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Ukraine live briefing: F-16 training to begin this month, Zelensky says



F-16 fighter jets at an air base in Lithuania. A European coalition will provide Ukraine with F-16 pilot training as allied nations prepare to transfer the jets to Kyiv. (Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters)

Ukrainian pilots are set to begin training to fly F-16 fighter jets this month, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech to heads of Ukrainian diplomatic missions. “The delivery and combat use of F-16s by our pilots should take place as soon as possible,” he said.

The capital, Kyiv, came under another drone attack overnight, the head of the city’s military administration said Thursday. The country’s Defense Ministry reported that its forces shot down 15 drones. There were no reports of injuries or damage, according to the head of Kyiv’s military administration, Serhiy Popko. Also Thursday, authorities in the southern city of Kherson reported that eight people, including emergency workers, were injured in shelling.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Ukraine plans to work with nations supplying F-16s to transfer the advanced jets after training, Zelensky said Wednesday, acknowledging that the task is a challenging one. In May, Denmark and the Netherlands were tapped to lead a European coalition to provide training and maintenance to Ukrainian pilots after the Biden administration relented under pressure to allow allied nations to send U.S.-made F-16s to Kyiv.

Ride in a Ukrainian Mig-29 to experience flying low and fast to avoid Russian radar. (Video: Jason Aldag, Kamila Hrabchuk for The Washington Post)

Eight people were injured when shelling hit a church in the center of Kherson, Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s Office said Thursday. Three people who were traveling past on a bus, as well as another person who was on the street, were wounded, the prosecutor’s office said, while four rescue workers were injured when further shelling struck the church as they extinguished the fire. On Wednesday, Ukraine accused Russia of destroying 40,000 tons of grain earmarked for export in attacks on port and grain infrastructure in the south of the country.

At least 10,749 Ukrainian civilians, including nearly 500 children, have been confirmed killed since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, Yuriy Belousov, Ukraine’s lead prosecutor for human rights violations, said in an interview with Interfax Ukraine. However, he said the figures are incomplete and “just the tip of the iceberg.” The death toll for Ukrainian civilians in occupied Mariupol — the scene of heavy fighting at the start of the war — alone is likely to be in the “tens of thousands,” Belousov said. In early July, the United Nations said it had confirmed the deaths of almost 9,200 civilians, but it, too, warned that the real number “could be much higher.”

Russian air defenses shot down seven drones over a region to the southwest of Moscow overnight, according to the local governor. Vladislav Shapsha wrote on Telegram early Thursday that the drones were attempting to fly over the Kaluga region. There were no casualties or damage, he said. The report comes days after drones repeatedly attacked skyscrapers in Moscow that are home to government ministries and apartments — including some owned by relatives of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and Russian politicians. Kyiv did not claim responsibility for those attacks, but senior Ukrainian officials said that Russians deserved to feel the impact of the war in Ukraine.

The growth of weeds on land across southern Ukraine is probably hindering the progress of fighting, the British Defense Ministry said. In an update Thursday, the ministry said mostly agricultural land in fighting areas has been left fallow for 18 months, leading to “the return of weeds and shrubs accelerating under the warm, damp summer conditions.” It noted that “the extra cover helps camouflage Russian defensive positions and makes defensive mine fields harder to clear.”

The European Union on Thursday announced extended sanctions on Belarus to “ensure that Russian sanctions cannot be circumvented” through its ally. The sanctions ban the export of sensitive technology that could increase Belarusian military capabilities, as well as ammunition, firearms and technology related to the aviation and space industries.

Fighters from the Russian mercenary group Wagner are being moved toward NATO’s eastern body in an attempt to destabilize the alliance, Poland’s prime minister said Thursday. “We need to be aware that the number of provocations will rise,” Mateusz Morawiecki said, according to Reuters, and warned that the group “is extremely dangerous.” Wagner mercenaries arrived in neighboring Belarus following a failed uprising in Russia in June and have been training conscripts in the country. On Saturday, Morawiecki said more than 100 Wagner mercenaries had moved close to Belarus’s border with Poland.

Russia has denied accusations it is seeking to create new “dependencies” by selling cheap grain. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Russia, which withdrew from a U.N.-brokered grain deal last month, is “fulfilling all our obligations” and could even increase exports if not for what he described as “illegal” sanctions. Reuters reported earlier Wednesday that the European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had written a letter to developing and Group of 20 countries on Monday accusing Russia of trying “to create new dependencies” by offering grain at cheaper prices to vulnerable countries and “pretending to solve a problem it created itself.”

Moscow added Norway to a list of “unfriendly governments” and will restrict the number of local employees its embassy can hire in Russia. Under the order, dated Wednesday, Norway will be able to employ up to 27 locals. The Norwegian government announced in April the expulsions of 15 Russian diplomatic staffers suspected of espionage; Russia expelled 10 Norwegian diplomats in response.

A Russian judge fined Apple and Wikipedia on Thursday for failing to delete “false information” about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in the latest effort by Moscow to control information and stifle criticism about the war, the Associated Press reported.

For these young soldiers, Ukraine has been at war for half their lives: They were children when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. Now, these teenage drone operators spend their days glued to their screens, fighting for their country’s survival, Fredrick Kunkle and Serhii Korolchuk report.

“I don’t know how it is to live in a peaceful country,” one said. In peacetime, he said, he fooled around with drones as toys. Now he uses them “just like eyes of the war.”

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