Wagner claims ‘legal’ capture of Ukraine’s Bakhmut as six killed nearby

Medics from the Da Vinci Wolves Battalion evacuate a lightly wounded Ukrainian serviceman near the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on April 1, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)
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Updated 03 April 2023
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Wagner claims ‘legal’ capture of Ukraine’s Bakhmut as six killed nearby

  • The Wagner group has supported Russian troops throughout the offensive to surround Bakhmut
  • Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin had claimed Wagner units controlled 70 percent of the town

MOSCOW: Russia’s Wagner paramilitary group on Monday claimed it had “in a legal sense” captured the eastern Ukraine town of Bakhmut — the site of the longest battle of Moscow’s operation in the country — with its units now in control of city hall.

The Wagner group has supported Russian troops throughout the offensive to surround Bakhmut, the fight for which both sides have invested heavily, despite analysts’ assertions that the city carries little strategic value.

“The commanders of the units that took city hall and the whole center will go and put up this flag,” Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said on his Telegram channel, referencing a Russian flag he is seen holding in a video accompanying the post.

“This is the Wagner private military company, these are the guys who took Bakhmut. In a legal sense, it’s ours.”

On March 20, Prigozhin had claimed Wagner units controlled 70 percent of the town.

Hours before Prigozhin’s claim, the Ukrainian general staff late Sunday said that though “the enemy has not stopped its assault of Bakhmut... Ukrainian defenders are courageously holding the city as they repel numerous enemy attacks.”

Also Sunday evening, President Volodymyr Zelensky had praised Ukrainian troops’ defense of the city, much of which now lies in ruins.

“I am grateful to our warriors who are fighting near Avdiivka, Maryinka, near Bakhmut... Especially Bakhmut! It’s especially hot there today!” Zelensky said in his own post to Telegram.

Near Bakhmut, about 27 kilometers (17 miles) away in Kostyantynivka, a “massive attack” of Russian missiles left three men and three women dead and eleven wounded Sunday, Ukrainian authorities said.

Zelensky said the affected zones are “just residential areas,” where “ordinary civilians of an ordinary city of Donbas” were targeted.

There was a large crater in a yard and windows were shattered from ground to top floors in two 14-story tower blocks, while private homes nearby had smashed roofs, AFP journalists saw.

Donetsk regional police said Russia fired S-300 and Uragan missiles in a “massive attack” on Kostyantynivka involving six strikes just after 10 am local time (0700 GMT).

The blast hit “16 apartment buildings, eight private residences, a kindergarten, an administrative building, three cars and a gas pipeline,” police said.

Liliya, a 19-year-old psychology student, stood outside her severely damaged high-rise block.

“I found out about this on the news. And when I was told about it and I saw that it was my area, I was just shocked,” Liliya said, as broken glass continued to rain down from windows.

“I’m very, very lucky that I wasn’t home at that moment,” she added, after deciding to stay with her boyfriend.

“Everything is bombed out. And I think it’s like that in every flat, in fact. Because it was such an impact that it was very hard for anything to stay unbroken.”

Nina, a pensioner, was looking at the damage to her ground-floor flat in a Soviet-era block. She was also not home when the missile struck.

“The internal doors and the front door were blown in. An internal partition wall has broken. There’s not a single window left,” she said.

Soldiers were examining the scene afterwards as well an armed man in civilian clothes.

Watching while holding a shopping bag, Sergiy, 61, said “the shock wave came all the way to us, about a kilometer away.”

Mortar fire also killed two people in the northeast Sumy region, Zelensky said.

“These are just a few examples of the dozens of bombings every day,” he continued.

“There is only one way to stop Russian terrorism and restore security to all our cities and communities. And this path is a military victory for Ukraine.”

Earlier Sunday, Zelensky also commemorated the first anniversary of the discovery of bodies of civilians killed in Bucha, a town near Kyiv that has become a symbol of the alleged atrocities carried out by Moscow during the conflict.

Russia has accused Ukraine and its allies of staging the scene.

“People of Ukraine! You have stopped the biggest force against humanity of our time,” Zelensky added in another post on Telegram, accompanied by photos of areas liberated a year ago when Russian troops retreated from around the Ukrainian capital.

“You have stopped a force that despises everything and wants to destroy everything that gives people meaning,” Zelensky said.

“We will liberate all our lands.”

Also Sunday, in St. Petersburg, a leading Russian military blogger and fervent defender of the military offensive in Ukraine was killed by a bomb attack in a cafe, investigators said.

Vladlen Tatarsky was reportedly killed after receiving a gift rigged with an explosive device, at an event organized by Cyber Front Z, which refers to itself on social media as “Russia’s information troops.”

Around two dozen other people were injured.

Earlier in the weekend, Russia on Saturday took over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council despite outrage from Kyiv and Western nations that have imposed sanctions on Moscow.


Protests across Germany on Ukraine war anniversary

Updated 31 sec ago
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Protests across Germany on Ukraine war anniversary

BERLIN: Thousands of protesters rallied across Germany Saturday in support of Ukraine on the second anniversary of Moscow’s full-scale invasion, even as doubts grow about Kyiv’s chances of victory.
Rallies took place in Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt and other cities.
In the capital, thousands gathered in front of the Brandenburg Gate waving banners that read “stand up for Ukraine” and “arm Ukraine now.”
Addressing the crowd, Berlin mayor Kai Wegner decried Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “brutal war of aggression.”
“He wants to wipe out Ukraine, he wants to wipe out the identities of Ukrainians,” he said.
“But we won’t let happen. We will stand by Ukraine’s side.”
He called on Berlin to deliver long-range Taurus missiles long sought by Kyiv, a demand that the German government has so far refused for fears they could also strike inside Russia.
Organizers said about 10,000 people took part in the rally. Police put the figure at around 5,000.
In a square in the historic heart of Frankfurt, about 1,000 people took part in a rally, according to police, where they heard calls from speakers to accelerate the delivery of weapons to Kyiv.
Ukraine’s armed forces have in recent times acknowledged facing frontline problems, pointing to a lack of Western aid, while Russian forces have been making gains.
“The West must do more to support Ukraine,” Achem Lobreuer, a 58-year-old engineer, told AFP at the rally.
This included delivering more armaments, but also “supporting negotiations,” he said.
“My message to Putin is that he must end this war.”
Maksym Godovnikov, a 38-year-old Ukrainian at the Frankfurt rally, also urged Ukraine’s allies to step up military support.
“If we have more weapons, we can protect ourselves and also win back land that was previously conquered,” he said.
Rallies were also taking place in other European capitals to mark the day Russia sent its troops into Ukraine, bringing war back to Europe for the first time in decades.
The anniversary comes as concerns grow in Europe about Ukraine’s faltering efforts to fend off Moscow.
According to a survey released last week, only 10 percent of Europeans believe Ukraine can defeat Russia on the battlefield.
The survey conducted last month across 12 EU countries showed that on average 20 percent of those asked believed Russia could win, and 37 percent thought the conflict would end in a compromise settlement.

Eiffel Tower to reopen Sunday as strike ends

Updated 5 min 2 sec ago
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Eiffel Tower to reopen Sunday as strike ends

  • The stoppage since Monday at one of the world’s best-known tourist sites was the second within two months
  • The tower’s operator SETE said it had reached agreement with the unions on Saturday

PARIS: France’s Eiffel Tower that had been closed for five days by a strike will reopen Sunday after the monument’s management announced a deal had been struck with unions.
The stoppage since Monday at one of the world’s best-known tourist sites was the second within two months in protest at what unions say was insufficient investment.
The tower’s operator SETE said it had reached agreement with the unions on Saturday “under which the parties will regularly monitor the company’s business model, investment in works and revenue through a body that will meet every six months.”
With an aim to balance its books by 2025, both sides also agreed to see an investment of some 380 million euros up to 2031 toward works and maintenance of the tower, the statement said.
SETE extended apologies to visitors caught in the strike action, which resulted in the loss of some 100,000 admissions.
The Eiffel Tower booked a shortfall of around 120 million euros ($130 million) during the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
SETE has since received a recapitalization of 60 million euros, which unions say is insufficient given that major maintenance work is needed, including a fresh paint job.
Visitor numbers dropped sharply during Covid due to closures and travel restrictions, but recovered to 5.9 million in 2022 and 6.3 million last year.
The masterpiece by architect Gustave Eiffel has been repainted 19 times since it was built for the 1889 World Fair.


Yulia Navalnaya says Putin blocking body handover

Updated 35 min 30 sec ago
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Yulia Navalnaya says Putin blocking body handover

  • “You tortured him alive, now you torture him while he is dead,” Yulia Navalnaya said in a new video
  • “Putin is directing it all. It’s Putin saying, ‘Put pressure on the mother, break her, tell her the body of her son is rotting’”

WARSAW: Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accused President Vladimir Putin of “satanism” on Saturday for not allowing the body to be returned to his family.
Navalny’s mother Lyudmila has said authorities are threatening to bury him on the grounds of the Arctic prison colony where he died earlier this month if she did not agree to a “secret” funeral.
“You tortured him alive, now you torture him while he is dead,” Yulia Navalnaya, who has vowed to continue her husband’s work, said in a new video, published Saturday.
Russian authorities have said only that an investigation is ongoing and have previously criticized accusations from Navalnaya as “unfounded and vulgar.”
Navalnaya said on Saturday she believed the pressure being put on Navalny’s mother was coming directly from Putin.
“Putin is directing it all. It’s Putin saying, ‘Put pressure on the mother, break her, tell her the body of her son is rotting’,” she said.
“This is the same Putin that likes to show that he is a practicing Christian,” she said.
Putin has for decades portrayed himself as a devoted Orthodox Christian and has in recent years focused on promoting what he calls “traditional values.”
“What Putin is doing now is hatred. No, not even hatred, it’s some kind of satanism,” Navalnaya said.
“We always knew that Putin’s faith is fake, but now we can see it like never before,” she added.
On the anniversary of Russia launching its military offensive, the late Kremlin critic’s wife also denounced Putin’s decision to send troops into Ukraine.
“You will answer for all of this... And for this (Navalny’s death) and for the war that you unleashed two years ago, also hiding behind Christian values,” Navalnaya said.
“You are just killing. You are just killing sleeping people at night with missiles blessed by the church.”


Biden hails US lunar landing as space milestone

Updated 55 min 20 sec ago
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Biden hails US lunar landing as space milestone

  • Biden called the landing “a thrilling step forward in a new era of space exploration”
  • “America does hard things. We rise to the great scientific challenges of our time”

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Saturday hailed the landing of a US spacecraft on the Moon as a historic achievement in space research led by the United States.
The uncrewed Odysseus lander, built by a private company and funded by NASA, landed near the lunar south pole Thursday, more than 50 years since the agency’s last Apollo 17 mission to Earth’s cosmic neighbor.
Biden called the landing “a thrilling step forward in a new era of space exploration” enabled by cooperation between the private and public sectors.
“It was made possible by American ingenuity, innovation, and curiosity,” he said in a statement. “America is leading the world back to the Moon.”
Odysseus, which is the size of a large golf cart, is likely lying sideways on the Moon’s surface as ground controllers work to download data and surface photos from the robot, its makers said.
Intuitive Machines initially said that its hexagonal spaceship was upright, but its CEO later said that announcement was based on misinterpreted data.
It appears that Odysseus caught a foot on the surface and tipped over, coming to rest horizontally with its top perched on a small rock — taking some shine off the accomplishment.
“America does hard things. We rise to the great scientific challenges of our time,” Biden’s statement said.
NASA paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to ship six experiments under an initiative that delegates cargo services to the private sector in a bid to achieve savings and stimulate a wider lunar economy.
The United States, along with international partners, wants to develop long-term habitats on the south pole, harvesting ice there for drinking water — and for rocket fuel for eventual onward voyages to Mars.


Dung dumped outside Russian ambassador’s home in Poland on Ukraine war anniversary

Updated 24 February 2024
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Dung dumped outside Russian ambassador’s home in Poland on Ukraine war anniversary

  • Activists put a bloodied Russian flag with the letter “Z” on the pile of manure
  • Elsewhere in Warsaw at 6 a.m. local time other protesters played the sound of sirens, gunfire and explosions outside a building housing Russian diplomats

WARSAW: Protesters said they dumped two tons of dung outside the home of the Russian ambassador to Poland on Saturday, as they marked the second anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Activists put a bloodied Russian flag with the letter “Z” on the pile of manure and stuck a sign into it that said “We don’t want you in EU! Get out!,” pictures of the protest in Konstancin-Jeziorna, seen by Reuters, showed.
The town near Warsaw is where the ambassador lives.
Elsewhere in Warsaw at 6 a.m. local time other protesters played the sound of sirens, gunfire and explosions outside a building housing Russian diplomats.
“We wanted a clear signal to the Polish authorities and the European Union. It’s high time to expel Russian diplomats from our country,” said Dominik, a protester quoted in a statement.
The Russian embassy in Warsaw did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
In contrast to the Baltic states which have expelled Russian ambassadors, Poland has so far not taken such a step although it has removed diplomats.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started the deadliest war on European soil in more than 70 years.