Charities struggle to deliver humanitarian aid into Ukraine

Volunteers of the civil protection load humanitarian aid onto a truck for the victims affected by the Russian invasion in Saint-Cloud, west of Paris, Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 06 March 2022

Charities struggle to deliver humanitarian aid into Ukraine

  • With ports blocked and roads made treacherous by bombings, charities currently can’t send humanitarian aid into Ukraine through normal channels

In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the fog of war is extending to those who are trying to help the beleaguered Ukrainians.
With ports blocked and roads made treacherous by bombings, charities currently can’t send humanitarian aid into Ukraine through normal channels, though both countries agreed Thursday to create corridors to allow those donations to be delivered. The International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed worry that Russian attacks being carried out in densely populated areas are imperiling children, the sick and the elderly.
Yet the complexities of the conflict haven’t stopped aid from reaching Ukrainians. The United Nations says much of the humanitarian effort are now based in neighboring countries to support roughly 1.4 million Ukrainians who have fled the country, mostly to Poland, Hungary and Romania. But charities are also working to send aid to Ukraine itself.
The scale of need is enormous. On Tuesday, the United Nations issued an appeal for $1.7 billion to help with aid efforts, estimating that 12 million people in Ukraine and 4 million refugees could be in need of relief and protection in the coming months.
Filippo Grandi, chief of the UN refugee agency, said his agency had already received more than $40 million in private donations from individuals and companies.
Many corporations have committed to help. Amazon pledged $5 million to the UN’s refugee agency and other humanitarian organizations and plans to match up to $5 million more in donations made by its employees. Snapchat announced $15 million for humanitarian support. Airbnb offered free housing” to up to 100,000 refugees and is waiving its fees on the grassroots movement of people booking stays in Ukrainian homes, with no plans of using them, to get money quickly into the accounts of hosts. And Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, has pledged $10 million toward aid.
Cryptocurrencies donations themselves have emerged as a leading form of aid. Samuel Bankman-Fried, CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, said his company gave $25 to “each Ukrainian” on FTX.
“Do what you gotta do,” he wrote.
Elliptic, a company that tracks cryptocurrency transactions, said that as of Friday, $56.2 million in digital currencies had been donated to Ukraine’s government and to Come Back Alive, a Ukrainian organization that says it trains and supplies ammunition to Ukraine’s military.
Come Back Alive is set to receive support from a crypto fundraising campaign, Ukraine DAO, that was organized in part by the punk protest group Pussy Riot. The organizer tweeted Wednesday they had raised just over 2,258 ether, equivalent to about $6.7 million.
“This is the first time that we’re seeing sort of a public concerted effort to raise funds to finance an ongoing conflict through cryptocurrency,” said Chris DePow, a regulation and compliance expert at Elliptic.
Inevitably, scammers appear to be trying to profit off the crisis. Elliptic said in a blog post that it had identified crypto fundraising scams that solicited aid for Ukraine.
“If the funds are being raised directly by the government through a publicly announced appeal, or if the funds are being raised through a third-party reputable organization that’s known to be active in this space, that’s probably a safer bet,” DePow said.
As of Wednesday, Meta said, more than $20 million had been raised on its Facebook and Instagram platforms for nonprofits that support humanitarian aid.
Maria Genkin, a board member with the American nonprofit Razom, which was established to help Ukrainians after Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, said her group has generated donations through their Facebook and Instagram fundraisers to send supplies to Poland.
The usual delivery trucks and other shipping methods, Genkin said, have either been halted or made more dangerous by the war. So supporters are building their own system.
“It’s a system of volunteers essentially crowdsourcing delivery,” she said. “There will be a lot of private cars bringing supplies from Warsaw to Lviv.”
Razom says it would prefer that people donate directly to the Ukrainian Armed Forces through an account opened by the National Bank of Ukraine. But Genkin said she recognizes that many nonprofits cannot give directly give to the military because of tax restrictions and that many donors may object to funding another country’s armed forces.
For that reason, Razom will continue to collect donations for humanitarian aid for Ukraine. It also plans to raise awareness for campaigns to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine and upcoming protests, including one Saturday in New York’s Times Square.
“We’re finding a lot of little things that we can do that add up to big things,” Genkin said.
That’s Nova Ukraine’s plan as well. The American nonprofit, which provides humanitarian aid and raises awareness of Ukrainian issues in the United States, initially planned to collect clothing and other aid and ship it to the country. However, with Ukraine’s ports cut off by Russian forces, that is no longer an option. Igor Markov, one of Nova Ukraine’s directors, said the group will work to send what they have collected to Ukrainian refugee camps in neighboring countries, as well as prepare for ongoing refugee support.
Elsewhere in the US, the Jewish organization UJA-Federation of New York spent the past month preparing for different scenarios with its Ukrainian partners, some of whom had been storing two to three months’ worth of food as a precaution. Once the invasion occurred, said Deborah Joselow, the group’s chief planning officer, the federation managed to quickly deploy $3 million in emergency grants to provide humanitarian support and other aid to roughly 200,000 Jews living in Ukraine.
The initial grants are slated to help their partners — at least 15, with many more affiliates — provide food and medicine for the elderly, Holocaust survivors, people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations. The organization said it’s been receiving inquiries from community activists and others who have taken shelter in bunkers in Odessa and in metro stations across Ukraine.
“They’re scared,” Joselow said. “They’re really, really scared.”


Russian oligarch wins access to second impounded yacht on French Riviera

Updated 9 sec ago

Russian oligarch wins access to second impounded yacht on French Riviera

PARIS: A French court on Friday ordered the customs agency to release a second impounded yacht owned by a Russian billionaire hit by European sanctions, citing procedural errors made during its seizure.
Customs agents seized the 17-meter “La Petite Ourse II” on March 21 after its owner, Alexey Kuzmichev, one of the main shareholders of Russia’s Alfa Bank, was sanctioned by the EU for his ties to President Vladimir Putin.
The Rouen appeals court ruled that customs officers had not followed correct procedures when they boarded the vessel, which was moored at Cannes on the Cote d’Azur.
His other yacht, La Petite Ourse, which is moored in nearby Antibes and was also seized in March, was released in October after a similar ruling by the Paris appeals court.
Customs agents in both cases had cited fraud investigations when they presented themselves to shipyard authorities, which under French law permits customs to search a vessel but did not apply in this context.
According to his lawyer, Philippe Blanchetier, Kuzmichev has not used La Petite Ourse since the first ruling in October and wanted to sue the French authorities to win back access to both boats in order to make a point, not to go out to sea.
“We want the respect of the law. We cannot take measures against countries, saying rights are not respected, and then not respect the law (ourselves),” he said.
The ruling underlines the challenges faced by European nations in freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs.
The customs agency did not reply to requests for comment immediately.

UK sanctions Russian and Iranian officials, citing human rights abuses

Updated 09 December 2022

UK sanctions Russian and Iranian officials, citing human rights abuses

  • ‘Today our sanctions go further to expose those behind the heinous violations of our most fundamental rights’

LONDON: Britain on Friday announced sanctions against 30 people worldwide, including Russian and Iranian officials, targeting those it deems responsible for acts of torture, sexual violence, and the violent repression of street protests.
The move came a day after France announced plans for new European Union sanctions against Iran over human rights abuses in its security crackdown on popular unrest there as well as its supply of drones to Russia before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The British government said its sanctions were coordinated with international partners to mark International Anti-Corruption Day and Global Human Rights Day. They encompassed individuals involved in activities including the torture of prisoners and the mobilization of troops to rape civilians.
“Today our sanctions go further to expose those behind the heinous violations of our most fundamental rights,” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.
Those sanctioned include Russian Col. Ramil Rakhmatulovich Ibatullin for his role as the commander of the 90th Tank Division, which has been involved in fighting since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
The government said there have been multiple allegations made against serving members of the 90th Tank Division, including the conviction in Ukraine of a senior lieutenant on sexual abuse charges during the conflict.
Russia, which has said it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine to eliminate threats to its security, has denied committing war crimes or targeting civilians.
Britain also sanctioned 10 Iranian officials connected to Iran’s prison systems. This included six people linked to the Revolutionary Courts that have been responsible for prosecuting protesters with sentences including the death penalty.
Nationwide protests that erupted after the death in police custody of 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 have posed one of the biggest challenges to the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.
The British government sanctioned Ali Cheharmahali and Gholamreza Ziyayi, former directors of Evin prison in Tehran, which it said was a facility notorious for the mistreatment of both Iranian and foreign detainees.
The foreign office said the sanctions against 11 countries across seven sanctions regimes were the most that Britain has ever imposed in one package.
Britain also sanctioned figures involved in Myanmar’s military, which it said were involved in committing massacres, torture and rape.
Among those sanctioned by Britain were Myanmar’s Office of the Chief of Military and Security Affairs, which it said had been involved in torture since last year’s military coup, including rape and sexual violence.

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Russia says ties with US still in ‘crisis’ despite prisoner swap

Updated 09 December 2022

Russia says ties with US still in ‘crisis’ despite prisoner swap

  • Kremlin’s Dmitry Peskov: Relations between the two countries remain in a ‘sorry state’
  • Moscow-Washington tensions lately soared over range of issues

MOSCOW: Russia said Friday that its ties with the United States were still in “crisis” despite a prisoner swap involving US basketball star Brittney Griner and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Tensions between Moscow and Washington have soared in recent months over a range of issues, peaking after President Vladimir Putin sent troops into pro-Western Ukraine.
“It is probably wrong to draw any hypothetical conclusions that this could be a step toward overcoming the crisis that we currently have in bilateral relations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Izvestia newspaper.
Ties “continue to remain in a sad state,” he said, adding that talks with US authorities allowed “a Russian citizen, who was basically held captive by the Americans for 14 years... to return to his country.”
Dubbed the “Merchant of Death,” Bout was released Thursday in a prisoner swap in Abu Dhabi involving WNBA star Griner, 32, who was jailed in Russia for possessing vape cartridges with cannabis oil.
Bout, 55, was accused of arming rebels in some of the world’s bloodiest conflicts.
He was arrested in an American sting operation in Thailand in 2008, extradited to the United States and sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison.


India’s Modi wins huge in home state

Updated 09 December 2022

India’s Modi wins huge in home state

  • Modi’s party wins at least 147 seats in Gujarat’s 182-seat legislature
  • Modi was state premier in 2002 in Gujarat when 1,000 people were killed in riots

AHMEDABAD, India: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party won by a crushing landslide in his home state, election results showed Thursday, in a strong performance ahead of a national vote due in 2024.

In its best-ever performance in the western state of around 60 million people, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won at least 147 seats in Gujarat’s 182-seat legislature, up from 99, and was expected to win another nine once all votes were counted.

Modi campaigned hard in Gujarat, the state where he was chief minister for 12 years before ascending to become prime minister in 2014, and which voted on December 1 and 5.

Thanking the people of Gujarat, Modi said on Twitter he was “overcome with a lot of emotion” by the results.

“People blessed politics of development and at the same time expressed a desire that they want this to continue at a greater pace,” Modi tweeted.

Modi was state premier in 2002 when around 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in one of the worst outbreaks of sectarian violence in post-independence India.

The once-mighty Congress party managed just 16 seats, its worst performance ever in the state.

The BJP also saw off a challenge from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which governs the capital New Delhi and Punjab and which was hoping to expand its reach. It won just five seats.

The BJP has ruled Gujarat continuously for 27 years, and the party and its allies head governments in 16 of India’s 28 states.

The deep-pocketed party with a strong social media operation pulled out all the stops in the campaign, fielding many new faces including a former Congress activist, Hardik Patel, along with the wife of a star cricketer.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst, said that the result was all the more remarkable after 135 people died in a bridge collapse in Gujarat in October that was blamed on corruption.

Voters “see their welfare in Modi’s political security,” he told AFP.

“This kind of result in Gujarat no doubt smoothens BJP’s path to 2024 (national elections).”

Earlier this year, the BJP scored a strong win in Uttar Pradesh to become the first party to win two back-to-back elections in India’s most populous state, which also sends the most members to the national parliament.

However, the BJP lost power to Congress in Himachal Pradesh, election results in the small northern state of around seven million people showed.

The next national elections in the world’s biggest democracy are due in 2024 when Modi, 72, is widely expected to run for a third term.


Frustration in Romania and Bulgaria after Schengen rejection

Updated 08 December 2022

Frustration in Romania and Bulgaria after Schengen rejection

  • Now some observers warn that both countries face a rising tide of euroscepticism as they remain outside the coveted zone
  • At Giurgiu, on the Romanian-Bulgarian border, a queue of trucks several kilometres begins forming from dawn

GIURGIU, Romania: After more than 10 years waiting to be admitted into the Schengen zone, Bulgaria and Romania were once more turned away after two EU countries vetoed their admission.
Now some observers warn that both countries face a rising tide of euroskepticism as they remain outside the coveted zone through which passport checks are not normally required.
Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca spoke of his “profound disappointment” after Austria blocked their admission.
In Bulgaria, President Rumen Radev regretted what he described as the “internal borders” he said were being put up with the European Union bloc.
Their failure to win admission to the Schengen’s vast zone of free movement means that the long lines at various border crossings will continue.
At Giurgiu, for example, on the Romanian-Bulgarian border, a queue of trucks several kilometers begins forming from dawn.
Jaded long-haul drivers speaking to AFP in early December in Giurgiu, on the Romanian side, told of long hours waiting for the customs checks before they could enter Bulgaria.
Alexandru Birnea, 36, a long-haul driver for 13 years, said joining the Schengen zone would improve the lives of thousands of truckers.
“We would like to avoid losing all this time and therefore money in endless queues so that we can get back to our families more quickly,” he said.
But his pessimism about the outcome of the vote turned out to be well founded.
The European Commission has long expressed its wish for a widened Schengen zone.
But while tourist hotspot Croatia received the green light on Thursday, Romania and Bulgaria were left out in the cold.
Both countries joined the European Union back in 2007, before Croatia. Both countries met the technical criteria set out by Brussels.
But both countries were asked to make progress on judicial reform and anti-corruption efforts and were monitored for improvements.
When that process ended, both countries were hopeful that they had cleared the final hurdle. improvements.
But Austria hardened its stance, denouncing an influx of asylum seekers that it said could grow if the Schengen zone expanded.
“The migratory flows do not pass through Romania,” but mainly through Serbia, Romanian Interior Minister Lucian Bode argued.
He pointing to the nearly 140,000 migrants on the western Balkan route recorded by the European agency Frontex since January.
Prime Minister Ciuca said Austria’s refusal was based on “incorrect” figures.
But for political analyst Sergiu Miscoiu, Austria’s veto was more a reflection of internal political pressures, given the rise in polls of the far right there.
The Netherlands finally changed its position and gave Romania the green-light after long being opposed. But it maintained its concerns about “corruption and human rights” in Bulgaria.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said last week that he wanted to be assured that no-one could “cross the border with a 50-euro note.”
Bulgarian Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev rejected what he described as “insulting” remarks, especially given the “exceptional efforts” they had made to meet Brussels’ demands.
Bulgarian weekly magazine Capital commented: “We expect the impossible from the poorest and most corrupt country in the EU: don’t let migrants pass through (the country), but give asylum to every migrant who enters,” it remarked.
And analyst Miscoiu warned that a negative vote could “strengthen the euroskeptics, especially in Bulgaria, which has already had four elections in the past two years.”
Romanian president Klaus Iohannis also warned that rejection “might compromise European unity and cohesion, which we so need, especially in the current geopolitical context.”