Satellite images show damaged warplanes after Crimea explosions, despite Russian claims; McDonald's to reopen in Ukraine: Updates

New satellite images appeared to show at least seven fighter planes at a Russian air base in Crimea had been blown up, despite Russian claims that no aircraft were damaged in a string of explosions this week.

The images released Wednesday by Planet Labs PBC, a U.S. Earth imaging company, also showed charred grassland and several craters near the tarmac.

The Ukrainian air force said Wednesday that nine Russian warplanes were destroyed the day before in multiple massive explosions that also killed one person and wounded 14. Russia sought to downplay the blasts and said several munitions at the base caught fire and blew up, even suggesting the culprit might have been a careless smoker at the Saki air base.

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But Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said the explosions were caused either by Ukrainian-made long-range weapons or by Ukrainian guerrillas operating in Crimea. Ukraine has stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for the blasts, which also knocked out windows, damaged nearby apartment buildings and sent tourists fleeing.

A satellite image by Planet Labs PBC shows aircraft at Saki Air Base before an explosion Tuesday.
A satellite image by Planet Labs PBC shows aircraft at Saki Air Base before an explosion Tuesday.
A satellite image by Planet Labs PBC shows Saki Air Base in Crimea on Wednesday, the day after an explosion there. The images, though distant, show at least seven planes were destroyed.
A satellite image by Planet Labs PBC shows Saki Air Base in Crimea on Wednesday, the day after an explosion there. The images, though distant, show at least seven planes were destroyed.

Latest developments: 

►A Russian court placed journalist Marina Ovsyannikova under house arrest for nearly two months as she faces charges of spreading false information about the country's armed forces that could result in a 10-year prison sentence. Ovsyannikova has been critical of the war in Ukraine and was arrested Wednesday after holding up a sign in which she called Russian President Vladimir Putin "a killer.''

►The European Union's ban on Russian coal imports took effect Thursday as part of the fifth package of EU sanctions against Russia. A British defense intelligence update said "the increasing effect of Western sanctions" has significantly strained Russia's military industrial complex.

►The Baltic country of Estonia, which was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 before regaining independence in 1991, will bar Russians with tourist visas from entering its territory because of the war in Ukraine.

►Latvia’s Parliament on Thursday declared Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism” for attacking civilians in Ukraine and urged other countries to follow suit.

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GRAPHICS: Mapping and tracking Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Shelling reaches nuclear power plant, news outlets say

Russian forces fired at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Thursday and hit facilities, Ukraine's Channel 5 News and at least one Russian outlet reported.

"Five hits were recorded in the area of ​​the commandant's office" of the plant, Channel 5 said, and shelling struck "right next to the welding area and the storage of radiation sources." No casualties were reported.

Fighting around the plant, the largest of its kind in Europe, has stoked fears of an international nuclear disaster, and global leaders are voicing concerns. Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized countries have demanded that Russia give control of the plant back to Ukraine, Reuters reported.

“Fighting near a nuclear plant is dangerous and irresponsible,'' the U.S. State Department said, "and we continue to call on Russia to cease all military operations at or near Ukrainian nuclear facilities and return full control to Ukraine, and support Ukrainian calls for a demilitarized zone around the nuclear power plant.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed his alarm, saying in a statement: “I am calling on the military forces of the Russian Federation and Ukraine to immediately cease all military activities in the immediate vicinity of the plant and not to target its facilities or surroundings.”

Russian troops took over the Zaporizhzhia plant shortly after invading Ukraine in February. Before the war, the plant accounted for about half the electricity generated by nuclear power in Ukraine.

Western countries pledge continued support for Ukraine at Denmark conference

Responding to a request for more military and financial support from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Western leaders meeting in Denmark pledged Thursday to continue funding Ukraine's efforts to repel Russia's invasion, saying $1.5 billion has been committed and more is coming.

The money is for enhancing armaments production, including artillery and ammunition; developing and strengthening the training of Ukrainian soldiers; and assisting Ukraine’s efforts to remove land mines.

“The sooner we stop Russia, the sooner we can feel safe,” Zelenskyy told participants at the conference in Copenhagen.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced Britain will send Ukraine more multiple-launch rocket systems and guided missiles. Ahead of the conference, the Danish government said it would give Ukraine an extra $113 million.

“All the countries that came to Copenhagen came with the intention of supporting Ukraine,” Danish Defense Minister Morten Bødskov said at the end of the one-day meeting of 26 nations and the European Union.

McDonald's reopening in Ukraine after abandoning Russia

McDonald's has turned its back on Russia and is returning to Ukraine.

The American fast-food chain said Thursday that it will begin reopening its outlets in Kyiv and western Ukraine locations away from the fighting in the coming months. McDonald's closed its 109 restaurants in the country after the Russian invasion, and the company has continued to pay its 10,000 employees there.

Paul Pomroy, McDonald's corporate senior vice president of international operated markets, said Ukrainian employees had voiced a desire to get back to work.

“In recent months, the belief that this would support a small but important sense of normalcy has grown stronger,” he told company workers in a message.

After shuttering hundreds of Russian locations in March, the month after the war began, McDonald's sold its 850 restaurants there to a franchise owner. That came more than three decades after McDonald’s opened its first location in Moscow in 1990, becoming a powerful symbol of easing Cold War tensions.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: Crimea satellite images show Russian planes damaged