Russian soldiers who quit Putin’s war get no hero’s welcome abroad as asylum claims surge

A Russian officer who goes by Yevgeny speaks during an interview at his apartment in Astana, Kazakhstan, in late 2023. (AP)
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Updated 16 April 2024
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Russian soldiers who quit Putin’s war get no hero’s welcome abroad as asylum claims surge

  • Independent Russian media outlet Mediazona has documented more than 7,300 cases in Russian courts against AWOL soldiers since September 2022; cases of desertion, the harshest charge, leapt sixfold last year

ASTANA, Kazakhstan: If the choice was death or a bullet to the leg, Yevgeny would take the bullet. A decorated hero of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Yevgeny told his friend and fellow soldier to please aim carefully and avoid bone. The tourniquets were ready.
The pain that followed was the price Yevgeny paid for a new chance at life. Like thousands of other Russian soldiers, he deserted the army.
“I joke that I gave birth to myself,” he said. “When a woman gives birth to a child, she experiences very intense pain and gives new life. I gave myself life after going through very intense pain.”
Yevgeny made it out of the trenches. But the new life he found is not what he had hoped for.
The Associated Press spoke with five officers and one soldier who deserted the Russian military. All have criminal cases against them in Russia, where they face 10 years or more in prison. Each is waiting for a welcome from the West that has never arrived. Instead, all but one live in hiding.
For Western nations grappling with Russia’s vast and growing diaspora, Russian soldiers present particular concern: Are they spies? War criminals? Or heroes?
Overall asylum claims from Russian citizens have surged since the full-scale invasion, but few are winning protection. Policymakers remain divided over whether to consider Russians in exile as potential assets or risks to national security.
Andrius Kubilius, a former prime minister of Lithuania now serving in the European Parliament, argues that cultivating Russians who oppose Vladimir Putin is in the strategic self-interest of the West. Fewer Russian soldiers at the front, he added, means a weaker army.
“Not to believe in Russian democracy is a mistake,” Kubilius said. “To say that all Russians are guilty is a mistake.”
All but one of the soldiers spoke with AP on condition of anonymity, fearing deportation and persecution of themselves and their families. The AP reviewed legal documents, including criminal case files, Russian public records and military identification papers, as well as photos and videos to verify their stories, but it was impossible to independently corroborate every detail.
Independent Russian media outlet Mediazona has documented more than 7,300 cases in Russian courts against AWOL soldiers since September 2022; cases of desertion, the harshest charge, leapt sixfold last year.
Record numbers of people seeking to desert – more than 500 in the first two months of this year – are contacting Idite Lesom, or “Get Lost,” a group run by Russian activists in the Republic of Georgia. Last spring, just 3 percent of requests for help came from soldiers seeking to leave; in January, more than a third did, according to the group’s head, Grigory Sverdlin. The numbers of known deserters may be small compared to Russia’s overall troop strength, but they are an indicator of morale.
“Obviously, Russian propaganda is trying to sell us a story that all Russia supports Putin and his war,” Sverdlin said. “But that’s not true.”
The question now is, where can they go?
German officials have said that Russians fleeing military service can seek protection, and a French court last summer ruled that Russians who refuse to fight can claim refugee status. In practice, however, it’s proven difficult for deserters, most of whom have passports that only allow travel within a handful of former Soviet states, to get asylum, lawyers, activists and deserters say.
Fewer than 300 Russians got refugee status in the US in fiscal year 2022. Customs and Border Patrol officials encountered more than 57,000 Russians at US borders in fiscal year 2023, up from around 13,000 in fiscal year 2021.
In France, asylum requests rose more than 50 percent between 2022 and 2023, to a total of around 3,400 people, according to the French office that handles the requests. And last year, Germany got 7,663 first-time asylum applications from Russian citizens, up from 2,851 in 2022, Germany’s Interior Ministry told AP in an email. None of the data specifies how many were soldiers.
As they count the days until their legal right to stay in Kazakhstan ends, Yevgeny – and the others – have watched other deserters get seized by Russian forces in Armenia, deported from Kazakhstan and turn up dead, riddled with bullets, in Spain.
“There is no mechanism for Russians who do not want to fight, deserters, to get to a safe place,” Yevgeny said. He urges Western policymakers to reconsider. “After all, it’s much cheaper economically to allow a person into your country — a healthy young man who can work — than to supply Ukraine with weapons.”
YEVGENY
Sitting in his spartan room in Astana, Kazakhstan, Yevgeny rummaged through a cardboard box that holds the things he thought to save.
“It’s like a woman’s handbag, there’s so much stuff,” he muttered, poking around real and fake passports, a letter with hearts on it, blister packs of pills.
He can’t find his military medals. He has the certificates, though, commemorating his service in Syria and Ukraine.
Yevgeny seems suddenly ashamed. “I don’t care about them,” he said, shoving everything back in the box.
The son of postal workers, Yevgeny went to military school mostly because it was free. He did 41 parachute jumps, and learned to ride horses, dive, shoot and handle explosives. The cost of his education would come after graduation: five years of mandatory military service.
The night of Feb. 23, 2022, Yevgeny and his unit barely slept. Their tanks, hulking and dark, cast long shadows on a thin layer of snow beside the railroad tracks that would carry them toward Ukraine. Yevgeny was too drunk with fatigue to think much about what would happen next.
On Yevgeny’s second day at war, an officer leaned against his machine gun and shot off his own finger, he said. Later, a guy fell asleep under a military vehicle and died when it drove over him. People got lost and never came back.
In the chaos, around 10 men in his unit were accidentally killed with guns or grenades. One soldier shot another square in the chest. What were they doing, Yevgeny wondered, testing their bulletproof vests? None of it made sense in a world where life mattered. But Yevgeny wasn’t in that world anymore.
The deeper Yevgeny moved into Ukraine, the uglier things got.
“We didn’t want to kill anyone, but we also wanted to live,” explained Yevgeny, a senior lieutenant who oversaw a platoon of around 15 men. “The locals would come in civilian cars and shoot at our military. What would you do?”
He said that Ukrainian prisoners of war were executed because the Russians couldn’t get them back to Russia and didn’t want to build detention centers.
“Special people were chosen for this, because a lot of others refused,” he said. “People with a special, so to speak, psyche were appointed executioners.”
There are things Yevgeny can’t forget: A 14-year-old Ukrainian boy who seemed to be making Molotov cocktails and was executed. A 24-year-old Ukrainian woman caught with compromising information on her phone raped by two Russian soldiers.
Yevgeny was within breathing distance of Kyiv when Moscow ordered a retreat. In a single day in April 2022, around seventy people from his brigade died in an ambush, he said. The Ukrainian military released a video of the encounter with the retreating column.
Pop, pop, pop go the fireballs. Little flags bob above the tanks, giving it the feel of a video game. Shells crash a bit off to the left. Then, a hit. The video cuts to a magnified image of a Russian tank pluming black smoke, two lifeless bodies curled beside it.
“Very cool,” wrote someone in the comments.
“The best sight in my life is to see how the Russians die,” wrote another.
Yevgeny was in that column. He knows men who are dying in those balls of fire. His face is flat. He doesn’t want to see it again.
“Many of my friends have died. And these were really good guys who didn’t want to fight,” he said. “But there was no way out for them.”
He is crying.
If he could, Yevgeny would go back to 2013, the year he entered military school. He would stand sentinel at the gates of his school and tell all the boys go home, stay away, this place is not what it seems.
He wants them to understand three words: “You will die.”
It took Yevgeny less than three months at war to decide to get himself shot in the leg.
“You can only leave wounded or dead,” Yevgeny explained. “No one wants to leave dead.”
He made a pact with three other soldiers. They called it their Plan B. Yevgeny would take the first bullet, then the comms guy, then the sniper. The machine gunner said he didn’t want to leave Ukraine without his brother, who was also fighting, but he’d stand by their story.
One chill May morning, as they trudged through even columns of pine trees on their way to retrieve a drone that had landed in Ukrainian territory, Yevgeny and his friends decided it was time for Plan B. They’d already lost one man in that area and now felt like they were on a suicide mission.
When the sniper shot Yevgeny, the pain was like a strong man hammering a 9 mm metal bar into his flesh. Then the comms guy took a bullet to his thigh. After seeing the two of them crumple and scowl, the third man chickened out.
Blood kept gushing, despite the tourniquet, and Yevgeny was shocked to discover he couldn’t walk. His friends dragged him 300 meters back through the woods. He was given sweet tea and evacuated that same evening.
Yevgeny spent months in rehabilitation and figured he could ride out his injury until his contract expired in June 2023. But after Putin’s announcement of partial mobilization in September 2022, it no longer mattered what his contract said. Soldiers like him were now obliged to serve until the end of the war.
He knew he had to leave. He made it to Kazakhstan in early 2023, with the help of Idite Lesom. Russian authorities filed a criminal case against him. His relatives back in Russia were questioned, his apartment there searched.
Since then, Yevgeny has been doing his best to disappear. He found a place in Astana in an apartment that stank of cat. They were four men with only three cups, three spoons and three chairs to go around. They boiled water with an electric coil in a glass jar because no one wanted to splurge for a kettle.
He worked for a few weeks skittering around Astana on an old motorcycle delivering food. But his paychecks never arrived, possibly because his SIM card and bank account were in different people’s names.
He doesn’t know what he’ll do when his savings run out. He said he’s applied for asylum in France, Germany and the United States – obviously the best place to hide from Russia, he said. He’d like to serve in a UN mission somewhere, but it’s hard for him to conceive of a path from here to there.
He wakes at 10 o’clock, steps out of the shower into another molten, formless day. That night, he will comb his hair and go out to a bar with other deserters, to pass a few sparkling hours as a normal guy.
At the bar, someone remembered that it was the one-year anniversary of Russia’s September 2022 mobilization. Putin drafted 300,000 troops to fight in Ukraine. Tens of thousands of them are now dead.
The table went quiet. Yevgeny searched for a word that meant the opposite of evil so they could drink to it.
In the end, they raised their glasses to virtue, then to peace.
FARHAD
Within hours of Putin’s September 2022 mobilization decree, threatening messages started pinging in on Farhad Ziganshin’s phone. A small man with a big voice, Farhad had abandoned a career in music for the military to please his dad. He’d tried to resign from the armed forces, but the military school where he taught rejected his application, he said.
Panicked, he piled into the family Chevrolet with his mother, sister, dog and aunt and took off for the Kazakh border near midnight. They’d try to make it look like a fun family vacation. The roads were jammed with other Russians fleeing Putin’s draft.
“Hurrah!” shouted Farhad, pumping his fists in the air, as they left Russia.
Farhad landed a job at a burger joint near the border, then followed a friend of a friend to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, where he’d been promised work as a singer. He ended up working in a banquet hall, sleeping on a vast, golden bed in a newlywed suite and eating as much leftover food as he wanted.
Life was good, but uncertain. Kazakhstan was playing a delicate game, trying to assuage Russia without distancing allies in Europe. In December 2022, Kazakhstan deported a Russian intelligence officer, Mikhail Zhilin, who had deserted. In March 2023, a Russian court sentenced Zhilin to six and a half years in prison.
That same month, Farhad decided to move to Armenia, thinking it was probably safer. But he was blocked from boarding his flight. “Are you on the wanted list?” a border agent asked as he flicked through Farhad’s passport. Farhad went pale. Cold sweat prickled over his body.
He was led to a room for questioning. A man in civilian clothes sat across from him.
“You are my Muslim brother,” he told Farhad. “I’m also against the war. Tell me everything.”
Farhad confessed.
Farhad tried to brace himself for what was to come. He slipped his toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, slippers, snacks and a book – Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” — into a transparent bag. His cell at the detention center had a metal door with a small window and slot for food, a security camera and a hole in the floor for a toilet.
Farhad stared at the ceiling all night, his panic mounting: How am I going to live here? Will I be beaten or raped? I’d kill myself first.
The morning of his third day in detention, three huge bags arrived for Farhad, packed with food, clothes and cigarettes from local human rights activists. “I lay down and thought that’s the end,” Farhad said. “Kaput.” Why would he need all this stuff if he weren’t in for a long incarceration?
Two hours later, a police officer appeared. “Take your things and get out,” he ordered.
Farhad was free.
Farhad’s lawyer told AP he was released because under the Kazakh criminal code, as well as multilateral agreements with Russia, suspects accused of military crimes can’t be extradited. Farhad was safe, at least for the moment.
“We don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” said his lawyer, Artur Alkhastov, who works with the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law in Astana. “In Kazakhstan, politics is higher than the law. . . Everything can change.”
In July, independent Russia media reported that France had rejected Farhad’s application for asylum. What actually happened was that Farhad’s application for a travel permit to France to apply for asylum had been denied, Alkhastov said.
Without an international passport, Farhad was stuck in Kazakhstan. Moreover, the publicity raised fears that Russian authorities would take fresh interest in his case. Farhad moved from Almaty to Astana, the capital, to lower his profile.
“It’s not safe to stay in Kazakhstan,” he said. “I just try to lead a normal life, without violating the laws of Kazakhstan, without being too visible, without appearing anywhere. We have a proverb: Be quieter than water and lower than grass.”
He changes his SIM card every few months, doesn’t live at his registered address and avoids employers who ask too many questions. After six weeks, he ran out of money and moved in with another Russian deserter, Yevgeny. His bed was a pile of coats and sweaters on the floor. It was impossible to sleep. His back was killing him.
He thought of the life he’d left behind in Russia. “In Kazan, I had a completely different life. I had my own apartment, I had a job there, I earned money, I had staff under my command,” he said. “Here I am living sleeping on coats, eating I don’t know what. And without any money in my pocket. It’s very depressing,” Online, people call him a coward and traitor and say he should be killed.
Farhad got a job at a real estate startup that didn’t ask for documents. Every morning, he sang Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” to his co-workers.
After work, Farhad liked to walk around Astana, singing deep slow songs to himself to fill the darkening hours. He dreamed of starting a family but couldn’t afford to take a woman out to the movies. “I can’t fall in love with someone and have someone fall in love with me,” he said. “So I just walk around and sing songs.”
But he wanted to believe that he had made a worthy choice.
“I realized that I didn’t want to serve in this kind of Russian army that destroys cities, kills civilians, and forcibly appropriates foreign land and territory,” he said. “If perhaps watching, listening to my story could bring even one person to reason, I would have made a certain contribution.”
Six months later, the real estate business has collapsed and Farhad is trying to sell flooring instead. He moved into an apartment of his own, but keeps missing rent payments. He’s been warned that his legal right to stay in Kazakhstan is coming to an end. He doesn’t know what to do next.
SPARROW
Sparrow knew from the start that money could mean the difference between life and death. The month before he was born, his father was killed in a gambling dispute over money. His mother raised him, along with his brother and sister, alone, working as a cook in an orphanage in a tiny village.
Later, he moved farther north, to work in a diamond-mining town not far from the Arctic Circle.
The company Sparrow worked for owned more than diamonds. They effectively owned the town, sponsoring its theater, schools, hospital, sports complex and apartment blocks. As it turned out, they also owned Sparrow.
Sparrow finished his shift the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, and was cleaning his Bobcat when his boss came by and told him to report immediately to human resources. They took his passport and military ID and locked them in a safe.
“They said, ‘You’re fired,’” Sparrow recalled. “You have one hour to get to the military recruitment point. If you don’t, you’ll have a criminal case against you.”
Sparrow obeyed. At 6 a.m. the next morning, he and hundreds of other conscripts boarded a heavy old plane bound for a military base in the regional capital.
The thought of war did not cross Sparrow’s mind. All he could think about was his job. Sparrow is delicately composed, with a pale, Asian face, ink-dark eyes and bone-china cheeks. Unable to finish university, he worked hard at laying road. Winters, he endured temperatures so extreme they could crack a backhoe. Why had they fired him?
When he arrived, the military base was chaos. Some 6,000 people were crammed into the barracks, he calculated, and no one was giving orders. Men spilled over each other, hiving off into small groups to drink. He couldn’t find a free bed, so he dropped his bag in a corner and curled up on the floor.
The next day, he found his way to an information stand to figure out who was in charge. But instead of a list of personnel, he found photographs of dead people and an exhortation to kill Ukrainian soldiers. “I saw this photo – what is all this?” he thought. “I’m not going anywhere to kill people – never!”
Sparrow pulled his commander aside to try to find a way to avoid going where he was being sent. He would serve in a different way. He could pay.
The commander was not interested in bribes and told him that if he didn’t fight with the Russian armed forces, he’d end up with a private military company, like Yevgeny Prigozhin’s then-powerful Wagner Group. “You still have just one path,” his commander told him. “Write a refusal, you will go to jail, and we know where you will end up, at PMC Wagner.”
He was 30 years old. He called his mother for help.
Sparrow’s guts couldn’t take it. He ran to the bathroom. He paced in anxious circles. Then ran to the bathroom again. And again.
“What’s wrong with you?” his commander demanded.
“I just have some stomach problems,” Sparrow said.
While the commander was at lunch, Sparrow grabbed his ID, telephone and civilian clothes and headed for a hole in the wall. His mother was waiting on the other side.
The next morning, they boarded the first flight out of town. Forty hours later, Sparrow was in Kazakhstan.
Astana felt fresh and warm. He realized he’d been cold his entire life.
“I am free,” he told himself.
Freedom for Sparrow actually meant a bigger cage.
Two weeks after he fled, Russian authorities opened a criminal case against him. Russian media reported on his case, and Sparrow felt the publicity only increased the size of the target on his back. The charges against him were soon upgraded under a tough new clause in Russia’s criminal code. Now he faces up to 15 years in prison if he gets sent back to Russia.
Security agents interrogated his mother back in Russia. Before he ditched his Russian SIM, he used to get calls from Russian police who said they knew where he was. In October, a man claiming to be a Kazakh policeman started calling him to set up a meeting. He said he’d wait for a summons. None ever came.
Sparrow is afraid of the background checks that come with permanent employment. Instead, he picks up occasional jobs collecting trash or hauling equipment at construction sites.
He was going to bed at 4 a.m. and waking at noon. He couldn’t even get back to Russia to bury his grandfather.
Sparrow’s eyes went red with tears.
“I don’t want anything in life. I have no interest in my own affairs,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t understand myself. I just sit all day on the Internet, on YouTube, and read news, news, news of what’s going on in Ukraine, and that’s it.”
He doesn’t know the status of his own asylum applications. Without a foreign passport, how could he leave Kazakhstan anyway? Every time he dared to believe something good might happen to him, it hasn’t. Why try?
Outside his bare apartment, he could hear the cries of children who are not his, the thwack of a ball from a game he is not playing, the voices of men speaking to friends he does not have.
“There are moments I regret, but I did the right thing,” he said. “I’d rather sit here and suffer and look for something than go there and kill a human being because of some unclear war, which is 100 percent Russia’s fault. I don’t regret it.”
SPORTSMASTER
As a child, the boy was not particularly good at school, but he could run. His mother was raising him alone in a village in Western Russia hemmed in by busted coal mines, a place as short on hope as it was on jobs. She called a friend to get her son a spot at a military school. The family wouldn’t have to pay a cent. It looked like a ticket to a better life.
At the military academy, the boy studied engineering to become a radio technician. But his real passion was sports. He wanted to run faster than anyone else.
Now known by the nickname Sportsmaster, he ultimately commanded 30 men, but said he never went into combat. He stayed in service even after he’d fulfilled his five-year contract: He didn’t want to be a burden on his mother and who else was going to pay him to run?
The night Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Sportsmaster jolted awake for no reason at 3 a.m. and spent three sickening hours glued to the television in disbelief. By dawn, all hope had drained from his body. He knew he would be ordered to fight.
“At that moment, I immediately decided that I would not support it in any way, not even lift my little finger to support what had begun,” he said. “I understood that this was a point of no return that would change the lives of the entire country, including mine.”
Sportsmaster said he stopped showing up at his base. In October 2022, his paychecks stopped coming.
His coach, the head of military sports training, told him to report to the base, they’d find something easy for him to do and he’d get paid again. It was a tempting offer from a trusted mentor.
His commanders were waiting for him beneath a huge portrait of a legendary Russian military hero. As he entered the room, they began to speak. It took a moment for the words to become clear: Special Military Operation. Order. Luhansk.
He realized they were reading out his combat orders. He’d been tricked. They told him to sign.
He refused to touch the pen.
The brigade’s chief of staff picked up a book with a Russian flag on the cover, a copy of Russia’s Criminal Code. “You either go to jail or you go there,” he said. “You have only two options.”
Seized by panic, Sportsmaster turned to leave. He had to get out of the building before they locked him inside. His division’s chief of staff grabbed him by the shoulder, but he slipped away and did what he did best: run.
He pounded down three flights of stairs, taking six turns on a zig-zagging staircase, blew past the guards at the door and beelined for a stretch of fence far from any checkpoint. He grabbed onto the black metal bars of the fence and heaved himself over, clearing the speared tips, 2.5 meters tall, without a scratch.
“What I felt was only disgust,” he said.
Idite Lesom gave him step-by-step instructions for how to slip out of Russia. AP is withholding details of the route.
Before he left, he recorded a video, a political message for the keepers of whatever country he might end up in, a plea to convince them of his friendship.
“They wanted to force me to go fight against the free people of Ukraine,” he said to the camera. “Our freedom is taken away from us every day, but Putin wanted to steal it from them in three days.”
And he did what he could to make a grand gesture.
“Putin wanted me to be in a bag,” he said. “But it’s his uniform that will be in a bag.”
He shoved his military uniforms in two black trash bags and threw them in a dumpster.
Near midnight that same day, his mother stood in a pool of streetlight in an empty parking lot, weeping. As her son filmed her from the bus taking him away, she forced a strained, sorrowful smile.
The bus carried Sportsmaster and his girlfriend back to the town where he learned to be a soldier.
“I always thought I was being trained to protect my country and defend it, but it turned out that I was being taught to attack and conquer,” he said.
By that afternoon, they were out of Russia and beaming. He was optimistic. At the least, he would not have to show up to his court hearing in Russia, where he faced criminal charges for not participating in the war.
“The worst thing that could have happened has happened,” he said. “Now only good things are coming.”
Sportsmaster and his girlfriend found a studio apartment in one of the teeming, anonymous buildings slapped up at the edges of Astana.
Six months later, like the other deserters, he’s hiding in plain sight. No SIM card of his own. No clear path to citizenship or asylum. The gnawing peril of a knock at the door.
“There are Russian agents here who try to push Kazakhstan under Russia’s wing,” he said. “I can’t say it’s as safe here as I would like because where the wind blows, Kazakhstan will turn.”
He doesn’t have an international passport and if he tried to cross the border, he’d likely be arrested because of the criminal case against him in Russia.
While he waits for the wind to turn in his favor, Sportsmaster has found work in Astana.
“I am for people to not get stuck,” he said, bursting into an incandescent smile.
When he runs, Sportsmaster eats through 10 kilometers in 40 minutes with animal grace. His breath is even, his heartbeat slow, at ease — if only for a moment — with his place in the world.
He wants people to understand that there are Russians with dignity.
“Something new is starting,” he said. “I will not let anyone decide my destiny for me.”
 

 


Olympics-France arrests person planning ‘violent action’ during Olympic torch relay

Updated 4 sec ago
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Olympics-France arrests person planning ‘violent action’ during Olympic torch relay

PARIS: French law enforcement officers arrested someone who was planning a violent action during the Paris 2024 Olympic torch relay in Bordeaux, the Interior ministry said on Thursday.
“Thanks to the police officers and, more broadly, to all the Ministry’s agents who are providing security for this popular celebration with remarkable professionalism and commitment,” Interior minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on X.
The torch relay started in the morning and is scheduled to end around 1930 local time (1730GMT). The Olympics will be held from July 26-Aug 11.

Bosnian Serb leader reiterates threat to secede from Bosnia ahead of UN vote on genocide

Updated 23 May 2024
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Bosnian Serb leader reiterates threat to secede from Bosnia ahead of UN vote on genocide

  • The proposed UN resolution sponsored by Germany and Rwanda has been supported by the Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslim

SREBRENICA: The leader of Bosnia’s Serb-controlled territory reiterated a threat to secede from the Balkan country Wednesday, a day ahead of a UN vote on establishing an annual day to commemorate the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs.
Relatives of the victims, meanwhile, said that the vote would mark a historic day in ensuring that the deaths cannot be denied or forgotten.
The proposed UN resolution sponsored by Germany and Rwanda has been supported by the Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslim, but has sparked protests and a lobbying campaign against the measure by the Bosnian Serb president, Milorad Dodik, and the populist president of neighboring Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic.
The two leaders say the resolution would brand all Serbs as genocidal, although the draft does not explicitly mention Serbs as culprits. Both Serbia and Bosnian Serbs have denied that genocide happened in Srebrenica although this has been established by two UN courts.
For the women who lost their loved ones in the massacre, any denial of the scope of the crime has meant more grief. This is why the UN vote “means a lot” for victims, truth and justice, said Munira Subasic, from the prominent Mothers of Srebrenica group.
“People who live in lies, who don’t know the truth, they will need this UN resolution more than we do,” Subasic said, adding that she was referring to “genocide deniers” among Bosnian Serbs and in Serbia. “They will not be able to glorify war criminals any more.”
“We expect a fair decision tomorrow, a decision that will tell us, the families, that there is justice in the world, that there is humanity,” added Nura Begovic, who also lost several family members in Srebrenica.
On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serbs overran a UN-protected safe area in Srebrenica. They separated at least 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys from their wives, mothers and sisters and slaughtered them.
The 193-member UN General Assembly plans to debate the resolution Thursday to be followed by a vote. Serbs have the support of their allies Russia and China, while the resolution is supported by the US and most other Western states.
Dodik, who is president of Republika Srpska, which comprises about half of Bosnia, said on the social media platform X that the UN resolution is being forced on the country by supporters of Muslim Bosniaks and that it will split up the country. He said his government could formally propose a separation on Thursday
“Bosnia and Herzegovina has reached its end, or to be more precise, it was brought to an end by those who swore to it,” Dodik said on X. “All that remains is for us all to make an effort to be good neighbors and to part in peace.”
Dodik has made several such threats in the past to have the Serb-controlled territories secede from Bosnia and join with neighboring Serbia. He and some other Bosnian Serb officials are under US and British sanctions partly for jeopardizing a US peace plan that ended Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
The Srebrenica killings were the bloody culmination of the war, which came after the breakup of Yugoslavia unleashed nationalist passions and territorial ambitions that set Bosnian Serbs against the country’s two other main ethnic populations, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks.
The International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest tribunal, determined in 2007 that the acts committed in Srebrenica constituted genocide, and the court’s determination is included in the draft resolution. It was Europe’s first genocide since the Nazi Holocaust in World War II.
Serbia’s President Vucic and his government have been campaigning both at the UN and among developing countries to win support for a “no” vote. Approval requires a majority of those voting.
In a massive campaign in both Serbia and the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia, organizers have put up billboards and video beams reading “Serbs are not genocidal people.”
Vucic and Dodik, both pro-Russian politicians, also have argued against the resolution by saying it raises the possibility of having to pay war damages. Local analysts say Serb leaders, including Vucic, also fear they could be put on trial for active participation in the Bosnian bloodshed.
The draft resolution condemns “without reservation any denial of the Srebrenica genocide as a historical event.” It also “condemns without reservation actions that glorify those convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by international courts, including those responsible for the Srebrenica genocide.”
Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, were both convicted of genocide in Srebrenica by a special UN war crimes tribunal. In all, the tribunal and courts in the Balkans have sentenced close to 50 Bosnian Serb wartime officials to lengthy prison terms.
Most Serbian and Bosnian Serb officials still celebrate Karadzic and Mladic as national heroes. They continue to downplay or even deny the Srebrenica killings, which has deeply offended relatives of the massacre victims and survivors.
“I can never bring my three sons back … also my husband and my grandson, five men from my house alone,” said Mejra Dzogaz as she looked at a vast memorial center in Srebrenica comprising thousands of white tomb stones for the victims found and buried so far.
“What are we supposed to show to prove (genocide?) asked Dzogaz. “What? Look at this memorial center here.”


Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer to hit campaign trail as UK election race begins

Updated 23 May 2024
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Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer to hit campaign trail as UK election race begins

  • Both party leaders are expected to hit the campaign trail, seeking to seize the early initiative by meeting voters

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Labour Party rival Keir Starmer will kick off their election campaigns in earnest on Thursday, a day after Sunak surprised the nation by calling a vote for July 4.
Sunak, whose Conservative Party trails Labour by around 20 percentage points in opinion polls, ended months of speculation centered on an election in October or November, and instead used a rain-soaked address to the electorate to kick off what is likely to be six weeks of frenetic campaigning.
Both party leaders are expected to hit the campaign trail, seeking to seize the early initiative by meeting voters and delivering the messages they hope will earn them enough seats in parliament to form a majority government on July 5.
At stake is control of the world’s sixth largest economy which has endured years of low growth and high inflation, is still battling to make a success of its 2016 decision to exit the European Union, and is slowly recovering from twin shocks of COVID-19 and an energy price spike caused by the war in Ukraine.
That backdrop makes the economy one of the most important electoral battlegrounds.
Sunak, 44, announced the election on the day inflation returned close to target, and his early message to voters has been that his plan for the economy is working, and only he can turn that stability into a recovery that benefits all.
“Who do you trust to turn that foundation into a secure future for you, your family and our country?” he told a rally late on Wednesday, casting Labour as a party without a plan.
“We’re working for a Britain where we have renewed confidence in ourselves and our communities. A country where hard work will be met with fair rewards and where the opportunities enjoyed by the previous generations will be there for future ones.”
Starmer, a 61-year-old former lawyer who has pulled Labour’s politics back to the center ground after a spell of electorally unsuccessful left-wing leadership, has pitched his party as one that will bring change for a disgruntled electorate.
“Labour will stop the chaos, turn the page and get Britain’s future back,” he said in an early campaign message to party members, describing the election as “the fight of our lives.”
“This is the moment we’ve been working toward. We must come together to beat the Tories and deliver a Labour government to change Britain for the better.”
If Labour win the election, it would end 14 years of Conservative government and Britain, once known for its political stability, will have had six prime ministers in eight years for the first time since the 1830s.
While the electioneering gets underway, activity in parliament is expected to pick up too as the government works out which of the pieces of legislation currently in process will be rushed through, and which will fall by the wayside.
Laws currently under discussion include Sunak’s plan to impose some of the world’s strictest anti-smoking rules by banning anyone aged 15 and under from ever buying cigarettes.


Tornadoes pummel US Midwest, killing at least 5 in Iowa

Updated 59 min 15 sec ago
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Tornadoes pummel US Midwest, killing at least 5 in Iowa

  • The storms also knocked out power to tens of thousands of people in Illinois and Wisconsin, officials said
  • The tornadoes came at a time when climate change is heightening the severity of storms around the world

GREENFIELD, Iowa: Five people died and at least 35 were hurt as powerful tornadoes ripped through Iowa, with one carving a path of destruction through the small city of Greenfield, officials said Wednesday.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety said Tuesday’s tornadoes killed four people in the Greenfield area, and local officials said a fifth person — a woman whose car was swept away in the wind — was killed by a twister about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away. Officials did not release the names of the victims because they were still notifying relatives.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety said Wednesday it’s believed that the number of people injured is likely higher.
The Greenfield tornado left a wide swath of obliterated homes, splintered trees and crumpled cars in the town of 2,000 about 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) southwest of Des Moines. The twister also ripped apart and crumpled massive power-producing wind turbines several miles outside the city.

A wind turbine lies toppled in the aftermath of tornadoes which ripped through the area yesterday on May 22, 2024 near Prescott, Iowa. (Getty Images/AFP)

Greenfield resident Kimberly Ergish, 33, and her husband dug through the debris field Wednesday that used to be their home, looking for family photos and other salvageable items. There wasn’t much left, she acknowledged.
“Most of it we can’t save,” she said. “But we’re going to get what we can.”
The reality of having her house destroyed in seconds hasn’t really set in, she said.
“If it weren’t for all the bumps and bruises and the achy bones, I would think that it didn’t happen,” she said.
Tuesday’s storms also pummeled parts of Illinois and Wisconsin, knocking out power to tens of thousands of customers in the two states. The severe weather turned south on Wednesday, and the National Weather Service was issuing tornado and flash flood warnings in Texas as parts of the state — including Dallas — were under a tornado watch.
The National Weather Service said initial surveys indicated at least an EF-3 tornado in Greenfield, but additional damage assessment could lead to a more powerful ranking.
The tornado appeared to have been on the ground for more than 40 miles (64 kilometers), AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jon Porter said. A satellite photo taken by a BlackSky Technology shows where the twister gouged a nearly straight path of destruction through the town, just south of Greenfield’s center square.
The deadly twister was spawned during a historically bad season for tornadoes in the US, at a time when climate change is heightening the severity of storms around the world. April had the second-highest number of tornadoes on record in the country.
Through Tuesday, there have been 859 confirmed tornadoes this year, 27 percent more than the US sees on average, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. So far, Iowa’s had the most, with 81 confirmed twisters.
On Tuesday alone, the National Weather Service said it received 23 tornado reports, with most in Iowa and one each in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The tornado that decimated parts of Greenfield brought to life the worst case scenario in Iowa that weather forecasters had feared, Porter said.
“Debris was lifted thousands of feet in the air and ended up falling to the ground several counties away from Greenfield. That’s evidence of just how intense and deadly this tornado was,” Porter said.
People as far as 100 miles (160 kilometers) away from Greenfield posted photos on Facebook of ripped family photos, yearbook pages and other items that were lifted into the sky by the tornado.

Residents go through the damage after a tornado tore through town yesterday afternoon on May 22, 2024 in Greenfield, Iowa. (Getty Images/AFP)

About 90 miles away, in Ames, Iowa, Nicole Banner found a yellowed page declaring “This Book is the Property of the Greenfield Community School District” stuck to her garage door like a Post-It note after the storm passed.
“We just couldn’t believe it had traveled that far,” she said.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said FEMA’s administrator would head to Iowa on Thursday and that the White House was in touch with state and local officials. She said they were “praying for those who tragically lost their lives” and wished those injured a “speedy recovery.”
Greenfield’s 25-bed hospital was among the buildings damaged, and at least a dozen people who were hurt had to be taken to facilities elsewhere. Hospital officials said in a Facebook post Wednesday that the hospital will remain closed until it can be further assessed and that full repairs could take weeks or months. The hospital, with the help of other providers, set up an urgent care clinic at an elementary school with primary care services to start there Thursday, the post said.
Residential streets that on Monday were lined with old-growth trees and neatly-appointed ranch-style homes were a chaotic jumble of splintered and smashed remnants by Wednesday. Many of the homes’ basements where residents sheltered lay exposed and front yards were littered with belongings from furniture to children’s toys and Christmas decorations.
Dwight Lahey, a 70-year-old retired truck driver, drove from suburban Des Moines to Greenfield to help his 98-year-old mother. She had taken refuge from the twister in her basement, then walked out through her destroyed garage to a nearby convenience store, Lahey said.
“I don’t know how she got through that mess,” he said. His mom was staying in a hotel, uncertain about where she’ll end up with her home gone, he said.
Roseann Freeland, 67, waited until the last minute to rush with her husband to a concrete room in her basement. Seconds later, her husband opened the door “and you could just see daylight,” Freeland said. “I just lost it. I just totally lost it.”
Tuesday’s destructive weather also saw flooding and power outages in Nebraska, damage from tornadoes in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and dust storms in Illinois that forced two interstates to be closed.
The devastation in Iowa followed days of extreme weather that ravaged much of the middle section of the country, including Oklahoma and Kansas. Last week, deadly storms hit the Houston area, killing at least eight and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands.
 


‘Boiling not warming’: Marine life suffers as Thai sea temperatures hit record

Updated 23 May 2024
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‘Boiling not warming’: Marine life suffers as Thai sea temperatures hit record

  • The once vibrant and colorful corals, about five meters underwater, have turned white in a phenomenon known as coral bleaching
  • If water temperatures do not cool, more coral will die, says marine biologist Lalita Putchim

TRAT, Thailand: Aquatic life from coral reefs to fish in the Thailand’s eastern gulf coast is suffering as sea surface temperatures hit record highs this month amid a regional heatwave, worrying scientists and local communities.

The once vibrant and colorful corals, about five meters (16 feet) underwater, have turned white in a phenomenon known as coral bleaching, a sign that their health was deteriorating, due to higher water temperatures, scientists say.
Sea surface temperatures in the Eastern Gulf of Thailand reached 32.73°C (90.91°F) earlier this month while underwater readings are slightly warmer, with dive computers showing around 33°C, data shows.
“I couldn’t find a single healthy coral,” said marine biologist Lalita Putchim of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) after completing a dive in the gulf coast.
“Almost all of the species have bleached, there’s very little that’s not affected.”
The Trat archipelago is home to over 66 islands, with over 28.4 square kilometers (2,841 hectares) of coral reef, where Lalita has found that up to 30 percent of coral life was bleaching and 5 percent had already died.
If water temperatures do not cool, more coral will die, Lalita said.
“It’s global boiling, not just global warming,” she said.

Lalita Putchim, a marine biologist of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, dives to survey an area of bleached corals in a reef in Koh Mak, Trat province, Thailand, on May 8, 2024. (REUTERS)

Rising temperatures were also impacting other marine life and the livelihoods of local fishermen including Sommay Singsura.
In recent years, his daily catch of seafood has been dwindling. Previously he had been able to make up to 10,000 baht ($275) a day, but now sometimes he comes back empty handed.
“There used to be jackfish, short mackerel, and many others ... But now, the situation isn’t good. The weather isn’t like what it used to be,” Sommay laments.
Coral reefs are both a food resource and habitat for marine life, as well as being natural barriers preventing coastal erosion, scientists say.
If bleaching causes marine life to decrease, fishermen will need to spend more to get their catch, which could see selling prices rise, said Sarawut Siriwong, the dean of faculty of Marine Technology at Burapha University.
“While this (coral bleaching) would affect food security, at the same time, their (community) income stability is also at stake,” he said.