Russia says no escape for last defenders of Ukrainian port, prepares for new offensive

A view shows a residential building damaged in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 13, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 April 2022

Russia says no escape for last defenders of Ukrainian port, prepares for new offensive

  • Russian television showed pictures of what it said were marines giving themselves up, many of them wounded
  • A Ukrainian defense ministry spokesman said he had no information about any surrender

KYIV/LVIV: Russia said it had taken control of the port in Mariupol on Wednesday and that more than 1,000 Ukrainian marines had surrendered in the southeastern Ukrainian city, whose capture would free up forces for a wider offensive.
The capture of the Azovstal industrial district, where the marines have been holed up, would give the Russians full control of Mariupol, Ukraine’s main Sea of Azov port, reinforce a southern land corridor and expand its occupation of the country’s east.
Surrounded and bombarded by Russian troops for weeks and the focus of some of the heaviest fighting in the war, Mariupol would be the first major city to fall since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Russia’s defense ministry said 162 officers were among 1,026 soldiers of the 36th Marine Brigade who had surrendered to Russian and pro-Russian separatist forces near the Illich Iron and Steel Works.
Russian television showed pictures of what it said were marines giving themselves up, many of them wounded.
The defense ministry later said Mariupol’s trade seaport was under full control and remnants of Ukrainian forces were blocked and unable to escape, Interfax news agency reported.
Ukraine’s general staff said Russian forces were attacking Azovstal and the port, but a defense ministry spokesman said he had no information about any surrender.
Reuters journalists accompanying Russian-backed separatists saw flames billowing from the Azovstal area on Tuesday, a day after Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade said its troops had run out of ammunition.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ardent supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, urged remaining Ukrainians trapped in Azovstal to surrender.
“Within Azovstal at the moment there are about 200 wounded who cannot receive any medical assistance,” Kadyrov said in a Telegram post. “For them and all the rest it would be better to end this pointless resistance and go home to their families.”

Weapons appeal
Tens of thousands of people are believed to have been killed in Mariupol and Russia has been massing thousands of troops in the area for a new assault, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
“We have destroyed more Russian weapons and military equipment than some armies in Europe currently possess. But this is not enough,” he said in an online video, adding that if Ukraine did not get more tanks, jets, and missile systems, other countries in Europe would be the next targets of Russia.
US President Joe Biden announced an extra $800 million in military assistance including artillery systems, armored personnel carriers and helicopters, taking the total to more than $2.5 billion. France and Germany also pledged more arms.
Ukraine accuses Russia of blocking aid convoys to civilians marooned in Mariupol. Its mayor, Vadym Boichenko, said Russia had brought in mobile crematoria “to get rid of evidence of war crimes” — a statement that was not possible to verify. Moscow has blamed Ukraine for civilian deaths and accused Kyiv of denigrating Russian armed forces.
Moscow’s incursion into Ukraine has seen more than 4.6 million people flee abroad, killed or wounded thousands and left Russia increasingly isolated on the world stage.
In the village of Lubianka northwest of Kyiv, from where Russian forces had tried and failed to subdue the capital before being driven away, a message to Ukrainians had been written on the wall of a house that had been occupied by Russian troops.
“We did not want this ... forgive us,” it said.
The Kremlin says it launched a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “liberate” Ukraine, a message villagers said had been repeated to them by the Russian troops.
“To liberate us from what? We’re peaceful...We’re Ukrainians,” Lubianka resident Viktor Shaposhnikov said.

Four presidents in Kyiv
Polish President Andrzej Duda said on a visit to Kyiv with his Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian counterparts that those who had committed and ordered crimes must be brought to justice.
“This is not war, this is terrorism,” he told reporters.
Germany’s president did not join them as he had planned. Zelensky said there had been no official approach and one of his officials denied a newspaper report he had rejected the visit due to Steinmeier’s recent good relations with Moscow.
The Kremlin denounced Biden’s description of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine as amounting to genocide, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying this was unacceptable coming from the leader of a country he said had committed crimes of its own.
An initial report by a mission of experts set up by Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe documents a “catalogue of inhumanity” by Russian troops in Ukraine, according to the US ambassador to the OSCE.
“This includes evidence of direct targeting of civilians, attacks on medical facilities, rape, executions, looting and forced deportation of civilians to Russia,” Michael Carpenter said.
Russia has denied targeting civilians and has said Ukrainian and Western allegations of war crimes are fabricated.
The Kyiv district police chief said 720 bodies had been found in the region around the capital from where Russian forces had retreated, with more than 200 people missing.
International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan said after visiting Bucha, a town where bound bodies of people apparently shot at close range were found, that Ukraine was a “crime scene” and this was within ICC jurisdiction.
“We have to pierce the fog of war to get to the truth,” Khan said on Twitter.
The major of the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest, said bombing had increased significantly on Wednesday and satellite photos from Maxar technology showed long columns of armored vehicles in the region.
At least seven people were killed, including a two-year-old boy, and 22 wounded in Kharkiv over the past 24 hours and Ukrainian forces shot down two Russian planes attacking towns in the region, regional Governor Oleh Synehubov said earlier.
Reuters could not immediately verify his statement, but filmed people in Kharkiv quietly carrying bodies from an apartment block hit by shelling. A woman sat sobbing by the body of her son, lying on the floor in the room she said she had implored him to leave before a second explosion killed him.


Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

Updated 13 August 2022

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

  • Hundreds of Afghans are trying to cross the Iranian border every day
  • Allegations of mistreatment in Iran have been on the rise since last year

KABUL: When Mohammad Parwiz was trying to cross from Iran to Turkey in search of a better life, he was caught by Iranian police guards and subjected to forced labor before being deported back to Afghanistan.

Parwiz is just one among hundreds of Afghans trying to cross the Iranian border every day to find employment abroad. He is also one of an increasing number to face abuse in the process.
Iran has for decades hosted millions of Afghans fleeing armed conflict in their war-torn country. The number jumped to 5 million from nearly 4 million last year, according to Iranian Foreign Ministry data, as economic restrictions imposed on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021 triggered unprecedented levels of poverty.
“As embassies closed in August last year, I had no other way but to go to Iran illegally,” Parwiz, a 22-year-old from the northern Baghlan province, told Arab News.
“I stayed in Iran for three months working at my relative’s bakery. My friends and I were caught by a border police patrol close to Turkey’s border.
“We were kept in jail for 12 days where we were forced to do hard labor and if we didn’t, they would hit us. We wouldn’t get proper food during that time. They constantly threatened us that if we come to Iran again, we may get killed. After 12 days of forced labor, humiliation, abuse and torture by Iran’s police, we were sent back to Afghanistan.”
Allegations of mistreatment of Afghans in Iran have been on the rise since last year. Reports include abuse not only by the Iranian police, but also human traffickers.
Ahmad Jalil, a 19-year-old from Laghman province, tried to leave Afghanistan and go via Iran to Turkey, from where he wanted to reach Europe with a group of 15 other teenagers.
“We paid a lot of money to the trafficker here but when we entered Iran through the border in Nimroz province during the night, we were received by another person after walking in the desert for hours,” he said.
The second smuggler asked them for more money.
“The trafficker would abuse us and would beat some of us,” Jalil said. “He even threatened us with death.”
Eventually, Jalil was abandoned and managed to return to Afghanistan on his own.
“We have cases of Afghan migrants being abused, beaten up and even killed,” Sayed Hazratullah Zaeem, a commissioner at Islam Qala, a border town in Herat province, near the Afghanistan–Iran border, told the Afghan media on Thursday.
Abdullah Qayoum, an official of the Department of Refugees and Repatriation in Herat, confirmed the reports of abuse.
“Afghans who want to go there (Iran), some of them are sent back after being tortured,” he said.
In April, videos circulated on social media showing civilians being manhandled by men dressed like Iranian security forces sparked a wave of demonstrations targeting Iranian diplomatic missions in Kabul and Herat, and a diplomatic protest by Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities.
“The border police in Iran are so brutal. For them we are not even humans,” said Mohammad Karim, a recent graduate from Kabul, who tried to cross from Iran to Turkey earlier this year.
He did not manage to reach his destination after he was injured in a car accident as his traffickers tried to evade Iranian police.
“If they saw our vehicle in the desert, they would shoot at us,” he said.


Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Updated 13 August 2022

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

  • Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages

KYIV: Ukraine’s health minister has accused Russian authorities of committing a crime against humanity by blocking access to affordable medicines in areas its forces have occupied since invading the country 5 1/2 months ago.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages.
“Throughout the entire six months of war, Russia has not (allowed) proper humanitarian corridors so we could provide our own medicines to the patients that need them,” Liashko said, speaking at the Health Ministry in Kyiv late Friday.
“We believe that these actions are being taken with intent by Russia, and we consider them to be crimes against humanity and war crimes that will be documented and will be recognized,” the minister said.
The Ukrainian government has a program that provides medications to people with cancer and chronic health conditions. The destruction of hospitals and infrastructure along with the displacement of an estimated 7 million people inside the country also have interfered with other forms of treatment, according to United Nations and Ukrainian officials.
The war in Ukraine has caused severe disruptions to the country’s state-run health service, which was undergoing major reforms, largely in response to the coronavirus pandemic, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade on Feb. 24.
The World Health Organization said it recorded 445 attacks on hospitals and other health care facilities as of Aug. 11 that directly resulted in 86 deaths and 105 injuries.
But Liashko said the secondary effects were far more severe.
“When roads and bridges have been damaged in areas now controlled by the Ukrainian forces... it is difficult to get someone who had a heart attack or a stroke to the hospital,” he said. “Sometimes, we can’t make it in time, the ambulance can’t get there in time. That’s why war causes many more casualties (than those killed in the fighting). It’s a number that cannot be calculated.”


Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Updated 13 August 2022

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

ANKARA: Two more ships left from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Saturday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, bringing the total number of ships to depart the country under a UN-brokered deal to 16.
Barbados-flagged Fulmar S left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 12,000 tons of corn to Turkey’s southern Iskenderun province, it said. The Marshall Island-flagged Thoe departed from the same port and headed to Turkey’s Tekirdag, carrying 3,000 tons of sunflower seeds.
The statement added that another ship would depart from Turkey on Saturday to Ukraine to buy grains.

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

  • Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts

KABUL: Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hard-line Islamists’ return to power.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during the two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.
About 40 women — chanting “Bread, work and freedom” — marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their guns into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.
The protesters carried a banner which read “August 15 is a black day” as they demanded rights to work and political participation.
“Justice, justice. We’re fed up with ignorance,” chanted the protesters, many of them not wearing face veils, before they dispersed.
Some journalists covering the protest — the first women’s rally in months — were also beaten by the Taliban fighters.
After seizing power, the Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have already been imposed.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
Women have also been banned from traveling alone on long trips, and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.
In May, the country’s supreme leader and chief of the Taliban, Hibatullah Azkhundzada, even ordered women to fully cover themselves in public, including their faces — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.


‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

Updated 13 August 2022

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

  • In Poland, the government has come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action
  • Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned

SCHWEDT, Germany: Thousands of fish have washed up dead on the Oder river running through Germany and Poland, sparking warnings of an environmental disaster as residents are urged to stay away from the water.
The fish floating by the German banks near the eastern town of Schwedt are believed to have washed upstream from Poland where first reports of mass fish deaths were made by locals and anglers as early as on July 28.
German officials accused Polish authorities of failing to inform them about the deaths, and were taken by surprise when the wave of lifeless fish came floating into view.
In Poland, the government has also come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action.
Almost two weeks after the first dead fish appeared floating by Polish villages, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “everyone had initially thought that it was a local problem.”
But he admitted that the “scale of the disaster is very large, sufficiently large to say that the Oder will need years to recover its natural state.”
“Probably enormous quantities of chemical waste was dumped into the river in full knowledge of the risk and consequences,” added the Polish leader, as German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke urged a comprehensive probe into what she called a brewing “environmental disaster.”
Standing by the riverbank, Michael Tautenhahn, deputy chief of Germany’s Lower Oder Valley National Park, looked in dismay at the river on the German-Polish border.
“We are standing on the German side — we have dead fish everywhere,” he told AFP.
“I am deeply shocked... I have the feeling that I’m seeing decades of work lying in ruins here. I see our livelihood, the water — that’s our life,” he said, noting that it’s not just fish that have died, but also mussels and likely countless other water creatures.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Oder has over the last years been known as a relatively clean river, and 40 domestic species of fish make their home in the waterway.
But now, lifeless fish — some as small as a few centimeters, others reaching 30-40 cm — can be seen across the river. Occasionally, those still struggling to pull through can be seen flipping up in the water, seemingly gasping for air.
Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned.
“This fish death is atypical,” said Axel Vogel, environment minister for Brandenburg state, estimating that “undoubtedly tons” of fish have died.
Fish death is often caused by the distortion of oxygen levels when water levels are too low, he explained.
“But we have completely different test results, namely that we have had increased oxygen level in the river for several days, and that indicates that a foreign substance has been introduced that has led to this,” he said.
Tests are ongoing in Germany to establish the substance that may have led to the deaths, but there are early indications of extremely high levels of mercury — although authorities said final results are still pending.
In Poland, prosecutors have also begun investigating after authorities came under fire over what critics said was a sluggish response to a disaster.
Tautenhahn said the disaster would likely carry consequences for years to come.
“If it is quicksilver, then it will also stay here for a long time,” he said, noting that mercury does not disintegrate but would then remain in the sediments.