How 17-year-old Ukrainian Valeriia escaped a Russian re-education camp

17-year-old Ukrainian Valeriia was abducted to a Russian re-education camp in Crimea. She tells Euronews how she made it back to Ukraine on her own.


Before the full-scale invasion, 17-year-old Valeriia lived an ordinary life as a 10th-grade student, preparing for exams and taking part in activities, including dancing and aerial gymnastics. She lived with a family member since the age of 13 following the death of her parents.

Everything changed with the Russian full-scale invasion

Valeriia had a bright future ahead of herself – everything was supposed to work out the way she wanted. When she heard about the full-scale invasion on the news, it felt surreal to her. Everything changed rapidly, and she struggled to fully understand the situation.

Russian troops soon arrived and occupied the southern Ukrainian city of Nova Kakhovka, also her hometown. During a particularly intense period of shelling, she was forced to live without food after Ukrainian supplies ran out, but the situation stabilised after supply trucks from occupied Crimea started arriving. Back then, Russian military police gradually appeared in the city, located in the Kherson Oblast. It was a quiet period – explosions didn’t shatter the air.

In October 2022, Russian troops announced an “evacuation” of children from Nova Kakhovka to occupied Crimea. Valeriia, along with other kids, had to gather in the main square surrounded by armed military. Buses took them to the Crimean border. Upon arrival, they confiscated the children’s passports and documents.

“Russia will give you everything”

After Valeriia arrived in a Crimean camp called ‘Luchystiy,’ paediatricians examined the children for lice and COVID-19. She remembers the camp resembling a retirement home, but devoid of child-centric amenities. Plus the facility was surrounded by armed police officers, constantly guarding the children. A regimented daily routine included singing the Russian National Anthem – which she refused. Authorities promoted Russian universities and lifestyles, promising them that “Russia will give you everything”.

For Valeriia, the coerced environment raised concerns about her freedom and future, but the daily schedule was unpredictable, therefore making it difficult to plan. “The camps were re-education camps”, she added. In her opinion, they served the purpose of ensuring the majority of children ended up going to Russia. The classes could therefore only be described as propaganda, she remembered, adding that learning Ukrainian at the school was not an option.

The programme at these camps is called ‘University Shift‘ and operates with the support of the Russian Ministry of Education of Russia and the Ministry of Education and Science. It aims to (re-)educate children aged 12-17 from temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories into Russian culture and history.

“The forceful deportation of Ukrainian children is a part of genocidal policy”

According to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, human rights lawyer and Center for Civil Liberties-leader, Oleksandra Matviichuk, these camps and their aim to russify Ukrainian children is not just a war crime, but part of a broader picture. “This war has a genocidal character”, she said, “Putin openly said that Ukrainians don’t exist, that we are the same as Russians. We see these words implemented into horrible practice on the ground since 2014.” 

Just like Valeriia, she also mentioned the deliberate ban on the Ukrainian language and history. “For ten years, we’ve been documenting how Russians deliberately exterminate acting locals, such as mayors, journalists, civil society actors, priests and artists, for example.”

In this regard, the forceful deportation of Ukrainian children is part of a genocide policy, because some of them are put in re-education camps where they’re told they’re Russian and Russia is their motherland, she told me. “Later, some of them are subjected to forceful adoption into Russian families to be brought up as Russians,” Matviichuk continued.

As a lawyer, she knows how difficult it is to prove this crime, especially according to the current standards. “Even if you’re not a lawyer, it’s easy to understand that if you want to partially or destroy a national group, you have several strategies, such as killing them or forcefully changing their identity,” she added.

“Forceful abduction of Ukrainian children is a part of this broader genocidal policy of the Russian state against Ukraine.” The Genocide Convention’s Article II defines genocide as the deliberate act of destroying a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, either wholly or partially. It excludes, however, political groups and what is referred to as ‘cultural genocide’.

Valeriia decides to pursue her dream of studying medicine

In the camp, poor-quality food frequently caused stomach issues, with limited access to medical care. Very small children suffered greatly due to inadequate care and harsh conditions, remembered Valeriia. With their parents or guardians absent, they roamed unsupervised, enduring cold weather without proper clothing. Many fell ill with bronchitis. Outbreaks of diseases like chickenpox and lice were common.

Though the children were allowed to use their phones, there was hardly ever any service. Valeriia just about managed to contact a member of her family, asking to be picked up.

Ukrainians living in the occupied territories are considered “New Russians” by the Russian authorities

According to the Crimean Centre of Civil Education, Alemenda, these kinds of camps restrict the children’s return citing parental political stance. Instances of forced relocation and psychological pressure have been reported, with family members facing obstacles to reuniting with their children, especially when they are pro-Ukraine. When these children express a desire for their parents to visit them, the family members are encouraged to relocate to Russian-controlled territories. Ukrainians living in temporarily occupied territories are seen as “New Russians” by the authorities.

Her family member was therefore able to pick her up, since they lived in occupied territory. After having stayed in the camp for a total of two months, she went to occupied Henichesk in southern Ukraine.

Valeriia travels on her own to Ukraine

Having experienced this dire medical situation in the camp, Valeriia decided to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a doctor. As an orphan from an occupied territory, she leveraged her circumstances in university admissions, and had both Russian and Ukrainian passports. While staying in temporary-occupied Henichesk, she chose a university in Odesa and applied online, as she didn’t want to stay in Russian-controlled and occupied territories.

From occupied Henichesk, Valeriia started her journey by herself on a bus. Passing through various occupied Ukrainian cities, such as the destroyed Melitopol and Mariupol, then crossing into Rostov in Russia.


With a Russian passport, crossing the border was smooth. In the temporary-occupied territories, possession of a Russian passport is essential for proving property ownership and retaining access to healthcare and retirement benefits. Failure to obtain the forced new passport by July 1, as mandated by a new Russian law in occupied territories, may lead to imprisonment as a ‘foreign citizen’, risking custody loss, imprisonment, or worse.

The last border crossing

Continuing through Belgorod and the Sumy region, the journey, facilitated by efficient border crossings, took her a day to complete. At the final border in Sumy, which is still open for pedestrians but entails strict filtering by the Russian guards, Valeriia kept her Ukrainian passport hidden and used her Russian passport to pass the border. Checks were organised in groups from a bus, with passports being collected and Valeriia being questioned about travelling alone underage without a guardian.

Aware of potential risks, she strategically explained her journey, emphasising passing through Ukraine without any intent to stay. Valeriia informed the guards that her sole intention was to traverse Ukraine to pick up her aunt from Europe and bring her back to Russia. She remembered the importance of telling the officials what they needed to hear. At the border, amidst their apprehension, they scrutinised her documents and phone, such as her photos, Telegram messages and E-Mails.

Despite Valeriia’s prior composure, the situation at the border crossing was very overwhelming. Since she had hidden her Ukrainian passport, she wasn’t forced to undergo a lie detector test, and because she was a minor, she couldn’t legally sign any documents. As soldiers with machine guns deliberated among themselves, one guard proposed letting her cross. From the Russian checkpoint, she had to walk through fields to reach Ukrainian territory – and when she did and heard Ukrainian, she was overcome with emotions.

Change of plans?

Her initial plan was to go to Odesa to study medicine, but things didn’t quite go according to plan. Upon her arrival in Sumy, she was given the option to move to Kyiv due to the constant shelling in Odesa at the time. She stayed in Sumy for approximately half a week, during which she underwent thorough medical screenings and tests to ensure her well-being having survived the re-education camp and occupation. 


“Throughout my stay, I was closely monitored by the juvenile police and representatives from Kyiv. Afterwards, accompanied by the juvenile police, I travelled to Kyiv, where I immediately visited the ombudsman’s office”, she told me.

She currently lives in Kyiv, initially staying in a hostel before enrolling in Kyiv Medical College. To maintain a sense of normality, she engages in several activities and attends frequent therapy sessions. “I enjoy learning about medicine and exploring the city of Kyiv. I am grateful to speak Ukrainian and the support of my guardian, Olha, who has become like a parent to me”. 

She met Olha through meetings with a psychotherapist and established a strong bond.

“In her presence, I can embrace my youth and momentarily forget about the responsibilities of adulthood. I appreciate the psychological support I’ve received,” Valeriia added. She is receiving free therapy consultations provided by Voices of Children, which is helping her deal with the things she’s gone through.

What psychological effects do children go through after living in occupation?

Upon returning to Ukraine, the mental state of children is deeply influenced by their experiences during the occupation, says Yulya Tukalenko, a psychologist at the Voices of Children charity foundation. 


“Factors such as the duration of their stay, living conditions, age, and the hardships they endured play significant roles”, she added. Deprivation, particularly in terms of limited social interaction and restricted movement, is a common challenge faced by children. Prolonged exposure to dangerous conditions where speaking Ukrainian or showing support could result in harm, fosters mistrust in others.

According to Tukalenko, the aftermath of such experiences often manifests in various symptoms across behavioural, emotional, and physical domains. These include emotional outbursts, sadness, self-harm, sleep disturbances, and digestive issues. Left untreated, these symptoms can evolve into more serious conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, and impaired social functioning. Therefore, a timely intervention by trained professionals is crucial to address and mitigate the long-term effects of occupation on children’s mental health.

Out of nearly 20,000 abducted and displaced children, only 400 have been returned

Since Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, both Ukrainian and international organisations have documented grave human rights violations against children. Reports detail children forcibly deported or displaced by Russian forces, subjected to re-education and forced adoption. 

The Children of War initiative reports that over 19,500 children have been deported or displaced, with fewer than 400 returned. In response, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin and the Children’s Rights Commissioner for the President of the Russian Federation, Maria Lvova-Belova, for child deportation.


“After 2014 and the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, we lost from 15 to 20% of our child population,” said Mykola Kuleba of Save Ukraine, a charitable organisation aiding families and children affected by war. These children encompass those who lost parents to Russian shelling, along with those residing in institutions or under foster care, such as Valeriia, who is an orphan. Russia alleges that these children lack parental care. 

An investigation by the AP reveals Russian officials deported Ukrainian children without consent, convincing them their parents don’t want them any more, exploiting them for propaganda, and placing them with Russian families granting them citizenship.

This process is simplified if the children are already native-Russian speakers. “To resolve the issue of acquisition of Russian citizenship by Ukrainian children, they granted the right to submit a relevant application on behalf of the child to guardians, and heads of institutions for children, including educational and medical ones. The child’s opinion, of course, is not taken into account. Therefore, it is enough to enrol a Ukrainian child in an educational institution or put them in treatment, and the director or the chief doctor has the right to apply for the acquisition of Russian citizenship for the child under a simplified procedure”, explained Kuleba.

“Being in a Ukrainian city feels like a reward, and I deeply appreciate it”

Living in Kyiv means still living under frequent air-raid alerts. There were no air raid alarms, as the shelling was constant when she lived under occupation. “No one bothered to turn on the air-raid warning signal to the Ukrainians under occupation. However, there are still moments of uncertainty in Kyiv. Despite the risks, you have to continue living your life in those moments”, said Valeriia.

For the 17-year-old, a lot has changed in the past couple of years. She added she’s not in contact with any of the kids in her camp who chose Russia – even her former girlfriends and classmates. For her, “being in a Ukrainian city feels like a reward, and I deeply appreciate it.”


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Pioneering policy leadership in a transformative era

With the European Parliament and U.S. elections looming, Europe is facing policy uncertainties on both sides of the Atlantic. Persistent geopolitical turmoil in Ukraine and the Middle East, and threats to democracy — coupled with concerns over slow economic recovery, demographic shifts, climate hazards and the rapid evolution of powerful AI — all add to the complex global political and economic landscape. Europe’s present and future demands leaders who are capable of effectively navigating multifaceted challenges.

At the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, we are committed to developing a groundbreaking executive program that prepares professionals for multilevel policymaking of the 21st century. Our new EUI Global Executive Master (GEM) aims to transform policy professionals into agents of change and enhance their skills as effective managers and leaders who inspire and drive sustainable change.

Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program.

New leaders wanted

George Papaconstantinou is dean of executive education of the European University Institute, and a former Minister of Finance and Minister of Environment and Energy of Greece. | via European University Institute

Just as public policy has changed in the past 20 years, so has executive education for public policy professionals. Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program. The new GEM takes our commitment to training professionals to respond to today’s cross-border issues to the next level; it stands out from other executive master programs through its dedication to providing a personalized career development journey.

Launching in September 2024, the GEM has a two-year, part-time format, with three week-long study periods in Florence, and two additional visits to global policy hubs. This format, combined with online modules, allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange, building their knowledge, skills, and networks in a structured way.

This allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange.

During the first year, EUI GEM participants take four core modules that will set the basis for a comprehensive understanding of the complex task of policymaking, and its interaction with government, the economy and global trends. In the second year, they have the possibility to select courses in one or more of four specializations: energy and climate; economy and finance; tech and governance; and geopolitics and security.

These core and elective courses are complemented by intensive professional development modules and workshops aimed at enhancing skills in the critical areas of change management, project management, strategic foresight, leadership, negotiations, policy communications, and media relations.

Through the final capstone project, EUI GEM participants will address real policy challenges faced by organizations, including their own, proposing solutions based on original research under the guidance of both the organizations concerned and EUI faculty.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience. Participants attend the EUI State of the Union Conference in Florence, a flagship event that brings together global leaders to reflect on the most pressing issues of the European agenda. They explore the role of strategic foresight in EU institutions’ policy planning through an executive study visit to Brussels, complemented by dedicated training sessions and networking opportunities. A final Global Challenge study visit aims to encourage participants to engage with local policy stakeholders.

Bridging academia and practice

Since its inaugural executive training course in 2004, the EUI has successfully trained over 23,000 professionals of approximately 160 nationalities, in almost 600 courses. The EUI GEM leverages this expertise by merging the academic and practical policy expertise from our Florence School of Transnational Governance and the Robert Schuman Centre, as well as the academic excellence in the EUI departments.

The EUI GEM’s aspiration to bridge the gap between academia and practice is also reflected in the faculty line-up, featuring leading academics, private-sector experts, and policymakers who bring invaluable expertise into a peer-learning environment that fosters both learning and exchange with policy professionals.

Effective, agile and inclusive governance involves interaction and mutual learning between the public sector, the private sector and civil society actors, all acting as change agents. That is why our program is designed to bring innovative perspectives on public policy from all three: the public and the private sector, as well as civil society, and we welcome applications from all three sectors. 

An inspiring environment

EUI GEM participants spend 25 days in residence at the magnificent Palazzo Buontalenti, headquarters of our Florence School of Transnational Governance. The former Medici palace harbors art-historical treasures in the heart of Florence. In September 2024, a dedicated executive education center will be inaugurated at Palazzo Buontalenti, coinciding with the arrival of the participants of the first GEM cohort.

The GEM is poised to redefine the standards for executive education and empower a new generation of policy practitioners. We are ambitious and bold, and trust that our first cohort will be, too. After all, they are the first to embark on this adventure of a new program. We can’t wait to welcome them here in Florence, where the journey to shape the future begins. Will you join us?

Learn more about the EUI Global Executive Master.

The EUI Global Executive Master | via European University Institute

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‘Massive’ Russian air attack hits Western Ukraine, Kyiv; Poland says its airspace violated

Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and the western region of Lviv came under a “massive” Russian air attack early Sunday, officials said, and Polish forces were also placed on heightened readiness.

Russia and Ukraine have been engaged in a series of deadly aerial attacks, with Sunday’s strikes also coming a day after the Russian military said it had seized the Ukrainian village of Ivanivske west of Bakhmut.

A militant attack on a Moscow concert hall on Friday that killed at least 133 people also became a new flashpoint between the two arch-rivals.

“Explosions in the capital. Air defence is working. Do not leave shelters,” Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko posted on Telegram on Sunday.

Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyi said Stryi district, south of the city of Lviv, near the Polish border, was also attacked.

© France 24

Ukraine was earlier placed under a nationwide air alert that warned of cruise missiles being launched from Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers. The alert was lifted about two hours later.

Sergiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration, said the missiles were fired at the capital “in groups” in the third pre-dawn attack in four days.

Preliminary reports suggested there were no casualties or damage, he said, and the city’s air defences had hit “about a dozen” missiles.

“The enemy continues massive missile terror against Ukraine,” Popko said on Telegram. “It does not give up its goal of destroying Kyiv at any cost.”

US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink also noted the increased frequency of recent attacks.

“Russia continues to indiscriminately launch drones and missiles with no regard for millions of civilians, violating international law,” Brink wrote on social media platform X.

In Lviv, Mayor Andriy Sadovy said about 20 missiles and seven Iranian-made Shahed drones were fired at the region.

“They targeted critical infrastructure facilities,” Sadovy said.

Poland to demand explanation from Moscow

Poland’s foreign ministry on Sunday said it would demand an explanation from Moscow over this “new violation of airspace” after one of the Russian cruise missiles fired at western Ukraine breached Polish airspace overnight.

“Above all, we ask the Russian Federation to end its terrorist airstrikes against the population and territory of Ukraine, to end the war and to focus on the country’s own internal problems,” ministry spokesman Pawel Wronski said in a statement.

Following a “massive attack” on Ukraine by Russia, Poland activated “all air defence systems, all air force systems”, the country’s Defence Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said.

He said that the missile would have been shot down “had there been any indication it was heading for a target on Polish territory”.

The army said the missile, which was travelling at almost 800 kilometres per hour (500 mph) around 400 metres (1,300 feet) above the ground, had crossed about two kilometres over the border into Poland.

“Polish airspace was breached by one of the cruise missiles fired in the night by the air forces… of the Russian Federation,” the army wrote on X.

“The object flew through Polish airspace above the village of Oserdow (Lublin province) and stayed for 39 seconds,” the statement said, adding that it was tracked by military radar throughout its flight.

 “The Polish army is constantly monitoring the situation on Ukrainian territory and remains on permanent alert to ensure the security of Polish airspace,” the army said.

Kyiv says it hit two Russian ships in Crimea strikes

Russia and Ukraine have increased their air attacks in recent weeks.

Kyiv, which has struggled to find weapons and soldiers after more than two years of war, has promised to retaliate by taking the fighting to Russian soil.

Multiple air attacks Saturday on the Russian border region of Belgorod adjoining Ukraine killed two people and injured at least seven, the regional governor said.

Further east, a drone attack on the Samara region caused a fire at a major oil refinery, the latest in a series of strikes against Russia’s energy industry. 

Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on Telegram that two districts in his region, as well as the regional capital, Belgorod, had been hit in drone and air attacks.

A man was killed when three balconies on an apartment building collapsed, Gladkov said. 

Russia said later Saturday that it had repulsed a barrage of more than 10 Ukrainian missiles fired at the city of Sevastopol in Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

Sevastopol’s governor Mikhail Razvozhayev said rocket fragments had killed a 65-year-old resident and four other people had been wounded.

“It was the biggest attack in recent times,” he said.

Ukraine said early on Sunday that it had hit two large Russian landing ships, a communications centre and other infrastructure used by the Russian navy in the Black Sea during its strikes on the annexed Crimean peninsula.

Its statement did not say how it hit the targets. “The defence forces of Ukraine successfully hit the Azov and Yamal large landing ships, a communications centre and also several infrastructure facilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in temporarily occupied Crimea,” said Ukraine’s military.

Territorial gains by Russia

Moscow has escalated its own strikes, firing dozens of missiles on Friday and launching dozens of explosive drones to destroy Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Russian forces have also taken control of a string of frontline settlements in recent weeks. 

The capture last month of Adviivka, near the Russian-held stronghold of Donetsk, was the first major territorial gain made by Russia since the devastated city of Bakhmut was seized 10 months ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed that success as a sign that Russian forces are back on the offensive.

Putin has also sought to tie Kyiv to the Moscow concert hall attack, saying four “perpetrators” were detained while travelling towards Ukraine.

Kyiv has strongly denied any involvement, saying that Russia was looking for excuses to step up the war.

The United States has said it has seen no sign of Ukrainian involvement in the Crocus City Hall attack.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters)

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Two years on: How is Ukraine adapting to a long-term war?

Euronews Reporter Valérie Gauriat travels to Kyiv and the Donbas to see how Ukraine’s population are coping with a conflict that has become part of their daily lives.


More than 10,000 civilians have died since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February 2022. Many hoped the fighting would be shortlived, however, the conflict, now in its third year, has evolved into a war of attrition.

On a rainy day in February, Antonina Danylevich, the wife of a Ukrainian soldier, and a few dozen women, had gathered in Kyiv to call for shorter terms of service for soldiers mobilised on the frontline since the first days of the war.

“My husband has been in the combat zone for two years. In all this time he only had 30 days off. Our men should be replaced, they should have time to rest. And after that, if they want to go back, then fine,” Antonina told Euronews.

An absence hard-felt

Every Saturday, in a secret location at the edge of the Ukrainian capital, groups of women partake in military training sessions, under the aegis of ‘Ukraine Walkyrie’.

Daryna Trebukh founded the course after Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv region in March 2022. “After what happened in Bucha and Irpin, our women were defenceless, they were under occupation and they didn’t know how to protect themselves. So I decided to start this school of survival, to teach women how to defend themselves,” she explained.

Daryna and her trainees expect a long-lasting war. Kateryna, a doctor, stop to talk to us after finishing a shooting drill. Her husband has been on the frontline for two years: “My daughter is very interested in what I do here. She can’t wait to turn 14 in a few months, the age at which she’s allowed to start military training, not with real weapons, but with strikeballs for instance. I wish it wasn’t, but war could well be part of her future”, she sighs .

The war, an experimentation field

Ukrainian students are also learning to adapt to the war. We visit the prestigious Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. Many courses are now carried out remotely.

But a new ultra-secure space has been set up to allow students to work on site in times of war.

“In this modern shelter, students and teachers can work in a safe and comfortable way,when there are no alerts, and when the alert is on”, says vice-rector Vitali Pasichnyk.

Generators, ventilation systems, internet connection, rest areas, nothing has been left out. Funded by companies, the initiative must be replicated in other universities in the country.

“If you don’t support young students, they could leave Ukraine. You can create innovations here, build businesses. This is more than just a reaction to Russia’s aggression. It’s an investment in our future.”, smile Pasichnyk.

We follow 20 year old Ivan to one of the Institute’s research lab. He and a group of co-students are busy assembling an electronic stretcher that can be controlled remotely and used to transport wounded soldiers away from the frontline.

“It takes three or four people to carry a wounded soldier with equipment, but with this, you just place him on the stretcher and drive him away remotely,” explained Ivan.

Beyond participating in the war effort, the students have ambitions for the future. “We are gaining skills with this project. My dream is to help develop Ukraine and create modern enterprises, to produce new and competitive things. We have huge potential” he added.

One of the budding sectors of the future is drone manufacturing. Hundreds of drone factories have sprung up all over Ukraine in the past two years. 

Airlogix gave Euronews a tour; approximately thirty surveillance and reconnaissance drones are dispatched from its factory every month.

“They allow our armed forces to fly deep into enemy lines and identify enemy equipment, such as air defence systems, electronic warfare, armoury, warehouses, and so on,” said CEO Vitalii Kolisnichenko.

“You need to be technologically advanced in this war. We consider drones to be key to our victory.” 


Starting from a small cargo drones manufacture, with around ten employees two years ago, Vitalii now employs a hundred people. He plans to double production soon and extend it to kamikaze and bomber drones.

An expansion supported by the Ukrainian state. Tax cuts, or the increase in the profit thresholds authorized for military contracts, have favored the birth of hundreds of factories like this one.

“That’s quite a boost for companies like ours, because we reinvest. We continuously try to invent technologies that will help us gain our victory.”

In the long run, Kolisnichenko believes drones could become a top Ukrainian export and help drive the country’s economy: “I think eventually, Ukraine will become the centre of unmanned technologies, for the whole world.”

We leave Kyiv, to head for the regions close to the front line, which extends over a thousand kilometers in the south and east of Ukraine.


Areas which concentrate a large part of the country’s industrial infrastructure, much exposed to Russian bombings.

Set at the edge of the city of Zaporizhzhia, stands one of the largest steel factories in Ukraine.

Iron will

Zaporizhstal became the country’s leading producer of steel and cast iron, after the destruction of the sadly famous Azovstal site during the Battle of Mariupol, in the first months of the full-scale invasion.

In two years, the factory lost a quarter of its 10,000 employees, mobilized or gone to safer areas in the country or abroad.


The site now operates at 70 percent of its capacity. Not without obstacles.

«The main type of logistics for metallurgy industries was sea logistics. We were forced to move to railway transport, which is four times more expensive. And also we can’t import all the raw material we need, nor can we reach the volumes at which we need to sell our products.” says CEO Roman Slobodianuk.

Set some 40 kilometers away from the frontline, the factory is under constant threat. But the workers are holding on.

Maksym used to work at the Azovstal factory, and was able to find a job here. “I can’t avoid thinking about the dangers about the war. But we are human beings, we have to live, to distract ourselves, and we don’t lose hope. We work for our victory. »

Distracting from the war is a challenge, for adults and children alike.


We end our visit to Zaporizhzhia in an extra-curricular activity center that we cannot identify for security reasons. The climbing session we were due to film was interrupted just before our arrival.

«There was an alert, we sent our children to the bomb shelter.”, aplologises Galyna, the centre’s director. We join the children in the shelter. “We are used to the alerts, there are 9 or 10 of them a day, smiles 13 year old Veronika.  “At the beginning of the war I was afraid of alarms. Now I am used to them, and to shellings, to drones flying, all those things…”

The alert is over. The children hurry back to their climbing session. With the war, activities organized for children have been adapted to the war context.

Living from one alert to another

“We are teaching children not only how to travel in the mountains, how to orient themselves on the terrain, but also how to provide first aid, and how to transport victims, to different areas and in different conditions.”, explains Svitlana Bebeshko, head trainer at the centre.

The children’s moment of respite is short-lived, as another siren shrieks out. “That’s how we work, from one alert to the next alert. But we’re not afraid of them!” says Galyna, shrugging.


We hit the road again towards the East, and the Donetsk region, in the Donbass, where the war of attrition continues its ravages.

A veterinarian during the weekend, Evgeniy Tkachov spends the rest of his time helping people in towns and villages close to the front line.

He takes us to the town of Selydove, set some 20 kilometers away from the frontline. Evgeniy and his team from the Proliska ngo had organized distribution of basic goods and wooden panels for residents whose homes were shattered by overnight Russian shellings.

“Every day there are more and more people in need. Apart from the fact that we give humanitarian aid, we call people to evacuate and leave. People have spent their whole lives in these small mining towns. So, it’s very hard for them to go elsewhere.”, explains Tkachov.

« We have nowhere to go”, sighs Inna, one of the residents. “We’ll rent an apartment. We hope that at least it will be quiet. And we will be able to come back here. We hope each day that it will end soon. Or everything will be destroyed.”


We end our journey in the village of Selydove, set a dozen kilometers away from point zero. Rows of torn out houses offer a desolate sight.

Most residents have left to safer areas. Oleksandr is one of around twenty villagers, out of some 150, who decided to stay, despite the proximity of the fighting and harsh living conditions. His wife left for safety in a neighboring town after their home was bombed.

But he stayed on. He shows us the two small rooms he now lives in, after rebuilding the roof and walls. Oleksandr lives on food and basic necessities delivered each week by volunteers. But leaving is not an option.

“This is my land. It’ s my father’s land, the land of my grandfather and my great-grandfather. Why should I go anywhere?” he exclaims, as explosions tear the air. “No one would have stayed here if they didn’t believe that we were going to win, that the war would end with our victory.”

One of the soldiers operating in the area pays us an unexpected visit.


« I’m coming from the frontline. It’s hard. The fighting is ongoing. They’re trying to capture Avdiivka. They’re coming, they’re coming !”, says the soldier, sternly. “War is the hardest job that ever could be in this life” he sighs, before heading off. “I’m on my way, to serve the Motherland”.

A few days later, the town of Avdiivka fell into the hands of the Russian army.

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Russia says it has captured frontline village of Orlivka in eastern Ukraine

Russia said on Tuesday that its forces had taken control of the eastern Ukrainian village of Orlivka, situated about four kilometres (2.5 miles) west of the town of Avdiivka, which Moscow’s forces captured last month after one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Earlier, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said the United States “will not let Ukraine fail” as he attended a meeting of Kyiv’s Western allies in Germany.

  • Russian spy chief says French military in Ukraine would be priority target for Russia

Sergei Naryshkin, chief of Russia‘s foreign intelligence service, said on Tuesday that any French military sent to Ukraine to help fight Russia would be a priority target for Russian troops, the TASS news agency reported.

“It (a French contingent) will become a priority and legitimate target for attacks by the Russian Armed Forces. This means that the fate of all Frenchmen who have ever come to the territory of the Russian world with a sword would await it,” Naryshkin said.

French President Emmanuel Macron in late February opened the door to European nations sending troops to Ukraine.

  • German defence minister announces €500 million aid for Ukraine

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius announced on Tuesday a €500 million ($542 billion) aid package for Ukraine which includes 10,000 rounds of ammunition and said the United States was still a reliable partner.

“We have once again put together an aid package worth almost half a billion euros,” Pistorius told reporters on the sidelines of talks with the United States and other allies at Ramstein Air Base.

He also said he had nothing to add to Germany’s position that there would be no boots on the ground in Ukraine.

  • Washington will not let Ukraine fail, US defence chief vows

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin promised on Tuesday that the United States will not let Ukraine fail in fighting off Russia, even as further aid remains stalled in Congress and Kyiv’s forces face shortages of munitions.

The Republican-led House of Representatives has been blocking $60 billion in assistance for Ukraine and the United States has warned that a recent $300 million package would only last a few weeks.

The “United States will not let Ukraine fail”, Austin said at the opening of a meeting in Germany of Ukraine’s international supporters, at which he is seeking to secure further assistance for Kyiv.

“We remain determined to provide Ukraine with the resources that it needs to resist the Kremlin‘s aggression,” he said.

Washington announced $300 million in assistance for Ukraine last week, but Austin said it was only possible due to savings on recent purchases.

“We were only able to support this much-needed package by identifying some unanticipated contract savings”, Austin said.

  • French army says it is prepared for ‘toughest’ engagements

French land forces are ready to respond to any threat as they prepare for even “the toughest engagements”, their commander said in remarks published on Tuesday.

The statement from ground army chief of staff General Pierre Schill comes after President Emmanuel Macron said he would not rule out dispatching ground troops to help Ukraine fight Russia.

The French army “is ready”, Schill wrote in an op-ed piece in the French daily Le Monde.

“However the international situation may evolve, French people can be certain that their soldiers stand ready to respond,” he said.

Schill said a display of French military capabilities would help to “deter any attack on France“.

“To protect itself from any attack and to defend its interests, the French army is preparing for even the toughest engagements,” he said.

  • Russia says it has captured frontline village in eastern Ukraine

Russia said on Tuesday that its forces had taken control of Orlivka, a frontline village situated about four kilometres (2.5 miles) west of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has made a number of gains in recent months, pressing its advantage on the battlefield as Kyiv struggles with shortages of ammunition and troops.

“On the Avdiivka front, units of the ‘Centre’ grouping of troops liberated the village of Orlivka,” the defence ministry said.

The reported capture comes a little over a month after Russian forces seized the nearby town of Avdiivka following one of the bloodiest battles in the conflict.

  • Putin tells FSB security agency to punish ‘scum’ pro-Ukraine Russian fighters

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called on the FSB security service to identify and punish pro-Ukrainian Russian fighters who have taken part in an increasing number of deadly attacks on border regions.

“About these traitors… we must not forget who they are, we must identify them by name. We will punish them without statute of limitations, wherever they are,” Putin said, calling Russians fighting against their country “scum”.

  • Russian region bordering Ukraine to evacuate 9,000 children amid attacks

Russia‘s Belgorod region bordering Ukraine plans to evacuate 9,000 children following an uptick in deadly Ukrainian shelling, the region’s governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Tuesday.

Kyiv’s attacks on the territory have killed 16 people since last week, with shelling intensifying in the run up to elections poised to keep President Vladimir Putin in power until 2030, authorities say.

“We are evacuating a large number of villages, and now we are planning to evacuate about 9,000 children because of the shelling by the Ukrainian armed forces,” Gladkov told a meeting of ruling party members.

“I am proud that the residents of the region did not succumb to the difficult situation and that many more people came to the polling stations than ever before,” he said.

  • Russia appoints acting head of navy to replace incumbent

The new head of Russia’s Navy was formally presented in his new role for the first time on Tuesday at a pomp-filled ceremony, the state RIA news agency reported, confirming the appointment of Admiral Alexander Moiseev as acting head of the Navy.

His appointment follows a series of sustained Ukrainian attacks on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is traditionally based in Crimea, which Moscow took from Kyiv in 2014.

Moiseev replaces Nikolai Yevmenov, the previous head of the Navy.

RIA showed video of a ceremony at the port of Kronstadt near St Petersburg where it said Moiseev was presented as acting head of the Navy.

He served on nuclear submarines for more than 29 years and has been decorated as a Hero of Russia, the country’s top military award.

He was appointed acting commander and then commander of the Black Sea Fleet in 2018 and then appointed commander of the Northern Fleet in 2019 before taking up his current role.

© France Médias Monde graphic studio

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

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‘A fight for your way of life’: Lithuania’s culture minister on Ukraine and Russian disinformation

Lithuania’s Minister of Culture Simonas Kairys spoke to FRANCE 24 about Lithuania’s fight against Russian disinformation and why the Baltic nation feels so bound to Ukraine.

Issued on:

5 min

In March 1990, Lithuania became the first nation to declare its independence as the Soviet Union collapsed, setting an example for other states that had been under the Kremlin’s influence for half a century. As a nascent democracy emerging from Soviet control, Lithuania was free to rediscover its own history and culture.

But Vilnius has once again become a target for Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long considered the demise of the Soviet Union as a historical tragedy in which Russians were innocent victims. As part of efforts to justify the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia has launched a disinformation campaign aimed at Kyiv’s allies in the West.

In addition to putting pressure on Ukraine’s supporters, the Kremlin has attempted to intimidate them. Russian authorities placed Lithuanian Culture Minister Simonas Kairys, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and others on a wanted list in February along with other Baltic officials for allowing municipalities to dismantle WWII-era monuments to Soviet soldiers, moves seen by Moscow as “an insult to history”. 

Upon being informed his name was listed, Culture Minister Kairys was insouciant. “I’m glad that my work in dismantling the ruins of Sovietisation has not gone unnoticed,” he said.

Read moreThe Kremlin puts Baltic leaders on ‘wanted’ list

FRANCE 24 spoke to Kairys on why it is vital to fight Russian propaganda, and why the Baltic state feels so invested in what is happening in Ukraine.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

What historical narratives has Russia tried to distort when it comes to Lithuanian independence?

Simonas Kairys: Russia is still in “imperialism” mode. The way they inscribed me onto their wanted list shows that they think and act upon the belief that countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union – sovereign and independent countries such as Lithuania – are still part of Russia.

Russia has its own law system, which – from their point of view – is [the law even] in free countries (in the Russian criminal code, “destroying monuments to Soviet soldiers” is an act punishable by a five-year prison term). It’s absurd and unbelievable how they interpret the current situation in the world. If they say, for example, that they are “protecting” objects of Soviet heritage in a foreign country like Lithuania, they are spreading their belief that it is not a free country. But we are not slaves, and we are taking this opportunity to be outspoken and say Russia is promoting a fake version of history.

Why is combating Russian disinformation essential for Lithuanian national security?

It is not important for Lithuania – it is important for the EU, for Europe and for the entire free world. The war in Ukraine is happening very near to the EU; it is happening only a few hours away from France. Culture, heritage [and] historical memory are also fields of combat. Adding me to their wanted list is just one example of this. When we see how Russia is falsifying not only history but all information, it’s important to speak about it very loudly. Lithuania has achieved a lot in this domain, along with Ukraine and France. 

When France had the [rotating, six-month] presidency of the EU [in early 2022], we made several joint declarations. The result was that we signed a sixth package of sanctions against Russia and we designated six Russian television channels to be blocked in the EU – this was the first step in considering information as a [weapon]. In other words, information is being used by Russia to convince their society and sway public opinion in other European countries. Now we have a situation in which we are blocking Russian television channels in EU territory.  

Our foreign partners often ask us upon which criteria Russian information can be considered as disinformation. These days, it’s very important to stress that any information – from television shows to news to other television productions – coming from Russia is automatically disinformation, propaganda and fake news. We must understand that there is no truth in what Russia tries to say.

This fight against disinformation is crucial because we are in a phase of big developments in technology and artificial intelligence. We have to ensure that our societies will be prepared, be capable of critical thinking, and understand what is happening in the world right now.

Olympic and world champion Ruta Meilutyte swims across a pond colored red to signify blood, in front of the Russian embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. © Andrius Repsys, AP

To borrow a term from Czech writer Milan Kundera, would you say that Lithuania was “kidnapped from the West” when it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940?

During the Middle Ages, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania spanned from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. We were the same country as Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. We were oriented to the West and not the East. In much older times, during the Kievan Rus period, Moscow didn’t even exist; there were just swamps and nothing more. But with [growing] imperialism from the Russian side, they began portraying history in a different way. Yet our memory is like our DNA, our freedom and orientation are ingrained. The eastern flank of the EU is currently talking about the values of Western civilisation much more emphatically than in the past.

[During the Cold War] not only was our freedom taken but [Russia] tried to delete history and paint a picture only from the time when this imperialism entered our territory. But we remembered what happened in the Middle Ages; we remember how modern Lithuanian statehood arose after World War I and how we regained our freedom in 1990. It’s impossible to delete this memory and name Lithuania as a country that isn’t free. Once you take a breath of freedom, you never forget it. This is the reason why we understand Ukrainians and why we are so active to not only defend the territory of Ukraine, but also the values of Western civilisation as well.   

How has the war in Ukraine influenced Lithuanian life and culture?

The main thing is to think about freedom; we have to do a lot because of that freedom, we have to fight for freedom … we understand more and more that culture plays a big role in this war, because it is based on culture and history. You can see what Putin is declaring and it is truly evident that culture, heritage and historical memory are used as the basis for an explanation of why Russia is waging war in Ukraine right now. (To justify the invasion of Ukraine, Putin has insisted that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and uniting them is a historical inevitability.) 

There are important collaborations taking place with Ukrainian culture and artists. It’s important to give them a platform – for everyone to see that Ukraine is not defeated, that Ukraine is still fighting, that Ukraine will win, that we will help them. 

The best response to an aggressor is to live your daily life, with all your traditions, habits and cultural legacy. This fight is also for your way of life. The situation is not one where you must stop and only think about guns and systems of defence – you have to live, work, create, and keep up your business and cultural life. 

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Russian leak of German military phone call explained: Details, fallout & effect on relations

The story so far: On March 5, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius informed reporters in Berlin that Russian secret services had hacked into an unsecured phone line at a Singapore hotel to join a conference call between high-ranking German air force officers and leaked it to the public. A probe has been ordered into the incident.

Mr. Pistorius said that participants on the call had not “adhered to the secure dialing procedure as intended.” Calling the hacking a “chance hit as part of a scattered approach” by Russia, Germany has downplayed the leak as an “individual mistake by one of the officers.”

 What was discussed on leaked phone call?

A 38-minute audio clip from the call was first posted by Russian broadcaster RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan on March 1 on the messaging platform Telegram.

She claimed that a phone call between German Air Force chief Lieutenant-General Ingo Gerhartz and three other officers — Brigadier-General Frank Graefe and other staffers named Fenske and Frohstedte — was intercepted by Russian army officials. In the call they are allegedly heard discussing a potential strike by Ukraine on the Crimea bridge linking Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

In the conversation, which allegedly took place on February 19 according to Moscow Times, the German officers were discussing the possible use of German-made Taurus missiles and if they could hit a key bridge over the Kerch Strait linking Russia and Crimea. Destruction of the bridge would result in disruption of a key supply route for Russia— a huge win for Ukraine.

The officers also discussed how German soldiers would be needed for early delivery and rapid deployment of Taurus missiles to Kyiv and that training Ukrainian soldiers to deploy the missiles would take months.

File photo: A Taurus cruise missile displayed during a visit by Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder to a production facility of MBDA Deutschland, on March 5, 2024 in Schrobenhausen, Germany. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is under strong domestic and international pressure to supply Ukraine with the Taurus cruise missile, though he has so far remained adamant in his refusal

Detailing how many missiles could be used, the officers also discussed long-range missiles supplied to Ukraine by France (Scalp missiles) and Britain (Storm Shadow). One of the officers also referred to “British soldiers on the ground in Ukraine,” and there were also mentions of “many people in civilian clothes that speak with an American accent,” alluding to the U.S. presence on the ground in Ukraine.

The call, which took place on WebEx, a public platform for video meetings, got leaked when one of the officers joined the call from a Singapore hotel using either his mobile phone or the hotel’s Wi-Fi and not a secure line, which is mandatory for such calls. Without naming the officer, Mr. Pistorius said that the officer had participated in the Singapore Air Show, attended by many European military officers, and then dialled into the call.

Due to the unsecure nature of his connection, the call was intercepted by Russian operatives who were doing “targeted hacking of hotels across the board,” said Mr. Pistorius, adding that the call was a “real find for the Russian secret services.”

What is the aftermath of the leak?

Sharing the audio clip publicly on March 1, Russia declared that it was proof of the direct involvement of western nations in the Russia-Ukraine war. It also demanded an explanation of the discussion from Germany. On March 5, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova threatened Germany with ‘dire consequences,’ saying that “If nothing is done, and the German people do not stop this, then there will be dire consequences first and foremost for Germany itself.”

In response, the German government’s deputy spokesperson Wolfgang Buechner rejected the allegations of “preparing for war against Russia.” Terming the leak as part of Russia’s ‘information war’ aimed to create discord within Germany, he said that the allegations were “absurdly infamous Russian propaganda.” However, Germany did not question the authenticity of the leaked call and an investigation was ordered into the incident.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius gives a press statement on the status of an investigation into the German military audio that was leaked by Russia, in Berlin, on March 5, 2024.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius gives a press statement on the status of an investigation into the German military audio that was leaked by Russia, in Berlin, on March 5, 2024.
| Photo Credit:

Later, when briefing reporters about the initial results of the probe, Mr. Pistorius downplayed the significance of the leaked call saying it was “merely an exchange of ideas” before a meeting with him. Terming the damage due to the leak as “manageable,” he said the real success was the agenda-setting by Moscow on what was being discussed in Berlin, calling it “exactly what Putin wants to achieve.”

He also stated that while the overall security of military intelligence was stepped up and preliminary disciplinary proceedings were being considered, severe personal consequences (for the offending officer) was highly unlikely. “I will not sacrifice any of my best officers to Putin’s games, to put it very clearly,” said Mr. Pistorius. He also claimed that he leak was a “hybrid attack aimed to divide us (Ukraine’s allies).”

 What is the global response?

Countering Russia’s allegations against Germany, Mr. Pistorius reportedly called Berlin’s allies and explained its position on the leak.

Backing Germany, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby refused to comment on the content of leak, but called it Russia’s attempt to “sow discord to show that the West isn’t unified.” He also stated that all allies were working together to support Ukraine and that the “Germans have stepped up in meaningful ways.” The $60-billion bipartisan agreement on military aid to Ukraine passed by the U.S. Senate remains stuck in the Republican-ruled U.S. Congress, reportedly at the whim of the party’s presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speak to the media following talks on March 07, 2024 in Berlin, Germany. The two diplomats discussed military support for Ukraine as well as the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, among other issues.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speak to the media following talks on March 07, 2024 in Berlin, Germany. The two diplomats discussed military support for Ukraine as well as the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, among other issues.

In Britain, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson told reporters that the leak was a matter for Germany to investigate. Previously, Mr. Sunak’s office had stated that “a small number of personnel” were on the ground to provide security for diplomats and support Ukrainian troops. Britain has also termed the use of Storm Shadow missiles as the business of the armed forces of Ukraine.

However, former U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace slammed Germany, terming it “neither secure nor reliable” as it was “pretty penetrated by Russian intelligence.” In reply, Miguel Berger, German ambassador to the U.K., called Mr. Wallace’s statement “extremely unhelpful,” while asserting that there was “no need to apologise” for the security breach. Meanwhile, U.K. Foreign secretary David Cameron is currently visiting Germany to conduct talks with his counterpart Annalena Baerbock on boosting support for Ukraine.

 Effect on Germany-Russia relations

Last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz ruled out delivering Taurus missiles to Ukraine, indicating that Berlin did not want to be drawn into the war directly. The missiles, which have a range up to 500 km, are capable of striking targets deep inside Russian territory. However, despite Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy insisting that “the United States (acts first) and then Germany,” Mr. Scholz asserted that he would not support any German involvement in the military operation against Russia.

In the wake of the phone call leak, Mr. Scholz on March 5 reasserted his stance during a school visit in southwestern Germany. When asked about his refusal to deliver Taurus missiles, despite the U.K.’s nudge to do so, Mr. Scholz said, “I’m the chancellor, and that’s why it’s valid.” German Ambassador to Russia Alexander Graf Lambsdorff was reportedly summoned by Moscow on the same day.

Toning down its attack on Germany, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that a “fast, complete and effective investigation” was assured by Mr. Scholz, adding, “We hope that that we will be able to find out the outcome of that investigation.”

Relations between Germany and Russia have been stable in the post-Cold war era, with Berlin seeking better ties with Moscow focusing on bilateral energy projects such as the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which transports gas directly from Russia to Germany. The trade and energy links between the two nations grew despite Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008.

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin, France’s President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L-R) attend a meeting on February 11, 2015 in Minsk, aimed at halting a 10-month war in Ukraine where dozens were killed in the latest fighting. 

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin, France’s President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L-R) attend a meeting on February 11, 2015 in Minsk, aimed at halting a 10-month war in Ukraine where dozens were killed in the latest fighting. 
| Photo Credit:

However, diplomatic relations soured in 2014 as then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel termed Crimea’s annexation by Russia that year as illegal and supported the suspension of Moscow’s membership in the G7. She also backed economic sanctions on Russia targeting the financial, trade, energy, transport, technology and defence sectors. Relations further soured after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. While Berlin favoured diplomatic talks in the initial phase of the war, its stance hardened as Moscow’s military action increased.

Along with its European Union allies, Germany started supplying military aid to Ukraine and supporting harsh economic sanctions on Russia, leading to a fall in exports by £1.29 billion and imports by £2.36 billion. Germany also cut off its energy dependence on Russia by ending the Nord Stream 2 project and switching to liquid natural gas as an alternative to the Russian gas.

Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 23, 2024.

Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 23, 2024.
| Photo Credit:

Germany has also severely condemned the death of Putin-critic Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison. Mr. Navalny had previously recuperated in Berlin after a poisoning attack. Incidentally, the leak of the military phone call took place on the same day Mr. Navalny was laid to rest at a church outside Moscow, with wishes pouring in from across the world.

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Anti-Putin Russian groups stage new cross-border raids into Russia

Pro-Ukrainian forces are conducting incursions into Russian territory, temporarily seizing a village in the border region of Kursk, reminiscent of similar operations in the spring of 2023 but occurring in a very different military and political context.

Ukraine-based Russian militias are again on the attack, staging cross-border raids this week into Russian territory. Pro-Ukrainian forces even claimed on Tuesday, March 12, to have taken full control of a Russian village. The Freedom of Russia Legion, mainly composed of anti-Putin Russian fighters, posted a video showing Russian soldiers deserting Tetkino, a municipality in the Kursk region, on the Russian side of the border. 

Forces from other pro-Ukrainian groups – the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Siberian Battalion – also announced incursions into the Kursk and Belgorod regions. These attacks were carried out with the support of “tanks, armoured vehicles, and drones“, according to analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group. 

Moscow initially denied the attackers had entered areas inside Russia before stating later that the enemy fighters did not advance very far into Russia and were all driven back. “Thanks to the sacrifice of Russian soldiers, all attacks by Ukrainian terrorists have been repelled,” affirmed the Russian ministry of defence. 

The situation on the ground appears to be somewhat less clear than suggested by Russian authorities. “Currently, there are still battles around Tetkino and pro-Ukrainian forces still seem capable of controlling part of this locality,” says Sim Tack, chief military analyst at Force Analysis, a conflict monitoring company. 

Russia’s national guard said on Thursday it was fighting off attacks from pro-Ukrainian groups in the Kursk region, as clashes continued at the border. 

The Russian defence ministry claimed its troops killed 195 Ukrainian soldiers and destroyed five tanks and four armoured infantry vehicles, two days after saying it killed 234 Ukrainian troops in another border assault. 

In a joint statement, three pro-Kyiv militia groups called on Russian authorities to evacuate civilians from the regions of Belgorod and Kursk, saying that “civilians should not suffer from the war”. 

The current incursions are “very similar to what happened in the spring and summer of 2023”, notes Huseyn Aliyev, a specialist in the Russia-Ukraine war at the University of Glasgow. In that incursion, pro-Kyiv Russian troops had crossed the border – a little further south, in the Belgorod region – and temporarily seized a village before retreating under pressure from Russian artillery. 

At the time unprecedented, last year’s incursions served to put pressure on Russia by highlighting that its national territory was poorly protected. The dynamics of the war were then in Ukraine’s favour, given its army had managed to fend off Russian offensives. The 2023 raids had begun just before the start of Kyiv’s counteroffensive and gave the impression that Ukraine could strike anywhere. 

The situation today is very different. The counteroffensive has fizzled out and Ukraine is now more on the back foot. As Aliyev notes: “Moscow has built a defensive line – similar to the one it set up in Ukraine – about twenty kilometres inside Russian territory.” This line of  trenches extends from the north of the Kursk region to the south of the Belgorod region. 

Before last year, “Russia didn’t have any defensive positions there”, Aliyev adds, meaning incursions could be made deeper into Russian territory. 

Pro-Ukrainian forces chose to attack Tetkino for its vulnerable position.  

“The village captured is not behind the defensive line. It’s a buffer zone, what Russia calls a security zone,” Aliyev says. “On the other side of the border the region is mostly under control of Ukrainians, so it’s not difficult for pro-Ukraine forces to cross the border and occupy that village” 

An attempt to influence the Russian election? 

If taking a border village like Tetkino was a relatively easy objective for the Freedom of Russia Legion and other armed groups of anti-Putin Russians, it remains to be seen how long they’ll be able to stay there. “If they’ve taken armoured vehicles, it’s also in anticipation of a rapid retreat, so they suspect they won’t be able to occupy Tetkino” for long, notes Tack.    

But why expend resources on a raid into Russia instead of strengthening defences on the front line in the Donbas, where Ukraine’s forces are under great duress? Officially, the Freedom of Russia Legion claimed it wanted to “influence the presidential election” to be held March 15-17, according to the Moscow Times 

The pro-Kyiv Russians aim to show their compatriots that there is an alternative to Putin. “It is a way for them to try to prove to the Russians that they have the means to ‘liberate Russia from Putin’,” explains Nicolo Fasola, a specialist in Russian military issues at the University of Bologna. 

The Ukrainian military leadership also stated that the Russian militia groups had acted on their own without informing Kyiv. According to Tack, this is unlikely “because to be able to move troops and tanks in this region, at least tacit approval from the Ukrainian army is needed. But this helps strengthen the narrative of an operation carried out by Russians to overthrow Vladimir Putin“. 

But the ambitions of the anti-Putin forces are obviously unattainable, Tack says. “These fighters do not have the means to go very far,” he notes, adding that they did not even attempt to break through the new Russian defensive lines. 

Few Russians will even hear about the capture of Tetkino, says Aliyev. “The problem is that most Russian don’t follow independent media or Western mass media. And they will be fed with the Russian propaganda about a Ukrainian failed ‘terrorist’ attempt” against Russia.” 

Kyiv’s ‘diversion capabilities’ 

In this regard, the cross-border raids could even be counterproductive. Coming just days before the Russian presidential election, “these incursions will likely cement the attractiveness of Putin as president”, says Fasola. “The rhetoric of a ‘besieged Russia’ is key to Putin’s platform and these attacks on Russian territory basically prove he’s right, in the eyes of the larger Russian public.” 

But these operations are not useless in the eyes of the Ukrainian high command. “These anti-Putin Russian forces are part of the diversion capabilities at Kyiv’s disposal,” notes Tack. “Each of their operations serves to push Moscow to allocate resources capable of intervening quickly to defend the entry points into Russian territory.”  

The raids are part of “a broader strategy at work in recent weeks”, says Tack. There were attacks against Russian warships in the Black Sea at the end of February, followed by the strike using dozens of drones against the Lukoil oil refinery in Kirichi, near Saint Petersburg. These diversions are intended to demonstrate Ukraine’s disruptive capability, even when pushed into an essentially defensive role on the front line. 

This article has been translated from the original in French.  

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‘Noon against Putin’: A small gesture and a powerful symbol of Russia’s opposition

The widow of Russia’s late opposition leader Alexei Navalny is calling on voters in the country’s presidential election to turn up at polling stations en masse at 12 noon on March 17 and either vote against Vladimir Putin or spoil their ballot. The protest action, known as “Noon Against Putin”, aims to honour Navalny’s last wishes, while illustrating the high number of voters who are against Russia’s war on Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin is hoping for record turnout in the country’s forthcoming March 15-17 elections. And now the Russian strongman, who is seeking a fifth term in office in a tightly controlled vote, might find his wish has been granted.

But if voters turn out in high numbers on March 17 at noon sharp, Putin might feel he should have been careful what he wished for.

The “Noon against Putin” protest action was called for by the late Alexei Navalny two weeks before his death in an Arctic prison, and is now being continued by his widow Yulia.

Promoters of the protest want Russians to wait until noon on March 17 to go to their polling station. They don’t care which candidate they vote for – as long as it’s not Putin and as long as they come precisely at noon.

“The choice is yours. You can vote for any candidate except Putin,” Navalnaya said in a YouTube video.

“You can ruin the ballot, you can write ‘Navalny’ in big letters on it. And even if you don’t see the point in voting at all, you can just come and stand at the polling station, and then turn around and go home.”

Russia’s presidential election is widely expected to hand Putin another six-year term, keeping him in the Kremlin until at least 2030. The vote is being held with no meaningful opposition challengers and international observers have already raised concerns about its transparency and accountability.

Navalnaya views the polling protest as a gesture of support for the Russian opposition and a powerful way for citizens to show they are against Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Indeed the protest action may be the only thing motivating Russians who are against Putin to turn out and vote.

“How many people will show up is the only interesting figure in these elections,” says Matthew Wyman, a specialist in Russian politics at Keele University in the UK.

‘Navalny’s political legacy’

“We have to sabotage it [the election],” says Maxim Reznik, an exiled Russian opposition figure who came up with the idea for the initiative, when interviewed by independent Russian news website Meduza.

Reznik first suggested the protest action during a debate – “What to do about the presidential election?” – broadcast in January 2024 on the opposition channel Dozhd.

Since then, most of Russia’s leading opposition figures have voiced their support for the “Noon Against Putin” initiative, starting with Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, which rarely misses an opportunity to promote it.

Novaya Gazeta, the independent Russian newspaper, has even called the protest action “Navalny’s will”.

“It’s very appropriate to link it to Navalny because it’s the kind of thing he would have done,” Wyman points out.

“It is in the spirit of a lot of things Navalny was doing and asking people to do: it’s not difficult, and with small steps you can hope to make big changes,” adds Jenny Mathers, a specialist in Russia at Aberystwyth University in Wales.

“Noon against Putin” ties in perfectly with this strategy. Going to the polling station at a specific time calls for no particular effort from voters – neither does it put them at risk.

“What they are doing is trying to find ways to show resistance without risk of being put in jail. The protest is brilliant because they are doing exactly what the regime wants you to do: going to vote,” says Wyman, adding that the police would find it hard to justify arresting voters for doing their civic duty.

Mathers suggests it is important to start with small steps.

“The idea is to rebuild civil society and a credible opposition force that has been badly hit lately,” she notes. “After small steps, maybe a bigger one will come? I see it as one piece of a long-lasting campaign,” Mathers adds.

The number of Russians opposed to the war

This type of protest action illustrates “the creativity of actions undertaken by the opposition in Russia”, explains Wyman, adding that “the space to protest has been kind of reduced and reduced”.

“Noon against Putin” is just one of a long list of initiatives in a similar vein. Demonstrators have held up blank sheets of paper to symbolise the censorship of any criticism of Russia’s war on Ukraine, and activists have added QR codes to advertising billboards so that citizens can access websites critical of Putin.

“These are the kind of practices you see in regimes that become more and more oppressive,” says Mathers.

“It is like what China does, when they use Winnie the Pooh,” adds Mathers, referring to China’s ban of a Winnie the Pooh film after the Chinese used memes to mock their leader Xi Pingping by comparing him to the honey-loving bear.

Some wonder if the protest action will have any real impact.

“Obviously it’s not going to change the outcome of the election,” admits Mathers.

However, Wyman believes it will give a “better picture” of the strength of the opposition to the war on Ukraine.

The vast crowds that gathered for Navalny’s funeral on March 1 have already given some insight into the feeling of dissent in Russia. At least 27,000 people came to say farewell to Navalny at Borisovsky cemetery on the outskirts of Moscow, according to a count by the independent Russian news outlet Mediazona.

But Stephen Hall, a Russia specialist at the University of Bath, predicts that voter turnout will be much higher than it was for Navalny’s funeral – pointing out that it was mainly Muscovites who attended, and that police had warned people to stay away.

“Here the risk of arrest is low and it’s [taking place] all over Russia.

“This is a low risk way to show you’re against the regime and the war.”

Stealing the media limelight from Putin

Hall believes one of “Noon Against Putin’s” main challenges will be mobilising people outside of Moscow or St Petersburg.

“Putin has always counted on popular support on the outskirts of major urban centres. If long queues form in front of polling stations all over Russia at midday on Sunday, he may start to worry about the real level of his popularity,” he explains.

“Noon against Putin” also aims to steal the media spotlight from the Kremlin.

“The regime wants this election to be non-controversial. So the more disruption there is, like huge numbers going to polling stations at noon, the more this might be a problem for Putin,” says Mathers.

“Putin desperately wants all the world headlines after the election to say he ‘got 85 percent’,” says Reznik.

“But now, rest assured, you’ll see! All the headlines won’t be about Putin’s performance but about what happened at ‘Noon’,” Reznik adds.

“It’s about creating a counter-narrative,” agrees Matthew Wyman.

This is partly so that Russians opposed to the regime do not feel alone, but it’s also “a way to say to the world we are not all Putin, and that there is a movement to support in Russia”, adds Mathers.

But for that to happen, voters will need to turn out in high numbers at polling stations at noon on Sunday.

This article has been translated from the original in French. 

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Pentagon to give Ukraine $300 million in weapons even as it lacks funds to replenish U.S. stockpile

The Pentagon will rush about $300 million in weapons to Ukraine after finding some cost savings in its contracts, even though the military remains deeply overdrawn and needs at least $10 billion to replenish all the weapons it has pulled from its stocks to help Kyiv in its desperate fight against Russia, the White House announced on March 12.

It’s the Pentagon’s first announced security package for Ukraine since December, when it acknowledged it was out of replenishment funds. It wasn’t until recent days that officials publicly acknowledged they weren’t just out of replenishment funds, but $10 billion overdrawn.

Also read: Is the Ukraine war changing world order? | Explained

The announcement comes as Ukraine is running dangerously low on munitions and efforts to get fresh funds for weapons have stalled in the House because of Republican opposition. U.S. officials have insisted for months that the United States wouldn’t be able to resume weapons deliveries until Congress provided the additional replenishment funds, which are part of the stalled supplemental spending bill.

The replenishment funds have allowed the Pentagon to pull existing munitions, air defense systems and other weapons from its reserve inventories under presidential drawdown authority, or PDA, to send to Ukraine and then put contracts on order to replace those weapons, which are needed to maintain U.S. military readiness.

“When Russian troops advance and its guns fire, Ukraine does not have enough ammunition to fire back,” said national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in announcing the $300 million in additional aid.

The Pentagon also has had a separate Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, or USAI, which has allowed it to fund longer-term contracts with industry to produce new weapons for Ukraine.

Senior defense officials who briefed reporters said the Pentagon was able to get cost savings in some of those longer-term contracts of roughly $300 million and, given the battlefield situation, decided to use those savings to go ahead and send more weapons. The officials said the cost savings basically offset the new package and keep the replenishment spending underwater at $10 billion.

One of the officials said the package represented a “one time shot” — unless Congress passes the supplemental spending bill, which includes roughly $60 billion in military aid for Ukraine, or more cost savings are found. It is expected to include anti-aircraft missiles, artillery rounds and armor systems, the official said.

The aid announcement comes as Polish leaders are in Washington to press the U.S. to break its impasse over replenishing funds for Ukraine at a critical moment in the war. Polish President Andrzej Duda met Tuesday with Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate and was to meet with President Joe Biden later in the day.

House Speaker Mike Johnson has so far refused to bring the $95 billion package, which includes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, to the floor. Seeking to put pressure on the Republican speaker, House Democrats have launched a long-shot effort to force a vote through a discharge petition. The seldom-successful procedure would require support from a majority of lawmakers, or 218 members, to move the aid package to a vote.

Ukraine’s situation has become more dire, with units on the front line rationing munitions as they face a vastly better supplied Russian force. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly implored Congress for help, but House Republican leadership has not been willing to bring the Ukraine aid to the floor for a vote, saying any aid must first address border security needs.

Pentagon officials said Monday during budget briefing talks they were counting on the supplemental to cover the $10 billion replenishment hole.

“If we don’t get the $10 billion we would have to find other means,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said. “Right now we’re very much focused on the need for that supplemental.”

This is the second time in less than nine months that the Pentagon has “found” money to use for additional weapons shipments to Ukraine. Last June, defense officials said they had overestimated the value of the weapons the U.S. had sent to Ukraine by $6.2 billion over the past two years.

At the time, Pentagon officials said a review found that the military services used replacement costs rather than the book value of equipment that was pulled from Pentagon stocks and sent to Ukraine. The discovery resulted in a surplus that the department used for presidential drawdown packages until the end of December.

The United States has committed more than $44.9 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including more than $44.2 billion since the beginning of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.

The Pentagon is $10 billion overdrawn in the replenishment account in part due to inflationary pressures, and in part because the new systems the Pentagon is seeking to replace the old systems with cost more, such as the upcoming Precision Strike Missile, or PrSM, which the Army is buying to replace the long-range Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS.

The vast majority of those munitions have come from Army stockpiles due to the nature of the conventional land war in Ukraine.

The months without further shipments of U.S. support have hurt operations, and Ukrainian troops withdrew from the eastern city of Avdiivka last month, where outnumbered defenders had withheld a Russian assault for four months.

CIA Director William Burns told Congress that entire Ukrainian units have told him in recent days of being down to their last few dozen artillery shells and other ammunition. Burns called the retreat from Avdiivka a failure of ammunition resupply, not a failure of Ukrainian will.

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