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Ukraine says Russia shells more than 40 towns in Donbas push

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(Last Updated On: May 26, 2022)

Russian forces shelled more than 40 towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s military said, threatening to shut off the last main escape route for civilians trapped in the path of their invasion, now in its fourth month.

After failing to seize Ukraine’s capital Kyiv or its second city Kharkiv, Russia is trying to take full control of the Donbas, comprised of two eastern provinces Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.

Russia has poured thousands of troops into the region, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces holding out in the city of Sievierodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk. Their fall would leave the whole of Luhansk province under Russian control, a key Kremlin war aim.

“The occupiers shelled more than 40 towns in Donetsk and Luhansk region, destroying or damaging 47 civilian sites, including 38 homes and a school. As a result of this shelling five civilians died and 12 were wounded,” the Joint Task Force of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Facebook.

The statement said 10 enemy attacks were repelled, four tanks and four drones destroyed, and 62 “enemy soldiers” were killed.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian troops “heavily outnumber us” in some parts of the east.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the battlefield reports.

As Moscow seeks to solidify its grip on the territory it has seized, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree simplifying the process for residents of newly captured districts to acquire Russian citizenship and passports.

The Russian parliament scrapped the upper age limit for contractual service in the military on Wednesday, highlighting the need to replace lost troops.

In a late night video address, Zelenskiy, commenting on the new Russian enlistment rules, said: “(They) no longer have enough young men, but they still have the will to fight. It will still take time to crush this will.”

Zelenskiy said this week the conflict could only be ended with direct talks between him and Putin.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.

MASS GRAVES

Police in Lysychansk are collecting bodies of people killed in order to bury them in mass graves, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. Some 150 people have been buried in a mass grave in one Lysychansk district, he added.

Families of people buried in mass graves will be able to carry out a reburial after the war, and police are issuing documents enabling Ukrainians to secure death certificates for loved ones, Gaidai said.

A missile blasted a crater in a railway track and damaged nearby buildings in Pokrovsk, a Ukrainian-held Donbas city that has become a major hub for supplies and evacuations.

In Kramatorsk, nearer the front line, streets were largely deserted, while in Sloviansk further west, many residents took advantage of what Ukraine said was a break in the Russian assault to leave.

“My house was bombed, I have nothing,” said Vera Safronova, seated in a train carriage among the evacuees.

Further north, two people were killed and seven wounded by Russian artillery shelling of the town of Balakliya in the Kharkiv region, an aide to its governor said on Facebook.

Russia is also targeting southern Ukraine, where officials said shelling had killed a civilian and damaged scores of houses in Zaporozhzhia and missiles had destroyed an industrial facility in Kryviy Rih.

FOOD CRISIS

Moscow has blockaded ships from southern Ukraine that would normally export Ukrainian grain and sunflower oil through the Black Sea, pushing up prices globally. The African Union urged the two countries on Wednesday to unblock exports of grains and fertiliser to avoid widespread famine.

Russia has blamed Western sanctions for the food crisis. It said on Wednesday it was ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine but wanted sanctions to be lifted in return.

Western nations have imposed severe sanctions on Russia.

The United States pushed Russia closer to the brink of a historic debt default on Wednesday by not extending its licence to pay bondholders. That waiver has allowed Moscow to keep up government debt payments till now.

The European Commission proposed on Wednesday to make breaking EU sanctions against Russia a crime.

The EU also said it hoped to agree sanctions on Russian oil before the next meeting of EU leaders.

But Russia, for now at least, is not short of money. Oil and gas revenues stood at $28 billion in April alone thanks to high energy prices.

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Five dead, 44 injured in 6.3-magnitude quake in Iran

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(Last Updated On: July 2, 2022)

Five people were killed and 44 others injured in a magnitude-6.3 earthquake in southern Iran on Saturday.

Iran’s state media reported rescue teams were deployed near the epicentre, Sayeh Khosh village, which is home to around 300 people in Hormozgan province, south of the capital, Tehran.

People went into the streets as aftershocks continued to jolt the area after the early morning quake, which also damaged buildings and infrastructure, AP reported.

The earthquake was felt in many neighboring countries, the report said.

The area has seen several moderate earthquakes in recent weeks. In November, one man died following two magnitude-6.4 and 6.3 earthquakes.

Iran lies on major seismic faults and experiences one earthquake a day on average.

In 2003, a magnitude-6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people.

A magnitude-7 earthquake that struck western Iran in 2017 killed more than 600 people and injured more than 9,000.

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Russia kills 21 with missiles near Odessa after abandoning Snake Island

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(Last Updated On: July 1, 2022)

Russia flattened part of an apartment building while residents slept on Friday in missile attacks near Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa that killed at least 21 people, hours after Russian troops abandoned a nearby outpost at Snake Island.

Neighbors in the resort village of Serhiivka helped workers comb through the rubble of the nine-storey apartment block, a section of which had been completely destroyed at 1:00 a.m.

Walls and windows of a neighboring, 14-storey apartment block had also been damaged by the blast wave. Nearby holiday camps were also hit, Reuters reported.

Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesman for the Odessa regional administration, said 21 people had been confirmed killed, including a 12-year-old boy. Authorities said earlier 41 people had been rescued from the apartment building where 152 lived.

The regional governor said the Soviet-era missiles had been fired from the direction of the Black Sea.

The Kremlin denied targeting civilians: “I would like to remind you of the president’s words that the Russian Armed Forces do not work with civilian targets,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The attack came just four days after Russia struck a crowded shopping mall in central Ukraine killing at least 19 people.

Kyiv says Moscow has dramatically escalated its long-range attacks hitting civilian targets far from the front line in recent days, which Ukraine describes as a war crime. Russia says it has been aiming at military sites.

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Russia and China slam NATO after alliance raises alarm

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(Last Updated On: June 30, 2022)

NATO faced rebukes from Moscow and Beijing on Thursday after it declared Russia a “direct threat” and said China posed “serious challenges ” to global stability.

The Western military alliance was wrapping up a summit in Madrid, where it issued a stark warning that the world has been plunged into a dangerous phase of big-power competition and myriad threats, from cyberattacks to climate change, The Associated Press reported.

NATO leaders also formally invited Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, after overcoming opposition from Turkey. If the Nordic nations’ accession is approved by the 30 member nations, it will give NATO a new 1,300 kilometer border with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned he would respond if the Nordic pair allowed NATO troops and military infrastructure onto their territory. He said Russia would have to “create the same threats for the territory from which threats against us are created.”

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Putin’s threats were “nothing new.”

“Of course, we have to expect some kind of surprises from Putin, but I doubt that he is attacking Sweden or Finland directly,” Kallas said as she arrived at the summit’s conference center venue. “We will see cyberattacks definitely. We will see hybrid attacks, information war is going on. But not the conventional war.”

China accused the alliance of “maliciously attacking and smearing” the country. Its mission to the European Union said NATO “claims that other countries pose challenges, but it is NATO that is creating problems around the world.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine had brought “the biggest overhaul of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.”

The invasion shattered Europe’s peace, and in response NATO has poured troops and weapons into Eastern Europe on a scale unseen in decades. Member nations have given Ukraine billions in military and civilian aid to strengthen its resistance, AP reported.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who addressed the summit by video link, asked for more. He urged NATO to send modern artillery systems and other weapons and warned the leaders they either had to provide Kyiv with the help it needed or “face a delayed war between Russia and yourself.”

“The question is, who’s next? Moldova? Or the Baltics? Or Poland? The answer is: all of them,” he said.

At the summit, NATO leaders agreed to dramatically scale up military force along the alliance’s eastern flank, where countries from Romania to the Baltic states worry about Russia’s future plans.

They announced plans to increase almost eightfold the size of the alliance’s rapid reaction force, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops, by next year. The troops will be based in their home nations but dedicated to specific countries in the east, where the alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition.

U.S. President Joe Biden, whose country provides the bulk of NATO’s firepower, announced a hefty boost in America’s military presence in Europe, including a permanent U.S. base in Poland, two more Navy destroyers based in Rota, Spain, and two more F35 squadrons in the U.K.

The expansion will keep 100,000 troops in Europe for the foreseeable future, up from 80,000 before the war in Ukraine began.

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