Ukraine welcomes home 'heroes' after prisoner swap; Russian mobilization sparks anti-war protests

This has been CNBC's live blog covering updates on the war in Ukraine. [Follow the latest updates here.]

Putin doubles down on war despite internal resistance
Putin doubles down on war despite internal resistance

Anti-war protests have erupted in Russia after President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of the country's military that will see 300,000 reservists sent to war in Ukraine.

Ten prisoners of war from five countries, including the U.S. and U.K., have been released after being detained in Russian-held areas of Ukraine on Wednesday as part of a wider prisoner exchange between the warring countries in which several hundred Ukrainian soldiers were exchanged for Russian troops.

The prisoner exchange was something of a surprise on a day when tensions between Russia and the West rose even higher after Putin announced the partial mobilization and again blamed the West for the conflict in Ukraine.

Following Putin's announcement, President Joe Biden called on the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday to stand in solidarity with Ukraine and oppose Russian aggression, condemning the Kremlin's invasion as an attack on the global body's founding principles.

Zelenskyy urges Russians to protest Putin's mobilization order

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits the Kharkiv region for the first time since Russia started attacks against his country, on May 29, 2022.
Ukrainian Presidency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Voldomyr Zelenskyy urged Russians to protest President Vladimir Putin's announcement that he would mobilize 300,000 Russian troops for war.

"I'll explain what is happening to the Russians in Russian," Zelenskyy said, speaking Russian in a nightly address on the Telegram messaging app.

"55,000 Russian soldiers died in this war in six months. Tens of thousands are wounded and maimed. Want more? No? Then protest. Fight back. Run away. Or surrender to the Ukrainian forces. These are the options for you to survive," he added.

Zelenskyy said that Russia's mobilization of additional troops, the first since World War II, is proof that the Kremlin's mighty military has faced stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces.

"The Russian leadership is reacting precisely to the fact of Ukrainian strength in changing its tactics and trying to draw even more Russian citizens and resources into the war," he said.

— Amanda Macias

Russian foreign minister leaves U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine early

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gives an annual press conference on Russian diplomacy in 2021, in Moscow on January 14, 2022.
Dimitar Dilkoff | Afp | Getty Images

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left a United Nations Security Council meeting early after he defended his country's war in Ukraine.

Lavrov, who arrived late to the meeting and missed remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other U.S. allies, accused Kyiv of openly threatening Russia's security.

"Over the past few years, the Kyiv regime has conducted a frontal assault on the Russian language. It brazenly trampled on the rights of Russian and Russian-speaking people in Ukraine," Lavrov said.

"Everything I've said today simply confirms that the decision to conduct the special military operation was inevitable," he added, using the Kremlin's term for its invasion.

Once he was done speaking, he left the U.N. chamber and his deputy Sergey Vershinin remained in position.

— Amanda Macias

Baltics say no automatic asylum for Russians fleeing draft

People walk past the Narva sign next to the border crossing from Estonia into Russia over the Narva River on May 27, 2022 in Narva, Estonia.
Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images

The three Baltic states say they are not prepared to automatically offer asylum to Russians fleeing mobilization into the military, hoping that discontent with the Russian authorities will grow at home instead.

Large numbers of Russians rushed Wednesday to book one-way tickets out of the country after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of military reservists for the war in Ukraine.

There was little sign of any pressure at the borders of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after those countries closed their borders to most Russians earlier in the week.

In Latvia, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Thursday that Latvia would not issue humanitarian or other visas to Russians seeking to avoid mobilization, citing security reasons.

"We must not give in to his (Putin's) blackmail and must support Ukraine as much as we can. Russia today is as dangerous to Europe and world peace as Nazi Germany was in the last century," said Rinkevics, according to the Baltic News Service.

— Associated Press

North Korea denies sending arms to Russia amid Ukraine war

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, Thursday, April 25, 2019.
Alexander Zemlianichenko | Pool | AP

North Korea says it hasn't exported any weapons to Russia during the war in Ukraine and has no plans to do so, and said U.S. intelligence reports of weapons transfers were an attempt to tarnish North Korea's image.

In a state media report Thursday, an unnamed North Korean defense official told the U.S. to stop making "reckless remarks" and to "keep its mouth shut." Biden administration officials earlier this month confirmed a declassified U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia was in the process of purchasing arms from North Korea, including millions of artillery shells and rockets, as Moscow attempts to ease severe supply shortages in Ukraine worsened by U.S.-led export controls and sanctions.

The North Korean statement came weeks after Moscow described the U.S. intelligence finding as "fake."

North Korean arms exports to Russia would violate United Nations resolutions banning the country from importing or exporting weapons.

— Associated Press

INFOGRAPHIC: Where Ukraine's agricultural products are going since exports resumed

Before the war, Ukraine and Russia accounted for almost a quarter of global grain exports, until those shipments came to a severe halt for nearly six months.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a U.N.-backed deal, eased Russia's naval blockade and reopened three key Ukrainian ports. The deal, which was signed in Istanbul in July, has granted the safe passage of more than 180 ships carrying a total of 4.2 million metric tons of products.

Here's a look at what Ukraine is exporting and where it is going:

— Amanda Macias

Blinken to meet with Chinese counterpart at U.N. as Beijing signals discomfort with Russia's war

Taiwan was the focus of the 90-minute, "direct and honest" talks between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Stefani Reynolds | Afp | Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the 77th United Nations General Assembly.

The meeting between Blinken and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi comes as the Biden administration works to deter governments from providing assistance to the Kremlin for its fight in Ukraine.

Washington has long voiced concerns about Beijing's alignment with Moscow and the possibility that the world's second-largest economy may attempt to help Russia blunt punishing global sanctions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said China, one of the few global powers not to condemn the Kremlin's aggression, had "questions and concerns" about the war.

— Amanda Macias

Ukrainian forces find large Russian ammo stocks after troop withdrawals

Photos show ammunition belonging to Russian forces after they withdrew from the village of Nova Husarivka in Balakliya, Kharkiv Oblast.

Ukrainian forces found a large amount of ammunition belonging to the Russian forces during their searches in the village. (
Metin Atkas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A photo shows control point belonging to the Russian forces after Russian forces withdrew at the village of Nova Gusarivka as Russia-Ukraine war continues in Balakliya, Kharkiv Oblast on Ukraine on September 21, 2022. 
Metin Atkas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
 Ukrainian forces found a large amount of ammunition belonging to the Russian forces during their searches in the village. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Metin Atkas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A photo shows military uniforms, lunch boxes and a large number of ammunitions belonging to the Russian forces after Russian forces withdrew at the village of Nova Gusarivka as Russia-Ukraine war continues in Balakliya, Kharkiv Oblast on Ukraine on September 21, 2022.
Metin Atkas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

— Metin Atkas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

UK says Putin's war call-up likely an admission Russia has exhausted supply of willing volunteers

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with heads of the country's leading engineering schools and their industrial partners in the city of Veliky Novgorod, Russia, September 21, 2022.
Gavriil Grigorov | Sputnik | via Reuters

Britain's Defense Ministry says Russian President Vladimir Putin's order to mobilize more troops "is effectively an admission that Russia has exhausted its supply of willing volunteers to fight in Ukraine."

In its daily intelligence update posted via Twitter, the U.K. Ministry of Defense says it expects the Kremlin "to struggle with the logistical and administrative challenges" of mustering an additional 300,000 personnel for the Ukraine war.

"Putin is accepting considerable political risk in the hope of generating much needed combat power," the ministry said.

— Sam Meredith

Finland says traffic arriving at Russia border increased overnight

Cars with Russian number plates wait to cross the Nuijamaa border crossing between Finland and Russia in Lappeenranta, Finland, on September 19, 2022.
Lauri Heino | AFP | Getty Images

The Finnish Border Guard said traffic at the country's eastern border with Russia "intensified" overnight, Reuters reported, following President Vladimir Putin's order to mobilize more troops for the Ukraine war.

"The number has clearly picked up," Matti Pitkaniitty, the Finnish Border Guard's head of international affairs, told Reuters. He added that the situation was under control and border guards were ready at nine checkpoints.

Prices of one-way flights out of Russia surged after Putin announced a partial mobilization of the country's military and images on social media appeared to show long queues at border posts.

— Sam Meredith

'Our heroes are free': Ukraine rejoices at release of prisoners

Russia and Ukraine exchanged 200 prisoners of war on September 21, 2022 as a result of Turkiye's mediation and diplomatic traffic conducted with the leaders of the two countries, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced.
Security Service of Ukraine | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukraine's top officials are hailing the release of several hundred Ukrainian fighters as part of a prisoner swap with Russia that took place on Wednesday.

"President Volodymyr Zelenskyy set a clear task: to return our heroes.  The result: our heroes are free," the head of President Zelenskyy's office Andrii Yermak said on Telegram last night.

Over 200 Ukrainian prisoners were swapped for 55 Russian troops and a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician as well as 10 foreign prisoners of war who had been fighting in Ukraine.

Yermak said that among the Ukrainian prisoners freed there were "soldiers, border guards, policemen, sailors, national guardsmen, territorial defense fighters, customs officers, civilians."

"Among them are officers, commanders, heroes of Ukraine, defenders of 'Azovstal' [a steelworks complex in Mariupol defended by Ukrainian fighters during a long seige] and pregnant military women," he added.

Russia and Ukraine exchanged prisoners of war on September 21, 2022.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

"This is a tremendous success and I am grateful to everyone involved in this operation - everyone who has done this titanic work.  I sincerely congratulate our heroes on their return home.  We will provide them with all the necessary help - medical, social and any other," he said.

He added that the 10 foreign fighters were in the city of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, which helped brokered their release, before they travel home to their respective home countries.

— Holly Ellyatt

Over 1,300 detained in nationwide anti-war protests

Police officers detain a man following calls to protest against partial mobilisation announced by Russian President, in Moscow, on September 21, 2022.
Alexander Nemenov | AFP | Getty Images

More than 1,300 people have been arrested in Russia following nationwide protests over President Vladimir Putin's decision to mobilize more troops for the war in Ukraine.

Around 1,307 people were detained in 39 cities across the country, according to the independent human rights group OVD-Info.

The largest numbers were arrested in the capital city of Moscow (at least 527) and St. Petersburg (at least 480).

— Sam Meredith

Foreign fighters freed after significant prisoner exchange

Ten prisoners of war from five countries, including the U.S. and U.K., have been released after being detained in Russian-held areas of Ukraine on Wednesday as part of a wider prisoner exchange.

The prisoner swap came after Saudi Arabia brokered a deal between Russia and Ukraine, the Saudi government said in a statement. The deal saw 10 prisoners of war — Moroccan, U.S., U.K. and Swedish and Croatian nationals — exchanged as part of a larger prisoner swap between Moscow and Kyiv.

Some of the POWs had been put on "trial" in courts set up by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and had been told they faced the death penalty for fighting in Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine exchanged around 200 prisoners of war on Sept. 21, 2022.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

As part of a wider prisoner exchange also brokered by Turkey, Russia exchanged 215 Ukrainian soldiers, including those who were holed up in the Azovstal steelworks complex in Mariupol in a long-running siege in the early stages of the conflict, for 55 Russian soldiers and a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician and oligarch, Viktor Medvechuk.

Ukraine's President Zelenskyy's Telegram channel hailed the exchange on Thursday, saying "a total of 215 heroes" were finally coming home after being detained by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine. There have been reports of torture and mistreatment while in captivity although Russia denies these.

Russia and Ukraine exchanged around 200 prisoners of war on September 21, 2022.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

"Exchange has just finished. We are bringing our people home. This is definitely a victory for our state, for our entire society. And most importantly - for 215 families who will be able to see their loved ones in safety.

"We remember all our people and try to save every Ukrainian. This is the meaning of Ukraine, our essence, this is what distinguishes us from the enemy. We value every life! And we will definitely do everything to save everyone who is in Russian captivity," he said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Zelenskyy calls Russia a state sponsor of terrorism

"This week, the largest part of the reports is the list of settlements liberated from the enemy within the scope of our ongoing defensive operation. The story of the liberation of Lyman in the Donetsk region has now become the most popular in the media. But the successes of our soldiers are not limited to Lyman," said Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Valentyn Ogirenko | Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanded that global leaders hold Russia accountable for its monthslong assault on his nation.

"Russia should pay for this war," Zelenskyy said, calling for a special U.N. tribunal to "punish Russia."

"We must finally recognize Russia as a the state of sponsor of terrorism," Zelenskyy said at the 77th U.N. General Assembly in New York City.

Zelenskyy's dramatic remarks to world leaders came on the heels of Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to mobilize hundreds of thousands of troops for war.

Zelenskyy, who has not left his war-weary nation since Russia's full-throttle invasion in February, appeared virtually after an introduction by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the 77th U.N. General Assembly.

— Amanda Macias

Partial mobilization is 'great tragedy' for Russian people, Ukraine official says

A top Ukrainian official has described Russia's announcement of a partial mobilization of its military as a "great tragedy" for the Russian people.

The move, announced by President Putin on Wednesday morning, will see around 300,000 military reservists called-up and sent to Ukraine.

Serhiy Nykyforov, spokesperson to the Office of the President of Ukraine, told NBC's Erin McLaughlin that "300,000 of people who were conscripts just yesterday will be sent to the places where recidivist thugs, mercenaries, and vaunted Kadyrov [Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic] fighters failed.  It is clear what will happen to these guys there, whom, as we saw in the first days of the invasion, the army cannot properly train and provide," he said.

"This is a recognition of the incapacity of the Russian professional army, which has failed in all its tasks.  As we can see, the Russian authorities intend to compensate for this with violence and repression against their own people.  The sooner it stops, the fewer Russian sons will go to die at the front," he added.

— Holly Ellyatt

NATO Secretary General says allies will 'continue to step up support' for Ukraine as Putin mobilizes more troops for war

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on August 17 August 2022.
Francois Walschaerts | AFP | Getty Images

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.

"The Ukrainian people and forces inspire us all with their courage and determination," the NATO chief wrote on Twitter.

"As president Putin escalates Russia's war, it is even more important that NATO allies continue to step up support," he added, referencing the Kremlin's recent announcement to mobilize additional troops for the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to deliver a dramatic speech at the U.N. later on Wednesday.

— Amanda Macias

Biden calls for U.N. member states to stand with Ukraine and oppose Russian aggression

U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York City, September 21, 2022.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

President Joe Biden called for U.N. member states to stand with Ukraine and oppose Russian aggression, warning that the Kremlin's invasion of its smaller neighbor threatened the independence and sovereignty of nations around the world.

"This war is about extinguishing Ukraine's right to exist as a state plain and simple, and Ukraine's right to exist as a people," Biden told the U.N. General Assembly. "Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe -- that should make your blood run cold."

Biden condemned Russia's invasion as a clear violation of the U.N. charter. The U.S. president said the nations of the world had an obligation to put their political differences aside and defend the global body's founding principles by standing in solidarity with Ukraine.

"If nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, then we put at risk everything this very institution stands for," Biden said. The president called for the U.N. to be "clear, firm and unwavering in our resolve."

"Ukraine has the same rights that belong to every sovereign nation. We will stand in solidarity with Ukraine, we will stand in solidarity against Russia's aggression – period," Biden said.

-- Spencer Kimball

Russia's partial mobilization will see 300,000 reservists called up

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense 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

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday that President Vladimir Putin's decree on partial mobilisation would see 300,000 additional personnel called up to serve in Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, Reuters reported.

In an interview with Russian state television, Shoigu said that students and those who served as conscripts would not be called up, and that the majority of Russia's millions-strong reserves would not be drafted.

Those being called up would receive military training, the minister added.

— Reuters

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