Fighting intensifies for Ukraine’s last bastion in eastern Luhansk province

A view shows an apartment building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the city of Sievierodonetsk in the Luhansk Region, Ukraine July 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
A view shows an apartment building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the city of Sievierodonetsk in the Luhansk Region, Ukraine July 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 03 July 2022

Fighting intensifies for Ukraine’s last bastion in eastern Luhansk province

A view shows an apartment building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the city of Sievierodonetsk in the Luhansk
  • Kyiv says Moscow has intensified missile attacks on cities far from the main eastern battlefields and that it deliberately hit civilian sites

KYIV/KONSTYANTYNIVKA, Ukraine: Fighting intensified on Saturday for Lysychansk, Ukraine’s last bastion in the strategic eastern province of Luhansk, while blasts shook a southern city after the civilian toll from Russian strikes climbed in towns well behind the front lines.
Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the pro-Moscow self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, told Russian television that “Lysychansk has been brought under control,” but added: “Unfortunately, it is not yet liberated.”
Russian media showed videos of Luhansk militia parading in Lysychansk streets waving flags and cheering, but Ukraine National Guard spokesman Ruslan Muzychuk told Ukrainian national television the city remained in Ukrainian hands.
“Now there are fierce battles near Lysychansk, however, fortunately, the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Muzychuk said.
He said the situations in the Lysychansk and Bakhmut areas, as well as in Kharkiv region, were the most difficult on the entire front line.
“The goal of the enemy here remains access to the administrative border of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Also, in the Sloviansk direction, the enemy is attempting assault actions,” he said.

Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of the southern region of Mykolaiv, which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odesa, reported powerful explosions in the city.
“Stay in shelters!” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app as air raid sirens sounded.
The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it had hit army command posts in the area.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Authorities said a missile slammed into an apartment block near Odesa on Friday, killing at least 21 people. A shopping mall was hit on Monday in the central city of Kremenchuk, leaving at least 19 dead.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced the strikes on Friday as “conscious, deliberately targeted Russian terror and not some sort of error or a coincidental missile strike.”
In his nightly television address on Saturday, he said it would be a “very difficult path” to victory but it was necessary for Ukrainians to maintain their resolve and inflict losses on the “aggressor ... so that every Russian remembers that Ukraine cannot be broken.”
“In many areas from the front, there is a sense of easing up, but the war is not over,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is intensifying in different places and we musn’t forget that. We must help the army, the volunteers, help those who are left on their own at this time.”
Kyiv says Moscow has intensified missile attacks on cities far from the main eastern battlefields and that it deliberately hit civilian sites. Ukrainian troops on the eastern front lines meanwhile describe intense artillery barrages that have pummelled residential areas.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and cities levelled since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov repeated Russian denials that its forces targeted civilians.
The Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, inspected Russian troops involved in what Moscow calls its “special military operation,” Russia’s defense ministry said, although it was not clear if he was in Ukraine.
The inspection followed slow but steady gains by Russian forces with the help of relentless artillery in east Ukraine, a focus for Moscow after it narrowed its broader war goals of toppling the government following fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Russia is seeking to drive Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in the industrialized eastern Donbas region where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
“Definitely they are trying to demoralize us. Maybe some people are affected by that, but for us it only brings more hatred and determination,” said a Ukrainian soldier returning from Lysychansk.

HOUSES ‘BURNING DOWN’
Russian forces seized Lysychansk’s sister city Sievierodonetsk last month, after some of the heaviest fighting of the war that pounded whole districts into rubble. Other settlements now face similar bombardment.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Telegram shelling had stopped Lysychansk residents dousing fires and added: “Private houses in attacked villages are burning down one by one.”
Ukraine has appealed for more weapons from the West, saying its forces are heavily outgunned by the Russian military.




A war crimes prosecutor (C) and a rescuer (R) and a civil, look at a destroyed building after being hit by a missile strike in the Ukrainian town of Sergiyvka , near Odessa, killing at least 18 people and injuring 30, on July 1, 2022. (AFP)

Troops on a break from the fighting and speaking in Konstyantynivka, a market town about 115 km (72 miles) west of Lysychansk, said they had managed to keep the supply road to the embattled city open, for now, despite Russian bombardment.
“We still use the road because we have to, but it’s within artillery range of the Russians,” said one soldier, who usually lives in Kyiv and asked not to be named, as comrades relaxed nearby, munching on sandwiches or eating ice cream.
“The Russian tactic right now is to just shell any building we could locate ourselves at. When they’ve destroyed it, they move on to the next one,” the soldier said.
Reuters reporters saw an unexploded missile lodged into the ground in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of the Donbas city of Kramatorsk on Saturday evening.
The missile fell in a wooded area between residential tower blocks. Police and military cordoned off an area a few meters around the missile and told onlookers to stand back. Outgoing artillery fire and several large explosions were heard in central Kramatorsk earlier in the evening.
Despite being battered in the east, Ukrainian forces have made some advances elsewhere, including forcing Russia to withdraw from Snake Island, a Black Sea outcrop southeast of Odesa that Moscow captured at the start of the war.
Russia had used Snake Island to impose a blockade on Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest grain exporters and a major producer of seed for vegetable oils. The disruptions have helped fuel a surge in global grain and food prices.
Russia, also a big grain producer, denies it has caused the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for hurting its exports.


UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell
Updated 10 sec ago

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell
LONDON: UK police lifted the lid Wednesday on a years-long probe into the notorious Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell dubbed the “Beatles” by their captives.
Counter-terrorism officers said the hostages’ recollections helped “zero in” on three of the British captors.
The Daesh cell members, who tried to keep their identities hidden, held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and were known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their distinctive British accents.
Two of them — 38-year-old Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, 34 — have been brought to justice in the United States for their part in the gruesome beheadings and killings of several Americans.
Another, Mohamed Emwazi — dubbed “Jihadi John” — died in Syria in 2015.
A fourth alleged British member was remanded in UK custody last week on terrorism charges after Turkey deported him following a jail term there.
Ahead of Elsheikh’s sentencing on Friday, British police have now detailed how their nearly decade-long probe unearthed key evidence used by US prosecutors to convict him in April.
“The building of the case is described as like putting together very small pieces of a jigsaw,” Richard Smith, the head of London police’s counter-terrorism unit, told reporters at a briefing Wednesday.
“What we pieced together here is a trail of breadcrumbs, fragments of breadcrumbs really, among a huge amount of other inquiries, which we were then able to present... to a court to assist the prosecution in the US.”
London’s Metropolitan Police first began probing what would become known as the “Beatles” cell in November 2012, when a spate of kidnappings of Western journalists and aid workers began in northern Syria.
Following some hostages’ release, as well as videos of other captives being beheaded by an executioner with a British accent, officers discovered some of the suspected perpetrators were UK citizens.
From the accounts of freed hostages, alongside other information and intelligence, they first identified the executioner as Emwazi.
Born in Kuwait but raised in the UK since aged six, he was killed by a US drone strike in Syria in 2015.
As British police worked to identify others, Smith said a “snippet of conversation” between captors and captives provided the key breakthrough.
Kotey and Elsheikh had revealed they were once arrested in central London at a far-right English Defense League (EDL) protest, which featured a counter-demonstration by an Islamic group.
Officers were able to trawl back through records of arrests at such events and discovered a September 2011 incident in which the pair were held over a stabbing.
Police then unearthed video footage of the duo from the day, data from their seized mobile phones that showed links to Emwazi, and other evidence leads.
“(That) one piece of information emerged from the hostages we spoke to, which was fairly unremarkable on the face of it to the hostage but proved very significant to us,” said Smith.
Officers also used a 2014 firearms conviction of Elsheikh’s brother to find further evidence from his mobile phone seized in that case.
It included images of Elsheikh in Syria in combat gear with a gun, and graphic pictures of severed heads which the 34-year-old had labelled “Syrian casualties.”
Meanwhile, officers discovered a 2009 police interview with him over an unrelated case that featured his voice, which experts were able to conclude was the same as a captor’s heard in Daesh hostage videos.
The “Beatles” cell is accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.
Kotey and Elsheikh were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to the US with UK permission.
There they faced charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
Kotey pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.

WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox

WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox
Updated 33 min 20 sec ago

WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox

WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox
  • A first case of human-to-dog transmission of monkeypox was reported last week in the medical journal The Lancet
  • "This is the first case reported of human-to-animal transmission," said WHO's technical lead for monkeypox

GENEVA: The World Health Organization called Wednesday for people infected with monkeypox to avoid exposing animals to the virus following a first reported case of human-to-dog transmission.
A first case of human-to-dog transmission of monkeypox — between two men and their Italian greyhound living together in Paris — was reported last week in the medical journal The Lancet.
“This is the first case reported of human-to-animal transmission... and we believe it is the first instance of a canine being infected,” Rosamund Lewis, the WHO’s technical lead for monkeypox, told reporters.
Experts, she said, had been aware of the theoretical risk that such a jump could happen, and that public health agencies had already been advising those suffering from the disease to “isolate from their pets.”
In addition, she said “waste management is critical” to lower the risk of contaminating rodents and other animals outside the household.
It was vital, she said, for people to “have information on how to protect their pets, as well as how to manage their waste so that animals in general are not exposed to the monkeypox virus.”
When viruses jump the species barrier it often sparks concern that they could mutate in a more dangerous direction.
Lewis stressed that so far there was no reports that was happening with monkeypox.
But, she acknowledged, “certainly as soon as the virus moves into a different setting in a different population, there is obviously a possibility that it will develop differently and mutate differently.”
The main concern revolves around animals outside of the household.
“The more dangerous situation... is where a virus can move into a small mammal population with high density of animals,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters.
“It is through the process of one animal infecting the next and the next and the next that you see rapid evolution of the virus.”
He stressed though that there was little cause for concern around household pets.
“I don’t expect the virus to evolve any more quickly in one single dog than in one single human,” he said, adding that while “we need to remain vigilant... pets are not a risk.”
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Worldwide, more than 35,000 cases have been confirmed since the start of the year in 92 countries, and 12 people have died, according to the WHO, which has designated the outbreak a global health emergency.


Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks

Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks
Updated 17 August 2022

Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks

Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks
  • Moscow blamed saboteurs for blasts that engulfed an ammunition depot in northern Crimea on Tuesday
  • Ukraine has not officially taken responsibility but has hinted at it

KYIV/LONDON: Russia has replaced the commander of its Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet, a state news agency reported on Wednesday.
This comes after a series of explosions rocked the peninsula it annexed in 2014 and had previously seen as a secure rear base for its war in Ukraine.
Moscow blamed saboteurs for blasts that engulfed an ammunition depot in northern Crimea on Tuesday. Plumes of smoke were later seen rising at a second Russian military base in central Crimea, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper said.
Ukraine has not officially taken responsibility but has hinted at it. The apparent Ukrainian capability to strike deeper into Russian-occupied territory, either with some form of weapon or with sabotage, indicates a shift in the conflict. Blasts destroyed warplanes at a Russian naval air base in Crimea last week.
On Wednesday, Russia’s RIA news agency cited sources as saying the commander of its Black Sea fleet, Igor Osipov, had been replaced with a new chief, Viktor Sokolov.
If confirmed, the move would mark one of the most prominent sackings of a military official so far in a war in which Russia has suffered heavy losses in men and equipment.
State-owned RIA cited the sources as saying the new chief was introduced to members of the fleet’s military council in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
The Black Sea Fleet, which has a revered history in Russia, has suffered several humiliations since President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine — which Moscow terms a “special military operation” — on Feb. 24.
In April, Ukraine struck its flagship, the Moskva, a huge cruiser, with Neptune missiles. It became the biggest warship to be sunk in combat for 40 years.

CRUCIAL SUPPLY ROUTE
Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and has extensively fortified since then, provides the main supply route for Russian forces in southern Ukraine, where Kyiv is planning a counter-offensive in coming weeks.
Ukrainian military intelligence said in a statement that after the recent explosions in Crimea, Russian forces had urgently moved there some of their planes and helicopters deeper into the peninsula and to airfields inside Russia. Reuters could not independently verify the information.
President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Ukrainians to steer clear of Russian military bases and ammunition stores and said the explosions could have various causes, including incompetence.
“But they all mean the same thing — the destruction of the occupiers’ logistics, their ammunition, military and other equipment, and command posts, saves the lives of our people,” he said in an evening address on Tuesday.
On Wednesday Russia’s FSB security service said it had detained six members of what it called an Islamist terrorist cell in Crimea, though it did not say if they were suspected of involvement in the explosions.
The Black Sea fleet has also blockaded Ukraine’s ports since the start of the war, trapping vital grain exports, which are only now starting to move again under an agreement brokered by Turkey and the United Nations.
Another three ships left Ukraine on Wednesday, the infrastructure ministry said on its Facebook page.
“This morning, three ships with Ukrainian food products left the ports of Chornomorsk and Odesa... More than 33,000 tons of agricultural products are on board,” it said.

’WHERE SHOULD WE GO’
The war has caused millions to flee, killed thousands and deepened a geopolitical rift between the West and Russia, which says the aim of its operation is to demilitarise its neighbor and protect Russian-speaking communities.
Ukraine, which broke free of Moscow’s rule when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, accuses Russia of waging an imperial-style war of conquest.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the eastern Donetsk region, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting, said early on Wednesday that two civilians were killed and seven wounded in shelling by Russian forces in the past 24 hours.
The Ukrainian government has ordered mass evacuations in Donetsk, but for one couple on a small farm near the city of Kramatorsk leaving was not an option.
“Grandmother cannot be transported – she is almost 100 years old,” Nataliia Ataiantz, 47, said as she checked on the elderly woman. For her husband, Oleksandr, the idea of leaving was “scary.”
“Our parents are buried here. And this is our land too ... where should we go, to foreign country?” he said.


Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit

Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit
Updated 17 August 2022

Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit

Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit
  • German ambassador in Bamako has contacted Mali’s foreign minister about ‘the suspected presence of Russian uniformed forces in Gao’
  • France announced in February that it was withdrawing its troops from Mali after a breakdown in relations with the country’s ruling junta

BERLIN: German soldiers in Mali spotted several dozen suspected Russian security forces in the city of Gao just as the last French soldiers left the country, the German government said Wednesday.
The German ambassador in Bamako has contacted Mali’s foreign minister about “the suspected presence of Russian uniformed forces in Gao,” said a foreign ministry spokesman.
Gao is home to a contingent of German soldiers, not far from the former base occupied by the French.
A Russian presence in the city would be a development “that changes the mission environment,” the spokesman said, adding that the government was also discussing the matter with the United Nations.
France announced in February that it was withdrawing its troops from Mali after a breakdown in relations with the country’s ruling junta. That ended a near 10-year deployment against extremist groups that pose a growing threat in West Africa.
The arrival of Russian paramilitaries in the country on the invitation of the government was a key factor in France’s decision to pull its military forces out.
The last French soldiers left Mali on Monday.
Germany’s government was also aware of an aircraft being used by Malian armed forces that “could possibly be an aircraft that was handed over by Russia,” said a defense ministry spokeswoman.
“We have received information that about 20 to 30 persons who were not associated with the Malian armed forces were seen loading and unloading this aircraft in a hangar” on Monday, the spokeswoman said.
The government is “intensively investigating” these reports, which concern a “training and ground combat aircraft of the L-39 type,” she said.
Germany on Friday said it had stopped reconnaissance operations and helicopter transport flights in Mali until further notice after Bamako denied flyover rights to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA.
But MINUSMA resumed contingent rotations from Monday under new approval procedures.
MINUSMA — the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali — was launched in 2013 to help one of the world’s poorest countries cope with a bloody extremist campaign.
It is one of the UN’s biggest peacekeeping operations, with 17,609 troops, police, civilians and volunteers deployed as of April, according to the mission’s website.


First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England

First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England
Updated 17 August 2022

First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England

First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England
  • Winds over 100 kph (60 mph) were recorded at the top of the Eiffel Tower during a flash flood Tuesday
  • In southern France, thunderstorms overnight and Wednesday flooded the Old Port of Marseille

PARIS: After a summer of drought, heat waves and forest fires, violent storms are whipping France and have flooded Paris subway stations, snarled traffic and disrupted the president’s agenda.
Winds over 100 kph (60 mph) were recorded at the top of the Eiffel Tower during a flash flood Tuesday, and similar winds were forecast Wednesday in the southeast.
Hail hammered Paris and other regions in Tuesday’s sudden storm. Rainwater gushed down metro station stairwells and onto platforms, and cars sloshed along embankments where the Seine River broke its banks.
In southern France, thunderstorms overnight and Wednesday flooded the Old Port of Marseille and the city’s main courthouse and forced the closure of nearby beaches.
Thunderstorms also appeared in southern England on Wednesday, drenching London tourists and residents after a summer of unusually warm and sunny weather.
The national weather service issued storm warnings for Wednesday and Thursday, advising people to stay alert for possible flooding and power outages.
As scattered storms swept across Belgium on Wednesday, one flooded parts of the historic town of Ghent following weeks of unrelenting drought.
Much of Western Europe has experienced a season of extreme weather that scientists link to human-made climate change.
Amid the storm warnings, French President Emmanuel Macron postponed an event Wednesday on the French Riviera to mark the 78th anniversary of a key Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France. It was rescheduled for Friday.
The dramatic downpours put an end to weeks of historic heat that left much of France parched, rivers dry and dozens of villages without running water.
Across much of Europe this summer, a series of heat waves has compounded a critical drought, creating prime wildfire conditions.
Rainfall in recent days has eased the burden on firefighters facing France’s worst fire season in the past decade, though emergency authorities said scattered wildfires continued to burn Wednesday in southwest France.