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Referendums begin in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine; long lines form at borders as Russians flee military call-up

This is CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine. See below for the latest updates. 

New evidence of war crimes in Ukraine
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New evidence of war crimes in Ukraine

Referendum voting in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine is underway, Russian state media has reported. Western and Ukrainian officials are rebuking them as a sham used by the Kremlin to legitimize Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory, as it did in Crimea in 2014. Moscow rejects the accusations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is urging Russians to protest against the war. More than 1,300 people across Russia were arrested this week for demonstrating against Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement Wednesday of "partial" military mobilization to send more troops into the war in Ukraine, which he calls a "special military operation."

Some security analysts, meanwhile, are sounding the alarm that Putin's threats of using nuclear weapons could risk escalation to a nuclear conflict.

12 vessels depart Ukraine carrying more than 205,000 metric tons of agricultural products

An aerial view of Barbados flagged "Fulmar S" named empty grain ship as Representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Turkiye and the United Nations (UN) of the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) conduct inspection on vessel in Istanbul, Turkiye on August 05, 2022.
Islam Yakut | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The organization overseeing the export of agricultural products from Ukraine said it has approved 12 vessels to leave the besieged country.

The Joint Coordination Center, an initiative of Ukraine, Russia, the United Nations and Turkey, said that the vessels are carrying a total of 205,912 metric tons of grain and other food products.

The ships are destined for Bangladesh, Romania, France, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands.

Read more about what Ukraine is exporting through the Black Sea Grain Initiative and where it is going.

— Amanda Macias

Putin’s mobilization of 300,000 more troops unlikely to resolve basic problems in Ukraine, experts say

Service members of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) line up to vote during a referendum on joining LPR to Russia, at a military unit in Luhansk, Ukraine September 23, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

The main challenge the Russian military faces after almost seven months at war looks likely to remain a basic one: manpower. 

The "partial mobilization" President Vladimir Putin rolled out Wednesday aims to add an additional 300,000 reservists to the front, according to Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, primarily those with some kind of military experience.

"Realistically, most of these guys haven't been through recent training, and a 300,000 input is incredibly high," he said. "Most Russian soldiers receive most of their training in the units now, but it's hard to imagine the units that are in Ukraine being in any state to train recruits."

Getty Images

Ukraine had nearly 200,000 active duty soldiers at the start of the war, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British research institute in London. Kyiv bolstered that number with new recruits and volunteers that are trained in Ukraine and in partner countries, such as Poland and the United Kingdom.

Russia had about 1 million active personnel at the start, according to the institute's estimates, though it did not dedicate all its troops to Ukraine. 

Forcing dissidents and unwilling Russians into the military would likely exacerbate what are widely believed to be deep problems with morale within the rank and file.

Read the full story on NBC News.

— NBC NEWS

White House prepared to impose additional sanctions on Russia following 'sham referendum'

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre conducts a daily press briefing at the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Feb. 14, 2022 in Washington, DC. Jean-Pierre announced on March 27, 2022 that she tested positive for Covid-19.
Alex Wong | Getty Images News

The Biden administration said it was prepared to impose additional sanctions on Russia following a referendum held in parts of UKraine.

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced his support for a referendum to decide if four occupied regions of Ukraine should join Russia. The move is believed to be a Kremlin attempt to annex additional swaths of its ex-Soviet neighbor.

"We are prepared to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia along with our allies and partners in response to these actions if they move forward with annexation" White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a daily news briefing.

"We have sent a loud message and our allies have as well about this illegitimate vote," she said, adding that the U.S. and its allies will never recognize land Russia annexes from Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

U.N. commission says Russian troops committed war crimes

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 | Getty Images

A team of experts tasked by the U.N. said in a new report that Russian troops committed war crimes in Ukraine.

The Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was set up by the U.N. to probe the conduct of the ongoing war, published grisly findings after visiting nearly 30 cities in four Ukrainian regions.

"We have inspected sites of destruction, graves, places of detention and torture, as well as weapon remnants and consulted a large number of documents and reports," said commission Chairman Erik Mose told the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine," he added.

Mose said that the commission documented several cases in which "children have been raped, tortured, and unlawfully confined."

He added that many bodies showed visible signs of torture before execution, including bound hands, wounds to the head and slit throats."

The Kremlin has previously denied that its troops have committed war crimes.

— Amanda Macias

More than 400 bodies exhumed from mass burial site in Izium with many of them showing signs of violent death, Ukrainian official says

Forensic technicians uncover a coffin in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum, eastern Ukraine on September 16, 2022. - Ukraine said on September 16, 2022 it had counted 450 graves at just one burial site near Izyum after recapturing the eastern city from the Russians.
Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

A Ukrainian official overseeing the Kharkiv region said that 436 bodies were exhumed from a mass burial site in Izium.

"Most of them have signs of violent death and 30 have traces of torture," Oleh Synehubov, head of the regional military administration in Kharkiv wrote in an update on the Telegram messaging app.

"There are bodies with ropes around their necks, with bound hands, with broken limbs and gunshot wounds. Several men have amputated genitalia. All this is evidence of the terrible tortures that the occupiers subjected the residents of Izium to," Synehubov added.

He said that most of the bodies that were recovered were civilians and at least 21 were part of the Ukrainian armed forces. Synehubov said that a team of 200 people, including forensic experts and investigators helped exhume the bodies.

— Amanda Macias

More than 191 vessels carrying grain and other crops have left Ukrainian ports

Barbados-flagged general cargo ship Fulmar S is pictured in the Black Sea, north of the Bosphorus Strait, in Istanbul, Turkey August 5, 2022.
Mehmet Caliskan | Reuters

The organization overseeing the export of agricultural products from Ukraine said that so far 191 vessels have left the besieged country since ports reopened.

The Joint Coordination Center, an initiative of Ukraine, Russia, the United Nations and Turkey, said the ships transported a total of 4.35 million metric tons of grain and other food products.

In July, three of Ukraine's ports were reopened to exports under the U.N.-backed Black Sea Grain Initiative.

— Amanda Macias

Three NATO allies still have to approve Sweden and Finland’s entry into the alliance

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (C), Finland Ministers for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto (L) and Sweden Foreign minister Ann Linde (R) give a press conference after their meeting at the Nato headquarters in Brussels on January 24, 2022.
John Thys | AFP | Getty Images

Three NATO member countries have yet to sign ratification protocols for Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance.

Out of NATO's 30 member countries, Hungary, Slovakia and Turkey are the last holdouts to grant Sweden and Finland membership.

In May, both nations began the formal process of applying to NATO as Russia's war in Ukraine raged. All 30 members of the alliance have to ratify the countries' entry into the group.

Last month, U.S. President Joe Biden signed ratification documents following a 95-1 Senate vote to bring Finland and Sweden into NATO.

— Amanda Macias

Senior Chinese diplomat presses Ukraine foreign minister for 'peaceful settlement'

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

Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba that all efforts conducive to peaceful settlement of the Ukraine crisis must be supported, state media reported on Friday.

"Sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected," he said on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, adding that China always stands on the side of peace.

Both diplomats last spoke to each other on a call in April. 

— Reuters

World's largest yacht with ties to Russian oligarch is relocated to dock in Germany by authorities

The super-yacht Dilbar is pulled into a covered floating dock of Luerssen shipyards on the Weser river at the harbour of Bremen on September 23, 2022. - The 156-meter-yacht had stayed since October 2021 for repairs in dry dock at a German shipbuilding company at Hamburg's harbour, northern Germany, and is considered the world's biggest by tonnage. It is owned the Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, 68, who has been among dozens of Russian oligarchs hit by punishing Western sanctions over Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by FOCKE STRANGMANN / AFP) (Photo by FOCKE STRANGMANN/AFP via Getty Images)
Focke Strangmann | Afp | Getty Images

The world's largest superyacht with ties to Russian billionaire and business tycoon Alisher Usmanov was pulled into a dock in Bremen, Germany.

The stunning superyacht was initially restricted from leaving its anchorage by German authorities on March 3. Usmanov entered the crosshairs of the U.S. and its allies following coordinated global sanctions on Russian elites with Kremlin ties after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The yacht, named Dilbar after Usmanov's mother, extends over 500 feet and is equipped with two helipads and the largest indoor swimming pool ever installed on a private vessel. The Department of Treasury estimates that the current value of Usmanov's yacht is approximately $735 million.

— Amanda Macias

436 bodies exhumed from mass grave; 30 show signs of torture, Ukraine says

Investigators carry away a body bag in a forest near Izyum, eastern Ukraine, on September 23, 2022, where Ukrainian investigators have uncovered more than 440 graves after the city was