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Ukraine Launches Counteroffensive to Retake Territories Amid Growing Concerns Over Putin’s Next Move 



Ukrainian military forces and defiant citizens are fighting hard against Russian aggressors as President Putin’s efforts to make further inroads stall.

Ukraine Counteroffensive

The Ukrainian military said Tuesday that it has recaptured Makariv, a strategically significant town near the capital city of Kyiv, and expelled Russian forces.

The announcement comes as Ukrainian forces have launched a strong counteroffensive to reclaim areas seized by Russia, specifically in the southern parts of the country like Mariupol, where fighting has raged on as the city continues its refusal to surrender.

The military is not alone in its efforts to fight back. Citizens have also engaged in acts of public defiance, particularly in areas that Russian forces occupied early in the war.

In Kherson, residents of the city held peaceful protests against the Russian occupation Monday. Verified video footage and photos showed Russian soldiers responded by opening fire on the nonviolent demonstrations.

Kherson, specifically, is highly important to Russia as control of the city is key to its effort to take over the south. The region also provides strategic significance because of its coastline and proximity to Crimea.

Continued Push for Negotiations As Concerns Over Putin Mount

Amid persisting battles, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has continued his push for peace talks and again called for direct negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has so far refused.

Speaking to Ukrainian broadcasters late Monday night, Zelensky said that he would consider dropping Ukraine’s bid to join NATO — which is one of the most important Russian demands —  if Russia agrees to a cease-fire, withdraws its troops, and guarantees Ukraine’s security.

He also suggested that he would be open to discussing the status of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, as well as parts of the breakaway Donbas region that is currently held by Russian-backed separatists.

Zelensky’s remarks come as Western countries are becoming increasingly worried that Putin may be willing to turn to deadly unconventional weapons as his war efforts begin to stall.

On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden warned that the Russian leader could use biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine, though he did not provide any evidence. The president also confirmed that Russia has used hypersonic missiles that travel faster than five times the speed of sound, suggesting they did so to make up for stalemates on the ground. 

Russia Ramps up Crackdowns on Dissent

Beyond possible attacks Russia may be planning, the country has also been scaling up its crackdown on dissent within its own borders.

On Monday, a Russian court banned Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — for engaging in “extremist activities.” The move comes after Meta decided earlier this month that it would allow some calls for violence against Russian soldiers.

Under the ban, which notably excludes the Meta-owned messaging platform WhatsApp, the parent company will be blocked from conducting business operations in Russia effective immediately.

Facebook and Instagram will also be banned in the country, though they were already blocked.

Russia followed that decision on Tuesday by amending an already restrictive censorship law previously used to block Facebook in the country. Under the new changes, “discrediting” the activities abroad of all government bodies will now be made illegal. Previously, the policy just applied to the military.

Anyone who violates the law by spreading “false information” about the invasion can be punished with up to 15 years in prison. 

Also on Tuesday, another Russian court sentenced the famous opposition leader Alexei Navalny to nine years in prison on fraud charges widely viewed as false and politically motivated.

Experts say the new punishment for the already imprisoned leader — who has urged his fellow Russians to protest the invasion —  is clearly just an attempt by the Kremlin to keep Navalny behind bars and control the narrative of the war while preventing any possible defiance.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)


Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders



Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.

Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls



Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.

Hundreds Make It Out Alive

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.

People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.

The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.

“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”

63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.

Putin’s Plans Go Poorly

In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.

The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”

Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.

After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.

“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.

Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.

The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.

Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)

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Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished



The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.

Settlers Get Ready to Move in

On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.

“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.

The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.

The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.

In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”

“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.

In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.

Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land

On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.

Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s

“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Peace Now) (Associated Press)

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