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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Russia-Ukraine War: How Russia and the World Navigate Two Years of Conflict

Two years on, where does the Ukraine war stand?

Russia’s war in Ukraine has entered its third year. What many thought on February 24, 2022 would be a swift Russian military operation against its smaller neighbour has turned out to be the largest land war in Europe since the end of the Second World War. This is no longer about Russia and Ukraine. This is now a proxy conflict between Russia and NATO, a trans-Atlantic nuclear alliance. Two years since the war began, where does it stand today, and how it’s transforming Russia and the world?

If one looks back at the beginning of the war, it’s not difficult to see that President Vladimir Putin made a grave strategic miscalculation when he ordered the invasion of Europe’s second largest country with less than 2,00,000 troops. Mr. Putin probably expected a quick victory, like he did in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014. But that did not happen.

In 2022, Russians were forced to retreat from Kharkiv and Kherson. The West doubled down on its military and economic support for Ukraine. Russia had declared “demilitarisation” and “denazification” of Ukraine as their objectives. Ukraine wanted to push back the invading troops and recapture the lost territories, including Crimea. The West wanted to use Ukrainian forces to bleed out Russian troops and weaken Russia as a great power. The wheels of war were grinding on. Who is meeting their objectives today?

Ukraine last year launched an ambitious counteroffensive with advances weapons from the West. Their plan was to make swift advances into Russia’s line of defence in the south and destroy Mr. Putin’s land bridge that connects the Donbas with Crimea.

Eight months after counteroffensive began, it’s now evident that the campaign has failed. Gen. Velery Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s former commander in chief who was fired by President Zelensky, had called for a mass mobilisation, suggesting that Ukraine was facing acute shortage of fighters on the frontline. They lost many of their West-supplied weapons in the counteroffensive and are waiting for fresh supplies. Ukraine is almost entirely dependent on the West for critical supplies, but aid from the U.S., the single largest supporter of Ukraine, is stuck in Congress amid growing Republican opposition.

On the other side, the Russians are on the offensive. In December, Russia claimed its first victory since the capture of Bakhmut in May when it seized Maryinka. Earlier this month, Ukraine was forced to abandon Avdiivka, a strategically important town in Donetsk. The Russians are now advancing westward in Donetsk and piling up pressure on Ukrainian forces in Krynky, Kherson, in the south.

The message from the battlefield is alarming for Ukraine and its partners in the West.

Editorial |Endless war: On the Russia-Ukraine war

Take a look at the West’s strategy. The West, or NATO to be specific, had taken a two-fold approach towards Ukraine. One was to provide economic and military assistance to Kyiv to keep the fight against Russia going on; and the second leg was to weaken Russia’s economy and war machine through sanctions. With Ukraine’s failed counteroffensive and a changing political climate in Washington with the prospect of a second Trump presidency looming, the first pillar of this policy faces uncertainty, if not absolute peril. The second pillar, sanctions, has hurt Russia badly. Western officials believe that sanctions have deprived Russia of over $430 billion in revenue it would otherwise have gained since the war began. Europe has also curtailed its energy purchases from Russia. Sanctions have also made it difficult for Moscow to acquire critical technologies, including microchips, which are necessary for its defence industry.

But this is not the whole story.

Russia has found several ways to work around sanctions and keep its economy going. When Europe cut energy sales, Russia offered discounted crude oil to big growing economies such as China, India and Brazil. It amassed a ghost fleet of ships to keep sending oil to its new markets without relying on western shipping companies and insurers. It set up shell companies and private corporations operating in its neighbourhood (say Armenia or Turkey) to import dual use technologies which were re-exported to Russia to be used in defence production. China, the world’s second largest economy, ramped up its financial and trade ties with Russia, including the export of dual use technologies. Russia moved away from the dollar to other currencies, mainly the Chinese yuan, for trade, and boosted defence and public spending at home (its defence budget was raised by nearly 70% this year).

Does it mean that everything is going well for Mr. Putin? No it doesn’t.

Since the war began, two countries in its neighbourhood, Sweden and Finland, have joined NATO, expanding the alliance’s border with Russia. Now, if you look at the Baltic Sea, all basin countries, except Russia, are practically NATO members, which makes it look like a NATO lake.

Mr. Putin spent years, after coming to power, to build strong economic ties with Europe, which are now in tatters. Russia’s hold on its immediate neighbourhood is also loosening, which was evident in tensions with Armenia and the latter’s decision to freeze participation in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Russia is also increasingly becoming dependent on China, even though the Kremlin is careful not to upset the sensitivity of New Delhi.

But how does India look at the war?

India’s ties with Russia have multi-dimensions. While the energy aspect of this partnership, which flourished after the war, is seen largely opportunistic, the defence side is structural. India also sees Russia, a Eurasian powerhouse, as an important long-term strategic partner in tackling its continental challenges. But the elephant in the room was China.

Russia’s deepening ties with China triggered different arguments on India’s choices. One section argued that the growing synergy between Russia and China should serve as a wake-up call for India to revisit its Russia policy. Others, including yours truly, argued that India would be wary of pushing Russia deeper into China’s embrace by toeing the anti-Russian Western line.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar explained India’s thinking on this matter at the Raisina Dialogue recently. The world must give Russia more options, rather than “closing doors” on it and pushing it towards a closer embrace with China, Mr. Jaishankar said. The Minister’s comments underscored India’s concerns about a deepening China-Russia partnership, but his policy prescriptions were nuanced. “What’s happened today with Russia is essentially a lot of doors have been shut to Russia in the West,” he said. “We know the reasons why Russia is turning to parts of the world which are not West. Now, I think it makes sense to give Russia multiple options.”

Meaning, India’s ties with Russia are here to stay and expand, irrespective of what its western partners think of Moscow.

Script and presentation: Stanly Johny

Production: Richard Kujur

Video: Thamodharan B.

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Zelensky hosts Western leaders in Kyiv as Ukraine marks 2 years since Russia’s full-scale invasion

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed Western leaders to Kyiv on February 24 to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, as Ukrainian forces run low on ammunition and weaponry and foreign aid hangs in the balance.

Mr. Zelensky posted a video from the Hostomel airfield together with Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“Two years ago, here, we met enemy landing forces with fire; two years later, we meet our friends and our partners here,” Mr. Zelensky said at the airport just outside of Kyiv, which Russian paratroopers unsuccessfully tried to seize in the first days of the war.

The Western leaders arrived shortly after a Russian drone attack struck a residential building in the southern city of Odesa, killing at least one person. Three women also sustained severe burns in the attack on Friday evening, regional Governor Oleh Kiper wrote on his social media account. Rescue services combed through the rubble looking for survivors.

Italy, which holds the rotating presidency of the Group of Seven leading economies, announced that the G-7 will meet virtually on February 24 with Mr. Zelensky and would adopt a joint statement on Ukraine.

“More than ever we stand firmly by Ukraine. Financially, economically, militarily, morally. Until the country is finally free,” Ms. von der Leyen said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

On the front line in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukrainian soldiers pleaded for ammunition.

“When the enemy comes in, a lot of our guys die. … We are sitting here with nothing,” said Volodymyr, 27, a senior officer in an artillery battery.

“In order to protect our infantry … we need a high number of shells, which we do not have now,” said Oleksandr, 45, a commander of an artillery unit. The two officers only gave their first names, citing security concerns.

In a message on the war’s second anniversary, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, thanked Ukrainian soldiers for their sacrifices and Western allies for their support, saying, “Every projectile, every tank, every armoured vehicle is, first of all, saving the life of a Ukrainian soldier.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Zelensky fired top military commander Valerii Zaluzhnyi and replaced him with Syrskyi, marking the most significant shakeup of top brass since the full-scale invasion.

Authorities also pointed to successes, including the downing of a Russian early warning and control aircraft on February 23.

If confirmed, it would mark the loss of the second such aircraft in just over a month. The Ukrainian military says Russia uses the aircraft to direct missile attacks.

The war has also come to Russia. Drones hit a steel plant in the Lipetsk region in southern Russia on February 24, causing a large fire, regional Governor Igor Artamonov said, adding there are no casualties. Independent Russian media said the Novolipetsk Metallurgical Plant is the largest steel plant in Russia. Videos shared on Russian social media showed several fires burning at the plant, and an explosion could be heard.

Independent Russian news outlet Mediazona said on February 24 that around 75,000 Russian men died in 2022 and 2023 fighting in the war.

A joint investigation published by Mediazona and Meduza, another independent Russian news site, indicates that the rate of Russia’s losses in Ukraine is not slowing and that Moscow is losing around 120 men a day. Based on a statistical analysis of the recorded deaths of soldiers compared with a Russian inheritance database, the journalists said around 83,000 soldiers are likely to have died in the two years of fighting.

According to Mediazona and Meduza‘s analysis, regular Russian troops sustained the heaviest losses in the first months of the war. But, after prisoners were offered their freedom in exchange for fighting and after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization, those groups started to sustain more casualties, particularly in the early months of 2023.

A somber mood hangs over Ukraine as the war against Russia enters its third year and Kyiv’s troops face mounting challenges on the front line amid dwindling ammunition supplies and personnel challenges. Its troops recently withdrew from the strategic eastern city of Avdiivka, handing Moscow one of its biggest victories.

Russia still controls roughly a quarter of the country after Ukraine failed to make any major breakthroughs with its summertime counteroffensive. Meanwhile, millions of Ukrainians continue to live in precarious circumstances in the crossfire of battles, and many others face constant struggles under Russian occupation. Most are waiting for a Ukrainian liberation that hasn’t come.

Olena Zelenska, the President’s wife, said on February 24 that more than 2 million Ukrainian children have left the country since the war began and that at least 528 have been killed. “The war started by Russia deliberately targets children,” she said.

Britain has pledged an additional 8.5 million pounds ($10.8 million) of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, bolstering efforts to provide medical care, food and basic services to residents as the nation marks the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

About 14.6 million people, or 40% of Ukraine’s population, need assistance, with many left homeless or without adequate access to food, water and electricity, Britain’s Foreign Office said in announcing the aid.

In the U.S. Congress, Republicans have stalled $60 billion in military aid for Kyiv, desperately needed in the short term. The EU recently approved a 50 billion-euro (about $54 billion) aid package for Ukraine meant to support Ukraine’s economy, despite resistance from Hungary.

President Joe Biden tied the loss of the defensive stronghold of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region after months of gruelling battles to the stalled U.S. aid. Fears have since spiked that Ukrainian forces will face similar difficulties across other parts of the 1,000-km front line as they come under mounting pressure from Russian assaults.

Despite a heavy crackdown on dissent, some Russians marked the anniversary by laying flowers at Moscow monuments or holding anti-war signs in the streets.

According to OVD-Info, a Russian rights group that tracks political arrests and provides legal aid, at least five people were arrested in Moscow on February 24 while holding signs saying “No to war” or attending a weekly demonstration calling for the return of mobilized Russian soldiers from Ukraine.

Police also detained a young woman who brought flowers in Ukraine’s national colours, blue and yellow, to a Moscow monument to victims of political repression, OVD-Info reported.

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Ukraine vows triumph over Russian ‘darkness’ on two-year anniversary of war

Ukraine on Saturday vowed to triumph over Russian “darkness” as it entered a new year of war weakened by a lack of Western aid and with Moscow emboldened by fresh gains. To mark the second anniversary, a virtual summit of G7 leaders was set to take place at Kyiv’s Saint Sophia Cathedral Saturday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attending. Follow FRANCE 24’s coverage of the two-year war anniversary.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” at dawn on February 24, 2022, many expected victory within days, but Ukraine fought back, forcing Russian troops into humiliating retreats.

Since then, however, Ukraine has suffered setbacks, with the failure of its 2023 counteroffensive.

  • Ukraine faces problem finding new soldiers

Ukrainian army is facing problems finding fresh soldiers as, in addition to losses, the exhaustion of Ukrainian soldiers, some of whom have been deployed since the start of hostilities, means that rotations will also be necessary over the coming months. Kyiv passed a controversial bill to tighten rules on mobilization, as army recruiters roam the streets.

Ukraine’s military command has said 450,000 to 500,000 additional recruits are needed for the next phase of the war. Even if Ukraine succeeds in mobilizing that number, which is unlikely, it still would not be able to match the manpower of Russia, which has more than three times Ukraine’s population.

Lawmakers have spent months mulling over a controversial proposal to increase the conscription pool, as many Ukrainian men continue to evade the war in Ukrainian cities. Watch our report below.

  • ‘We need to convince at least 5 million people to come back,’ says Ukraine deputy minister.

FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg is joined by Tetyana Berezhna, Ukraine’s deputy minister of economy, in Kyiv. According to her, Ukraine needs its economy to grow by 7%, “and for that, we need to convince at least 5 million people to come back”. To achieve that figure, Ukrainian authorities started a “grant program” to help Ukrainians “creating companies”.

  • Putin ‘undermining democracy’ across globe, fighting military war in Ukraine & ‘hybrid war’ in West

Inna Sovsun, member of Ukraine’s parliament, deputy head of “GOLOS” Party, and senior lecturer at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, delivers her analysis of Russian aggression as the Russia-Ukraine war enters its third year.

  • Ukraine’s Zelensky vows victory as Western leaders visit Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promised victory against Russia on the second anniversary of the invasion on Saturday as his troops fight on despite a lack of Western aid and recent Russian gains.

“We will win,” he said at a ceremony at Kyiv’s Gostomel airport, which was targeted by Russia in the first days of the all-out assault in 2022.

He spoke alongside the Canadian, Italian and Belgian prime ministers and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen who came to Kyiv to mark the date.  

Ukraine’s military chief Oleksandr Syrsky said he was confident of victory “because light always conquers darkness”.

  • EU chiefs praise Ukrainian ‘resistance’ in visit to Kyiv

FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reports from Kyiv, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen vowed that Europe would back Ukraine until it was “finally free” as she and three other Western leaders arrived in Kyiv to show solidarity on the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The visit by von der Leyen and the prime ministers of Italy, Canada and Belgium – Giorgia Meloni, Justin Trudeau and Alexander De Croo – was a show of support as Ukraine suffers shortages of military supplies that are hurting it on the battlefield as Moscow grinds out territorial gains.

  • UK pledges £245 million to boost Ukraine artillery reserves

Britain announced on Saturday a new £245 million ($311 million) defence package to help boost the production of “urgently needed artillery ammunition” for Ukraine, two years after war broke out with Russia.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said Ukraine’s armed forces “against all odds” had recaptured large parts of the land seized by Russia in its 2022 invasion. “But they cannot win this fight without the support of the international community – and that’s why we continue to do what it takes to ensure Ukraine can continue to fight towards victory,” he added.

The new funding will be used to “procure and invigorate supply chains to produce urgently needed artillery ammunition to boost Ukraine’s reserves”, said the ministry of defence (MoD). Ukraine has been “particularly noted for its highly effective use of its artillery”, the MoD added.

In an update to parliament on Thursday, Shapps confirmed the delivery of an additional 200 Brimstone anti-tank missiles, bringing the total number to more than 1,300. He also announced the United Kingdom will co-lead an international coalition that will supply thousands of drones to Ukraine.

  • Two years after Russia’s invasion, Ukraine reorients its strategy to focus on defence

Two years after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the lack of troops and ammunition and the depth of Russia’s field fortifications are forcing Kyiv to adopt a more defensive strategy. As it waits for more Western support, the Ukrainian army is holding out for better days, as FRANCE 24’s Grégoire Sauvage reports.

  • Ukraine vows triumph over Russian ‘darkness’

Ukrainian officials voiced defiance on the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion, despite a bleak picture for Kyiv. “I am convinced that unity is our victory. And it will definitely happen. Because light always conquers darkness!” the Ukrainian army’s chief Oleksandr Syrsky said on social media.

Western leaders are in Kyiv and have pledged fresh millions to boost Ukraine’s military,   But the overall picture remains dark for Ukraine due to the US Congress blocking a vital $60 billion aid package, on top of delays in promised European deliveries. US President Joe Biden renewed calls for Republican lawmakers to unblock the additional funding, warning that “history is waiting” and “failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will not be forgotten”.

  • Ukraine attacks Russian steel plant with drones, Ukrainian source says

Ukraine attacked a steel plant belonging to Russia’s Novolipetsk RAO with drones overnight in a joint operation by the GUR military intelligence agency and SBU security service, a Ukrainian source said on Saturday.

The source told Reuters the attack had caused a major fire at the plant and staff had been evacuated.

“Raw materials from this enterprise are used to manufacture Russian missiles, artillery, drones. Therefore, it is a legitimate goal for Ukraine,” the source said, without specifying the location of the plant.

  • Western leaders visit Kyiv for two-year war anniversary

Saturday’s anniversary will see visits by Western leaders including EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who praised Ukraine‘s “extraordinary resistance” as she arrived in the capital.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also arrived in Kyiv to take part in the G7 summit.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters & AP)

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A Ukrainian soldier in France speaks about writing and recovery

Ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Ukrainian soldier and author Oleksandr “Teren” Budko spoke to FRANCE 24 about his path to recovery after losing both legs, his approach to writing and his patriotism.

On a recent evening at the Ukrainian Cultural Institute in France, Oleksandr “Teren” Budko stood with his interpreter before a large audience of Ukrainians and other nationalities. Blond and with a boyish face, the 27-year-old Ukrainian soldier was on the French leg of his European book tour for “Story of a Stubborn Man”. The autobiography interspersed with memories from the front lines recounts his road from civilian to soldier and then to battle-scarred veteran.

Budko began writing the book in October 2022, just two months after losing both legs after a shell landed near him in a trench during the counteroffensive for the city of Kharkiv. “I found inspiration for my writing on the front lines,” he said. Even before the injury, he had been publishing short texts accompanied by pictures of him and his buddies in combat gear as they worked to repel the Russian enemy.

Athletically built and wearing a quilted blue shirt and shorts that showed his prosthetics, Budko was as comfortable as a stand-up comedian in front of a crowd. “There is no truth in the leg,” he said, repeating a Ukrainian proverb that suggests a person who has walked a lot cannot tell the truth because they are tired.

Appreciation for a war hero

Yet he wanted to get as close to the truth as possible while writing his book. He wanted to capture the voices of his comrades and the sights and the sounds of what he experienced in eastern Ukraine. He would try to write, but then get stuck with month-long bouts of writer’s block. A trip to Florida, where he went to get fitted with sports prosthetics so he could participate in the Invictus Games, finally changed something in him. “I was there under the sun, I swam in the sea in Miami, I ate at McDonald’s – and this gave me the perfect circumstances to write this book,” he said.

Thousands of miles away from Ukraine, he revisited his prior experience as a Ukrainian soldier. His days were filled with rehabilitation but, at night, he would write. Like plunging into the nearly clear waters off the Atlantic coast, he immersed himself in his memories of fighting the war and typed them up on a computer.

“Some of the people I wrote about in the book are dead, and that’s why it was so hard to write the text,” said Budko. Luckily, many people in the book did survive, “including my comrade Artem”, he said, nodding toward a young man in a wheelchair sitting in the front row. The audience responded with lengthy applause in appreciation of the two young men for their sacrifice – and for coming home alive.

Memories from the war

Budko agreed to an interview the next day to talk about what led him to fight in the war and his memories from that time. After a visit to Paris‘s Carnavalet Museum, with its elaborate displays dedicated to the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, the young man in a black hoodie settled at a kebab restaurant on the Rue des Rosiers, an eclectic street in the Marais neighbourhood of central Paris. He was accompanied by his editor and a lively group of young Ukrainians who, judging by their level of excitement, appeared to be visiting the French capital for the first time.

Sitting with his back against the wall, a bit apart from the group, Budko suddenly seemed less like a comedian and more like a wise old man. “I wrote this book for civilians and for people who had never seen war, so they could understand what happens on the front lines,” he said. 

Through his interpreter, Budko said he was in Kyiv when the war began on February 24, 2022. “I signed up as a volunteer because I wanted to defend my country from the enemy and help it gain independence,” he said.

Although he had never held a weapon before in his life, he joined the Carpathian Sich 49th Infantry Battalion, a battalion of the Ukrainian Ground Forces established in May 2022. After some training and taking part in the defence of the capital Kyiv, Budko was deployed to northeastern Ukraine near Izium.

Most people in the battalion were volunteers who accepted the consequences of their choice, remembered Budko. “Of course Bakhmut and Avdiivka exist (two besieged cities known for scenes of the most ferocious violence of the war), but the life of a soldier is not only about fighting,” he added.

Budko recalled one moment when he ate a slice of foie gras for breakfast: “For me, it was a sign I was still alive,” he said. Despite being trained as killing machines, Budko said he and his fellow volunteers continued civilian life to the best of their ability, preparing traditional meals like borscht, a red beetroot soup, and taking the time to enjoy them with each other. This also meant saving abandoned cats and dogs and evacuating elderly people from zones that had become too perilous for them to stay.

An invincible optimism

From the trenches, the soldiers watched Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speeches and followed news reports on military support from abroad. “We were interested in how the war was going to end, but of course the weapons situation was important too, because without weapons it was going to be impossible to end the war,” said Budko. “Despite the many weapons given, it was never enough.”

Writing the book also allowed Budko to relive some of the moments from “one of the best times of my life”, he said. The adventure, the camaraderie and the moments of peace, such as when he would lie down on the ground with a book, seem to have left Budko with a sense of nostalgia devoid of any bitterness. But today he preferred not to talk about the day he suffered the injury that caused him to lose both legs: “There is no trauma, but I’ve told the story too many times.”

Budko said he has always been endowed with an invincible optimism. He said what changed after the injury is that he “became braver and more open to people”.

Thinking back to his time in the service, the young man recalled the discovery of a small kobzar (a Ukrainian bard) figurine he made one day while digging trenches in the Kharkiv region. The statue was more confirmation that the lands were Ukrainian, he said, because kobzars never existed in Russia. It further convinced him of his role in preserving Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Budko likened the war to a “David against Goliath” struggle and voiced a warning about the existential nature of the threat: “The less support Ukraine gets, the closer the enemy gets to other European countries.”

With this in mind, his goal today is to “contribute to the Western population’s understanding of the war, and encourage them to support us so that they can help obtain a Ukrainian victory as soon as possible”.

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Two years after Russia’s invasion, Ukraine reorients its strategy to focus on defence

Two years after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the lack of troops and ammunition and the depth of Russia’s field fortifications are forcing Kyiv to adopt a more defensive strategy. As it waits for more Western support, the Ukrainian army is holding out for better days.

Is “defend now, attack better later” Ukraine’s best shot? Two years after Russian forces invaded its territory, Ukraine has officially adopted a new strategy focused on defence. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted that the situation on the front lines was “extremely difficult” in his daily address on February 19.

Since the failure of Kyiv’s summer counteroffensive, which cost Valerii Zaluzhnyi his position as commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, it is no longer time for major manoeuvres aimed at finding a breech in the Russian strategy, according to high-ranking Ukrainian sources. “We changed from an offensive to a defensive operation,” admitted the country’s new army chief, General Oleksandr Syrsky, in an interview with German channel ZDF broadcast on February 13.

Read moreZelensky’s A-team: Who is who among Ukraine’s new army commanders

It is hard to imagine any other option for the Ukrainian army. For months it has been up against an imposing Russian defensive line of trenches, concrete cones and minefields stretching 15 to 20km deep, preventing any armoured vehicle from piercing through.

“After regaining some of the territories that had been captured by the Russians, the summer of 2023 marked a turning point in the conflict. The deep Russian defensive lines exhausted the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Russians still have gaps and command problems, but they learn quickly and their ability to adapt should never be underestimated,” says Guillaume Lasconjarias, a military historian and lecturer at France’s Sorbonne University.

In the Ukrainian battlefield, the massive use of drones is also having a serious impact on offensive operations. . With these “eyes” positioned all along the front line by both sides, the battlefield has now become “transparent”, rendering obsolete the element of surprise so dear to military strategists.

“To concentrate efforts in one point is less and less possible. Instead, we are now seeing strategies based on multiple ‘stabbing’ motions. But in the end, this leads to exhaustion,” says Lasconjarias.

Ammo crisis

As a result, the front line is deadlocked and neither side seems able to bend their opponent. “As in World War I, we have reached such a technological level that we find ourselves at a dead end,” Zaluzhnyi admitted back in November 2023 in an interview published in British weekly The Economist.

“We must also take into account the recent change of leadership within the Ukrainian armed forces. A change of leadership requires the armed forces to take a moment to reorganise and reorient their structure and actions so they can be in line with the plans of the new chief of staff. Returning to a more defensive strategy in the short term may help to achieve this reorganisation,” says Nicolo Fasola, a specialist in Russian military issues at the University of Bologna.

The alarming shortage of ammunition is also forcing Kyiv to adopt a more cautious stance. In this static warfare, hundreds of thousands of shells are fired by each army every month. However, the blocking of aid by the US Congress and the delays in deliveries promised by Europe are severely handicapping Ukraine’s capacities.

According to military experts, the “fire ratio” – which measures the difference in the rate of artillery fire between enemies – is currently one to ten in favour of Russia.

“Even if it seemed to even out last summer, the volume of fire has always been in favour of the Russians. In the Russian-Soviet military tradition, artillery is an extremely important factor in shaping the battlefield. Faced with this large and diversified artillery, the Ukrainians have more precise cannons, such as the French Caesar or the American M777. But they have two problems: they have to move more often to avoid destruction, and they can fire back only when they know they are going to hit the target because of their lack of ammunition,” explains Guillaume Lasconjarias.

“Ukraine’s resources are becoming more limited,” adds Fasola. “It should also be stressed that most of the sophisticated equipment supplied to Kyiv has not been used effectively. It is illusory to think that the Ukrainian armed forces, which could not be trained in an in-depth way, could use these resources as efficiently as a Western army.”

Preserving Ukrainian national unity

The recent withdrawal from the eastern town of Avdiivka illustrates Kyiv’s new defensive posture. After months of fierce fighting, the Ukrainian General Staff made the difficult choice of a tactical withdrawal. If it offered a symbolic victory to the Kremlin, this decision also preserved the lives of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. This decision is in stark contrast to the all-out tactics seen during the bloody battle of Bakhmut, a town in the Donbas region that fell into Russian hands in May 2023.

Along with flagging stocks of ammunition, dwindling manpower is another of the Ukrainian army’s major problems. According to a declassified document sent to the US Congress, Kyiv has suffered losses estimated at 70,000 dead and 120,000 wounded in two years. Russian losses are estimated at 315,000 dead or wounded.

In addition to the losses, the exhaustion of Ukrainian soldiers, some of whom have been deployed since the start of hostilities, means that rotations will also be necessary over the coming months.

“The real challenge for 2024 is for Ukraine to be able to regain some of the flexibility of its deployed brigades, which are now exhausted. It will also be necessary in order to mobilise newcomers, train them, equip them and take them to the front. This raises the question of the public’s ongoing acceptance of the conflict,” says Lasconjarias.

Watch moreIn Spain, Ukrainian civilians prepare for battle at a training centre near Madrid

A draft law wants to solve this problem. The controversial bill aimed at facilitating mobilisation was given the thumbs-up by the Ukrainian parliament on its first reading in early February. But the text has also triggered a lively public debate at a time when the stalemate in the war, the stagnation of the front and the uncertainty hanging over Western support have naturally affected the morale of both the troops and the population. Zelensky will have to work his way out of this down phase to preserve the national unity, which has so often been praised by his Western partners.

“From a military point of view, it seems impossible to avoid some form of conscription extension, but its political cost will be high,” says Fasola. “It also raises the problem of troop management, because if people are recruited by force or against their will, there are two possibilities: either you treat your troops as Russia does, meaning with no regard for their dignity and free will, or you end up with people who don’t want to fight or follow orders, which is very problematic for military strategy and effectiveness.”

‘War of attrition slowly but steadily in Russia’s favour’

While waiting to rebuild its offensive potential, the Ukrainian army will be trying over the coming months to inflict as many losses as possible on its Russian enemy while conserving its troops and ammunition. Beyond just holding out in a defensive posture, Ukraine is likely to continue its in-depth attacks against logistical infrastructures, particularly in the Russian border regions of Bryansk and Belgorod and in the annexed Crimean Peninsula in the hope of weakening Russia’s military system.

Kyiv’s official objective remains unchanged: to reconquer the territories annexed or occupied by Russia since 2014, which represents 18 percent of Ukraine’s territory.

Read moreMaidan Revolution protesters lament enduring corruption in Ukraine, 10 years on

According to analysts, only increased Western support could enable General Syrsky’s troops to move forward again. Such a scenario is far from certain, especially from the US: Democrats and Republicans are tearing each other apart in Congress over the question, and former president Donald Trump, who is hostile to continued US aid, is leading polls ahead of November’s US presidential election.

Moscow and Kyiv are “racing to rebuild their offensive capacities. If further Western funds are not released, if Russia gains the upper hand in one way or another, Moscow will have the opportunity to make further progress,” Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a researcher at the Washington-based Center for New American Security, told AFP. “The dynamic has changed,” says the analyst, stressing that “from Putin’s point of view, 2024 is a crucial year”.

According to the experts interviewed by FRANCE 24, Russia should be able to continue supplying the front line with troops and equipment throughout the year, but to no gain or advantage, at least in the short term. “The front line is not likely to change radically. Over the next few months, Russia will continue to gradually erode Ukrainian control of the front line, which will nevertheless be very costly for Moscow,” predicts Fasola. “I expect the war to continue in the same way as it is today, as a war of attrition that is unfolding slightly, slowly, but steadily in Russia’s favour.”

This story has been adapted from its original in French.

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Zelensky’s A-team: Who is who among Ukraine’s new army commanders

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky labelled it a “reset” while others have called it a “shake-up”: FRANCE 24 takes a look at the new team of army commanders tasked with helping Ukraine rebuild military momentum and ultimately win the war against Russia.

After weeks of speculation, Zelensky announced he was replacing popular military chief Valery Zaluzhny earlier this month while also unveiling a complete reshuffle of his top command.

To find out more about Zelensky’s new men, FRANCE 24 spoke to Ryhor Nizhnikau, a Ukraine specialist and senior research fellow at the Russia, the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood and Eurasia research programme at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Oleksandr Syrsky, commander-in-chief: ‘The Snow Leopard’ or ‘the Butcher’

Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky, 58, is hardly a new face to Ukrainians. Syrsky is a career military man who led Ukrainian troops against the Russia-backed separatist revolt in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014, earning him the nickname, “Snow Leopard”.

Until his appointment as the army’s new commander, Syrsky – whose leadership style is described as traditionalist and in line with his Soviet army training – served as the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces. He is credited with fighting off the Russians around Kyiv at the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022 and for masterminding one of Ukraine’s most important victories in the war so far: the counteroffensive and liberation of the eastern Kharkiv region.

But the war has also cast something of a shadow over Syrsky’s name, earning him the much less flattering nickname “the Butcher”. According to Politico, this stems from Ukraine’s dire – and very deadly – defeat in the small but key city of Bakhmut which became known as the “meat grinder” and whose defence Syrsky oversaw.

According to Nizhnikau, Syrsky has a dual reputation. While he is viewed as a respected commander within the army, the general public has had a harder time swallowing the human losses he has been blamed for.

“While the polls show that [his predecessor], Zaluzhny, had 94 percent of the public’s trust, the number for Syrsky is something like 40 percent,” he explained.

One of Syrsky’s biggest challenges, Nizhnikau notes, will be to not only fill Zaluzhny’s boots, but to stop being compared to him.

Read moreUkraine’s Zelensky replaces top general Zaluzhny with Syrsky in dramatic military shakeup

Oleksandr Pavliuk, commander of armed forces: The model soldier

Lieutenant General Oleksandr Pavliuk, 53, is Ukraine’s former deputy defence minister and was handpicked by Syrsky himself. In an interview with Ukrainska Pravda, Syrsky said Pavliuk – who in the past two years has served as Syrsky’s deputy – was the only name he ever considered for the position.

Pavliuk fought on the front line in Donetsk in 2014. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion in 2022, he was in charge of defending the eastern regions and later the defence of Kyiv. He is a decorated “Hero of Ukraine” soldier.

Nizhnikau said Pavliuk is a very respected model soldier whose only drawback is that he temporarily veered into the political world by becoming a deputy minister in early 2023 and could be viewed as having a foot both in the Zelensky administration and in the army.

Yurii Sodol, commander of the joint forces: What happened in Mariupol?

Lieutenant General Yurii Sodol, 53, has also been handed the “Hero of Ukraine” award and is the former head of Ukraine’s marine corps. Like many of the others, he brings with him frontline experience from 2014 and is described by Nizhnikau as a “solid soldier”.

Although very little is known about Sodol – he has quite successfully managed to stay out of the public eye – questions remain over his role in the defence of Mariupol, of which he was originally in charge. As Mariupol came under siege, the captain of the Azov regiment acted as de-facto commander. According to Nizhnikau, although Sodol has in no way been accused of any wrongdoing, his and others’ role in this tragedy is “heavily discussed in Ukraine”. 

Documents that will be declassified after the war may very well show he was just following orders, Nizhnikau said.

He added that Sodol has proven to be an effective and modern army commander and is well known for the modernisation of the Ukrainian marine corps in line with NATO standards.

Ihor Plahuta, commander of territorial defence forces: The one with the missing biography

Major General Ihor Plahuta, 56, has been described by Ukrainska Pravda as “the most mysterious and ambiguous appointment” in Zelensky’s new team of commanders, with no trace of a past prior to 2005.

Plahuta’s documented experience with the army includes serving as commander for Ukraine’s Separate Presidential Brigade, the army’s 169th Training Centre, and the Southern Territorial Command of the Internal Troops of the interior ministry. More recently, he was the deputy commander of the Khortytsia operational-strategic group, which is a formation of Ukrainian ground troops fighting the Russian invasion.

Nizhnikau said Plahuta is by far the most politically risky appointment, not least because he – during his time with the interior ministry’s internal troops – was part of the force that stormed the Euromaidan protests back in 2014.   

But Nizhnikau said this does not seem to have counted against him so far. The Euromaidan experience does not necessarily discredit Plahuta because he was “quite reasonable – trying to negotiate with the protesters and avoiding unnecessary clashes – so most people seem to think it’s not that big of a deal”.

There are others in Zelensky’s government who were also on the “wrong” – that is, the pro-Russian – side of the Euromaidan protests, Nizhnikau noted.

Ihor Skybyuk, commander of air assault forces

Brigadier General Ihor Skybyuk, 48, is the youngest of the pack, and takes on his new role after serving as chief of staff and deputy commander of Ukraine’s air assault forces. Prior to that, he served as commander of the 80th Air Assault Brigade, known as the “Firefighters”, which took part in the 2022 Kharkiv counteroffensive.

Ukrainska Pravda cites official reports saying that it was thanks to Skybyuk’s “decisive and timely” actions that the eastern Ukrainian city of Izium was liberated. Skybyuk earned the “Hero of Ukraine” title for his efforts.

The newspaper described him as a balanced and calm leader who never shouts at his subordinates. 

Nizhnikau also cited Skybyuk’s reputation for bravery, adding that the Firefighters have “always been sent to the most difficult parts of the front and, at times, had to stop Russian offenses in open fields”.

Nizhnikau said the new military command seems to be a step in the right direction as Ukraine struggles to regain momentum on the ground after months of impasse, calling the new appointments generally positive “and, in some cases, very positive”. 

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Nazi death camp survivors mark anniversary of Auschwitz liberation on Holocaust Remembrance Day

A group of survivors of Nazi death camps marked the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during World War II in a modest ceremony Saturday in southern Poland.

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About 20 survivors from various camps set up by Nazi Germany around Europe laid wreaths and flowers and lit candles at the Death Wall in Auschwitz.

Later, the group will hold prayers at the monument in Birkenau. They were memorializing around 1.1 million camp victims, mostly Jews. The memorial site and museum are located near the city of Oswiecim. 

Nearly 6 million European Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust — the mass murder of Jews and other groups before and during World War II

Marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the survivors will be accompanied by Polish Senate Speaker Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, Culture Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz and Israeli Ambassador Yacov Livne. 

The theme of the observances is the human being, symbolized in simple, hand-drawn portraits. They are meant to stress that the horror of Auschwitz-Birkenau lies in the suffering of people held and killed there.

Holocaust victims were commemorated across Europe.

In Germany, where people put down flowers and lit candles at memorials for the victims of the Nazi terror, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that his country would continue to carry the responsibility for this “crime against humanity.”

He called on all citizens to defend Germany’s democracy and fight antisemitism, as the country marked the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

“Never again’ is every day,” Scholz said in his weekly video podcast. “Jan. 27 calls out to us: Stay visible! Stay audible! Against antisemitism, against racism, against misanthropy — and for our democracy.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose country is fighting to repel Russia’s full-scale invasion, posted an image of a Jewish menorah on X, formerly known as Twitter, to mark the remembrance day.

“Every new generation must learn the truth about the Holocaust. Human life must remain the highest value for all nations in the world,” said Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and has lost relatives in the Holocaust. 

“Eternal memory to all Holocaust victims!” Zelenskyy tweeted.

In Italy, Holocaust commemorations included a torchlit procession alongside official statements from top political leaders. 

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni said that her conservative nationalist government was committed to eradicating antisemitism that she said had been “reinvigorated” amid the Israel-Hamas war. Meloni’s critics have long accused her and her Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, of failing to sufficiently atone for its past.

Later Saturday, leftist movements planned a torchlit procession to remember all victims of the Holocaust — Jews but also Roma, gays and political dissidents who were deported or exterminated in Nazi camps.

Police were also on alert after pro-Palestinian activists indicated that they would ignore a police order and go ahead with a rally planned to coincide with the Holocaust commemorations. Italy’s Jewish community has complained that such protests have become occasions for the memory of the Holocaust to be co-opted by anti-Israel forces and used against Jews.

In Poland, a memorial ceremony with prayers was held Friday in Warsaw at the foot of the Monument to the Heroes of the Ghetto, who fell fighting the Nazis in 1943.

Earlier in the week, the countries of the former Yugoslavia signed an agreement in Paris to jointly renovate Block 17 in the red-brick Auschwitz camp and install a permanent exhibition there in memory of around 20,000 people who were deported from their territories and brought to the block. Participating in the project will be Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia

The gate with “Arbeit macht frei” (Work sets you free) written across it is pictured at the Auschwitz-Birkenau former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp during events marking the 79th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Oswiecim, Poland on January 27, 2024. © Bartosz Siedlik, AFP

Preserving the camp, a notorious symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust, with its cruelly misleading “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes One Free”) gate, requires constant effort by historians and experts, and substantial funds.

The Nazis, who occupied Poland from 1939-1945, at first used old Austrian military barracks at Auschwitz as a concentration and death camp for Poland’s resistance fighters. In 1942, the wooden barracks, gas chambers and crematoria of Birkenau were added for the extermination of Europe’s Jews, Roma and other nationals, as well as Russian prisoners of war. 

Soviet Red Army troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, with about 7,000 prisoners there, children and those who were too weak to walk. The Germans had evacuated tens of thousands of other inmates on foot days earlier in what is now called the Death March, because many inmates died of exhaustion and cold in the sub-freezing temperatures. 

Since 1979, the Auschwitz-Birkenau site has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage.


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Russia launches 122 missiles in one of biggest attacks on Ukraine since start of war

Russia launched 122 missiles and 36 drones against Ukrainian targets, officials said Friday, killing at least 18 civilians across the country in what an air force official said was the biggest aerial barrage of the 22-month war.

AFP reporters in Kyiv heard several powerful explosions in the early hours of Friday and saw thick black smoke billowing from a warehouse.

“We haven’t seen so much red on our monitors for a long time,” said Yuriy Ignat, a spokesman for Ukraine‘s air force, explaining that Russian forces had first launched a wave of suicide drones followed by missiles.

The Ukrainian air force intercepted 87 of the missiles and 27 of the Shahed-type drones overnight, Ukraine’s military chief Valery Zaluzhnyi said.

Air Force commander Mykola Oleshchuk wrote on his official Telegram channel: “The most massive aerial attack” since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

According to the Ukrainian air force, the previous biggest assault was in November 2022 when Russia launched 96 missiles against Ukraine. This year, the biggest was 81 missiles on March 9, air force records show.

“There are people killed by Russian missiles today that were launched at civilian facilities, civilian buildings,” presidential aide Andriy Yermak said.

“We are doing everything to strengthen our air shield. But the world needs to see that we need more support and strength to stop this terror,” he said on Telegram.

Two people were confirmed dead in the capital Kyiv, with more people thought to be trapped under rubble at a warehouse damaged by falling debris, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram messenger.

He also said the capital’s air defences were working intensively.

A metro station whose platforms were being used as an air raid shelter was damaged, he said.

Sergiy Popko, head of Kyiv’s military administration, said a warehouse with an area of around 3,000 square metres (32,300 square feet) was burning in the northern Podil district.

“There are many wounded, the number is being clarified,” he said.

In other districts of the city, an uninhabited multistorey block of flats also caught fire and a private house was damaged, Popko said.

Maternity hospital struck

In the central Shevchenko district, a residential building was damaged and there was also a fire in a warehouse with six believed to be injured, Popko said.

Klitschko wrote on social media that there appeared to be three people still under rubble of the warehouse while three others had been rescued.

The overnight attacks came days after Ukraine struck a Russian warship in the occupied Crimean port of Feodosia in a major setback for the Russian navy.

Drones and missiles struck at least five other Ukrainian cities on Friday, including Kharkiv in the northeast, Lviv in the west, Dnipro in the east and Odesa in the south, the cities’ mayors and police said.

“So far we have counted 22 strikes in different districts of Kharkiv,” the mayor, Igor Terekhov, said on television.

“There are currently seven injured in hospital. Unfortunately one person has died.”

In Lviv, governor Maksym Kozytsky said that “one person was killed and three wounded”.

In Dnipro, the mayor, Borys Filatov, said there were injured and dead. The health ministry said that a maternity hospital in the city had been “severely damaged”.

Two people were killed in the Black Sea port city of Odesa and at least 15 were injured, including two children, as missiles hit residential buildings, the regional governor said.

Ukraine’s southern command said 14 attack drones had been destroyed in the south of the country and there were no casualties reported.

The Polish army said a Russian missile passed through Polish airspace on Friday, entering from and then back into Ukraine, as Russia pummelled Ukraine with the barrage. 

“Everything indicates that a Russian missile entered Polish airspace … It also left our airspace,” General Wieslaw Kukula, chief of the general staff of the Polish armed forces, told reporters. 

“The object arrived from the Ukrainian border,” Colonel Jacek Goryszewski, spokesman of the operational command of the armed forces, earlier told news channel TVN24. 

“There was intense shelling of Ukrainian territory at night so this incident could be linked to that.” 

He said the airspace violation occurred near the Polish border city of Zamosc. 

Crucial Western support

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday said Moscow’s latest missile strikes on Ukraine showed Russian President Vladimir “Putin will stop at nothing to achieve his aim of eradicating freedom and democracy”.

“We will not let him win. We must continue to stand with Ukraine – for as long as it takes,” he added on X, formerly Twitter.

On Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the United States for releasing the last remaining package of weapons available for Ukraine under existing authorisation, as uncertainty surrounds further aid to his war-torn country.

Zelensky had warned that any change in policy from the US – Kyiv’s main backer – could have a strong impact on the course of the war.

“I thank President Joe Biden, Congress, and the American people for the $250 million military aid package announced yesterday,” Zelensky said on social media.

In an interview published on Friday, Christian Freuding, a German general who oversees the German army’s support for Kyiv, said Russia was severely weakened but was showing greater “resilience” than Western allies had expected at the start of the war.

“We perhaps did not see, or did not want to see, that they are in a position to continue to be supplied by allies,” he told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

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(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters, AP)

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Biden willing to ‘compromise’ on US border policy as Senate Republicans block Ukraine aid

As Senate Republicans blocked the advance of tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance for Ukraine Wednesday, President Joe Biden berated their tactics as “stunning” and dangerous. Yet he also signaled an openness to what GOP lawmakers ultimately want: border policy changes.

Biden at the White House warned of dire consequences for Kyiv – and a “gift” to Russia’s Vladimir Putin – if Congress fails to pass a $110 billion package of wartime funding for Ukraine and Israel as well as other national security priorities. Hours later, Senate Republicans defiantly voted to stop the package from advancing, something that they had threatened to do all week.

“They’re willing to literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield and damage our national security in the process,” Biden said.

But even as he lashed Republicans for their stance, Biden stressed that he is willing to “make significant compromises on the border,” if that’s what it takes to get the package through Congress. 

That statement has raised at least some hope that progress can be made in the days ahead as the Senate grinds through negotiations on border security, one of the most fraught issues in American politics. Biden’s remarks Wednesday were his clearest overture yet to Republicans and came at a critical time, with a path through Congress for the emergency funds rapidly disappearing and America’s support for multiple allies in doubt.

“If we don’t support Ukraine, what is the rest of the world going to do?” Biden added.

The president’s statement came hours after he huddled virtually with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and leaders of the Group of Seven advanced democracies, which have staunchly supported Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

“We need to fix the broken border system. It is broken,” Biden said, adding that he’s ”ready to change policy as well.” He did not name specific policy proposals and accused Republicans of wanting a political issue more than bipartisan compromise.

Sen. James Lankford, the Oklahoma Republican who has been leading Senate negotiations over border policy, was encouraged by what he heard, saying it seemed like the president is “ready to be able to sit down and talk.”

Senators of both parties acknowledged they will need to move quickly if a deal is to be struck. Congress is scheduled to be in Washington for just a handful more days before the end of the year. The White House, meanwhile, has sounded the alarm about what would happen if they don’t approve more funding soon, saying Ukraine’s military would be stalled, or even overrun. 

“When deadlines come, everybody’s undivided attention is there and we realize: ’OK. Now it’s time to actually solve this,’” Lankford said.

Democrats involved in the negotiations also said a direct hand from the president, as well as from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, could be helpful.

“This kind of thorny, difficult problem is exactly what Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell have worked on before. And we could use their help and their leadership on this,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., another negotiator. 

So far, McConnell, while an ardent supporter of Ukraine aid, has sided with Republicans who are holding firm against the security package unless it includes changes to America’s border policies. Every Republican voted against it advancing Wednesday evening.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the failed test vote a “a sad night in the history of the Senate and our country.” He urged Republicans to present a border proposal that is “serious, instead of the extreme policies they have presented thus far.”

Republican negotiators were expected to send a new proposal to Democrats after the failed vote. 

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has been involved in the negotiations, said the Republicans’ hard-charging bargain left little room for agreement and he remained skeptical that a deal can be struck.

“They have to figure out whether they want to negotiate or whether they want to make take-it-or-leave-it demands,” Murphy said.

Republicans argue the record numbers of migrants crossing the southern border pose a security threat because border authorities cannot adequately screen them. They also say they cannot justify to their constituents sending billions of dollars to other countries while failing to address the border at home.

So far, senators have found agreement on raising the initial standard for migrants to enter the asylum system. But they’ve been at odds over placing limitations on humanitarian parole, a program that allows the executive branch to temporarily admit migrants without action from Congress. 

But Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said the Senate talks were “never going to be able to negotiate the kind of meaningful substantive policy changes” that Republicans want. He called Biden’s remarks “positive” and said the negotiations should next include the president, McConnell and House Speaker Mike Johnson.

The president’s willingness to directly engage on the issue comes at a political risk. Immigrant advocates and some Democratic senators have sounded alarm about curtailing the asylum system. 

Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat who led a statement with 10 other senators last month calling for an increase in legal immigration to be included in negotiations, said he would be watching closely what Biden agrees to on border security.

“Devil’s in the details,” Padilla said, adding that the direction of the Senate talks have been “concerning from day one.”

Even if the president and senators somehow find a way forward on border security, any agreement would face significant obstacles in the House. Hardline conservatives who control the chamber have vowed to block it unless it tacks to a broad set of forceful border and immigration policies.

Johnson, who as speaker has already expressed deep skepticism of funding for Ukraine, has signaled he won’t support the aid package if it does not adhere to H.R. 2, a bill that would remake the U.S. immigration system with conservative priorities. 

“The American people deserve nothing less.” Johnson said in a statement.


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