Сервіси онлайн-продажу залізничних квитків знову запрацювали – «Укрзалізниця»

Перевізник пояснював, що продаж е-квитків на поїзди та роботу сервісів онлайн-підтримки й гарячої лінії «Укрзалізниці» призупиняли через «невідкладні технічні роботи»

Serbia Shows Off New Chinese Missiles in Display of Military Power

Serbia on Saturday showed off its new Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles and other military hardware purchased from both Russia and the West, as the country seeks to perform a delicate balancing act over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Members of the public and the media were invited to the display at the Batajnica military airfield near Belgrade, where Chinese and French missiles were lined up beside European Airbus helicopters, Chinese-armed drones and Russian MIG-29 jets.

Serbia is striving to balance its partnership with NATO and aspirations to join the European Union with its centuries-old religious, ethnic and political alliance with Russia.

The Chinese FK-3 surface-to-air defense system, similar to Russia’s S-300 or the U.S. Patriot system, was purchased by Belgrade in 2019 and delivered earlier this month.

Serbia is the only European country to operate the Chinese missile system and CH-92A combat drones.

President Aleksandar Vucic toured Saturday’s display flanked by military commanders and watched an aerobatics show featuring overhauled MIG-29 jets donated by Russia in 2017.

“I’m proud of the Serbian army, I’m proud of a great progress,” Vucic told a news conference. “We’re going to significantly strengthen our fighter air force … Serbia is a neutral country and Serbia must find solutions enabling it to preserve its sky and its state.”

The delivery of the FK-3 missile system prompted several Western countries, including Germany, to warn Belgrade it expected the Balkan country to align its foreign policy with the EU if it wanted to become a member.

Belgrade has voted against Russia three times at the United Nations but stopped short of imposing sanctions against it.

Serbia’s military is loosely based on ex-Soviet technology and Russia is one of its main suppliers. Belgrade is also dependent on natural gas and oil supplies from Russia.

Vucic said Serbia expects to purchase 12 Rafale multipurpose fighter jets from France by the end of the year or early next year, a move seen by political analysts as a sign of Belgrade distancing itself from Russia.

He said Serbia is also negotiating to buy 12 Typhoon combat aircraft from Britain.

Remembering Havel, Czechs Feel Moral Responsibility to Help Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has driven home the importance of NATO and the European Union for many of their newest members, according to Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky, who was in Washington this week for the funeral of Czech emigre and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“The reason we joined these two organizations is that it won’t happen to us,” Lipavsky, said at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council.

The fact that Ukraine did not manage to enter the two Western institutions “created a gray zone” that Russian President Vladimir Putin exploited, said Lipavsky, who had discussed the challenge facing Ukraine, among other topics, in an interview with VOA earlier in the day.

The people of Ukraine “want to be part of the Western society, they want democratic elections, they want freedom of speech,” and they want to enjoy the prosperity that comes with them, he said. “I feel our moral responsibility to help them.”

Lipavsky is part of a newly sworn-in coalition government comprising both conservatives and progressives. Led by Prime Minister Petr Fiala, the new Czech administration is expected to pursue an internationalist foreign policy that promotes democracy and human rights, harkening back to an era when the country was led by playwright-turned political leader Vaclav Havel.

On his limited itinerary in Washington, Lipavsky paid tribute to Havel, who is memorialized in what is known as the “Freedom Foyer” of the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. There, his bust sits in close proximity to those of Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

Lipavsky gifted his American hosts with a collection of Havel photographs, including photos of Havel with Albright, who was born in then-Czechoslovakia and whose father was a member of the Czechoslovakian diplomatic corps.

 

The friendship between Havel and Albright was stressed by Lipavsky and other Czech dignitaries who came to Washington for the funeral. Among them were Czech senate president Milos Vystrcil, the senate foreign affairs committee chairman and three former ambassadors to the United States.

 

Albright is credited with having played a critical role in ushering the Czech Republic and other Central and Eastern European countries into NATO.

“Madeleine Albright made that possible, because she knew — she had suffered the consequences of policy failures, including American policy failures” in the 1930s and ’40s, said Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland, at the Atlantic Council event alongside Lipavsky.

“Vaclav Havel, along with Poland’s Lech Walesa, pushed [then U.S. President] Bill Clinton on NATO enlargement,” Fried recalled. “One of their arguments was — I was around, I remember — ‘we have a window now to do it, don’t you Americans blow it!’ ”

Fried added that Havel and Walesa might not have “quite put it that way, but that was more or less their way, what they were saying.”

Speaking to VOA earlier by telephone, Fried took issue with widespread reports of “backsliding” on democratic governance in the former Soviet bloc countries of Central and Eastern Europe. “Except for Hungary,” he said, he sees the countries in the region “going back to their roots” of fighting for freedom and democracy.

Lipavsky, for his part, said he believes the countries of the region are attracted to the West by its “democratic identity.”

“This identity is built upon the vision that every person can pursue his and her own happiness, and you have very basic values like human rights, rights to own [property], rights to think, freedom of speech,” he said. “Baltics, Central and Eastern Europe, want to be part of that, is part of that.”

The Ukrainian people are “literally fighting and dying” for the very same choice, he said, and the Czech Republic will do its utmost to help them to prevail against Russia and become a member of the club of like-minded nations that is the EU.

In Scandinavia, Wooden Buildings Reach New Heights

A sandy-colored tower glints in the sunlight and dominates the skyline of the Swedish town of Skelleftea as Scandinavia harnesses its wood resources to lead a global trend towards erecting eco-friendly high-rises.

The Sara Cultural Center is one of the world’s tallest timber buildings, made primarily from spruce and towering 75 meters over rows of snow-dusted houses and surrounding forest.

The 20-story timber structure, which houses a hotel, a library, an exhibition hall and theater stages, opened at the end of 2021 in the northern town of 35,000 people.

Forests cover much of Sweden’s northern regions, most of it spruce, and building timber homes is a longstanding tradition.

Swedish architects now want to spearhead a revolution and steer the industry towards more sustainable construction methods as large wooden buildings sprout up in Sweden and neighboring Nordic nations thanks to advancing industry techniques.

“The pillars together with the beams, the interaction with the steel and wood, that is what carries the 20 stories of the hotel,” Therese Kreisel, a Skelleftea urban planning official, tells AFP during a tour of the cultural center.

Even the lift shafts are made entirely of wood. “There is no plaster, no seal, no isolation on the wood,” she says, adding that this “is unique when it comes to a 20-story building.”

Building materials go green

The main advantage of working with wood is that it is more environmentally friendly, proponents say.

Cement — used to make concrete — and steel, two of the most common construction materials, are among the most polluting industries because they emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.

But wood emits little CO2 during its production and retains the carbon absorbed by the tree even when it is cut and used in a building structure. It is also lighter in weight, requiring less of a foundation.

According to the U.N.’s IPCC climate panel, wood as a construction material can be up to 30 times less carbon intensive than concrete, and hundreds or even thousands of times less than steel.

Global efforts to cut emissions have sparked an upswing in interest for timber structures, according to Jessica Becker, the coordinator of Trastad (City of Wood), an organization lobbying for more timber construction.

Skelleftea’s tower “showcases that is it possible to build this high and complex in timber,” says Robert Schmitz, one of the project’s two architects.

“When you have this as a backdrop for discussions, you can always say, ‘We did this, so how can you say it’s not possible?'”

Only an 85-meter tower recently erected in Brumunddal in neighboring Norway and an 84-meter structure in Vienna are taller than the Sara Cultural Centre.

A building under construction in the U.S. city of Milwaukee and due to be completed soon is expected to clinch the title of the world’s tallest, at a little more than 86 meters.

‘Stacked like Lego’

Building the cultural center in spruce was “much more challenging” but “has also opened doors to really think in new ways,” explains Schmitz’s co-architect Oskar Norelius.

For example, the hotel rooms were made as prefabricated modules that were then “stacked like Lego pieces on site,” he says.

The building has won several wood architecture prizes.

Anders Berensson, another Stockholm architect whose material of choice is wood, says timber has many advantages.

“If you missed something in the cutting you just take the knife and the saw and sort of adjust it on site. So it’s both high tech and low tech at the same time,” he says.

In Stockholm, an apartment complex made of wood, called Cederhusen and featuring distinctive yellow and red cedar shingles on the facade, is in the final stages of completion.

It has already been named the Construction of the Year by Swedish construction industry magazine Byggindustrin. 

“I think we can see things shifting in just the past few years actually,” says Becker.

“We are seeing a huge change right now, it’s kind of the tipping point. And I’m hoping that other countries are going to catch on, we see examples even in England and Canada and other parts of the world.” 

Zelenskyy’s Invite to G20 Not Enough for Biden

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who holds this year’s G-20 presidency, has invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the group’s summit in Bali later this year, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to attend. However, Zelenskyy’s invitation may not be enough to secure the attendance of U.S. and other Western leaders keen on isolating Moscow. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

Chilling Calls, Legal Action as Russia Seeks to Silence Dissent

First came a court summons alleging Mikhail Samin had discredited the Russian army. Then came the threatening calls.

Samin, a 22-year-old from Moscow who has been posting commentary about the war in Ukraine on social media, shared details of those chilling calls with VOA.

In one expletive-laden call, a man warned that Samin had 24 hours to delete his posts, saying that only then, “you may sleep peacefully.”

When Samin tried to reason with the caller, saying that people, children, were dying in Ukraine, the caller replied, “If you don’t stop being stupid, we will throw you off the balcony.”

The legal action and threats are becoming the new normal for those in Russia who defy the strict censorship around the war in Ukraine. Moscow in March passed a law to limit coverage of the military and invasion, and a mix of fines and website blocks has resulted in most independent news outlets being forced out.

Risky work

With traditional media limited, citizen journalists and activists like Samin are filling the void, but at great personal risk. Samin and student Ilya Kursov have both faced legal action for posts about the war and protests.

That new law was cited by authorities when Samin was summoned to court for “discrediting” the Russian army.

He had condemned the invasion in a March 6 Facebook post.

“A terrible thing is happening right now on behalf of [Russian] people,” Samin had posted. “My compatriots — brainwashed or following criminal orders — have invaded the territory of a foreign country, destroying houses and killing people. Thousands of people are dying and suffering needlessly. There can be no justification for this. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, who started this war, cannot be justified.”

For Samin, the death threats were more concerning than the threat of prison.

The door to his apartment was defaced with the letter Z, a pro-Kremlin symbol of war against Ukraine. Samin’s sister was scared when she saw the mark as she left to walk the dog.

Samin was at a loss for words when describing his view of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

“Nothing discredits the armed forces of the Russian Federation more than the war crimes they commit, like torturing people, killing civilians,” he told VOA.

“There was a feeling of some unreality of what was happening because, before that, I was convinced that Putin would not do this,” said Samin. “It was apparent that this [war] would immediately destroy the future of Russia.”

Police pressure

When Ilya Kursov heard details of an anti-war protest in Barnaul, a city in the Altai Krai region of Siberia, at the end of February, the 24-year-old student shared the information on Instagram.

His post quickly came to the attention of police.

“I was abducted at 8 a.m. by [Russian police], right from my bed in the dormitory,” said Kursov, who was studying at the Altai State Pedagogical University.

At the police station he was questioned about the social media post. The police officers pressured him, threatening him with a prison term, Kursov said. He wasn’t allowed to call either his parents or lawyer and his laptop was confiscated.

The student believes the authorities are reacting so aggressively to any protest activity because, despite what the propaganda suggests, many Russians disapprove of the war.

Although many residents were afraid to join the protest openly, people approached the anti-war activists and spoke out for peace with Ukraine, he said.

Like Samin, Kursov is accused of “discrediting” the Russian army. Under the law, if the offense is repeated within a year, it can result in criminal prosecution, with a maximum punishment of up to 15 years in prison.

But the posts cited by police in Kursov’s case were published before the law was enacted.

“I have two fines for 50,000 rubles [approximately $700],”said Kursov.

The fine is about 1½ times the median monthly income for his city, according to the Federal Service for State Statistics in Russia.

The student said that in court documents he saw, authorities had flagged more of his social media posts on the war.

“I am afraid the prosecutors would have an opportunity to use it against me, which leads to a criminal case,” he said.

Both he and Samin have since left Russia, fearing for their safety.

‘Next to be targeted’

With independent media blocked off in Russia, ordinary citizens like Samin and Kursov have become a key source of war information in Russia, media freedom experts said.

“After this huge blow against independent media, the next to be targeted are the citizen journalists,” said Jeanne Cavelier, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders.

“We can draw a parallel with what happened in Belarus, because when all major independent media were blocked and journalists were in prison or exile, the Belarusian authorities started to target citizen journalists,” Cavelier told VOA.

Another factor is the chilling effect. As well as making arrests and blocking platforms, Russia wants to extend its foreign agents law to citizens as well as media.

“It frightens people; it makes them think twice before sharing any information, even if they feel very strong in their opinions or their criticism of the Russian authorities, so that’s always a downside of any crackdown and repressive measures,” said Gulnoza Said, the Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists.

But while Kursov and Samin have been forced to leave their homes, both are adamant they will keep using social media to inform Russians about the war.

This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service.

Media Watchdog RSF Puts French News Sites Back Online in Mali

Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has put the websites of two major French broadcasters back online in Mali, after the country’s military government pulled the broadcasters off the air in March and officially banned them from the Malian airwaves this week.

RSF put the sites back online Thursday, creating mirrors of the sites that can be accessed in Mali and are updated in real time.

Using a virtual private network had previously been the only way to access those websites in Mali since the military government blocked them and took their corresponding TV and radio stations off the air March 17. 

Arnaud Froger, head of the RSF Africa desk, said that the action is part of the organization’s work toward media freedom.

He said RSF has been getting banned media websites back online since 2015, so far having put 47 websites back online in 24 countries, most recently in Russia. 

“It’s basically restoring your right to access to information that has been wrongfully denied by this censorship,” Froger said.

On Wednesday, France Medias Monde, the parent company of RFI and France 24, said it was notified of the decision of Mali’s High Communication Authority to definitively ban the two stations in the country.

The High Communication Authority is the communication regulatory body in Mali, whose website says its primary mission is to protect “freedom of information and communication” and “freedom of the press.”

RFI and France 24 were taken off the air in March after RFI reported on alleged human rights abuses by Mali’s army around the town of Diabaly. Mali’s government said the report contained false allegations aimed at “destabilizing” the government. 

In late March, after the French broadcast ban, Human Rights Watch and several media outlets reported on a Mali army operation in the town of Moura, where witnesses said 300 civilians were killed. 

Tensions have been running high between the Malian and French governments.  This month, France accused Russian mercenaries of staging a mass grave in Gossi, Mali, in order to blame it on French forces who had recently handed over a military base in Gossi to the Malian army. 

Mali’s government then accused France of spying, but did not mention or refute the claim that Russian mercenaries are working with the Malian army.

Швейцарський регулятор перевірить банк, який допомагає громадянам РФ обходити санкції, про що розповідали «Схеми» 

CIM Banque допомагає громадянам РФ відкривати мультивалютний рахунок та оформлювати віртуальні та пластикові картки міжнародних платіжних систем Visa/Mastercard

Thousands of Refugees, Migrants Died in 2021 on Sea Crossings to Europe

The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that refugee and migrant deaths are increasing at an alarming rate.  More than 3,000 people died or went missing in the Mediterranean or Atlantic last year on attempts to reach Europe.

In comparison, 1,439 people died or went missing on those routes in 2019, and about 1,800 in 2020.

Since the beginning of this year, the U.N. refugee agency reports an additional 553 people also have died or gone missing while attempting to reach Europe.

UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said desperation is driving more people to make perilous sea journeys in search of protection and a better life.   

 

“Most of the sea crossings took place in packed, unseaworthy, inflatable boats—many of which capsized or were deflated leading to the loss of life,” she said. “The sea journey from the West African coastal states such as Senegal, Mauritania to the Canary Islands is long and perilous and can take up to 10 days.  Many boats drifted off course or otherwise went missing without trace in these waters.”

 

Mantoo pointed out that land routes also are highly dangerous, and even more people have died on journeys through the Sahara Desert and remote border areas than on the sea. 

 

She said many people are subjected to horrific forms of abuse at the hands of smugglers or traffickers, armed and criminal gangs, and sometimes by law enforcement authorities. 

 

“Among the litany of abuses reported by people traveling these routes are extrajudicial killings, unlawful and arbitrary detention, sexual and gender-based violence, forced labor, slavery, forced marriage and other gross human rights violations,” Mantoo said. “UNHCR warns that continued political instability and conflicts, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, as well as the impact of climate change, may increase displacement and dangerous onward movements.”   

 

The UNHCR is calling for support to provide credible alternatives to the dangerous journeys.  It is appealing for $163.5 million to provide increased humanitarian assistance and solutions for people who need international protection. 

 

The appeal covers some 25 countries in four regions.  All are connected by the same land and sea routes used by migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.  The UNHCR aims to provide essential services and protection to people on the move or stranded on route, intercepted at sea, or held in detention. 

Australian Musical Charts Family’s Escape from Nazis in Europe

A musical that depicts the remarkable escape from the Holocaust of a renowned Jewish sculptor and his family is about to open in Australia. Driftwood recounts the journey of Karl Duldig, his wife Slawa Horowitz-Duldig – inventor of the modern foldable umbrella – and their baby daughter, Eva. They fled the Nazis from Vienna in 1938, sought refuge in Singapore, but were deported to Australia in September 1940.

“Driftwood” is based on a 2017 memoir by Karl Duldig’s daughter, Eva. She was a child when the family arrived in Australia. It was during World War II, and the family were classified as enemy aliens. They were interned in an isolated camp in the state of Victoria until 1942, when Karl Duldig joined the Australian army.

Eva de Jong-Duldig, who became a talented tennis player and reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 1961, says the musical is an epic story of survival.

“My parents were inspiration. I think what I admire most is their resilience after coming through such a terrible period in which they lost nearly all their family. They made new lives here in Australia and they became wonderful art teachers, and my dad became really very well recognized as a sculptor,” she noted.

They rebuilt their lives as artists in Melbourne in what is described as a “magical” family history of “creativity, perseverance and freedom.”

Their granddaughter, Tania De Jong, is one of the musical’s main performers. She told the Australian Broadcasting Corp., that Driftwood has become a story with a global appeal.

“Both of us just felt a really strong yearning to create a new Australian musical that was deep and substantial and told a very meaningful story. But we do also have an enormous amount of interest from international film producers to turn this epic story into a feature film as well,” she expressed.

Karl Duldig died in Melbourne in 1986. His wife, Slawa, died in 1975.

The show has had positive reviews from Australia’s Jewish community.

Hadassah Australia, an organization that supports programs that connect the Australian community with Israel, said it looked “forward to the success of the musical telling [of Eva de Jong-Duldig] parents’ story.”

Theatrepeople.com.au, an online publication, said “Driftwood” “features a fluid sense of time, as characters reconstruct past experiences, to make sense of history. It is an epic, ambitious theatrical piece and a truly original Australian story.”

The Australian Jewish News said it would be giving away free tickets to the show’s opening night.

The world premiere takes place at Monash University in Melbourne May 13.

Bloomberg Reporters in Turkey Acquitted Over 2018 Currency Crisis Article

A Turkish court on Friday acquitted 33 people, including two Bloomberg reporters and other journalists from local media, of spreading false information about the economy in an article and tweets at the height of a currency crisis in 2018.

The case followed a criminal complaint filed in August 2018 by the BDDK banking watchdog over an article by Bloomberg about the effects of a sharp decline in the lira and how authorities and banks were responding.

Fercan Yalinkilic and Kerim Karakaya were on trial over the article, while other defendants in the case, including journalists Sedef Kabas and Merdan Yanardag, as well as economist Mustafa Sonmez, were tried for their tweets about the economy.

Turkey’s lira plummeted in 2018 on concerns over President Tayyip Erdogan’s influence on monetary policy and deteriorating ties between Ankara and Washington. In August 2018, it fell to 7.24 against the dollar, its lowest at the time.

At the end of last year, another currency crisis sparked by series of rate cuts requested by Erdogan saw the lira fall as low as 18.4 before rebounding. The currency crisis stoked inflation, which hit 61% in March.

The defendants had always denied the charges.

The court ruled on Friday that the defendants’ actions did not constitute a crime and acquitted 33 defendants.

Ukraine Slams Kyiv Attack Amid New Mariupol Rescue Effort

Ukraine’s leader accused Russia of trying to humiliate the United Nations by raining missiles on Kyiv during a visit by Secretary-General António Guterres, an attack that shattered the capital’s tentative return to normality as the focus of the war moved east.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s forces were holding off Russia’s attempted advance in the south and east, as efforts continued to secure safe passage for residents trapped in Mariupol, which has been largely reduced to rubble in a 2-month-long siege.

Russia pounded targets all over Ukraine on Thursday, including the attack on Kyiv that struck a residential high-rise and another building. U.S.-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said its journalist Vira Hyrych, who lives in one of the buildings hit, died. Her body was found in the rubble on Friday.

Ten people were wounded in the attack, including at least one who lost a leg, according to Ukraine’s emergency services.

In an apparent reference to the same strike, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday that it had destroyed “production buildings” at the Artem defense factory in Kyiv.

The attack on Kyiv came barely an hour after Zelenskyy held a news conference with Guterres, who toured some of the destruction in and around Kyiv and condemned attacks on civilians during his visit.

“This says a lot about Russia’s true attitude towards global institutions, about attempts of Russian authorities to humiliate the U.N. and everything that the organization represents,” Zelenskyy said in an overnight video address to the nation. “Therefore, it requires corresponding powerful reaction.”

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko derided the attack as equivalent to Russian President Vladimir Putin showing Guterres “his middle finger.”

The strikes were the boldest Russian bombardment of the capital since Moscow’s forces retreated weeks ago following their failure to take the city in what they hoped would be a lightning offensive. Instead, stiff Ukrainian resistance, bolstered by Western arms, stalled Putin’s advance and forced his troops to pull back to regroup.

Some have now started to push into the country’s eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas, which Moscow now says is its focus. Getting a full picture of the unfolding battle in the east has been difficult because airstrikes and artillery barrages have made it extremely dangerous for reporters to move around. Both Ukraine and the Moscow-backed rebels fighting in the east also have introduced tight restrictions on reporting from the combat zone.

But so far, Russia’s troops and the separatist forces appear to have made only minor gains, and Britain’s Defense Ministry said Friday that those have been achieved at significant cost to Russia’s forces.

One aim of Guterres’ visit was to secure the evacuation of people from the ruined southern port city of Mariupol, including a shattered steelworks where Ukrainian defenders are holed up and hundreds of civilians are also sheltering, Previous evacuation attempts have collapsed.

“I cannot confirm the exact details of the operation to make sure it is done with safety for our people and for civilians stranded in Mariupol” said Saviano Abreu, a spokesperson for the U.N.’s humanitarian office.

An official in Zelenskyy’s office said negotiations were underway with U.N. mediation, and did not rule out an evacuation of the plant happening Friday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Mariupol has seen some of the most dramatic suffering of the war. Under siege since the early days of the invasion, many of its residents became trapped with scarce access to food, water, medicine or electricity.

An estimated 100,000 people are believed to still be in the city, and the city council warned Thursday that a lack of safe drinking water or a working sewer system could lead to outbreaks of deadly diseases such as cholera and dysentery. It added that bodies lay decaying under the rubble.

Russian forces largely control the city, but some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are holed up at the steel plant, the last known pocket of resistance. About 1,000 civilians are with them, and the fighters said recent concentrated bombings killed and wounded people.

Video posted online by Ukraine’s Azov Regiment inside the steel plant showed people combing through the rubble to remove the dead and help the wounded. The regiment said the Russians hit an improvised underground hospital and its operating room, killing an unspecified number of people. The video couldn’t be independently verified.

Russia’s invasion of its neighbor on Feb. 24 upended the post-Cold War security order. Putin, long irked by NATO’s expansion to eastern Europe, says the operation seeks the “demilitarization” of Ukraine, aims to protect people in the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas and ensure Russia’s own security. One of Moscow’s demands has been that Ukraine drop its bid to join the western NATO alliance.

Ukraine and the West say it was an unprovoked and illegal invasion launched to topple the government in Kyiv.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote Friday on Twitter that a “security vacuum” had led to the war.

“We have then been knocking on NATO’s door, but it never opened,” he wrote. “The world owes Ukraine security, and we ask states to decide which security guarantees they are ready to provide.”

A day after Russia pounded a wide area of Ukraine, the governor of Ukraine’s central Dnipropetrovsk region, Valentyn Reznichenko, said two towns there were hit by Russian Grad rockets on Friday. There was no immediate word on casualties or damage. Separately, the governor of Russia’s Kursk region, Roman Starovoit, said that a border post came under mortar fire from Ukraine and that Russian border forces returned fire. He said there were no casualties on the Russian side.

Thursday’s explosions in northwestern Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky district shook the city and flames poured out the windows of the residential high-rise and another building. The capital had been relatively unscathed in recent weeks, and cafes and other businesses have started to reopen, while a growing numbers of people have been out and about, enjoying the spring weather.

The terrible human cost of the war, which has driven more than 11 million Ukrainians from their homes, continues to climb.

In Lyman, a town in Donetsk where Russian forces are reportedly trying to advance as part of their Donbas push, shells rained on Tatiana Maksagory’s home this week, devastating her family.

Maksagory’s 14-year-old grandson, Igor, was declared dead after emergency services drove him to the hospital. Her daughter was in serious condition and her son-in-law was also killed.

“Grandma, will I live?” she said Igor asked her when they were in the basement waiting for help. “I said that he would live. But look what happened, I betrayed him.”

US: No Sign Russia-Ukraine Negotiations Will Bear Fruit

The United States has not seen many signs that Russia-Ukraine negotiations are “proving fruitful” as Moscow’s war on the country enters its third month, said a senior State Department official.

“The Russians don’t seem to be willing to negotiate in a particularly meaningful way,” State Department Counselor Derek Chollet told VOA in an interview Thursday.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Ukraine on Thursday after a stop Tuesday in Moscow, where he met for nearly two hours with President Vladimir Putin.

Chollet said that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Guterres before his trip to Moscow and Kyiv, and that the U.S. looks forward to hearing from the U.N. chief to see whether there is a way forward toward peace.

In Congress, proposed legislation scrutinizing China’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday. If adopted, the Assessing Xi’s Interference and Subversion Act would require the State Department to submit ongoing reports.

The U.S. has not witnessed China providing weapons and supplies to Russia, but it is watching closely, American officials said.

“China will pay a price if it is seen as assisting Russia — either providing a direct assistance, particularly military assistance, or assisting Russia in evading sanctions,” Chollet told VOA.

He warns that the “cooperation space” between the U.S. and China is “dwindling,” just as Blinken is expected to elaborate on a U.S. approach toward China “in coming days.”

The excerpts from VOA’s interview with Chollet have been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: Today, President Biden announced a proposal to hold Russian oligarchs accountable. He’s also asking Congress for additional money to help Ukraine. … What makes today’s announcement unique from previous ones?

Chollet: This is a historic announcement of support from the United States. President Biden (asked) Congress for over $30 billion in U.S. support for Ukraine. Twenty billion of that will be towards security and defense assistance. And then there will also be humanitarian assistance and economic support. So this is yet another example of United States commitment to a strong, secure and independent Ukraine.

VOA: Also today, congressional members are voting … (on the) Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022.

Chollet: Well, what the U.S. is focused on right now is getting the supplemental assistance through the Congress that the president has just proposed, and the $30 billion is the kind of scale and scope of assistance that we think reflects (that) it’s in our interests to have a safe and secure Ukraine.

What’s been critical throughout this crisis is the bipartisan support we’ve had from Congress. And Congress has been working very closely with the administration to get Ukraine the significant support that we’ve received thus far. But again, we’re going to be quadrupling in the coming weeks if we get this $30 billion, which we believe we will, from the Congress.

VOA: Does the U.S. have an assessment on Putin’s health?

Chollet: We don’t. We obviously don’t deal with him much in person nowadays. And so we do not have an assessment on his health.

What we do have an assessment of is of the consequences of the decisions he’s making. He has made the wrong decision, we believe clearly, in prosecuting this brutal war against Ukraine. We gave him every opportunity to choose another path over many months, but we also made very clear to him that Russia and he would pay a high price if he pursued a war against Ukraine.

VOA: Has the U.S. talked to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres after his meeting with Putin on Tuesday?

Chollet: We have been in very close touch with the secretary-general throughout this crisis. Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak with him on the phone before his trip to Moscow and Ukraine. I’m not sure if colleagues have spoken to him, since the secretary (Blinken) has not yet. But we, of course, will look forward to staying in touch with the secretary-general to hear about his trip, and if there is a possibility for a way forward on peace. We’re doubtful. We have not seen (many) signs (of) hope that negotiations are proving fruitful. The Russians don’t seem to be willing to negotiate in a particularly meaningful way.

VOA: Moving on to China’s role in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Could China face secondary sanctions if it provides material or financial support to Russia?

Chollet: Well, the United States has been very clear — President Biden in his conversations with President Xi (Jinping), Secretary Blinken in his conversations with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang (Yi) — that China will pay a price if it is seen as assisting Russia, either providing a direct assistance — particularly military assistance — or assisting Russia in evading sanctions.

China knows very well the economic consequences that it could face if it’s seen as helping Russia. China itself is suffering because of the sanctions we have placed on Russia. So we are hoping that the Chinese make a decision not to support Russia.

VOA: Is Secretary Blinken’s China speech before or after the US-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit?

Chollet: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the secretary’s speech. He, of course, places a very high priority on our strategy towards China. We’ll look forward to speaking to that in the coming weeks.

VOA: What is the U.S. approach to PRC (People’s Republic of China)? Can (the) two countries work together after Russia’s war in Ukraine?

Chollet: The US-China relationship is a very complicated relationship. There are elements of it that are conflictual, clearly are areas where the U.S. and China are going to fundamentally disagree. There are areas of that relationship that are competitive, and the United States welcomes the competition with China as long as we are playing by the same set of rules. And there are areas of the relationship that we think, by necessity, have to be cooperative. For example, on an issue like climate change, where we are not going to be able to address the consequences of warming climate if the United States and China can’t find a way to work together. Unfortunately, that’s a dwindling space in terms of the cooperation space.

VOA: As Washington is hosting a special summit with ASEAN in May, what is the U.S. pitch to ASEAN on Ukraine?

Chollet: This ASEAN special summit … will be a historic summit. It will be the first time that ASEAN leaders have been able to meet here in Washington and will be the largest meeting of leaders here in Washington since before the pandemic. … Our pitch to our ASEAN allies and friends is the same pitch we make to all of our allies and friends around the world: There’s a clear side that we all should be on against what Russia has been doing in Ukraine. We want ASEAN friends to stand with us when it comes to isolating and punishing Russia.

VOA: How about the reported military drill between Vietnam and Russia, announced by Russian state media?

Chollet: I can’t comment specifically on that drill. I was in Hanoi a few weeks ago, had long conversations with Vietnamese Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry officials about the U.S.-Vietnam relationship, which we believe has tremendous potential, and also our genuine concerns about Russia and the way forward with Russia.

Our point that we made to our Vietnam friends, which I believe they see merit in, which is that Russia is a far less attractive partner today than it was even four months ago. Russia is going to be more isolated in the world. It’s going to have an economy that’s destroyed. And frankly, its military has shown its vulnerability.

And so, if a country like Vietnam, for many decades, has had a relationship with Russia, and before that the Soviet Union. So, we realize that maybe perhaps some of the policy changes we’re asking for aren’t going to happen instantly. But nevertheless, we believe that those countries need to assess the relationship with Russia, and we’re willing to be a partner with them as they’re thinking through their security in the future.

VOA: Myanmar’s military government is showing support for Russia. Speaking of it, do you have anything on the conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi?

Chollet: This was a sham judicial process, and it’s just yet another example of the junta in Myanmar that unlawfully took power in February of 2021 to use the judicial system to try to go after their political enemies. What we need to see in Myanmar is a cessation of violence. We need to see a return to democratic governance. And until we see that happen, the United States is not going to be engaging with the junta. The junta representatives will not be part of the ASEAN special summit here in Washington.

Myanmar will be represented at a nonpolitical level, like it has been in ASEAN meetings, and the junta in Myanmar knows what it needs to do. It needs to adhere to the ASEAN 5-Point Consensus and get Myanmar back on the track to democracy, not use its judiciary to have sort of sham sentences against democratically elected leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi.

US, EU Warn Against Giving In to Russian ‘Gas Blackmail’

The United States and the European Union have warned against giving in to what they called Russian “blackmail” over gas supplies to Europe.

Russia, which supplies about 40% of Europe’s gas needs, had demanded that what it called “unfriendly” European countries pay their gas bills in rubles — seen as a way to prop up the currency in the face of Western sanctions on Russian banks, including its central bank. Some EU states have set up Russian bank accounts to try to work around the sanctions.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that the U.S. was helping its European allies to diversify gas supplies.

“We will not let Russia intimidate or blackmail their way out of these sanctions. We will not allow them to use their oil and gas to avoid consequences for their aggression. We’re working with other nations like Korea, Japan, Qatar and others to support our effort to help European allies threatened by Russia with gas blackmail and their energy needs in other ways,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

“Aggression will not win. Threats will not win. This is just another reminder of the imperative for Europe and the world to move more and more of our power needs to clean energy,” he said.

 

Cutoff

Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom cut off supplies to Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday after they refused to pay in rubles. The two EU member states insist that the contracts stipulate payment in euros.

“This time, Russia has pushed the border of imperialism — gas imperialism — another step further. This is a direct attack on Poland,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Thursday during a visit to the Zambrow compressor station, which receives gas from Russia.

“Thanks to our actions, Poland will not need Russian gas at all from the fall. But we will also deal with this blackmail, with this gun at the head, so that the Poles will not feel it,” Morawiecki added.

 

Visiting the devastated town of Borodyanka in Ukraine on Thursday, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said his country could cope without Russian gas.

“Bulgaria will not be indifferent to this tragedy. We are in a firm position, as part of the democratic world, as part of the European Union, that we will stand by Ukraine. Because this is not just the battle of Ukraine, this is a civil choice of which side we want to stand with,” Petkov told reporters.

Diversifying supplies

Poland and Bulgaria had declined to extend their gas contracts with Gazprom beyond this year. Both are diversifying their supplies of pipeline and liquified natural gas (LNG), said Tom Marzec-Manser, head of gas analytics at Independent Chemical & Energy Market Intelligence.

“Given they were ending those contracts, they had already begun to invest in new infrastructure, or developing infrastructure, or sign new pipeline supply contracts or LNG contracts to backfill those volumes that would have been lost by the beginning of 2023 anyway. So, Poland’s going to get a new pipeline directly connecting it to Norway. There’s a second pipeline between Greece and Bulgaria, which will specifically carry Azerbaijani gas,” Marzec-Manser told VOA.

“Polish storage is incredibly high at the moment, and therefore it almost looks like they were prepared that something like this might happen,” he said.

 

Serious sanctions

Many other European states continue to import Russian gas. Several European gas companies — including those from Germany, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia — have, at Moscow’s insistence, opened accounts with Gazprom Bank in Switzerland. The contracts are paid in euros but immediately converted into rubles.

Visiting Tokyo on Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters that his country could not risk losing Russian gas supplies in the short term.

“Any interruption would have consequences for the economic situation. That is clear, and the government is also very clear about that,” Scholz told reporters.

“We know that it is a challenge that many European countries, including Germany, are dependent on imports of fossil resources from Russia. And that’s why we set out very early, even long before the outbreak of this war, to analyze this situation in concrete terms and to derive decisions from it.

“That has put us in a position where we can now stop imports of [Russian] coal by the autumn. That will put us in a position to reduce and replace imports of coal bit by bit. And the same will happen for gas. But that is a process that will require more time,” Scholz said.

EU warning

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned members against giving in to Russia.

“Companies with such contracts should not accede to the Russian demands. This would be a breach of the sanctions. So, a high risk for the companies,” she said Wednesday.

It’s not yet clear if those gas companies will face penalties for routing payments via Gazprom Bank. Marzec-Manser said Russia faces a dilemma.

“Had a major German or Italian gas customer with contracts not just ending at the end of this year but, say, contracts running through to 2035, had they not agreed to do the switch in terms of their banking setup, would a cutoff have happened to them? Because the revenue impact on Gazprom would have been immense,” he said.

Russia’s reputation also has taken a hit, Marzec-Manser added.

“Until about a year ago, the reputation from a gas market perspective was considered to be a reliable one,” he said. “That’s since long gone, even before the Ukraine war, I would say.”

European nations say they are making preparations in case Russia turns off the gas taps. But analysts say such a move also would cost the Kremlin hundreds of billions of dollars a year in lost revenue.