LIVE: 211th day of Russian aggression against Ukraine

Destroyed Russian missile and artillery system. Photo: PAP/Mykola Kalyeniak

215 Ukrainian prisoners of war have been exchanged for Russian ones. 108 of the Ukrainian POWs are Azovstal defenders, widely regarded as war heroes in Ukrainian society. Meanwhile, President Zelenskyy during the UN General Assembly meeting called for Russia to be deprived of the veto right, establish an international tribunal and create an international compensation mechanism.

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President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed as "superheroes" the senior Ukrainian commanders, including those who led the dogged defence of Mariupol, who were freed by Russia as part of a prisoner swap involving almost 300 people, including foreigners.

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NATO on Thursday condemned Moscow's plans to hold referendums in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine and called on all states to reject what it called "Russia's blatant attempts at territorial conquest".

"Sham referenda in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions of Ukraine have no legitimacy and will be a blatant violation of the UN Charter," the North Atlantic Council, grouping the member states of the alliance, said in a statement.

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A Russian-led security bloc will hold military drills in Kazakhstan from Sept. 26 to Oct. 8, the Kazakh defence ministry said on Thursday, telling the public not to be surprised by the arrival of foreign troops and military vehicles.

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Thursday that talk of a nuclear conflict is "totally unacceptable" and effectively warned that so-called referenda in areas under Russian control would be annexation.

Referendums on joining Russia are due to take place from Friday until Tuesday in several largely Russian-held regions in eastern and southern Ukraine, which comprise around 15 percent of the country's territory.

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Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday said he will "keep safe social distance" from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the United Nations Security Council.

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Poland, concerned about fighting around Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, has distributed iodine tablets to regional fire departments to give to people in the event of radioactive exposure, a deputy minister said on Thursday.

Iodine is considered a way of protecting the body against conditions such as thyroid cancer in case of radioactive exposure.

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Some personnel working in Russia's banking sector and considered to be important will be exempt from the military call-up, the CEO of Russia's second bank, VTB VTBR.MM said on Thursday, according to news agency reports.

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