Egypt’s Iconic Nile Houseboats Face Demolition

CAIRO — Rowing up to the cheerful turquoise houseboat on the Nile, a fisherman saluted the white-haired woman swaying on its deck.

“How are you holding up?” he called to the woman, Ekhlas Helmy, 88, as his wife dragged back the oars. “May God bring down the bully!”

This week may be their last sharing that particular stretch of the Nile, a narrow tract in central Cairo that, since the 1800s, has been lined with wooden houseboats — homes that double as living lore. This month, the government suddenly ordered Ms. Helmy’s houseboat and 31 others demolished, saying they were unsafe and unlicensed.

famous films were set on others. On the riverbank, life was peaceful, airy and private, nothing like the dusty, frenzied metropolis whose imagination the floating homes had captured for so long.

modernize — and monetize — much of Cairo by handing it over to private developers or the military, bulldozing several historic neighborhoods to build new high-rises, roads and bridges.

singers Jalila, Zubayda and Zanuba.

Mounira al-Mahdia, a celebrated 1920s diva. The houseboat of another singer, Badia Masabni, was said to be so popular among Cairo’s elite that a rumor spread at the time that governments were formed aboard.

Back then, there were at least 200 houseboats up and down the Nile. But under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, many of the structures were moved to clear the river for water sports, said Wael Wakil, 58, who was born and raised in the houseboat he still lives on.

That left about 40 boats moored where they sit now, next to Kit Kat, a neighborhood named after a local World War II-era nightclub popular among Allied soldiers.

installed a pair of German spies on one houseboat in the area — with the help, in some tellings, of a belly dancer.

largely open to the public, became crowded with private clubs and cafes.

The authorities have made clear that they want more of those: The houseboat owners say they have been told that they can pay more than $6,500 to temporarily dock elsewhere while they apply for commercial licenses to open cafes or restaurants in their former homes. But that, they argue, is hardly a fair or attractive option.

“They’re destroying the past, they’re destroying the present, and they’re destroying the future, too,” said Neama Mohsen, 50, a theater instructor who has lived on one of the houseboats for three decades. “I see this as a crime, and no one can stop it. They’re taking away our lives as if we’re criminals or terrorists.”

Today, some of the houseboats are owned by politicians and businessmen, others by bohemians, still others by middle-class Egyptians who know no other life.

Mr. Wakil said his family moved to their houseboat in 1961. He remembers growing up fishing off its deck. Whenever he dropped a toy in the Nile, he said, a passing boatman would rescue it.

Now Mr. Wakil, a retired finance manager, has packed up, and is getting ready to move to an apartment his wife owns in the desert.

“But nothing will come close to compensating for this,” he said.

From Ms. Soueif’s favorite place in the house, the dressing room where she gives her grandchildren baths, she can see a mango tree in her riverbank garden that has not fruited for four years. Suddenly, this year, it produced what promises to be a bumper crop.

But this type of mango cannot be picked before mid-July. By then, if nothing changes, she and her houseboat will be gone.

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Russia’s Putin to make first foreign trips since launching Ukraine war

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a BRICS+ meeting during the BRICS summit via a video link in the Moscow region, Russia June 24, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin via REUTERS

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LONDON, June 26 (Reuters) – Vladimir Putin will visit two small former Soviet states in central Asia this week, Russian state television reported on Sunday, in what would be the Russian leader’s first known trip abroad since ordering the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion has killed thousands of people, displaced millions more and led to severe financial sanctions from the West, which Putin says are a reason to build stronger trade ties with other powers such as China, India and Iran.

Pavel Zarubin, the Kremlin correspondent of the Rossiya 1 state television station, said Putin would visit Tajikistan and Turkmenistan and then meet Indonesian President Joko Widodo for talks in Moscow.

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In Dushanbe, Putin will meet Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon, a close Russian ally and the longest-serving ruler of a former Soviet state. In Ashgabat, he will attend a summit of Caspian nations including the leaders of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkmenistan, Zarubin said.

Putin also plans to visit the Belarus city of Grodno on June 30 and July 1 to take part in a forum with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, RIA news agency citedValentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s upper chamber of parliament, as telling Belarus television on Sunday.

Putin’s last known trip outside Russia was a visit to the Beijing in early February, where he and Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled a “no limits” friendship treaty hours before both attended the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games.

Russia says it sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 to degrade its neighbour’s military capabilities, keep it from being used by the West to threaten Russia, root out nationalists and defend Russian-speakers in eastern regions. Ukraine calls the invasion an imperial-style land grab.

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Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Graff and Mark Porter

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Gustavo Petro Wins the Election, Becoming Colombia’s First Leftist Leader

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — For the first time, Colombia will have a leftist president.

Gustavo Petro, a former rebel and a longtime legislator, won Colombia’s presidential election on Sunday, galvanizing voters frustrated by decades of poverty and inequality under conservative leaders, with promises to expand social programs, tax the wealthy and move away from an economy he has called overly reliant on fossil fuels.

His victory sets the third largest nation in Latin America on a sharply uncertain path, just as it faces rising poverty and violence that have sent record numbers of Colombians to the United States border; high levels of deforestation in the Colombian Amazon, a key buffer against climate change; and a growing distrust of key democratic institutions, which has become a trend in the region.

Mr. Petro, 62, received more than 50 percent of the vote, with more than 99 percent counted Sunday evening. His opponent, Rodolfo Hernández, a construction magnate who had energized the country with a scorched-earth anti-corruption platform, won just over 47 percent.

official figures.

part of a different rebel group, called the M-19, which demobilized in 1990, and became a political party that helped rewrite the country’s constitution. Eventually, Mr. Petro became a forceful leader in the country’s opposition, known for denouncing human rights abuses and corruption.

called his energy plan “economic suicide.”

riddled with corruption and frivolous spending. He had called for combining ministries, eliminating some embassies and firing inefficient government employees, while using savings to help the poor.

One Hernández supporter, Nilia Mesa de Reyes, 70, a retired ethics professor who voted in an affluent section of Bogotá, said that Mr. Petro’s leftist policies, and his past with the M-19, terrified her. “We’re thinking about leaving the country,” she said.

Mr. Petro’s critics, including former allies, have accused him of arrogance that leads him to ignore advisers and struggle to build consensus. When he takes office in August, he will face a deeply polarized society where polls show growing distrust in almost all major institutions.

He has vowed to serve as the president of all Colombians, not just those who voted for him.

On Sunday, at a high school-turned-polling station in Bogotá, Ingrid Forrero, 31, said she saw a generational divide in her community, with young people supporting Mr. Petro and older generations in favor of Mr. Hernández.

Her own family calls her the “little rebel” because of her support for Mr. Petro, whom she said she favors because of his policies on education and income inequality.

“The youth is more inclined toward revolution,” she said, “toward the left, toward a change.”

Megan Janetsky contributed reporting from Bucaramanga, Colombia, and Sofía Villamil and Genevieve Glatsky contributed reporting from Bogotá.

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U.S., partners dismantle Russian hacking ‘botnet,’ Justice Dept says

WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) – Law enforcement in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain dismantled a global network of internet-connected devices that had been hacked by Russian cyber criminals and used for malicious purposes, the U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday.

The network, known as the “RSOCKS” botnet, comprised millions of hacked computers and devices worldwide, including “Internet of Things” gadgets like routers and smart garage openers, the department said in a statement.

RSOCKS users paid a fee of between $30 and $200 per day to route malicious internet activity through compromised devices to mask or hide the true source of the traffic, the department said.

“It is believed that the users of this type of proxy service were conducting large scale attacks against authentication services, also known as credential stuffing, and anonymizing themselves when accessing compromised social media accounts, or sending malicious email, such as phishing messages,” it said.

Several large public and private entities have been victims of RSOCKS, including a university, a hotel, a television studio and an electronics manufacturer, the department said. It did not name any of them.

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Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Leslie Adler

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France’s Macron says up to Ukraine to decide on potential territorial concessions

PARIS, June 16 (Reuters) – Ukraine alone should decide whether or not to accept any territorial concessions towards Russia in view of ending the war, French President Emmanuel Macron told TF1 television in an interview as he visited Kyiv.

“This is up to Ukraine to decide,” Macron said when asked what concessions, including on its territory, Ukraine should accept, adding: “I think it is our duty to stand by our values, by international law and thus by Ukraine.”

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy listens during a joint news conference, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy, all criticised in the past by Kyiv for support viewed as too cautious, visited Ukraine on Thursday and offered the hope of EU membership to a country pleading for weapons to fend off Russia’s invasion. read more

Ukraine’s president had repeatedly said his country would not accept giving up any of its territory as a result of Russia’s invasion.

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In Ukraine, Some Ethnic Hungarians Feel Ambivalence About the War

TRANSCARPATHIA, Ukraine — Beneath dark clouds unleashing a summer rain, officials in a southwestern Ukrainian border village gathered silently, slowly hanging wreaths on branches to commemorate the destruction of a nation.

The wreaths were not decorated with the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag; they were laced, instead, with the red, white and green of Hungary’s. And the nation they honored this month was not their besieged country, but a homeland from their collective history, torn up more than 100 years ago.

Transcarpathia — now a hardscrabble region of Ukraine bordering Hungary — has been home to as many as 150,000 ethnic Hungarians who, through the complex horse-trading, conquests and boundary adjustments of over a century of European geopolitics, ended up within Ukraine’s borders.

war with Russia, the yearnings of Ukraine’s Hungarian minority were mostly brushed off as benign nostalgia for a time when they lived in one nation with other ethnic Hungarians. Now, divided loyalties within the tiny community — which has soaked up Hungary’s ambivalence toward Russia’s invasion — are being seen as something more worrisome by their fellow Ukrainians, some of whom fear they are susceptible to pro-Russia propaganda from Hungary.

Viktor Orban, is able to cause for his neighbors, in this case by playing on ethnic Hungarians’ feelings of discrimination by their government. And it adds another layer of complexity for Ukraine’s leaders as they try to keep their sprawling, multiethnic country united in the face of a brutal Russian invasion, even as they struggle to win allegiance from minorities including ethnic Russians and Hungarians.

tensions have risen as Mr. Orban has increasingly sought to bring ethnic Hungarian enclaves in Ukraine and elsewhere under his sway. Among other things, he has encouraged Hungarians beyond the country’s borders to claim citizenship, which allowed him to win over new voters to keep him in power.

In this poor region of Ukraine, along the Hungarian border, he doled out funding to run schools, churches, businesses and newspapers, winning gratitude — and helping fan resentments. The ceremony for a lost homeland did not exist before Mr. Orban came to power.

The feelings of otherness intensified as Ukraine, under constant threat by Russia, passed a law that mandates more classes be taught in Ukrainian in public schools. The law was mainly meant to rein in the use of the Russian language, but for the conservative Hungarian community where many still learn, and pray, almost exclusively in Hungarian, the law was seen as an unfair infringement on constitutional rights.

tried to block European Union sanctions on Russian energy imports, on which Hungary relies. And he declined to give weapons to Ukraine, or even allow them to be shipped across Hungary’s borders.

That wariness has seeped into the ethnic Hungarian community, fed by Hungarian television channels close to Mr. Orban’s governing party that broadcast into Hungarian-Ukrainian homes along the border. Hungarian broadcasters cast doubt on Ukraine’s position that Russia invaded to steal Ukrainian land, instead sharing Moscow’s perspective that it invaded to protect Russian speakers — a minority with a different language, not unlike the ethnic Hungarians.

“I think this is the main reason for the war, not what Ukraine says,” said Gyula Fodor, a vice rector at the Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute, chatting over traditional plum schnapps after the ceremony for the lost homeland. The institute, a private college, has received Hungarian funding, and Mr. Orban attended its ribbon-cutting.

As the war has dragged on, relations between Mr. Orban and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine have grown increasingly frosty.

In the border towns, suspicion is in the air. Some ethnic Ukrainians claimed during interviews that in the first days of Russia’s invasion Hungarian priests had urged the faithful to hold out hope that their region would be annexed to Hungary after Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, fell, though there is no documentary evidence to substantiate those assertions.

In towns with ethnic Hungarian majorities, some people reported being harassed with mysterious text messages in Ukrainian: “Ukraine for Ukrainians. Glory to the nation! Death to enemies!” They said the messages ended with a threat using another word for ethnic Hungarians: “Magyars to the knives.”

Ukrainian intelligence officials publicly claim the texts came from a bot farm in Odesa using Russian software, and labeled it a Russian attempt to destabilize Ukraine, but they did not provide evidence.

Tensions in Transcarpathia erupted publicly after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Right-wing nationalists marched through the streets of Uzhhorod in recent years, sometimes chanting “Magyars to the knife.”

And a Hungarian cultural center in the city of Uzhhorod was set ablaze twice in 2017. In both cases, authorities said the perpetrators had pro-Russian links. Dmytro Tuzhankskyi, the director of the Institute for Central European Strategy in Uzhhorod that promotes Ukraine’s alignment with the West, says he believes Moscow was behind other local provocations. Moscow would like to sow discord between Hungary and Ukraine, he alleged, as a way of causing more trouble for the Western alliance that has lined up against Mr. Putin.

Hungarian and local officials, he worried, could unwittingly fall prey to such designs: “They might think: One more little provocation — it means nothing. That’s a very dangerous mind-set.”

Yet for many ethnic Hungarians, Ukraine is not blameless.

László Zubánics, the leader of the Hungarian Democratic Union of Ukraine, said locals watch Hungarian television partly because no Ukrainian cable channels reach the border areas, something he saw as a form of political neglect. But he acknowledged that ethnic Hungarians often choose to tune into Hungarian, and not Ukrainian, satellite channels.

Many ethnic Hungarians say they are only able to afford to stay in the region of family vineyards and farms because of Hungarian funding. That makes many ethnic Hungarians skeptical of Ukraine’s claims that it wants to help integrate them into society, Mr. Zubánics said: “Most kids and parents say, ‘Why do I need the state language? I don’t see my place here in this country.’”

Although the Soviets repressed and exiled Hungarian nationalists, some ethnic Hungarians have started to look back on Soviet rule as a time of relative cultural freedom as well. It was a time, according to Mr. Zubánics, when Hungarians recall holding prominent official positions, unlike in modern Ukraine.

Nostalgia for Soviet times stirs the ire of local right-wing nationalists such as Vasyl Vovkunovich, once a political ally of Hungarian nationalists in the final days of the Soviet Union. In 2017, he said he led a march of supporters down the streets of Berehove, ripping down Hungarian flags raised over many churches and buildings.

“These Hungarians are not worthy,” he said. “Their ancestors would roll over in their graves if they knew Hungary was siding with Russia.”

For local residents like Zoltan Kazmér, 32, the present feels more complicated. He feels loyal to Ukraine, he said. But it was Hungarian funding that allowed him to turn his family’s century-old winemaking tradition into a business.

“When we go to Hungary, we feel like Ukrainians,” he said. “When we are in Ukraine, we feel like Hungarians.”

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What Happened on Day 105 of the War in Ukraine

Even as Russia hammers eastern Ukraine with heavy artillery, it is cementing its grip on the south, claiming to have restored roads, rails and a critical freshwater canal that could help it claim permanent dominion over the region.

The extension of Russian infrastructure into the occupied south could allow Moscow to fortify a “land bridge” between Russia and Crimea and build on efforts to claim control through the introduction of Russian currency and the appointment of proxy officials.

Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, said on Tuesday that the military, working with Russian Railways, had repaired about 750 miles of track in southeastern Ukraine and set the conditions for traffic to flow from Russia through Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region to occupied territory in Kherson and Crimea.

Mr. Shoigu also said that water was once again flowing to Crimea through the North Crimean Canal — an important source of freshwater that Ukraine cut off in 2014 after the Kremlin annexed the peninsula. Mr. Shoigu claimed that car traffic was now open between “continental” Russia and Crimea.

Mr. Shoigu’s claims of restored roads and rails could not be immediately verified.

Satellite imagery reviewed by The New York Times showed that water was flowing through the parts of the canal in Crimea that were dry until March. Russian engineers blew open a blockage in the canal in late February, days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine. Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment on Wednesday.

The North Crimean Canal, a 250-mile-long engineering marvel built under the Soviet Union, had channeled water from Ukraine’s Dnipro River to the arid Crimean Peninsula until President Vladimir V. Putin seized it in 2014.

Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

After Crimea’s annexation, Ukraine dropped bags of sand and clay into the canal to prevent the Russian occupiers from benefiting from the valuable freshwater.

Instead of flowing to Crimea, the canal was used to irrigate the melon fields and peach orchards in Ukraine’s Kherson region to the north.

Ukrainian officials said that cutting off the water was one of the few levers at their disposal to inflict pain on Russia without using military force.

For the Kremlin, the blockage represented a vexing and expensive infrastructure challenge, with Crimea’s residents suffering chronic water shortages and occasional shut-offs at the tap.

When Mr. Putin massed troops on Ukraine’s border last year, some analysts speculated that the canal was one of the prizes the Kremlin wanted.

Even as Russia sought to entrench its control in the south this week, a clandestine battle has emerged inside the occupied regions, involving Kremlin loyalists, occupying Russian forces, Ukrainian partisans and the Ukrainian military.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian media posted video of what they said was an explosion at a cafe in the occupied city of Kherson that had served as a gathering place for people collaborating with Russian forces. Russian state media described it as an act of “terror.”

It was the latest in a series of attacks targeting Russian supporters and proxies. It came amid reports — most impossible to independently verify — of Ukrainian guerrillas blowing up bridges, targeting rail lines used by Russian forces and killing Russian soldiers on patrol.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said that there was a focused guerrilla movement operating in the south. “Partisans are fighting very actively,” he said on his YouTube channel.

In the east, where both armies are fighting for control, Ukrainian officials were weighing whether to withdraw their forces in the city of Sievierodonetsk, the last major pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Luhansk region.

Sievierodonetsk has been blasted by weeks of Russian shelling, and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine referred to the city and its neighbor, Lysychansk, on Monday as “dead cities,” physically destroyed and nearly empty of civilians.

“Fighting is still raging and no one is going to give up the city, even if our military has to step back to stronger positions,” Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian military governor of the Luhansk region, said on Ukrainian television, according to Reuters.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Moscow’s announcement that it was extending its ties to the occupied south seemed certain to be greeted in Ukraine as further evidence of Russia’s determination to break Ukraine apart and pillage its natural resources.

“Russia is trying to build infrastructure for military supply,” said Mykhailo Samus, deputy director for international affairs at the Center for Army Studies, Conversion and Disarmament, a research group in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

“Maybe they try to steal the agriculture, food products from occupied territories,” he added.

The Russian authorities said that the first train had traveled from the occupied city of Melitopol to Crimea carrying grain — freight that Ukrainian officials say was stolen from Ukrainian farmers forced to hand over their crops for a pittance or nothing at all.

Russia has blockaded Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since the start of the war, trapping more than 20 million tons of grain meant for export and deepening a global food crisis. Dimming the long-term outlook, grain silos in Ukraine are still about half full, the Ukraine Grain Association said on Wednesday, raising the possibility that much of this year’s crop could be left in the fields.

On Wednesday, the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers held talks focused on allowing Ukraine’s grain to reach global markets through the Black Sea.

Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

But the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, minimized the issue, suggesting that a global food catastrophe caused by a Russian blockade was a Western exaggeration.

“The current situation has nothing to do with the food crisis,” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference in Ankara, the Turkish capital. “The Russian Federation is not creating any obstacles for the passage of ships and vessels.”

He blamed Ukraine, saying that its naval mines and refusal to use humanitarian corridors offered by Russia in Black Sea shipping lanes were stalling exports.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, disagreed, saying that there was a global problem, but that it involved both Russian and Ukrainian products.

“The food crisis in the world is a real crisis,” Mr. Cavusoglu said, noting that Russia and Ukraine together supply about one-third of the world’s grain products.

Mr. Cavusoglu said that a mechanism was needed to get not just agricultural products from Ukraine out through the Black Sea, but also Russian fertilizer, which is vital for global agriculture.

He suggested that the answer lay in a United Nations proposal that the international community provide guarantees for the shipments that addressed security concerns on both sides.

Ukraine was not invited to the talks in Ankara, and its government and Russia’s each blame the other for the lack of exports.

The two countries normally supply about 40 percent of wheat needs in Africa, according to the United Nations.

Ukrainian officials are deeply skeptical of a promise by Mr. Putin, which Mr. Lavrov repeated, that if harbors were demined, Russia would not exploit them to dispatch an invasion fleet. Russian warships have also been patrolling Black Sea shipping lanes.

Oleksii Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said on Twitter on Wednesday, “Our position on the supply of grain is clear: security first.” He accused Russia of “artificially creating obstacles to seize the market and blackmail Europe over food shortages.”

The United States has cited satellite imagery of cargo ships to accuse Russia of looting Ukrainian wheat stocks that it exported, mostly to Africa, echoing Ukrainian government allegations that Russia has stolen up to 500,000 tons of wheat, worth $100 million, since it invaded Ukraine in February.

Wheat is not the only Ukrainian resource prompting alarm. As Ukraine braces for what promises to be a difficult winter, Mr. Zelensky said that the country would not sell its gas or coal abroad. “All domestic production will be directed to the internal needs of our citizens,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins, Ivan Nechepurenko, Malachy Browne, Neil MacFarquhar, Safak Timur and Anushka Patil.

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Fierce street fighting in Ukraine’s Sievierodonetsk, a pivotal battle for Donbas

  • Fierce street fighting for key eastern industrial city
  • Ukraine troops outnumbered, will not surrender-Zelenskiy
  • Eastern front under constant shelling
  • Efforts to evacuate thousands

KYIV/DRUZHKIVKA, Ukraine, June 7 (Reuters) – Ukrainian troops battled Russians street-to-street in the ruins of Sievierodonetsk on Tuesday, trying to hold onto gains from a surprise counter-offensive that had reversed momentum in one of the bloodiest land battles of the war.

The fight for the small industrial city has emerged as a pivotal battle in eastern Ukraine, with Russia focusing its offensive might there in the hope of achieving one of its stated war aims – to fully capture surrounding Luhansk province on behalf of separatist proxies.

After withdrawing from nearly all the city in the face of the Russian advance, Ukrainian forces staged a surprise counter-attack last week, driving the Russians from a swath of the city centre. Since then, the two armies have faced off across boulevards, both claiming to have inflicted huge casualties.

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“Our heroes are not giving up positions in Sievierodonetsk,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an overnight video address, describing fierce street fighting in the city. Earlier, he told reporters at a briefing the Ukrainians were outnumbered but still had “every chance” of fighting back.

Before Ukraine’s counter-offensive, Russia had seemed on the verge of encircling Ukraine’s garrison in Luhansk province, cutting off the main road to Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets river.

But following the counter-offensive, Zelenskiy made a surprise visit to Lysychansk on Sunday, personally demonstrating that Kyiv still had an open route to its troops’ redoubt.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russia was throwing troops and equipment into its drive to capture Sievierodonetsk. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Monday the situation had worsened since the Ukrainian defenders had pushed back the Russians over the weekend.

REFOCUS

Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk province, together known as the Donbas, have become Russia’s main focus since its forces were defeated at the outskirts of Kyiv in March and pushed back from the second biggest city Kharkiv last month.

Russia has been pressing from three main directions – east, north and south – to try to encircle the Ukrainians in the Donbas. Russia has made progress, but only slowly, failing to deal a decisive blow or to encircle the Ukrainians.

In its nightly update, the Ukrainian military said two civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donbas and Russian forces had fired at more than 20 communities, using artillery and air strikes.

In Druzhkivka, in the Ukrainian-held pocket of Donetsk province, residents were picking through the wreckage of houses obliterated by the latest shelling.

“Please help, we need materials for the roof, for the house, there are people without shelter,” shouted Nelya, outside her home where the roof had been shredded. “My niece, she has two small children, she had to cover one of her children with her own body.”

Nearby, Nadezhda picked up a children’s pink photo album and kindergarten exercise book from the ruins of her house, and put them on a shelf somehow still standing in the rubble.

“I do not even know where to start. I am standing here looking but I have no idea what to do. I start crying, I calm down, then I cry again.”

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, in what it calls a “special military operation” to stamp out what it sees as threats to its security. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war to grab territory.

CONSTANT SHELLING

Britain’s defence ministry said on Tuesday that Russia was still trying to cut off Sievierodonetsk by advancing from the north near Izium and from the south near Popasna. It said Russia’s progress from Popasna had stalled over the last week, while reports of heavy shelling near Izium suggested Moscow was preparing a new offensive there.

“Russia will almost certainly need to achieve a breakthrough on at least one of these axes to translate tactical gains to operational level success and progress towards its political objective of controlling all of Donetsk Oblast,” it said.

The Donetsk regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, told Ukrainian television there was constant shelling along the front line, with Russia attempting to push towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the two biggest Ukrainian-held cities in Donetsk.

Kyrylenko said efforts were underway to evacuate people from several towns, some under attack day and night, including Sloviansk where about 24,000 residents, around a quarter of the population, still remains.

“People are now understanding, though it is late, that it is time to leave,” he said.

Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest exporters of grain, and Western countries accuse Russia of creating risk of global famine by shutting Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

Zelenskiy said Kyiv was gradually receiving “specific anti-ship systems”, and that these would be the best way to break a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Moscow denies blame for the food crisis, which it says was caused by Western sanctions.

Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, stormed out of a U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday as European Council President Charles Michel, addressing the 15-member body, accused Moscow of fueling the global food crisis with its invasion of Ukraine. read more

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would respond to Western deliveries of long-range weapons by pushing Ukrainian forces further back from Russia’s border.

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Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Peter Graff
Editing by Gareth Jones
Editing by Gareth Jones

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What Happened on Day 99 of the War in Ukraine

As the war in Ukraine approaches its 100th day, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that Russian forces now control one-fifth of the country, a blunt acknowledgment of the slow but substantial gains that Moscow has made in recent weeks.

Though battered, depleted and repulsed from their initial drive to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Russian troops have used their superior artillery power to grind closer to their goal of taking over the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, known collectively as the Donbas, where Kremlin-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014.

Mr. Zelensky said Russia had expanded its control of Ukrainian territory from an area roughly the size of the Netherlands before the invasion began to an area now greater than the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg combined. Seizing that swath of land could give President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia huge leverage in any future talks to end the war, as well as a base of operations to launch further attacks inside Ukraine.

Yet momentum in the war can shift quickly and unpredictably. As Russia has pounded targets in the east, Ukrainian forces have regained control of 20 small towns and villages in a counteroffensive in the south of the country, a regional official, Hennadiy Lahuta, said on national television.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Fighting was raging, Mr. Zelensky said, along a roughly 620-mile-long, crescent-shaped front that stretches from around the northeastern city of Kharkiv to the outskirts of Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, in the south.

“If you look at the entire front line, and it is, of course, not straight, this line is more than a thousand kilometers,” Mr. Zelensky said in a video address to the Parliament of Luxembourg. “Just imagine! Constant fighting, which stretched along the front line for more than a thousand kilometers.”

Amid intense battles and heavy losses suffered by both the Russian and Ukrainian armies, the arrival of more sophisticated and powerful weapons from Western nations could alter the dynamic on the battlefield.

President Biden this week promised to send Ukraine advanced rocket systems that can target enemy positions from nearly 50 miles away, and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany pledged to ship a sophisticated air defense system and a tracking radar capable of pinpointing Russian artillery.

For now, Moscow’s main military target is Sievierodonetsk, the last major city in the Luhansk region that is not in Russian hands. Russian forces have shelled the area for weeks, reducing much of the city to depopulated rubble.

Russia controls about 70 percent of the city, although a regional official said on Thursday that Ukrainian troops had forced Russian soldiers back from several streets amid fierce urban combat.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Russian forces have renewed assaults to the west of the city in an effort to sever a Ukrainian supply line along a highway and side roads that the Ukrainians have called the “road of life,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington research group, said in an assessment.

“The Russian army is trying to break through the defenses of the armed forces of Ukraine,” Serhiy Haidai, the military governor of the Ukrainian-controlled portions of the Luhansk region, wrote on Telegram.

“Now, the main goal for them is Sievierodonetsk, but they had no success overnight,” he wrote.

Military analysts have viewed the Ukrainian army’s decision to hold out in the city as a risky maneuver. It allows the Ukrainians to inflict casualties on Russian troops but could also result in heavy losses for Ukrainian soldiers, who have been besieged by relentless artillery fire.

Mr. Zelensky said that more than 14,000 Ukrainian civilians and service members had been killed in conflict with Russia since 2014, when it seized Crimea. More than 8 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced since Russia’s invasion in February, and more than 6.5 million have fled to other countries as refugees, according to the United Nations.

In his nightly address to the nation Thursday, Mr. Zelensky said that more than 200,000 children had been deported since the invasion began. He called the deportations “one of Russia’s most heinous war crimes.”

“These are orphans from orphanages. Children with parents. Children separated from their families,” Mr. Zelensky said. “The Russian state disperses these people on its territory, settles our citizens, in particular, in remote regions. The purpose of this criminal policy is not just to steal people, but to make deportees forget about Ukraine and not be able to return.”

Credit…Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

Russia has denied that people are being forced to leave Ukraine, saying that the 1.5 million Ukrainians now in Russia were evacuated for their own safety. On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that over the past 24 hours, 18,886 people had been evacuated from eastern Ukraine, including 2,663 children.

American officials have rejected Russia’s claims that it has been offering Ukrainians humanitarian relief by moving them to Kremlin-controlled territory.

“As many eyewitness accounts have described in detail, Russia is subjecting many of these civilians to brutal interrogations in so-called filtration camps,” Michael Carpenter, the United States ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a speech this month in Vienna.

Raising the issue again this week, he said: “Local residents who try to escape Russia’s reign of fear and brutality risk abduction and forced deportation to Russia or Russia-held areas.”

Russia has not released casualty figures for its troops since late March, when it said 1,351 soldiers had died. Mr. Zelensky said Ukrainian officials believe that at least 30,000 Russian troops have been killed. In late March, NATO estimated that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops had been killed.

In an effort to isolate and punish Mr. Putin and his allies for having launched the invasion, the Biden administration on Thursday announced a new set of sanctions aimed at freezing the shadowy network of international assets that Mr. Putin and members of his inner circle use to hide their wealth.

Among the targets were four yachts linked to the Russian leader: the Shellest, the Nega, the Graceful and the Olympia. Mr. Putin has used some of the vessels for ocean excursions, including one outing last year on the Black Sea with Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the strongman leader of Belarus, who has supported the invasion of Ukraine, the administration said.

Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

The sanctions also targeted several prominent members of the Russian elite, including Sergei Roldugin, a cellist, conductor and artistic director of the St. Petersburg Music House, whom the administration called a close Putin associate, godfather to one of Mr. Putin’s daughters and custodian of the Russian president’s offshore wealth.

Mr. Roldugin was added to the European Union’s sanctions list in late February, days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has been described as “Putin’s wallet.”

Following a drop in Russian oil exports caused in part by Western sanctions, a group of oil-producing nations known as OPEC Plus agreed on Thursday to raise production levels in July and August. The agreement followed months of lobbying by the White House, but analysts said it was too slight to ease high gas prices that have posed a political challenge for Democrats in the midterm elections.

OPEC Plus, which includes Russia, Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers, announced the plan to increase production just days after the European Union agreed to ban most imports of Russian oil, imposing a harsh penalty on Moscow that also threatened to drive European energy costs higher.

As E.U. negotiators finalized the details of the oil embargo and other sanctions against Russia, they made a change at the insistence of Hungary, removing from the sanctions list Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church, who has been accused of offering spiritual cover for the invasion of Ukraine.

Reporting was contributed by Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Julian E. Barnes, Michael Forsythe, Stanley Reed and Andrew E. Kramer.

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