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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Why Am I Seeing That Political Ad? Check Your ‘Trump Resistance’ Score.

The advent of computer modeling helped automate voter targeting, making it more efficient.

In the 1960s, a market researcher in Los Angeles, Vincent Barabba, developed a computer program to help political campaigns decide which neighborhoods to target. The system overlaid voting precinct maps with details on individuals’ voting histories along with U.S. census data on household economics, ethnic makeup and family composition.

In 1966, political consultants used the system to help Ronald Reagan’s campaign for governor of California identify neighborhoods with potential swing voters, like middle-aged, white, male union members, and target them with ads.

Critics worried about the technology’s potential to influence voters, deriding it as a “sinister new development dreamt up by manipulative social scientists,” according to “Selling Ronald Reagan,” a book on the Hollywood actor’s political transformation.

By the early 2000s, campaigns had moved on to more advanced targeting methods.

For the re-election campaign of President George W. Bush in 2004, Republican consultants classified American voters into discrete buckets, like “Flag and Family Republicans” and “Religious Democrats.” Then they used the segmentation to target Republicans and swing voters living in towns that typically voted Democrat, said Michael Meyers, the president of TargetPoint Consulting, who worked on the Bush campaign.

In 2008, the Obama presidential campaign widely used individualized voter scores. Republicans soon beefed up their own voter-profiling and targeting operations.

A decade later, when Cambridge Analytica — a voter-profiling firm that covertly data-mined and scored millions of Facebook users — became front-page news, many national political campaigns were already using voter scores. Now, even local candidates use them.

This spring, the Government Accountability Office issued a report warning that the practice of consumer scoring lacked transparency and could cause harm. Although the report did not specifically examine voter scores, it urged Congress to consider enacting consumer protections around scoring.

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Mexican Faith Leader Jailed For Sex Abuse; Flock Stays Loyal

Legions of Naasón Joaquín García’s followers remain loyal to him, viewing his imprisonment as a challenge that will strengthen their church.

Their spiritual leader is behind bars in California after pleading guilty to sexually abusing minors. Yet legions of followers of Naasón Joaquín García in his home base in Mexico remain fervently loyal to him, viewing his imprisonment as a challenge that will strengthen their church, La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World), rather than weaken it.

His continued hold on his flock was evident recently at the Christian church’s main temple in Guadalajara, as thousands gathered to pray for their absent leader during their Holy Supper, the most sacred festivity for La Luz del Mundo. To gasps of surprise, Joaquín García addressed the congregation by telephone from his Los Angeles prison, where he is serving a 16-year sentence.

“I do not see the bars that separate me from you,” he told his followers. “I see your beautiful faces … because you are the children of God.”

Even outside the temple, the sound of his voice stirred emotions among dozens of devotees guarding entries to the sanctuary. Nearly all closed their eyes. Many lifted their fists. Some knelt and wept.

Near the end of the call, Joaquín García asked his followers to raise their hands and their voices to God and repeat after him: “I promise you, Lord, that whatever the suffering, I will never abandon you.”

It seems clear that many members of the church, founded in Mexico in 1926 and now active in many countries, aren’t ready to abandon Joaquín García as their “apostle” — the term used for the church’s leader. Many believe he was sent by God to preach to them and are convinced he is innocent, despite his guilty plea.

“The apostle always shows determination to move forward,” said Phares Ruiz, who traveled from El Salvador to attend the Holy Supper. “He’s firm in his convictions, and the church is firm as well in its purpose of moving forward.”

Ruiz told The Associated Press that his family has belonged to La Luz del Mundo for three generations.

Joaquín García, 53, was arrested in 2019 in California. He initially faced more than 20 charges, but most were dismissed after a plea deal with prosecutors. The church contended that prosecutors withheld or doctored evidence, and said Joaquín García pleaded guilty because he didn’t think he could get a fair trial.

“The Apostle of Jesus Christ has had no choice but to accept with much pain that the agreement presented is the best way forward to protect the church and his family,” the church said.

The home base of the church is the Guadalajara neighborhood of Hermosa Provincia, Spanish for “beautiful province.” Jericho, Bethlehem and Nazareth are among the names of roads converging on the white temple that locals call “the cake,” for its white tiers that diminish in size as they rise upward.

Congregation members in the neighborhood call each other “brother” and “sister” and take pride in helping one another. The church’s media relations office claims there is no crime in the area.

The neighborhood has cafeterias, clinics, a recreation center and a store that sells Bibles and religious-themed games for children. From the walls hang photographs of Joaquín García, smiling and wearing a tuxedo. Spanning the main street is a sculpture spelling “innocent” in Spanish.

Sara Pozos, 49, is among many in the neighborhood who believe their leader’s imprisonment has strengthened the church.

“I think it changed for the better in the sense that now we feel more united, and we feel more empowered,” she said.

“It has been a very difficult issue, of course, for him and for us,” she added. “We all suffer something in life, but one learns to know those moments where you see that God is doing something to help you, to get ahead, not to let you fall.”

Another neighborhood resident, Sailem Castillo, also said she was upbeat despite Joaquín García’s imprisonment.

“For us everything is very nice, everything continues to work,” she said. “Ministers, pastors and deacons have their same duties. They bless the bread, the wine, and do other things as if he were here, although physically he is not.”

The jailed leader is the grandson of La Luz del Mundo’s founder: Eusebio Joaquín González, a member of the military who began preaching in 1926. He’s known to church members as Aarón — a result, he said, of God asking him to change his name.

Aarón’s wife was the church’s first member. Today it claims a membership of more than 5 million in some 50 nations.

La Luz del Mundo is sometimes described as evangelical, but its members do not embrace this term. The church’s doctrine is learned from the cradle. Parents give biblical names to their children and take them to the temple at 40 days old to promise they will guide them to follow their path.

Most teachings translate into something quotidian. During services, the women sit to the right and men to the left. In some cities, people tithe more than 10% of their monthly income to the church. Biblical verses are cited to explain behavior.

Castillo, a recently married woman of 25, told AP the church advises members how “to lead a decent life,” in which women may not drink alcohol or go out on frequent dates. Like other women in Hermosa Provincia, she wears dresses and skirts that are not form-fitting, eschews makeup and earrings and wears her hair long.

The religion is “very demanding,” said Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh, a professor of religious studies at Azusa Pacific University, a Christian institution near Los Angeles.

“It is not sufficient to say ‘I have converted’ or “I have baptized'” she said. “You have to follow certain steps to prove your loyalty.”

For some young people, these steps include memorizing songs honoring the apostle, reading the Bible before bed and not marrying someone from outside the church.

“All this goes to show that although you are part of this world, you have accepted a very particular way of life because you are Christian,” Sánchez-Walsh said.

Those born in the community are baptized at 14 because, according to the church, that lets them decide whether to reaffirm or leave the faith. Nevertheless, there are former members who say their ceremony was not optional.

Ahead of the baptism, in a ritual known as “the revivals,” children undergo days of prayer and fasting inside a temple. The revival consists of repeating “Glory to Christ” nonstop until the youths are heard speaking in tongues to testify that the Holy Spirit has entered them.

For Raquel Haifa, 43, fulfilling the revivals was a traumatizing experience that she considers abusive, because minors are not able to decline to take part.

“I did cry, because I was saying, ‘God, deliver me from this, make this time pass quickly,'” Haifa said from Texas.

Currently, journalists are not allowed to attend services or take photographs inside the church’s temples. Since Joaquín García’s arrest, La Luz del Mundo’s media relations team says it cannot make official statements on his case because litigation is ongoing.

On Sept. 8 a lawsuit was filed in California against Joaquín García and four church members alleged to be complicit in the sex abuse. The suit was filed by five women who — under the pseudonym Jane Doe — were identified as victims in the original criminal charges against him.

It accuses Joaquín García of conditioning victims, under the guise of religion, to serve him above all else, ultimately resulting in the sexual abuse over the course of several years.

The lawsuit includes detailed accounts from the five plaintiffs alleging that they were pressured by Joaquín García and his associates into performing for pornographic photo shoots, and were forced to engage in sex acts with him.

“The church weaponized the faith of their most vulnerable members,” said Jonati Joey Yedidsion, one of the lawyers handling the lawsuit. “Instead of protecting those innocent women, Naasón and the church fostered and then brutally preyed on their blind trust and allegiance in the ‘Apostle'”.

The case has been difficult for some former members who have distanced themselves from the church.

Speaking on a podcast called “I Left a Sect,” Lo-ami Salazar said Hermosa Provincia used to be her “happy place.”

“Knowing that these abuses took place there, in my happy place, in my safe place, is horrible,” she said.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.


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Scientists Are Trying To Solve The ‘Forever Chemicals’ Problem

PFAS are chemicals that don’t wear down even after being disposed. Now scientists are trying to address them before they cause human side effects.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are chemicals that have made a lot of products better: They have been used in firefighting foam, food wrappers, makeup and, maybe most famously, in the original formulation for Teflon used in non-stick pans.

But PFAS might be a little too good at their jobs. They don’t wear down while they’re used, and even when they get thrown out, they don’t go away. It’s led to them being dubbed “forever chemicals.”

PFAS have been detected in people’s blood, and studies have suggested 98% of people have PFAS somewhere in their body. They’ve been found in air, soil and drinking water.

They’re also associated with some significant negative side effects if you’re exposed to them at high enough levels. Those can include decreased fertility, developmental delays in children, high cholesterol, higher blood pressure in pregnant people, worse response to vaccines, and higher risks of prostate, kidney and testicular cancers.

David Andrews, a senior scientist at the advocacy nonprofit the Environmental Working Group, says you don’t need to be exposed to that much of it to be at risk.

“The number of studies and the research going on continues to expose more and more different health effects, and I think what also stands out is that these health effects and these linkages to health really occur at incredibly low concentrations,” Andrews said.

It’s not clear exactly how bad they are for you, and not everyone exposed to PFAS will necessarily develop these side effects. But there’s a lot of movement to address the issue as research reveals more about them.

Now, advocates are aiming to find ways to break down these compounds and make sure they’re not used as much in the first place. 

“We can’t just focus on destroying the chemicals once they’re in the environment because the environment is already very saturated with past chemicals, and they stay there forever,” said Melanie Benesh, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group. “It’s an enormous task if we think about taking PFAS out of all the water, if we think about taking PFAS out of all the contaminated communities, so just having a destruction technology isn’t the solution. We also really need to put less of this stuff out in the environment in the first place.”

But it’s not just advocacy groups like the Environmental Working Group working on policy solutions.

It’s not clear when historically-large PFAS producers like DuPont, Chemours and 3M knew about the negative health effects of these chemicals. But all three note that they’ve reduced the levels of PFAS used in their products and committed to PFAS destruction. 3M, for example, says they have invested more than $200 million toward testing and clean-up.

At the government level, the EPA has gone even further.

In the last year-plus, the EPA proposed a rule to require PFAS producers to turn over more data about how the chemicals are used and announced more plans to address PFAS water contamination, including $1 billion that states can apply for in grants to help remove PFAS from their drinking water.

This year, they have taken further steps, designating two of the most widely-used PFAS compounds, often known as PFOAs and PFOS, as hazardous substances under the Superfund rules.

“The EPA does have some power currently to address people as pollutants or contaminants, but the set of tools that they have is a lot smaller if something is not a hazardous substance,” Benesh said. “So now that the EPA is considering calling PFOA perhaps hazardous substances, once that’s final, the EPA can use appropriated funds, and then just generally it’ll change the way that they prioritize sites that are contaminated with these substances.”

In August, researchers at UCLA, Northwestern University and China’s Tianjin University released a study in the journal Science that showed PFAS can be destroyed relatively easily and inexpensively.

Will Dichtel, the Northwestern professor who oversaw the study, told Newsy how.

“We found that a certain type of group that is found in two of the largest classes of us out there, known as that carboxylic acid, is now known in organic chemistry to be able to be removed under certain conditions,” Dichtel said. “So the eureka moment here was when we figured out that this reaction that was discovered a few years ago could be applied too fast and that that they would then fall apart into safe products.”

It remains to be seen if it will work outside a lab, but it opens the door to a potentially revolutionary new path to making sure fewer “forever chemicals” actually last “forever.”


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How The Supreme Court Became What It Is Today

America’s approval of the highest court in the land is declining, and how was the U.S. Supreme Court created.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. 

And its rulings have shaped the United States for over two centuries. 

Some recent decisions have put a spotlight on the high court. 

In June The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade prompted widespread responses. 

“The court is literally taking America back 150 years. It’s a sad day for the country in my view,” said President Joe Biden. 

“It’s not only a huge victory for innocent life. It is a historic triumph for the rule of law itself,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  

The decision wiped away the 1973 ruling and handed jurisdiction over abortion back to individual states.  

From coast to coast, the reversal drew celebration from some, and protests from others.  

But it wasn’t the only blockbuster decision in the high court’s latest term. 

The nine justices struck down a New York concealed carry law that aimed to limit guns in public. 

It also decided the Environmental Protection Agency could not regulate carbon emissions from power plants.  

And it voted in favor of a former high school football coach and gave him the right to publicly pray on the field after games. 

All were sweeping decisions that cemented the court’s 6-3 conservative majority. 

It comes as polling has found public approval is at an all-time low.  

Only 25% of Americans have confidence in the Supreme Court, according to Gallup.  

That’s a dive of more than 10% compared to the same time last year.  

Precedent has played a crucial role in the Supreme Court since it took shape in 1789. 

Its first assembly happened a year later during President George Washington’s time in office. 

The Judiciary Act of 1789 established an early version of the three-tiered federal court system of district courts, circuit courts and the Supreme Court.  

And the court’s more than 230 year legacy largely remains in its original form, despite a few amendments. 

Six men made up the nation’s first Supreme Court. 

Five associate justices and the first Chief Justice, John Jay, whom President Washington picked for the job. 

The president nominates justices, but Congress decides how many justices are on the bench. 

That number changed a total of six times before lawmakers settled on the current nine justice makeup in 1869. 

Following the most recent term, several progressive Democrats want to expand the court to 13 justices. 

“We need to expand the Supreme Court and here’s why: for decades, the Republican party has been chipping away at the foundation of our democracy. They use broken rules like the filibuster and the Electoral College to control the White House and Congress,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren.  

But an NPR-Marist Poll in June found a majority of Americans oppose adding more justices to the bench. 

Only about one third backed an expansion. 

The Senate is responsible for confirming the president’s Supreme Court nominees. 

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee, became the first Black female woman on the bench in late June. 

When sworn in, justices are appointed for life. 

The Constitution says “to ensure an independent judiciary and to protect judges from partisan pressures, the Constitution provides that judges serve during “good behavior,” which generally means until justices retire or die.  

However, the Constitution does not specify qualifications for justices.   

The Supreme Court says they can be any age, have any education or profession. 

A justice doesn’t even have to be a lawyer or a law school graduate. 

But historically, all have been trained in the law. 

Unlike other court figures, the U.S. Supreme Court is the only judicial body in the country that does not have to follow an ethics code.  

But they aren’t really allowed to act unethically. If they do, that could result in impeachment.  

There is a statute that requires justices to recuse themselves from a case if there’s a conflict of interest. 

Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution gave the U.S. Supreme Court jurisdiction over all U.S. laws, especially in cases that involve a law’s constitutionality.  

It has the power to decide appeals on all cases brought in federal court or in state court if they deal with federal law.  

Of the 7,000 to 8,000 petitions, they get each session, they choose about 100 cases to review.  

The court’s term begins in October, and the justices will hear oral arguments for the next seven months. 

In those hearings, lawyers for each side lay out their legal case.  

The court will typically discuss the cases with their law clerks to identify different views and form an idea of how they’ll vote. 

The justices then hold private conferences to decide the case.  

Supreme Court protocol says all justices have an opportunity to share their views without interruptions.  

The justices speak in order of seniority, starting with current Chief Justice John Roberts.  

Once the votes are in, the most senior justice in the majority and minority decides who will write the court’s opinion.  

Those opinions don’t become final until the ruling is made available to the public. 

Justices have long held true to confidentiality and are not subject to the federal “Freedom of Information Act.” 

Oral arguments have never been televised.  

And it wasn’t until 2020 that the court began offering live audio from inside the courtroom. 

But despite any controversy around a case, the court pledges to uphold its ultimate responsibility, the one written above the court’s main entrance in Washington: “equal justice under law.”  


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Understaffed Airlines Losing Travelers’ Luggage

Caroline Teel with Smarter says travelers losing luggage has been a serious issue this summer.

We’ve been hearing so much about airline cancellations and delays. But another problem affecting thousands of travelers lately is lost luggage, which can be even more of a nightmare, as it was for one woman recently.

Celeste Small was looking forward to being a bridesmaid in a friend’s destination beach wedding. But, when her Allegiant flight touched down, her travel companion found her luggage waiting on the baggage carousel, while Small did not.

“Her bag came, and I said, ‘Where’s my bag?’ We checked them together,” Small said.

Her suitcase was lost. But, the worst part was that inside the lost bag was her custom-made blue bridesmaids’ gown.

Small was devastated, as she couldn’t stand next to the bride at the wedding.

Worse, she had to spend $400 on new clothing and makeup just to attend the nuptials.

“I had to buy undergarments, another dress, shoes, clothes to wear,” she said.


The U.S. Department of Transportation says the 17 biggest airlines in the country mishandled more than 215,000 bags in April this year and another 231,000 in May.

Caroline Teel with Smarter says it is a serious issue this summer.

“Lost luggage is a huge problem these days,” she said. “Airlines are understaffed. They’re losing bags left and right.”

Teel says to avoid the risk of lost luggage, fly with a carry-on only if possible. And if you need to check a bag, she says the key is never to put any valuables or anything you need immediately upon landing (such as a dress for a wedding) into that checked suitcase.

Teel also suggests packing a tracking device, such as an Apple AirTag, in your luggage.

“In some instances, travelers have been able to point out to the gate agent, ‘Hey, I see my bag. It’s on the tarmac,'” she said.

Allegiant finally located Small’s bag the day after the wedding. Small says it was inadvertently sent to the wrong city.

In a statement, a spokesperson said, “We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience,” adding that it’s rare for Allegiant to mishandle a passenger’s bag.

That appears to be true. In May, Allegiant was the best out of the 17 airlines regarding lost luggage, mishandling one of every 630 bags. Unfortunately for Small, her bag was that one.

If something is essential, especially the day you arrive, put it in a carry-on, so you don’t waste your money.

By John Matarese, Scripps National Desk.


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Parkland Shooter’s Penalty Trial To Start Monday

The gunman pleaded guilty in October to the 2018 massacre; now the jury has to decide whether he gets a sentence of death or life without parole.

It’s been more than four years since 17 people were killed and 17 people were injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

But at a time when the nation is still grappling with gun violence and school shootings, a jury inside a Florida courtroom will decide whether the Parkland shooter should be sentenced to death.

Tony Montalto’s daughter, Gina Rose Montalto, is forever 14.

“We know it’s not going to be easy for our families; we know that we’re going to hear some things that some of us didn’t know. We’re going to hear, I’m sure, some details of what happened that day that will be particularly troubling to anybody who knew any of the victims. And we’ll learn probably exactly the fate that befell our daughter at the hands of her murderer,” said Montalto. “She was kind; she was compassionate. And those are some things that are definitely missing in this world without her.”

There will be no dispute in court over the horrific loss of life in Parkland, Florida February 14, 2018.

The shooter pleaded guilty last year.

At hand for the jury, they will consider whether the state proves at least one aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt, for example, whether the capital felony was especially heinous; then whether those factors outweigh any mitigating circumstances, the defense argues.

The jury will consider whether he gets the death penalty or life in prison without parole. In Florida, a death penalty must be unanimous.

“The size and scope of the case is large. And so, the prosecution is going to have its work cut out for it to focus the jury on what it wants the jury to hear on that,” said Director at Miami Law Innocence Clinic Craig Trocino. “The defense on the other hand, is going to have a challenge of focusing on Mr. Cruz and him as an individual and capacity of mitigation.”

The case is expected to last several months. Jurors could hear victim impacts, see sensitive evidence of the crime, hear from mental health experts, and even view the school building itself.

“Well, I think the prosecutor will focus on evidence in the case that shows a planning, intentionality, thought,” said Jennifer Zedalis, University of Florida senior legal skills professor and trial practice director.

Zedalis says the defense may try to show be broader evidence.

“You know, medical, social, psychological, environmental factors that have weighed into … you know, ultimately what his makeup was,” said Zedalis.

But through this case, a focus remains on the people taken.

“The ultimate tragedy here is who was taken from us and taken purposefully, and we need, as a society, to find a way to prevent these things,” said Montalto.

Since February 14, 2018, some Parkland families have worked for changes in school safety, mental health, and firearms regulations.

Since jury selection began, several mass shootings have occurred across the country. In Buffalo, Uvalde, and Highland Park, to name a few.

“We are parents who refuse to call Joaquin a victim. He’s an activist and we follow his lead,” said Father Manuel Oliver, father of Parkland shooting victim Joaquin Oliver.

Oliver appeared on Newsy after he interrupted a White House event ushering in the bipartisan passage of new gun legislation that advocates have said is a step forward but not enough.

“I think they might save a few lives and that is reason enough for us to more than welcome this resolution, but there’s way more that needs to be done,” said Oliver.


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Ukraine Live Updates: W.N.B.A. Star Returns to Russian Court After Pleading Guilty

Credit…Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Russian authorities have“interrogated,detained, and forcibly deported” between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, including 260,000 children, from their homes into Russian territory, often to isolated regions in the Far East, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The unlawful transfer and deportation of protected persons,” Mr. Blinken said, “is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians and is a war crime.”

Mr. Blinken noted that he was releasing the statement on the eve of the Ukraine Accountability Conference, which is being held on Thursday in The Hague. The conference’s website says that its purpose is “to ensure that war crimes committed during the war in Ukraine will not go unpunished.” Its hosts are the Dutch government, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and the European Commission.

Russia has acknowledged that 1.5 million Ukrainians are now in Russia, but asserted that they were evacuated for their own safety.

Ukrainian officials have long sounded the alarm on Russia’s deportations, with President Volodymyr Zelensky last month describing them as “one of Russia’s most heinous war crimes.” Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he said, the deportations have included more than 200,000 children.

Testimonies given to The New York Times and other news outlets by deportees who escaped Russia have included descriptions of filtration sites and accounts of interrogations, of beatings and torture of those deemed to have ties to Ukraine’s armed forces, and of disappearances.

European officials have described the filtration sites as being set up in as schools, sports centers and cultural institutions in parts of Ukraine recently seized by Russian forces.

From those sites, many Ukrainians have been transported to destinations across Russia — often to regions far from Ukraine, near China or Japan, according to the testimonies.

Some U.S. officials have previously raised concerns about deportations, but only gave vague assessments of the scale.

Michael Carpenter, the United States ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said during a speech in Vienna in May that many witnesses had given detailed accounts of Russia’s “brutal interrogations” in filtration camps that at least several thousand Ukrainians had been forced into, and deportations on the order of at least tens of thousands.

Mr. Blinken’s statement on Wednesday also noted reports that indicated Russian forces were “deliberately” separating Ukrainian children from their parents and abducting others from orphanages. Witnesses and survivors, the statement said, described “frequent threats, harassment, and incidents of torture by Russian security forces.”

In some instances, the statement said, Ukrainians’ passports were confiscated, and they were issued with Russian passports instead, “in an apparent effort to change the demographic makeup of parts of Ukraine.”

There was also mounting evidence, the statement said, that Russian authorities were “detaining or disappearing thousands of Ukrainian civilians” who did not pass through the filtration process, including those affiliated with the Ukrainian Army, territorial defense forces, media, government and civil society groups.

The statement said that reports also indicated that Russian authorities had transported tens of thousands of people to detention facilities inside Russian-controlled Donetsk, where many were tortured. According to reports, it said, others had been “summarily executed, consistent with evidence of Russian atrocities committed in Bucha, Mariupol, and other locations in Ukraine.”

Mr. Blinken’s statement said that the United States was calling for an immediate halt to the deportations and for Russian authorities to release those detained and to allow them to return home. Independent outside observers, the statement said, should be permitted to access so-called filtration facilities, which serve as a way station for many deportations, as well as the places where Ukrainians have been deported to.

“President Putin and his government will not be able to engage in these systematic abuses with impunity,” the statement said. “Accountability is imperative.”

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Sri Lanka president flees country, protesters storm prime minister’s office as state of emergency is declared

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Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country early on Wednesday, just days after thousands of protesters stormed his residence over the nation’s crippling economic crisis.

Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had both agreed to resign, with the president’s resignation effective on Wednesday. Wickremesinghe said he will step down once a new government is in place, but demonstrators are demanding he resign immediately.

Protesters stormed the prime minster’s office following Rajapaksa’s departure from Sri Lanka, and parts of the country have declared a national state of emergency.

Groups could be seen scaling the wall and entering the office as the crowds roared in support, cheering them on and waving the Sri Lankan flag. Police used tear gas to try to disperse the crowd but failed and more and more marched down the lane and towards the office.


FILKE- Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sings the national anthem of Sri Lanka during the country's Independence Day celebration in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb. 4, 2022. The president of Sri Lanka fled the country early Wednesday, July 13, 2022, days after protesters stormed his home and office and the official residence of his prime minister amid a three-month economic crisis that triggered severe shortages of food and fuel. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

FILKE- Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sings the national anthem of Sri Lanka during the country’s Independence Day celebration in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb. 4, 2022. The president of Sri Lanka fled the country early Wednesday, July 13, 2022, days after protesters stormed his home and office and the official residence of his prime minister amid a three-month economic crisis that triggered severe shortages of food and fuel. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

On Wednesday morning, Sri Lankans continued to stream into the presidential palace. A growing line of people waited to enter the residence, many of whom had traveled from outside Colombo on public transport. Protestors said they would stay in the official buildings until the top leaders are gone.

The president, his wife and two bodyguards departed the country on a Sri Lankan Air Force plane headed for the Maldives, according to an immigration official. Rajapaksa left just hours before he was to leave his post. The president would later appoint the prime minister as the acting president, the speaker of the parliament said.

This comes after months of demonstrations against Sri Lankan officials as the South Asian country grapples with severe food and fuel shortages and skyrocketing inflation.

Protesters, in recent days, had broken into Rajapaksa’s home, occupying beds and swimming in a pool. They had also targeted the prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire.

Some demonstrators waved the Sri Lankan flag as chants broke out against the president and prime minister.

The president and his family are accused by protesters of siphoning money from government coffers for years, although the family has denied the allegations. And the Rajapaksa administration is blamed for contributing to the country’s economic collapse through its policies. Rajapaksa has acknowledged that some of his policies have contributed to the crisis.

“I am not happy he has fled. He should be in jail,” one protester occupying the president’s office said, adding that Rajapaksa “ruined this country and stole our money. We will not stop until we have a new president and prime minister.”


Protesters sit on chairs inside the official residence of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa after it was stormed by anti-government protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, July 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Protesters sit on chairs inside the official residence of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa after it was stormed by anti-government protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, July 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

The air force said in a statement that an aircraft was provided for the president and his wife for their flight to the Maldives. The flight was approved by the defense ministry. All immigration and customs laws were adhered to, the statement said.

Sri Lankan lawmakers agreed to elect a new president next week, although they struggled Tuesday to decide on the makeup of a new government to help elevate the impoverished country out of economic and political collapse. 

The lawmakers also have yet to choose someone to take over as prime minister and fill the Cabinet.

Rajapaksa’s replacement would serve as president for the remainder of his term, which ends in 2024. The new leader could potentially select a new prime minister, who Parliament would have to approve.


A man takes selfie at the swimming pool of the official residence of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa three days after it was stormed by anti-government protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A man takes selfie at the swimming pool of the official residence of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa three days after it was stormed by anti-government protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

The country of about 22 million people is undergoing a severe foreign exchange shortage, which has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine. The shortage has pushed the island into its worst financial situation in 70 years.

Sri Lanka has not been receiving fuel shipments in recent weeks, forcing school closures and limiting petrol and diesel for essential services. Residents are skipping meals to line up for hours for scarce fuel.


And the nation’s inflation levels are soaring. Sri Lanka’s inflation reached 54.6% in June.

The nation’s political turmoil could impact its hopes of receiving a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. The government has to submit a plan to the IMF in August on debt sustainability before a deal can be reached.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Retail Workers Increasingly Fear for Their Safety

Assaults at stores have been increasing at a faster pace than the national average. Some workers are tired of fearing for their safety.

There was the customer who stomped on the face of a private security guard. Then the one who lit herself on fire inside a store. The person who drank gasoline and the one who brandished an ax. An intoxicated shopper who pelted a worker with soup cans. A shoplifter who punched a night manager twice in the head and then shot him in the chest.

And there was the shooting that killed 10 people, including three workers, at the King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colo., in March 2021. Another shooting left 10 more people dead at a Buffalo grocery store last month.

In her 37 years in the grocery industry, said Kim Cordova, a union president in Colorado, she had never experienced the level of violence that her members face today.

F.B.I. said, more than half the so-called active shooter attacks — in which an individual with a gun is killing or trying to kill people in a busy area — occurred in places of commerce, including stores.

“Violence in and around retail settings is definitely increasing, and it is a concern,” said Jason Straczewski, a vice president of government relations and political affairs at the National Retail Federation.

Tracking retail theft is more difficult because many prosecutors and retailers rarely press charges. Still, some politicians have seized on viral videos of brazen shoplifting to portray left-leaning city leaders as soft on crime. Others have accused the industry of grossly exaggerating losses and warned that the thefts were being used as a pretext to roll back criminal justice reforms.

“These crimes deserve to be taken seriously, but they are also being weaponized ahead of the midterm elections,” said Jonathan Simon, a professor of criminal justice at the University of California, Berkeley, Law School.

While the political debate swirls about the extent of the crime and its causes, many of the people staffing the stores say retailers have been too permissive of crime, particularly theft. Some employees want more armed security guards who can take an active role in stopping theft, and they want more stores to permanently bar rowdy or violent customers, just as airlines have been taking a hard line with unruly passengers.

Kroger, which owns Fred Meyer, did not respond to requests for comment.

Some unions are demanding that retailers make official accommodations for employees who experience anxiety working with the public by finding them store roles where they don’t regularly interact with customers.

it was revealed that the retailers were hounding falsely accused customers.

The industry says it is putting much of its focus on stopping organized rings of thieves who resell stolen items online or on the street. They point to big cases like the recent indictment of dozens of people who are accused of stealing millions of dollars in merchandise from stores like Sephora, Bloomingdale’s and CVS.

But it’s not clear how much of the crime is organized. Matthew Fernandez, 49, who works at a King Soopers in Broomfield, Colo., said he was stunned when he watched a thief walk out with a cart full of makeup, laundry detergent and meat and drive off in a Mercedes-Benz S.U.V.

“The ones you think are going to steal are not the ones doing it,” he said. “From high class to low class, they are all doing it.”

Ms. Barry often gives money to the homeless people who come into her store, so they can buy food. She also knows the financial pressures on people with lower incomes as the cost of living soars.

When people steal, she said, the company can write off the loss. But those losses mean less money for workers.

“That is part of my raise and benefits that is walking out the door,” she said. “That is money we deserve.”

Ella Koeze contributed reporting.

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