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Ukrainian forces begin counter-offensive to retake Kherson; UN nuclear inspection team 'on its way' to Zaporizhzhia plant

This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on August 29, 2022. See here for the latest updates. 

U.N. inspectors head to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant; Ukraine launches counteroffensive
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U.N. inspectors head to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant; Ukraine launches counteroffensive

A spokesperson for Ukraine's southern military command told NBC News that Russian troops were retreating from some areas where Ukraine launched a counter-offensive overnight.

Ukrainian forces began the counter-offensive to retake the Russian-occupied territory of Kherson, the military command announced earlier.

Meanwhile, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is set to visit Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant this week after months of growing international alarm over the fighting surrounding the facility, which has been occupied by Russian forces since March.

Russian forces continued to shell military and civilian infrastructure in the eastern Donetsk region, killing civilians overnight, the regional governor said.

Ukraine claims Russians are retreating from some positions in south

A spokesperson for Ukraine's southern military command told NBC News that Russian troops were retreating from some areas in the south of the country, where Kyiv claims it started a counteroffensive against Russian troops.

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for the southern military command, said in a telephone interview that "under the pressure of our actions, the enemy began to retreat. It is currently recorded that the enemy has withdrawn from some of its positions," NBC News reported.

NBC News was unable to verify the spokesperson's claims, and both Humeniuk and outside observers expressed caution about drawing early conclusions.

The British Ministry of Defense said Tuesday morning local time that Ukraine increased artillery fire along the front in southern Ukraine starting on Monday, but "it is not yet possible to confirm the extent of Ukrainian advances."

Neil Melvin, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told NBC News that early reports indicated "that Ukrainian forces have broken through the first set of Russian defenses in places around Kherson."

— Ted Kemp

Zelenskyy calls on French businessmen to help Ukraine rebuild

Rescue teams dig through the rubble of buildings destroyed in overnight attacks in a search for survivors, in the city of Chuhuiv, Kharkiv region, on July 25, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky asked French businesses to consider bidding on contracts to help build Ukraine's infrastructure.

"Ukraine can give you thousands of contracts, thousands of jobs. We need your experience and your participation in post-war reconstruction," Zelenskyy said in a speech.

"We invite construction companies to take part in infrastructure reconstruction, localization of production of construction materials. We invite companies that can help in the modernization of communal infrastructure - water supply, water purification, waste sorting and processing. We invite energy companies to produce and store gas, build green energy, produce hydrogen and develop our nuclear energy industry," Zelenskyy added.

He also said that French automotive companies should compete for contracts to localize the production of car parts.

— Amanda Macias

Putin using Zaporizhzhia to hold Ukraine's energy supply hostage, White House says

A Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in Energodar on May 1, 2022. Europe's largest nuclear power station has become a fighting ground for the conflict, with both sides blaming each other for attacks on and around the complex.
Andrey Borodulin | Afp | Getty Images

The Biden administration welcomed news that the International Atomic Energy Agency would soon inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The White House also contended that Russia is using its control of the facility to compromise Ukraine's energy supply.

"This would require knowing exactly what he has in mind and that's difficult for us to ascertain on any day, particularly on any issue with respect to Ukraine," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on a conference call when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin's intentions.

"What we can piece together, based on their activities and their actions, is that at the very least we ascertain that by holding that plant, he can hold Ukraine hostage with respect to their own electrical power capability," Kirby said.

"The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant basically controls all the electrical power for much of southern Ukraine and even beyond, so he can hold that power hostage. He ... could actually potentially use some of that power inside Russia if he wanted to," Kirby added.

— Amanda Macias

Russia is not using Iranian drones on the battlefield in Ukraine, White House says

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi greets Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 19, 2022. Putin likely wanted to show that Moscow is still important in the Middle East by visiting Iran, said John Drennan of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Sergei Savostyanov | AFP | Getty Images

The White House said that it has not yet seen Russia use Iranian drones on the battlefield in Ukraine.

"We're watching this very closely," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on a conference call.

"We haven't seen any indication that there's any lack of effort or desire by the Russians to procure Iranian drones for the purpose of using them in Ukraine," he said, referencing U.S. declassified intelligence that Moscow was in talks with Tehran to buy drones.

Iran is one of Russia's closest allies.

— Amanda Macias

At least 488 Ukrainian health-care facilities have been attacked since war started, WHO says

Injured people receive treatment at a hospital after surviving Russian attacks in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 24, 2022.
Alejandro Martinez | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Since the Kremlin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, there have been at least 488 attacks on vital health services in the country, the World Health Organization's Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care estimates.

The organization reports that health care facilities were damaged 410 times, ambulances were targeted in 72 cases and at least 138 attacks affected crucial medical supplies. The group also estimated that attacks on health services led to at least 100 deaths and 129 injuries.

The Kremlin has previously denied that it targets civilian infrastructure like hospitals, schools and apartment buildings.

— Amanda Macias

Nearly 7 million Ukrainians have become refugees from Russia’s war

Nearly 7 million Ukrainians have become refugees and moved to neighboring countries since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the U.N. Refugee Agency estimates.

More than 3.9 million of those people have applied for temporary resident status in neighboring Western countries, according to data collected by the agency.

"The escalation of conflict in Ukraine has caused civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure, forcing people to flee their homes seeking safety, protection and assistance," the U.N. Refugee Agency wrote.

— Amanda Macias

IAEA inspectors will begin work at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant 'in the coming days'

A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine August 4, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

 Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are expected to arrive in Kyiv today and will begin their work at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant "in the coming days."

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi will lead the team of 14 international experts, the ministry said.

"Ukraine's position is clear: the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant by Russian troops and the importation of a large amount of military equipment and ammunition into its territory in violation of all international rules exposes the nuclear plant to extreme danger, including provoking a nuclear incident," the ministry wrote in a statement, according to an NBC News translation.

— Amanda Macias

International Committee of the Red Cross official heads to Ukraine to observe humanitarian work

General view of Ukrainian refugees looked after by Red Cross volunteers inside the Red Cross Headquarters on April 7, 2022 in Settimo Torinese near Turin, Italy. 
Stefano Guidi | Getty Images

Robert Mardini, the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, will travel to Ukraine to observe the group's humanitarian activities throughout the country. 

Mardini is expected to visit programs around Kyiv and in Mykolaiv, the Geneva-based group said. He is expected to meet with Ukrainian communities supported by the ICRC as well as local authorities.

Mardini will also visit Russia to continue the ICRC's "bilateral discussions on humanitarian issues related to the international armed conflict."

— Amanda Macias

Kuleba calls on international community to urge Russia to remove its troops from Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

A Russian serviceman stands guard the territory outside the second reactor of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar on May 1, 2022.
Andrey Borodulin | AFP | Getty Images

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on the international community to demand the Russian withdrawal of troops from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

"We know that Russia has put not only Ukraine but also the whole world at risk of a nuclear incident. The international community should be united by one demand: the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant," he said during a press conference alongside Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

When asked about the IAEA's mission to inspect the nuclear facility, Europe's largest plant, Kuleba hailed the inspectors. He said the job "will be the most difficult in the history of the IAEA."

"They have extensive experience in inspecting nuclear power plants around the world under the most difficult circumstances. Without exaggeration, this mission will be the most difficult in the history of the IAEA, given the active hostilities and means used by Russia to legitimize its presence there," Kuleba said, according to an NBC News translation.

— Amanda Macias

Nokia and Ericsson to wind down Russian business operations

Finnish mobile phone companies Ericsson and Nokia will wind down their business activities in Russia by the end of this year, representatives from the companies said.

"By the end of the year, the vast majority of our employees in Russia will have moved on from Nokia, and we have vacated all of our offices," a spokesperson for Nokia said. "We will retain a formal presence in the country until the legal closure is completed."

Ericsson announced in April that it was indefinitely suspending its operations in the country following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, while Nokia said it would leave the country entirely.

Ericsson had about 400 employees in Russia and put them on paid leave earlier in the year, and reported a $95 million loss as a result of halting its activities there. It said it would provide financial help to its employees hit by the departure. Nokia had about 2,000 employees in Russia, and says its remaining presence in the country is related to critical maintenance work and fulfilling contractual obligations.

The Finnish firms are among hundreds of Western and other foreign companies that have left Russia since it invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

— Natasha Turak

Ukrainian forces begin counter-offensive to retake Kherson

Ukrainian troops are beginning their long-awaited counter-offensive to recapture the southern region of Kherson from Russian forces, Ukraine's military command has announced.

"Today we started offensive actions in various directions, including in the Kherson region," the spokesperson for Ukraine's southern command, Natalia Humenyuk, was quoted as saying by local media.

Ukraine's strikes on some of Russia's vital supply routes and bridges in the south, as well as several ammunition depots, had "unquestionably weakened the enemy," she added, without further elaborating on the details of the counter-offensive.

Ukrainian artillerymen in the military assembly center check the weapons and special equipment to make them ready before they go to their duties at the frontline in Kherson, Ukraine on July 15, 2022.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Kherson is highly strategic for Russia, as it provides a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. Ukrainian and U.S. officials have warned that Moscow is planning a "sham" referendum to justify annexing Kherson. The Kremlin denies this, saying it will simply be following the will of the people.

Sporadic acts of resistance by Ukrainians have been reported in Kherson since its occupation, including several protests in the first months of the war.

— Natasha Turak

UN says at least 5,663 killed in Ukraine since start of war

An Orthodox priest serves at the graves of unidentified civilians during their funeral at a local cemetary in the city of Bucha, Kyiv region, on August 11, 2022. 
Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

The United Nations has confirmed 5,663 civilian deaths and 8,055 injuries in Ukraine since Russia invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor on Feb. 24.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher, because the armed conflict can delay fatality reports.

The international organization said most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, as well as missiles and airstrikes.

— Amanda Macias

Eight civilians killed in Russian strikes on Donetsk, regional governor says

Several towns in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region came under fire from Russian forces overnight, Ukraine's military said, resulting in civilian deaths. Russian shelling hit civilian and military infrastructure around the towns of Bakhmut, Kodema, Shumy, Zaytsevo and Yakovlyvka, Reuters reported, citing the military.

Firefighters try to put out a fire after the Russian shelling of a house in Bakhmut in Donetsk, Ukraine, on July 27, 2022.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The attacks killed eight civilians in the battered Donetsk province, its governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said. Moscow says it does not target civilians.

Russia as of July occupied roughly half of Donetsk and the whole of Luhansk province, putting it in majority control of the long-fought-over Donbas province, which the Kremlin calls an "unconditional priority."

— Natasha Turak

Ukraine may face its coldest winter in decades, head of state gas company says

Ukraine could be seeing its coldest winter in decades over the coming months, the head of its state gas company Naftogaz said, as centralized heating infrastructure will turn on later in the season and be turned off earlier than normal.

Temperatures indoors will be kept about four degrees lower than in previous years, Naftogaz chief Yuriy Vitrenko said, at between 62 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit (between 17 and 18 degrees Celsius) as the country grapples with shortages of power — and revenue to pay for that power — due to the Russian invasion, now in its seventh month.

Vitrenko said that people should make sure to have a supply of warm clothing and blankets. Average winter temperatures in Ukraine can fall below 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius).

Ukraine's centralized heating figures also depend on the financial aid they receive from allies to be able to import sufficient gas supplies, as well as whether Russian forces harm vital gas and power infrastructure.

— Natasha Turak

Russian Defense Minister Shoigu being sidelined, Britain's Defense Ministry says

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has lost some of his authority as commanders are starting to report directly to President Vladimir Putin instead, Britain's Ministry of Defense wrote in its daily intelligence update on Twitter, citing independent Russian media reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a wreath-laying ceremony, which marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany in 1941, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall in Moscow, Russia June 22, 2022. 
Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

"Recent independent Russian media reports have claimed that due to the problems Russia is facing in its war against Ukraine, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu is now being side-lined within the Russian leadership, with operational commanders briefing President Putin directly on the course of the war," the ministry wrote.

It added that "Shoigu has likely long struggled to overcome his reputation as lacking substantive military experience, as he spent most of his career in the construction sector and the Ministry of Emergency Situations."

— Natasha Turak

IAEA nuclear inspection team 'on its way' to Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia plant

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, points on a map of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as he informs the press about the situation of nuclear powerplants in Ukraine during a special press conference at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria on March 4, 2022.
Joe Klamar | AFP | Getty Images

A team from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog is at last on its way to Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, after months of fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces around the facility and amid growing fear of a potential nuclear catastrophe.

"The day has come, the IAEA's support and assistance mission to Zaporizhzhia (ISAMZ) is now on its way," the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said via Twitter.

"We must protect the safety and security of Ukraine's and Europe's biggest nuclear facility. Proud to lead this mission which will be in ZNPP later this week."

The mission will inspect physical damage to the plant and evaluate its safety and security, assess the conditions of the staff there and carry out urgent safety protocols, the agency said.

— Natasha Turak

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