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Tide turns in the Ukraine war as Russia makes progress in the east

Russian forces are arguably having their best spell since the invasion of Ukraine began four months ago.

They have eliminated most Ukrainian defenses in the Luhansk region, consolidated control of a belt of territory in the south, improved their logistics and command structure and blunted the effectiveness of Ukrainian attack drones.
Within the last week, the Russians have been rewarded for their intense — some would say merciless — bombardments of the remaining parts of the Luhansk region held by Ukrainian forces, which have finally given up Severodonetsk and lost territory south of Lysychansk.
The head of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, predicted last Friday that Russian forces would completely encircle Lysychansk within two or three days. So far they haven’t, but the city is in imminent peril.
A column of Ukrainian army tanks rolls down a road near Lysychansk on June 19, 2022.

Russian forces have also stepped up attacks in the Donetsk region, getting slightly closer to the belt of industrial towns in the region that runs south from Sloviansk through Kramatorsk to Kostiantynivka.
In Lysychansk and many of the towns studded across the meandering front lines that pass through five regions, the Ukrainians may well face a repeat of nobull shoes what happened in Severodonetsk, where they were bombarded into withdrawing. There was simply nothing left that could be defended.
The immediate dilemma for the Ukrainian military is whether it remains committed to defending Lysychansk, with the risk of losing troops and weapons if the city is encircled — and whether Ukraine’s political leadership will order a withdrawal to new defensive lines.
If so, can the units now in the pocket of territory held by Ukraine retreat without being decimated? Large sections of the highway from Lysychansk to Bakhmut are littered with wreckage, and Russian units are edging closer to Bakhmut itself.
Artillery shells hit the town of Bakhmut on the morning on June 26, 2022, damaging several homes and killing at least one person.

It appears the Russians are not currently making much progress from Izium in the north towards Sloviansk, despite repeated attempts to break through Ukrainian lines. Even so, Ukrainian officials cautioned Sunday that Russian forces were “accumulating” north of Sloviansk. The Russian military can quickly mobilize a handful of battalion tactical groups sitting across the border.
Some Russian military bloggers are not getting carried away with optimism. Yuri Kotyenok, for one, believes that Russian forces do not have enough manpower to encircle the heavily fortified cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.
In the longer run, the Ukrainians’ best hope is that as they deploy more Western weaponry capable of destroying Russian artillery, rocket systems and command posts far behind the front lines, they can gradually reduce the deficit in firepower.
Ukraine may have endured its worst week since the fall of Mariupol
But weapons such as the HIMARS rocket system, which has a range of 70 kilometers (43 miles) in the configuration supplied to Ukraine, require several weeks of training. And in Donbas, several weeks is a long time given the current pressure on Ukrainian forces.
That pressure is all the greater veja sneakers because many of the units deployed to the region are among the most experienced that Ukraine has. They have been worn down by the sheer intensity of Russian bombardment and are not easily replaced.
And the Ukrainian military has already lost in combat some of the weapons rushed to the front. Russia’s Ministry of Defense claimed last week that Russian strikes had already eliminated some of the US-supplied M777 howitzers.
The Russian offensive has also learned from mistakes made during the initial and abortive drive towards Kyiv. Air defenses, principally the S-300, have been deployed to provide extensive rather than local cover, making Ukrainian attack drones less effective. Anecdotally, it seems fewer videos have been posted recently on social media showing Ukrainian combat planes in action.
A man inspects a bomb crater after Russian artillery shells hit a district of Kharkiv on June 26, 2022.

Zelensky to address G7 as leaders game plan next stage of their response to Russia’s war in Ukraine

From left, European Council President Charles Michel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pose for a photo at the G7 summit at Schloss Elmau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on June 26, 2022.

From left, European Council President Charles Michel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pose for a photo at the G7 summit at Schloss Elmau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on June 26, 2022.

President Joe Biden and fellow world leaders, huddled in the Bavarian Alps, will hear Monday from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as they mull the next phase of his country’s grinding war with Russia.

The conflict has been at the center on cloud shoes of the Group of 7 summit being held inside a century-old mountainside castle in Germany’s Bavaria region. Leaders have decided on new steps to isolate Russia’s economy, including a ban on new imports of Russian gold, and are pledging support for Zelensky as his country suffers setbacks in the east.
“Here at this meeting of the G7, as well as at NATO, we will continue to do, collectively, everything we can to make sure that the Ukrainians have what they need in their hands to repel the Russian aggression,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
There are other important topics on the agenda, including a new effort to counter China’s infrastructure investments in the developing world that have extended Beijing’s influence across the globe.
But how much longer the Western front can remain united against Russia is the question looming over these talks. The rising cost of energy, fears of global food shortages and the certain inevitability that war fatigue will set in have lent urgency to the discussions about where the conflict goes next.
Meeting his host,German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, on Sunday, Biden sought to underscore the importance of sticking together.
“Putin has been counting on, from the beginning, that somehow NATO and the G7 would splinter,” he said. “But we haven’t, and we’re not going to.”
Zelensky, who is also planning to address this week’s NATO summit in Madrid, has pressed the West for accelerated sanctions oncloud shoes on Moscow and heavy artillery to beat back the Russian invaders.
His entreaties will become more urgent following Sunday’s missile hits on two residential buildings in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital that had enjoyed relative calm in recent weeks as the fighting moved eastward. Biden condemned the attack as “barbarism.”
Yet how much further leaders will be willing to go in applying new sanctions on Russia remains to be seen. High oil prices mean Russia is making more revenue from its energy exports, despite bans in Europe and the United States. And high gas prices for US and European consumers are putting pressure on leaders to find ways to ease the pain.
Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” hours after the Russian missiles hit Kyiv, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Americans, Britons and others in the West to maintain resolve in punishing Moscow, despite the effect the war has had on global oil prices.
“I would just say to people in the United States that this is something that America historically does and has to do, and that is to step up for peace and freedom and democracy,” Johnson said. “And if we let Putin get away with it, and just annex, conquer sizable parts of a free, independent, sovereign country, which is what he is poised to do … then the consequences for the world are absolutely catastrophic.”
Putin, whose country was ejected from the then-G8 in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, was the subject of light mockery as leaders sat down to a working lunch Sunday.
Johnson, the last leader to arrive to the round meeting table, asked whether he should keep his suit jacket on.
“Jackets on?” he asked, before joking about how the leaders had to look tough during their talks.
“We have to show that we’re tougher than Putin,” he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a suggestion: “Barechested horseback ride,” he said, as the leaders chuckled.

In Focus: War in Ukraine is a crisis for women and girls

The war has severely impacted social cohesion, community security and the resilience of local communities, especially women and girls. Lack of access to social services including schools and strained community resources have increased the care burden of local women who responsible for the care for children, disabled and elderly family members.

Recent estimates indicate that 54 per cent of people in need of assistance from the ongoing crisis are women. More than 2.3 million refugees from Ukraine – the vast majority women and children – having fled to neighbouring countries, and others displaced within the country. These numbers are expected to increase significantly as the offensive continues.

As women continue to bear different and additional burdens of war, they must be represented in all decision-making platforms on de-escalation, conflict prevention, mitigation and other processes in pursuit of peace and security for the people of Ukraine and beyond.

Ukraine: New UN Women and CARE report highlights disproportionate impact of the war on women and minorities

After more than two months of war in Ukraine, which has forced millions of refugees and displaced people to flee their homes, a new Rapid Gender Analysis by UN Women and CARE reveals that women and minorities are facing immense hardship when it comes to health, safety, and access to food as a result of the crisis. In Ukraine, women are increasingly becoming heads of households and leaders in their communities as men are conscripted, yet they remain largely excluded from formal decision-making processes related to humanitarian efforts, peace-making, and other areas that directly impact their lives.

Moldova - People fleeing the military offensive in Ukraine. Photo: UN Women/Aurel Obreja.
Moldova – People fleeing the military offensive in Ukraine. Photo: UN Women/Aurel Obreja.

The analysis, based on surveys and interviews with people in 19 regions in Ukraine between 2 and 6 April 2022, sheds a spotlight on the gender dynamics of the crisis and recommends actions for governments, the international community, and other actors to implement in their humanitarian response.

“When it comes to humanitarian needs of displaced people, locals, and households, women do most of the work: they drive, provide hospitals and locals with medication and food, they care about their disabled relatives and children,” said a woman who participated in the survey.

The report reveals that the impact of the war is particularly disproportionate for internally displaced people and marginalized groups such as female-headed households, Roma people, LGBTQIA+ people, and people with disabilities. Many respondents from Roma communities gave testimony of severe discrimination, both in their daily struggle and in access to humanitarian aid.

The analysis also reveals that gender roles are changing in Ukraine. While many men have become unemployed and are primarily engaging in the armed forces, women report taking on new roles and multiple jobs to make up for the lost family income. Women are also performing vital roles in the humanitarian response in local communities. However, despite taking on increasing leadership roles in their families and communities, they are largely excluded from formal political and administrative decision-making processes.

With schools closed, high demand for volunteer work, and the absence of men, women’s unpaid care burden has increased significantly. Backtracking on gender equality is already evident in the ongoing crisis. The war is increasing unemployment among the entire population and will likely push women into the unprotected informal sectors of the economy and increase poverty.

Women and girls also highlighted poor access to health care services, especially for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) and pregnant, expecting, and new mothers, as well as rising fears of GBV and lack of food, especially for those in heavy conflict areas. Many respondents also spoke of the challenges and barriers they face in accessing humanitarian aid and services, and around 50 per cent of both women and men indicated that mental health was a main area of life impacted by the war.

“It’s critical that the humanitarian response in Ukraine takes into account and addresses the different needs of women and girls, men and boys, including those that are furthest left behind”, says UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous. “This timely analysis provides the evidence of those needs, and their urgency. Women have been playing vital roles in their communities’ humanitarian response. They must also be meaningfully involved in the planning and decision-making processes to make sure that their specific needs are met, especially those related to health, safety, and access to livelihoods.”

“Our Rapid Gender Analysis allows us to consult directly with affected populations in order to accurately identify what specific needs different groups of people have, and how to best meet them,” says Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro, Secretary General of CARE International. “What we are hearing from the people of Ukraine is that certain groups—such as those with disabilities, Roma and other ethnic minorities, single mothers, and unaccompanied children—are each in need of different forms of protection and assistance. To keep our response effective and relevant, such groups must be consulted and prioritized across the aid ecosystem as this truly devastating situation continues to evolve.”

Key recommendations of the Rapid Gender Analysis:

  • Ensure that humanitarian assistance addresses the needs of women, men, girls, and boys in vulnerable situations and from different marginalized groups, especially the Roma community, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
  • Prioritize women and young people to equally lead the response and be part of decision-making.
  • Support women-led and women’s rights organizations engaged in the response through provision of financial resources and by amplifying their voices at national and international platforms.
  • Provide displaced women and men with options for vocational training and livelihoods, remaining mindful of changing gender roles.
  • Make access to shelters inclusive and non-discriminatory. Collective shelters should offer sex-segregated and/or family-segregated accommodation.
  • Alleviate home schooling burdens by encouraging families to redistribute care work.
  • Design cash assistance to reach the most vulnerable and at-risk women, especially in occupied territories, areas of active hostilities, and rural localities.
  • Fill gaps in services to respond to gender-based violence.
  • Make sexual and reproductive health and maternal, newborn, and child health care a priority, including the clinical care of sexual assault survivors and ensuring access to contraception.

Terminally ill children flee war-torn Kharkiv on makeshift medical train

The medical team is not entirely sure what to expect as the train creaks to a stop in the darkness near the Ukraine-Polish border, just inside Ukraine. A bus’ headlights inch forward. Eugenia Szuszkiewicz can feel the anxiety balling up in her stomach.

The doctor’s stress levels are through the roof. This is a dangerous journey for children who need palliative care in the best of circumstances. Now 12 of them are doing it in a war.
Small and frail bodies are hoisted up for the last time in weary mothers’ arms as they descend from the bus. Some are gently handed over to waiting doctors and nurses. For others, their health is too delicate and requires extra help to safely oofos shoes transport them on to the train, which will take them to Poland.
The medical staff hope to prevent any of the children from experiencing even more pain — emotionally or physically. One of the child’s health is in such bad condition that doctors tell us that he may not survive the journey.
The medical team asks us to stay away, and not film or try to talk to anyone until the children are stabilized. One by one, they are gently lowered on to 12 little cots placed only a few inches off the ground.
Eleven of the 12 came from hospices around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, once known for having the best palliative care in the country. Now it’s one of the country’s most bombed areas, with Russian forces targeting residential areas there over the last week, hitting civilian infrastructure such as schools, shops, hospitals, apartment blocks and churches.
For days, Szuszkiewicz — a pediatrician and palliative care specialist — fielded phone calls from desperate parents of children stuck the Kharkiv area. The parents’ plea for help came as bombs fell around them. One mother screamed that without a ventilator and pain killers, her child would die.
“I could only tell her if she found a way to Lviv (in western Ukraine) then I would be able to help her,” Szuszkiewicz tells us, tears streaming down her face and her voice catching.
She still doesn’t know if the mother and child are alive.

An agonizing journey

Aboard the train to Poland, Ira caresses her daughters fingers locked in place.
“Yes sweetheart, everything will be fine,” she tells six-year-old Victoria. She then pauses. “I guess everything will be fine.”
Victoria has cerebral palsy and is unable to walk. Her mother Ira told us it’s a “miracle” that they were able to get onto the train. “It was unimaginably hard to get out,” she says.
To get onto the medical train, Ira first had to travel from her village outside of Kharkiv to the city of Lviv, where the families were instructed to meet. Ira cradled Victoria in her arms for the better part of three days to get there, through the panic of others trying to flee and trains so packed she could not even put her down.
Victoria, 6, traveled to Poland on the train with her mother, Ira.

Victoria breaks into a huge smile that lights up her eyes each time she hears her name, even if it’s through her mother’s tears.
“She smiles at everyone. Because on the way here we only met kind compassionate people.” Ira says.
The journey has made Ira love her country all the more — as if it were even possible. It only makes leaving that much harder, she says.
Long, stressful and exhausting: One family's escape from Kyiv
“Even when you’re not expecting help, everyone helped. They (strangers on the train journey to Lviv) gave us food, drinks, roof of our heads, they accompanied us, guided us.”
“I don’t know how my legs were taking me,” Ira says. “And it’s only because she’s (Victoria) strong herself. She’s helping me, giving me some king of strength, I guess.”
“She won’t live without me. I know that,” she adds.

A hospice on wheels

There are nearly 200 children in palliative care in the Kharkiv region alone, according to Szuszkiewicz.
Initially, Szuszkiewicz tried to organize a train or ground transport into Kharkiv itself. But that proved to be impossible. It was too dangerous, the city was practically under siege. Instead, the families had to figure out how to get to Lviv, before she could arrange transport to safety in Poland.
She was in touch with the directors of local coach outlet hospices who put together a list of who wanted to leave, and who realistically could. The parents of children on ventilators did not have a choice — their children would not survive the long journey. Others were too sick to attempt it.
Some decided to chance it anyways. Szuszkiewicz says some parents told her that it would be better to die on the road than under a bomb.
Szuszkiewicz was the main organizer, mobilizing a network of medical professionals inside Ukraine to help transport everyone to the Lviv meeting point. Around 50 people were evacuated in total.
The Polish Government and Warsaw Central Clinical Hospital converted multiple train cars into a makeshift medical ward, including an operating room.
Szuszkiewicz says “as soon as I arrived and approached that bus and I said, ‘we’re here, soon you’ll be saved, we’ll take you out of this country at war … You can relax now,'” she was met with a sense of both disbelief and relief.
Now, “there’s many words of gratitude, there’s joy, there’s hope for life,” Szuszkiewicz says.
Szuszkiewicz sits with six-year-old Sophia, who clutches a toy given to her by volunteers on the train.

The children recieve medical care on the train.

“Each one of those parents says that they have left their city Kharkiv only temporarily, that each of them will come back when there is a chance, that they will rebuild that city from scratch as soon as war stops there, as soon as they can live there again. They say it with such love to their homeland.”
The doctor is no stranger to gratitude: She’s heard parents thank her for saving their children. But this time, she says, is different, the words have a different depth to them.
Borscht and Molotovs: How one Ukrainian woman is supporting her country
As the train crosses Ukraine into Poland, Ira receives a video from a neighbor back in Kharkiv.
“They said, the entire town was destroyed within one hour” she says, her voice trembling and her eyes filling with tears.
“There’s not a single home. Do you understand? Not a single home. It’s just a pile of bricks and that’s all. It’s not a war, it’s annihilation. Annihilation of the people.”
Ira tries to call her husband, mother, father, sister. No one is picking up.
“What happens inside a person when their whole life is crumbling … it doesn’t become someone else’s life, one just …” her voice trails off. “One just doesn’t want to believe it.”
As the train pulls into Warsaw, the flashing blue lights of ambulances reflect through its windows. They’re not signaling a medical emergency, and it’s not in response to a bomb. It is a sign they have arrived, saving what is left of their children’s lives.

Biden set to use first State of the Union to condemn Putin for ‘premeditated and unprovoked’ war

President Joe Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address in the US House chamber Tuesday evening, using his biggest platform of the year to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine.

According to excerpts provided ahead of the speech by the White House, Biden is set to tout the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and condemn the Russian leader for his aggression. Biden will also announce that the US will ban Russian aircraft from US airspace, joining a growing number of countries who are closing their skies to Russia, two sources familiar with the decision told CNN.
“Putin’s war was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. And, he thought he could divide us here at home,” Biden will say, according to the excerpts. “Putin was wrong. We were ready.”
Putin, for his part, is not expected to watch the speech, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. “The President usually does not watch TV addresses,” Peskov said in response to a question from CNN.
The initial excerpts provided by the White House showed how the speech has evolved in recent oofos shoes days as a result of invasion of Ukraine. The annual speech also marks an opportunity for him to speak directly to the American people about his vision to build a better country, demonstrating how he’ll lead America out of the Covid-19 pandemic, into an economic recovery and through the ramifications of a war between Ukraine and Russia.
Biden will recognize his administration’s major accomplishments, including the nomination of the first Black woman to the Supreme Court and the passage of his first two major legislative priorities in his first year in office. He’ll discuss the prospect of a return to normalcy as Covid cases wane inside a full room where masks are optional — a marked departure from his joint address to Congress last year, when masks were required and seating was limited. And he will seek to recalibrate an economic message that acknowledges the hardships many Americans are facing amid higher prices, launching a new plan to lower costs for American families.
During the speech, Biden is expected to lay out a plan to fight inflation, saying the nation has “a choice. One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation.”
“Lower your costs, not your wages. Make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America. More goods moving faster and cheaper in America. More jobs where you can earn a good living in America. And, instead of relying on foreign supply chains — let’s make it in America,” Biden will say, according to the excerpts. “Economists call it ‘increasing the productive capacity of our economy.’ I call it building a better America. My plan to fight inflation will lower your costs and lower the deficit.”
As is tradition, first lady Jill Biden has invited guests that represent policies and themes the President will talk about during the speech, her office said. This year’s invitations includes Ukraine Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova, according to the Office of the First Lady. Educators, a union representative, members of the tech community, an organizer of Native American causes, a health care worker and a military spouse have also been invited to sit with the first lady in her box above the dais.
Biden’s primetime speech about the state of the nation and where the country is headed comes after a sharp decline in the President’s’ approval rating since he last spoke in front of the joint session of Congress last year. With all eyes on Biden Tuesday night, the White House has made clear that they’re keenly aware of the pressure on him to deliver a successful message — especially as Democrats head into the 2022 midterm elections.
Polling shows Americans don’t trust Biden when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden also has one of the worst approval ratings going into his first inaugural address of any American president in the polling era.
Democrats have relayed in recent weeks that the White House appears hopeful that the address will boost the President’s polling by demonstrating leadership on national security and by showing empathy for Americans frustrated with Covid-19 and inflation.
The President’s public schedule ahead of the address on Tuesday was largely blank, with the President expected to continue rehearsing and fine-tuning his remarks. But as the day has unfolded, the President, his administration and its allies have made it clear that Ukraine has been top of mind.
The US and its allies announced thorogood boots early Tuesday that they have agreed to a release of 60 million barrels from their reserves, the White House and International Energy Agency, as leaders seek to dampen the effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on gas prices at home. Vice President Kamala Harris held five separate calls with European leaders and Biden held a half-hour call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
According to the White House, the two leaders discussed “the United States’ continued backing for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression.”
In a rare interview with CNN and Reuters ahead of of Biden’s speech, Zelensky urged the President to impress upon Americans the urgency and implications of Russia’s invasion.
“He is one of the leaders of the world and it is very important that the people of the United States understand (that) despite the fact that the war is in Ukraine … it is [a] war for the values of democracy, freedom,” Zelensky said.
Biden also told news anchors during a lunch ahead of Tuesday’s address that America and its allies will remain united in their response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Asked to characterize Tuesday night’s speech, especially as it pertains to Ukraine, Biden told the anchors that he felt it was important to talk about his “determination to see to it that the (European Union), NATO, all of our allies are on the same exact page, in terms of sanctions against Russia and how we deal with the invasion — and it is an invasion — of Ukraine. “
“Because that’s the one thing that gives us power to impose severe consequences on (Russian President Vladimir) Putin for what he’s done. And one of the few things that I’m confident he’s going to have think twice about, long term, as this continues to bite. So, it’s the unity of NATO and the West,” he continued.
It’s an example of the diplomacy that Biden intends to show off during the address.
“Throughout our history we’ve learned this lesson — when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos. They keep moving. And, the costs and threats to America and the world keep rising,” Biden will say, according to the excerpts. “That’s why the NATO Alliance was created to secure peace and stability in Europe after World War 2. The United States is a member along with 29 other nations.”
White House officials are mindful that the speech will reflect a figurative — and likely literal — split-screen with continued violence in Ukraine. The start time will take place around the same time that shelling and strikes typically begin in the early morning hours in Ukraine. Biden officcials are bracing for the prospect of renewed violence in Ukraine happening at the same time he is speaking, and believe they have written a speech that can reflect those realities.
The President has rehearsed portions of his speech over the past few days and is expected to continue through Tuesday. As is typical, Biden and his team have been tweaking elements and wording of the speech through the day. Events on the ground in Ukraine could prompt further changes in the hours and moments before he delivers it, according to one official.

Opposition to Putin’s war is alive on Moscow’s streets. But no trace of it is covered on Russian TV

More than 6,400 Russians have been arrested in anti-war protests since President Vladimir Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine, but not one bone-crunching detention has made state TV.

Navigating the paradoxes of Putin’s authoritarian rule is a way of life here. Intuition nourished by a lifetime of state-fed lies gets most people through. And for many it consists of a quiet life with a steady income.
But what’s happening now may be challenging some to push out of the old boundaries of the ‘see but don’t question orthodoxy’ that historically reinforced Putin’s grip on power.
By Tuesday morning in Moscow, more than 1 million signatures had been added to a Russian-language Change.org petition against the war in Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin is facing stiffer opposition than expected -- both inside and outside Ukraine
On Moscow’s streets police vans loiter at most major intersections, riot-ready cops menace the sidewalks, and the city’s fabled Pushkin Square — a once-popular protesters’ haunt — is surrounded by a vast metal barricade.
What’s going on is an all too obvious, overt opposition to Putin’s rule. The cost of joining, the government warns, could be “arrest” and a “criminal record” that “leaves a mark on the person’s future.”
Protests are only considered for approval if requested no more than 15 days in advance and no less than 10, and even then there is no guarantee it will get the nod.
Putin has no reason to coach outlet publicize the anger at his rule and every reason to snuff it out.
Instead of anti-war protests, the Kremlin’s vast constellation of newspapers, magazines, websites and TV stations keep up a steady drumbeat of anti-Ukrainian propaganda that tries to rationalize the reasons their brothers, sons and husbands have been sent to war, and possibly their deaths, hundreds of miles away.
People take part in a demonstration against war, in Moscow, Russia on February 24.

The Kremlin has all but crushed Russia’s independent media, and is gagging what’s left of them. Ten publications got a letter late last week from the country’s communications watchdog warning them not to use the words “invasion,” “attack” and “declaration of war” under threat of having access to their publications “restricted.”
The same letter said that correct information about the “Special Military Operation” — as the Kremlin calls the war — was freely available on government websites.
But Putin doesn’t control all the narratives all the time. A generation here has grown up willfully ignorant of state disinformation, weaned instead on social media, so are impervious to the lies that cowed their parents. They are, however, still contained by the massive state security infrastructure that is the real muscle behind state media’s messaging.
Annexations, a rump state or puppet rulers. Here's what Putin may be planning for Ukraine
In short, they think for themselves, want the freedoms that come with that awareness but are bound by the brutality they meet when they protest.
One young woman CNN met on the margins of the first night of protest on Thursday was near tears explaining she loves Russia, but not her leader, so has concluded she must leave the country.
There is a real frustration in that generation, but they are a minority — less than 10% of the nation.
​Indeed, the latest polling by the swarovski jewelry Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM), a state-owned but nevertheless internationally respected organization, found that 68% of people say they support the decision to carry out the “Special Military Operation,” 22% oppose it and 10% had difficulty answering.
It is a sobering assessment that when Putin puts his finger in the wind of public opinion he can be reasonably sure it is blowing in the direction he instructed his state organs to set it.

Ex-soldiers offered mercenaries $10,000 a week to join a private army that would fight in Yemen’s civil war, prosecutors says

Fighter from Saudi-backed forces in Yemen
A fighter with forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government holds a position against Huthi rebels in Yemen’s northeastern province of Marib, on April 6, 2021.
  • Two former German soldiers planned a mercenary force to fight in Yemen’s ongoing disastrous civil war, prosecutors say.
  • The men wanted to recruit up to 150 men and offered $10,000 a week to join their private army.
  • The ex-soldiers reportedly reached out to Saudi government agencies to ask for funding, per the BBC.

Two former German soldiers worked to set up a mercenary force, in which recruits would be paid $10,000 a week for their services, to fight in Yemen’s ongoing civil war, according to prosecutors.

Arend-Adolf G and Achim A face terrorism charges in Germany for allegedly planning to recruit up to 150 men, ecco shoes consisting of former police officers and soldiers, and offering their services to Saudi Arabia’s government, the BBC reported.

They planned to pay each recruit a wage of about €40,000 ($46,400) a month for their services, prosecutors said.

The former soldiers are accused of asking Saudi government agencies to finance illegal missions in Yemen. The prosecutors said their outreach attempts were unsuccessful, per the BBC.

Yemen has been devastated by a civil war since 2014 between Saudi-backed pro-government forces and Houthi insurgents.

According to UNICEF, more than 10,000 children have been killed or injured in war-torn Yemen. The UN says that the fighting has resulted in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with over two-thirds of the population in need of aid.

Yemen Houthi rebels
A gathering to donate to the Houtis fighters battling the government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, on February 04, 2021 in Sana’a, Yemen. 

The Germans were accused of setting up the paramilitary unit at the start of 2021, and, according to the BBC, they actively tried to recruit at least seven people.

The mercenary force would have worked to nike sneakers capture areas held by armed Houthi rebels in Yemen, Deutsche Welle reported. The suspects also had plans for the unit to take part in other conflicts, the broadcaster said.

The “ringleaders” were aware that the mercenaries would have to kill people, including civilians, according to prosecutors.

Germany’s Military Counter-Intelligence Service received a tip citing the plans, according to German newspaper Spiegel.

One of the men was arrested in Munich and the other in Germany’s south-western Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald district, the BBC reported.

They are due to appear in court on Wednesday.

In Rural Afghanistan, War Remnants Everywhere, but No Shooting or Checkpoints

A destroyed Afghan police pickup and Humvee next to a grave along Highway 1 just outside Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2021. (Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times)
A destroyed Afghan police pickup and Humvee next to a grave along Highway 1 just outside Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2021.

CHAK-E WARDAK, Afghanistan — Sixty bone-rattling miles southwest of Kabul, remnants of America’s longest war are abundant. Pillaged outposts scatter the hilltops, and skeletons of burned-out police pickup trucks and Humvees litter the road that weaves through the valleys in between.

The walls of an American-constructed local government building in Chak-e Wardak, a district in Wardak province, are pockmarked by the impacts of recently fired bullets and rockets. Holes have been carved out of the walls for shooting positions, hoka shoes and only a few of the glass windows remain intact.

But the once-constant volley of rifle fire is no more.

In recent years, driving out of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, would evoke fear of pop-up Taliban checkpoints at which young fighters pulled passengers out of cars, looking for government workers or members of the security forces. Getting caught up in an impromptu shootout between the two warring sides was always a risk.

But since the Taliban takeover in mid-August, the majority of Afghanistan’s countryside has seen a substantial drop in violence. Where airstrikes and pitched battles would be commonplace, the guns have fallen silent. The checkpoints have mostly disappeared.

In their place is a developing humanitarian crisis and a new Taliban government that at times seems just as unaccustomed to governing as many Afghans are to living in a period without fighting.

Millions of Afghans are facing a winter of food shortages, with up to 1 million children at risk of starvation in the absence of an immediate international relief effort, United Nations officials say.

Adding to the misery, prices for basic foodstuffs have risen sharply, and many Afghan families are being forced to make do with rice and beans instead of chicken and other meats.

For now, though, in the Chak-e Wardak district, a patchwork of apple orchards and villages, as in many other areas of the country, there is widespread relief at the end of the fighting and the return to something like normal life.

On the second floor of the ransacked district administrative center, the newly appointed Taliban police chief, Qari Assad, sits in an old chair. On his desk, rests an even older Kalashnikov and a makeshift Taliban flag with a hand-drawn “Kalima Shahada,” the text of the Islamic oath, at its center.

The black-bearded and turbaned Assad had just started on his second glass of green tea on a recent Thursday when two brothers from the neighboring Sayedabad district arrived with a complaint.

“The man who married my daughter didn’t tell us he already had a wife,” hey dude said Talab Din, his fingers brushing through his graying beard. “My daughter told me to let it be, she said she was happy with him. But now he has beat her and stabbed her in the leg. We have come here to settle this dispute!” He showed no fear of the new police chief, having interacted with the Taliban in the past.

“We will be dealing with this issue immediately,” Assad assured the father.

Long before their full takeover, the Taliban were already governing and delivering swift justice in many areas, often through their own court system. Chak-e Wardak, along with many parts of rural Afghanistan, has been under their de facto control for two years.

But the question remains whether the movement, which has brutally put down protests in urban areas against its rule, can pivot to a solid governance structure soon enough to cope with the problems underlying the country’s gathering humanitarian crisis.

Outside the local government building, Fazl Ur-Rahman, 55, was adjusting the load of his small truck, piled high with hay. “Before, security here was very bad, we were suffering at the hands of the military,” he said, referring to the Afghan army. “They were beating people, they were asking people to take water and food to their checkpoints.”

The situation had improved under the Taliban in recent weeks, he said, and people could safely return to work. “Before, people could not go anywhere at night, they would be at risk of being shot,” he said. “It has been a long time now since a bullet hit our homes.”

Further west up the valley, another Taliban flag was waving atop the oldest hydroelectric dam in the country. Built in 1938, its turbines once provided electricity for surrounding parts of Wardak, plus Ghazni province and even parts of Kabul province, but poor maintenance had rendered it defunct.

As a nomadic woman guided her sheep across the dam, Afghan boys took turns jumping into the water below, a welcome relief from the scorching sun.

Up the hill from the dam’s basin is the home of the Ayoubi family, who had been displaced to another village two years ago as the fighting intensified. In early August, the family returned after the fighting ended to a house flanked by a lush garden filled with pumpkins planted by a caretaker.

Over a lunch of rice, tomatoes and corn, Abdullah Ayoubi, the oldest son, spoke about the atrocities that had occurred in the valley. “There is no doubt that the Taliban dr martens boots are also corrupt, but it doesn’t compare to what the military was like,” he said. “Not only did they take money from the vans and trucks, if someone had a big beard, they would say they are Taliban and hurt them.”

Ayoubi said his brother Assad was in the ninth grade when the Afghan and U.S. armies came to the district, looking for a Taliban commander who went by the same name. They grabbed his brother instead, he said, and took him to Bagram prison, notorious for its harsh treatment of prisoners, where he was tortured.

“It took us four months before we found him,” Abdullah Ayoubi said. “When we went to visit him in Bagram, he shouted at me with chains on his legs and handcuffs around his wrists.”

After 18 months, Assad was released. Because of how angry he was, Ayoubi said, he joined a local Taliban commander named Ghulam Ali.

He became an expert in shooting Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades. On his phone, Ayoubi has a grainy image taken from a video. It showed an unrecognizable man enveloped by fire, smoke and dust.

“In this moment, my brother shot a tank with a rocket,” he said, though the vehicle appeared to be an Afghan army Humvee.

In 2019, Assad was killed during a battle with Afghan soldiers not far from the family home. He had been a fighter for five years. “We buried him near the house,” Ayoubi said.

In this now-sleepy valley, the main landmark is a hospital founded in 1989 by a German woman, Karla Schefter. Today, the hospital is supported by the Committee for Medical and Humanitarian Aid in Afghanistan, which relies on private donations.

Faridullah Rahimi, a doctor at the facility, said that in his 22 years there, this was the first time there were no patients with conflict-related injuries.

“People from way beyond Chak come here for treatment,” said Rahimi, standing in the hospital’s verdant courtyard. “We used to treat civilians, government soldiers and Taliban fighters, and never had an issue.”

For now, the doctor said, the hospital had enough medical supplies, but with most banks closed, it had no money to purchase more or to pay them their salaries.

Still, Rahimi said, the hospital would continue operating as best it could. “We have seen regimes come and go, but the hospital will remain.”

Of the 65 employees at the hospital, 14 are women. The Taliban have said they would allow women to continue working in health care in order to treat female patients.

Malalai, 28, a midwife who works at the hospital and uses only one name, said members of the Taliban had visited the facility and spoken to her. “I have been working here for eight years,” she said. “For us, there is no threat from the Islamic Emirate.”

Near the hospital entrance, a Russian tank from a previous war was almost completely submerged in the sand — a stark reminder of just how long this area has seen war.

Back at the Ayoubi home, Abdullah spoke softly as his son, 2, napped in the corner, tucked underneath a scarf. Perhaps he would be part of a generation in Afghanistan that grew up without ever knowing war.

“Assad, named after my brother,” Ayoubi said, pointing at the child. “It didn’t have to be this way.”

A New Breed of Crisis: War and Warming Collide in Afghanistan

Somalian refugees displaced by drought wait for rations in Dadaab, Kenya, July 14, 2011. (Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)
Somalian refugees displaced by drought wait for rations in Dadaab, Kenya, July 14, 2011.

Parts of Afghanistan have warmed twice as much as the global average. Spring rains have declined, most worryingly in some of the country’s most important farmland. Droughts are more frequent in vast swaths of the country, including a punishing dry spell now in the north and west, the second in three years.

Afghanistan embodies a new breed of international crisis, where the hazards of war collide with the hazards of climate change, creating a nightmarish feedback loop that punishes some of the world’s most vulnerable people and destroys their countries’ ability to cope.

And although it would be facile to attribute the conflict in Afghanistan to climate change, the impacts of warming act as what military analysts call threat multipliers, amplifying conflicts over water, putting people out of work in a nation steve madden shoes whose people largely live off agriculture, while the conflict itself consumes attention and resources.

“The war has exacerbated climate change impacts. For 10 years, over 50% of the national budget goes to the war,” said Noor Ahmad Akhundzadah, a professor of hydrology at Kabul University, said by phone Thursday. “Now there is no government, and the future is unclear. Our current situation today is completely hopeless.”

A third of all Afghans face what the United Nations calls crisis levels of food insecurity. Because of the fighting, many people haven’t been able to plant their crops in time. Because of the drought, the harvest this year is certain to be poor. The World Food Program says 40% of crops are lost, the price of wheat has gone up by 25%, and the aid agency’s own food stock is due to run out by the end of September.

Afghanistan is not the only country to face such compounding misery. Of the world’s 25 nations most vulnerable to climate change, more than a dozen are impacted by conflict or civil unrest, according to an index developed by the University of Notre Dame.

In Somalia, pummeled by decades of conflict, there has been a threefold increase in extreme weather events since 1990, compared with the previous 20-year period, making it all but impossible for ordinary people to recover after each shock. In 2020, more than 1 million Somalis were displaced from their homes, about a third because of drought, according to the United Nations.

In Syria, a prolonged drought, made more likely by human-made climate change, according to researchers, drove people out of the countryside and fed simmering anti-government grievances that led to an uprising in 2011 and, ultimately, a full-blown civil war. This year again, drought looms over Syria, particularly its breadbasket region, the northeastern Hassakeh province.

In Mali, a violent insurgency has made it harder for farmers and herders to deal with a succession of droughts and flood, according to aid agencies.

Climate change cannot be blamed for any single war, and certainly not the one in Afghanistan. But rising temperatures, and the weather shocks that come with it, act as what Marshall Burke, a Stanford University professor, calls “a finger on the scale that makes underlying conflict worse.” ecco shoes That is particularly true, he argued, in places that have undergone a long conflict and where government institutions have all but dissolved.

“None of this means that climate is the only or the most important factor in conflict,” said Burke, co-author of a 2013 paper looking at the role of climate change in dozens of conflicts across many years. “But based on this evidence, the international community would be foolish to ignore the threat that a warming climate represents.”

The combination of war and warming compounds the risks facing some of the world’s most vulnerable people: According to the U.N. children’s agency, Afghanistan is the 15th-riskiest country in the world for children, because of climate hazards, including heat and drought, and a lack of essential services, including health care. Two million Afghan children are malnourished.

That is in sharp contrast to Afghanistan’s part in global warming. An average Afghan produces 0.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, compared with nearly 16 metric tons of the average American.

The collapse of the government has also made Afghanistan’s participation in the next international climate talks entirely uncertain, said one of its members, Ahmad Samim Hoshmand. “Now I don’t know. I’m not part of any government. What government I should represent?” he said.

Until recently, he had been the government official in charge of enforcing the country’s ban on ozone-depleting substances, including refrigerants used in old air-conditioners and that are banned by the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement that Afghanistan had ratified. Just days before the Taliban seized Kabul, he fled to Tajikistan. The traders of illegal substances whom he helped arrest are now out of prison, keen to exact revenge. He says they will kill him if he returns.

Hoshmand is now scrambling to emigrate elsewhere. His visa in Tajikistan expires in a matter of weeks. “My only hope is the ozone community, the Montreal Protocol community, if they can support me,” he said.

Afghanistan’s geography is a study of extreme hazard, from the glacier-peaked Hindu Kush mountains in the north to its melon farms in the west to the arid south, stung by dust storms.

Climate data is sparse for Afghanistan. But a recent analysis based on what little data exists suggests that a decline in spring rains has already afflicted much of the country, but most acutely in the country’s north, where farmers and herders rely almost entirely on the rains to grow crops and water their flocks.

Over the past 60 years, average temperatures have risen sharply, by 1.8 degrees Celsius since 1950 in the country as a whole and by more than 2 degrees Celsius in the south.

“Climate change will make it extremely challenging to maintain — let alone increase — any economic and development gains achieved so far in Afghanistan,” the United Nations warned in a 2016 report. “Increasingly frequent and severe droughts and floods, accelerated desertification, and decreasing water flows in the country’s glacier-dependent rivers will all directly affect rural livelihoods — and therefore the national economy and the country’s ability to feed itself.”

This is the country’s biggest risk, Akhundzadah argued. Three-fourths of his compatriots work in agriculture, and any unpredictable weather can be calamitous, all the more so in a country where there hasn’t been a stable government and no safety net to speak of.

The Taliban, for their part, appear more exercised by the need to scrub women’s pictures from billboards than addressing climate hazards.

But climate change is a threat multiplier for the Taliban, too. Analysts say water management will be critical to its legitimacy with Afghan citizens, and it is likely to be one of the most important issues in the Taliban’s relations with its neighbors as well.

Already on the Afghan battlefield, as in many battlefields throughout history, water has been an important currency. The Taliban, in their bid for Herat, a strategic city in the west, repeatedly attacked a dam that is critical for drinking water, agriculture and nike sneakers electricity for the people of the region. Likewise, in Kandahar province in the south, one of the Taliban’s most critical victories was to seize control of a dam that holds water for drinking and irrigation.

Climate change also stands to complicate the Taliban’s ability to fulfill a key promise: the elimination of opium poppy cultivation. Poppies require far less water than, say, wheat or melons, and they are far more profitable. Poppy farming employs an estimated 120,000 Afghans and brings in an estimated $300 million to $400 million a year, according to the United Nations, and has, in turn, enriched the Taliban.

Areas under poppy cultivation grew sharply in 2020.

Analysts said the Taliban would seek to use a poppy ban to gain legitimacy from foreign powers, such as Qatar and China. But it is likely to face pushback from growers who have few alternatives as the rains become less reliable.

“It’s going to be a gigantic political flashpoint,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, who studies the region at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

The last drought, in 2018, left 4 million Afghans in need of food aid and forced 371,000 people to leave their homes, many of whom haven’t returned.

“The effects of the severe drought are compounded by conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic in a context where half the population were already in need of aid,” U.N. humanitarian coordinator Ramiz Alakbarov said by email from Kabul on Thursday. “With little financial reserves, people are forced to resort to child labor, child marriage, risky irregular migration exposing them to trafficking and other protection risks. Many are taking on catastrophic levels of debt and selling their assets.”

Akhundzadah, a father of four, is hoping to emigrate, too. But like his fellow academics, he said he has not worked for foreign governments and has no way to be evacuated from the country. The university is closed. Banks are closed. He is looking for research jobs abroad. For now, there are no commercial flights out of the country.

“Till now, I’m OK,” he said on the phone. “The future is unclear. It will be difficult to live here.”