UPDATED: Russia School Shooting Leaves 13 Dead, Including Children

 

The death toll has risen to 13 people, including seven children, after a man opened fire Monday at his former school in central Russia, authorities said.

The attack was the latest in a series of school shootings that have shaken Russia in recent years and came with the country on edge over efforts to mobilise tens of thousands of men to fight in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the “inhuman terrorist attack” in the city of Izhevsk, the Kremlin said, adding that the shooter “apparently belongs to a neo-fascist group”.

According to investigators, the attacker “was wearing a black top with Nazi symbols and a balaclava” when his body was discovered.

He was later identified as a local man born in 1988, who graduated from this school.

Investigators have said two security guards and two teachers were among the victims, while the attacker “committed suicide”.

Authorities previously announced a death toll of nine people but did not specify if that included the suspected shooter.

Investigators said they were conducting a search in his home and looking into his “adherence to neo-fascist views and Nazi ideology”.

The region’s governor Alexander Brechalov confirmed there were “casualties and wounded among children”, speaking in a video statement outside school No88 in Izhevsk.

Rescue and medical workers could be seen in the background, some running inside the school with stretchers.

Russia’s health ministry said “14 ambulance teams” were working at the scene to help the injured, news agencies reported.

Brechalov declared a period of mourning in the region to last until Thursday.

A city of around 630,000 people, Izhevsk is the regional capital of Russia’s Udmurt Republic, located around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) east of Moscow.

The attack came just hours after a man had opened fire and severely wounded a recruitment officer at an enlistment centre in Siberia.

Russia’s last major school shooting was in April, when an armed man opened fire in a kindergarten in the central Ulyanovsk region, leaving a teacher and two children dead.

The shooter, described as “mentally ill”, was later found dead, with officials saying he had shot himself.

Tightening gun laws

Mass shootings at schools and universities in Russia were rare until 2021, when the country was rocked by two separate killing sprees in the central Russian cities of Kazan and Perm that spurred lawmakers to tighten laws regulating access to guns.

In September 2021, a student dressed in black tactical clothing and helmet armed with a hunting rifle swept through Perm State University buildings killing six people, mostly women, and injuring two dozen others.

The gunman resisted arrest and was shot by law enforcement as he was apprehended and moved to a medical facility for treatment.

It was the second such attack that year, after a 19-year-old former student shot dead nine people at his old school in the Kazan in May.

Investigators said that the gunman suffered from a brain disorder, but was deemed fit to receive a license for the semi-automatic shotgun that he used.

On the day of that attack Putin called for a review of gun control laws and the age to acquire hunting rifles was increased from 18 to 21 and medical checks were strengthened.

Authorities have blamed foreign influence for previous school shootings, saying young Russians have been exposed online and on television to similar attacks in the United States and elsewhere.

Other high-profile shooting cases have taken place in Russia’s army, putting the issue of hazing in the spotlight in the country were military service is compulsory for men aged between 18 and 27.

In November 2020, a 20-year-old soldier killed three fellow servicemen at a military base near the city of Voronezh. In a similar attack in 2019, a young recruit shot dead eight servicemen, saying he faced bullying and harassment in the army.

Zelensky Urges World To Condemn Russia’s ‘Pseudo-Referendums’

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart in Kyiv on August 23, 2022, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)
In this file photo, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart in Kyiv on August 23, 2022, amid Russia’s military invasion launched on Ukraine. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday urged the world to condemn “pseudo-referendums” as Kremlin proxies began voting on annexation by Russia in Moscow-held areas of Ukraine.

“The world will react absolutely justly to pseudo-referendums — they will be unequivocally condemned,” Zelensky said in his daily address to the nation.

READ ALSO‘I Don’t Want To Die’: Russians Flee Abroad After Putin’s Call-Up

Four provinces in Ukraine that are fully or partially controlled by Russia — Donetsk and Lugansk in the east as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south — are holding votes on whether to be annexed by Moscow.

The ballots have been dismissed as a “sham” by Kyiv and its Western allies.

AFP

Russia Begins Troop Mobilisation For Ukraine Fight

In this file photo, Russian soldiers patrol a street on April 11, 2022, in Volnovakha in the Donetsk region. The picture was taken during a trip organized by the Russian military. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Moscow began its mandatory troop call-up Thursday to try to bolster a stumbling war effort in Ukraine, with authorities saying thousands had volunteered even as Russian men fled the country to avoid being forced to fight.

Amateur footage posted on social media since President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilisation of reservists on Wednesday purported to show hundreds of Russian citizens across the country responding to the military summons.

The call-up came as Moscow-held regions of Ukraine are to vote in the coming days on whether to become part of Russia in referendums that have been called an unlawful land grab by Kyiv and its allies.

Moscow took these steps after Ukrainian forces seized back most of the northeastern Kharkiv region, which has been seen as a possible turning point in the seven-month war that had fallen into stalemate.

The Russian military said Thursday that at least 10,000 people had volunteered to fight in 24 hours since the order, but men also rushed to leave Russia before they were made to join.

“I don’t want to go to the war,” a man named Dmitri, who had flown to Armenia with just one small bag, told AFP. “I don’t want to die in this senseless war. This is a fratricidal war.”

READ ALSO: ‘I Don’t Want To Die’: Russians Flee Abroad After Putin’s Call-Up

 Annexation ‘vote’ 

In this file photo, Russian soldiers walk along a street in Mariupol on April 12, 2022, as Russian troops intensify a campaign to take the strategic port city, part of an anticipated massive onslaught across eastern Ukraine, while Russia’s President makes a defiant case for the war on Russia’s neighbour. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)

 

Military-aged men made up the majority of those arriving off the latest flight from Moscow at the Armenian airport and many were reluctant to speak.

Yerevan has become a major destination for Russians fleeing since war began on February 24, drawing fierce international opposition that has aimed to isolate Russia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday demanded Putin be held to account as he faced Russia in a Security Council session in which the United Nations catalogued abuses in Ukraine.

“We cannot — we will not — let President Putin get away with it,” Blinken told the Security Council in a special session as leaders met at the United Nations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — whom Blinken has refused to meet individually since the February invasion — lashed out at Western accusations.

“There’s an attempt today to impose on us a completely different narrative about Russian aggression as the origin of this tragedy,” Lavrov told the Security Council.

The confrontation on the diplomatic stage escalated as Kremlin-installed officials in Ukrainian regions controlled by Moscow’s forces vowed on Thursday to press ahead with annexation polls this week.

Four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine — Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south — announced that they would hold the votes over five days, beginning on Friday.

Vladimir Saldo, the Moscow-installed head of Kherson, which fell early into the Russian invasion, said the referendum would go ahead in his region regardless of the criticism.

“The date has been set. We have the green light. Voting begins tomorrow and nothing can prevent this,” he told Russian state-run media.

“People have been waiting and they’re demanding that this vote is held soon,” he added.

Western leaders convening in New York this week unanimously condemned the ballots.

Speaking at the United Nations, US President Joe Biden accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “shamelessly” violating the UN Charter with a war aimed at “extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state”.

 ‘Anyone would want to leave’ 

The integration of the war-scarred regions into Russia would represent a major escalation of the conflict, as Moscow could then try to say it was defending its own territory from Ukrainian forces.

After the votes were announced by his proxy officials in Ukraine, Putin announced that Russia would call up some 300,000 reservists to bolster the war effort and cautioned that Moscow would use “all means” to protect its territory.

Former Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev said in a statement on social media that those means included “strategic nuclear weapons”. He predicted the voting regions “will integrate into Russia”.

For most observers, the results of the concurrent votes are already a foregone conclusion and were rushed because Ukrainian forces were making sweeping gains in a counter-offensive to recapture the east.

The referendums are reminiscent of a similar ballot in 2014 that saw the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine annexed by Russia. Western capitals said the vote was fraudulent and hit Moscow with sanctions in response.

Election officials in the Donetsk region, which has been partially controlled since 2014 by Moscow-backed separatists, said that voting would take place door-to-door for the first days. But it would only be possible in polling stations on the final day, Tuesday.

Putin’s move this week to call up reservists for Ukraine sparked small protests across Russia, resulting in more than 1,300 people being detained.

Flights out of Russia to neighbouring countries, mainly former Soviet republics that allow Russians visa-free entry, are nearly entirely booked and prices have skyrocketed, pointing to an exodus of Russians wanting to avoid going to war.

Looking lost and exhausted in the arrivals hall of the airport in the capital of Armenia, 44-year-old Sergei said he had fled Russia to escape being called up.

“The situation in Russia would make anyone want to leave,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

AFP

Car Bomb Kills Putin’s Ally Daughter


Ukrainian deminers and a forensic policeman examine shrapnel following a missile strike in the Dokuchaievske village near Kharkiv on August 21, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK / AFP)

 

The daughter of Alexander Dugin, a hardline Russian ideologue close to President Vladimir Putin, has been killed in a car bombing on Moscow’s outskirts, authorities said on Sunday.

According to family members quoted by Russian media, Dugin — a vocal supporter of Kremlin’s offensive in Ukraine — was the likely target of the blast as his daughter borrowed his car at the last minute.

Daria Dugina was killed when a bomb placed in the Toyota Land Cruiser went off as she drove on a highway near the village of Bolshie Vyzyomy, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) outside Moscow, Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.

Dugina, a journalist born in 1992 who herself openly supported the offensive, died at the scene and a homicide investigation has been opened, said the committee, which probes major crime cases in Russia.

READ ALSO: Drone Shot Down At Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Headquarters

In July Britain put her on a list of sanctioned Russians for allegedly spreading online disinformation about Ukraine.

Dugin, 60, sometimes called “Putin’s Rasputin” or “Putin’s brain,” is an outspoken Russian ultranationalist intellectual.

He has long advocated the unification of Russian-speaking territories in a vast new Russian empire and wholeheartedly supported Moscow’s operation in Ukraine.

He was put on a Western sanctions list after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, a move he also backed.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.

The head of one of Ukraine’s breakaway separatist regions blamed the blast on Kyiv authorities.

“The Ukrainian regime terrorists tried to liquidate Alexander Dugin, but blew up his daughter,” DNR chief Denis Pushilin wrote on Telegram.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak denied that Kyiv authorities were behind the bombing.

“Ukraine surely doesn’t have anything to do with yesterday’s explosion because we’re not a criminal state,” he said in televised remarks.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram that “if the Ukrainian theory is confirmed… and it must be verified by competent authorities, it will amount to state terrorism on the part of the Kyiv regime.”

AFP

Russia Adds 43 Canadians To Blacklist, Canada Hits Back

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Russian government via teleconference in Moscow on March 10, 2022. Mikhail Klimentyev / SPUTNIK / AFP
In this file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Russian government via teleconference in Moscow on March 10, 2022. Mikhail Klimentyev / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Russia on Monday banned 43 more Canadians from entering its territory, in response to sanctions imposed by Ottawa over Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.

Canada then hit back with another round of sanctions against six Russians and 46 companies linked to the country’s defence sector.

The new blacklist published by the Russian foreign ministry includes Suzanne Cowan, leader of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, and Mark Carney, former governor of the Canadian and British central banks.

Senior civil servants, political advisers, and members of civil society are also penalised.

READ ALSO: Moscow Says Strikes Hit Ukraine Military Training Centres

The foreign ministry in Moscow criticised the “belligerent Russophobia” of Trudeau’s government.

It said the new bans were in retaliation for Canada’s introduction in May of new sanctions targeting the heads of Russian companies and members of their families.

Trudeau, in Germany for G7 talks, has also signalled Ottawa’s intention to roll out measures “to counter the Kremlin’s disinformation” and ban exports of technologies such as quantum computers and advanced manufacturing equipment that it says could be used in Russian defence manufacturing.

Since the start of its offensive in Ukraine, Russia has banned more than 700 Canadians from entering its territory, including those announced on Monday.

In May, the Kremlin closed down the Moscow office of Canadian national public broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada and cancelled its journalists’ visas and accreditation passes.

The move was in retaliation for Canada’s decision in March to ban Russian state media outlet RT.

The latest measures announced by Trudeau bring to more than 1,070 the total number of individuals and entities in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus that Canada has sanctioned since Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine started on February 24.

AFP

Moscow Says Strikes Hit Ukraine Military Training Centres

Bystanders gather around the wreckage of vehicles after Russian missiles struck the courtyard of a multi-storey residential complex on the eastern outskirts of Kharkiv on June 26, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. SERGEY BOBOK / AFP

 

Russia said Sunday that its forces had carried out strikes against three military training centres in northern and western Ukraine, including one near the Polish border, just days before a NATO summit.

The bombings were carried out with “high-precision weapons of Russia’s aerospace forces and Kalibr missiles,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

Among the targets was a military training centre for Ukrainian forces in the Starychi district of the Lviv region, around 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the border with NATO member Poland.

The other two training centres were in the central Zhytomyr region and northern Chernihiv region.

Konashenkov did not say when or from where the missiles were fired.

However Kyiv on Saturday said that Russia had carried out strikes from Ukraine’s northern neighbour Belarus. Moscow did not comment on the claim.

After the strikes, several Ukrainian brigades “completely lost their combat capabilities,” Konashenkov said, adding that “plans to deploy them in combat zones were thwarted”.

The strikes served as a reminder that Russia is capable of striking any part of Ukraine, even with the bulk of its operation now taking place in the east and south of the country.

Ukrainian authorities reported that there were Russian strikes on the capital Kyiv on Sunday morning, but Konashenkov did not mention it in his statement.

The Russian strikes come as a G7 summit opened in Germany on Sunday, and ahead of a NATO meeting in Madrid from June 28 to 30.

‘We Prepare For Worst’, Says Governor Of Ukraine Frontline Region

Mourners attend the funeral ceremony for killed Ukrainian serviceman Roman Ratushny (portrait) at a cemetery in Kyiv on June 18, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

The governor of the eastern Ukrainian region now seeing heavy fighting with Russia, Sergiy Gaiday, opened the pockets of his flack jacket Saturday to show gun cartridges and a tourniquet.

Appointed by President Volodymyr Zelensky, the 46-year-old heads the Lugansk region, including the city of Severodonetsk, where Russians are fighting street battles, and Lysychansk, where bangs of artillery are near-constant.

“It’s a tough situation, in the city (of Lysychansk) and in the region as a whole,” he told AFP in an interview, as Russians “are just shelling our troop positions 24 hours a day.”

In Lysychansk, there are signs of preparations for street fighting: soldiers digging in, putting up barbed wire, and police placing burnt-out vehicles sideways across roads to slow traffic.

“There’s an expression: prepare for the worst and the best will come by itself, Gaiday said. “of course, we need to prepare.”

Gaiday has warned of the danger that Russian troops will encircle Lysychansk by cutting off supply roads.

“Theoretically it’s possible. This is a war, anything can happen, he said.

“It could turn out that they cut off the region and we really do end up encircled. Maybe there will be fighting even in Lysychansk — this is war.”

From Lysychansk, Ukrainian artillery is firing at Severodonetsk, where smoke rises from the Azot factory and Russian troops fire back shells and rockets.

“Look how long Severodonetsk has held out: you can see they (the Russians) don’t control the town fully… they can’t go further in and they can’t put their big guns or tanks there,” the governor said.

He called for supplies of “long-range weaponry to arrive as soon as possible”.

“The fact that the West is helping us is good, but it’s (too) late.”

READ ALSO: Ukraine’s Fallen Honoured In Kyiv Memorial

 ‘No Safe Places’ 

Relatives and friends mourn in front of the grave of killed Ukrainian serviceman Roman Ratushny during his funeral at a cemetery in Kyiv on June 18, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

The governor could still theoretically visit his home town of Severodonetsk accompanied by military, he said, “but it’s very highly risky”.

In fact “there are no safe places in Lugansk region,” he said, as explosions rang out in the background.

His flak jacket was stuffed with cartridge cases and he said he has a semi-automatic rifle in his car “and if I need to, I will fight”.

Gaiday was born in Severodonetsk and appointed by Zelensky after his election in 2019.

Of his current role as a wartime administrator, Gaiday said: “It’s hard, but I don’t let my emotions out.”

“It’s painful for me to see how my home city is being destroyed,” he said, as well seeing those he knew die.

“It’s all painful, I’m a human being but I bury this deep inside me,” he said, adding that his task is to “help people as much as possible”.

Social Media 

Conditions are grim for civilians left in Lysychansk, who have no mobile phone connection, running water, or power. They cook on campfires and shelter in cellars.

“About 10 percent” have stayed in the city, Gaiday said.

“We try to talk to people and persuade them to leave. Some point-blank refuse.”

There is a “small percentage” who are waiting for Moscow to build a “Russian world” in the region, he said.

Gaiday has a prominent presence on social media including Telegram and Facebook, giving regular updates on the war.

“You need to talk,” he said, saying this could counteract the powerful influence of Russia’s state propaganda machine.

He said he also wanted people in the conflict zone to “understand that I haven’t abandoned them, that I’m on the spot and with them.”

Referring to a potential war crimes tribunal, he also suggested his posts “could even be a small element when we try (Russian President Vladimir) Putin at the Hague”.

AFP

Kyiv Strike: Moscow Claims It Destroyed Tanks Supplied By Eastern European Countries

Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov

 

Russia said Sunday that it had destroyed tanks supplied to Ukraine by eastern European countries during strikes on Kyiv.

“High-precision, long-range missiles fired by the Russian Aerospace Forces on the outskirts of Kyiv destroyed T-72 tanks supplied by eastern European countries and other armoured vehicles that were in hangars,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.


READ ALSO: Putin To Hit New Targets If Long-Range Missiles Are Supplied To Ukraine


Earlier on Sunday, Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, had said that the Ukrainian capital had been hit by “several explosions in Darnytsky and Dniprovsky districts of city”, the first such strikes on the capital since April 28.

According to the Ukrainian air force, several cruise missiles were fired in the direction of Kyiv by Russian TU-95 planes based in the Caspian Sea, one of which was destroyed.

Relative calm had returned in recent weeks to Kyiv after Moscow abandoned its assault on the capital to concentrate on eastern Ukraine.

AFP

Putin To Hit New Targets If Long-Range Missiles Are Supplied To Ukraine

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Sunday that Moscow will strike new targets if the West supplies long-range missiles to Ukraine and said new arms deliveries to Kyiv were aimed at “prolonging the conflict”.

If Kyiv is supplied with long-range missiles, “we will draw the appropriate conclusions and use our arms…. to strike targets we haven’t hit before,” Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.

In extracts of an interview to be broadcast late Sunday on Rossiya-1 television, Putin did not specify exactly which targets could be hit nor the exact range of the missiles to which Moscow would react.


READ ALSO: Kyiv Strike: Moscow Claims It Destroyed Tanks Supplied By Eastern European Countries


But his comments came just days after the United States announced it would supply Ukraine with Himars multiple launch rocket systems.

Himars is a mobile unit that can simultaneously launch multiple precision-guided missiles up to 80 kilometres (50 miles) away.

Military experts say that the range of the Himars systems is slightly longer than that of similar Russian systems, meaning Kyiv’s forces could strike enemy artillery while keeping out of Moscow’s reach.

US President Joe Biden has nevertheless ruled out supplying Ukraine with systems that could reach as far as Russia, despite Kyiv’s repeated demands for such weapons.

Putin said that there was “nothing new” in the weapons supplied by Washington to Kyiv, and that Ukrainian forces had at their disposal weapons “similar to Soviet- or Russian-made systems”.

The range of the missiles did not “depend on the system itself, but on the missiles used,” the Russian leader continued.

“From what we know and understand today, they are systems using missiles with range of 45-70 kilometres”.

Putin said that the sole aim of the West supplying arms to Ukraine was “to prolong the conflict for as long as possible”.

AFP

EU Eyes Russian Oil Import Ban As Moscow Strikes Western Ukraine

A view shows the Russian oil producer Gazprom Neft’s Moscow oil refinery on the south-eastern outskirts of Moscow on April 28, 2022. (Photo by Natalia KOLESNIKOVA / AFP)

 

The European Commission proposed a gradual ban on Russian oil imports Wednesday to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, as Russian forces pounded sites to the east of the country and hit targets in the far west near the EU border.

The EU also pledged to “significantly increase” its support for Moldova, Ukraine’s neighbour that has seen a series of attacks in a Moscow-backed separatist region, sparking fears it could be drawn into the conflict.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced the bloc would “phase out Russian supply of crude oil within six months, and refined products by the end of the year”.

If approved, the oil ban would be the EU’s toughest move yet against Russia’s strategic energy sector that helps the Kremlin finance its war, but will still not touch its huge gas exports.

Hungary and Slovakia, both hugely dependent on Russian oil, would be given more time to meet the ban under the proposed plan, which will need unanimous approval before going into effect.

The proposed new sanctions also include moves against Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, and the targeting of Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

– Solidarity for Moldova –

Western allies continue to provide Kyiv with cash and weapons in a bid to force Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back, alongside unprecedented sanctions.

But more than two months after the February 24 invasion, Russian forces continue to batter the south and east, where 21 civilians were killed and 28 wounded in a series of assaults in Donetsk on Tuesday.

Both sides on Wednesday also reported Russian strikes on key transport infrastructure around the western city of Lviv, near Poland, and Transcarpathia, a region bordering Hungary.

In neighbouring Moldova, there are fears the conflict will spill over the border.

Visiting the tiny ex-Soviet republic Wednesday, European Council President Charles Michel offered the EU’s “full solidarity” and support including in the areas of logistics and cyber defence.

“This year we plan to significantly increase our support to Moldova by providing its armed forces with additional military equipment,” he told a press conference with President Maia Sandu.

Ukraine has accused Russia of wanting to destabilise Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria to create a pretext for a military intervention.

– ‘No storming’ of Azovstal –

The war in Ukraine has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 13 million, creating the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

There was some rare good news on Tuesday with the arrival in the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia of more than 150 civilians evacuated from the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.

Further evacuations from the city, now almost entirely under Russian control after two months of siege, were to take place Wednesday with the help of the United Nations and the Red Cross, a Mariupol mayoral adviser said.

Osnat Lubrani, UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, had earlier said that 101 of the civilians had been evacuated from the immense underground galleries of the Azovstal steelworks, but more could be trapped.

The Russian army said Tuesday that its forces and pro-Moscow separatists were attacking “firing positions” in Azovstal where Ukrainian fighters are making their last stand.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday denied Ukrainian claims that it had launched a “powerful assault”, telling reporters: “There is no storming.”

“The order was publicly given by the supreme commander-in-chief to cancel the assault,” he said, referring to an order given by Putin last month not to pursue an attack on the area.

– Bombing every second –

Azovstal evacuees who emerged from a caravan of white buses in Zaporizhzhia were met at a makeshift reception centre by crying loved ones and dozens of journalists.

“We are so thankful for everyone who helped us. There was a moment we lost hope, we thought everyone forgot about us,” evacuee Anna Zaitseva said, holding her six-month-old baby in her arms.

Elyna Tsybulchenko, 54, who worked at the site doing quality control before the war trapped her there, described days and nights of endless barrages.

“They bombed like every second… everything was shaking. Dogs barked and children screamed,” she told AFP. “But the hardest moment was when we were told our bunker would not survive a direct hit.”

– ‘No safe place’ –

Since abandoning early attempts to capture Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, Russian forces have shifted to the east, including largely Russian-speaking areas, and the south.

Ukraine’s general staff said Wednesday the Russian assault continued with the aim of establishing “full control” of the regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, and to maintain a land corridor to occupied Crimea.

Russia’s defence ministry said Wednesday that its air- and sea-based weapons had destroyed six electrical substations near railways including around Lviv, near Odessa to the south, and near Dnipropetrovsk to the south-east.

It said Ukrainian troops in the eastern Donbas region had used the railway stations to transport weapons and ammunition from the EU and United States.

Meanwhile in the eastern Lugansk region, governor Sergiy Gaiday said two people had died in the last 24 hours, and “the whole region is under fire completely, there is no safe place”.

– Battle for democracy –

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday framed the war as a historic battle for democracy in a speech to workers at a factory producing Javelin missiles, which have wreaked havoc on Russian tanks.

Reprising one of his presidency’s core themes, Biden said the fight by democratic Ukraine against Putin’s Russia was a front in a wider contest between democracies and autocracies worldwide, including China.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping had told him that democracies can no longer “keep up,” Biden said.

Ukraine is the “first” battle “to determine whether that’s going to happen,” he said.

Elsewhere, diplomats said Russia will boycott a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday with the EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC), a further sign of deteriorating relations between Moscow and its United Nations partners.

Moscow Trades US Ex-Marine For Russian Pilot In Prisoner Swap

In this file photo taken on March 11, 2020 US ex-marine Trevor Reed, charged with attacking police, stands inside a defendants’ cage during a court hearing in Moscow. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Russia and the United States announced a prisoner swap Wednesday despite fierce tensions over Ukraine, with Moscow handing over a jailed ex-Marine in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug smuggling.

Trevor Reed, a 30-year-old from Texas who was jailed in Russia in 2020, was exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, 53, who had been serving a 20-year US prison sentence since 2011.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the two had been exchanged on Wednesday “as a result of a lengthy negotiations process”.

Russian state television showed Reed — dressed all in black and carrying a large bag — escorted onto a plane at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport by men in military uniform.

READ ALSORussia Cuts Gas Supplies To Poland, Bulgaria Over Ukraine

His father Joey Reed told CNN that Trevor was moved to a Moscow prison this week and then flown to Turkey where the swap took place.

“The American plane pulled up next to the Russian plane and they walked both prisoners across at the same time, like you see in the movies,” he said.

US President Joe Biden said the swap required “difficult decisions”.

“The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly,” Biden said in a statement.

“His safe return is a testament to the priority my administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad,” he added.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also praised the swap.

“I am pleased to announce the release of US citizen Trevor Reed, who was wrongfully detained in Russia,” Blinken said in a statement.

“We also remain committed to securing the freedom of all US nationals wrongfully detained abroad,” he added.

Reed was sentenced in July 2020 to nine years in prison by a Russian court after allegedly attacking police officers while drunk.

While being driven to a police station, he allegedly grabbed the arm of a police officer, causing the car they were in to swerve, and elbowed another officer in the abdomen.

Hunger Strike

In this file photo taken on July 30, 2020, US ex-marine Trevor Reed, charged with attacking police, stands inside a defendants’ cage during his verdict hearing at Moscow’s Golovinsky district court. Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP

 

Reed pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying he remembers nothing of the incident.

While imprisoned in a penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia Republic, some 500 kilometres (300 miles) southeast of Moscow, Reed staged a hunger strike over what he said was the violation of his rights.

His lawyer Sergei Nikitenkov said at the time that Reed was several times put in an isolation cell and prison staff were withholding letters from him.

Nikitenkov told the Interfax news agency Wednesday that his client did not ask for a pardon.

“He agrees with the fact of the exchange, approves it, but at the same time Trevor does not admit his guilt,” he said.

Russian television reported that Yaroshenko had already arrived back in the country.

He was arrested in Liberia in 2010 for drug trafficking, then transferred to the United States, where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in September 2011.

Yaroshenko’s lawyer Alexei Tarasov told the RIA Novosti state news agency: “I would call this an Easter miracle,” referring to Orthodox Easter.

He said that the swap was carried out in a third country and “had been in the works for a very long while”.

The Russian’s health “leaves much to be desired,” Tarasov told state news agency TASS.

In June 2021, Yaroshenko’s family sent a letter to Biden requesting a pardon for the jailed pilot.

Yaroshenko’s wife Viktoria told RIA Novosti that her husband was exchanged in Turkey, and she was waiting for him at a Moscow airport.

An exchange of prisoners was on the agenda last June during a summit meeting between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

At the time, Putin hinted that Reed’s case could be resolved quickly, calling him a “drunk and a troublemaker”.

Another US citizen, Paul Whelan, a former security official at an auto parts company, remains in a Russian prison serving 16 years on espionage charges.

Biden referred to his case in a statement, saying: “We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends.”

AFP

Russian Forces Have Captured Several Villages In East, Says Ukraine

Russian soldiers patrol a street on April 11, 2022, in Volnovakha in the Donetsk region. The picture was taken during a trip organized by the Russian military. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Ukraine said Wednesday that Russian forces had pushed deeper into the east of the country and captured several villages as part of Moscow’s offensive to take control of Donbas.

Moscow said earlier this month it was withdrawing its invading troops from around the capital Kyiv to focus its military efforts on capturing Donetsk and Lugansk in east Ukraine.

The defence ministry said that Russian forces had pushed out Kyiv’s army from Velyka Komyshuvakha and Zavody in the northeastern Kharkiv region and had gained control over Zarichne and Novotoshkivske in Donetsk.

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Zarichne is just 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the regional hub of Kramatorsk, where Russian attacks this month on a train station shuttling residents to safety in the east left dozens dead.

The defence ministry cautioned that Russian forces were “continuing an offensive in the direction of Nyzhnye and Orikhiv” in the central Zaporizhzhia region.

Pro-Russian separatists have controlled the Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014 when the Kremlin annexed the Crimean peninsula following street demonstrations that ousted Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader.

Russia has said the offensive in the east would create land border between the separatist-held territory and the Black Sea peninsula.

AFP