Maryna Lialko had raised the girls alone after their father left the family, their grandmother, Nina Lialko, said.

“She was devoted to these two girls,” she said.

Kateryna was discharged this fall from Ohmadyt hospital, where she received psychiatric and physical therapy, and the girls are now in Kyiv living with their grandmother and aunt.

The aunt, Olha Lialko, said she has seen a shift in their personalities. Kateryna is increasingly turning inward; she speaks very little and struggles to maintain eye contact. Yuliia still can’t fully comprehend the loss.

“Katya is very closed; she keeps it all to herself,” Olha Lialko said. “Yuliia is missing mom a lot. She needs attention, she likes to cuddle.”

The family is trying to help the girls process their loss. And occasionally they see glimpses of the girls they knew before the war.

They dye their hair wild colors and play with makeup. They fight as only sisters can, and cling closely to each other for company.

But no one knows what will come next for them. Their life is on hold. They attend school online and have few friends in the new city. The family is unable to return home to Donetsk but unwilling to commit to staying in Kyiv.

“It will be very difficult for them to live without her,” their grandmother said. “This life has no sense at all.”

Oleksandra Mykolyshyn contributed reporting

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Putin Denies Russia Intends to Use Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine

Credit…Sputnik/Sergei Karpukhin via Reuters

President Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday denied that Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, despite frequent hints in the past that it could do so, and he tried to appeal to conservatives in the United States and Europe with accusations that Western elites were trying to impose their “strange” values on the rest of the world.

The nearly four-hour speech and question-and-answer session, with reference to “dozens of genders,” “gay parades’’ and “neoliberal elites,’’ relied on arguments used to animate the culture wars in the United States and Europe, an apparent effort to sway global public opinion in favor of Russia at a time when his army is losing ground in Ukraine.

“In the United States there’s a very strong part of the public who maintain traditional values, and they’re with us,” Mr. Putin said. “We know about this.”

Mr. Putin claimed it was the West that was escalating nuclear tensions surrounding Ukraine.

“We have no need to do this,” Mr. Putin said of the potential Russian use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine in his strongest denial to date of any such plans. “There’s no sense in it for us, neither political nor military.”

His comments, at an annual foreign policy conference in Moscow, are unlikely to reassure Ukraine or Western nations. He and other senior officials have repeatedly suggested that Russia might resort to nuclear weaponry. And the Kremlin’s assurances in the past have often proved untrustworthy; top officials issued multiple denials in the days before the war that Russia intended to invade Ukraine.

“This is a trick — it shouldn’t make anyone relax,” Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst, said, noting that Mr. Putin has blamed every escalation in the war, including the invasion itself, on the West and its support for an independent Ukraine. “His goal is to show that escalation is the product of Western policies.”

In a speech and a lengthy subsequent question-and-answer session Thursday at an annual foreign policy conference in Moscow at the Valdai Discussion Club, a research institute close to the Kremlin, Mr. Putin coupled his denial of any nuclear plans in Ukraine with a bid for global support — including from conservative-minded people in the West who, he insisted, back Mr. Putin’s campaign to preserve “traditional values.”

“In the United States there’s a very strong part of the public who maintain traditional values, and they’re with us,” Mr. Putin said. “We know about this.”

Lawmakers in Russia’s lower house of Parliament backed legislation on Thursday that would ban the “propaganda” of homosexuality in all aspects of public life, expanding a directive that currently only applies to media directed at children.

Mr. Putin insisted that Russia did not fundamentally see itself as an “enemy of the West.” Rather, he said — as he has before — that it was “Western elites” that he was fighting, ones who were trying to impose their “pretty strange” values on everyone else.

In a question-and-answer session after the speech, the event’s moderator, the foreign policy analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, pressed Mr. Putin on the fact that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine does not appear to have gone according to plan. And he said that there was a widespread view that Russia had “underestimated the enemy.”

“Honestly, society doesn’t understand — what’s the plan?” Mr. Lukyanov asked.

Mr. Putin brushed aside the implicit criticism, arguing that Ukraine’s fierce resistance showed why he was right to launch the invasion. The longer Russia had waited, he said, “the worse it would have been for us, the more difficult and more dangerous.”

Mr. Putin repeated Russia’s unfounded claims that Ukraine was preparing to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” on its territory and blame Moscow. Ukraine and the West say that the claims are disinformation that could be used as a pretext by the Kremlin to use a nuclear weapon.

In Ukraine, officials ridiculed Mr. Putin’s speech. Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, said the Russian president was accusing the West of what he has been doing himself, like violating another country’s sovereignty.

“Any speech by Putin can be described in two words: ‘for Freud,’” Mr. Podolyak posted on Twitter.

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Rivian owners can’t help but gush about their trucks, flaws and all 

Washington, DC CNN  — 

Denis Wang says he always hated the car-buying process — until he met Rivian.

Buying the automaker’s R1T electric pickup was so wonderful that he says he drove 45 minutes to Rivian’s Irvine, California, office to take the Rivian employee who shepherded him through his purchase out for coffee. (Rivian pairs new buyers with a “guide” who answers any questions during the process.)

Wang said he brought a thank you card, and a $100 gift card to REI, knowing that his guide had a trip to South America coming up.

“I felt like I kind of owed it to him,” Wang told CNN Business. “He was really invested in this whole process and wanted to make sure I had a great experience.”

For example, Wang said his guide remembered a configuration of the R1T he was initially interested in, and found a vehicle that matched it and offered it to Wang so he could receive his truck sooner.

Wang, like many new Rivian owners, praised Rivian’s customer service and the quality of the vehicles.

They say their Rivians are among the very best vehicles they’ve ever owned, if not the best. Some compared their Rivians — which can reach 60 mph in about 3 seconds — to driving a sports car. The vehicles have flaws, including a recall impacting nearly every Rivian earlier this month, but fewer than they say they would expect from a new automaker. At least one Rivian owner has had the company reach out to them after posting on an online forum about an issue with their truck.

“I thought Tesla set the bar, and it still does in certain aspects,” said Wang, who has never owned a truck before. “The Rivian is probably my favorite vehicle.”

A Rivian R1T leaves the assembly line at its manufacturing plant in Normal, Illinois.

Rivian, founded in 2009 by MIT-trained engineer RJ Scaringe, went public in 2021 as one of the largest IPOs ever, raising $11.9 billion, only two months after its first vehicles for customers were manufactured. Companies like Ford and Amazon have invested in it. Many auto experts say it’s the best positioned of a group of electric vehicle startups hoping to compete with Tesla and incumbents like Toyota, Volkswagen and General Motors.

It’s faced growing pains as it’s launched three vehicles at once — the R1T, the R1S SUV, and a delivery van for Amazon. Deliveries have been delayed. Rivian’s stock has fallen 66% this year as the value of electric vehicle makers has dropped broadly. Rivian laid off 6% of its workers this July.

CNN Business interviewed 13 Rivian owners to hear how satisfied they are with their vehicles, which can cost roughly $100,000, depending on what options are included.

Not all roses

Matt Thomson was nervous to pick up his R1T earlier this year. He’d never even test driven the pickup. He’d waited more than three years for it since placing a deposit, and wondered if it could live up to the hype.

Thomson picked up his R1T at a Denver-area service center and drove it home. On the dirt road leading to his ranch, a problem emerged.

Thomson parked his R1T at home and as his family looked on, tried to demonstrate the pickup’s automatic bed cover that opens and closes with the push of a button.

But it jammed as dirt and gravel had gotten stuck in it, he said.

Many Rivian owners describe similar problems with the feature. Some owners say they’re keeping the feature lubricated with WD-40 or graphite to prevent it from breaking. Some describe avoiding use of the cover or handling it delicately to try to prevent issues.

“As you likely know, there are issues with our powered tonneau cover,” Rivian emailed owners in September. “While most are operating as intended, many are not.”

It’s since stopped shipping the feature and has said it’s working on a solution.

“That was a big flop on their part,” Thomson said. “But if that’s the worst thing that’s going to happen on a brand new car company, I’m going to be okay with that.”

He says his Rivian tows his horse and donkey trailer better than his last vehicle, a 2020 GMC Sierra. Thomson was one of several owners who say it’s so smooth that they almost forget they’re towing something. Thomson said he loves the suspension, which automatically adjusts to stay level while loaded up, rather than leaning awkwardly backward like his old trucks.

“I’ve had BMWs, Lexuses, everything else. Nothing is even remotely comparable to the way this one drives,” Thomson said. “Literally everything about it has just been over the top. I couldn’t be more satisfied than I am.”

Thomson said he’s saving roughly $650-$700 on fuel costs a month and taking more day trips with his family because he’s not worried about the cost.

Measuring up against Tesla

Oregon resident Phil Barnhart owns a Tesla Model S Plaid that he calls “an absolute masterpiece of technological achievement.” The sedan starts at $135,990 and goes 0-60 mph in 1.99 seconds, faster than a Lamborghini.

He says he owns stock in Tesla, and was an early owner of Tesla’s breakout vehicle, the 2012 Model S, which put the automaker on the map and was the Motor Trend Car of the Year.

But these days Barnhart finds himself driving his new R1T pickup more than the Tesla Model S Plaid.

“It’s the perfect ‘dad car,’” he says of his R1T. He often chauffeurs three kids, their friends, sporting equipment and the family dog, in what’s essentially a mid-size pickup on par with a Toyota Tacoma or Ford Ranger.

Rivian owners have generally praised the R1T's features, including the gear tunnel for extra storage.

He was one of several owners who spoke highly of Rivian’s “gear tunnel,” an extra storage compartment that’s located behind the R1T’s second row. They say it’s well suited to stowing things like sports equipment or food. The gear tunnel’s door also doubles as a convenient seat for when putting on or taking off shoes, they say.

Barnhart was one of several Rivian owners who said they were pleased with how accurately Rivian estimates its vehicles range.

“The Tesla range estimate is very aspirational,” Barnhart said. “The Rivian range estimate is actually informative.”

Barnhart believes Rivian’s first vehicle, the R1T, is clearly better than Tesla’s first wide-release vehicle, the 2012 Tesla Model S, that he owned. But Rivian’s software can’t compare with what Tesla offers today, including its driver-assist software Autopilot, Barnhart and other owners said.

Tab Brewer, who says he’s been “blown away” by how good his Rivian is, says he wishes it came with Android Auto, in-vehicle infotainment software that he says is superior to what Rivian is offering now. Several owners say they’ve seen Rivian’s software improve from over-the-air updates in recent months, and are hopeful for continued upgrades, including the vehicle’s navigation, which many say they don’t use.

Tesla also has a more robust charging network that’s suited to long road trips, owners said. For those who are charging exclusively at home, they say it’s not an issue.

All eyes on Rivian

Mike Feehley, who lives outside Charlotte, North Carolina, says when he drove his new R1T to an antique car show with his son, more people gathered around his truck than the classic cars.

“Guys were coming up saying these are the cleanest lines they’ve ever seen on a truck,” Feehley said.

Feehley and other Rivian owners say it’s common to get questions from curious onlookers in parking lots, or to have people in cars driving alongside them taking pictures.

Rivian too is keeping a close eye on its vehicles. Feehley said the indicator and warning lights started flashing on his truck, and the power flickered. He posted about it on a third-party online forum for Rivian owners and was surprised to get a call from the automaker telling him they’d find a time to pick up the truck and get it fixed. He said Rivian reached out to him again when he posted a video of water in his door.

Some Rivian owners who spoke with CNN Business wondered if the automaker will be able to maintain the quality of service and wait times as it scales production. Rivian plans to produce 25,000 vehicles this year after delivering fewer than 5,000 vehicles in the second quarter of the year.

Rivian owners describe being unwilling to ever sell their trucks.

Rivian owners describe being so satisfied with their vehicles that they’ve passed on opportunities to sell their vehicles immediately after purchase and earn a profit of tens of thousands of dollars.

Ross Gale describes himself as a business guy with “very little attachment to any material object.”

He says he’s owned dozens of cars and flipped many for profit during the Covid pandemic as vehicle prices soared. But he won’t be selling his R1T.

As Gale puts it, “Every time I see one for sale I say to myself, ‘How could somebody do this?’”

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