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Fears for Mariupol defenders after surrender to Russia

Publish: 10:14 AM, 18 May, 2022


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Concerns grew on Wednesday for the welfare of more than 250 Ukrainian fighters who surrendered to Russian forces at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol after weeks of desperate resistance.

The surrender brought an end to the most devastating siege of Russia's war in Ukraine and allowed President Vladimir Putin to claim a rare victory in his faltering campaign, which many military analysts say has stalled.

Buses left the steelworks late on Monday in a convoy escorted by Russian armoured vehicles. Five arrived in the Russian-held town of Novoazovsk, where Moscow said wounded fighters would be treated.

Seven buses carrying Ukrainian fighters from the Azovstal garrison arrived at a newly reopened prison in the Russian-controlled town of Olenivka near Donetsk, a Reuters witness said.

Russia said at least 256 Ukrainian fighters had "laid down their arms and surrendered", including 51 severely wounded. Ukraine said 264 soldiers, including 53 wounded, had left.

Russian defence ministry video showed fighters leaving the plant, some carried on stretchers, others with hands up to be searched by Russian troops.

There were some women aboard at least one of the buses in Olenivka, Reuters video showed.

While both sides spoke of a deal under which all Ukrainian troops would abandon the steelworks, many details were not yet public, including how many fighters still remained inside, and whether any form of prisoner swap had been agreed.

The Kremlin said Putin had personally guaranteed the prisoners would be treated according to international standards, and Ukrainian officials said they could be exchanged for Russian captives.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Kyiv aimed to arrange a prisoner swap for the wounded once their condition stabilised.

Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky said there had been no deal, tweeting: "I didn't know English has so many ways to express a single message: the #Azovnazis have unconditionally surrendered."

TASS news agency reported a Russian committee planned to question the soldiers, many of them members of the Azov Battalion, as part of an investigation into what Moscow calls "Ukrainian regime crimes".

High-profile Russian lawmakers spoke out against any prisoner swap. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, Russia's lower house, said: "Nazi criminals should not be exchanged."

Lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, one of Russia's negotiators in talks with Ukraine, called the evacuated combatants "animals in human form" and said they should be executed.

Formed in 2014 as an extreme right-wing volunteer militia to fight Russian-backed separatists, the Azov Regiment denies being fascist or neo-Nazi. Ukraine says it has been reformed and integrated into the National Guard.

Natalia, the wife of a sailor among those holed up in the plant, told Reuters she hoped "there will be an honest exchange". But she was still worried: "What Russia is doing now is inhumane."

BATTLE FOR DONBAS

The denouement of the battle for Mariupol, which came to symbolise Ukrainian resistance, is Russia's biggest victory since it launched what it calls a "special military operation" to "denazify" the country on Feb. 24.

It gives Moscow control of the Azov Sea coast and an unbroken stretch of eastern and southern Ukraine. But the port lies in ruins, and Ukraine believes tens of thousands of people were killed under months of Russian bombardment.

On the diplomatic front, US President Joe Biden will host the leaders of Sweden and Finland at the White House on Thursday to discuss their NATO applications, the White House said. The Nordic countries are optimistic they can overcome objections from Turkey over jointing the 30-nation alliance.

Russia's offensive in the east, meanwhile, appeared to be making little progress, although the Kremlin says all its objectives will be reached.

Around a third of the Donbas was held by Russia-backed separatists before the invasion. Moscow now controls around 90% of Luhansk region, but it has failed to make major inroads towards the key cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in Donetsk in order to extend control over the entire Donbas.

Ukrainian forces have advanced at their fastest pace for more than a month, driving Russian forces out of the area around Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city.

Ukraine says its forces had reached the Russian border, 40 km (25 miles) north of Kharkiv. They have also pushed at least as far as the Siverskiy Donets river 40 km to the east, where they could threaten Russian supply lines.

Putin may have to decide whether to send more troops and hardware to replenish his weakened invasion force as an influx of Western weapons, including scores of US and Canadian M777 howitzers that have longer range than their Russian equivalents, bolsters Ukraine's combat power, analysts said.

"Time is definitely working against the Russians ... The Ukrainians are getting stronger almost every day," said Neil Melvin of the RUSI think-tank in London.

- Reuters


Russia-Ukraine conflict   Ukraine crisis   Ukraine -Russia conflict   Russia-Ukraine war   Mariupol evacuation   Mariupol seige   Mariupol  


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World Inside

Village life left in ruins after deadly Afghan quake

Publish: 02:31 PM, 26 Jun, 2022


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Village life has always been tough for Afghans in the rugged mountains of the east, but compared to what they are enduring today it was paradise.

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake rumbled through the area last Wednesday, killing more than 1,000 people, injuring three times that many, and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

"If life before was not really good -- because for years there was war – the earthquake has made it even harder for us," says Malin Jan, who lost two daughters in the quake.

All 14 houses in his village of Akhtar Jan were flattened, and survivors -- including some from outlying hamlets -- are now living in tents among the ruins.

Two small makeshift camps have been set up in dusty gardens, with stunted grass grazed by three cows, a donkey, two goats and a flock of chickens.

In tents pitched in a circle, about 35 families -- more than 300 people including many children -- are trying to survive.

Living in such close proximity to non-relatives is anathema to Afghans -- particularly in the conservative countryside where women rarely interact with strangers.

Sanitary conditions are likely to deteriorate rapidly -- there are no toilets, and people have to draw water from a well to wash.

"Before the earthquake, life was nice and beautiful," says villager Abdu Rahman Abid.

"We had our houses and God was good."

He gives a gruesome count of those he lost in the rubble -- his parents, his wife, three daughters, a son and a nephew.

"The earthquake killed eight members of my family and my house is destroyed," he says, looking weary.

"There is a big difference now. Before we had our own houses and everything we needed. Now we have nothing and our families are living in tents."

Neighbour Malin Jan is already looking ahead, fearful of what the future holds.

The harsh winter, which lasts almost five months in this remote mid-mountain region, will arrive in September.

"If our children stay in this situation their lives will be in danger because of the rain and snow," he says.

Massoud Sakib, 37, who lost his wife and three daughters, also fears for the months ahead.

"Even living in a house is difficult during winter, so if our houses are not rebuilt by then our lives will be in danger," he says.

On Saturday, the UN's top official in the country, Ramiz Alakbarov, arrived from Kabul by helicopter to visit the region -- including the village of Akhtar Jan -- with representatives of each UN agency.

Alakbarov was moved to tears as he met a young girl and was offered tea by a survivor, praising the "resilience and courage" of the people.

But their tenacity only stretches so far. Interviewed by AFP, the Afghan minister of health, Qalandar Edad, warned of the "mental and psychological" suffering of victims.

Malin Jan said the villagers were doing their best to help each other through the crisis.

"When a family is hit by a tragedy, the others naturally come to surround and support them," he said.

"Everything is affected... we console each other." But they cannot do it alone, adds villager Abdul Rahman Abib.

"We ask the world to help us as long as we need it. It must share our pain."

- BSS/AFP


Afghanistan   Earthquake  


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World Inside

Baby mammoth frozen over 30,000 years ago found in Canada

Publish: 01:07 PM, 26 Jun, 2022


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A whole baby woolly mammoth has been found frozen in the permafrost of north-western Canada - the first such discovery in North America. 

The mummified ice age mammoth is thought to be more than 30,000 years old. It was found by gold miners in Yukon's Klondike region on Tuesday.

The area of the find belongs to the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation.

The Yukon government compared it to Russia's discovery of a baby mammoth in the permafrost of Siberia in 2007.

It said it was "the most complete mummified mammoth found in North America", and only the second such find in the world.

The baby, thought to be female, has been named Nun cho ga, meaning "big baby animal" in the Han language spoken by Native Americans in the area.

"Nun cho ga is beautiful and one of the most incredible mummified ice age animals ever discovered in the world," said Yukon palaeontologist Grant Zazula.

It is about the same size as the Siberian baby Lyuba found in 2007, which was some 42,000 years old, the Yukon government said in a press release.

It is the best-preserved woolly mammoth discovered in North America. The partial remains of a mammoth calf, named Effie, were found in 1948 at a gold mine in neighbouring Alaska.

CBC News says Nun cho ga was unearthed after a miner called his boss over to examine something that was hit by his bulldozer in the mud at Eureka Creek, south of Dawson City.

- BBC 



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World Inside

Global Covid cases near 549 million

Publish: 11:02 AM, 26 Jun, 2022


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The overall number of Covid cases is now near 549 million amid a rise in new infections in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

According to the latest global data, the total case count mounted to 548,692,849 while the death toll from the virus reached 6,350,314, on Sunday morning.

The US has recorded 88,777,558 cases so far and 1,040,792 people have died from the virus in the country, the data shows.

Over 29,000 new Covid-19 cases were recorded in 24 hours in India, taking the total tally to 43,391,331, according to data released by the health ministry on Sunday.

Besides, as many as 25 Covid-19-related deaths reported in the country since Saturday morning took the total death toll to 524,979.


Covid-19   Coronavirus   Pandemic  


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World Inside

Russia fires missiles across Ukraine

Publish: 09:33 AM, 26 Jun, 2022


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Russian forces were seeking to swallow up the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the eastern Luhansk region, pressing their momentum after taking full control Saturday of the charred ruins of Sievierodonetsk and the chemical plant where hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians had been holed up.

Russia also launched dozens of missiles on several areas across the country far from the heart of the eastern battles. Some of the missiles were fired from Russian long-range Tu-22 bombers deployed from Belarus for the first time, Ukraine's air command said.

The bombardment preceded a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, during which Putin announced that Russia planned to supply Belarus with the Iskander-M missile system.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said late Saturday that Russian and Moscow-backed separatist forces now control Sievierodonetsk and the villages surrounding it. He said the attempt by Ukrainian forces to turn the Azot plant into a “stubborn center of resistance” had been thwarted.

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk province, said Friday that Ukrainian troops were retreating from Sievierodonetsk after weeks of bombardment and house-to-house fighting. He confirmed Saturday that the city had fallen to Russian and separatist fighters, who he said were now trying to blockade Lysychansk from the south. The city lies across the river just to the west of Sievierodonetsk.

Capturing Lysychansk would give Russian forces control of every major settlement in the province, a significant step toward Russia’s aim of capturing the entire Donbas. The Russians and separatists control about half of Donetsk, the second province in the Donbas.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted a spokesman for the separatist forces, Andrei Marochko, as saying Russian troops and separatist fighters had entered Lysychansk and that fighting was taking place in the heart of the city. There was no immediate comment on the claim from the Ukrainian side.

Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk have been the focal point of a Russian offensive aimed at capturing all of the Donbas and destroying the Ukrainian military defending it — the most capable and battle-hardened segment of the country’s armed forces.

Russian bombardment has reduced most of Sievierodonetsk to rubble and cut its population from 100,000 to 10,000. The last remaining Ukrainian troops were holed up in underground shelters in the huge Azot chemical plant, along with hundreds of civilians. A separatist representative, Ivan Filiponenko, said earlier Saturday that its forces evacuated 800 civilians from the plant during the night, Interfax reported.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleg Zhdanov said some of the troops were heading for Lysychansk. But Russian moves to cut off Lysychansk will give those retreating troops little respite.

Some 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) to the west, four Russian cruise missiles fired from the Black Sea hit a “military object” in Yaroviv, Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said. He did not give further details of the target, but Yaroviv has a sizable military base used for training fighters, including foreigners who have volunteered to fight for Ukraine.

Russian missiles struck the Yaroviv base in March, killing 35 people. The Lviv region, although far from the front lines, has come under fire at various points in the the war as Russia's military worked to destroy fuel storage sites.

About 30 Russian missiles were fired on the Zhytomyr region in central Ukraine on Saturday morning, killing one Ukrainian soldier, regional governor Vitaliy Buchenko said. He said all of the strikes were aimed at military targets.

In the northwest, two missiles hit a service station and auto repair center in Sarny, killing three people and wounding four, the Rivne regional governor, Vitaliy Koval, said. He posted a picture of the destruction. Sarny is located about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the border with Belarus.

In southern Ukraine along the Black Sea coast, nine missiles fired from Crimea hit the port city of Mykolaiv, the Ukrainian military said.

In the north, about 20 missiles were fired from Belarus into the Chernihiv region, the Ukrainian military said.

Ukraine's military intelligence agency said the Russian bombers' use of Belarusian airspace for the first time for Saturday's attack was “directly connected to attempts by the Kremlin to drag Belarus into the war.”

Belarus hosts Russian military units and was used as a staging ground before Russia invaded Ukraine, but its own troops have not crossed the border.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address that as a war that Moscow expected to last five days moved into its fifth month, Russia “felt compelled to stage such a missile show."

He said the war was at a difficult stage, “when we know that the enemy will not succeed, when we understand that we can defend our country, but we don’t know how long it will take, how many more attacks, losses and efforts there will be before we can see that victory is already on our horizon.”

During his meeting in St. Petersburg with Lukashenko, Putin told him the Iskander-M missile systems would be arriving in the coming months. He noted that they can fire either ballistic or cruise missiles and carry nuclear as well as conventional warheads. Russia has launched several Iskander missiles into Ukraine during the war.

Following a botched attempt to capture Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in the early stage of the invasion that started Feb. 24, Russian forces have shifted their focus to the Donbas, where the Ukrainian forces have fought Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking in Washington on condition of anonymity, on Friday called the Ukrainians’ withdrawal from Sievierodonetsk a “tactical retrograde” to consolidate forces into positions where they can better defend themselves. The move will reinforce Ukraine’s efforts to keep Russian forces pinned down in a small area, the official said.

After repeated Ukrainian requests to its Western allies for heavier weaponry to counter Russia’s edge in firepower, four medium-range American rocket launchers arrived this week, with four more on the way.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry released a video Saturday showing the first use of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, in Ukraine. The video gave no location or indication of the targets. The rockets can travel about 45 miles (70 kilometers).

The senior U.S. defense official said Friday that more Ukrainian forces are training outside Ukraine to use the HIMARS and are expected back in their country with the weapons by mid-July. Also to be sent are 18 U.S. coastal and river patrol boats.

The official said there is no evidence Russia has intercepted any of the steady flow of weapons into Ukraine from the U.S. and other nations. Russia has repeatedly threatened to strike, or actually claimed to have hit, such shipments.

– AP/UNB


Ukraine Crisis   Russian Missile  


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World Inside

Deaths rise to 23 from mass attempt to enter Spanish enclave

Publish: 09:25 AM, 26 Jun, 2022


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The number of people who were killed after they tried to scale a border fence between Morocco and a Spanish enclave in North Africa rose to 23 Saturday as human rights organizations in Spain and Morocco called on both countries to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

Moroccan authorities said the individuals died as a result of a “stampede” of people who attempted Friday to climb the iron fence that separates the city of Melilla and Morocco. In a statement, Morocco’s Interior Ministry said 76 civilians were injured along with 140 Moroccan security officers.

The ministry initially reported five deaths. Local authorities cited by Morocco’s official Television 2M updated the number to 18 on Saturday and then reported that the death toll had climbed to 23. The Moroccan Human Rights Association reported 27 dead, but the figure could not immediately be confirmed.

Two members of Morocco's security forces and 33 migrants who were injured during the border breach were being treated at hospitals in the Moroccan cities of Nador and Oujda, MAP said.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday condemned what he described as a “violent assault” and an “attack on the territorial integrity” of Spain. Spanish officials said 49 Civil Guards sustained minor injuries.

“If there is anyone responsible for everything that appears to have taken place at that border, it is the mafias that traffic in human beings,” Sánchez said.

His remarks came as the Moroccan Human Rights Association shared videos on social media that appeared to show dozens of migrants lying on the ground, many of them motionless and a few bleeding, as Moroccan security forces stood over them.

“They were left there without help for hours, which increased the number of deaths,” the human rights group said on Twitter. It called for a “comprehensive” investigation.

In another of the association’s videos, a Moroccan security officer appeared to use a baton to strike a person lying on the ground.

In a statement released late Friday, Amnesty International expressed its “deep concern” over the events at the border.

“Although the migrants may have acted violently in their attempt to enter Melilla, when it comes to border control, not everything goes," said Esteban Beltrán, the director of Amnesty International Spain. "The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and situations like that seen cannot happen again.”

Five rights organizations in Morocco and APDHA, a human rights group based in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, also called for inquiries.

The International Organization for Migration and U.N. refugee agency UNHCR also weighed in with a statement that expressed “profound sadness and concern” over what happened at the Morocco-Melilla border.

“IOM and UNHCR urge all authorities to prioritize the safety of migrants and refugees, refrain from the excessive use of force and uphold their human rights,” the organizations said.

In a statement published Saturday, the Spanish Commission for Refugees, CEAR, decried what it described as “the indiscriminate use of violence to manage migration and control borders" and expressed concerns that the violence had prevented people who were eligible for international protection from reaching Spanish soil.

The Catholic Church in the southern Spanish city of Malaga also expressed its dismay over the events. “Both Morocco and Spain have chosen to eliminate human dignity on our borders, maintaining that the arrival of migrants must be avoided at all costs and forgetting the lives that are torn apart along the way,” it said in a statement penned by a delegation of the diocese that focuses on migration in Malaga and Melilla.

A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said that around 2,000 people had attempted to make it across the border fence but were stopped by Spanish Civil Guard Police and Moroccan forces on either side of the border fence. A total 133 migrants made it across the border.

The mass crossing attempt was the first since Spain and Morocco mended relations after a year-long dispute related to Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976. The thaw in relations came after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant more autonomy to the territory, a reversal of its previous support for a U.N.-backed referendum on the status of Western Sahara.

– AP/UNB


Spanish enclave  


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