Russia–Ukraine War (April 12): Ukraine Secret Service Says It Has Arrested Top Putin Ally

The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, April 12. Click here for updates from April 11.

Ukraine Tells Russia: Return Prisoners If You Want Top Ally Back

Ukraine told Russia to release prisoners of war if it wants the Kremlin’s most high-profile ally in the country freed as the United States is expected to send more weapons after Russia‘s strongest signal yet the war will grind on.

Ukraine announced on Tuesday that Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the Opposition Platform – For Life party, had been apprehended. In February, the authorities said he had escaped house arrest after a treason case was opened.

The pro-Russian figure, who says President Vladimir Putin is godfather to his daughter, has denied wrongdoing. A spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

“I propose to the Russian Federation: exchange this guy of yours for our guys and girls now held in Russian captivity,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an early morning address on Wednesday.

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Ukraine Secret Service Says It Has Arrested Top Putin Ally

Ukraine on Tuesday said it arrested Kremlin’s most prominent ally in the country.

In February, Ukraine said Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the Opposition Platform—For Life party, escaped from house arrest after the authorities opened a treason case against him.

The pro-Russian figure, who says Putin is godfather to his daughter, has denied wrongdoing. On Tuesday a spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

“Pro-Russian traitors and agents of the Russian intelligence services, remember—your crimes have no statute of limitations,” Ukraine’s security service posted on Facebook alongside a photo of Medvedchuk in handcuffs.

Operatives “conducted this lightning-fast and dangerous multi-level special operation,” the head of the organization Ivan Bakanov said.

A Kremlin spokesman was cited by the Tass news agency as saying he had seen the photo and could not say whether it was genuine.

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Ukrainian Troops to Train in UK

James Heappey, the UK armed forces minister, confirmed on Tuesday that the country’s military will train Ukrainian soldiers on British soil. An unspecified number of troops are expected to arrive within the “next few days” to learn how to operate armored vehicles that Britain has pledged to supply to Ukraine amid the ongoing conflict with Russia.

“There’s 120 armored vehicles that are in the process of being made ready,” Heappey told LBC Radio.

“And the Ukrainian troops that will operate them will arrive in the UK in the next few days to learn how to drive and command those vehicles.”

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Putin Calls Situation in Ukrainian Town of Bucha ‘Fake’

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday said that images and footage of dead bodies strewn across the Ukrainian town of Bucha were fake.

Speaking at a televised news conference after talks with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, Putin compared Ukrainian allegations that Russian servicemen executed civilians in Bucha to what he said was the staging by the West of a chemical weapons attack in Syria aimed at incriminating Bashar al-Assad.

“It’s the same kind of fake in Bucha,” Putin said.

Ukraine has accused the Russian military of executing residents of Bucha, a town outside the capital Kyiv that Russian troops had occupied for several weeks before withdrawing.

Russian authorities have accused Ukraine of staging the harrowing scene to derail peace talks and prompt the West to impose more sanctions against Moscow.

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Putin Says Russia–Ukraine Peace Talks ‘Deadlocked’

Kyiv has gone back on the tentative agreements made between the Ukrainian and Russian negotiating teams in Istanbul in late March, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said. According to Putin, the peace talks have now “returned to a deadlock.”

Ukraine has refused to recognize Crimea as Russian and the Donbass republics as independent, the Russian president explained at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East on Tuesday. He emphasized that those two points were key topics without which no progress could be reached in the talks.

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Russia Responds to CNN’s Default Claim

A report by US media company CNN about an alleged Russian Eurobond default announcement is not true, the Russian Ministry of Finance said on Tuesday.

CNN reported Monday, citing credit-ratings agency S&P, that Moscow has defaulted on its foreign debt because it offered bondholders payments in rubles and not in dollars.

“Information posted by CNN does not correspond to the facts,” the ministry’s statement said, adding “Russia did not announce the default on its Eurobond commitments.”

“Default means the debtor either has no money to honor his debt liabilities or no desire to honor such liabilities when funds are available. Neither of the two is the case in respect of Russia. The Russian Federation has enough funds to timely service and repay all its debt liabilities,” the finance ministry explained.

The ministry stressed that Washington’s actions to block Moscow’s payments have prejudiced the interests of foreign investors.

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Ukraine Says Mariupol Troops Low on Supplies

An adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has paid tribute to Ukrainian troops defending the besieged south-eastern port of Mariupol but acknowledged they are running low on supplies.

Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter that “for more than 1.5 months our defenders protect the city from (Russian) troops, which are 10+ times larger. They’re fighting under the bombs for each meter of the city. They make (Russia) pay an exorbitant price.”

Mariupol was a key target for Russian forces soon after the invasion began in late February. It has symbolic significance as one of the largest cities in eastern Ukraine. It is also strategically valuable as a major harbor and as part of a land corridor between territory held by Russia-backed separatists to the east and the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

“Our soldiers remain blocked and have issues with supplies,” Podolyak wrote, adding that Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian general staff are working “to find a solution and help our guys.” He did not give details, citing operational reasons.

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Mayor of Ukraine’s Bucha Claims 403 Bodies Found So Far

The mayor of the Ukrainian town of Bucha near Kyiv claimed on Tuesday that authorities had so far found 403 bodies of people they believed were killed by Russian forces during their occupation of the area but that the number was growing.

Anatoliy Fedoruk added during a briefing that it was too early for residents to return to the town, after Russian soldiers retreated late last month.

Reuters could not immediately verify Fedoruk’s comments about the number of people found dead in Bucha. Reuters has witnessed the remains of five victims in Bucha who were shot through the head but has not been able to independently determine who was responsible.

Moscow, which has repeatedly denied targeting civilians since its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, has called allegations that Russian forces executed civilians in Bucha while they occupied the town a “monstrous forgery” aimed at denigrating the Russian army.

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World Bank to Send Ukraine $1.5 Billion as Food, Energy Prices Spike

The World Bank is preparing a $1.5 billion support package for war-torn Ukraine and plans to aid developing countries struggling to keep up with surging food and energy prices, World Bank President David Malpass said on Tuesday.

In remarks at the Warsaw School of Economics in Poland, Malpass said the bank was helping Ukraine provide critical services, including paying wages for hospital workers, pensions, and social programs.

“The World Bank was created in 1944 to help Europe rebuild after World War Two. As we did then, we will be ready to help Ukraine with reconstruction when the time comes,” Malpass said.

Malpass said the package was enabled by Monday’s approval of $1 billion in International Development Association (IDA) aid by donor and recipient countries, along with a $100 million IDA payment to neighboring Moldova.

The IDA disbursement plan still needs full approval by the World Bank’s board of directors in coming weeks, a World Bank spokesperson said.

The aid comes on top of about $923 million in fast-disbursing financing approved by the World Bank last month, which also includes donor country contributions. That package includes $350 million in budget support financing from the World Bank’s main lending arm, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD).

Malpass has previously said the bank was working on about $3 billion in total near-term aid for Ukraine.

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Russian ‘Unity Will Only Grow Stronger’ in Face of Western Sanctions: Putin

President Vladimir Putin says that Russians’ unity will only grow stronger in the face of Western sanctions and it will be the West that will face instability.

Putin said during a visit to the Vostochny space launch facility in Russia’s Far East on Tuesday that the West mistakenly expected its sanctions to undermine Russia’s stability. He said that “the Russian people always strengthen their unity in a difficult situation.”

He insisted that it will be the West that will be shaken by growing instability, fueled by public dismay over galloping inflation. The Russian leader also lashed out at European leaders, describing them as Washington’s stooges and saying that they are conducting policies harmful to their nations.

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UNICEF Responds to Kyiv’s Child Abduction Claim

Moscow has denied accusations of forcibly sending Ukrainian refugees to Russia, while UNICEF has stated that it possesses no evidence that Russia has been abducting children in the region, as is being claimed by Kyiv.

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova reported on Tuesday that over 500,000 civilians from the Donetsk People’s Republic, Lugansk People’s Republic and Ukraine have willingly relocated to the Russian Federation since the start of the military conflict.

“I responsibly declare that there has never been any forceful relocation of refugees to Russia, these are all lies,” said the ombudswoman, referring to Kyiv’s accusation that Moscow has forcibly sent over 500,000 civilians to Russia to “use them as hostages” to pressure Ukraine to surrender.

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Putin Says Russia Withstood Sanctions ‘Blitz’; It Cannot Be Isolated

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the Russian economy has successfully resisted new Western sanctions over Ukraine.

Speaking Tuesday on a visit to the Vostochny space launch facility in Russia’s Far East, Putin said that Russia’s economy and financial system withstood the impact of what he called the Western sanctions “blitz” and the ruble has recovered its losses.

Putin argued that the sanctions will backfire against the West. For example, he said that Western restrictions on fertilizer exports from Russia and ally Belarus will drive up global fertilizer prices, eventually leading to food shortages and increased migration flows.

Putin said that “common sense should prevail” and added that the West should “come back to reason and make well-balanced decisions without losing its face.” He contended that “they won’t be able to shut all the doors and windows.”

Putin also warned the West that attempts to isolate Moscow would fail, citing the success of the Soviet space program as evidence that Russia could achieve spectacular leaps forward in tough conditions.

Russia says it will never again depend on the West after the United States and its allies imposed crippling sanctions on it to punish Putin for his Feb. 24 order for what he called a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“The sanctions were total, the isolation was complete but the Soviet Union was still first in space,” Putin said, according to Russian state television.

“We don’t intend to be isolated,” Putin said. “It is impossible to severely isolate anyone in the modern world—especially such a vast country as Russia.”

Russia’s Cold War space successes such as Gagarin’s flight and the 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite from earth, have a particular pertinence for Russia: both events shocked the United States. The launch of Sputnik 1 prompted the United States to create NASA in a bid to catch up with Moscow.

Putin says the “special military operation” in Ukraine is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia—including via the NATO military alliance—and that Moscow had to defend Russian-speaking people in Ukraine from persecution.

He said on Tuesday that he had no doubts Russia would achieve all of its objectives in Ukraine—a conflict he cast as both inevitable and essential to defend Russia in the long term.

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No Doubt Our Goals in Ukraine Will Be Achieved, Vows Putin

President Vladimir Putin says the Russian military action in Ukraine aims to ensure Russia’s security and is vowing that its goals will be achieved.

Speaking Tuesday on a visit to the Vostochny space launch facility in Russia’s Far East, Putin charged that Ukraine was turned into an “anti-Russian bridgehead” where “sprouts of nationalism and neo-Nazism were being cultivated.” Ukraine and its Western allies have dismissed such claims as a cover for aggression.

Putin reaffirmed his claim that the Russian “special military operation” was aimed to protect people in areas in eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. He also said that the campaign was also aimed to “ensure Russia’s own security.”

Putin argued that “we had no other choice” and said that “there is no doubt that we will achieve our goals.”

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Putin Explains Attack on Ukraine

Kyiv openly refused to implement a peace deal with rebels from the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics so Russia had no option but to use military force to defend people living there, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated on Tuesday.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior officials “declared that the Minsk agreements cannot be implemented,” Putin recalled, referring to the roadmap to peace in Ukraine brokered by Russia, Germany, and France.

The 2014 agreements detailed how Kyiv could reintegrate its breakaway regions by offering them a general amnesty, greater autonomy, and representation in the government. Kyiv stalled progress on the deal, claiming that it could only proceed with its part after retaking control of the rebel-held areas.

“They publicly refused to [implement the roadmap]. Well, tolerating this genocide that had been going on for eight years was no longer possible,” Putin said.

The Russian president added that Ukraine, backed by Western countries, was being “turned into a foothold against Russia.”

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Putin Makes Announcement About Russia’s Lunar Program

Russia must be able to respond to challenges in exploring space, President Vladimir Putin has said, adding that the country is going to continue with its lunar program, among other ventures.

“We’ll resume the lunar program,” Putin asserted as he visited Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far Eastern Amur Region on Tuesday with his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko.

The Russian leader said he was referring to the launch of the Luna-25 robotic lander, which is scheduled to take place at Vostochny on August 22, according to spacecraft developer NPO Lavochkin.

The probe will be tasked with perfecting a soft landing on the lunar surface for future missions and studying the area near the Moon’s south pole. It’s planned to carry 30kg of scientific equipment, including a robotic arm and a drill.

“The generation of creators of the national rocket and space program left us not only a colossal technological foundation, but also the values ​that we look up to today,” Putin said.

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Russia Says It Has Hit Ukrainian Arsenals

The Russian military says it has hit Ukrainian arsenals with long-range cruise missiles.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Tuesday that the military used air- and sea-launched missiles to destroy an ammunition depot and a reinforced hangar for warplanes at Starokostiantyniv in the Khmelnytskyi region.

Konashenkov said that another strike destroyed a Ukrainian ammunition depot in Havrylivka, near Kyiv.

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Separatists Deny Using Chemical Weapons

A spokesman for Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has denied using chemical weapons to uproot Ukrainian troops in the port city of Mariupol.

Eduard Basurin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Tuesday that the separatist forces “haven’t used any chemical weapons in Mariupol.”

Basurin’s assertion followed his statement Monday on Russian state TV that the separatists will use “chemical troops” against Ukrainian soldiers holed up at reinforced positions at a giant steel factory in Mariupol “to smoke them out of there.”

A Ukrainian unit defending Mariupol claimed without providing evidence that a drone had dropped a poisonous substance on its positions. It indicated there were no serious injuries.

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Japan Approves Asset Freezes on 398 Russians

Japan’s Cabinet has approved additional sanctions against Moscow. They include a freeze on assets of nearly 400 individuals including Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two daughters, as well as a ban on new investments and vodka imports.

The new sanctions approved Tuesday include a freeze on assets of 398 Russian individuals, who also include Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s wife and daughter. Japan has now frozen assets of more than 500 Russian individuals and organizations.

Japan’s new measures also include freezing the assets of major banks Sberbank and Alfa Bank, as well as 28 other Russian organizations such as those linked to military businesses. The measure for the banks will take effect on May 12.

Tuesday’s approval covers part of a list of sanctions announced last Friday by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who also proposed phasing out Russian coal and other fossil fuel imports.

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Ukraine Says Checking Unverified Information That Russia Used Chemical Weapons in Mariupol

Ukraine is checking unverified information that Russia may have used chemical weapons while besieging the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said on Tuesday.

“There is a theory that these could be phosphorous munitions,” Malyar said in televised comments, adding: “Official information will come later.”

Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russia-backed separatist forces trying to wrest complete control of Mariupol denied using chemical weapons in comments carried by Russian news agency Interfax.

Mariupol’s city council wrote on the Telegram messaging service that it was not yet possible to examine the area where the poisonous substance had allegedly been used because of enemy fire. It added that the city’s civilian population had minimal contact with the unspecified poison but that Ukrainian soldiers had come into closer contact with it and were now being observed for possible symptoms.

Russia has previously accused Ukraine of preparing to use chemical weapons, without providing evidence.

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Ukraine Conflict Worsens Fertilizer Crunch, Risking Food Supplies

Russia’s war in Ukraine has pushed up fertilizer prices that were already high, made scarce supplies even harder to find, and pinched farmers, especially those in the developing world.

Higher fertilizer prices are making the world’s food supply more expensive and less abundant, as farmers skimp on nutrients for their crops and get lower yields.

While the ripples will be felt by grocery shoppers in wealthy countries, the squeeze on food supplies will land hardest on families in poorer countries. The fertilizer crunch threatens to further limit worldwide food supplies, already constrained by the disruption of crucial grain shipments from Russia and Ukraine.

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Pentagon, Partners Working to Verify Azov Regiment Reports That Russia Used ‘Poisonous Substance’ in Mariupol

The United States, United Kingdom, and Australia have said they are working to verify unconfirmed reports on social media that Russian forces used a “poisonous substance” in the long-contested southern city of Mariupol.

The Azov Regiment, a neo-Nazi unit of the National Guard of Ukraine, said on Telegram that Russia used a “poisonous substance of an unknown origin” in the port city. The regiment has been defending war-torn Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Azov Sea that would provide Russia a land corridor to Crimea if captured, since it took control from pro-Russian separatist forces in 2014.

“Russian occupation forces used a poisonous substance of unknown origin against Ukrainian military and civilians in the city of Mariupol, which was dropped from an enemy [unmanned aerial vehicle],” the Azov Regiment posted on April 11. “The victims have respiratory failure, vestibulo-atactic syndrome. The consequences of using an unknown substance are being clarified.”

Read the full article here

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All Options on Table If Russia Uses Chemical Weapons in Ukraine: UK Minister

All options would be on table in response to any use of chemical weapons in Ukraine by Russia, British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said on Tuesday (April 12).

British Foreign Minister Liz Truss on Monday (April 11) said Britain was working with its partners to verify the details of reports Russian forces may have used chemical agents in an attack on Mariupol.

In an interview with BBC TV, Heappey said British defense intelligence so far had been unable to verify the reports but that they were “Working urgently to understand whether or not chemical weapons have been used.”

“If chemical weapons have been used, that is a very important moment for our prime minister and other heads of government around the world to consider how we would respond to that,” Heappey added

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed on Monday that Russia could resort to chemical weapons and called on the West to impose strong sanctions on Moscow that would deter even talk of the use of such weapons.

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Russia Limited Sanctions Damage by Ditching Dollar: Central Bank

Bank of Russia Governor Elvira Nabiullina says Russia holds enough yuan and gold in its reserves to limit the impact of Western sanctions—even after Washington and its allies froze half the country’s holdings in dollars and other currencies.

The regulator cut the share of dollars in reserves to 10.9 percent as of January 1 from 21.2 percent a year earlier. Meanwhile, euro holdings reportedly rose to 33.9 percent from 29.2 percent. At the same time, yuan holdings grew to 17.1 percent from 12.8 percent a year earlier, while the share of gold held steady at 21.5 percent.

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German Newspaper Hires Russian Anti-War Protestor

The German newspaper Die Welt has hired a new reporter: the Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who drew the world’s attention after a surprising stunt on Russian state television in protest of her native country’s recent and continuing invasion of Ukraine.

Ovsyannikova “is now a freelance correspondent for Die Welt, reporting from Ukraine and Russia, among other places,” said the newspaper in a statement. Die Welt is the flagship newspaper of Axel Springer SE, a German media group that also owns the American publications Insider and Politico.

“At a crucial moment, Marina Ovsyannikova had the courage to confront Russian viewers with an unembellished view of reality,” said Welt spokesman Ulf Poschardt. “In doing so, she defended the most important journalistic ethics—despite the threat of state repression. I am excited to be working with her.”

Read the full article here 

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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Claims Russia Could Use Chemical Weapons, Calls for More Sanctions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed on Monday that Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine and called on the West to impose strong sanctions on Moscow that would deter even talk of the use of such weapons.

There were unconfirmed reports on Monday suggesting that chemical weapons were used in the besieged southern Ukrainian port of Mariupol.

“We treat this with the utmost seriousness,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Monday. He did not say chemical weapons had already been used.

Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the mayor of Mariupol, wrote on his Telegram channel reports about a chemical attack had not been confirmed and that he expected to provide details and clarifications later.

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France Declares Six Russian Spies ‘Persona Non Grata’ Over Clandestine Operation

France’s foreign ministry on Monday declared six Russian agents posing as diplomats as “persona non grata” after an investigation by the domestic intelligence services concluded they were working against French national interests.

“Following a very long investigation, the General Directorate of Internal Security (DGSI) revealed on April 10 a clandestine operation carried out by the Russian intelligence services on our territory,” the ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.

“Six Russian agents operating under diplomatic cover and whose activities proved contrary to our national interests have been declared persona non grata,” it said.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin congratulated DGSI staff on Twitter for hindering the operation. He gave no details of the nature of the mission. The foreign ministry also declined to give details.

In the absence of Russia’s ambassador in Paris, his number two had been summoned to inform him of the reasons for the expulsion, the foreign ministry said.

“Russia will respond accordingly,” news agency TASS quoted foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.

France earlier this month expelled 35 Russians with diplomatic status as part of a broader European move and said the agents had been working against France’s interests.

Despite some criticism, President Emmanuel Macron has sought to maintain a dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He speaks regularly with Putin as part of efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Ukraine and begin a credible negotiation between Kyiv and Moscow.

Tensions, however, have mounted in recent weeks with the Russian ambassador being summoned three times, including twice over tweets by his embassy that France described as unacceptable.

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Abandoned in East Ukraine, Cats and Dogs Look for New Homes in Russia

With the trunk of her car filled to the brim with pet carriers, Yulia drives across the conflict-torn Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine to pick up cats and dogs abandoned by owners who fled in the hope of finding them new homes in Russia.

The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a Russian-backed separatist region, announced the evacuation of its residents to southeast Russia due to increased shelling days before Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a “special military operation.”

As residents rushed to flee, many pets were left to their own devices.

Yulia from Donetsk, has already made nine trips to the Russian border, carrying up to 18 pets each time. There she hands abandoned cats and dogs over to Russian volunteers who then drive them to Moscow some 900 kilometres (560 miles) to the north.

Volunteers headed by Irina Marchenko, a pet store owner in Moscow, have come together from both sides of the border to bring the abandoned cats and dogs of Donetsk to new homes in Russia.

Yulia said she felt compelled to help, even if that meant driving for hours through checkpoints with misbehaving cats and squealing puppies as passengers in her dark green Lada.

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EU Goes After Russian Assets

Europol and other EU agencies have teamed up with the bloc’s members to facilitate criminal investigations into the assets of individuals and entities sanctioned over Russia’s ongoing military offensive in Ukraine.

“Operation Oscar” will also support probes by EU nations into alleged violations of economic and trade restrictions placed on Moscow, Europol announced on Tuesday.

The “umbrella operation” will last for at least a year and is set to include a number of parallel investigations. In many ways it’s similar to Operation Sentinel, which was carried out during the COVID-19 pandemic to tackle fraud against the EU’s recovery funds.

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Canada Denies Training Ukrainian Azov Regiment

Canada’s military has reportedly provided combat training to members of Ukraine’s Azov regiment, contrary to stated policy and despite previous denials of any official relations between Ottawa and the notorious militia.

The apparent connection came to light in photos posted on social media by the Ukrainian National Guard, according to a report on Monday by Radio-Canada. The pictures show soldiers wearing Azov Battalion patches on their uniforms while participating in training with Canadian forces.

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EU Blacklists Already Banned Russian Airlines

The EU has banned 20 Russian airlines over safety and maintenance issues, according to a press release published on the European Commission’s website on Monday. Russian airlines have already been banned from European airspace as part of sanctions on Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine.

Russia’s biggest carriers such as Aeroflot, S7, Rossiya, UTair are among those added to the EU Air Safety List, which logs airlines that are subject to an operating ban or operational restrictions within the European Union, because they do not meet international safety standards, the release states.

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Austria Says Putin Intends to ‘Resolve’ Donbass Conflict

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer left his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday convinced that Western sanctions aren’t weakening the Kremlin’s determination to resolve the Donbass crisis before ending the military offensive in Ukraine.

“He clearly confirmed that the sanctions are tough for Russia but the situation in Donbass, as he said, must be, so to say, resolved, despite the sanctions—even if they are quite tangible,” Nehammer told reporters following the meeting at Putin’s residence outside Moscow, as quoted by TASS.

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China Used NATO Airspace to Deliver Missiles to Serbia

Six Chinese military aircraft transited the airspace of Turkey and Bulgaria, both of which are NATO members, on April 11 to deliver missiles to Serbia, a key ally of Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia.

The move is likely to be regarded as a display of force, as Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic previously had said that NATO refused to let the shipments of Chinese weapons cross through the airspace of its member nations.

The Y-20 cargo planes delivered the anti-aircraft weapons systems to Serbia via the civilian Nikola Tesla airport in Belgrade.

Read the full article here

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Ukraine Claims Tens of Thousands Killed in Mariupol

Ukraine on Monday said tens of thousands of people have likely been killed in Russia’s assault on the southeastern city of Mariupol.

“Mariupol has been destroyed, there are tens of thousands of dead, but even despite this, the Russians are not stopping their offensive,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address to South Korean lawmakers without providing more details.

If confirmed, it would be by far the largest number of dead so far reported in one place in Ukraine.

The head of the Russia-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, told Russia’s RIA news agency on Monday that more than 5,000 people may have been killed in Mariupol. He said Ukrainian forces were responsible.

Citing figures from Mariupol’s city administration, Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said 33,000 residents of Mariupol had been deported to Russia or territories held by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia said on Sunday it had “evacuated” 723,000 people from Ukraine since the start of what it called its “special operation.” Moscow denies attacking civilians.

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Biden Urges Modi Not to Step Up Indian Use of Russian Oil

President Joe Biden asked India’s Narendra Modi on Monday not to accelerate the buying of Russian oil as the United States and other nations try to cut off Moscow’s energy income following the invasion of Ukraine. The Indian prime minister made no public commitment to refrain from Russian oil, a source of tension with the United States.

Meeting by video call, Biden told Modi that the United States could help India diversify its sources of energy, according to press secretary Jen Psaki. Even though India receives little of its oil from Russia, it stepped up recently with a major purchase as other democracies are trying to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The president also made clear that he doesn’t believe it’s in India’s interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy or other commodities,” Psaki said.

While the two nations ended the meeting with Biden saying they committed to strengthening their relationship, White House officials could not say if India stood with them in fully condemning Putin, saying the choice ultimately rested with Modi’s government. The two leaders will meet in person May 24 in Tokyo for a summit of the Quad, a coalition that also includes Australia and Japan.

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French Bank SocGen Ends Business in Russia

Societe Generale has announced it is ending its Russian activities—making it the first big Western bank to announce it’s quitting Russia.

SocGen is also selling its entire stake in Rosbank to a company linked to a Russian oligarch, costing the French bank some 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion).

Rosbank is a heavyweight in the Russian banking sector, and Societe Generale was the majority shareholder.

“After several weeks of intensive work,” the bank said in a statement, it had signed an agreement with Russian investment fund Interros Capital to sell all of its stake in Rosbank as well as its insurance subsidiaries in Russia.

Interros is one of the largest funds in the country, which holds assets in heavy industry and metallurgy.

Isabel van Brugen, Andrew Thornebrooke, Nicholas Dolinger, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.