BREAKING: Ukraine Bus Hostages Freed, Gunman Arrested

An intercity bus with passengers who have been taken hostage by an armed man is seen in the city of Lutsk, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the capital Kiev, on July 21, 2020. YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP

 

The siege of a bus with 13 passengers by an armed man on Tuesday has ended with all the hostages freed, Ukrainian police said.

“The hostages are freed! The man who took hostages and kept them on a bus in Lutsk has been detained,” the interior ministry posted on Telegram.

The crisis lasted over 12 hours with police managing to first escort three people from the vehicle after lengthy and tense negotiations with the perpetrator.

READ ALSO: Armed Man Holds Passengers Hostage On Bus In Ukraine

The SBU security service said a total of 13 hostages were freed and no civilians were harmed in course of the incident.

“The terrorist has been identified as Maksym Kryvosh, who disseminated extremist views,” the service said in a statement.

Interior minister Arsen Avakov posted photos and videos on his Twitter of people being escorted by security officers and a man in jeans lying face down on the asphalt with hands behind his back.

 

Armed Man Holds Passengers Hostage On Bus In Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen are seen at the scene where a man took around 20 passengers hostage on a bus in western Ukrainian city of Lutsk, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the capital Kiev, on July 21, 2020. YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP

 

An armed man carrying explosives has taken around 20 passengers hostage on a bus in the western Ukrainian city of Lutsk, police said Tuesday.

The head of the local police service said shots were heard at the scene but no injuries have been reported so far.

Law enforcement has cordoned off the centre of Lutsk, a city in western Ukraine some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the capital Kiev, and advised residents not to leave their homes or places of work.

Police said the SBU security services had surrounded the minibus after two shots were fired from it towards law enforcement.

“The attacker threw a grenade from the bus, which, fortunately, did not detonate,” a statement said, adding that the attacker was believed to have undergone psychiatric treatment.

Video footage and pictures published by local media showed heavily armed police in Lutsk surrounding a blue and white minivan with several windows shattered and its curtains drawn.

An intercity bus with passengers who have been taken hostage by an armed man is seen in the city. YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP

 

The hostage-taker made contact with the police and identified himself as Maksym Plokhoy, deputy interior minister Anton Gerashchenko said.

The authorities were working to confirm the identity of the attacker, he told AFP.

Gerashchenko said law enforcement was talking with the assailant in the hopes of resolving the crisis “through negotiations”.

‘Anti-system’ suspect

Posts on social media accounts using Plokhoy’s name claimed he was armed, including with bombs.

They described him as “anti-system” and made demands of the authorities.

The interior ministry told AFP it believed the accounts were genuine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said news of the hostage-taking was “disturbing”.

“Every effort is being made to resolve the situation without casualties,” he said on Facebook.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov was travelling to the region to coordinate a resolution to the crisis, the ministry said.

Ukraine, which has been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014, has been struggling with a proliferation of illegal weapons.

The fighting broke out between Kiev forces and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the fighting so far.

Police in late 2017 stormed a post office in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where an armed man claiming to be strapped with explosives had captured 11 people.

AFP

Ukraine Battles Post-Lockdown COVID-19 Surge

Medical staff wearing personal protective equipments (PPE) treats a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit of Lviv emergency hospital on June 30, 2020. – The World Health Organisation listed Ukraine among two dozen countries in Europe that had seen resurgences of the coronavirus for the first time in months.  Genya SAVILOV / AFP.

 

Wearing full protective gear including a white suit and plastic visor, Ukrainian doctor Marta Saiko checked on an elderly patient hooked up to a ventilator.

The country has seen a surge of new COVID-19 cases following the lifting of nationwide lockdown measures.

“We’re overloaded. Over the last 24 hours we’ve admitted 18 patients with suspected coronavirus,” said Saiko, head of primary care at Lviv Emergency Hospital.

“It’s like in a war, it’s very hard. All our staff are exhausted,” she said.

Saiko’s hospital, in one of the worst affected regions of Ukraine, is still treating ordinary emergency patients but for the first time since the pandemic began is also admitting suspected virus cases.

The hospital has created 50 beds for such patients and all were full within three days, she said. “Their medical state is moderately serious or bordering on serious. One patient has died.”

Nataliya Matolinets, head of the intensive care unit, said the hospital had begun treating coronavirus patients because the city needs more beds.

“Both the psychological and physical burden has grown significantly for the doctors and all the staff,” she said.

During the first wave of contagion earlier this year, the hospital admitted some patients who subsequently tested positive and infected medics, she said.

Now, unlike in the first weeks of the outbreak, doctors have enough protective equipment, she said, remaining upbeat.

“We’re stress-resistant and understand how much hope is pinned on us.”

The facade of the hospital has a mural showing a doctor in white protective gear and the word “Dyakuyu”, meaning thank you in Ukrainian.

– ‘People forgot lockdown’ –

In June, the World Health Organization listed Ukraine among two dozen European countries that have seen resurgences of the virus.

At the highest point on June 26, Ukraine had a daily increase of 1,109 cases as authorities warned they might have to re-impose lockdown measures.

The country has confirmed more than 49,000 cases and over 1,200 deaths.

Over the past two weeks the western Lviv region has reported more new infections than any other.

Nataliya Timko, a top epidemiologist at the Lviv regional health care department, told AFP that the region had expected to have more cases in the first wave but avoided this thanks to strict lockdown rules.

But now “some people have forgotten about the lockdown”, she lamented, saying the virus is spreading because some are ditching face masks and other protective measures.

Andriy Sadovyi, mayor of Lviv, a picturesque city of one million that is a major tourism destination, told AFP that the region had carried out more tests than any other, detecting more cases.

He urged residents to adhere to social distancing rules, stressing these were in place to prevent infections.

“You can’t have a coffee in a cafe in Lviv until they’ve taken your temperature and all the waiters wear masks,” Sadovyi said of the city famed for its cafe culture.

Ukraine eased its lockdown measures in late May and early June with the resumption of public transport and the reopening of parks, outdoor cafes and beauty salons.

– ‘Hard to see patients die’ –

The mayor praised the work of local medics.

“It is reassuring that the medical system is coping with the number of patients, and we have up to 40 percent (of virus beds) occupied,” Sadovyi said.

If the surge in cases continues, all the city’s hospitals will have to start treating coronavirus patients, he added, however.

He urged the government to fulfil its promise to pay all the doctors who treat COVID-19 patients a bonus of three times their monthly salary.

“It’s important to give them decent pay,” Sadovyi said.

He acknowledged that it is “psychologically difficult for the doctors to reorganise how they work” as hospitals have to hastily adapt their systems to treat virus patients.

The new caseload causes a lot of physical and emotional stress, agreed Timko.

“It is hard to work in protective suits; it’s hard to watch patients die.”

AFP

Ukraine First Lady Hospitalised With Pneumonia

People walk in front of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev on March 31, 2019, during Ukraine’s presidential election. Sergei GAPON / AFP

 

Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska, who last week tested positive for the coronavirus, has been hospitalised with pneumonia, the presidency said on Tuesday.

Zelenska, 42, has been diagnosed with double pneumonia, the presidency said, adding that oxygen treatment was not required.

“Her condition is stable,” it said in a statement.

Zelenska said on Friday she had tested positive for the coronavirus, while her husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky, and their two children had tested negative.

Zelensky’s spokeswoman Yuliya Mendel said the 42-year-old leader was “feeling well” and being tested for coronavirus “every single day”.

“All his results are negative”, she told AFP.

Zelensky continues to work from his Kiev office, but has reduced social contact and was now in touch with a “very narrow circle of people”, Mendel said.

He also cancelled domestic trips that had been scheduled for this week, she added.

READ ALSO: Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

Zelenska said last week the positive test was a surprise as she and the president had sought to follow social distancing rules and protected themselves.

But the president came under fire early this month when he appeared without a mask in a cafe during a visit to the city of Khmelnytsky in central Ukraine.

In an interview with Ukrainska Pravda news site last week, Zelensky said that he even wanted to get infected with the coronavirus to show people that it was “scary” but “not a plague”.

Authorities said there had been an “alarming” rise in coronavirus cases as the country eases the lockdown.

Lockdown restrictions eased gradually in late May and early June with a resumption of public transport, including metro systems and long-distance and local train services.

On Tuesday, the ex-Soviet country reported 32,476 cases and 912 fatalities.

AFP

Ukraine Reports ‘Alarming’ Record Rise In COVID-19 Cases

NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP

 

Ukraine on Thursday cited an “alarming” rise in coronavirus cases after a daily record of 689 new infections were reported as the country eases its lockdown measures.

Cases have surged in Ukraine in recent days, with the total now reaching more than 29,000, according to official figures.

Since Friday, the number of cases has risen by over 3,600, 21 percent more than in the previous seven days.

“Today we have very alarming figures,” Health Minister Maksym Stepanov wrote on Facebook, saying the tally for the last 24 hours was the highest since the outbreak hit.

Some experts said the uptick was due to an increase in testing rather than a second wave of the disease.

But Stepanov berated Ukrainians for failing to stick to safety rules after lockdown restrictions were eased last month with the reopening of outdoor cafes, beauty salons, dental clinics and parks.

He promised to come up with some “urgent” steps to slow down the spread of the virus.

“The threat is still here, but take a look at the streets, take a look at what is happening around you,” he said.

“We all came out of isolation, we all decided that (the virus) no longer exists,” he added.

Lockdown measures are set to further ease this month with a resumption of public transport, including metro systems and long-distance and local train services.

Ukraine launched domestic flights on June 5 and will restart international flights on Monday.

AFP

IMF Approves $5 Billion In Aid To Ukraine

) In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP.

 

The International Monetary Fund has approved a $5 billion aid package for Ukraine aimed at helping the country “to cope with COVID-19 pandemic challenges,” with an immediate release of $2.1 billion, the institution announced in a statement on Tuesday.

The new 18-month program is geared towards “providing balance of payments and budget support, while safeguarding achievements to date and advancing a small set of key structural reforms, to ensure that Ukraine is well-poised to return to growth when the crisis ends,” the Fund said in a statement published on its website.

The program was agreed in principle on May 21 but has now received the green light from the body’s board of directors.

The Washington-based institution said Ukraine’s track record in stabilizing the economy over the last five years has been “strong.”

“However, more reforms efforts are needed to ensure robust and inclusive growth,” it added in the statement.

READ ALSO: Elevated Extreme Poverty To Persist Through 2021 – World Bank

The COVID-19 outbreak has “significantly worsened” the country’s outlook, it said, forcing authorities to focus primarily on virus containment measures.

“Uncertainty is large, and the economy is projected to contract sharply in 2020 as strict containment measures — in Ukraine and globally — led to sizable falls in domestic and external demand,” the IMF warned.

The 2020 budget is “expected to be hit hard, with a sharp decline in revenues and large emergency spending needs to address the crisis,” it continued.

The agreement was reached under what the Fund calls a Stand-By Arrangement (SBA), the technical term for one of the financing instruments most commonly used by the Fund, usually in exchange for a reform program.

It succeeds the previous 14-month $3.9 billion program approved in December 2018 to maintain stability during the election year, the Fund said.

At the end of March, the Ukrainian parliament lifted a long-standing ban on the sale of farmland, a crucial and controversial piece of legislation needed to unlock support from the IMF.

In May, Kiev also adopted a law targeting owners of banks that go bankrupt, preventing them from regaining their assets.

Under the previous plan, Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe, received a single payment of $1.4 billion due to insufficient reforms and corruption.

Separately Tuesday the IMF approved $363.6 million in emergency aid for Papua New Guinea, for use in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The support “provides resources to the authorities to maintain macroeconomic stability with the aim of assisting the private sector adversely affected by COVID-19,” the IMF said.

The Fund said it welcomed measures the country had taken to support businesses, workers and households.

However, due to export losses and the cost of measures put in place to mitigate spread of the virus, Papua New Guinea is expected to be in recession this year.

AFP

Coronavirus: Ukraine To Close Schools, Halt Italy Flights

Ukraine on the Map

 

Ukraine said Wednesday it will close schools, kindergartens and universities and suspend flights to Italy as part of measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The government said in a statement it was also banning all public events with more than 200 participants, including sports events.

The measures will take effect from Thursday and will last at least three weeks.

Ukraine’s new Prime Minister Denys Shmygal, in office since last week, told journalists flights were banned to and from Italy, the European country most affected by the virus.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Fears: India Suspends All Tourist Visas

“Today there was actually a decision and the airlines have already started implementing it,” Shmygal said, adding the measure could be extended to other countries.

Ukraine’s two carriers said they had already cut a number of flights to Italian cities due to the virus outbreak.

Ukraine has so far announced just one confirmed case of COVID-19, but there is widespread concern as many Ukrainians work in European countries hit by the disease.

Shmygal also said Ukraine will close most of its border crossings. The country shares borders with European Union countries including Poland and Slovakia.

“We want to protect Ukrainians as much as possible and to get through this period as easily as possible,” he told reporters.

Vitaly Klitschko, mayor of the capital Kiev, separately announced the closure of entertainment venues such as cinemas from Thursday until the end of March to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Even though not a single case of the coronavirus has been registered in Kiev, we have decided not to wait and protect the residents of the city,” Klitschko said.

Ukraine also banned the export of facemasks, surgical gloves and protective suits and glasses until June 1 to prevent shortages.

Ukraine’s only confirmed coronavirus patient is a resident of the southwestern city of Сhernivtsi who had recently travelled to Italy.

Plus-Size Rap Icon Alyona Alyona, Puts Ukraine On The Map

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 16, 2020 Ukrainian rap singer Alyona Alyona poses during a photo session at the Eurosonic festival in Groningen.
Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

Alyona Alyona is turning the macho rules of rap on their head.

For a start, the former kindergarten teacher tries never to swear in her songs.

She proudly raps in the Ukrainian she grew up speaking in her rustic home village, rather than in English or Russian.

And she has become something of a plus-size icon for letting it all hang out in a silver swimming costume in the video for her first big hit, “Ribki” (“Fish”).

Flanked by two scantily-clad, pencil-thin women of the type that usually people rap videos, the song is a clear metaphor for young women who feel out of place.

The rapper, whose real name is Alyona Savranenko, has put body positivity, bullying and female empowerment in songs that defy the stereotype of what hip-hop should be.

The hugely popular 28-year-old has become a phenomenon in Europe, tearing it up at the Eurosonic showcase in the Groningen in the Netherlands last month after being picked out as a rising star by the New York Times.

– ‘Such a story’ –

“She’s really extraordinary, and hugely charming,” said Jean-Louis Brossard, who booked the charismatic performer for his Trans festival in the French city of Rennes last year.

“She brings people together with her smile and her enthusiasm — and she has such a story,” he told AFP.

“She is super-good, technically great, sassy, what can I say?” added music journalist Eloise Bouton, who founded the Madame Rap website.

Her videos have scored millions of hits despite their down-to-earth settings like her home village in central Ukraine, where horses and carts were a common sight in her childhood.

One clip, which starts with her parents at the kitchen table of their Soviet-era apartment, has had nearly four million views.

Ukraine’s biggest rapper began writing poetry when she was six, but discovered hip-hop at 12.

At first, she copied or translated American rap before finding her own voice and addressing young women’s place in society.

“I wasn’t a gangster, I was a kindergarten teacher,” she said.

But Alyona’s life changed when the video for “Fish”, which featured her frolicking on a jet ski, went viral.

“At the beginning, I was scared” by all the attention, she told AFP.

“The video got so many views that journalists started to come to see me” in the tiny village nursery school near Kiev where she taught.

– Facing down sexism –

 

Alyona realised if she was going to get serious about her musical career, she would have to give up her job.

“‘Fish’ is about women who have piercings, tattoos or strange coloured hair, or a body that is not seen as normal,” the singer said.

“We, these women, are like fish in tank. And behind the glass, we don’t hear the nasty words directed at us,” she added.

Another track “Pushka”, which roughly translates as “the bomb”, also challenges how women are seen. In it, Alyona calls herself a “pishka”, a term of abuse for someone who is overweight.

Other lyrics are more poignant: “They may have a fresh view on everything, but they never invite us home…”

Hip-hop is hardly known as a hotbed of feminist thinking, and Alyona has had to put up with some zingers.

“They have told me that women were made to cook, to look after children, to do their nails, to do their makeup,” she recalled.

– Body positive –

“But I try to show that women have their place in rap battles,” the off-the-cuff bragging contests that characterise the genre.

And Alyona has found her niche, far from the cliches of “drugs and gangs — because that is not my life. I go to see my parents or go on holiday.

“I try to inspire people. I am not just there to say to women that they can be rappers, but to tell them to believe in themselves,” she said.

Even though Alyona grew up idolising Eminem — “He represents everything you should do and not do at the same time,” she quipped — she prefers not to rap in English or in Russian, which might also bring her a bigger audience.

“I taught in Ukrainian and I want to say things in Ukrainian,” she insisted.

But she denied that it had anything to do with nationalism. “I don’t like politics. My generation is tired by politics… we want to create new things. There are so many great performers, painters, so many talented people out there.”

AFP

Ukraine Says Iran ‘Knew From Start’ Missile Downed Plane

A photo combination of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani. AFP

 

Kiev on Monday accused Tehran of knowing from the start that an Iranian missile had downed a Ukrainian airliner last month after leaked recordings emerged from Iranian air traffic control.

The recordings, aired on Ukraine’s 1+1 TV channel on Sunday, feature a conversation between an air traffic controller and the pilot of another plane at the time the Ukrainian airliner was hit on January 8, killing all 176 people on board.

The pilot can be heard describing “the light of a missile” on its route and then an explosion.

Iran initially denied Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 had been brought down by one of its missiles.

It later admitted that two missiles were fired at the plane by air defences on high alert, hours after Iranian armed forces fired ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said after the release of the recording that it “proves that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane was hit by a missile.

“Everything is audible there,” Zelensky told 1+1. “Everything is recorded.”

The audio clip features the pilot of an Aseman Airlines flight from Iran’s southern city of Shiraz to Tehran communicating with air traffic control in the Iranian capital.

“There is a series of lights on our route, like a missile. Is there something?” the pilot is heard asking.

“What is the light like?” the controller asks.

“It’s the light of a missile,” the pilot replies.

The control tower then tries to contact the Ukrainian airliner, but unsuccessfully.

After a few minutes, the pilot says: “There was an explosion. We saw a very bright light here.”

It was unclear how the channel obtained the recording, though officials denied it had come from the Ukrainian authorities.

“This is a journalistic investigation. You need to ask them where they got this recording,” Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council, told AFP.

AFP

Ukrainians Rate President Zelensky High Despite Trump, Downed Jet Issues

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gives a press conference after a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on December 9, 2019. CHARLES PLATIAU / POOL / AFP

 

In his first nine months as Ukrainian president, former comedian Volodymyr Zelensky has found himself at the center of major international crises, including the US impeachment investigation and Iran’s downing of a passenger jet.

Yet so far Zelensky has sailed through relatively unscathed, avoiding any major gaffes, political analysts said.

The 41-year-old played a president in a popular TV sitcom before sweeping to power in elections last April on promises to “smash the old corrupt system” and end the separatist war in the east.

But many had voiced concerns about how someone without political experience could lead a country fighting a war with Russia-backed separatists while also dealing with widespread poverty and corruption.

“Fears of his inexperience turned out to be exaggerated,” said Oleksiy Melnyk, a foreign policy analyst at the Razumkov Center in Kiev.

Polls show most Ukrainians are satisfied with Zelensky’s performance.

His approval rating reached 62 percent in December after his first face-to-face meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

When it comes to international relations, the political novice has been constantly in the spotlight.

Just a few months into his first term, Zelensky found himself plunged into the impeachment scandal that threatens to take down US President Donald Trump.

Trump is accused of pressuring Zelensky to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s dealings in Ukraine, making this a quid pro quo for military aid and a White House meeting. An impeachment trial is currently underway in the US Senate.

The Ukrainian leader has sought to distance himself from the scandal, stressing it is an internal affair for the United States.

For Kiev it is vital to maintain support from both major US political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats since Washington has been Kiev’s key ally in its long-running fight with Moscow.

December’s summit with Putin in Paris was the next major test for Zelensky.

Many Ukrainians feared Russia’s strongman would overwhelm the former showman, but he managed to restart peace talks that had been frozen for three years and agree on a prisoner exchange.

“Zelensky is a fast learner,” said David Stulik, senior analyst in the European Values Centre for Security Policy and former European Union diplomat in Kiev.

“With each international meeting he has acted more and more confidently,” Stulik said while adding Zelensky should have been “more insistent and even assertive” at the negotiations with Russia and the West.

 Slow to blame Iran 

Other analysts have also pointed to some flaws in Zelensky’s tenure as president so far.

When a Ukrainian airliner crashed in Iran in early January, killing all 176 people on board, Kiev’s reaction was rather muted.

As Ottawa and London openly stated that Iranian forces had accidentally shot the plane down with a missile, Ukraine was slow to pin the blame on Tehran, which ultimately admitted guilt.

Zelensky has faced criticism for what some see as a passive stance compared to other leaders.

“During the crisis, the political leader of Ukraine was (Canadian Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau,” analyst Mykola Davydiuk said ironically.

Yet Kiev argued that its circumspect approach meant Iran granted it access to the wreckage and the crash site to shed light on the tragedy.

Serious rifts emerged in Zelensky’s team last week with Prime Minister Oleksiy Goncharuk offering to resign after a leaked recording emerged where he questioned the president’s grasp of economics.

Zelensky seemingly smoothed over the situation, giving his PM a “second chance” and demanding an investigation into the leak.

Lacking ‘clear vision’ 

Such successful management of ad hoc crises does not, however, give much indication of whether Zelensky will be able to transform the country in the way he has promised.

Ukrainians want him to enact crucial reforms to root out corruption, reform the justice system and revive the economy of one of the poorest countries in Europe.

“It’s too bad he doesn’t use his great popularity to do something really big,” said Davydiuk.

A key reform promoted by Zelensky is allowing the sale of farmland from 2020 — a move that is hotly anticipated by investors but feared by many farmers.

For months the process of the bill’s adoption has dragged on with more and more amendments submitted and growing protests.

“We are in a zone of great risks,” said Oleksandr Sushko, executive director of the International Renaissance Foundation, which promotes the development of civil society.

He cited the fact that the president’s team consists mainly of his former showbusiness colleagues who lack experience in solving political problems.

Zelensky has got bogged down in constant crises and the presidential routine wrote Ukrainian news site Ukrainska Pravda.

In its view, he has “failed to formulate a clear vision of the country he wants to build”.

AFP

Tape Reveals How Trump Demanded Sack Of Ukrainian Envoy

US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks to the press on the South Lawn of the White House before departing in Washington, DC on August 9, 2019.   AFP

 

Donald Trump demanded the dismissal of Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine and a key figure in the president’s impeachment trial, according to a video recording released to US media on Saturday. 

The footage was reportedly taken during an April 2018 donor dinner at a hotel and released to news outlets by an attorney for Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Parnas and his business partner Igor Fruman are key players in Trump’s alleged campaign to pressure the government of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, a potential election opponent for the president.

The issue is central to Trump’s ongoing impeachment trial in the US Senate.

His order to fire the ambassador came after Parnas told him that Yovanovich was an impediment, and claiming that she had privately disparaged the President.

“Get rid of her!” Trump says on the tape, reportedly addressing a White House aide at the dining table.

“Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”

Images taken at an awkward angle appear at the start of the one hour, 23-minute-long video. The rest of the recording shows a tan background, as if the camera were covered, but Trump’s distinctive voice is clear.

In TV interview with MSNBC News last week, Parnas said Trump “knew exactly what was going on” with his and Fruman’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian authorities to investigate Biden.

His appearance came after Democrats released documents that showed Giuliani worked with Parnas to pressure Kiev to investigate Biden.

Both Parnas and Fruman were charged with violating US campaign finance laws in October.

The documents also showed the pair, working with Ukrainian officials, trying to force out Yovanovitch, a respected career diplomat who Trump eventually removed in May 2019.

Saturday’s recording corroborates much of what Parnas said in his TV interview, including that he knew Trump — something the president has denied.

 More recordings 

In October Yovanovitch testified to Congress that she was recalled due to “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”

Joseph Bondy, an attorney for Parnas, said that he submitted the evidence to investigators in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

He also told CNN that Parnas has more recordings and photographs that may be released to the public.

The release of the tape increases pressure on US senators to subpoena witnesses for the impeachment trial, a move several polls show has strong support among the US public.

White House lawyers began Trump’s defense in the impeachment trial on Saturday.

They have argued that the president did nothing wrong in his dealings with Ukraine and that US voters — not Congress — should decide his fate.

Trump’s lawyers will resume his defense on Monday.

AFP

Two Missiles Were Fired At Ukraine Airliner, Says Iran

FILES) In this file photo taken on January 8, 2020 rescue teams are seen at the scene of a Ukrainian airliner that crashed shortly after take-off near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran.  Akbar TAVAKOLI / IRNA / AFP

 

Iran’s civil aviation authority confirmed two missiles were fired at a Ukrainian airliner that was brought down earlier on January, in a preliminary report posted on its website late Monday.

“Investigators… discovered that two Tor-M1 missiles… were fired at the aircraft,” it said, adding an investigation was ongoing to assess the bearing their impact had on the accident.

The statement confirms a report in The New York Times which included video footage appearing to show two projectiles being fired at the airliner.

The Tor-M1 is a short-range surface-to-air missile developed by the former Soviet Union that are designed to target aircraft or cruise missiles.

Rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board.  AFP

The Kiev-bound Ukraine International Airlines plane was shot down in a catastrophic error shortly after takeoff from Tehran on January 8, killing all 176 people on board.

Iran had for days denied Western claims based on US intelligence reports that the Boeing 737 operating Flight PS752 had been shot down, before eventually coming clean.

The Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace commander Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh accepted full responsibility but said the missile operator who opened fire had been acting independently.

AFP