США і Британія оголосили нові заборони щодо експорту РФ алюмінію, міді та нікелю

Лондонська біржа металів (LME) і Чиказька товарна біржа (CME) більше не будуть торгувати новими алюмінієм, міддю та нікелем, виробленими в Росії.

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US: China strengthens Russian war machine with surging equipment sales

WASHINGTON — China has surged sales to Russia of machine tools, microelectronics and other technology that Moscow in turn is using to produce missiles, tanks, aircraft and other weaponry for use in its war against Ukraine, according to a U.S. assessment.

Two senior Biden administration officials, who discussed the sensitive findings Friday on the condition of anonymity, said that in 2023 about 90% of Russia’s microelectronics came from China. Russia has used those to make missiles, tanks and aircraft. Nearly 70% of Russia’s approximately $900 million in machine tool imports in the last quarter of 2023 came from China.

Chinese and Russian entities have also been working to jointly produce unmanned aerial vehicles inside Russia, and Chinese companies are likely providing Russia with the nitrocellulose used in the manufacture of ammunition, the officials said. China-based companies Wuhan Global Sensor Technology Company, Wuhan Tongsheng Technology Company and Hikvision are providing optical components for use in Russian tanks and armored vehicles.

The officials said that Russia has received military optics for use in tanks and armored vehicles manufactured by Chinese firms iRay Technology and North China Research Institute of Electro-Optics, and that China has been providing Russia with UAV engines and turbojet engines for cruise missiles.

Russia’s semiconductor imports from China jumped from $200 million in 2021 to over $500 million in 2022, according to Russian customs data analyzed by the Free Russia Foundation, a group that advocates for civil society development.

Beijing is also working with Russia to improve its satellite and other space-based capabilities for use in Ukraine, a development the officials say could in the longer term increase the threat Russia poses across Europe. The officials, citing downgraded intelligence findings, said the U.S. has also determined that China is providing imagery to Russia for its war on Ukraine.

The officials discussed the findings as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to China this month for talks. Blinken is scheduled to travel next week to the Group of 7 foreign ministers meeting in Capri, Italy, where he’s expected to raise concerns about China’s growing indirect support for Russia as Moscow revamps its military and looks to consolidate recent gains in Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden has previously raised concerns directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping about Beijing indirectly supporting Russia’s war effort.

While China has not provided direct lethal military support for Russia, it has backed it diplomatically in blaming the West for provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch the war and refrained from calling it an invasion in deference to the Kremlin.

China has repeatedly said it isn’t providing Russia with arms or military assistance, although it has maintained robust economic connections with Moscow, alongside India and other countries, amid sanctions from Washington and its allies.

“The normal trade between China and Russia should not be interfered or restricted,” said Liu Pengyu, spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Washington. “We urge the U.S. side to refrain from disparaging and scapegoating the normal relationship between China and Russia.”

Xi met in Beijing on Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who heaped praise on Xi’s leadership.

Russia’s growing economic and diplomatic isolation has made it increasingly reliant on China, its former rival for leadership of the Communist bloc during the Cold War.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who returned to Washington this week from a visit to Beijing, said she warned Chinese officials that the Biden administration was prepared to sanction Chinese banks, companies and Beijing’s leadership if they assist Russia’s armed forces with its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Biden issued an executive order in December giving Yellen the authority to sanction financial institutions that aided Russia’s military-industrial complex.

“We continue to be concerned about the role that any firms, including those in the PRC, are playing in Russia’s military procurement,” Yellen told reporters, using the initials for the People’s Republic of China. “I stressed that companies, including those in the PRC, must not provide material support for Russia’s war and that they will face significant consequences if they do. And I reinforced that any banks that facilitate significant transactions that channel military or dual-use goods to Russia’s defense industrial base expose themselves to the risk of U.S. sanctions.”

The United States has frequently downgraded and unveiled intelligence findings about Russia’s plans and operations over the course of the war with Ukraine, which has been fought for more than two years.

Such efforts have been focused on highlighting plans for Russian misinformation operations or to throw attention on Moscow’s difficulties in prosecuting its war against Ukraine as well as its coordination with Iran and North Korea to supply it with badly needed weaponry. Blinken last year spotlighted intelligence that showed China was considering providing arms and ammunition to Russia.

The White House believes that the public airing of the intelligence findings has led China, at least for now, to hold off on directly arming Russia. China’s economy has also been slow to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese officials could be sensitive to reaction from European capitals, which have maintained closer ties to Beijing even as the U.S.-China relationship has become more complicated.

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Italy urges Iran to show restraint over Israeli strike on consulate

ROME — Italy’s foreign affairs minister said Friday he spoke by telephone with his Iranian counterpart Friday to urge restraint amid fears of a strike on Israel from Tehran. 

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said in a statement that he had appealed to Iran’s Hossein Amirabdollahian “for moderation.” 

“We cannot risk escalation at such an extremely volatile stage. All regional actors must show responsibility,” Tajani said. 

Tajani’s appeal came amid fears that Tehran will retaliate after an Israeli strike earlier this month on Iran’s consulate building in Syria killed seven members of its elite Revolutionary Guards.  

Israel has stepped up strikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria since the war against Hamas militants in Gaza began. 

The war began with Hamas’ unprecedented October 7 terror attack against Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures. 

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,634 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry 

The U.S. White House said Friday that the threat of violence from Iran remained “real.” 

Italy, which holds the rotating G7 presidency, is set to host a meeting of foreign ministers on the Italian island of Capri next week. 

Tajani also called on Amirabdollahian “to exert a moderating influence on Iran’s allies in the region,” the statement said. 

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СБУ повідомила про підозру клірику УПЦ (МП) та стверджує, що він «виправдовував російську війну»

СБУ не вказала, які саме повідомлення в телеграм-каналі фігуранта вказують на те, що «протоієрей публічно закликав до співпраці з рашистами»

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Argentina’s Milei supports Ukraine in its war with Russia

Javier Milei was sworn in as Argentina’s president in December 2023 on a pro-Western, anti-corruption platform. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was there for the inauguration, and this week Milei said he is considering sending aid to help Ukraine’s fight against Russia. Iryna Shynkarenko has the story, narrated by Anna Rice. VOA footage by Maxym Shulga.

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German chancellor heads to Beijing amid efforts to balance trade, geopolitical concerns

TAIPEI, TAIWAN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will kick off a three-day visit to China Saturday, aiming to double down on Germany’s deep economic ties with China amid rising trade tension between Beijing and the European Union. 

Making his first trip to China since his government released its first China strategy in July, stressing the need to lower economic dependence on China, Scholz will be accompanied by executives from major German companies, such as Siemens, Volkswagen, and Bayer, and three Cabinet ministers.  

Some analysts say bilateral economic relations will be the main focus of Scholz’s trip. 

“He will try to focus on the positive things in the German-China relationship and try to foster more partnership and cooperation in critical areas relevant to key German industries,” Max Zenglein, chief economist at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, told VOA in a video interview Wednesday.

The visit comes as some key German industries see falling revenues in China. According to automobile company data reported by Reuters Wednesday, several German premium carmakers have seen China sales fall significantly in the year’s first quarter, with Mercedes-Benz and Porsche showing double-digit percentage falls in their sales in China.  

In addition, a recent report by the New York-based research firm Rhodium Group found that Germany’s automotive industry faces fierce Chinese competition, with German companies’ market share in China falling 4% since 2018. 

“The losses have come mainly from volume producer Volkswagen, which sold fewer cars in China in 2023 than it did in 2013,” the report said, adding that the market share of Volkswagen’s Chinese venture fell to the lowest point in a decade even though the overall passenger vehicle market in China grew by 5.6%. 

Instead of reevaluating their approach to the Chinese market, Rhodium Group found that some of these companies have reinvested the profits they made in China in the country “in a push to remain competitive.”  

Zenglein said Scholz will likely focus on helping some German companies that rely heavily on China to maintain their economic interests in the country during his visit. 

Scholz may feel the need to “signal to the corporate sector that he is willing to give the appropriate political flanking for their economic interests,” he told VOA. 

Other experts say some German companies are struggling to adapt to changes taking place in the Chinese market because they have become too reliant on the benefits the market offers.

“At a time when the German economy is facing pressure from multiple fronts, including the country’s need to support Ukraine and the sluggish economic performance, the German government will try to maintain a close economic and trade relationship with China in the short term so German products can keep selling to the Chinese market,” said Zhang Junhua, a senior associate at the European Institute for Asian Studies in Brussels. 

However, he said he thinks these efforts will contradict the German government’s call for companies to reduce economic dependence on China. 

“Since Germany’s economic performance remains sluggish, the government has to give in to pressure from the business sector and make compromises on executing the China Strategy, which urges German companies to de-risk from China,” Zhang told VOA by phone. 

German companies ‘swim against the international trend’

Meanwhile, the EU has launched a series of antisubsidies investigations against green energy products imported from China, including electric vehicles and wind turbines. 

EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the bloc needed a more systematic approach to handle the investigations. “We need to do it before it is too late, [and] we can’t afford to see what happened on solar panels happening again on electric vehicles, wind or essential chips,” she said Tuesday, referring to China’s dominance in the European solar panel market. 

In response, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said Thursday that it resolutely opposed the EU investigations, calling them “a protectionist act that harms the level playing field in the name of fair competition.” 

“China will closely monitor the European side’s subsequent movements and reserves the right to take all necessary measures,” the ministry said in a statement.  

While Scholz’s chief economic adviser, Joerg Kukies, said Berlin supports the EU’s antisubsidy probe into Chinese electric vehicles at a think tank event in Berlin last September, Scholz told German business weekly Wirtschaftswoche in an interview the same month that he is “not convinced” about the need for the EU to impose tariffs on Chinese EVs.

“Our economic model should not be based or rely on protectionism – but on the attractiveness of our products,” Scholz said in the interview.

In Zenglein’s view, some German companies’ growing investment in China is “swimming against the international trend. “The trend is driven by capital-intensive sectors like automotive and chemical,” Zenglein said. According to the Rhodium Group report, major German carmakers such as Volkswagen and German chemical group BASF continue to increase their investments in China.

Russia, green energy industries

While bilateral economic relations will dominate the agenda of the trip, Zenglein and Zhang both said they think Scholz will still try to express German concern about China’s close partnership with Russia and their uneasiness about Chinese overcapacity in the green energy industries. 

“Germany’s concern about China’s partnership with Russia will be a main element of the discussion because Scholz has a strong opinion about this,” Zhang told VOA. “But since Germany doesn’t have effective measures to pressure Beijing, Scholz’s warning won’t have much influence on how China evaluates its partnership with Russia.” 

In Zenglein’s view, Scholz will try to “brush over” concerns about geopolitical risks quickly. “He will try not to get too hung up on the negative aspects of bilateral relations that might be counterproductive to positive developments in the bilateral economic relations,” he said.

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Analysts: US military aid to allies would give US defense industry needed boost

As the Biden administration and the US Senate look to the US House to take up a bill for aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, experts say U.S. allies are not the only ones in need of the funding boost. As VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports, some say the US defense industry desperately needs the boost as well.
Camera: Mary Cielak

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How Russia’s disinformation campaign seeps into US views

Washington — On a near daily basis, Scott Cullinane talks with members of Congress about Russia’s war in Ukraine. As a lobbyist for the nonprofit Razom, part of his job is to convince them of Ukraine’s need for greater U.S. support to survive.

But as lawmakers debated a $95 billion package that includes about $60 billion in aid for Ukraine, Cullinane noticed an increase in narratives alleging Ukrainian corruption. What stood out is that these were the same talking points promoted by Russian disinformation.

So, when The Washington Post published an investigation into an extensive and coordinated Russian campaign to influence U.S. public opinion to deny Ukraine the aid, Cullinane says he was not surprised.

“This problem has been festering and growing for years,” he told VOA. “I believe that Russia’s best chance for victory is not on the battlefield, but through information operations targeted on Western capitals, including Washington.”

The Post investigation is based on more than 100 documents collected by a European intelligence service.

The files exposed a Kremlin-linked campaign in which “political strategists and trolls have written thousands of fabricated news articles, social media posts and comments that promote American isolationism, stir fear over the United States’ border security and attempt to amplify U.S. economic and racial tensions,” the Post reported.

Social media

One of the main methods for spreading such disinformation is social media, according to Roman Osadchuk, a researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and an expert on propaganda and influence campaigns.

“The process begins with a Russian publication on a small website or social media account. This is then picked up by a small Russian Telegram channel, which is subsequently shared by a larger channel with more subscribers,” Osadchuk said.

From there, someone will translate the content into English and share it, for example, on X.

“This is how Russian disinformation can quickly spread within the English-speaking X community,” Osadchuk said.

In an article published April 8, The Washington Post cited Microsoft and the social media intelligence company Graphika as saying that some articles created within this operation could have been first published on sites known as doppelgangers.

Osadchuk told VOA that these are deceptive replicas of legitimate media websites. They feature fake articles and are often taken down, only to be replaced by clones with slightly different web addresses.

“Nobody would know about these sites’ existence unless they are promoted on social media platforms. However, as soon as they detect them, social media block them. So, Russians quickly replace banned sites with their clones,” he said.

Worldwide effect

In interviews with U.S. media, two influential Republicans said they believe the propaganda has influenced their base and some of their colleagues.

“It is absolutely true. We see, directly coming from Russia, attempts to mask communications that are anti-Ukraine and pro-Russia messages, some of which we even hear being uttered on the House floor,” House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner said in an interview with CNN.

In an interview with the U.S. news website Puck, Michael McCaul, head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “Russian propaganda has made its way into the U.S., unfortunately, and it’s infected a good chunk of my party’s base.”

Serhiy Kudelia, a political scientist at Baylor University, says the Kremlin messaging is effective because it plays on existing fears.

He says the disinformation seeks to reinforce already held beliefs such as the wastefulness of aid to Ukraine, or fuels existing anger and energizes opposition to sending assistance.

“When such alignment occurs, it is easier to push through disinformation and invented news stories that would be accepted as credible by a large number of people, including members of Congress, since they reinforce their prior beliefs,” Kudelia said.

“Once fabricated stories enter mainstream public debates, they become almost impossible to debunk or separate truth from lies,” he said.

The disinformation campaign is similar to ones seen in Europe. Both seek to decrease support for Ukraine, undermine public trust in their institutions and polarize society, says Jakub Kalenský, a senior analyst at Helsinki-based European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.

Kalenský, who is deputy director of the center’s Hybrid Influence team, believes the Kremlin’s disinformation activities have a significant effect on politics worldwide.

“This is why Russia employs thousands of people for this activity. This is why they spend billions every year, because they see it works,” he said.

But Olga Belogolova, director of the Emerging Technologies Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, says that it is hard to know how effective these propaganda efforts are.

“Russian influence operations are not necessarily always designed to get people to believe anything in particular, but to get them to believe nothing at all,” she told VOA. Belogolova added that claims of the efforts being successful in swaying opinion “is not only irresponsible, it’s dangerous.”

Countermeasures needed

Last month, the U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions on two people and two companies that it says are connected to a “foreign malign influence campaign.” They include Moscow-based Social Design Agency, its founder Ilya Gambashidze, Russia-based Group Structura LLC and its CEO Nikolai Tupikin.

The Social Design Agency and Gambashidze are believed to be involved in the campaign described in the Post article on April 8.

Kalenský advises governments on countering disinformation and says its success requires countermeasures.

These include strengthening detection and documentation of Russian disinformation campaigns, increasing awareness and resilience of audiences to the propaganda efforts, and preventing the aggressor from exploiting weaknesses of social media and societies.

“Finally, we need to impose higher costs on the information aggressors. So far, they are almost unopposed in conducting their aggression,” Kalenský said.

For Cullinane, the Russian disinformation campaign makes his job harder. He says the debate about the role the U.S. should play in the world appears to be shifting and invoking pre-World War II isolationism.

But he remains resolute. Part of his work is finding what resonates most with each lawmaker.

“Some offices focus very much on the human rights situation in Ukraine. Many members are very moved by the plight of religious communities in occupied territories of Ukraine and the persecution they face at the hands of the Russian military,” Cullinane said. “Other offices are very intrigued by the military reform and the military innovation brought about by an active war in Ukraine.”

The national security spending bill is currently awaiting approval in the House.

This story originated in VOA’s Ukraine Service.

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У Міноборони обіцяють «найближчим часом» представити законопроєкт щодо ротації і звільнення в запас

За словами речника Міноборони, законопроєкт буде представлено «найближчим часом», «громадськість знатиме, на якому етапі розробка цього закону».

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Wife of Julian Assange: Biden’s comments mean case could be moving in right direction

London — The wife of Julian Assange said Thursday her husband’s legal case “could be moving in the right direction” after President Joe Biden confirmed the U.S. may drop charges against the imprisoned WikiLeaks founder.

It came as supporters in several cities rallied to demand the release of Assange, on the fifth anniversary of his incarceration in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison.

Biden said Wednesday that his administration is “considering” a request from Australia to drop the decade-long U.S. push to prosecute Assange for publishing a trove of classified American documents. The proposal would see Assange, an Australian citizen, return home rather than be sent to the U.S. to face espionage charges.

Officials have not provided more details, but Stella Assange said the comments are “a good sign.”

“It looks like things could be moving in the right direction,” she told the BBC, saying the indictment was “a Trump legacy and really Joe Biden should have dropped it from day one.”

Assange has been indicted on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege that Assange, 52, encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.

Australia argues there is a disconnect between the U.S. treatment of Assange and Manning. Then-U.S. President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence to seven years, which allowed her release in 2017.

Assange’s supporters say he is a journalist protected by the First Amendment who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange has been in prison since 2019 as he fought extradition, having spent seven years before that holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid being sent to Sweden over allegations of rape and sexual assault.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested and imprisoned him in Belmarsh for breaching bail in 2012.

The U.K. government signed an extradition order in 2022, but a British court ruled last month that Assange can’t be sent to the United States unless U.S. authorities guarantee he won’t get the death penalty.

A further court hearing in the case is scheduled for May 20.

Assange was too ill to attend his most recent hearings. Stella Assange has said her husband’s health continues to deteriorate in prison and she fears he’ll die behind bars.

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Kyiv asks allies for help against alleged Russian abuse of Ukrainian POWs

Washington — While the debates around the U.S. aid to Ukraine focus on military assistance, Kyiv is asking Washington for support in another crucial area — locating POWs and civilian hostages held in Russia and their rehabilitation after they return home. 

Ukraine has also called on the United States to introduce sanctions against those who abuse Ukrainian captives in Russian prisons.

Tеtiana, who asked her surname be kept confidential for her family’s safety, said her father, a civilian pensioner, was taken during the Russian occupation of his small Ukrainian village in April 2022.

She found out about his fate only after Ukrainian forces liberated the village. Later, she learned more from Ukrainian POWs who had shared jail cells with him before being released in prisoner swaps.

“They are given just enough food to keep them alive. … They are not allowed to sit. They constantly stand,” she told VOA. 

Tetiana said other treatment amounts to psychological torture.

“They may be told that they’re being taken for a [prisoner] exchange and then returned on the same day and told, ‘We wanted to exchange you, but Ukraine doesn’t want you back,’” she said.

Tetіana talked to VOA in March during visits to the U.S. Senate and State Department with other relatives of prisoners and representatives of the Ukrainian Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War (KSHPPV).  

Olha Pylypey, a member of the small delegation of relatives, told VOA about her brother, Yuliy Pylypey, a marine who fought in Mariupol. On April 12, 2022, he, along with other Ukrainian marines, was captured by the Russian forces at the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works plant. 

Released prisoners told her that her brother is jailed in Kursk, Russia. They also told Yuliy’s family that the administrators and guards of Russian prisons treat Ukrainian captives much worse than regular Russian inmates. 

“They line up [Ukrainian prisoners] and release aggressive dogs on them and don’t allow them to defend themselves,” Pylypey said. She is afraid Yuliy may have also been raped.

Officials at the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, or HRMMU, interviewed and documented 60 Ukrainian servicemen recently released from captivity and found that most of them had experienced sexual violence.

“Almost every single one of the Ukrainian POWs we interviewed described how Russian servicepersons or officials tortured them during their captivity, using repeated beatings, electric shocks, threats of execution, prolonged stress positions and mock execution. Over half of them were subjected to sexual violence,” said Danielle Bell, who heads HRMMU.   

Russian officials deny accusations of mistreatment of Ukrainian prisoners. On November 30, 2023, Russian Commissioner for Human Rights Tatiana Moskalkova said she visited 119 Ukrainian POWs in Russian prisons and found the prisons adhered to international standards.

Andriy Kryvtsov, head of the Military Medics of Ukraine nongovernmental organization, helped find his sister-in-law, military medic Olena Kryvtsova, who was part of a prisoner swap after six months in Russian captivity.  

“They were tortured, beaten and used as punching bags,” Kryvtsov said. “Russian special forces trained on them. They beat them like meat. She lost a lot of weight. When she came home, she weighed 77 pounds.”

Along with other relatives of prisoners, Kryvtsov asked the U.S. and its partners for sanctions not only against the leadership of Russia but also against prison personnel.

“Putin is not personally torturing these people,” he said. 

Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military intelligence and a member of the KSHPPV, told VOA that Ukrainian officials understand that the U.S. can’t force Russia to comply with the Geneva Convention treaties, which establish standards of humane treatment for people affected by armed conflicts, including POWs. 

But he said the U.S. can help by locating the whereabouts of Ukrainians in Russian prisons so they can be included on the prisoner exchange lists.

The Red Cross has confirmed the identities of 5,000 Ukrainians in Russian captivity. But tens of thousands of people, both civilians and prisoners of war, remain missing, Ukrainian officials say. 

Yusov also emphasized the importance of rehabilitating released prisoners and assisting their families. 

“Thousands of family members of our defenders who ended up in captivity, as well as thousands of Ukrainians who’ve returned from Russian captivity, need social, psychological and medical support, and all this is a subject for our cooperation with partners,” he told VOA.   

Russia does not differentiate between civilians and military captives, considering both to have been “detained for counteracting the SVO,” a Russian abbreviation for special military operation – Moscow’s official designation of its invasion of Ukraine – Ukrainian human rights lawyers told the BBC. 

Lawyers at the Center for Civil Liberties, the Ukrainian organization that received the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, told the BBC that they believe there are about 2,000 Ukrainian civilian prisoners in Russia and the occupied territories.

According to a report by the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine published in March, at least 32 Ukrainian servicemen were executed in Russian captivity between December 1, 2023, and February 29, 2024.

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