Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate

Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate
Service members of Ukrainian forces who have surrendered after weeks holed up at Azovstal steel works are seen inside a bus on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 17 May 2022

Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate

Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate
  • Russian forces pummelled Mariupol, a major port on the Sea of Azov between Russia and Crimea, with artillery for weeks
  • Civilians and Ukrainian fighters had hunkered down in Azovstal

MARIUPOL, Ukraine: Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters surrendered to an uncertain fate on Tuesday after weeks holed up in the bunkers and tunnels below Mariupol’s Azovstal steel works as the most devastating siege of Russia’s war in Ukraine drew to a close.
Russian forces pummelled Mariupol, a major port on the Sea of Azov between Russia and Crimea, with artillery for weeks. After the urban warfare that followed, the city is a wasteland.
Civilians and Ukrainian fighters had hunkered down in Azovstal, a vast Soviet-era plant founded under Josef Stalin and designed with a maze of bunkers and tunnels to withstand nuclear attack.
Russia’s defense ministry said 265 fighters had surrendered, including 51 who were seriously wounded and would be treated at Novoazovsk in the Russian-backed breakaway Donetsk region.
Five buses took wounded fighters there early on Tuesday, and in the evening a Reuters witness saw seven more, escorted by armored vehicles. They brought other Azovstal fighters to a newly reopened prison in Olenivka near the regional capital Donetsk.
The occupants were not visibly wounded. One bore a prominent tattoo on his neck featuring a Ukrainian national trident symbol.
Ukraine’s military command had said in the early hours that it was ending the mission to defend the plant, led by the Azov Regiment, which had previously insisted it would not surrender and appealed to Kyiv to organize an extraction.
“Because Mariupol drew in the Russian Federation’s forces for 82 days, the operation to seize the east and south (of Ukraine) was held up. It changed the course of the war,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.
It was unclear what would happen to the fighters.
Moscow has depicted the Azov Regiment as one of the main perpetrators of the alleged radical anti-Russian nationalism or even Nazism from which it says it needs to protect Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed that the fighters who surrendered would be treated “in accordance with international standards.”
ACCUSATIONS
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said in a video that “an exchange procedure will take place for their return home.”
But Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, said: “Nazi criminals should not be exchanged.”
The TASS news agency said Russian federal investigators would question the soldiers as part of a probe into what Moscow calls “Ukrainian regime crimes.”
And Russian deputy ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky said there had been no deal, tweeting: “I didn’t know English has so many ways to express a single message: the #Azovnazis have unconditionally surrendered.”
Civilians evacuated earlier had spoken of desperate conditions in the bunkers, and some fighters had endured horrific battle injuries with minimal medical assistance.
The Azov Regiment was formed in 2014 as an extreme right-wing volunteer militia to fight Russian-backed separatists who had taken control of parts of the Donbas — the largely Russian-speaking industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine where Russia says it wants to end Ukrainian rule.
The regiment denies being fascist, racist or neo-Nazi, and Ukraine says it has been reformed away from its radical nationalist origins to be integrated into the National Guard.
Kyiv also denies that Russian speakers have been persecuted in Ukraine, and says the allegation that it has a fascist agenda, repeated daily on Russian media, is a baseless pretext for a Russian war of aggression.
Russia’s Prosecutor General’s office asked the Supreme Court to class the regiment as a “terrorist organization,” Interfax news agency reported, citing the Ministry of Justice website.
Lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, one of Russia’s negotiators in talks with Ukraine, called the evacuated combatants “animals in human form” and said they should receive the death penalty.
“They do not deserve to live after the monstrous crimes against humanity that they have committed and that are committed continuously against our prisoners,” he said.


Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
Updated 04 July 2022

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
  • Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades

CANAZEI, Italy: Search and rescue operations resumed on Monday in the Italian Alps with 17 people missing, authorities said, after part of a mountain glacier collapsed, killing at least six people and injuring eight.

The avalanche took place on the Marmolada, which at more than 3,300 meters is the highest peak in the Dolomites, a range in the eastern Italian Alps straddling the regions of Trento and Veneto.

Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades.

It was not clear what caused the ice to break way but an early summer heatwave across Italy saw temperature rise abruptly, including on the Marmolada.

“For weeks the temperatures at high altitudes in the Alps have been well above normal values, while this past winter there has been little snow, which hardly protects the glacial basins anymore,” Renato Colucci from the polar sciences institute of the National Research Council (CNR) said in a statement.

Four victims were identified on Monday, three of them Italian, including two alpine guides, and another from the Czech Republic, news agency AGI reported, citing rescuers.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the head of the National Civil Protection agency were due to visit the area later on Monday.


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures
Updated 04 July 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures
  • Island’s dwindling stock of petrol, diesel expected to run out in days

COLOMBO: Schools across Sri Lanka will close for one week starting Monday, the Education Ministry has announced, as the island nation grapples with its worst economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948.

Sri Lanka is struggling to find critical funding to finance the import of essential goods, including fuel, food and medicines.

The country’s existing stock of petrol and diesel is only sufficient for a few more days, and is now limited for use in essential services, such as health, public transport and food distribution. Long queues of drivers have been sighted across Colombo at gas stations, as some wait for more than 48 hours to fill their vehicles.

With the worsening economic turmoil, the Ministry of Education announced an early “holiday week” for all schools across the island, following an official review of the “notifications about the distribution of fuel” in the country.

“The week from July 4 to July 8 will be declared as a holiday week for all government schools and government-approved private schools across the island,” a circular issued by the ministry on Sunday reads.

The latest announcement comes after schools in Colombo and other urban areas were closed for two weeks in a row. Lessons were replaced with online classes, with officials previously citing transportation difficulties caused by the fuel crisis.

The extended closures have raised concerns among Sri Lankans, as some are worried about how the crisis will affect the future of younger generations.

“Simply closing schools will damage the future of the next generation,” Prof. Chandima Wijegunawardena, leader of the Sri Lanka Humanity Party, told Arab News.

“It’s sad that the political blunder of the parliamentarians is affecting children’s education.”

The economic meltdown has triggered a political crisis, with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa facing accusations of corruption and economic mismanagement. Anti-government protesters have taken to the streets for months to demand his resignation.

Wijegunawardena said that the government should implement a system that allows students to attend schools closest to their homes.

“It’s a scheme that allows children to walk to schools nearby their homes, so the rule can apply to teachers and other staff, too,” he said. “Policies and principles can be changed with the changing times.”

Ismeth Fatima, principal of Zahira College in Colombo, said that students should not be deprived of education in schools.

“Let them go to the nearby school and transfer teachers to their respective places of origin so they can cut down on the travel,” Fatima told Arab News.

“It is sad that the country has to undergo this ordeal,” she said. “A school is a school — we cannot expect the children to learn properly in their own respective home environment.”

Online learning as an alternative has also worried educators, with MRM Rifky, principal of Al-Humaisara National School located in Beruwala, a town 60 kilometers south of Colombo, warning that students at his school have failed to attend the new virtual classes.

“Online education is an utter failure,” he told Arab News.

The two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have already deprived children in Sri Lanka of their educational experiences, said women’s rights activist Shreen Saroor.

“Now with this ad-hoc management of the education system, Sri Lanka will lose out on our history and pride.”


Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park

Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park
Updated 04 July 2022

Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park

Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park

HIGHLAND PARK, Chicago: At least six people have been killed and more than 24 were injured in a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Highland Park on Monday, officials said, as panicked spectators fled the scene.

Officials told a news conference that six people were killed and 24 taken to hospital, and that a rifle was recovered from the scene.

“Law enforcement agencies are searching for the suspect; evidence of a firearm has been recovered,” the city of Highland Park reported on its website. “Numerous law enforcement officers are responding and have secured a perimeter around downtown Highland Park.”

The shooting comes with gun violence fresh on the minds of many Americans, after a massacre on May 24 killed 19 school children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and the May 14 attack that killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

Democrat Senator Julie Morrison was in the area when the shooting occurred.

“Today while participating in the Highland Park 4th of July parade, my family and I — and the entire Highland Park community — experienced the trauma of what far too many across the country are experiencing: the paralyzing terror of gun violence,” she said. 

“Like so many other families, I was with my husband, our three children and our grandchildren on what was to be a day of festivities and a beloved community event. Instead, we were running for safety, desperately praying that no one would die from the gunshots we heard in the distance. 

“Even in Highland Park, a town with some of the strictest gun laws in Illinois, lives are at risk from the lack of gun control.”

She continued: “Gun violence has been normalized and no one is to blame except elected officials who have the power to put their constituents’ lives ahead of the gun lobby, but fail to do so every chance they get. Instead we have a Supreme Court that just put our country on a path to even more guns on our streets and a Congress that’s patting themselves on the back over a watered down gun reform package that does little to stop the death sentence that is life in America right now.

“I am enraged by the gun free-for-all that’s killing our children, our seniors and everyone in between. The only way we can end this crisis is for our state and federal government to pass the laws that we’ve all been demanding. Until that happens, we are not safe anywhere—not at our places of worship, our schools, our community gatherings. If you’re not committed to saving lives then you have absolutely no place in public office.

“Thank you to the first responders who bravely stepped in to an active shooting and undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives today. I pray for healing for the victims — and my promise to you is that my years-long crusade against gun violence will continue stronger than ever.”

* With Reuters


British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’
Updated 04 July 2022

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’
  • Over 180 teachers for the educational outfit suddenly given permission to come to Britain but still lack clear travel route

LONDON: Over 180 teachers at the British Council risk being stranded in Afghanistan after being given permission by the UK government to apply to come to Britain but still lacking a clear route for traveling to the country, The Guardian reported.

Former colleagues and MPs campaigned for the recovery of the contractors, horrified that they had been left behind as full-time British Council staff were extracted amid fears that they would face punishment from the Taliban for teaching values that do not align with the new Kabul administration.

Of the teachers stuck in Afghanistan, 85 have been classified as being at “very high risk,” while another 90 workers have been listed at “high risk.” Many have reportedly gone into hiding fearing the Taliban’s crackdown.

Joe Seaton, a former British Council employee who worked alongside many of the teachers in Afghanistan, told the Guardian that no evacuation plan has been drawn up for the contractors despite 11 months passing since the fall of the city to the Taliban.

Having originally not been afforded the right to be recovered to Britain, the UK government suddenly announced last month that British Council contractors will now be allowed to apply to come to the UK with their families. A decision was expected in August.

Seaton said: “We are finally making some progress, but there does not yet seem to be any clear arrangements on how to get them out. This is a key question. How long will it take to get them out? Every day is another day in grave danger, and so far, all government efforts at processing former British Council staff have been very slow and clunky. The government needs to massively speed up on processing the individual cases.”

He added that the British Council did not have a full list of contractors who worked with them, which he had provided to the organization: “I have given the British Council lists of the contractors on several occasions as they did not have the information.”

Seaton, who speaks to the contractors stuck in Afghanistan on a near-daily basis via WhatsApp, told The Guardian that, following the government’s decision, they were “optimistic, but worried this might be another false dawn.”

The Home Office decision in June ruled that British Council contractors, staff at GardaWorld and former Chevening Scholars could come to Britain with their families so long as the total number of refugees applying in this category to the Foreign Office did not exceed 1,500. Problems with housing have mired the government’s attempts to process Afghan refugees, with the average Afghan family significantly larger than the space afforded by a typical British house.

They have been told to make applications online, but the Home Office Minister for Afghan Resettlement conceded that this would be difficult in many parts of the country.

The British Council said: “We have a full and comprehensive list of our former colleagues and have shared that list with relevant government departments.

We know our former colleagues are living in increasingly desperate circumstances, as the situation in the country continues to deteriorate.

The Afghanistan relocation schemes are run by the UK government. We have been pushing for progress with senior contacts within the UK government to ensure the earliest consideration of our former colleagues’ relocation applications.”


Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk
Updated 04 July 2022

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk
  • ‘Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans’

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to press ahead with Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine after troops took control of the entire Lugansk region.
“Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans,” Putin told Shoigu.