‘What I saw, I hope no one will ever see’ says Greek diplomat returning from Mariupol

‘What I saw, I hope no one will ever see’ says Greek diplomat returning from Mariupol
Greece’s Consul General Manolis Androulakis talks to the media after arriving back in Greece from Mariupol, Athens, Mar. 20, 2022. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 21 March 2022

‘What I saw, I hope no one will ever see’ says Greek diplomat returning from Mariupol

‘What I saw, I hope no one will ever see’ says Greek diplomat returning from Mariupol
  • Manolis Androulakis has assisted dozens of Greek nationals and ethnic Greeks to evacuate the ruined city since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
  • Androulakis: ‘Mariupol will become part of a list of cities that were completely destroyed by war — they are Guernica, Coventry, Aleppo, Grozny, Leningrad’

ATHENS: Greece’s consul general in Mariupol, the last EU diplomat to evacuate the besieged Ukrainian port, said on Sunday the city was joining the ranks of places known for having been destroyed in wars of the past.
Manolis Androulakis has assisted dozens of Greek nationals and ethnic Greeks to evacuate the ruined city since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He left Mariupol on Tuesday and after a four-day trip through Ukraine he crossed to Romania through Moldavia, along with 10 other Greek nationals.
“What I saw, I hope no one will ever see,” Androulakis said as he arrived on Sunday at Athens International Airport and was reunited with his family.
“Mariupol will become part of a list of cities that were completely destroyed by war; I don’t need to name them — they are Guernica, Coventry, Aleppo, Grozny, Leningrad,” Androulakis said.
According to the Greek Foreign Ministry, Androulakis was the last EU diplomat to leave Mariupol, where many residents have been trapped under heavy bombardment for more than two weeks as Russian forces seeks to take control.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday that Russia’s siege of Mariupol was “a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come.”
At least 10 ethnic Greeks have been killed and several have been injured since Russia started attacking Mariupol. More than 150 Greek citizens, vessel crews and ethnic Greeks have been evacuated from the region, the Greek Foreign Ministry says.
Mariupol, a city of more than 400,000 before the war, has historically had a sizeable population of ethnic Greeks who have been active in trade and shipping in the region since the Byzantine period.


Somali forces battle militants for hotel in Mogadishu: Police

Somali forces battle militants for hotel in Mogadishu: Police
Updated 12 sec ago

Somali forces battle militants for hotel in Mogadishu: Police

Somali forces battle militants for hotel in Mogadishu: Police
  • Government forces seeking to ‘eliminate’ a number of armed militants inside the Villa Rose hotel
  • The militant group Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack
MOGADISHU: Somalia’s security forces exchanged gunfire with militants holed up in a hotel in Mogadishu on Monday after Al-Shabab stormed the popular venue near the presidential palace and laid siege overnight.
Sporadic gunfire and explosions could still be heard after dawn around the Villa Rose, a hotel in a secure central part of Mogadishu frequented by lawmakers and public officials.
Police said late Sunday that government forces were seeking to “eliminate” a number of armed militants inside the Villa Rose after attacking the hotel in a hail of bullets and explosions.
National police spokesman Sadik Dudishe said many civilians and officials had been rescued, but did not offer further details.
Witnesses described two massive explosions followed by gunfire that sent people fleeing the scene in Bondhere district. The hotel is just a few blocks from the office of Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
Al-Shabab, a militant group affiliated with Al-Qaeda that has been trying to overthrow Somalia’s central government for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), a 20,000-strong military force drawn from across the continent, praised the “swift” security response to the attack in a statement late Sunday.
On its website the Villa Rose describes the hotel as the “most secure lodging arrangement in Mogadishu” with metal detectors and a high perimeter wall.
Al-Shabab has intensified attacks against civilian and military targets as Somalia’s newly-elected government has pursued a policy of “all-out war” against the Islamists.
The security forces, backed by local militias, ATMIS and US air strikes, have driven Al-Shabab from central parts of the country in recent months, but the offensive has drawn retribution.
On October 29, two cars packed with explosives blew up minutes apart in Mogadishu followed by gunfire, killing at least 121 people and injuring 333 others.
It was the deadliest attack in the fragile Horn of Africa nation in five years.
At least 21 people were killed in a siege on a Mogadishu hotel in August that lasted 30 hours before security forces could take control from the militants inside.
The UN said earlier this month that at least 613 civilians had been killed and 948 injured in violence this year in Somalia, mostly caused by improvised explosive devices attributed to Al-Shabab.
The figures were the highest since 2017 and a more-than 30-percent rise from last year.

Police detain two people at Shanghai protest site

Police detain two people at Shanghai protest site
Updated 6 min 46 sec ago

Police detain two people at Shanghai protest site

Police detain two people at Shanghai protest site
  • Demonstrators gathered over the weekend to protest China’s COVID-19 lockdowns

SHANGHAI: Police on Monday detained two people at a site in Shanghai where demonstrators gathered over the weekend to protest China’s COVID-19 lockdowns and call for greater political freedoms, an AFP journalist witnessed.
When asked why one of the people was taken away, a policeman said that “because he didn’t obey our arrangements” and then referred the reporter to local police.


Pockets of shelling across Ukraine as wintry warfare looms

Elderly residents are evacuated from the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP)
Elderly residents are evacuated from the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP)
Updated 28 November 2022

Pockets of shelling across Ukraine as wintry warfare looms

Elderly residents are evacuated from the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP)
  • Kherson city, which was liberated more than two weeks ago — a development that Zelensky called a turning point in the war — has faced intense shelling in recent days by Russian forces nearby

KHERSON, Ukraine: Russian forces struck eastern and southern Ukraine early Sunday as utility crews scrambled to restore power, water and heating with the onset of snow and frigid temperatures, while civilians continued to leave the southern city of Kherson because of the devastation wreaked by recent attacks and their fears of more ahead.
With persistent snowfall blanketing the capital, Kyiv, Sunday, analysts predicted that wintry weather — bringing with it frozen terrain and grueling fighting conditions — could have an increasing impact on the conflict that has raged since Russian forces invaded Ukraine more than nine months ago.
Both sides were already bogged down by heavy rain and muddy battlefield conditions, experts said.
After a blistering series of Russian artillery strikes on infrastructure that started last month, workers were fanning out in around-the-clock deployments to restore key basic services as many Ukrainians were forced to cope with only a few hours of electricity per day — if any.
Ukrenergo, the state power grid operator, said Sunday that electricity producers are now supplying about 80 percent of demand, compared to 75 percent the previous day.
The deprivations have revived jousting between Ukraine’s president and Kyiv’s mayor. Mayor Vitali Klitschko on Sunday defended himself against allegations levelled by President Volodymyr Zelensky that too many Kyiv residents were still without power and that insufficient centers had been set up for them to stock up on food, water, battery power and other essentials.
Kitschko wrote on Telegram that hundreds of such centers are in operation, as well as hundreds of emergency generators, adding that “I do not want, especially in the current situation, to enter into political battles. It’s ridiculous.”
The president and the mayor have sporadically sparred since Zelensky took office in 2019. Zelensky has accused Klitschko and officials around him of corruption, while Klitschko contends the president’s office has put him under political pressure.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank that has been closely monitoring developments in Ukraine, said reporting from both sides indicated that heavy rain and mud have had an impact — along with wider freezing expected along the front lines in the coming days.
“It is unclear if either side is actively planning or preparing to resume major offensive or counter-offensive operations at that time, but the meteorological factors that have been hindering such operations will begin lifting,” it said in a note published Saturday.
ISW said Russian forces were digging in further east of the city of Kherson, from which Ukrainian forces expelled them more than two weeks ago, and continued “routine artillery fire” across the Dnieper River.
The think tank also cited reports that Russian forces were moving multiple launch rocket and ground-to-air missile systems into positions closer to the city as part of a possible plan to step up “the tempo of rocket and anti-air missile strikes against ground targets north of the Dnieper River in the coming days.”
Kherson city, which was liberated more than two weeks ago — a development that Zelensky called a turning point in the war — has faced intense shelling in recent days by Russian forces nearby.
The top UN official in Ukraine said civilians, many of whom lamented unlivable conditions and feared more strikes to come, continued to pour out of Kherson on Sunday.
“The level of destruction, the scope of the destruction, what’s required in the city and in the oblast — it’s massive,” said UN resident coordinator Denise Brown, referring to the region. UN teams were ferrying in supplies like food, water, shelter materials, medicines, and blankets and mattresses, she said.
“Time is of the essence, of course, before it becomes an absolute catastrophe,” Brown told The Associated Press in Kherson.
Galina Lugova, head of the city’s military administration, said in an interview that evacuation trains had been lined up and bomb shelters set up in all city districts with stoves, beds, first aid kits and fire extinguishers.
“We are preparing for a winter in difficult conditions, but we will do everything to make people safe,” Lugova said. Her biggest worry, she said, was “shelling that intensifies every day. Shelling, shelling and shelling again.”
On the roads out of the city, some residents felt they had no choice but to leave.
“The day before yesterday, artillery hit our house. Four flats burned down. Windows shattered,” said Vitaliy Nadochiy, driving out with a terrier on his lap and a Ukrainian flag dangling from a sun visor. “We can’t be there. There is no electricity, no water, heating. So we are leaving to go to my brother.”
In the eastern Donetsk region, five people were killed in shelling over the past day, governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said. Overnight shelling was reported by regional leaders in the Zaporizhzhia and Dnipropetrovsk areas to the west. In addition, he said two people were killed in artillery firing on the town of Kurakhove.
Kharkiv governor Oleh Syniehubov said one person was killed and three wounded in the northeastern region.
Russian rockets hit unspecified railroad facilities in Kryvyi Rih, Zelensky’s hometown, on Sunday, according to a regional official. No injuries were immediately reported.
 

 


Russia court extends Kremlin critic Yashin’s detention by six months

Russia court extends Kremlin critic Yashin’s detention by six months
Updated 28 November 2022

Russia court extends Kremlin critic Yashin’s detention by six months

Russia court extends Kremlin critic Yashin’s detention by six months
  • Yashin insisted in court that he would not flee the country, but the judge extended his detention by six months

MOSCOW: A Russian court on Wednesday extended by six months the detention of opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who risks being jailed 10 years for denouncing President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine.
The 39-year-old Moscow city councillor is in the dock as part of an unprecedented crackdown on dissent in Russia, with most opposition activists either in jail or in exile.
He faces up to 10 years behind bars, if convicted.
Yashin refused to leave after Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24 and regularly took to his YouTube channel, which has 1.3 million subscribers, to condemn the Kremlin’s offensive.
Standing in the defendant’s glass box at Moscow’s Meshchansky district court, Yashin smiled and flashed a peace sign at the end of the hearing as some of his supporters clapped.

Yashin insisted in court that he would not flee the country, but the judge extended his detention by six months.
“I love my country and in order to live here I am ready to pay with my freedom,” he said.
“I am a Russian patriot,” he said.
Prosecutors argued that Yashin should be kept in detention because he had “inflicted considerable damage to Russia” and “increased political tensions during the special military operation” — Moscow’s term for its Ukraine offensive.
One of the opposition activist’s lawyers, Vadim Prokhorov, said that extending Yashin’s detention until May 10 was against the law.
Yashin sought to put on a brave face during the hearing and looked relaxed.
Wearing a dark green hoodie and jeans, he smiled to his parents in the front row. At one point he asked his father if he had watched the World Cup match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday night and they exchanged a laugh.
As the hearing ended and the audience was leaving the courtroom, a scuffle erupted between court employees and Yashin’s father, apparently after guards told his mother to stop talking to her son.
The men tussled in the corridor for several minutes, with Yashin’s father at one point held on the floor. He was taken to another room for some time before being released by the guards.
The next hearing is expected to take place on November 29.
Yashin is an ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and was close to Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician assassinated near the Kremlin in 2015.

Yashin was detained over the summer while walking through a Moscow park.
He is accused of spreading “fake” information about the Russian army under legislation introduced after Putin launched the operation in Ukraine.
In an April YouTube stream Yashin spoke about the “murder of civilians” in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha where the Russian army has been accused of war crimes.
He called it a “massacre.”
His supporters at court said authorities were using the draconian legislation to muzzle critics of the military campaign in Ukraine.
“This law is absolutely anti-legal,” said Anastasia Leonova, 48.
“It’s just there to shut people up.”
Her 20-year-old daughter, Olga, said their family liked Yashin’s Youtube streams.
“We would gather in the kitchen every Thursday to watch them,” she said. “Me, mum and my 87-year-old grandmother.”
Since Moscow’s intervention began in Ukraine, independent media outlets have been shut down or their operations suspended in Russia.
Tens of thousands of Russians — including many independent journalists — have left the country.
Another Moscow councillor, Alexei Gorinov, was in July sentenced to seven years in prison for denouncing the Ukraine offensive.
The 61-year-old had questioned plans for an art competition for children in his constituency while “every day children are dying” in Ukraine.
Almost all of Putin’s well-known political opponents have either fled the country or are in jail.
Navalny, 46, is serving a nine-year sentence for embezzlement charges, which is widely seen as politically motivated. His political organizations have been outlawed.

 


Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada

Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada
Updated 28 November 2022

Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada

Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada
  • Despite the risk of rejection, though, the surge in Mexicans seeking refugee status in Canada persists

MONTREAL: Pedro Meraz says living in Colima, Mexico, was like living in a war zone, with shootings, burning cars and dismembered bodies being left outside of schools.

When his wife Rocio Gonzalez, a 28-year-old lawyer who worked with abused women, began receiving death threats from a cartel and the local authorities ignored her pleas for assistance, they knew they had to leave.

“They knew where we lived and what car we drove,” said Meraz, 41, who taught at The University of Colima, near the Pacific Coast and about 485 kilometers west of Mexico City. “Feeling that you are going to lose your life, or one of your daughters, I don’t mind starting from scratch.”

The family is part of a surge in the number of Mexicans who have requested asylum in Canada this year. Due to the relative ease of obtaining asylum in Canada compared to the US, visa-free travel between Mexico and Canada, and the threat of violence back home, more than 8,000 Mexican nationals have sought refugee status in 2022. That’s almost five times as many as last year and more than twice as many as in 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions that accompanied it.

The vast majority of them are flying in to Montreal, which has many direct flights to and from Mexico.

Among them is Viviana Tapia Gonzalez, a human rights activist and mother of four from Aguascalientes, about 425 kilometers northwest of Mexico City, who said she left Mexico in January after being attacked by the military. She said her work with the families of missing and murdered women and girls made her a target.

“Death threats were constant,” she said. “I thought it was the last option I had to be safe. I work for many causes and help many people. I did not want to stop helping, but I must also protect (and) take care of myself.”

Tapia Gonzalez has been living in a Montreal women’s shelter while awaiting a decision on her asylum claim, which she fears might get rejected.

If her claim is turned down, she wouldn’t be alone.

In the first nine months of 2022, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, an independent tribunal that investigates and decides asylum cases, finalized more than 2,700 claims by Mexican asylum seekers. Of those, 1,032 were accepted, 1,256 were rejected; and the remaining 400-plus were either abandoned, withdrawn, or had other outcomes, said Christian Tessier, an IRB spokesperson.

In Canada, claimants must meet the United Nations’ definition of a “convention refugee,” meaning they are outside of their home countries and have a well-founded fear that they would be persecuted if they returned based on their race, religion, political opinions, nationality or affiliation with a social group. Otherwise, they must prove that they need protection and can’t safely return to their home countries without risking torture, cruel or unusual punishment, or death.

Despite the risk of rejection, though, the surge in Mexicans seeking refugee status in Canada persists.

The Welcome Collective, a Montreal-based charitable organization that provides essential goods to new asylum seekers, said half of the group’s current clients came from Mexico — a 300 percent increase compared with earlier this year.

“They had to run away because of violence and other humanitarian reasons. To find a better place for their children,” said Flavia Leiva, the group’s volunteer and social outreach coordinator.

As for what is causing the increase in applicants, Leiva suggested that social media is playing a role.

“There have been YouTubers and some videos on TikTok talking about how easy it is to come to Canada,” she said.

At least one YouTube video that was published 10 months ago and made for a Mexican audience explains the Canadian immigration process in Spanish and has more than 4 million views.

It has been harder for Mexicans to seek asylum in the US since the start of the pandemic. A US public health rule that suspends the right to seek asylum on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19 has fallen disproportionately hard on Mexicans. Title 42 authority has been used to expel migrants more than 2.4 million times since it was introduced in March 2020.

Further adding to Canada’s allure is that Mexicans haven’t needed a visa to travel to the country since the Canadian government lifted the requirement in late 2016.

Leiva also suggested that more Mexicans might be choosing to come to Canada instead of the US because they think it’s safer.

“In the US, they are put in cages, the conditions are not as good,” Leiva said. “People do not feel safe or protected.”

Meraz said he and his family decided that Canada would offer them the best chance to start over.

“My wife investigated the existence of international treaties to protect people who are at risk,” he said.

He referenced Canadian policies and regulations protecting women and children in addition to the country’s comparatively low crime rate.