet.

Over 440 graves were found in the burial site in the woods of Izium after Ukrainian forces recaptured the city from Russian control as part of Ukraine's recent counteroffensive efforts.

Zelensky said the number of tortured Ukrainians is "unknown."

"How many more of our people must die so that all finally figured it out?" he asked.

Ukrainian authorities have reported signs of torture on the exhumed bodies and have discovered torture chambers in some recaptured cities across the Kharkiv region.

"There is already clear evidence of torture, humiliating treatment of people," Zelensky said in a statement Friday. "Moreover, there is evidence that Russian soldiers, whose positions were not far from this place, shot at the buried just for fun."

The president said "the world must react to all this."

"Russia has repeated in Izium what it did in Bucha," he said. "And now we have just begun to learn the full truth about what was happening in Kharkiv region at that time."

The United Nations said it will send teams to Izium to investigate the mass grave site and allegation of crimes committed by Russian forces.

Zelensky said the situation at the burial site is still under investigation and that all evidence of potential crimes is being collected.

"It is good that the UN units are already preparing a group of employees who will visit this place near Izium, who will see and be able to report to everyone in the UN system about what the Russian terrorists did," he said.

Zelensky will deliver a pre-recorded address before the United National General Assembly next week.

The U.N. voted Friday to make an exception to its rule that all leaders must speak in person but stressed that this will not set a precedent for future high-level assembly meetings.

Only seven countries opposed the plan: Belarus, Cuba, Eritrea, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia and Syria.

US Addresses Reports of Fraud in Russia Elections

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price criticized recent elections in Russia on Friday following reports of election fraud.

Russia's latest spate of elections "marked another low," Price said in a Friday afternoon tweet. He acknowledged "widespread reports" of "irregularities" as Russians voted, as well as "pre-election persecution of opposition candidates and activists."

"We call on the Kremlin to allow Russia's people to exercise their right to vote freely and fairly," Price's tweet said.

Russia held elections earlier this week. The results indicated victories for many candidates who are allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the leadup to the election, many opposition leaders were reportedly arrested, and some Putin critics called this year's election process "totally senseless."

One candidate, who is a member of the Russian Communist Party, won their election but protested the results on the grounds that the process was reportedly rigged. That candidate said on Twitter they have received congratulations for their win, but "there is nothing to congratulate me on."

UN Atomic Agency Demands Russia Leaves Ukraine Nuclear Plant

The United Nation's atomic agency passed a resolution Thursday demanding Russia leaves the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, amid growing fears that shelling near the facility will lead to a possible radiation disaster.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors voted to pass the resolution. Russia and China opposed and seven other countries, including Egypt, South Africa, Senegal, Burundi, Vietnam, India and Pakistan, abstained.

Canada and Poland proposed the resolution on behalf of Ukraine, who is not a member of the board.

This comes as the IAEA expresses "grave concern" that Russia has "not heeded the call of the Board to immediately cease all actions against and at nuclear facilities in Ukraine."

The IAEA said it "deplores" Russia's "persistent violent actions," including "forcefully seizing of control" of nuclear facilities in Ukraine.

In this resolution, the IAEA calls on Russia to "immediately cease all actions against, and at, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and any other nuclear facility in Ukraine."

The resolution also urges Russia return control of the plant to Ukrainian authorities to "ensure their safe and secure operation" and to allow the organization to "safely conduct its safeguards verification activities."

Russia's presence at the power plant poses "serious and direct threats" to the safety and security of the facility and its staff and raises "the risk of a nuclear accident or incident," which the resolution states will endanger Ukraine, neighboring countries and the international community.

Russian forces have occupied the power station for months but the Ukrainian staff remains to continue operations. The IAEA has previously described the working conditions under Russian control as endangering the site's safety.

The Russian representation to the organization called the resolution "anti-Russian."

"The Achilles' heel of this resolution is that it does not say a word about the systematic shelling of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is the main problem in terms of ensuring nuclear safety and security in the world," the Russian mission said in a statement Thursday, according to the Russian Interfax agency.

The statement added that the shelling near the plant is carried out by Ukraine, "which Western countries support and protect in every possible way."

Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said the resolution was an "adequate response" to the current situation.

"The resolution of the IAEA Board of Governors, demanding that Russia de-occupy the Zaporizhzhia plant, is a good example of an adequate response from an international institution to the actions of a terrorist country," he wrote on Facebook.

The United States said the concern for nuclear safety in Ukraine has been an ongoing issue between Russia and the IAEA.

"This Board took up the issue in March and adopted a resolution that deplored Russia's violent actions and called upon Russia to immediately cease all actions against and at nuclear facilities in Ukraine and return control of them to the competent Ukrainian authorities," the U.S. statement to the board said.

The very next day, the U.S. statement said, Russia seized Zaporizhzhia.

"Russia is treating Ukraine's civilian infrastructure as a military prize, seeking to deprive Ukraine of control over its own energy resources and to use the plant as a base for military action against Ukraine," the statement added.

No Russian Response to WH's Griner, Whelan Offer

The U.S. has not received a response from Russia regarding its "serious offer" about the release of American detainees Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Friday.

During a Friday press briefing, Kirby was asked where discussions regarding Griner's and Whelan's release from Russia stands after Russian officials indicated they were open to negotiations following Griner's sentencing in Russia last month. Kirby said discussions "are ongoing" but that the U.S. has thus far not received a response regarding its release offer.

"We have made a serious offer to get Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan back home," Kirby said. "The Russians have not responded to that offer. But that doesn't mean that we're not still in negotiations, or not still trying."

Kirby said both Griner and Whelan "ought to be home" and that President Joe Biden "is not going to let up."

Biden is "confident that this is going to remain at the forefront of his mind and his team's mind, and they're going to continue to work as hard as they can," Kirby said. "We want these two individuals home, back where they belong with their families. They should be there already."

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that Biden would be meeting with Griner's wife and Whelan's sister at the White House on Friday. Biden was expected to "discuss his continuing commitment to bringing their family members home safely," Jean-Pierre said during a Thursday press briefing.

Kirby said that, though Russia hasn't yet accepted a release deal, Biden wanted to keep communication with the Griner and Whelan families open.

"We have stayed in touch with them throughout, we have kept them informed throughout," Kirby said.

Entire Family Found Buried at Mass Grave in Izium

Entire families were buried in the the mass grave site in Izium, Ukrainian officials report.

The Ukrainian Parliament's Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets said a "whole family" was identified in one of the graves.

The grave included a father, born in 1988, a wife, born in 1991, and their daughter, born in 2016, Lubinets said on Telegram.

"We have testimonies from local people that they all died as a result of an airstrike carried out by planes of the military army of the Russian Federation," he said. "There are many, many similar cases."

Ukrainian servicemen were also buried at the site. Lubinets said there is evidence their hands were tied and they were killed at close range.

He added that journalists and law enforcement officers are recording everything.

"This is the genocide of the Ukrainian nation," Lubinets said. "These are the murders of our children, our women, our men, and this is the civilian population"

Putin Seeks 'Deepening' Partnership With China

Russian President Vladimir Putin is striving to strengthen strategic relationships with India and China, as evidenced by his Thursday meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Friday meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India.

Both meetings took place as the leaders gathered for a summit in Samarkland, Uzbekistan.

During the Thursday meeting, Putin recognized the "friendship" that he said exists between Moscow and Jinping, and said China and Russia "continue strengthening" their existing partnerships. Putin noted trade between Russia and China has grown in recent years and said he anticipates that relationship to continue growing.

Putin said he was "confident" that the summit meetings would "provide an additional boost to deepening Russian-Chinese strategic partnership both bilaterally and internationally."

Vladimir Putin meets with Xi Jinping
China's President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose with Mongolia's President during their trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders' summit in Samarkand on September 15, 2022. ALEXANDR DEMYANCHUK/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

During his Friday meeting with Modi, Putin described their countries' strategic partnership as "privileged" and one that will "continue to develop actively." He said trade is growing between Russia and India, and that Russia is also interested in pursuing "an agreement on visa-free tourist travel."

In both meetings, Putin recognized the concerns China and India have expressed about Russia's ongoing war with Ukraine. He thanked Jinping for China's "balanced position" on the war and said he would "explain in detail our position on this issue" during forthcoming summit talks. Putin similarly acknowledged Modi's "concerns" about the war and said Russia "will do our best to make it stop as soon as possible" but alleged Ukraine has been "abandoning the negotiation process" in pursuit of military action.

Putin told reporters on Friday that Russia isn't "in a rush" in regards to the war and said strikes from Russian forces in the last few days should be thought of as "warning strikes," according to the Associated Press.

Vladimir Putin meets with Narendra Modi
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders' summit in Samarkand on September 16, 2022. ALEXANDR DEMYANCHUK/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Ten Torture Chambers Found in Kharkiv

Torture chambers used by Russian forces have been discovered in recently-liberated cities in the Kharkiv region, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Ihor Klymenko, the head of the Ukrainian National Police, said at least ten were used as torture chambers during Russian occupation in the area, including two in the city of Balakliia and six in Izium and one each in the village of Hrakove and the city of Vovchansk.

Russian troops allegedly used local police stations in Balakliia to torture civilians.

Deputy Police Chief of Kharkiv Oblast Serhii Bolvinov said Russian forced held at least 40 people captive in the station.

"According to witnesses, they were tortured in different ways," Bolvinov said. He added that the "easiest" torture was with an electric shock.

The National Police confirmed the death of a 40-year-old man.

"This is a local farmer who was tortured to death. He was killed by a noose," Klymenko said, according to Euromaiden Press.

In Izium, Klymenko said the torture facilities were located at the district administration, the local police station, the building of the Security Service, the prosecutor's office, the center for providing administrative services and the military commissariat.

The Ukrainian Parliament's Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets said Russians were "beating testimony out of people" in a dark basement so that they would confess to being spies for the Ukrainian armed forces.

"I want the whole world to look at these conditions, the violations of the Geneva Conventions by the Russian Federation, so that everyone understands that Ukraine is fighting a terrorist state and we can only win together," he said.

US Says Ukraine Has Reclaimed 'Significant Territory'

Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Ukraine has made "significant" territorial gains in recent days as part of its ongoing war with Russia.

Ukraine's counteroffensive is ongoing in the Kharkiv region in the north and in the Kherson region in the south, Ryder said during a Friday afternoon media briefing.

In Ukraine's northern region, "What we assess is that the Ukrainians are consolidating their gains after taking back significant territory, and that the Russians are attempting to shore up their defensive lines after having been pushed back," Ryder said. In the southern parts of the country, Ukrainian troops "continue to make what we would assess is deliberate, calculated forward movement as the Russians continue to try to hold that line," he said.

The U.S. is meanwhile focused on "providing [Ukraine] the support that they need in their fight," Ryder said.

Ryder was also asked if the Pentagon is aware of any connections between Russia's war with Ukraine and the recent fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Ryder said he was aware of existing press reports but had the understanding that there was a "truce" between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Pentagon is calling for an "immediate and full cessation of hostilities," between the two countries, Ryder said.

Kharkiv Governor Says Bodies in Izium Show Signs of Torture

The governor of the Kharkiv region said the scale of the crimes committed by Russian forces in Izium is "huge."

A mass burial site in the recently-liberated city of Izium was discovered Thursday with over 450 graves of mostly civilian bodies.

Governor Oleh Syniehubov said in a Facebook post that many of the bodies recovered had "traces of violent death and torture."

"This is a bloody cruel terror," he said.

Most of the graves did not have names, only markers. Law enforcement officers began to exhume bodies Friday. Syniehubov said those buried include children.

Масштаби скоєних окупантами злочинів в Ізюмі - величезні. Це кривавий жорстокий терор. Буча, Ірпінь, Маріуполь… Ізюм. Це геноцид українського народу! 450 тіл цивільних людей зі слідами...

Syniehubov said "99 percent" of the bodied exhumed at the mass burial site in Izium "show signs of violent death."

"There are several bodies with hands tied behind their backs and one person buried with a rope around their neck," he wrote. "Apparently these people were tortured and executed."

There are 200 law enforcement officers and experts on the site, Syniehubov said. The bodies will be sent for forensic examination to determine the cause of death.

Once the bodies are identified, they will "all be buried with proper honor," Syniehubov said.

"Every death will be investigated and become proof of Russia's military crimes in international courts," he said.

Germany Assumes Control of Three Russian Refineries

Germany announced on Friday that it will be taking control of the Russian-owned Rosneft Deutschland refinery company and three oil refineries associated with it.

Rosneft is located in Berlin and is one of the biggest oil processing companies in Germany, with about 12 percent of the country's refined oil coming from Rosneft Deutschland. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action of Germany (BMWK) said Rosneft Deutschland will be under Germany's control due to energy security concerns amid Russia's ongoing war with Ukraine.

The decision went into effect on Friday and will be in place for at least six months, the BMWK said in a Friday news release.

Russia is one of the world's top producers of oil, but the global community has been concerned about Russia's dependability as a supplier due to the war. Countries in the European Union (EU) have recently taken steps to reduce their reliance on Russian oil, with EU nations agreeing earlier this year to place an embargo on about 90 percent of Russian oil by the end of 2022, according to the Associated Press.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Friday's decision is "ensuring that Germany is supplied with oil in the medium- and long-term as well," according to the AP. He described the move as "a far-reaching energy policy decision" intended "to protect our country" at a time when Russia "isn't a reliable supplier of energy anymore."

Olaf Scholz Rosneft oil refineries
(L-R) German Minister of Economics and Climate Protection Robert Habeck, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Brandenburg's State Premier Dietmar Woidke address a press conference on September 16, 2022 at the Chancellery in Berlin. JENS SCHLUETER/AFP via Getty Images

Putin Will 'Do Everything' to End Conflict in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would "do everything" to end the conflict in Ukraine during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan.

According to Russian state media, Putin said he is aware of Modi's position on the conflict in Ukraine and "concerns" he has "repeatedly expressed."

"We will do everything to ensure that this all stops as quickly as possible," Putin said.

He added that Kyiv refuses to negotiate.

"Unfortunately, the leadership of Ukraine announced its refusal from the negotiation process and that it wants to achieve its goals by military means," Putin said.

Putin later told the press that Ukraine "backtracked" on all agreements with Russia to "achieve victory on the battlefield."

Chinese President Xi Jinping also expressed his "questions and concern" regarding the war in Ukraine during his meeting with Putin Thursday.

He added that he will keep India informed on what is happening in Ukraine.

Modi told Putin that now is not a time for war, as food, fertilizer and energy security remain major global concerns, according to Reuters.

"I know that today's era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this," Modi told his Russian counterpart on the sidelines of the summit. He added that democracy, diplomacy and dialogue keep the world together.

Puitn said Russian trade is "growing" thanks to the additional supplies of Russian fertilizers to Indian markets, "which have grown more than eight fold."

"I am hopeful that this is going to be of huge help of the agricultural sector of India," he added.

Poland, South Korea Sign $3B Military Deal

Poland's deputy prime minister signed a deal with South Korea on Friday for a military aircraft purchase valued at about $3 billion.

Poland's Ministry of National Defense posted a photo on Twitter Friday of Deputy Prime Minister Mariusz Blaszczak at the deal signing, which secured Poland's purchase of 48 FA-50 fighter planes. The ministry said the aircraft will be used by the Polish Armed Forces.

"With K2 tanks and K9 howitzers contracts it is one of the biggest and most important purchase of the recent years," the ministry said.

Poland is one of several countries that has provided Ukraine with military equipment in the months since Russia invaded Ukraine. Poland is now working on bringing in new military equipment to replace the items it sent to aid in the ongoing war effort, according to the Associated Press.

The first set of military aircraft included in the deal are expected to be sent to Poland next year, while the remaining planes will be sent from 2025 to 2028, the AP reported. The planes will all reportedly be compatible with current military aircraft Poland uses and is contracted to receive.

Polish President Andrzej Duda also attended the signing ceremony at an air base in Minsk Mazowiecki. He said the deal could be an opportunity for South Korea to expand its involvement in the European market.

More than 1.3 million Ukrainian refugees have entered Poland since the invasion began, according to United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR.

Russian Military Ramping Up Recruitment Efforts, U.K Says

The Russian military appears to be ramping up recruitment and training efforts to get more troops on the battlefield amid Ukraine's aggressive counteroffensive.

A Russian military company is recruiting Russian convicts for service in Ukraine for months, the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence reports.

The Kremlin-linked company Wagner Group has been working on its recruitment campaign since at least July, according to the latest British intelligence. Prisoners have been offered commutation of their sentences and cash incentives in exchange for fighting in Ukraine.

"This has been reinvigorated, with recently posted video highly likely showing Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin making a recruitment pitch to prisoners," the U.K. Defence Ministry said. "In the video, Prigozhin emphasises that he is only seeking 'fighters for assault units'."

Russian military academies are also shortening the timeline to get soldiers on the battlefield quicker as Russian forces face more losses in Ukraine. The U.K. said the academies are shortening training courses and brining cadets graduation dates forward.

"This is almost certainly so cadets can be deployed to support the Ukraine operation," the U.K. reports. "The impact of Russia's manpower challenge has become increasingly severe."

These factors suggest that the most critical shortages within the Russian military are combat infantry and junior commanders, according to the U.K.

U.S. Pledges Another $600 Million to Ukraine

The United States announced it will send another $600 million in military assistance to Ukraine as Ukrainian forces continue their counteroffensive against Russia.

The latest package includes additional arms, munitions and equipment from U.S. Department of Defense inventories.

"Together with our Allies and partners, we are delivering the arms and equipment that Ukraine's forces are utilizing so effectively as they continue their successful counter-offensive against Russia's invasion," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. "President Biden has been clear we will support the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes."

The new package includes:

  • Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS)
  • 36,000 105mm artillery rounds
  • 1,000 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds
  • Four counter-artillery radars
  • Four trucks and eight trailers to transport heavy equipment
  • Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems
  • Mine clearing equipment
  • Claymore anti-personnel munitions
  • Demolition munitions and equipment
  • Small arms and ammunition
  • Night vision devices, cold weather gear, and other field equipment.

In total, the Biden administration has sent approximately $15.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the invasion began.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked his U.S. counterpart for the latest assistance package.

"I praise the decision by [President Joe Biden] to allocate up to $600 million as another defense aid package for [Ukraine]," he said in a tweet. "Together we'll win!"

Over 440 Graves Found in Izium, Ukraine Says

A mass burial site has been discovered in the newly-liberated city of Izium, Ukraine reports.

After Ukrainian forces recaptured the city from Russian occupation in the Kharkiv region, officials found at least 440 graves.

Ukrainian and international authorities are investigating. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnky said the "necessary procedural actions have already begun there."

Soldiers at Burial Site
Grave at Burial Site
Solider at Mass Grave Site
Mass Burial Site Izium

"We want the world to know what is really happening and what the Russian occupation has led to," Zelensky said in an address. "Bucha, Mariupol, now, unfortunately, Izyum; Russia leaves death everywhere. And it must be held accountable for that. The world must hold Russia to real account for this war. We will do everything for this."

It is not clear yet who died or how they were killed but Ukrainian authorities believe a majority of those buried are civilians. At least one mass grave had a marker that indicated it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukrainian Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Enin said bodied exhumed showed "traces of a violent death, but also of torture."

"All these traces of war crimes are now carefully documented by us. And we know from the experience of Bucha that the worst crimes can only be exposed over time," Enin said in an interview with Ukraine's Radio NV. "This is just the beginning."

Forensic Technicians at Mass Grave
Cross Removal at Mass Grave
Bodies in Izium
Body in Mass Grave

Oleh Kotenko, the Ukrainian government's commissioner for missing persons, said the number of those killed in Izium may be much higher than in Bucha, the Kyiv Independent reported.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Right's office (OHCHR) said it will send a team to investigate the claims of a mass grave in Izium "soon."

"Our colleagues in Ukraine are following up on these allegations, and they are aiming at organising a monitoring visit to Izium to determine the circumstances of the death of these individuals," spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell told several news outlets.