War Surges Norway’s Oil, Gas Profit. Now, It’s Urged to Help

Europe’s frantic search for alternatives to Russian energy has dramatically increased the demand — and price — for Norway’s oil and gas. 

As the money pours in, Europe’s second-biggest natural gas supplier is fending off accusations that it’s profiting from the war in Ukraine. 

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who is looking to the Scandinavian country to replace some of the gas Poland used to get from Russia, said Norway’s “gigantic” oil and gas profits are “indirectly preying on the war.”

He urged Norway to use that windfall to support the hardest-hit countries, mainly Ukraine.

The comments last week touched a nerve, even as some Norwegians wonder whether they’re doing enough to combat Russia’s war by increasing economic aid to Ukraine and helping neighboring countries end their dependence on Russian energy to power industry, generate electricity and fuel vehicles. 

Taxes on the windfall profits of oil and gas companies have been common in Europe to help people cope with soaring energy bills, now exacerbated by the war. Spain and Italy both approved them, while the United Kingdom’s government plans to introduce one. Morawiecki is asking Norway to go further by sending oil and profits to other nations. 

Norway, one of Europe’s richest countries, committed 1.09% of its national income to overseas development — one of the highest percentages worldwide — including more than $200 million in aid to Ukraine. With oil and gas coffers bulging, some would like to see even more money earmarked to ease the effects of the war — and not skimmed from the funding for agencies that support people elsewhere. 

“Norway has made dramatic cuts into most of the U.N. institutions and support for human rights projects in order to finance the cost of receiving Ukrainian refugees,” said Berit Lindeman, policy director of the human rights group, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. 

She helped organize a protest Wednesday outside Parliament in Oslo, criticizing government priorities and saying the Polish remarks had “some merits.” 

“It looks really ugly when we know the incomes have skyrocketed this year,” Lindeman said. 

Oil and gas prices were already high amid an energy crunch and have spiked because of the war. Natural gas is trading at three to four times what it was at the same time last year. International benchmark Brent crude oil burst through $100 a barrel after the invasion three months ago and has rarely dipped below since. 

Norwegian energy giant Equinor, which is majority owned by the state, earned four times more in the first quarter compared with the same period last year. 

The bounty led the government to revise its forecast of income from petroleum activities to 933 billion Norwegian kroner ($97 billion) this year — more than three times what it earned in 2021. The vast bulk will be funneled into Norway’s massive sovereign wealth fund — the world’s largest — to support the nation when oil runs dry. The government isn’t considering diverting it elsewhere. 

Norway has “contributed substantial support to Ukraine since the first week of the war, and we are preparing to do more,” State Secretary Eivind Vad Petersson said by email. 

He said the country has sent financial support, weapons and over 2 billion kroner in humanitarian aid “independently of oil and gas prices.” 

European countries, meanwhile, have helped inflate Norwegian energy prices by scrambling to diversify their supply away from Russia. They have been accused of helping fund the war by continuing to pay for Russian fossil fuels. 

That energy reliance “provides Russia with a tool to intimidate and to use against us, and that has been clearly demonstrated now,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, told the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. 

Russia has halted natural gas to Finland, Poland and Bulgaria for refusing a demand to pay in rubles. 

The 27-nation European Union is aiming to reduce reliance on Russian natural gas by two-thirds by year’s end through conservation, renewable development and alternative supplies. 

Europe is pleading with Norway, along with countries like Qatar and Algeria, for help with the shortfall. Norway delivers 20% to 25% of Europe’s natural gas, versus Russia’s 40% before the war. 

It is important for Norway to “be a stable, long-term provider of oil and gas to the European markets,” Deputy Energy Minister Amund Vik said. But companies are selling on volatile energy markets, and “with the high oil and gas prices seen since last fall, the companies have daily produced near maximum of what their fields can deliver,” he said. 

Even so, Oslo has responded to European calls for more gas by providing permits to operators to produce more this year. Tax incentives mean the companies are investing in new offshore projects, with a new pipeline to Poland opening this fall. 

“We are doing whatever we can to be a reliable supplier of gas and energy to Europe in difficult times. It was a tight market last fall and is even more pressing now,” said Ola Morten Aanestad, a Equinor spokesman. 

The situation is a far cry from June 2020, when prices crashed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and Norway’s previous government issued tax incentives for oil companies to spur investment and protect jobs. 

Combined with high energy prices, the incentives that run out at the end of the year have prompted companies in Norway to issue a slew of development plans for new oil and gas projects. 

Yet those projects will not produce oil and gas until later this decade or even further in the future, when the political situation may be different, and many European countries are hoping to have shifted most of their energy use to renewables. 

By then, Norway is likely to face the more familiar criticism — that it is contributing to climate change. 

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Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 28

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

1:56 p.m.: A senior pro-Russian official in Kherson, an occupied area of southern Ukraine, tells Reuters that fighting nearby could impact its formal petition to join Russia, which could happen “towards next year.” Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-backed Kherson Military-Civilian Administration, also said the process might involve a referendum, despite previous comments that a general vote of the electorate was unnecessary.

1:04 p.m.: Released Ukrainian POWs say Russian troops tortured them, according to reporting from “The Kyiv Independent,” which quoted Ukraine’s top human rights official. Lyudmyla Denisova said the former prisoners of war reported being detained in basements and outbuildings before being transferred to a Donetsk detention center. “During the transfer, Ukrainian soldiers were blindfolded, wearing a sack over their heads, and their hands were tied with ropes. They were tortured, threatened with murder, beaten and humiliated in captivity,”

12:33 p.m.: Ukraine is accusing Russia of stealing metal from the port city of Mariupol, “The Kyiv Independent” reports. Ukraine’s top human rights official, Lyudmyla Denisova, says Russia has started shipping the stolen metal, transporting 3,000 tons on the first ship to Rostov-on-Don, a port city in southern Russia. About 200,000 tons of metal and cast iron worth $170 million were housed at the port before Russia occupied the city, Denisova said, according to the English-language newspaper.

12:20 p.m.:

 

12:03 p.m.: Russia is pounding the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk after announcing its capture of Lyman, a rail hub nearby, Reuters reported. The Russian gains signal a shift in momentum in the war, which is now in its fourth month. Russian forces appear closer to seizing all of the Luhansk region of Donbas, which is a major goal of the Kremlin. Sievierodonetsk is the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine.

10:38 a.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin says he’s willing to talk about resuming grain shipments from Ukraine. In a Saturday phone call, Putin told the leaders of France and Germany that shipments of grain might be able to leave Black Sea ports if sanctions against Russia are lifted, Reuters reported. Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. The war in Ukraine, as well as Western sanctions against Russia, have disrupted supplies of wheat, fertilizer and other commodities from both countries, triggering concerns about world hunger.

10:06 a.m.: Ukraine’s defense minister says his country has started receiving anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States. Oleksiy Reznikov said Saturday that the weapons will help Ukrainian forces fighting the Russian invasion, Reuters reported.

9:29 a.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Germany and France Saturday that continuing weapons supplies to Ukraine is “dangerous.” Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that sending arms to Ukraine could lead to the “further destabilization of the situation and aggravation of the humanitarian crisis,” the Kremlin said, according to Agence France-Presse.

8:37 a.m.: Russia said it has successfully tested hypersonic missiles in the Arctic, according to Agence France-Presse. The defense ministry said the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile traveled 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) and “successfully hit” a target in the Arctic.

7:50 a.m.: Russia says it has seized Lyman, a strategic town in eastern Ukraine.

“Following the joint actions of the units of the militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Russian armed forces, the town of Krasny Liman has been entirely liberated from Ukrainian nationalists,” the defense ministry said in a statement, Agence France-Presse reported. Lyman is a railway hub in the Donetsk region and its capture signals a potential momentum shift in the war, helping Russia prepare for the next phase of Moscow’s offensive in the eastern Donbas, Reuters reported.

5:29 a.m.: In early May, VOA Eastern Europe bureau chief Myroslava Gongadze spoke with Mark Brzezinski, the U.S. ambassador to Poland. He says Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has united Europe.

“What’s happened in Ukraine alarms everyone — with the genocide that is occurring there, the attacks on civilians, the mass destruction of villages, apartments, old people’s homes, hospitals — it defies any kind of human belief. And I think there is unity among all the allies in Europe about how bad this is and that something needs to be done. ​So, I don’t want to assess who’s taking it most seriously, because I don’t know anyone who’s not taking this seriously.”

4:15 a.m.: Reuters reports that Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian peace talks negotiator, said on Telegram that any agreement with Russia “isn’t worth a broken penny.”

“Is it possible to negotiate with a country that always lies cynically and propagandistically?” he wrote.

3:12 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry says most of the strategically important Ukrainian town of Lyman has likely fallen to the Russians. Lyman’s the site of a major rail junction and offers access to rail and road bridges over the Siverskyy Donets River.

That’ll be a key point as Russian troops aim to cross the river as part of the next stage of Russia’s Donbas offensive.

2:20 a.m.: Al Jazeera reports that the governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region insists that Russian forces have not surrounded the city of Severodonetsk.

They have, he says, taken control of a hotel and a bus station. He said it was still possible that Ukrainian forces would have to retreat from the area.

1:13 a.m.: The Associated Press reports that a Communist Party leader in Russia’s Far East has called for an end to the war with Ukraine.

“We understand that if our country doesn’t stop the military operation, we’ll have more orphans in our country,” Legislative Deputy Leonid Vasyukevich said at a meeting of the Primorsk regional Legislative Assembly in the Pacific port of Vladivostok on Friday.

12:02 a.m.: Al Jazeera reports that Lithuanians have raised more than $3 million to buy a military drone for Ukraine. They’re aiming to raise a total of $5.4 million to purchase the Bayraktar TB2 armed drone.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Powerful Vatican Prelate, Dies at 94

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a once-powerful Italian prelate who long served as the Vatican’s No. 2 official but whose legacy was tarnished by his support for the pedophile found of an influential religious order, has died. He was 94.

The Vatican in its Saturday announcement of his death said the Sodano had died on Friday. Italian state radio said that Sodano recently had contracted COVID-19, complicating his already frail health. Corriere della Sera said he died in a Rome clinic where he had been admitted a few weeks ago.

Pope Francis in a condolence telegram Saturday to Maria Sodano, the retired prelate’s sister, noted that Sodano had held many roles in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps, culminating in his being named secretary of state on June 28, 1991, by the then-pontiff, John Paul II. A day later, John Paul, who later was made a saint, elevated Sodano to the rank of cardinal.

In the condolence message, Francis expressed “sentiments of gratitude to the Lord for the gift of this esteemed man of the church” and paid tribute to his long service as a Vatican diplomat in Ecuador, Uruguay and Chile in South America, Francis’ native continent.

But late in his Vatican career, Sodano’s church legacy was tarnished by his staunch championing of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the deceased Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ, a religious order, who was later revealed to be a pedophile. Maciel’s clerical career was discredited by the cult-like practices he imposed on the order’s members. An internal investigation eventually identified 33 priests and 71 seminarians in the order who sexually abused minors over some eight decades.

Sodano for years, while secretary of state under John Paul, had prevented the Vatican from investigating sex abuse allegations against Maciel. The Holy See had evidence dating back decades that the founder of the religious order — an organization that was a favorite of John Paul’s for producing so many priests — was a drug addict and a pedophile.

The Vatican’s biography, issued after Sodano died, made no mention of the scandals. Instead, it noted Sodano’s accomplishment as a top Vatican diplomat, including his work for “the peaceful solution to the controversy of the sovereignty of 2 states,” a reference to the territorial dispute that erupted in the 1982 Falklands War between Argentina and Britain.

Speaking of Sodano’s career at the Vatican, which saw him serve until 2006 as the Holy See’s No. 2 official in the role of secretary of state, Francis said the prelate had carried out his mission with “exemplary dedication.”

In December 2019, Francis accepted Sodano’s resignation as Dean of the College of Cardinals, an influential role, especially in preparing for conclaves, the closed-door election of pontiffs. Sodano had held that position from 2005.

Sodano was born in Isola d’Asti, a town in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, on Nov. 23, 1927. He was ordained a priest in 1950 and obtained a doctorate in theology at the prestigious Pontifical Gregorian University and in canon law from the Pontifical Lateral University, both in Rome.

He joined the Vatican’s diplomatic corps in 1959, eventually representing the Holy See at foreign ministers’ meetings across Europe.

In 2000, Sodano played a role in ending an enduring mystery at the Vatican by disclosing the so-called third secret of Fatima.

In 1917, three Portuguese shepherd children said they saw the Virgin Mary appear above an olive tree and she told them three secrets. The first two were said to have foretold the end of World War I and the start of World War II and the rise and fall of Soviet communism. Some speculated that the third, unrevealed secret, was a doomsday prophecy.

While the pope was visiting the popular shrine in Fatima, Portugal, Sodano said that the “interpretations” of the children spoke of a “bishop clothed in white,” who “falls to the ground, apparently dead, under a burst of gunfire.” That description evoked the assassination attempt on John Paul in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, in which the pope was gravely wounded. 

Sodano’s funeral is to take place on Tuesday in St Peter’s Basilica. It will be celebrated by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Giovanni Battista Re, while Pope Francis will perform a traditional funeral rite at the end of the ceremony.

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Ukrainian Negotiator Says Any Agreement With Russia ‘Isn’t Worth a Broken Penny’

Ukrainian presidential adviser and peace talks negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Saturday that any agreement with Russia cannot be trusted and Moscow can only be stopped in its invasion by force.

“Any agreement with Russia isn’t worth a broken penny,” Podolyak wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “Is it possible to negotiate with a country that always lies cynically and propagandistically?”

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other after peace talk stalled, with the last known face-to-face negotiations on March 29. The Kremlin said earlier this month Ukraine was showing no willingness to continue peace talks, while officials in Kyiv blamed Russia for the lack of progress.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that President Vladimir Putin was the only Russian official he was willing to meet with to discuss how to end the war.

Putin says Russian forces are on a special operation to demilitarize Ukraine and rid it of radical anti-Russian nationalists. Ukraine and its allies call that a false pretext to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“Russia has proved that it is a barbarian country that threatens world security,” Podolyak said. “A barbarian can only be stopped by force.”

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Fleeing the Russians: Evacuations are Slow, Arduous, Fraught

To a threatening soundtrack of air raid sirens and booming artillery, civilians are fleeing towns and cities in eastern Ukraine as Russian forces advance.

Negotiating narrow apartment building staircases, volunteers carry the elderly and infirm in their arms, in stretchers or in wheelchairs to waiting minibuses, which then drive them to central staging areas and eventually to evacuation trains in other cities.

“The Russians are right over there, and they’re closing in on this location,” Mark Poppert, an American volunteer working with British charity RefugEase, said during an evacuation in the town of Bakhmut on Friday.

“Bakhmut is a high-risk area right now,” he said. “We’re trying to get as many people out as we can in case the Ukrainians have to fall back.”

He and other Ukrainian and foreign volunteers working with the Ukrainian charity Vostok SOS, which was coordinating the evacuation effort, were hoping to get about 100 people out of Bakhmut on Friday, Poppert said.

A few hours earlier, the thud of artillery sounded and black smoke rose from the northern fringes of the town, which is in the Donetsk region in Ukraine’s industrial east. Donetsk and the neighboring region of Luhansk makes up the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have controlled some territory for eight years.

The evacuation process is painstaking, physically arduous and fraught with emotion.

Many of the evacuees are elderly, ill or have serious mobility problems, meaning volunteers have to bundle them into soft stretchers and slowly negotiate their way through narrow corridors and down flights of stairs in apartment buildings.

Most people have already fled Bakhmut: only around 30,000 remain from a pre-war population of 85,000. And more are leaving each day.

Fighting has raged north of Bakhmut as Russian forces intensify their efforts to seize the key eastern cities of Sieverodonetsk and Lysychansk, 50 kilometers to the northeast. The two cities are the last areas under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region.

Northwest of Bakhmut in Donetsk, Russia-backed rebels said Friday they had taken over the town of Lyman, a large railway hub near the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, both which are still under Ukrainian control. On Thursday, smoke rising from the direction of Lyman could be seen clearly from Slovyansk.

But even when faced with shelling, missiles and an advancing Russian army, leaving isn’t easy.

Svetlana Lvova, the 66-year-old manager for two apartment buildings in Bakhmut, huffed and rolled her eyes in exasperation upon hearing that yet another one of her residents was refusing to leave.

“I can’t convince them to go,” she said. “I told them several times if something lands here, I will be carrying them — injured — to the same buses” that have come to evacuate them now.

She’s tried to persuade the holdouts every way she can, she says, but nearly two dozen people just won’t budge. They’re more afraid to leave their homes and belongings for an uncertain future than to stay and face the bombs.

She herself will stay in Bakhmut with her husband, she said. But not because they fear leaving their property. They are waiting for their son, who is still in Sieverodonetsk, to come home.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “I have to know he is alive. That’s why I’m staying here.”

Lvova plays the last video her son sent her, where he tells his mother that he is fine, and that they still have electricity in the city but no longer running water.

“I baked him a big cake,” she said, wiping away tears.

Poppert, the American volunteer, said it was not unusual to receive a request to pick people up for evacuation, only for them to change their minds once the van arrives.

“It’s an incredibly difficult decision for these people to leave the only world that they know,” he said.

He described one man in his late 90s evacuated from the only home he had ever known.

“We were taking this man out of his world,” Poppert said. “He was terrified of the bombs and the missiles, and he was terrified to leave.”

In nearby Pokrovsk, ambulances pulled up to offload elderly women in stretchers and wheelchairs for the evacuation train heading west, away from the fighting. Families clustered around, dragging suitcases and carrying pets as they boarded the train.

The train slowly pulled out of the station, and a woman drew back the curtain in one of the train carriages. As the familiar landscape slipped away, her face crumpled in grief and the tears began to flow.

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Envoy Talks About Ukraine, the War and its Postwar Future

In mid-May, VOA Eastern Europe bureau chief Myroslava Gongadze spoke with Alexandra Vasylenko, special envoy on coordination of humanitarian assistance to the minister for foreign affairs of Ukraine. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: The devastation of the war (in Ukraine) is affecting food security in the world. How can we estimate and assess what’s going on and how it would affect Ukrainian agricultural business and world business?

Vasylenko: Given that Ukraine is one of the main exporters of grain — of wheat, corn, buckwheat and sunflower oil — the implications of this war will be really hard, and we will feel it not only this year but also in coming years, three to five years at least. We already started sowing campaigns in almost all regions of Ukraine, but because of a huge mine decontamination mission there, it is very insecure for our farmers to perform sowing campaigns. But they already started doing this, even in the Zaporizhzhia region close to the front line. They’re performing their duty in helmets and vests.

The problem is not only with the sowing campaigns. We have an acute shortage of fuel, which is required for sowing campaigns, and it will be required for harvesting. Russian troops are trying to shell our railway stations, and they are focusing on the main railway complex. They destroyed a lot of grain storage as well, so we need to find out how we can store grain before we export it.

We also have very limited logistics capacity right now from the south and southeast because our Black Sea ports are blocked by Russian troops and mines. And to be figuring out alternative logistics routes can be really different from looking at the south in Romania. You’re looking at Poland, and you’re trying to figure out alternative routes with the European Union, using multimodal connections such as grain cargo lorries and, of course, seaports.

We get what we can see. If COVID-19 worsens world hunger, this war will have even more effects. According to the first quarterly report of FAO (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization) for crops and production for harvest, already 44 countries in the world are experiencing hunger; almost plus seven countries have been added to this list.

Projections for the harvest season in Ukraine are still very high. But as I said before, this situation is really complex with logistics, and we do not know how it will unfold and how we can harvest. So, sowing campaigns have started, and we will try to do our best to provide the world with the grain and to keep the world food security on the same and stable level, but we need help — and need to see how we can solve our problems.

VOA: There is a lot of talk about Ukraine entering the European Union. Is Ukraine ready for it? Do you see this as an opportunity and possibility?

Vasylenko: Ukraine is already a part of the huge and complex logistic partnership of Europe, and we are already one of the biggest trading partners of the European Union. And I think this situation is an opportunity to simplify procedures for both partners. And this is an opportunity.

VOA: What do you mean, “this situation”?

Vasylenko: I mean, it’s a given situation. Because, you know, their integration into the European Union, and the trade agreement with the European Union, it took us years to proceed with it, and we were very, like, step by step integration with different types of quotas for different types of trade commodities, even in terms of food production. Yes, it’s for the grain, for oil, for poultry. For example, two years ago, we started this quarter to increase it for, for Ukrainian poultry.

VOA: That was a big issue, right?

Vasylenko: It was a big issue, but we made it. And I think that both partners benefited from it. If we take a look at Ukrainian production in terms of European legislation and in terms of European expectation, even in terms of the European Green Deal, our production is already much, much more sustainable than European because we are not using so many different types of plant protection for our crops.

Ukraine is a transit country. It’s always been a transit country. And this is the moment when we can really use all these transport corridors, and Europe can really see how Ukraine can add value to the trades and to different types of economies.

Food system production is very complex. It’s logistics. It’s production, produce and manufacturing, growing, harvesting, planting, everything. And it’s really important for communities, for the environment.

VOA: When we are talking about storing the grain and maybe helping to demine the fields and give more technical support, my understanding is that the Russians are stealing a lot of equipment from Ukraine. What are your expectations, and what is the relationship you have right now with the world’s biggest companies that provide equipment for agriculture? 

Vasylenko: Well, I would say in terms of demining, the problem is really huge. And we are working on the demining problem on different levels with our international organizations and with the government on a bilateral level. And EU and NATO countries, they are already providing help. They are sending teams for demining. And I think this process already started, and it will unfold very rapidly.

You’re absolutely right, a lot of our equipment was stolen, and things for information technology. We can identify where it is and, if we can, switch it off.

Private foundations — for example, Howard G. Buffett Foundation — really are focused on food security and resolving military conflict. They are working hard to provide us with different types of equipment for planting and harvesting — for combines, for tractors, for drilling machines. So we can use it, and we can help.

I’m not talking about the big companies in Ukraine; I’m talking about small and medium farmers who have around 150 to 300 hectares. They can really benefit from all the stuff that can be provided by private donors or by private companies.

VOA: One more issue you’re working on is humanitarian work for Ukraine, coordination. How is it going? What exactly does Ukraine need?

Vasylenko: We established a working mechanism of communication and coordination between the Ukrainian government and our partners on multilateral and bilateral levels, of course. We established effective logistics to the Ukrainian border and within Ukrainian borders. On a weekly basis, we are providing our partners with updates on what Ukraine needs in terms of general needs for civilians and specific needs.

Each government party provides us with a list of needs. We clarify it with them and then provide it as a request for our partner countries through different types of mechanisms — for example, the civil protection mechanism, which works within the EU’s borders and through EADRCC (Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre). It’s a NATO mechanism. They provide more specific help.

In terms of priorities and in terms of help, I would like to divide it into two groups. I mean, like goods, it can be medicine, equipment — generators, etc. — and services. In terms of goods, we, on a very constant and a systematic basis, are providing our needs. We provide an exact consignee who receives these needs, so we can definitely deliver tracking information for our partners when they request it. So we are working hard to make this process more transparent.

Already we have several logistic hubs in the cross-border countries — Slovakia, Romania and Poland, of course. Poland is the biggest one. Where they are, all the operations are performed by the government of the cross-border country, which is really effective, and we can easily make customs clearance, we can sort everything. For example, in Romania, we already established a mechanism, thanks to our Israeli and American partners, with QR codes, so you can track where a pallet is going. It’s good information for our partners so they can see that the assistance is really delivered to those in need. So we are working really hard to make the system effective.

Nobody expected war in the center of Europe in the 21st century, and this is a huge crisis for all institutions. Even for U.N. system institutions, this is a huge crisis. And we can see how they are struggling with the bureaucracy, but struggling to help us. Ukraine is absolutely different from where they have worked before.

Ukraine is a developed country. We have an operating government, we have established logistics within our borders so we can deliver goods by ourselves, and we can work as an equal partners. And I would say that on the 17th day of war, we already reached this point where they understood the situation, and they are willing and they are collaborating.

VOA: Are you getting what you need?

Vasylenko: Definitely, in different volumes, we’re receiving different types of goods. Yes, we have certain problems with the clearing of proposals of the donor countries, but we are trying hard with this communication process to deliver accurate information about our needs and to help them clear those proposals for help.

But we need more because the war, unfortunately, is continuing, and we still have a lot of problems with food for civilians, with medicine. As the summer is approaching, we also need to start working, and we already started to, again, for the water purification systems and water purification tools, because we need to provide fresh water, clean water to our citizens so we can avoid this communicable disease spread.

VOA: The United States government is sending additional money to help Ukraine. A lot of that money will go through USAID (United States Agency for International Development). How is your relationship with American humanitarian assistance and U.N. humanitarian assistance? Are you getting what you need?

Vasylenko: Well, we are in close collaboration with USAID. We have a constant conversation on what is needed and how it can be provided. They are providing us with different types of services.

I think that this support can be and could be and should be increased because the humanitarian catastrophe that we already experienced will be much bigger. Because this is not only about how they can help during the war. We also need to think how they can help postwar. And this is something that we need to start building like already.

In terms of U.N., yes, I see that they started the process of providing what is needed, and they started this communication and consultation with the Ukrainian government to be more precise about the help that they providing. For example, WFP (World Food Program).

VOA: Are you saying it’s on the developing level?

Vasylenko: I would say it’s on a development level because they were not prepared for the Ukrainian war. This is a huge difference from all of the conflicts that they were involved in before. And they really needed to adjust. And because it’s a huge system, very bureaucratic, it really took time, but they started coping with this problem.

And WFP also now started delivering bigger amounts of help for those people in need. They are focusing on the south and southeast regions, and they are trying to reach those regions, and they are succeeding. And this is a huge help because under the flag of the U.N., it’s much easier to provide humanitarian assistance for those in need in the occupied territories.

And this is something that we need. We need to show the people of Ukraine that the government of Ukraine is working hard to help them and support them, and that they cannot be victims to Russian propaganda and cannot be used by Russian troops as a living shield.

So for us this is the highest priority: that the people of Ukraine will understand that the government is caring and trying to find solutions to help and support and advocate.

I really appreciate the work of U.N. agencies on establishing humanitarian corridors. We can see the recent success, and hopefully it will be a very sustainable process. And we definitely hope that we can provide help, together with them, to our civilians who are stuck in occupied cities.

VOA: In terms of corridors and delivering goods, do you see enough workers on the ground? I heard a lot of concerns about the security situation, obviously, and maybe there is a way to hire Ukrainians to work for those agencies, maybe. What kind of cooperation are you looking for to better assist each other?

Vasylenko: I think that you are absolutely right. We need to increase the number of people on the ground, and international agencies need to work with local people because local people know better. This is something that we are thinking not only in terms of the people on the ground, for minor work, like sorting and delivering goods. But this is something that we’re thinking in terms of the greater scale. We’re thinking that we definitely need to use resources of U.N. to train Ukrainian people so they can run the process and build the processes because Ukrainians know their country better and they can adjust accordingly.

But using the high standards of training of U.N. personnel and NATO will be a great benefit for U.N. and for Ukraine, because if we have high-profile employees trained accordingly to those high standards, and they can deliver, I will say it will be a huge success. Not only for something specialized, like demining training and training for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) helpers, but also something high-profile: managers that can really manage the situation.

VOA: This crisis will not be over soon, and the war is ongoing. The Russians have started bombarding delivery facilities and train railway stations and so on — logistics hubs. How long do you think the international community should be ready to help? And should they be ready for the long run?

Vasylenko: Well, definitely they should be prepared for the long run. So this is a marathon.

I would say it’s an ultramarathon for all of us. We cannot predict how the enemy will behave. We cannot predict what they will do. But what we definitely can predict is that Ukraine will win, and Ukraine is standing for all the democratic values of the world, and the world should be ready to run this marathon for Ukraine. And this is not only about humanitarian assistance. And this is not only about a humanitarian catastrophe. This is also — we are a huge economy.

We are an integrated part of the world economy. And if we are suffering, the world will also feel the implication of this suffering.

Yes, the world needs to think, as I said before, in terms of humanitarian assistance. This is not only about delivering the goods but also about helping the people of Ukraine regain what was lost. And this is something that we need to think not only in terms of mental health support, because all people are under a huge stress.

We need to think about how to help Ukrainians start small businesses and microbusinesses so they can support the economy, how to train them, how to encourage them. The small and micro entrepreneurs are a backbone of the big economy. Small entrepreneurs can provide help for their local communities, and we need to help them to source it and to establish their small and micro enterprises. And this is something that the world can help with.

A lot of countries that were working before with Ukraine — Sweden, U.K., Canada —were focusing on the support of small entrepreneurs.

A project of Canada, supported by SURGe Victory Gardens, is working with small local communities to provide them with vegetables and berries so they can eat something that they’ve grown on their land. And they can serve it and share it with the community and then hire people who lost their jobs.

And this is not only about the money. This is also about gaining dignity because you can provide for yourself. You’re feeling like an established person. Because a lot, a lot, a lot of people lost their homes. They lost everything. They lost families; they lost businesses. Some lost not only a family business, but they left their homes barefoot. And this is something that can help them regain dignity.

VOA: Thank you.

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Turkey Shows Off Drones at Azerbaijan Air Show

Looping in the air at lightning speed, Turkish drones like those used against Russian forces in Ukraine draw cheers from the crowd at an air show in Azerbaijan.

Turkey is showcasing its defence technology at the aerospace and technology festival Teknofest that started in Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku this week.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to attend Saturday.

Turkey’s TB2 drones are manufactured by aerospace company Baykar Defence, where Erdogan’s increasingly prominent son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar is chief technology officer.

On Wednesday, Bayraktar flew over Baku aboard an Azerbaijani air force Mikoyan MiG-29 plane. One of his combat drones, the Akinci, accompanied the flight.

A video showing Bayraktar in command of the warplane, dressed in a pilot’s uniform decorated with Turkish and Azerbaijani flag patches, went viral on social media.

“This has been a childhood dream for me,” Bayraktar told reporters after the flight.

Proximity to ‘threats’

Turkey’s drones first attracted attention in 2019 when they were used during the war in Libya to thwart an advance by rebel commander, General Khalifa Haftar, against the government in Tripoli.

They were then again put into action the following year when Turkey-backed Azerbaijan in recapturing most of the land it lost to separatist Armenian forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Azerbaijani audience members at the aviation festival applauded during a display of TB2 drones, which are now playing a prominent role against invading Russian forces in Ukraine.

A senior official from the Turkish defense industry said his country was facing a wide spectrum of “threats,” including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Islamic State group jihadists.

The PKK is listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

But with NATO allies — including the United States — having imposed embargoes on Turkey, Ankara was forced to take matters into its own hands to build defense equipment, the official told AFP.

“The situation is changing now with the war in Ukraine,” the official said.

Turkey has been looking to modernize its air force after it was kicked out of the F-35 fighter jet program because of its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.

But Ankara’s role in trying to mediate an end to the Ukraine conflict through direct negotiations may have helped improve its relations with Washington in the past months.

In April, US President Joe Biden’s administration said it now believed that supplying Turkey with F-16 fighter jets would serve Washington’s strategic interests.

Exports to 25 countries

Michael Boyle, of Rutgers University-Camden in the United States, said Turkish drones such as Bayraktar TB2 drones were “increasingly important to modern conflicts because they have spread so widely.”

For years, leading exporters like the United States and Israel limited the number of countries they would sell to, and also limited the models they were willing to sell, he told AFP.

“This created an opening in the export market which other countries, notably Turkey and China, have been willing to fill,” added the author of the book The Drone Age: How Drone Technology Will Change War and Peace.

The Turkish official said Turkey has been investing in the defense industry since the 2000s, but the real leap came in 2014 after serious investments in advanced technologies and a shift towards using locally made goods.

While Turkey’s export of defense technologies amounted to $248 million in early 2000, it surpassed $3 billion in 2021 and was expected to reach $4 billion in 2022, he said.

Today Turkey exports its relatively cheap and effective drones to more than 25 countries.

Boyle said these drones could be used “for direct strikes, particularly against insurgent and terrorist forces, but also for battlefield reconnaissance to increase the accuracy and lethality of strikes.”

“So they are an enabler of ground forces, and this makes them particularly useful for countries like Ukraine which are fighting a militarily superior enemy,” he said.  

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Despite Losing Leg in Mariupol, Fighter Eyes Return to Ukraine Frontline

In a small orthopedic clinic in Kyiv, Daviti Suleimanishvili listens as doctors describe various prostheses that could replace his left leg, torn off during the battle for Mariupol.

Born in Georgia but with Ukrainian citizenship, Suleimanishvili — whose nom de guerre is “Scorpion” — is one of countless people who have lost arms or legs in the war and now impatiently awaiting a replacement limb.

A member of the Azov regiment, he was based in the city of Mariupol, which underwent a relentless battering by Russian forces for three months before the last troops at the Azovstal steelworks finally laid down their arms last week.

He was badly wounded on March 20 when a Russian tank located about 900 meters away fired in his direction.

“The blast threw me four meters and then a wall fell on top of me,” he said, saying he was also hit by shrapnel. “When I tried to stand up, I could not feel my leg. My hand was injured and a finger was gone.”

Carried by his comrades into a field hospital in the heart of the sprawling steelworks, his leg was amputated just below the knee.

He was then evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in Dnipro in central Ukraine.

Two months later he’s getting around with crutches and hopes to soon have a prosthetic leg fitted, funded by the Ukrainian government.

“If possible, I want to continue serving in the army and keep fighting,” he said. “A leg is nothing because we’re in the 21st century and you can make good prostheses and continue to live and serve.

“I know many guys in the war now have prostheses and are on the front lines.”

Resources needed

On Wednesday afternoon, he had his first consultation with the medics who will fit him with a new limb.

Inside the clinic at a rundown building in Kyiv, a dozen specialists are making prosthetic limbs inside a workshop covered in plaster, while in the consultation rooms, doctors are considering which might be the right model for each of their patients.

But Suleimanishvili’s case is not so straightforward.

One suggests a vacuum-attached prosthesis in which a pump draws out the air between the residual limb and the socket, creating a vacuum; another pushes for a different type of attachment which he says would be better for war-time conditions, that is “stable, flexible and easy to clean.”

“There were almost no military people two weeks ago, but now they’re coming,” explained Dr. Oleksandr Stetsenko, who heads the clinic.

“They weren’t ready before as they needed to be treated for injuries to other parts of their bodies.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in mid-April that 10,000 soldiers had been wounded while the United Nations has given a figure of more than 4,600 injured civilians.

Amplitude Magazine, a specialist American publication aimed at amputees, said Ukraine would need significant resources.

“To assist the hundreds or thousands of Ukrainian amputees who reportedly need treatment, aid volunteers will need to work from centralized locations that are well stocked,” it said.

However, “there are a limited number of such clinics within Ukraine, and the supply chains that serve them are spotty at best.”

‘Up and running in weeks’

Stetsenko said Ukraine has around 30 facilities that made prostheses, with his clinic normally producing around 300 every year. The clinic won’t be able to step up production because each prosthesis is “customized” to suit the injury and needs of each patient.

In the case of Suleimanishvili, who is a gunner, the doctors will add 15 kilograms to the weight of his new leg so it can support his use of heavy weaponry.

“I want the prosthetic so I can do most maneuvers,” he insisted.

In a week’s time, Suleimanishvili will be back to have a temporary prosthesis fitted so he can start learning to walk.

“In two or three weeks, he will be running,” another doctor, Valeri Nebesny, told AFP, saying that like Suleimanishvili, “90%” of military amputees want to get back to the battlefield as quickly as possible.

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US Talking With Ukraine About Delivering More Powerful Rocket  

U.S. military officials acknowledge they have spoken to Ukrainian officials repeatedly about Kyiv’s requests for newer, more advanced weapons that could help stave off Russian gains in the Donbas but refuse to say publicly whether those systems will be delivered anytime soon.

Ukraine has been pleading for weeks with the U.S. to get American-made Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or MLRS, which are more powerful and more maneuverable than the howitzers and other artillery systems Washington and the West have provided to date.

Those pleas have only gotten louder as Russian forces have pushed ahead in eastern Ukraine, making what senior U.S. defense officials have described as “incremental gains” in a fight that has largely featured artillery and other so-called long-range fire.

“We’re mindful and aware of Ukrainian asks privately and publicly for what is known as a Multiple Launch Rocket System,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters. “But I won’t get ahead of a decision that hasn’t been made yet.”

“We’re in constant communication with them about their needs,” he added. “We’re working every single day to get weapons and systems into Ukraine, and every single day there are weapons and systems getting into Ukraine that are helping them, literally, in the fight.”

There are some indications, however, that U.S. officials may be ready to send Ukraine MLRS to help push back the latest Russian offensive.

Tilt indicated

Multiple U.S. officials, speaking to CNN on the condition of anonymity, said the Biden administration is leaning toward sending some MLRS to Ukraine, with an announcement possible in the next week.

Later Friday, two U.S. officials speaking to Politico confirmed that the U.S. is inclined to send MLRS to Ukraine but said a final decision has not yet been made.

The United States has two multiple launch rocket systems — the M270 and M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). Both fire similar 227 mm rockets. The M270 can fire up to 12 rockets, while the more agile M142 can fire up to six.

Depending on the type of rocket, the M270 can hit targets as far away as 70 kilometers, which is twice the range of the U.S. howitzers currently in Ukraine’s arsenal. The HIMARS system can hit targets as far away as 300 kilometers.

Ukraine’s top military official, Lieutenant General Valery Zaluzhny, on Thursday took to Telegram, calling for “weapons that will allow us to hit the enemy at a big distance.” 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded by warning that supplying Ukraine with weapons that could reach Russian territory would be a “a serious step towards unacceptable escalation.”

The debate over how best to supply Ukraine with weapons comes as Russian forces in eastern Ukraine appeared to be making more progress despite what U.S. military officials described as stiff resistance from Ukrainian troops.

Lyman, Sievierodonetsk

Russian-backed separatists Friday claimed to have captured the center of Lyman, a key railway hub in the Donbas.

Other Russian forces encircled most of Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost city under Ukrainian control, with some reports indicating Russian forces are also now in the city itself.

Ukrainian officials in Sievierodonetsk said 90% of the city has been destroyed by shelling. But Luhansk regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai remained defiant in a message Friday on social media.

“The Russians will not be able to capture Luhansk region in the coming days as analysts have predicted,” he said. “We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves.”

But Gaidai also admitted “it is possible that in order not to be surrounded we will have to retreat.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address Friday that Russia is carrying out “an obvious policy of genocide” against Ukrainians, but the “catastrophic developments” in Ukraine could have been avoided “if the strong of the world had not played with Russia, but really pressed to end the war.”

Zelenskyy said Russia “receives almost a billion euros a day from Europeans for energy supplies,” while “the European Union has been trying to agree on a sixth package of sanctions against Russia.”

He asserted, however, that “Ukraine will always be an independent state and will not be broken.” The only remaining questions, he said, are “what price our people will have to pay for their freedom” and what price Russia will have to pay “for this senseless war against us.”

No hint of negotiations

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday spoke by phone with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer. According to Nehammer, Putin offered to complete natural gas deliveries to Austria and to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine.

“The Russian president has given a commitment that there must be and should be access to the prisoners of war, including to the International Red Cross,” the Austrian chancellor said. “On the other side, of course, he also demands access to Russian prisoners of war in Ukraine.”

However, Nehammer said he was doubtful Putin was interested in any negotiations to end the war.

“I have the impression that Putin wants to create facts now that I assume he will take into the negotiations [later],” he said.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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WHO: Nearly 200 Cases of Monkeypox in More Than 20 Countries

The World Health Organization says nearly 200 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 20 countries not usually known to have outbreaks of the unusual disease but described the epidemic as “containable” and proposed creating a stockpile to equitably share the limited vaccines and drugs available worldwide.

During a public briefing on Friday, the U.N. health agency said there are still many unanswered questions about what triggered the unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox outside of Africa, but there is no evidence that any genetic changes in the virus are responsible.

“The first sequencing of the virus shows that the strain is not different from the strains we can find in endemic countries and (this outbreak) is probably due more to a change in human behavior,” said Dr. Sylvie Briand, WHO’s director of pandemic and epidemic diseases.

Earlier this week, a top adviser to WHO said the outbreak in Europe, U.S., Israel, Australia and beyond was likely linked to sex at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium. That marks a significant departure from the disease’s typical pattern of spread in central and western Africa, where people are mainly infected by animals like wild rodents and primates, and outbreaks haven’t spilled across borders.

Although WHO said nearly 200 monkeypox cases have been reported, that seemed a likely undercount. On Friday, Spanish authorities said the number of cases there had risen to 98, including one woman, whose infection is “directly related” to a chain of transmission that had been previously limited to men, according to officials in the region of Madrid.

U.K. officials added 16 more cases to their monkeypox tally, making Britain’s total 106. And Portugal said its caseload jumped to 74 cases on Friday.

Doctors in Britain, Spain, Portugal, Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere have noted that the majority of infections to date have been in gay and bisexual men, or men who have sex with men. The disease is no more likely to affect people because of their sexual orientation and scientists warn the virus could infect others if transmission isn’t curbed.

WHO’s Briand said that based on how past outbreaks of the disease in Africa have evolved, the current situation appeared “containable.”

Still, she said WHO expected to see more cases reported in the future, noting “we don’t know if we are just seeing the peak of the iceberg (or) if there are many more cases that are undetected in communities,” she said.

As countries including Britain, Germany, Canada and the U.S. begin evaluating how smallpox vaccines might be used to curb the outbreak, WHO said its expert group was assessing the evidence and would provide guidance soon.

Dr. Rosamund Lewis, head of WHO’s smallpox department, said that “there is no need for mass vaccination,” explaining that monkeypox does not spread easily and typically requires skin-to-skin contact for transmission. No vaccines have been specifically developed against monkeypox, but WHO estimates that smallpox vaccines are about 85% effective.

She said countries with vaccine supplies could consider them for those at high risk of the disease, like close contacts of patients or health workers, but that monkeypox could mostly be controlled by isolating contacts and continued epidemiological investigations.

Given the limited global supply of smallpox vaccines, WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Mike Ryan said the agency would be working with its member countries to potentially develop a centrally controlled stockpile, similar to the ones it has helped manage to distribute during outbreaks of yellow fever, meningitis, and cholera in countries that can’t afford them.

“We’re talking about providing vaccines for a targeted vaccination campaign, for targeted therapeutics,” Ryan said. “So, the volumes don’t necessarily need to be big, but every country may need access to a small amount of vaccine.”

Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.

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KLM Suspends Flights from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Due to ‘Chaos’

Dutch Airline KLM has announced it was temporarily stopping ticket sales for most of it flights from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport through Sunday, due to the airport’s ongoing crowding issues caused by staff shortages.

In a statement Thursday, the airline said it is taking the action to guarantee seats for customers whose flights had been cancelled due to the long security lines at Schiphol.   The airline said the restrictions do not apply to premium bookings. 

Air France-KLM spokesperson Gerrie Brand said Thursday, “KLM is putting a brake on ticket sales for flights leaving up until and including Sunday because Schiphol can’t get its security problems fixed.” Amsterdam is KLM’s hub city, and it is the largest airline serving the airport.

Schiphol, one of Europe’s busiest airports – has been experiencing extremely long security lines in recent weeks due to a shortage of security personnel, as well as labor issues earlier in this year.

Lines routinely run out of the building and onto the street with customers reporting wait times as long as six hours, resulting in missed flights. Media reports say Monday alone more than 500 flights were delayed from Schiphol, while over 50 were cancelled.  

Airport officials said Thursday they are working to recruit more security staff before the summer holidays begin, while it would also work with airlines to guarantee better planning of flights during the busiest weeks.

The airport said it was also in talks with unions about higher wages for security personnel.

Some information for this report was provided by the Reuters news agency.

 

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Louvre Ex-Director Charged in Art Trafficking Case

A former director of the Louvre Museum in Paris has been charged with conspiring to hide the origin of archaeological treasures that investigators suspect were smuggled out of Egypt in the chaos of the Arab Spring, a French judicial source said Thursday.

Jean-Luc Martinez was charged Wednesday after being taken in for questioning along with two French specialists in Egyptian art, who were not charged, another source close to the inquiry told AFP.

The Louvre, which is owned by the French state, is the world’s most visited museum with around 10 million visitors a year before the COVID-19 pandemic and is home to some of Western civilization’s most celebrated cultural heritage.

The museum declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

French investigators opened the case in July 2018, two years after the Louvre’s branch in Abu Dhabi bought a rare pink granite stele depicting the pharaoh Tutankhamun and four other historic works for 8 million euros ($8.5 million).

Martinez, who ran the Paris Louvre from 2013-21, is accused of turning a blind eye to fake certificates of origin for the pieces, a fraud thought to involve several other art experts, according to French investigative weekly Canard Enchaine.

He has been charged with complicity in fraud and “concealing the origin of criminally obtained works by false endorsement,” according to the judicial source.

Martinez is currently the French foreign ministry’s ambassador in charge of international cooperation on cultural heritage, which focuses in particular on fighting art trafficking.

“Jean-Luc Martinez contests in the strongest way his indictment in this case,” his lawyers told AFP in a statement.

Arab Spring looting

“For now, he will reserve his declarations for the judiciary, and has no doubt that his good faith will be established,” they said.

French investigators suspect that hundreds of artifacts were pillaged from Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries during protests in the early 2010s that became known as the Arab Spring. They suspect the artifacts were then sold to galleries and museums that did not ask too many questions about previous ownership.

Martinez’s indictment comes after the German-Lebanese gallery owner who brokered the sale, Robin Dib, was arrested in Hamburg in March and extradited to Paris for questioning.

Marc Gabolde, a French Egyptologist, was quoted by Canard Enchaine as saying that he informed Louvre officials about suspicions related to the Tutankhamun stele but received no response.

The opening of the inquiry in 2018 roiled the Paris art market, a major hub for antiquities from Middle Eastern civilizations.

In June 2020, prominent Paris archaeology expert Christophe Kunicki and dealer Richard Semper were charged with fraud for false certification of looted works from several countries during the Arab Spring.

They also had a role in certifying another prized Egyptian work, the gilded sarcophagus of the priest Nedjemankh that was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017.

Gabolde said an Egyptian art dealer, Habib Tawadros, was also involved in both suspect deals.

After New York prosecutors determined that the sarcophagus had been stolen during the revolts against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Met said it had been a victim of false statements and fake documentation, and returned the coffin to Egypt.

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Racism In The Ranks: Dutch Police Film Spurs Conversation

A documentary about discrimination within the ranks of Dutch police has sparked a national conversation in the Netherlands about racism, with many officers and others hoping it will finally bring about change.

The Blue Family, or De Blauwe Familie in Dutch, discusses a culture of bullying and fear in the national police force. It premiered on Dutch television Monday, timed around the second anniversary this week of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police.

“There is no way back,” Peris Conrad, one of the officers featured in the film, told The Associated Press.

Born in the former Dutch colony Surinam, Conrad dreamed of being a police officer as a child. He moved to the Netherlands when he was 4 years old, and after a stint in the military, became a security guard.

While in that job, he had an encounter with police officers who were looking for information about crime in the Surinamese community. The officers encouraged him to join the force himself, which he did, ultimately spending 26 years in service.

But Conrad, who is Black, recalled how in his first year at the police academy, colleagues hung a picture of him with cell bars drawn on it. The caption read: “Our monkey in a cage.”

Police leaders received an early showing of the film and promised action.

“The personal stories make it painfully clear how great the impact is (of the racism), and how long it will last,” Police Chief Henk van Essen said in a statement. “We all have something to do; not just executives, but all 65,000 colleagues. Because safety outside starts with safety inside.”

“There is no room for racism and discrimination in our police,” Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgöz told Dutch talk show RTL Boulevard.

The Dutch parliament voted by a large majority this week to place police leaders under stricter supervision, citing the suicides in recent years of three officers who had complained about discrimination.

Last year, a Dutch newspaper published messages from police group chats that showed officers making racial slurs and joking about killing non-white people. “One less Turk” one officer wrote, in response to the slaying of a 16-year-old girl who was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in her high school’s bicycle shed.

As in other countries, the problems in the Netherlands have a long history. A 1998 report by the Ministry of Internal Affairs said discrimination was driving out police officers with a “migration” background — defined as having at least one parent born abroad.

While 24% of the Dutch population meets that definition, only 14% of the police force does. The National Police Corps employs some 65,000 people, and around 40,000 work as officers.

Margot Snijders has spent 30 years on the national force, including several years working on diversity and inclusion efforts. After years of frustration, she took a step back from that role.

“People don’t trust us, and they don’t want to work for us,” Snijders, who also appears in The Blue Family, told The Associated Press.

George Floyd’s death in the U.S. two years ago prompted protests of racial injustice in the Netherlands and around the world. Controle Alt Delete, an advocacy organization that pushes for better law enforcement practices, wanted to highlight problems within the Dutch police force.

The group brought on board filmmakers Maria Mok and Meral Uslu to direct and produce the documentary, which was backed by Dutch public broadcaster KRO-NCRV.

Problems with racism, as well as discrimination against women and members of the LGBTQ community, are widespread and systemic within police ranks, said Jan Struijs, the chairperson of the country’s largest police union.

Struijs also took part in the film. “I hope this is a historic turning point,” he told the AP.

The first article of the country’s constitution, which is displayed on posters in every police station, outlaws discrimination against any group. The Dutch consider themselves to be some of the most open-minded, tolerant people in the world.

There’s been no significant criticism of the The Blue Family, those involved in the documentary welcomed the response to it.

“I have been saying the same things for years, only now do they get a positive reaction,” Snijders said.

The Dutch police union is calling for better mental health counseling for officers and more accountability for ones who make racist jokes.

Conrad sees a need for widespread change, both in policy and leadership.

In the meantime, he’s forbidden his 20-year-old son from joining the force.

“I don’t want him to experience this,” he said.

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Russia Slams Sanctions, Seeks to Blame West for Food Crisis

Moscow pressed the West on Thursday to lift sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, seeking to shift the blame for a growing food crisis that has been worsened by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products due to the conflict.

Britain immediately accused Russia of “trying to hold the world to ransom,” insisting there would be no sanctions relief, and a top U.S. diplomat blasted the “sheer barbarity, sadistic cruelty and lawlessness” of the invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow “is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizer on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted,” according to a Kremlin readout of the call.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war and a Russian blockade of its ports has halted much of that flow, endangering world food supplies. Many of those ports are now also heavily mined.

Russia also is a significant grain exporter, and Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said the West “must cancel the unlawful decisions that hamper chartering ships and exporting grain.” His comments appeared to be an effort to lump the blockade of Ukrainian exports with what Russia says are its difficulties in moving its own goods.

Western officials have dismissed those claims. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted last week that food, fertilizer and seeds are exempt from sanctions imposed by the U.S. and many others — and that Washington is working to ensure countries know the flow of those goods should not be affected.

With the war grinding into its fourth month, world leaders have ramped up calls for solutions. World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said about 25 million tons of Ukrainian grain is in storage and another 25 million tons could be harvested next month.

European countries have tried to ease the crisis by moving grain out of the country by rail — but trains can carry only a small fraction of what Ukraine produces, and ships are needed for the bulk of the exports.

At the same time, the Russian Defense Ministry proposed corridors to allow foreign ships to leave ports along the Black Sea, as well as Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

Mikhail Mizintsev, who heads Russia’s National Defense Control Center, said 70 foreign vessels from 16 countries are in six ports on the Black Sea, including Odesa, Kherson and Mykolaiv. He did not specify how many might be ready to carry food.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country was ready to agree on safe corridors in principle — but that it was not sure it could trust that Russia “will not violate the agreement on the safe passage and its military vessels will not sneak into the harbor and attack Odesa.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Putin was “trying to hold the world to ransom” by demanding some sanctions be lifted before allowing Ukrainian grain shipments to resume.

“He’s essentially weaponized hunger and lack of food among the poorest people around the world,” Truss said on a visit to Sarajevo. “What we cannot have is any lifting of sanctions, any appeasement, which will simply make Putin stronger in the longer term.”

Putin said “it’s impossible, utterly unrealistic in the modern world” to isolate Russia. Speaking via video to members of the Eurasian Economic Forum, which is comprised of several ex-Soviet nations, he said those who try would “primarily hurt themselves,” citing broken food supply chains.

Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, urged its members to provide Ukraine with what it needs to defend itself against Putin’s “revanchist delusions.”

If Russia achieved “success” in Ukraine, “there would be more horrific reports from filtration camps, more forcibly displaced people, more summary executions, more torture, more rape and more looting,” Carpenter said in Vienna. 

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Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 27

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

2:02 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry says Russia continues to target the cities of Severodonetsk and Lyschansk. 

Russia has likely pulled T-62 tanks out of storage to use, the update says. The 50-year-old tanks “will almost certainly be particularly vulnerable to anti-tank weapons and their presence on the battlefield highlights Russia’s shortage of modern, combat-ready equipment,” the update says.

1:04 a.m.: The New York Times reports that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used his nightly address to express frustration that the European Union hasn’t approved new sanctions against Russia.

The sanctions, which would be the sixth such package, would include an oil embargo.

12:02 a.m.: Al Jazeera, citing the mayor of Severodonetsk, reports that at least 1,500 people have been killed in the east Ukrainian city.

Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said only 12 people were evacuated Thursday and some 12,000-13,000 remained.

 

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Turkish Officials Claim Capture of New Islamic State Leader 

The reign of new Islamic State terror group leader Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi may be over, less than three months after it began. 

The Turkish website OdaTV first reported the arrest of Abu al-Hassan Thursday, saying Turkish police captured him without firing a single bullet during a raid on a house in Istanbul last week.  

The website further reported the IS leader was being questioned and that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to formally announce the arrest and share additional details in the coming days. 

Separately, two senior Turkish officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the arrest to Bloomberg News, adding that Erdogan has been informed. 

U.S. officials, however, remained cautious. 

“[We] can’t confirm the reports about al-Qurashi,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Thursday. “Obviously we’ve been looking at this all day, but we’re just not in a position where we can actually confirm that press reporting.” 

IS named Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the terror group’s third leader in March, saying he took over shortly after the death of his predecessor during a raid by U.S. special forces in northwestern Syria in February. 

 IS followers quickly lined up behind the new leader, with the terror group’s media division sharing photos and videos of fighters from Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, the Philippines and elsewhere pledging their allegiance to Abu al-Hassan.  

Yet despite the show of support, there are still questions about the new leader’s true identity, which may be making it more difficult to verify Turkey’s claims. 

Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi is a nom-de-guerre meant to indicate the new leader is a descendant of the Hashemite clan of the Qurashi tribe, which by bloodline would link him to Prophet Muhammed — an IS requirement for any would-be caliph. 

And so far, Western counterintelligence officials have yet to form a firm consensus about who is really leading IS. 

There are, however, several theories. 

New Lines Magazine in February identified Bashar Khattab Ghazal al-Sumaidai as next in line to lead the terror group. 

“Known by numerous noms de guerre, including Ustath Zaid (Teacher or Professor Zaid), Abu Khattab al-Iraqi, Abu al-Moez al-Iraqi and Abu Ishaq, he returned to Syria from Turkey about a year ago,” New Lines said, adding that al-Sumaidai had become increasingly popular in jihadist circles. 

But Iraqi and Western officials told Reuters in March that the new leader was actually Juma Awad al-Badri, the brother of former IS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 

Still, no matter who it is that Turkey ultimately captured, some analysts say as long as Turkish officials have a senior IS leader, it could help further weaken IS operations. 

“It could end up being an intelligence boon once he’s interrogated and questioned,” Colin Clarke, director of research at the global intelligence firm The Soufan Group, told VOA. 

“We’ve long known that the organization’s financiers and logisticians had strong networks in Turkey, but now it seems like senior leadership is active there as well,” Clarke said.  

 

“A country like Turkey is a double-edged sword for groups like ISIS,” he added, using another acronym for the terror group.  

“On the one hand, Turkey has capable security forces,” Clarke said. “On the other hand, unlike a country like Afghanistan that is somewhat isolated, Turkey can serve as a safe haven for terrorists, and it’s connected to the illicit financial system, communications, [and] transportation.” 

 

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China, Russia Veto US Push for More UN Action on North Korea

China and Russia vetoed on Thursday a U.S.-led push to impose more U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its renewed ballistic missile launches, publicly splitting the Security Council for the first time since it started punishing Pyongyang in 2006.

The remaining 13 council members all voted in favor of the U.S.-drafted resolution that proposed banning tobacco and oil exports to North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un is a chain smoker. It would also blacklist the Lazarus hacking group, which the United States says is tied to North Korea.

The vote came a day after North Korea fired three missiles, including one thought to be its largest intercontinental ballistic missile, following U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Asia. It was the latest in a string of ballistic missile launches this year, which are banned by the Security Council. 

Citing the council’s silence on North Korea, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said this month that “it is time to stop providing tacit permission and to start taking action.” 

Over the past 16 years the Security Council has steadily, and unanimously, stepped up sanctions to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. It last tightened sanctions on Pyongyang in 2017. 

Since then, China and Russia have been pushing for an easing of sanctions on humanitarian grounds. While they have delayed some action behind closed doors in the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee, the vote on the resolution on Thursday was the first time they have publicly broken unanimity. 

Not ‘helpful’

“We do not think additional sanctions will be helpful in responding to the current situation. It can only make the situation even worse,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters earlier Thursday ahead of the vote. 

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told Reuters on Wednesday that he did not believe U.N. action would be “very conducive” to engagement with North Korea.

China has also been urging the United States to take action to entice Pyongyang to resume talks that have been stalled since 2019, after three failed summits between Kim and then-U.S. President Donald Trump. 

“The United States, as a direct party, should really take meaningful and practical actions to resume their dialog with DPRK [North Korea],” Zhang said, noting that included Washington lifting some unilateral sanctions. 

Pyongyang had put testing on hold during the past few years, but in the past few months has resumed long-range ballistic missile launches. The United States and South Korea have warned that North Korea is preparing for a seventh nuclear test.

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Analysts: Russia Embarrassed by Diplomat’s Resignation But Knows Fear Keeps Others in Check

The resignation this week of veteran Russian diplomat Boris Bondarev over the invasion of Ukraine is an embarrassment for the Kremlin, but fear prevents most Russian officials from voicing dissent, according to analysts.  

The 41-year-old Bondarev forged a 20-year career in the Russian diplomatic service, including postings in Cambodia and Mongolia. Until this week, he worked at the Russian mission to the United Nations in Geneva, focusing on Moscow’s role in the Conference on Disarmament.  

Bondarev confirmed his resignation Monday in a letter posted on Facebook and LinkedIn. “For 20 years of my diplomatic career I have seen different turns of our foreign policy, but never have I been so ashamed of my country as on February 24 of this year,” he wrote, referring to the date Russia launched its latest invasion of Ukraine.   

He described the invasion, which Moscow refers to as a special military operation, as “a crime against the Ukrainian people and the people of Russia.”  

“Those who conceived of this war want only one thing: to stay in power forever … to achieve that, they are willing to sacrifice as many lives as it takes,” he wrote.

Speaking to the Associated Press after his resignation, Bondarev said he was left with no choice.  

“Of course it worries (me), Ukraine, as it is a pivotal moment because there is no choice after that, there is only one choice – to leave, to quit. (I) don’t know for now what I’m going to do next. I’m thinking about it, but I think if I have to go back to Russia, then the prospects may be not very pleasant.”  

The veteran diplomat said he had raised concerns with superiors in Moscow. “The response was that everything is going according to plan, it’s all right and that the government and the president know what they’re doing,” he said.  

The resignation will be embarrassing for the Kremlin, says Valery Solovei, a former professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, where he taught several of Russia’s diplomats.

“This is a very bad sign for the Kremlin because they were… absolutely sure in loyalty of their Russian foreign office, because usually its men are very loyal. I think that he (Bondarev) reflects the general emotion of many of his colleagues in the Foreign Office, but it doesn’t mean that they are ready to follow,” Solovei told VOA.

Moscow has since conducted an urgent review of its diplomatic staff, according to Solovei.

“There was a report made by Russian security to the president. And according to the report, there was a list which consists of a hundred persons in the Russian Foreign Office, which are potentially disloyal to the Kremlin. And that’s something very, very new.  

“There will be more control outside the country and maybe some who are on the list, who were included in the list as potentially disloyal, will be removed from their embassies outside or outside the country to Moscow,” Solovei said. VOA is unable to independently verify the existence of such a list.  

The Kremlin is embarrassed – but won’t be panicking following Bondarev’s very public resignation, says political analyst Alex Titov of Queen’s University Belfast.

“I wouldn’t expect them to have mass resignations,” Titov told VOA. “Diplomats are a special caste in a sense; they are selected for, they (the government) use their loyalty in many ways. They also have a lot of benefits. And they are professionals, which are attuned to this idea of hostility with the West.”  

“If you remember with Belarus, there were much more high-profile resignations when there was uncertainty about whether Lukashenko would survive in August 2020 (after the government crackdown on pro-democracy protests). You had several ambassadors resigning.”  

“Nothing like that happens in Russia. So it is a bad sign something like this happens for the Kremlin, but at the same time I don’t think it would kind of set off alarm bells necessarily,” Titov said.  

Boris Bondarev told the Associated Press that he fears for his safety. Under President Vladimir Putin’s rule, several dissidents living overseas have been killed or targeted by the Russian state, although Moscow denies such actions. The Kremlin enforces loyalty, says Valery Solovei.  

“Fear. Fear and strong control. Speakers against Putin are under threat, under potential threat, and they know it perfectly,” Solovei said.

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Kyiv Mayor: Ukraine is ‘Key for Freedom in the World’ 

Calling Ukraine the “key for freedom in the world,” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko urged support Thursday for his country in the face of what he called “this senseless war” with Russia.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Klitschko said Ukraine is a peaceful country that was not aggressive to anyone, and that Ukrainians want to be “part of the European family” with a priority on human rights, press freedom and “democratic standards of life.”

He said the Russian government wants to rebuild the Soviet Union and would not stop with a takeover of Ukraine.

“We’re defending not just our family and our children, we’re defending you because we have the same values,” Klitschko said, adding that Russia will go as far as it is allowed to go.

He thanked those who have supported Ukraine politically, economically and by sending weapons, and those who have taken in Ukrainians refugees.

Noting that it has been more than 90 days since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Klitschko said it feels to him like “one long, long day.”

In an address late Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected the idea of ceding parts of Ukraine to Russia to reach a peace agreement.

Zelenskyy said those who make such suggestions disregard “the millions of those who actually live on the territory that they propose exchanging for an illusion of peace.”

“We always have to think of the people and remember that values are not just words,” he said.

Fighting in recent weeks has been focused in the eastern Donbas region where Russia has been trying to seize control after failing to topple Zelenskyy or capture Kyiv.

The Ukrainian governor of the eastern region of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, described the situation around the industrial hub of Severodonetsk as “very difficult” and said there was “already fighting on the outskirts.”

“Russian troops have advanced far enough that they can already fire mortars” on the city, he said.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin issued an order that would fast-track Russian citizenship to people living in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. There is already a program to fast-track citizenship for people living in the Donbas.

Meanwhile, the European Union, Britain and the United States announced the creation of what they called the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group to coordinate with Ukraine on investigations of possible Russian war crimes during the three months of fighting.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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Scars of War Seem to be Everywhere in Ukraine After 3 Months

Piano music wafted from an apartment block on a recent spring evening in Kramatorsk, blending with distant artillery fire for a surreal soundtrack to a bomb-scarred neighborhood in the eastern Ukrainian city.

Everywhere in Ukraine, the 3-month-old war never seems to be far away.

Those in towns and villages near the front lines hide in basements from constant shelling, struggling to survive with no electricity or gas — and often no running water.

But even in regions out of the range of the heavy guns, frequent air raid sirens wail as a constant reminder that a Russian missile can strike at any time — even for those walking their dogs, riding their bicycles and taking their children to parks in cities like Kyiv, Odesa and Lviv.

Curfews, checkpoints and fortifications are commonplace. So are fresh cemeteries, uprooted villagers and war-scarred landscapes, as Moscow intensifies its attacks in eastern and southern Ukraine.

“City residents are trying to return to regular life, but with every step, they stumble upon either a crater or a ruined house or a grave in the yard,” said Andriy Pustovoi, speaking by phone to The Associated Press from the northern city of Chernihiv. “No one is cooking food over a bonfire or drinking water from a river anymore, but there’s a long way to go to a normal life.”

Chernihiv was in the way of Russian forces as they advanced toward Kyiv early in the war. It was heavily bombarded, and Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko said about half of its buildings were damaged or destroyed. At least 700 residents were killed, and part of a city park now holds a cemetery, where some of them are buried.

Its streets are mostly empty now, half of the shops have not reopened and public transportation is not working properly, said Pustovoi, a 37-year-old engineer.

Rail service to Kyiv was only restored this month, but people who fled are in no rush to return.

“The scariest thing is that neighboring Russia and Belarus are not going away from Chernihiv, which means that some of the residents that left when the war started may not come back,” Atroshenko said sadly.

Few people are seen on the streets of Kramatorsk, where storefront windows are boarded up or protected by sandbags, and it’s no wonder.

The eastern city has been hit several times, with the deadliest attack April 8, when a missile struck near its train station where about 4,000 people had gathered to be evacuated before fighting intensified. In an instant, the plaza was turned into a scene of horror, with bodies lying on bloodstained pavement amid discarded luggage. A total of 57 people were killed, and more than 100 wounded.

Kramatorsk is one of the largest in the industrial Donbas region of eastern Ukraine that has not been taken over by Russian forces. The region has been the site of battles between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces since 2014.

Elsewhere in the Donbas, the picture is even bleaker.

Ryisa Rybalko fled the village of Novomykhailivka, where she had been living first in a basement and then a bomb shelter at a school because of frequent shelling.

“We haven’t been able to see the sun for three months. We are almost blind because we were in darkness for three months,” Rybalko said. She arrived with her family in the town of Kiurakhove, driven by a fellow villager, and waited on Monday for a westbound bus.

Her son-in-law, Dmytro Khaliapin, said their village was pounded by artillery.

“Houses are ruined. It’s a horror,” he said.

In neighboring Luhansk province, 83-year-old Lida Chuhay left the hard-hit town of Lyman, also near the front line.

“Ashes, ruins. The northern parts, the southern parts, all are ruined,” she said Sunday as she sat on a train heading west from the town of Pokrovsk. “Literally everything is on fire: houses, buildings, everything.”

Chuhay and others from Lyman said much of the town was reduced to rubble by the bombardment. Anyone still there is hiding in shelters because it is too dangerous to venture out.

“They ruined everything,” said Olha Medvedeva, sitting opposite Chuhay on the train. “The five-story building where we were living, everything flew away — the windows, the doors.”

In cities farther from the front lines, air raid sirens sound so often that few pay attention and continue their daily business.

After Russian forces failed to capture Kyiv in the opening weeks of the invasion and withdrew to the east, residents started to flow back into the capital. The nightly curfew has been cut by an hour, and public transportation started running longer to accommodate passengers.

Residents face long lines at gas stations, and the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnya, has weakened from 27 to the dollar at the start of the war to 37.

“Ukraine is being destroyed — not just by Russian bombs and missiles,” said Volodymyr Sidenko, an analyst at the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center think tank. “The fall in GDP (gross domestic product) and the sharp reduction in the revenue side of the budget have already been felt by every Ukrainian today. And this is just the beginning.”

But the National Opera resumed performances last week in Kyiv, with the audience advised how to reach the air raid shelter. No Russian operas are on the program.

And some restaurants, cafes and shops in cities such as Odesa and Zaporizhzhia have reopened.

Lviv, the city in western Ukraine about 70 kilometers from the Polish border, has been inundated with more than 300,000 people fleeing the war. About 1,000 arrive at its railway station daily.

“We judge the intensity of the fighting in the east not by (what) the news says but by waves of refugees, which have been growing in recent weeks again,” said Alina Gushcha, a 35-year-old chemistry teacher who volunteers at the rail station to help arrivals.

Hotels, campgrounds, universities and schools ran out of space long ago, and the city has built temporary housing that resembles shipping containers in city parks.

“In the months of the war, I’ve learned to be happy about every day without shelling and bombardment,” said Halyna Shcherbin, 59, outside her container-like home in Stryiskyi Park, where she lives with her daughter and two granddaughters. That gratitude is perhaps linked to the fact that they left Kramatorsk the day before the deadly missile attack.

Lviv also comes under regular Russian bombardment because it’s the gateway for Western military aid. Its Old Town architectural treasures, including the Boim Chapel and the Latin Cathedral, are protected by either metal shielding or sandbags.

In cities and towns of southern Ukraine, not far from the Crimean Peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014, the war continues to flare with regularity.

Parts of the city of Mykolaiv often come under attack, and its streets are mostly empty and businesses closed. In some neighborhoods, the scars of war are clear, with blast marks on sidewalks, burned-out stores and shrapnel embedded in walls. The Russian-occupied city of Kherson is only 58 kilometers to the east.

In the village of Velyka Kostromka, south of the city of Kryvy Rih, the remaining residents try to go on with life despite the occasional shelling. At least 20 houses were damaged on a recent morning, including three that were destroyed. A woman and her three children narrowly escaped with their lives.

Hours later, a farmer was back in his potato field, surveying a small crater left behind. With barely a shrug, he raked over it.

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Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 26

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

1 a.m.: Russian troops continue to attack eastern Ukraine, reports The Guardian. Ukrainian military, says the report, say 40 towns in the Donbas region are under fire. 

12:02 a.m.: Al Jazeera reports that Russia has promised to allow foreign ships to leave ports in the Black Sea. A defense ministry official says 70 foreign vessels from 16 countries are currently in six ports in the Black Sea.

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