Russia has mounted increased attacks on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, but military forces have made little ground in the last week.
Russia Bombs Kyiv Mall
Russia continued what appears to be nothing more than senseless attacks on civilian infrastructure and neighborhoods as its war on Ukraine marked its 26th day Monday.
On Sunday, Russia launched a missile strike on a major shopping center in Kyiv, leaving much of the area in rubble and killing at least eight people in what has been described as one of the strongest bombings of Ukraine’s capital since the beginning of the invasion.
The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, imposed a curfew on the city, requiring all residents of the capital to stay at home or in shelters from 8 p.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Wednesday and mandating that all stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and government offices close on Tuesday.
Klitschko insisted that the shopping center attack is “not a coincidence.”
“Putin wants to starve the civilians to make them pressurize their leaders,” he said in a statement.
With this latest strike, residents in the capital are worried that if Russian forces continue to close in, Kyiv could see attacks like those Kharkiv and Mariupol, where Russia has launched an onslaught on civilian populations to make up for slow progress in the regions. That concern is especially heightened as British defense officials have warned that Kyiv remains Russia’s “primary military objective,” adding that troops are expected to prioritize an attempt to encircle the city in the coming weeks.
Mariupol Refuses to Surrender
Furthering their major military objectives, Russian officials on Sunday offered an ultimatum to the strategic southern port city Mariupol: if the city surrenders, Russia will allow civilians to leave and humanitarian aid to enter.
Ukrainian officials rejected the ultimatum on Monday, though President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would be open to negotiations to end the fighting.
The stability of the situation on the ground, however, remains unclear. According to reports, hundreds of thousands of civilians are still trapped in the city with no electricity and rapidly diminishing supplies of food and water.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian military and city officials have said that the battle has devolved into street-to-street guerrilla fighting, and Russian forces have encircled the city and are currently occupying all civilian neighborhoods. A top E.U. diplomat went as far as to accuse Russia of committing “a massive war crime” in its attack of Mariupol.
The future of Mariupol is highly significant because if Russia seizes the city, it would mark its first real strategic victory in a war that has resulted in stalemates on many other fronts.
While Russia has ramped up shelling in recent days, a U.S. defense official told reporters that Russian forces have shown almost no signs of advancing into Ukraine over the last week. The Russian military remains stalled around many areas and has failed to take control over any major cities.
Potential New Fronts & Ongoing Refugee Crisis
Ukrainian officials are looking out for possible new fronts in the war. Specifically, because Russia has been more successful in the south, where Mariupol is, authorities are closely watching that region. There are also concerns that Russian and possibly Belarussian troops might try to open a new front along Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus.
The worries over new areas of attack come as millions of people are already being displaced and fleeing the country.
The U.N. reported Sunday that more than 10 million — or 1 in 4 people in Ukraine — have been displaced since the beginning of the invasion. On Monday, the agency said that more than 3.4 million refugees have fled Ukraine in the same period and described the situation as the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
As the crisis continues with more refugees anticipated, European cities accepting the fleeing Ukrainians are beginning to hit their capacity. In the Polish capital of Warsaw, the mayor is now warning that the city of 1.8 million is on the brink as over 300,000 refugees have sought safety there.
Ongoing Negotiations & Diplomatic Efforts
Amid the continued fighting and tensions, Zelensky on Sunday renewed his calls for peace talks, though the two sides still appear to be far apart.
Speaking to CNN, the Ukrainian leader said he would reject any peace agreement that requires Ukraine to recognize the independence of the two Russian-backed separatist regions. To end the fighting, he said Ukraine would need “security guarantees, sovereignty, restoration of territorial integrity, real guarantees for our country.”
Zelensky also emphasized the importance of negotiations.
“I think that without negotiations we cannot end this war,” he said. “But if these attempts fail, that would mean … a third world war.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is making his biggest diplomatic push so far. On Monday, he traveled today to meet with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and Britain. He is expected to go to Brussels to meet with NATO and E.U. leaders on Wednesday before heading to Poland on Friday.
One of the most significant topics of discussion at those summits will likely be Poland’s proposal to launch an international peacekeeping mission in Ukraine. Although NATO has undertaken these missions in Europe before, they were done after fighting had ended.
Already, the U.S. has rejected that idea. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said Sunday that America has ruled out any military participation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
YouTuber Accused of Murder After Using Livestream as Alibi
Stephen McCullagh may have eluded the authority’s suspicion if not for CCTV footage that allegedly puts him near the scene of the crime.
Police Peer Behind the Veil
A Northern Ireland YouTuber was charged with murdering a pregnant woman last week, and police told the court he used his livestream as an alibi.
On Dec. 18, 32-year-old Natalie McNally was stabbed to death in her Silverwood Green home in Lurgan. She was 15 weeks pregnant.
Police initially arrested Stephen McCullagh, also 32 years old, but soon released him after he persuaded them he was livestreaming the night the murder happened.
McCullagh, from Woodland Gardens in Lisburn, is a part-time assistant audience editor for the Belfast Telegraph and has a YouTube channel with over 30,000 subscribers.
His livestream was indeed active on the night McNally was murdered, but the footage of him playing the video game Grand Theft Auto was pre-recorded days earlier, according to a technical examination of his devices by cyber experts.
Senior detective Neil McGuinness told district judge Rosie Watters that McCullagh denied any involvement in the crime but admitted that the livestream was faked in a written statement.
The YouTuber later revised his story from that night to claim he drank alone at home then fell asleep.
Prosecutors alleged the suspect had devised a “sophisticated, calculated and cool-headed plot” and was “capable of deception beyond imagination.”
Damning Evidence Comes to Light
Police told the court they can trace McCullagh’s movements from the crime scene back to his home on Dec. 18 using CCTV footage from a bus and an account from a taxi driver.
A man police believe to be McCullagh is seen boarding the bus with his hood pulled down and scarf pulled up.
According to the statement, the man removes a black glove to accept his change from the driver, revealing a second yellow glove underneath.
McGuinness said it was consistent with the print of a Marigold glove found in a blood stain at the crime scene.
Police also believe the same man boarded a taxi. Based on an analysis of GPS data, authorities say the cab allegedly stopped at McCullagh’s address.
At the beginning of McCullagh’s pre-recorded stream, he told his audience that he couldn’t respond to their live chat messages because of technical difficulties.
“I could use my phone to dip in every now and again and check it, but I’ve decided that I kind of hate livestreams where people just sit and read comments and go, ‘oh my God, yes, ask me questions,’” he added.
Police allege he deliberately referred to the time and said “I’m not leaving the house tonight” to reinforce his alibi.
At one point, he expresses fear about rising crime and underfunded police.
“That’s why I love sticking to just doing crimes in a video game,” he said. “Keeps things simple, mate.”
See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (Irish Mirror)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.